To Save Her is a side story to Unicorn Jelly. I didn’t cover in my readthrough of Unicorn Jelly, but it’s part of the whole UJ-PDH meta-narrative and I thought I should read it to be able to make sense of PDH (which is growing on me).

The story involves a KaiWai (referred to as Kay, but probably not a Kay of Chou’s creation - later we find out her name is KayWai) from one of Tryslmaistan’s alternate universes, one where the Stormfall never happened and technology is very advanced. She’s not only aware of other alternate universes (‘splays’), but has found a way to traverse them.

She’s departing her own universe splay forever to save ‘her’ - and if I’m reading the implication correctly, she means the version of KaiWai in the main timeline of Unicorn Jelly, who was sliced to pieces by Chou in order to convert the Jelly population of New Gryrnu into subservient ‘Kays’. She says that other splays may be affected probabilistically by the proportion of ‘alternates’ who survive in the various branches of the meta-universe.

(Also, curiously, in all AUs where the Stormfall happens, humans survive…)

So I think ‘you’ is Chou, and ‘her’ is KaiWai. KayWai is using a small piece of Chou to track down Chou’s life and collect alternates of various members of the main cast in order to zero in on KaiWai. She’s using a machine built from rev-enged technology created by the Krawlni, a previous arrival in Tryslmaistan who perished in a Stormfall. Her tracking targets ‘atma’ (souls).

The machine looks kinda like a butt plug.

This story was described as film noir but so far it’s straight-up sci-fi…

Huh, interesting - whenever this comic was written, JDR had become aware of the phrase ‘sex worker’ and seems to have a generally positive attitude? This Kay describes the sophisticated “h-hold” unit she’s been issued as only being used by “actors and elite class sex workers”. So in her universe sex workers are more widely accepted? I’m not sure if the implication is this is equipment that is issued by the government on the basis of profession, or that only actors and sex workers choose obtain them through their own means. In any case, I find it hard to reconcile this with the shitty attitude towards sex work in a quite that JDR put under a different comic, idk.

It appears to be an artificial endoskeleton. Protag speaks of her “… therapy…” and I’m not sure what this means exactly.

Jellies wanting to be humanoid has been a trans metaphor before towards the end of UJ, and it seems there’s an equivalent to the autogynephilia argument in this universe?

Protag Kay is literally as well as metaphorically trans. And the alternate of Muri, the abusive aunt of Lupiko who was friends with KaiWai in the main universe, was a shitty transmisogynist doctor in this one.

Oh no this KayWai is going to suffer too :( “In every cosmos, we always suffer so

:(

Yeah so the artificial endoskelton is supposed to make her look completely human but it breaks and so she looks like a humanoid KaiWai with the same Jelly turquoise colour.

Protag adopts a pseudonym: Kaye Haychold. The alternate Commander Pho she is visiting was apparently part of a successful genocidal campaign against the Jellies, but is protecting a single Jelly called Only?

…this is confusing. Pho does not seem to be able to recognise that Kaye looks like a humanoid Jelly, but acts like she’s an ordinary human woman or something?

This particular Commander Pho led a genocidal campaign across multiple Worldplates, so the pattern of fleeing the stormfall in tiny populations on escape arks does not hold in this world.

MMMMM you know I totally fucking love blueprints of bullshit sci-fi things… ever since Star Wars Incredible Cross Sections.

Pretty sure Pho’s “Only” is an alternate of Uni. Especially after this.

It seems like there’s a lot of inter-splay travel going on in this meta-universe. This character looks like an alt-Lupiko, but she calls herself Vola. Vola was in fact a minor character from near the end of Unicorn Jelly, working with Thilia after Chou took over; she was a doctor on the ‘C’ ark. I doubt this will be the last we see of her.

Vola is immortal, and now we see the origin of immortality: some kind of nanobot machines.

It’s more and more obvious that the girl that Kaye is working to rescue is KaiWai. To the point that I’m not sure I understand JDR’s reticence to mention her by name. (reading back: lol how wrong I am!)

World-hopping is very common, and certain worlds are considered “splayports”. While it’s not clear if there’s any overall authority to the meta-universe, it does look like there are local authorities who can detect and interrogate travellers, and apply certain laws. The authorities include a human, a Jelly and a Burangidaeni (the next arrivals in Tryslmaistan after humans).

In this splayport, there is apparently a rule against rescuing people from Stormfall splays. Per earlier narration from Kaye, the majority of splays are Stormfall splays, and Chou’s actions in the main UJ story saved humanity in all of them. It’s not apparent if the multiversal travel ability was developed in the Stormfall splays.

