The sky was lovely.
It stretched overhead from horizon to horizon, a vast, celestial bowl that lit the earth with the cool light of countless stars. Stars. Real, honest-to-goodness stars. She hadn't even realized how much she missed them. A few wisps of cloud hung in the new air, and though the moon wasn't out tonight (if this planet even had a moon), the starlight alone was enough to softly illuminate the world around them.
She found herself standing on a small hill, surrounded by a crowd of fellow slack-jawed idiots who couldn't believe what they were seeing. The hill stood alone in a massive plain that seemed as infinite as the sky above. Scattered clumps of trees were swaying softly in the wind, and a river wound its way through the night, swerving around their hill on its path which probably led to some kind of sea. She could dimly perceive a line of mountains on the far horizon, but the light was simply too faint to make anything else out.
It was quiet. Soothingly, blessedly quiet.
She stared at the scene before her for a few seconds longer, before turning her attention to the people she was with. They were all there: All her friends, most of her enemies, and some people she didn't even know were all huddled together on the hill, most of them staring up at the sky with expressions of shock.
She didn't know what has happening. Most of these people were, as far as she knew, dead, and she had no idea why they were all standing here, together, on some random hill on some random world. She wondered if the afterlife was screwing with her again. She didn't remember how she got here: One minute, she and Tavros were in the afterlife, slaying monsters from the outer ring and hoping Lalonde's dumb plan worked, and then she was here, wherever here was, with no idea what was going on.
"Is everyone here?" A voice asked.
Vriska turned with the crowd to the direction the voice came from, and was surprised to see John Egbert floating about four feet off the ground, a few yards from the rest of the group. His voice was hollow and tired, his skin was an unhealthy pale shade, but worst of all were his eyes, which were glowing with an eerie white light. Vriska wanted to know what happened, what was wrong with her friend, but she didn't have any idea where to begin.
Strider voiced her concerns for her. "John? You okay man? What… What happened?"
Egbert appeared not to hear him. He reached up and adjusted his glasses a little, the black frames standing out in sharp contrast to the swirling ethereal light. "Thirty… five. Thirty-five, plus me, thirty-six. We're all here. Everyone's safe. Okay."
John sighed a little, and smiled with relief. Then the light faded, and he unceremoniously fell to the ground.
There was a split second of silence, then Strider, Lalonde, Harley, and someone she recognized as John's father started to shove their way through the crowd and run up to the prone figure. She stood there for a few seconds, her mind still numb, until it finally connected that this was all really happening, and that her friend was really hurt, and she ran up to him too.
"Easy, bro," Strider said, helping the Heir of Breath to his feet. "Easy. I got you."
John groaned, and slowly stood up, wobbling unsteadily on his feet. He hooked an arm around Strider's neck, and leaned on his friend for support. "That…" He said, adjusting his glasses again, "That was not pleasant."
"Are you okay, Egbert?" She heard Karkat ask. Vriska turned to see that Karkat and Terezi had both joined their smaller crowd, and were looking at John with concern.
"Yes, Karkat." John said, a sarcastic tone creeping into his weak voice, "Yes, I'm perfectly fine. I'm just doing all this to be dramatic. You know me, always the showman."
"Okay, okay, I get it." Karkat said, trying to sound annoyed, but obviously relieved that John was well enough to be sarcastic. "You don't have to bite my head off."
John sighed a little, "Sorry Karkat, it's not you. I just… Oh, god, what a headache."
Lalonde smiled faintly. "You're lucky you got off this easy, John. I thought it'd be a lot worse afterwards."
"Thanks Rose, that makes me feel a million times better."
Lalonde smiled a little more, and looked up at the sky. "I take it that it worked then?"
"Yeah." John said, massaging his right temple with his free hand, "I think it did."
"And you had the presence of mind to reincarnate everyone? I'm impressed, Egbert."
"Thank you, Rose."
It was then that Vriska finally managed to get any words out, and she asked the first question on everyone's minds. "John, what worked? What just happened? Where are we?"
Egbert sighed. "I'm sorry, I really don't have a big explanation in me. Rose?"
Lalonde nodded a little, and then turned to the rest of the group. "Excuse me, everyone! If I could have your attention for a few seconds, I think I can tell you what's going on."
The crowd, which had been murmuring among themselves, asking people they knew what was going on and shooting funny looks at people they didn't, quieted down immediately and turned to focus on Rose. Most of them knew Lalonde by now, and they all regarded her as a figure of authority.
