Chapter

19

Anyway, back to the B Plot.

Right about now, Jade should be wrapping up her political presentation to Roxy and Calliope, using a lot more graphs and far fewer words than Dave did when roping her into the election. Her approach is definitely more heady, but it’s also more accessible. Jade’s got this disarming combo of head-in-the-clouds flightiness and the kind of legit, down-to-earth cred that can only be earned by having done something like cutting open your own grandfather and stuffing him full of polyurethane foam.

JADE: so you see janes neoliberal austerity measures—

Roxy groans upon hearing the phrase “neoliberal austerity measures” for no less than the third time in this presentation.

JADE: as i outlined here in graph b-2

JADE: and here in figure a-6

JADE: and here!!! in this very spooky drawing i dictated to callie

JADE: (great drawing by the way!!!)

CALLIOPE: ^u^

JADE: —will no doubt lead to a whole bunch of ugly societal backlashes

JADE: not just in economic terms but on a number of other more serious vertices that weve been lucky enough to avoid on new earth so far

ROXY: u dont say

JADE: i DO say!!!

JADE: the thing is that jane is an establishment leader

JADE: shes looking at doing things the way our old universes did them

JADE: shes pretty convinced that shes going to be able to replicate the capitalist hierarchies that earth had but in a more “responsible” way

JADE: but none of that stuff actually worked!!!!!

ROXY: and u think karkat can do better?

JADE: i think its worth it to give him a chance

JADE: hes a leader of the people AND hes experienced firsthand what happens when establishment goes too far

JADE: which i imagine you can sympathize with!

Jade takes a deep breath, panting a little. Her graphs are floating around the living room in disarray. She spins them around her, gliding her hands through the air like a conductor, before folding the pages together and shrinking them to pocket size.

JADE: and!!

JADE: that’s my pitch!!!!

Roxy and Calliope exchange a look.

CALLIOPE: i’m...

CALLIOPE: going to get Us tea and snacks. woUld yoU like some, jade?

JADE: oh

JADE: yeah sure

CALLIOPE: any preferences?

JADE: ummm pumpkin matcha if you have it

CALLIOPE: of coUrse. i’ll be right back.

Calliope excuses herself from the conversation, and flees to the kitchen, seemingly making no attempt to disguise the fact that she is in fact fleeing. Jade deflates as she watches her go, sensing that her presentation wasn’t the slam dunk she was hoping for.

JADE: soooo..........

JADE: what do you think?

ROXY: hmmmm

ROXY: well i gotta say

ROXY: this has been a hella convincing argument all in all

ROXY: buuuuut idk if i can help u out

JADE: what????

JADE: why not?!

Roxy presses her lips together, then bounces her palms on her knees. Her gaze slides east, right out the window. She and Calliope live in a belfry above New Prospit. One end of their living room is an oriel window that looks out over a public park. The other disappears into an arcading hallway lit at the far end by a giant stained glass window that Calliope made herself. The corbels supporting it have windy, abstract shapes carved into them. This room reminds Jade of her childhood home, except that it’s bright and warm and not inhabited in all corners by corpses and ghosts.

That’s why she can’t settle down. That’s what keeps Jade Harley flitting from couch to couch, relationship to relationship. She can’t stop thinking to herself that “home” comes awfully close to rhyming with “alone.”

Home is John, who doesn’t call anymore. Home is when Rose and Kanaya welcome her in from a cold night and help her set lyrics to her sick basslines. Home is here, snorting at Roxy’s irreverent method of storytelling and admiring Callie’s art. Home is Dave and Karkat. Especially Dave and Karkat. Jade knows that this election is important for a number of reasons, but let’s not mistake her enthusiasm for some kind of humanistic altruism. Girl’s got personal reasons for doing all this.

Jade drifts down to sit cross-legged on the couch beside Roxy. She stares at her with a doggish expression—eyes wide, head lolling to the side—until she gets an answer.

ROXY: i just dont rly

ROXY: care about politics that much i guess

Roxy turns to face Jade again, smiling apologetically.

ROXY: also this election is all kinds of personal

ROXY: i mean if i came into ur house and asked u to make some grand political w/e against your bff

ROXY: would you be all

ROXY: oh yea totes sign me tf up

ROXY: im alls ABOUT the sowing of discord among my childhood friends

JADE: siiiigh let me guess

JADE: dirk got to you first

ROXY: not even

ROXY: i got no problem tellin dirk where to stick it lmao

ROXY: but dirks not the one running

JADE: you think hes NOT the one pulling the strings behind the scenes?