We get a huge exposition on how Splayports work. The Krawlni are in fact inherently multi-splay entities, and it is through their influence that the network of interactions between splays exists, and the reason so many alternate universes develop identical ‘movers’.

When a civilization builds it’s first splayport, it is usually after a lot of Movers start piling up as more and more travellers arrive. This occurs shortly after the first successful Mover launch. Soon, similar variants of the original Mover pilot and crew arrive, then really odd variants, then completely new visitors. It’s like the paradox of the Infinity Hotel, with all rooms filled, and then a party arrives and wants rooms, so they just move the guy in room 1 into room 2, bump the guy in room 2 to room 3, and so on and so on, freeing up any insane number of rooms you could want. Once travel begins, the nearby alternate splays do the same thing, because they are close alternate variations with the same idea in mind… and pretty soon it’s chaos.

And then the dangerous visitors arrive. The old ‘Evil Alternate Universe With Evil Goatees’ thing. And that is when a splayport starts to have a security force, lockdown proceedures, and a Port Authority to screen every visitor.

Eventually Movers arrive from really advanced splays who have been dealing with splayports for a long time. The travellers offer admission, of a sort, into a kind of federation, of a sort, of alternate universe travel. There are common standards, spread by a kind of evangelism. Over time, these standards spread and average out into a fairly common mutual way of doing things. And since all Mover technology in all splays comes from one Krawlni, it is all the same, because it is all based on a singular thing.

Anyway, splayports eventually reach a level where they all screen visitors, all have security, all have scanning and summoning and a means to lock ships down. By that time, they have all seen some very weird, and not all nice, crap of every kind and shape imaginable. Slavers, evil alternates, overly good alternates, strange genetically altered visitors, cyborg travellers, Jellese extermination squads, Human extermination squads, dangerous drug and other product traders, invasions, plagues, and the ever popular scam artists, runaway criminals, and stories of forbidden love escaping their home splays.

It becomes routine after a while. Like an airport, or a bus terminal. Any given day could feature a contingent of deposed dictators, common splay traders, paradise seekers, religious freaks, an attack of some kind, smugglers, and of course, vanity hoppers. The Port Authority commitee becomes bored…send in security, let them pass, lock down that Mover, force that Mover to leave, no, you can’t bring that in here.

This whole thing is a really cool sci-fi concept (and in many ways reminds me of Homestuck, and in particular @snarp​‘s take on Homestuck in Reviews of Young Adult Novels…).

The KaiWai in this Pho’s home universe helped him survive, and was murdered by human soldiers. Another universe, another suffering trans woman.

JDR please never write in dialect again.

Makineri’s alternate was significant in this world too, and the splayport was named after him. For all that JDR wrote Unicorn Jelly was a story about seemingly insignificant people having hugely consequential lives, it seems like the same people are inherently destined to be important in every world.

Reveal of just how significant what Kaye is attempting is, and also that it’s illegal across the federation. And, uh… Kaye’s into Pho? I have no idea what she sees in Captain I Did A Genocide But I’m Very Sorry About It.

Doctor Nakimono. A number of people in PDH are descended from his family. This must be an alternate who didn’t cross over to the PDH universe. And they’re here to find ‘Virtue Kazemahou’, who must therefore be in the same family as alternates of Lupiko, Muri, and Lupiko’s mother Faelini…

“Biology is not destiny” says… someone. Virtue’s adopted dad. That’s a phrase that gets thrown around quite a bit in various discussions of transness and feminism etc.

So, space jail escape, and some backstory on this version of Pho. His Tryslmaistan is ruled by ‘Kahns’, who worship Zeus. Going by what we’ve heard before, appear to be ruthless military conquerors. Also Pho comes from a village called Ponsbury-by-the-Dump (the Lupiko from the main timeline is from Ponsbury-on-the-Mere).

Kind of uncomfortale with the fact that most of the people here are dark-skinned, but Virtue is lighter-skinned and outfights all of them. Also the introduction of generic tribal imagery (I get the impression) when UJ finally has more than one or two darker-skinned characters.

Virtue is apparently a Buddhist? Or at least, has some reason to invoke the name of Siddhartha Gautama aka the Buddha. I haven’t ever been around a Buddhist who swears a lot but I have my suspicion that the way Virtue is invoking the Buddha’s name is not typical? idk. Of course he’s speaking English and I’d guess most Buddhists don’t, at least as a first language? So far as I can tell, nobody has used the phrase ‘Siddhartha’s ass’ on the English-speaking Internet outside of this one comic.