"Right. So, we are currently standing in universe C right now. For those of you unfamiliar with our universe-naming conventions, the trolls are from universe A, and the humans are from universe B. This one is empty. I'm going to explain how this whole thing happened and how we got here, and I'm going to start from the beginning. I'm sorry if you already know this, but we really all need to be on the same page here. A long time ago, universe A tried to 'reproduce' itself using Skaia, a process I'm sure you're all familiar with. The A1 group was unsuccessful in its attempt, however, and they got Skaia to perform a reset of their universe to give it another chance. The A2 group was successful, and they created universe B, but they were unable to enter universe B because of some unfortunate events that occurred in the B1 session. The human race developed in B, and in time they were chosen to reproduce their universe as well. B1 failed, and we asked Skaia for a B2. B2 would have failed as well, but all four teams were able to come together to use the B2 Incipisphere to make this universe you see before you, which we might as well call C. Most of you were dead by the time John here made C-In fact, all of us died before he was able to do it, and I believe John may have technically died himself towards the end, so I don't know exactly what happened. I'm sure it was wonderfully exciting, and when John is feeling better maybe he'll tell you about it.
"John and I established a plan together at the end, which entailed him imbuing his soul with the creative energies of Skaia, which would result in him gaining the power necessary to slay pan-dimensional foil character Lord English, and, apparently, make an entire universe at the same time. I lived long enough to see this happen, at which point the energy flux killed me, so, again, if you want to hear how that went down, ask Egbert when he's feeling better.
"After his victory, John here used his super-special-ultra-über-prefix-powers to grab ahold of all of our souls, make new bodies for us, and plop us all down in C, which was very nice of him. The experience probably destroyed his own body as well, along with utterly exhausting his every mental facility, so we should all thank our lucky starts that he's that good of an ectobiologist.
"Looking you over, I'd say that the entire A1, A2, B1, and B2 teams are here, along with some extra people-"
"Rose's mom, my dad, Dave's bro from B1, and Jane's dad from B2," Egbert cut in, "I'm sorry if there was anyone I forgot, but I was kind of in a hurry and those were the only people I could find."
"And we were already lucky to have every player come out alive. No time duplicates made it, and I think they were all double killed anyways, which wraps things up rather neatly. A little too neatly for my taste." Rose sighed a little. "I suppose this might be how Sburb is supposed to work, with all the duplicates dead-dead and basically not existing at all, and all the alpha-timeline players ending up alive and well. It's a little too fair for what we expect from Skaia, but we all seem to be okay. So, for now, reunite with your loved ones, calm down, and let's all get on with our lives."
She turned to Egbert. "Did I miss anything?"
John shook his head weakly, and Rose turned back to the crowd. "Okay, that's everything. I suggest we all take a day off, go look around for a bit, and come back tomorrow to work out what we're going to do."
The crowd slowly began to disperse, breaking into a few small groups of friends, talking amongst themselves about what happened. They were still in a state of emotional shock, but slowly the mood of the crowd turned to relief and exhilaration.
The group of people who personally knew John stayed put on the hill, joined shortly by some other guardians reuniting with their children/bros. Greetings were exchanged, hugs were given, and the whole scene of parental/filial affection was thoroughly awkward for the trolls to watch.
"I just… I don't get it." Karkat quietly whispered to Terezi and Vriska, "Human families are so strange. I guess it's in their genetics or something, but it's just so weird."
"I think it's sweet, Karkat. It's quaint." Terezi responded, before leaning in to talk to John. "Congratulations on the new universe, by the way. It smells great."
"Thanks, Terezi. It was nothing." John said, as everyone in the little group started to add their compliments to the pile.
"What are we gonna call it?" Jade asked suddenly.
There was a beat of silence. "What are we going to call what?" John asked.
"This planet. Our new home in universe C. We need a name for it."
"Oh, I guess I hadn't thought of that." John said, slowly starting to shift his weight off of Strider. "I don't know… We need something cool… How about planet Psychlo?"
"NO!" Karkat yelled, a look of pure irritation on his face, "Jegus Christ, Egbert we are not naming this place after one of your crappy movies!"
"But Battlefield Earth was awesome!" John complained, "And we already have a name for the people who live there!"
"That's just 'Psychlo' too: It's like some two-cycle-old's fanfiction! I'm not living on a planet from one of your crappy movies!"
"How do you even know about one of Egbert's crappy movies?" Dave asked, arching an eyebrow, "How long were you stalking him for?"
"I was a guy with a computer and the rest of his life to kill: I had the time and motivation to profile every part of this idiot's life so I could systematically burn him until he wept, and his movies were a big, big part of that. We aren't calling this 'Psychlo', or 'Waterworld', or wherever the hell that Mac thing was from-"
"Well, we obviously weren't going to call it 'Waterworld'," John said, rolling his eyes, "This planet is mostly land. Geez, Karkat."
"Yeah, Karkat," Dave said, "Get with the program. 'Waterworld'? Seriously?"
"I give up!" Karkat said, flinging his arms into the air in a gesture of disgust, "Name it whatever the hell you want, I don't care anymore. I'm going to see what Gamzee is doing."