ROXY: sure but give janey a lil credit

ROXY: shes got more moxie and ambition in her pinky than the rest of us got all together

ROXY: shes been planning this for years

ROXY: but shes yknow

JADE: ruthless? :B

Roxy frowns. Jade is being pretty unfair.

ROXY: *fragile*

ROXY: shes gotta be miss perfect all the time for the billboards n press meetings

ROXY: always wearin those power suits trying to look like a big bad bitch

JADE: you mean like....... the condesce?

ROXY: wow ouch

JADE: im not just imagining it though, right???

JADE: you see it too

JADE: not to dredge up something horrible from your history

JADE: but her whole image is just kinda...... *woof*

ROXY: is that what you guys think?

ROXY: u and dave and karkat?

JADE: well...

JADE: yeah

Roxy leans forward and stares Jade down, like she’s searching for something behind Jade’s eyes. Jade unwittingly responds in kind, looking for meaning behind Roxy’s gaze. But she comes up empty. And to be honest, so do I.

In the spirit of full disclosure, Roxy’s the only one left I haven’t been able to crack. Her mind remains a total enigma to me, just like it always has. If I had to guess, it’s her Void powers that make her invisible, even to increasingly omniscient parties such as myself. For all intents and purposes, it’s like her thoughts don’t exist. She’s the same person, as far as I can tell. She still wears her heart on her sleeve. But the bottom line remains: Roxy Lalonde is still utterly fucking inscrutable.

ROXY: well janes not perfect

Roxy shrugs and runs a hand through her hair, which has been recently cut shorter than usual.

ROXY: and idk if shell be a good president

ROXY: but shes not betty crocker

ROXY: and i luv her and i dont wanna hurt her feelings

ROXY: and thats p much all there is to say on the matter

Calliope returns from the kitchen with three cups, a handmade teapot, and some candied cakes. Jade finally relents.

JADE: fiiiiine

JADE: i understand

JADE: callie what about you?

Calliope sets down the snacks, and brushes Jade’s skirt aside so she can sit down. She puts a claw to her mouth and makes a facial expression more complicated than you’d think a skull would be capable of.

CALLIOPE: oh, i’d rather stay Uninvolved, thank yoU.

JADE: :(

CALLIOPE: i feel like interfering in both politics and a personal argUment between my friends woUld be impolite as well as kind of... stressfUl, to be honest.

JADE: yeah

JADE: sorry callie i probably shouldnt have put all that on you

CALLIOPE: less apologizing, more snacking!

Calliope claps her hands together. It’s a bright noise. Her tone of voice is bright too. All these years and she still can’t believe that she has so many friends. She smiles at Jade, and Jade smiles back. The tea tastes great. The cakes are even better. Callie’s an artist in everything she does.

JADE: wow callie youre such an amazing hostess!

JADE: hehehe roxy youre so lucky to have her

Roxy giggles. Awkwardly. She gives Jade a gentle jostle, an elbow to the ribs, and lowers her voice.

ROXY: psst not “her,” “them”

JADE: oh

Jade tenses up, and pales. Turns a wide-eyed look to Calliope, who is still smiling politely. She realizes, a bit too late, the profoundly insensitive nature of her social misstep.

JADE: oh!!!!!!

She grabs one of Calliope’s hands.

JADE: oh wow!

JADE: im sorry i didnt mean to be uh... culturally insensitive?

JADE: have i just been stupidly calling you a girl for years like a big fat dummy??

JADE: oh nooooo! im such an asshole!!!!!

CALLIOPE: yoU are absolUtely not an asshole!

CALLIOPE: i didn’t mind being called a girl. i still don’t really mind, it’s jUst not exactly... accUrate.

CALLIOPE: bUt i did take comfort in “being a girl” for a very long time. this is something i’ve only recently decided.

ROXY: yea...!

Roxy pauses, even though the lilt of her voice makes the sentence sound unfinished. She stutters the next part out.

ROXY: m-me too actually

JADE: you??

ROXY: o yeah we are both a “they” household now

ROXY: package deal thing

ROXY: things r nonbinary as fuck around here

Wait.

What?

JADE: really?

ROXY: yup

ROXY: well

ROXY: i mean thats probably a dumb and bad way to say it dont tell anyone i said it that way rofl

ROXY: but yeah thats about whats goin on

Roxy? Seriously?

Like I said, fucking inscrutable.

I never would have guessed. Not that I’ve spent much time contemplating issues related to gender. I’m pretty secure in my expression of masculinity, and...

