Chapter

5

The stands of the Cantown Memorial Arena are packed front to back with audience members from every kingdom. Presently the crowd is going nuts, enthralled by Jake English’s skillful posing and mollified by the deeply theatrical stage dive that Dirk has just taken onto the mat. Dirk, in fact, has unquestioningly eaten shit. His shit eating was so brutal that no one, except maybe Jake, cares that he’s taking a phone call in the middle of a live broadcast. And no one should, really. The broadcast has been going for three hours already.

Dave takes a seat on the couch, right in Karkat’s butt groove. He observes his battered ecto-father, who is lying inside a wreath of busted robot limbs like a piece of absolute garbage.

DAVE: bro im watching you on the tube and i gotta say

DAVE: while the beatdown you just received was as thorough as it was humiliating im afraid as usual the solution to this problem should probably not involve your decapitation

DAVE: you fucking drama queen

DIRK: Damn.

DIRK: Are you sure?

DAVE: yeah

DAVE: jake just kicked your ass

DAVE: thats really all there is to say on the matter

DIRK: You’re probably right.

DIRK: But still not entirely sure we should be so quick to rule out my beheading as a catchall solution to any given problem.

DIRK: It really could save us all a lot of trouble in the future. Especially me.

DAVE: its really amazing how this meme we have going here continues to be exactly as funny as the day it was established

DIRK: Isn’t it always though?

DAVE: yeah

DAVE: by the way

DAVE: how DID you get your ass kicked so bad

DAVE: jake sucks and his raps are fucking awful

DAVE: please tell me this garbage show is as rigged as it looks

On the TV, Dirk makes an elegant hand sign that once might have represented solidarity with some ancient coastal rap group but now has been utterly divorced from its cultural context here on Earth C. The camera pans away from him and over the crowd. It zooms in on a young crocodile wearing an oversized T-shirt with Jake’s highly marketable ass plastered over it and the phrase “Tally ho” written in big bubble letters.

DIRK: Dave, there’s such a thing as showmanship.

DIRK: I’m sure I don’t need to explain this to you, of all people.

DAVE: ok cool its fake just making sure

DIRK: Sigh.

DIRK: We really don’t like to use that word.

DAVE: lmao ok

DIRK: Holding back a little to achieve certain results doesn’t necessarily mean you’re participating in a farce or rigging the event.

DIRK: We do this all the time. We hold back our thoughts, our true feelings, our full potential. We disguise how much we know about what and when, for many purposes. To ease relations, to let others behave naturally and make up their minds without undue intervention. To wait for the right moments to show our hands, to pick our battles.

DIRK: In life, there are many reasons to show restraint, which would never be regarded as an attempt to rig reality.

DAVE: oof

DAVE: my dog you are full of some SHIT today arent you

DIRK: Absolutely.

DIRK: And when it comes to theater, there are just as many reasons for restraint. To build tension. To set the stage. To give the people someone to root against.

DAVE: is that what youre doing now

DAVE: making people root against you

DIRK: What, by losing a round? No, man. That’s just standard pacing stuff when it comes to battlecraft.

DAVE: no i mean by holding up the whole fight by talking to me

DAVE: i can see you on tv

DAVE: theyre booing you dude

The crowd has indeed finally exhausted both its patience and its thirst for the ceaseless ogling of Jake’s impressive glutes. The camera swings around to focus on Dirk, who, since landing on his self-admittedly second-rate ass, has not moved except to make arcane, rap-related hand gestures.

The excitable salamander manning the camera switches to a fish-eye lens for some unfathomable reason, giving the whole exchange an air of demented absurdity. Dirk’s sunglasses distort and stretch to dominate the entire screen.

DIRK: Oh.

DIRK: Then yes, I guess that is what I’m doing.

JAKE: Dirk are you going to be much longer with your telephone call?

JAKE: The crowd is getting feisty... you didnt get too badly winded from our last scrum did you dirk?

DIRK: Haha, no Jake. I’m fine. I’ll just be a minute.

JAKE: What about the agitated rabble? Theyre starting to throw things.

DIRK: I don’t know. Do a dance or something. Sing a song.

DIRK: They love anything you do.

JAKE: Ummm.

JAKE: Ok sounds stupid but ill try.

Jake tips an imaginary hat toward center stage and begins doing the Charleston. Dave is subjected to an entire fish-eye lensful of Jake’s booty shorts flexing and constricting against his tanned thighs.

Just as Dirk predicted, the crowd immediately loses its shit, except for a single carapacian in the front row, who continues to glower at Dirk with an expression of absolute and total contempt.