Karkat stormed on in a huff, and Terezi barely managed to suppress a laugh. "How about N'Chlip?" She offered, "That sounds cool."
"NO!" Karkat screamed back at her, whirling around with an even more annoyed look on his face. Terezi and Vriska started laughing: The movie N'Chlip was from was even worse.
"Seriously, though, we need to think of something." Terezi said, "Maybe we'll have to think up something random. I can't think of anything that twenty-four trolls and twelve humans would agree on."
"I don't know." Dave said thoughtfully, "I'm digging the pop-culture reference. Totes ironic to the MAX, or something. I haven't been using my lingo for a while."
"Which, I believe, is the only thing all of us are going to agree is a good thing." Rose said with a thin smile.
"Yeah, well… Your mom." Dave finished lamely.
"Strider, we both know you and I have the same mother."
"Yeah, sis, I can see one version of her flirting with Mr. Egbert, and I can see the other getting wasted with Jake. It's called being ironic."
"Serenity." Vriska said suddenly, making a connection with an old sci-fi show her alternate-timeline double-deceased boyfriend had liked.
There was a beat of silence. Rose smiled broadly. "Yes." She said, nodding with approval. "That's good."
"What's good?" Terezi asked.
"It's the name of this spaceship from an old TV show I liked." John said, "I don't know about a name for a planet, though."
"No, that actually works on a lot of levels." Dave said, tilting his head slightly as he considered it. "I mean, naming our new home after something from a sci-fi show is ironic enough, but that was a pretty obscure show on top of that. Plus, within the context of the show itself, the name was chosen ironically. There's at least three or four levels of irony there."
"I wasn't thinking ironically," Vriska said with a shrug, "I just threw a name out there that seemed right. I don't really know why."
"No," Rose said, "That is seriously a great name; I mean, we'd all have probably chosen something grand or heroic-sounding, or New Earth or New Alternia, but do we want something grand and heroic? Do any of us want any more glory or heroism in our lives? We've had more than enough of that for the past few years, and I'd be a lot happier without any of that. I mean, that's the point of this all being over, isn't it? Peace. Calm. Serenity."
There was a moment of quiet. Terezi adjusted her glasses a little.
"I hadn't really thought of that." She said quietly. "It's over. It's all… over." She looked back up at the group. "Now what do we do?"
"Whatever we want to do." John answered, easing himself onto the ground slowly, "I don't know. For now, I feel really tired, and I want to watch the sun rise." He scooted around a little until his feet were facing down the hill, and he was facing the eastern horizon. "You should all just go and meet up with people. I'm going to be pretty useless for a while."
They heard the tired tone in his voice, and the group dispersed quietly to go meet up with other friends. Vriska was wondering who she was going to hang out with: Terezi looked like she was pretty busy with Karkat, Gamzee, Sollux, and she and Tavros hadn't been very close since he and Hussie tried to duel each other over her.
Heh. That was actually pretty hilarious, in retrospect. Hussie got owned. She wondered briefly what happened to him.
"Vriska?" John asked, "Can I ask you a favor?"
She turned back to Egbert, who had turned slightly to face her. "Sure," She said, "What do you need?"
"I think it's about five-thirty right now, and I don't want to deal with jet lag for the next week. If you see me nodding off before night tonight, could you use your sleep-control power to keep me awake?"
"Uh, yeah, I can do that. I can't keep you awake though, so it's basically the same as having someone shake you whenever you fall asleep."
"Oh." John said, "Sorry, I didn't think that through very well. I just thought 'cool psychic powers' and went with it."
"I don't mind keeping you company for a day." Vriska said, sitting down next to him, facing the slightly gray patch of the eastern horizon where the sun would come up. "Besides, why use boring old shaking when you can use supernatural psychic ability?"
"Thanks, Vriska. God, I'm so tired… It's going to be a long day."
"Maybe we can alchemize a DVD player and you can finally watch that Nick Cage movie with me."
"I thought you already did that with alternate-me."
"Yeah, but I can't get enough of Nick Cage." Vriska said, spelling it Nick C8ge in her mind, even though that's not exactly an 'eight' sound. "I must have watched all of alternate-you's… alternate-your… the other John's Nick Cage movies at least a dozen times. He's just so awesome."
"True dat." John said, offering her a little fistbump, which she returned with gusto. "How exactly did things work out between you two, anyways? You never told me."
"I never exactly met Nick-"
"No, I meant you and alternate-me. You said it didn't work out, and I just wanted to know why."
"Nothing too serious. You were a little immature, and you could get annoying with your movies, but you were a sweet guy, and it was cute how naïve you could be about things. Then you told me that you couldn't handle a whole ghost relationship just yet, and we should just back out of it before someone's feelings got hurt, so we did. We were still friends, though. Looking back on it, I suppose that you might have realized you were double-doomed, and didn't want anyone to attached to you before you double-died. That's why Davesprite broke up with Jade, right?"
