What is on the other side of the door?
You have probably asked yourself this question many times, especially if you are one of a certain motley band of teenagers responsible for creating a Universe from the belly of a tadpole. If you are a Witch, at some point you have likely heard the sound that only a tiny set of underdeveloped wiggler teeth can make as it tears through the curtain you’ve hung up in its room, and thought to yourself Oh for the love of Bilious, what is that little scamp getting up to now? Or if you are a Knight, you have heard the loud thump of your husband bashing his toe against the leg of the wardrobe and chuckled at his loud stream of characteristic obscenities. If you are a teenage hero, you have encountered many doors in many eras, of many shapes and colors that give way to strange new worlds. You have met with new faces, new friends, and new adventures – all on the other side of the threshold. But what is on the other side of the door? The first door. You know the door I’m talking about.
John Egbert twists the doorknob to the Ultimate Reward, and when he crosses the entryway he falls into nothingness.
What did you expect would be there, a lobby with a receptionist? Ring the bell and receive a deluxe train ticket to Paradise? No, there isn’t any ground under John Egbert’s feet as he tumbles and tumbles. Beneath him is only empty space – not the Medium, not the Incipisphere, real outer space. The nearest star is lightyears away, and the horizon is pierced with the shining of nebulas. It might be very beautiful if he was not trying to avoid asphyxiation in zero gravity.
John Egbert yanks molecules of oxygen from the ether of space and stuffs them inside of his lungs the way an indulgent squirrel makes off with the acorns under your oak tree. And when his friends cross the threshold and fall inelegantly to the same fate, John does the same for them. Jade Harley, who is quite familiar with the vacuum of Space, helps him pick up the slack. Now Jake English is a bit purple in the face, and Terezi Pyrope’s mouth is frozen in a jagged, pointy scream. Before their blood vessels burst like balloons, Jade Harley takes the terraformed Earth and tosses it before her friends in a manner that suggests she would be a very good baseball pitcher. With Witchery, the planet crackles with static electricity and grows to its proper size. John Egbert’s face meets the dirt before you can say transportilization.
Fresh air burns in their chests. You know how this feels even if you have not violently reentered Earth’s atmosphere – at some point in your life you have emerged from the public pool gasping for gulps of oxygen after trying to find out, your cheeks filled with air, how long you could last underwater. John Egbert has a hazy thought like this when he pushes himself up from the moss and soil. Jane Crocker does, too. Dave Strider does not, because he has never been to a public pool, but Rose Lalonde has experienced something similar enough beneath the bubbles of her bathtub.
No one has the first word when this ragtag, gangly group of heroes faceplants into the ground. In the grassy grove they’ve landed in, there erupts a chorus of groans. A young buck dashes into the trees. It does not look quite like the deer Jane Crocker remembers seeing from her bedroom window, eating maple leaves from her backyard and leaping over suburban fences. Centuries have passed in Jade Harley’s outstretched palm. Evolution can be a strange and unpredictable thing.
In these types of situations it is very easy to get lost in your emotions and wonder just what the hell you are supposed to do now. Twenty minutes ago, Roxy Lalonde discovered what troll flesh sounds like when a Chinatown katana tears through the abdomen. Fifteen minutes ago, Karkat Vantas was hogtied by a sprightly leprechaun. There is still quite a bit of adrenaline running through these little daredevils’ veins. They are practically chomping at the bit for one last bite of heroic action – except perhaps the adults in this arrangement, but Mr. Crocker has just concluded a long vacation and is willing to follow his daughter into any fray she desires. And who are we kidding; when has one’s feelings of tremendous relief to be alive, of confusion or trepidation, ever prevented these children from launching headfirst into some foolhardy task? They have had three years to rest. Now the real work begins.
Rose Lalonde is the first to point out the overgrown meteor in the tangle of thickets above. Sunlight coasts through the trees and dapples its broken window panes. The meteor they called home splashed into the sea many eons ago, or hours ago if your name is Jade Harley, and whatever possessions they held dear are likely long gone. One day, the settlement around this site will be called Meteor Mound, and the ancient artifacts inside will be held sacred and divine. Here is where gods met, where humans and trolls and Carapacians walked together to form the first post-Earth society. Right now, it is where the last ectobiology lab remains. The Earth is very empty, and very lonely, and it is time to lift up civilization by its bootstraps.
This is, in effect, what Rose Lalonde tells her comrades as she points her finger dramatically to the ruined meteor above. Her statement, made less stoic with the off-kilter skew of her headband, is met with a series of eye rolls and grins.
A great number of friends are needed to resurrect intelligent life. John Egbert has tried his hand at the art of ectobiology, but a certain matronly benefactor did all the heavy lifting for him. And while Karkat Vantas has also dipped his toe into this field, it’s been quite a few years, and subsequent experiments in the lab over the course of that time have yielded less than nothing. We could stand idly by and allow this group of amateur biologists to create a monstrous founder effect from their own limited gene pool, thus resulting in generations of thin-skinned Habsburgs with bad joints and alopecia, or we could step aside and let the experts handle it. Enter stage left: a team of Carapacian soldiers and scientists. They’re fresh off the Prospitian Royal Navy Ship Basilica, and armed to the teeth with both war-induced trauma and copious knowledge of yoinking strings of ancient DNA from just about anything.
If we leave them in the good democratically-voted care of the Mayor and the Parcel Mistress, I think we can comfortably call this task complete.
At this point there is a long, long laundry list of topics we could discuss. We could discuss Jade Harley. In what presidence she still possesses over the Green Sun, she trains her keen canine eye on the cosmos, and in her textbook knowledge of astronomy and physics, picks a real star to pull Earth within its orbit, with two nice, sizable satellites to tug upon its oceans. We could discuss the Carapacians who can scarcely carry the grubs and infants crawling all over the lab, the Dersites who are preventing a teal-blooded grub from take a bite out of a redheaded baby’s shoulder, and how Kanaya Maryam weeps as Rose Lalonde places an indigo-blooded wiggler in her arms. We could discuss Mr. Crocker packing his pipe with tobacco as he points out the structural damage done to the meteor over time, which would normally bore his daughter to tears, but right now Jane Crocker is happy to listen to her father ramble about any subject at all. And that wouldn’t cover the half of it. There’s Jake English discussing the logistics of a post-apocalyptic day care center with Roxy Lalonde, and the chorus of shrieks that arises when Jasprose and Davepeta come crashing out of a fenestrated window, the latter’s claws still stained with cherub blood.
I could go on, but that isn’t what you came here for. You’re here for the after after the after, after Dave Strider has scrubbed wiggler spit-up from his cape and after Terezi Pyrope is finished taste-testing the paradox slime of some ancient human. You have already seen something like this scene up close and personal, haven’t you, and wouldn’t it be a little silly to rehash an old story? There are other old stories to rehash, those which didn’t make the cut, ones that perhaps you haven’t heard before.
This tale, right here and now, is warm and familiar to you. It’s brimming with hope and the promise of a tabula rasa. So let’s move on.
What happens after the after?