DAVE: why do you want people to hate you so much

DAVE: its fucked up

DIRK: You’re reading way too much into it.

DIRK: If I wanted another round of embarrassingly indulgent and mutually masturbatory psychoanalysis, I would have called my daughter instead.

DAVE: hm

DAVE: do i need to point out how fucking weird what you just said was or can that start going without saying at this point

DIRK: I think it can go without saying.

DAVE: nice

DIRK: The point is, playing myself up as a villain figure in this hacky rap pageant has nothing to do with getting people to dislike me. Besides, everyone loves a good villain. When they boo, they don’t really mean it.

DIRK: I think you’d be surprised by how popular I actually am.

DAVE: i dunno man

Something flies out of the audience and smacks Dirk in the side of the head before flopping out of view of the camera. He doesn’t react, or make a facial expression at all.

DAVE: did...

DAVE: did someone just throw a diaper at you

DIRK: There’s gonna be some diapers, yeah.

DAVE: sounds bad

DIRK: The point is, this is much less about me, and more about providing a foil for Jake’s heroism and charisma.

DIRK: It’s very important that his popularity continues to be cultivated, to maximize his political capital.

DAVE: political capital

DAVE: what the fuck are...

DAVE: ok how long have you known about the jane thing

DAVE: i mean is this something you have been planning for like

DAVE: a long time or

DIRK: Planning is such an intense word.

DAVE: god damn it

DIRK: Look, let’s just say there have been some conversations.

DIRK: Does that meet with your approval?

DAVE: jane is a shitty candidate dude

DAVE: shes going to be so shitty

DIRK: I thought you’d feel that way.

DIRK: I respectfully disagree.

DAVE: i get shes a good friend of yours and all but even you have to admit how far up her own ass she is

DIRK: Of course. I consider it to be among her best qualifications for the job.

DAVE: christ

DAVE: ok if nothing else have you at least taken into account the DEVASTATION to the economy this will cause???

DIRK: You know perfectly well how much we differ on fiscal policy.

DIRK: Maybe this isn’t the best time for one of our epic debates on the subject?

DAVE: yeah what was i thinking

DAVE: wasting the time of the dude currently holding up a televised rap contest so bad hes gettin diapers thrown at him

DIRK: Dave, I think if you search your soul, you’ll come to the same conclusion I have. Jane is just what this planet needs.

DIRK: We’ve all had our fun here, but it’s easy to overlook the fact that civilization on Earth C is hardly a sustainable proposition.

DIRK: Just beneath the surface, it’s quite a dangerous and unstable place.

DAVE: i know that

DAVE: which is why actually i think it would be cool to have a president that is good instead of bad

DIRK: He’s not as great as you think.

DAVE: what

DAVE: who

DAVE: obama??

DAVE: how dare you

DIRK: No, fool.

DIRK: Karkat.

DAVE: oh

DIRK: I think your heart is in the right place, but the dude is a complete amateur.

DIRK: He’ll get eaten alive. I also have a hard time imagining he even wants the job.

DIRK: Really, it’s an awful idea for him to even run. Think about how much it’s going to inflame the interspecies tensions on this planet. Is that what you want?

DIRK: I’m happy for both of you, really. It’s nice that you encourage and support each other in this way. But you’re sending him on a fool’s errand which can only end badly.

Dave opens his mouth to argue, but something else occurs to him.

DAVE: wait

DAVE: how do you even know hes entering the race

DAVE: we like just decided this

DIRK: A competent political operative has his ways.

DIRK: Besides, it was always pretty obvious to me you’d react this way the moment the announcement was made.

DAVE: ok thats kinda creepy i guess but it doesnt change anything

DAVE: hes running for president and hes going to fuckin win end of story

DIRK: Fair enough.

DAVE: though now im wondering

DAVE: since you and jane have been planning this for a while how many key endorsements have you locked up

DAVE: cause if youve already got jake on your side then i guess we might as well just fucking quit

DIRK: I wouldn’t worry about that.

DIRK: He and I don’t quite have the rapport we once did.

DIRK: He’s “over me” and doesn’t spare opportunities to make ostentatious demonstration of this claim.

DAVE: um

DIRK: Basically he doesn’t like being told what to do. Especially not by me.

DIRK: So it’s fair to say as of now, he’s still fully in play.

DIRK: Not that I should be encouraging you, really.

DAVE: you are one doubletalking son of a bitch you know that

DAVE: i cant tell if you dont want us to run or are reverse psychology mindfucking us into running

DIRK: Does it matter?

DAVE: i guess not

DAVE: not like i can just stand around and wait for president crocker to like

DAVE: write fucking grammar laws into the constitution

DIRK: Good.