You know what? Fuck this. I don’t owe anyone an explanation of any sort on this topic. I’m confident with who I am, what I am, my gender, as well as my understanding of the concept. You want my honest opinion? It’s fucking fantastic. Good for them. Both of them, I mean, but also, both of them in a singular fashion, since each one can now individually be referred to by the conventionally plural word “them.” I’m ecstatic for this personal development they’ve embraced, for the people they are, the lack of gender they identify with, and the pronouns they prefer. I’ve got no problem with it whatsoever, and frankly, it’s fucking insulting anyone would ever imagine otherwise.

So yeah, I’m gonna allow it.

Carry on.

ROXY: wow that felt good to say aloud man

ROXY: ahah hahaha hell of a way to come out

JADE: its ok

JADE: i dont wanna make you uncomfortable

ROXY: i know

JADE: but i am curious!

JADE: if you need to talk about it i mean

ROXY: maybe

ROXY: callie and i have been talkin about it a lot

ROXY: unpackin all kinda baggage w/ their alien stuff and my human stuff

ROXY: and so i got to thinking

ROXY: what even is gender

ROXY: amirite lol?

JADE: oh yeah

JADE: that makes sense i guess........

Jade looks at where her hands are folded in her lap. Bites her lip. She has her own concerns about this, her own thoughts. Reasonable thoughts, I’d say. But I’ll refrain from any further comment. I’m staying away from this subject, from now on.

JADE: so youre uh

JADE: not...... “doing gender” anymore??

ROXY: ya i guess not lmfao

ROXY: i mean that was all stuff from our old universe

ROXY: whyd we even bring it here right?

JADE: right

Calliope takes a teacake between two of her claws and eats it delicately, hyper-aware of the horrible gnashing and snapping her powerful jaw is capable of.

CALLIOPE: my ideas aboUt gend—

SHIT. Between two of their claws. They take a teacake between two of their claws and eats it delicately. Sorry, my bad.

CALLIOPE: —er were entirely inflUenced by my time watching earth.

CALLIOPE: i sUppose i only thoUght of myself as a girl because my, Um...

CALLIOPE: my brother took mascUlinity qUite serioUsly.

CALLIOPE: by which i mean, he became very enthUsiastic aboUt all the things it sUpposedly meant to be a boy.

CALLIOPE: cherUb existence is dichotomoUs, bUt not in the same way hUman biology is.

CALLIOPE: i sUppose oUr view of hUman cUlture indirectly inflUenced alternia’s development, which in tUrn affected yoUrs, which is something i’ve had a lot of time to think aboUt since we came here.

CALLIOPE: it’s all so very circUitoUs and arbitrary.

ROXY: yeah exactly!

ROXY: like when u think about it...

ROXY: so much of what earth c thinks what boys and girls “SHOULD” do comes straight from the imagination of a bunch of dumb teens

ROXY: which is totally FUCKED

JADE: sure

Jade nods quite thoughtfully. She’d be a doggy’s fucking uncle if she wasn’t gonna come across woke as hell about all this. Truthfully though, it was making sense to her. Eye-opening, really. Why hadn’t anyone told her this was even an option when she was younger? She probably would have loved being a “they” when she was a teen.

ROXY: i mean what am i gonna do

ROXY: get married and pop out 100 bbs?

JADE: uh... no???

ROXY: exactly

ROXY: i mean once upon a time i guess i thought about that

ROXY: but i dont think its what i really wanted

ROXY: i just liked the idea of me and dirk makin some smart ass awesome kids together

ROXY: cuz i liked the idea of dirk

ROXY: and also literally no one else on the entire planet was alive at the time

ROXY: but we had some babies without even bein consulted about it anyway so w/e

JADE: your kids ARE pretty cool

ROXY: i KNOW right?

JADE: personally im a big fan!

And like that, Jade’s smiling again. The storm clouds pass so quickly in her world, you almost wouldn’t have thought there was anything wrong at all. Roxy and Calliope certainly didn’t notice.

But there is something wrong. And this time, they’ll notice.

JADE: i...

JADE: i.........

Jade drops her tea. The cup hits the floor and shatters.

ROXY: jade?

She takes in a sharp breath. She’s not feeling well suddenly. She’s dizzy, feverish, seeing things beyond her field of vision. A blinding flash of light. A black, perfect circle, burning a hole in her eyes. She tries to stand, but her knees wobble and knock together. Roxy shoots out of her seat and catches her before she hits the floor.

ROXY: o shit

CALLIOPE: is she okay?

ROXY: idk

ROXY: get a cloth from the kitchen! and some water!

CALLIOPE: okay! i’ll be right back!

Roxy eases Jade onto the couch and checks her pulse. She doesn’t look bad at all— Jade wears unconsciousness well, having spent the better part of her life napping. Roxy slaps her cheeks lightly and says her name. Begs her to wake up.

But she can’t hear her. Jade is somewhere else right now.

> ==>
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