"Yeah. I still can't get over how dumb 'double-dead' sounds."
"I know, right? Thank god nobody will ever have to use that term again."
"Maybe… I suppose our descendants might have to play Sburb one day, and then they might get involved in time shenanigans."
"Jegus, I hadn't even though of that. It's over for us but the whole mess just keeps going and going. Your nice planet's going to get trashed, Egbert."
"I'm going to write a book for that eventuality: If any kids come riding here on meteors, they are going to grow up knowing what to do when they get ahold of Sburb. Also, we're going to have some kind of planetary defense network to stop the Reckoning from ruining everything."
"I think Terezi was talking about doing that when we entered your universe. That never happened, of course, but she wrote a first draft or something when she was bored, and there's still Rose's GameFAQs thing out on the servers somewhere. It'd be a shame if this kick-ass little place you made got ruined."
"Oh, gosh, Vriska, you're making me blush."
"C'mon Egbert, credit where credit is due. You made a whole universe, and that makes you mildly awesome. Not as awesome as me, of course."
"Of course: How can wielding godly powers that literally evaporated my mortal body compare with the ability to make people fall asleep and wake up. That's why you're the patron, and I your humble apprentice."
"That's the natural order of things. What was it like, anyways? Rose said you got Skaia… inside you? How does that work?"
"Oh, I kinda just ate it."
"Yeah, and then I became God. I don't know how Rose did it, Vriska, and I don't remember much about it now. It's all getting fuzzy, but I think I'm much better at chess now."
"Not as good as me."
"Only when you're using Magic 8 Balls."
They laughed a little, as the cool breeze blew across the plains. There was a comfortable silence for a few minutes as they looked out at the vast new world, more and more details becoming apparent in the pre-dawn light. Vriska thought she could see the beginnings of a forest far away, and closer to the hill she could see the dark figures of her fellow players wandering around. She looked around randomly for a bit, her mind rambling, before she noticed a peculiar aspect of her new existence.
"What's with the clothes?" She asked.
"I'm back in my old clothes. Last time I checked, I was wearing my God-Tier things."
"Last time you were alive you were wearing God-Tier clothes. These are what you wore when you were dead, and I wasn't too focused on your wardrobes as I was setting all this up."
"I guess I'm just tired of them, that's all. Jegus, the things I've done in these. Treasure hunting and ghost battles and getting proposed to." She grinned. "You remember that?"
"How could I forget? It was hilarious."
"Yeah. What happened to Hussie, anyways?"
"I sent him back to Lord English's mansion with Ms. Paint and Spades Slick."
"Spades Slick was your version of Jack Noir, and he is, I believe, an item with Ms. Paint, a white Carapacian who is in some weird way the most important player in this whole… mess."
"Mess." Vriska said, smiling again. "That's probably the best way to describe this."
"No, we have a word in English that more accurately captures the subtle nuances of this situation: Pan-dimensional-inverted-Mobius-quadruple-reacharound. I believe it was coined by Rose in a moment of frustration a few days ago."
"Yeah, that's better. Another term our descendants will have to learn, along with 'double-dead'."
There was another pleasant half a minute as they sat there quietly. Thinking about life, and life after death, and if there was life after death after life after death, and how they sincerely hoped there wasn't. The silence was broken by John sighing a little.
"It's just… Karkat trolled me and Dave a while back, telling us to stop talking to you and Terezi because he didn't want a big alien/human smoochfest when we all met up."
Vriska smiled. "Yeah, that sounds like him."
John was silent for another few seconds. He began again with an odd, somewhat shy tone in his voice.
"I don't really know why I'm telling you this, because I'm probably going to regret it tomorrow… maybe it's just the tiredness speaking, or the part where that weird chessboard of creative potential fried my mind, but… during that first year on the ship with Jade, I was kind of… looking forward to that. With… you."
Vriska turned to face John, who was still staring off into the imminent sunrise. She couldn't quite think of anything to say for a while: Old feeling seemed to be bubbling up inside of her, and getting lodged in her throat. Eventually, a small smile crept onto her face.
"You know," She said, turning to face the streak of red breaking over the horizon, "Maybe it's the sheer exhilaration of finally being out of that pan-dimensional-inverted-Mobius-quadruple-reacharound, but I might not have taken the whole breakup with alternate you as well as I might have suggested."
Her hand edged its way along the ground until it met John's, and, in an action that was probably brought forth by his sleep-deprived, stress-addled mind, he slid his over hers.
"Sun's coming up." He said nonchalantly, as the flushed red light of the new star broke over the horizon for the first time.