DIRK: That’s a heroic attitude to have, which I’m pleased to hear. Even if your plan is stupid, which it is, and even if Karkat would be an atrocious president, which he would.

DAVE: nuh uh

DIRK: Sorry to cut this short, but diapers are starting to come down pretty hard right now, and some of them haven’t even had their babies removed.

DAVE: what

DIRK: That was a joke.

DIRK: Goodbye, Dave.

Dirk hangs up the phone and wipes off his face. The mood in Cantown Memorial Arena is tense, snapping and popping from the dual cooling and heating of the audience’s expectations and tempers. An uneven silence begins to fall over the stadium as Dirk hops to his feet. Jake can’t help but watch the motion, raking his eyes over the muscles shifting beneath the skin of Dirk’s neck and arms.

There is something implacably magnificent about Dirk Strider, Jake thinks, untamed like a wild game beast of incredible size and strength. Of course, their history together is never far from Jake’s mind, however many years it’s been since their last tussle of an amorous nature. The old dramas and triumphs in the days of Sburb. Dirk’s companionship has been taxing to the heart, to say the least, and yet he’s taught Jake so much—about combat, philosophy, life, love.

But sometimes, despite their checkered and problematic past, Jakes wishes that he could seize Dirk by the proverbial horns and wrest him bodily into becoming a much more agreeable fellow. Then again, who would Dirk be if he weren’t so contentious and imperious? Certainly not someone to inspire such wistful lollygagging, Jake cannot help but observe.

DIRK: Sorry for the momentary diversion, Jake. Now where were we?

JAKE: Momentary??? Gadzooks man you were on the phone for half a friggin hour!

JAKE: I know you like to get the crowd all hot and bothered but we are supposed to be professionals here!

DIRK: You’re right, my bad. Won’t happen again.

DIRK: How about you kick off the next round?

DIRK: I bet this crowd will settle its shit right down the moment you drop the latest rhymes you’ve been tinkering with.

DIRK: You know the ones.

JAKE: Gasp.

JAKE: You dont mean...

DIRK: Oh. But I DO.

Jake’s face lights up. He composes himself, adjusting a bow tie, although he is not wearing one, and making a vague gesture like he’s twirling one end of that mustache Dirk has not yet let him grow. Dirk lets him go with a gentle smile, like the sort you’d give to a dog for performing a trick adequately. Jake responds to the signal like an Olympic athlete hearing the starter pistol. He was born for this.

JAKE: Tally ho its me, jake mcgee!

JAKE: Popping my pistols off, two shots and a kiss

JAKE: My aim is tops, i never miss

JAKE: One shot to the heart and the other to your lips

JAKE: Im heedless

JAKE: You cant impede this

JAKE: While these cads are all hat and very little cattle

JAKE: Cattle so weak one fears they might be feedless!

JAKE: As i prattle and digress you try to make your egress

JAKE: In the middle of the battle, but surely ye jest?

JAKE: FIDDLE FADDLE!

JAKE: My rhymes are known to bring the rattle

JAKE: I rattle those bones right down to the bit

JAKE: Im a mellifluous old chap who knows how to take a hit

JAKE: Im the tip...

JAKE: Tip top of the morning!

JAKE: A rip roaring halt to your snoring

JAKE: Like pouring butter on bacon

JAKE: Their hunger awakens!

JAKE: All the rascally scalawags

JAKE: And dastardly jackanapes

JAKE: Always ask of me, mate what is shaking?

JAKE: With golden gas pipes such as jake-eng’s

JAKE: Im dodging their shade and ducking their jape-slings

JAKE: While my rump stokes a thirst that my rhymes have been slaking!

The crowd, as Dirk rightly predicted, has settled its shit right down. This is not due to any accidental brilliance on the part of Jake English, but rather due to an abashed but loyal brand of pity, the kind a devoted fan cannot help but feel when they see a beloved celebrity make an ass out of themselves during a live broadcast they have waited two and a half years in line to buy a ticket for.

Dirk’s phone begins going off again.

JAKE: When the splendid lads and ladies ask me “how do you do?” i -

DIRK: Whoops. Jake, sorry to cut you off...

DIRK: Looks like I’m getting another call. Really need to take this one.

DIRK: Gonna have to wrap this battle up sooner than scheduled.

With a casual flick of his wrist, Dirk snaps out a bright red tranquilizer handgun and shoots Jake in the neck. Jake’s glasses crack when he hits the mat. A chorus of boos rises up from the crowd like groundwater. Dirk artfully dodges a bucket of obscene troll fluid to field yet another very important personal call.

DIRK: Yo Rose, what’s up?

> ==>
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