Anyway, Virtue is the brother of the guy in the splayport descended from the Stormfall timeline! That guy’s name is Chomo. It turns out there are people who are only born in Stormfall splays, which is interesting. By contrast, KaiWai and Pho for example seem to exist in all splays, under varying circumstances. It’s not fully clear what determines whether someone exists in a given class of splays or not. And the comic rudely cuts away just before we learn Virtue’s real name.

Given that Virtue is a Kazemahou, and his grandmother was rescued from a Stormfall timeline… it could perhaps be that the grandfather was Sisu, the grandmother was Faelini, their mother is Lupiko, and they themselves are some of Lupiko’s kids such as Faelini the younger. The ‘biology is not destiny’ comment may be referring to Virtue being a trans guy?

Meanwhile, sure enough, Only is an alt of Uni. Great Zeus! indeed. And… they’ve accidentally boarded their alts’ Mover instead of their own. Nice! But what a coincidence…

I really like how the multiverse mechanics are playing out in the story now.

Wait what… Virtue is Texto? So the Kazemahou name was a complete red herring? I was sure I was wrong, but I was way wronger than I imagined!

I suppose you’d expect that the same alternate would be born into different families.

Oh so they’re going to rescue Chou, not KaiWai? Haha I guess I was just way too hopeful that JDR was going to address KaiWai’s horrible end in the original story.

The writing here appears to be Latin letters flipped about and squished a bit but still readable. It says “so Chou created the Kaymaker”.

This is weird actually - the written language between different splays is mutually unintelligible, but the spoken language is apparently entirely clear for all travellers??

Anyway, hard cut. An unappreciated rocket engineer who’s a trans boy. And a relatively grimdark setting with an industrial aesthetic here in this splay…

Texto has found an alt of himself. Apparently this Texto is also a serial killer. I guess ‘Texto is a serial killer’ is like one of those ‘KaiWai is trans’ constants in all universes. The Texto the protags found is one of the few exceptions.

What if someone can tell I’m just a monster with makeup slathered on” oh hi trans metaphor, we seem to be bumping into each other a lot lately.

Oh my god JDR is still referencing Zero Wing/All Your Base. This is the third time!

I’m guessing, on the basis that there’s been one other trans guy who’s good at making stuff in UJ so far, that this guy is an alt of Wai Wai the toymaker/spymaster.

…yep, sure enough he is.

Oh hey the linguistic issue is acknowledged directly. Still doesn’t make sense but now it’s an explicit thing that doesn’t make sense instead of an implicit one. The text here says “CLEANING CYCLE / LOAD / CLOSE / RUN”

There’s something of a fakeout twist where it seems like their Mover has been breached. But actually it’s an alt of their own Mover in a nearby, adjacent splay, the alt of their Mover in the same splay, containing the bodies killed by the non-Virtue Texto? and the safety systems on their Mover try to force them to save it.

The kid, who I’m temporarily going to call Wai* until he chooses a name, discovers the Mover can move around within this splay, just not leave it. So they learn how Wai*’s people hoped to survive the Stormfall: armouring their entire Worldplate.

It doesn’t work at all.

I’m not sure how this reconciles with the idea that humans survive the Stormfall in all Stormfall splays.

Once again, a tiny vessel from a collapsing world is adrift in the void.

And now they meet themselves from the future. This is great! :D

It does seem the Wiccan three-crowned hat is a common feature in multiple universes.

Vola is back. Is it the same Vola we saw ‘miss the boat’ earlier, as part of the clearly looming time travel narrative? In any case, she’s incredibly sarcastic. Even more so than the Vola in the original UJ story.

Another reference to investigate later: Buckeroo Banzai. The link to what the Oscillation Overthruster prop looks like is dead, so here’s an updated one. Apparently there’s a whole community of people who recreate movie props, and the Osc. Over. is like, a long-running meme or something?

“I would expect that most of my readers would also be fans of Buckaroo Banzai” …guess I’m letting her down there then.

I swear Pho’s chin is getting bigger.

…wait a minute. The shadow of the Krawlni here… that’s familiar. It’s one of the burger-headed monsters from the universe visited in PDH where the Omniptor was found. So that’s what they are…

Good old geometric shapes, incomprehensible machinery, and deific powers in a multidimensional spaceship. I love these silly tropes.

Whoops, they exited into the wrong universe. First the wrong Mover, now the wrong splay. I love these silly tropes.

Tech development is not linear. Nice.

…these things, the Krawlni, look like burgers. I can’t be the only one who sees it, right?

Anyway we now go between a different splay in every strip. In each one there are alternates with punny names and different outfits.

“A cascade event”, huh? I wonder what alternate-universe-heavy story has had that idea?

