Determination Cubed: Chapter Six
Posted December 25th, 2018 by Gracithe1andonly
in wardly searching
chapter six: in which confidence is created (to be shattered later)
It was night, and Asriel could only see by the eerie red light of the magma outside and a single fluorescent lamp shining from upstairs. Alphys was working on something, despite the hour being painfully late.
Curious and restless, Asriel felt his way out of the flowerpot. He hadn’t known he could leave it until relatively recently, and while Sans had quickly gotten used to his freedom of mobility, Alphys still had a violent start every time she saw him without his pot.
She was muttering and murmuring and cursing and cajoling her calculator, apparently. “Come on, work with me,” she pleaded aloud, and fell to her calculations with desperation.
“What are you doing?” Asriel inquired, not meaning to sound as belligerent as he did. She gratifyingly shouted and startled, turning. Her coat was in disarray and her glasses were lopsided; the lizard monster was the very picture of weariness.
“What do you want?” she snapped, then looked down, abashed. “I-I’m so-s-so sorry. Can I-Can I h-help you?”
“I just wanted to know what you were doing so late,” Asriel excused himself, and she sighed.
“I-I’m trying t-to understand what these r-rea-readings we got off the barrier m-mean, and why they look so s-similar to the Core readings,” she explained. “If-if only I really understood the C-Core. If only I c-coul-could talk to the man who made it.”
Asriel’s brow furrowed. Again with the odd absence of Doctor Gaster. He wondered if it was worth messing with, looked at Alphys’s desolate face, and somehow knew that asking if the name ‘Doctor Gaster’ meant anything to her would cause more distress than leaving her to her misery.
Therefore, he was silent on that matter, but did not leave.
“Have you asked Sans about it?” he asked.
“We’ve-we’ve looked at the man’s notes together before,” Alphys said, “I c-can’t remember them doing any good. I don’t w-want to look at them again, a-anyway. They make my head ache.”
“What if they’ve got answers?”
“What if they don’t?”
“You’ve got to start somewhere.”
“I know!” she exploded, and Asriel flinched, his living leaves not wishing to die. “I-I’m so sorry,” she said again, softly. “I’m just so irritable lately.”
She sighed, her eyes avoiding his face. “I-I don’t know. It has to do with you and-and with Sans and…” she stopped, and instead of brushing things off and barreling forward, elected to be honest with herself and Asriel. “…something seems missing in my life, Asriel. It’s been that way for a long time, and thinking about and researching the Core just makes me feel it. I should-I should know the man who made it, shouldn’t I? We should all know his name. But we don’t. And there should be more scientists. Sans and I, we’re overworked, and there are loads of projects we started that we had to discontinue because they weren’t in our f-fields. There should be more scientists, but there aren’t. We’re behind on e-everything and we’ve given up on it, really. We keep-we keep going, but we don’t expect to do things on schedule ever, a-anymore. And we’re important, Asriel.”
She got up from her desk and went to the window, shadowed eyes looking wearily out at the shimmering inferno of a landscape. He looked at her and understood at last that she was not lazy and negligent, but overwhelmed. “We are Asgore’s last, best hope. If a human comes down here before I’ve figured something out, he or she w-will d- will die, and it will be my fault. And Asgore will turn into something else, a-a-and everything will change, in a bad way. Sans wants us to stay on the beaten path, no, not the beaten path, the right path, and the way he acts sometimes, I know he knows a lot. He’s right, but all the same, if we don’t think of something soon…”
Asriel hummed in contemplation. “You sound stressed.”
She looked at him almost exasperatedly, and said, “You think?”
This behavior surprised the flower, and he wondered what he would do if he cared about her and was surprised. He decided on a friendly chuckle, and she, after a moment of silence, responded in kind.
“Thanks, Asriel,” she said, wiping her eyes and shutting her books with finality, “I’m gonna go home now.”
Asriel knew that if he could feel such things he would be very impressed, and he tried to remember what that felt like.
It had been a very productive day for Sans, which was a rarity at the best of times (which, despite the weirdness surrounding Asriel, these were.) Alphys and he were breaking out some old chemistry experiments that had the heading “Barrier?” on it, even though chemistry was not their forte. He had managed to work through all the difficult concepts on their latest project in order to understand what was going on, made a few plans to procure the necessary ingredients the next day, and had a new idea to test in the red book. Who knew that the square root of negative one could have something to do with the relation of reality to time?
Having thoroughly wasted his immaterial brain on all these very important questions, he went into his little corner of the upstairs to reread his favorite (and only) astronomy book on the floor. Asriel crept up and was prodding at him, but Sans was riveted and did not give him any sport.
"What are you doing, anyway?” cried the bored plant, and Sans remembered again how important it was for Asriel to not be bored.
“I’m looking over this book,” he explained, turning it around to show the flower, and Asriel raised an incredulous brow.
“All I see are stars,” he said flatly, and Sans chuckled. “I guess that means you have stellar eyesight.”
At Asriel’s deadpan facial expression, Sans went into peals of laughter, eventually calming himself enough to continue. “It’s an astronomy textbook, so I’d hope you’d see stars.”
“Astronomy?” Asriel wondered, and Sans shifted. “Did you ever take it?”
Asriel shook his head. Sans scooted closer and said, “well, Earth and the stars and the Sun are all moving, so there are different stars in the sky at different times. Astronomy is the study of which stars are in the sky when, and all that stuff. Like, now, the constellation Sagittarius is in the sky. See?”
“It says, ‘archer,’ and it looks like a cloud of stars,” Asriel was not impressed.
“Ancient Greeks had really weird imaginations,” Sans agreed. “but I love astronomy. I spent a whole summer doing absolutely nothing except selling hot dogs and studying astronomy.”
“Because I love it.”
“No, why do you love it?”
Sans stopped and contemplated. Why did he love the stars so much? It was a foolish thing to love something you did not know and had never seen. An answer came into his mind, and he relaxed. “It’s just so doggone cool how it works,” he grinned, “The sky is always changing, but it changes in the same way each year. The light from the stars takes so long to get here that a lot of the stars in this book might not be there anymore, but they shine for thousands of years after. So they live forever, even though they’re gone.”
“My mom used to say that the stars danced,” Asriel recalled.
Sans’s eyes brightened at the thought of dancing stars. The memory of those few festivals he had actually danced at tugged at his emotions, and his imagination made the stars follow the same patterns as the festival dances. “That’s a pretty way to put it.”
Asriel did not respond, and after a moment of sudden silence, Sans stood. “You still bored?”
Asriel shrugged. “Not as much.”
“Wanna take a walk?”
Asriel assented with gusto, and perched on Sans’s shoulder as they went to waterfall.
They stopped by the statue and decided to go see all their usual haunts, but on the way, they went through the wishing room. Usually, Sans listened carefully to each wish before leaving some weird and funny message for the next passerby. He leant down to speak into the flower and was reaching for his whoopie cushion when he changed his mind, and spoke even more softly than usual as he did something that seemed a little uncharacteristic of himself, even to him.
“I wish…” he stopped, then continued, not wanting to leave it unfinished, “I wish that someday I could see the stars for real. And, if I do, I wish that Asriel would be with me…” he stopped, noticing the flower was staring at him incredulously, but then started again, “and that he would love the stars as much as I do.”
Feeling foolish, Sans departed, muttering to himself, “Can’t ever happen, can it?” To his surprise, Asriel looked up at him and asked, quite clearly, “Why not?”
Hope rose in Sans’s chest and his eyes brightened, and with a new spring in his step he made his way back to Hotland.
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