(This comic was written in 2008. Homestuck did not begin until the following year, and would take several years to [S] Cascade. I doubt it was influenced by an obscure Unicorn Jelly side story, just two people working with similar material and coming up with similar language for related ideas.)

aww a Warhammer-sized miniature of Kaye. No doubt there are other 28mm scale wargames apart from Warhammer, but WH is the only one I know.

OK so I was wondering if Unicorn Jelly’s “rain” involved transferring matter or duplicating it. Now we know that it was a copy; UJ is not an alternate-history where Tintern Abbey abruptly disappeared from our universe into Tryslmaistan. It can probably be assumed that our universe proceded in the familiar way (and this is consistent with the conceit that JDR herself is not inventing this story but receiving messages from beyond or whatever).

This explains, for readers of Unicorn Jelly, why there is no record in earthly history of large divots of land being excised, or of famous places vanishing, leaving only a hemispherical pit.

It’s nice to have my questions answered.

So time for the plan to rescue Chou to go into action. It seems to involve making a kind of biochemical soup - will they clone Chou into the soup?

Oh hey a clarification on what happened at the end of Unicorn Jelly:

Chou is a hybrid because she was infected with Crystal Basilisk reproductive mesoforms, and very partially transformed. In her very old age, as her immune system failed, the original Basilisk mesoforms once again got the upper hand, and -as we saw at the end of Unicorn Jelly- proceeded to complete the job of eating her flesh and turning it into a new basilisk. Before the monster could get loose and eat her friends (and it would truly have been a monster after being mingled with red life and mutated), she detonated a home-brew chemical bomb strapped to her chest. She had prepared for just such a problem, years before. The last thing we see of Chou, is what is left of her hand reaching for the switch on the bomb, and then a single, soft, 'click’. Boom. Unicorn

JDR talks about the ‘grey goo’ scenario. To me, the best argument against the possibility of ‘grey goo’ is one that she herself gestures at:

You want nanotech? Look at your own hand. Every cell in your body is a mesomachine filled with nanotech. DNA, RNA, mitochondria, the endoplasmic reticulum… nanotech. Molecules acting as machinery.

Self-replicating nanomachines already exist, and they have, in a way, turned a huge proportion of the surface levels of the Earth into themselves - but the physical limits on what they can do prevent them from converting the entire planet. I’m not convinced that humans can create nanomachines that are so much more effective than the nanomachines that have evolved already; nanomachines would face the same physical constraints as existing biochemical structures. The same rules of thermodynamics that already rule chemistry.

Since the world is not a giant ball of bacteria, I remain unpersuaded that there is a grey goo scenario available. Any nanomachines created by humanity would have to compete for resources against existing life; perhaps they would do so successfully? There could well be risks in creating novel nanotech stuff, like diseases that our biochemistry is totally unprepared to interact with. But I don’t think the risks extend to ‘grey goo’.

A redraw of the ending of Unicorn Jelly, when Chou descended into the mineshaft with two reporters, dropped the reveal about the universe’s history and the many Stormfalls that came before, and then died as described above.

So the plan is… go grab Chou’s head and put it in a jar. Then put the head into the bottle of goo to regrow Chou? I guess?

And they’re going to go drop in… on CURSOR from PDH.

Now that’s a plan :o

I don’t know what time travel model the UJ meta-universe is on, but I’m not convinced undoing the Stormfall can work.

“You owe me… you owe all the Kays” says Kaye to Chou. She’s kinda right…

“An infinity of you grinding up an infinity of me to make my species accept your conquest of the universe!”

FUCKING FINALLY this is going to be addressed! Finally the monstrousness of slicing up KaiWai to enslave the Jellies is going to be dealt with as the horrific act it is!

And indeed, she’s not here to meet CURSOR. She’s here to create her.

“singularity ascension made simple”

Only finds a way to escape the threat of the all-powerful recycler beam.

Oh wow so that’s her plan. Wow. That’s… suitably grandiose.

Seriously what is with the Texto mass-murdering “sociopath” concept. It seems like a really horrifyingly dangerous disablist stereotype?

So like, I don’t know. I think we’re supposed to be horrified by Kaye’s plan; I would normally say things about the stereotype of the dangerous fanatic driven to ~villainy~ by a horrible dystopian society, much as takes place in PDH.

The thing is… even knowing her real plan? I find myself sympathetic to Kaye. Erasing all of humanity to undo (metaphorical) trans womens’ suffering? It is so extreme that it appeals, it makes sense. And also like… humans, in every universe we’ve seen, are genocidal colonisers. Whether they kill the Jellies or enslave them. I think Kaye may be right: Tryslmaistan may well be better off without humans coming to colonise it.

Though I could do without the “being reborn as a real woman Jellese” bit.

That said, if the multiverse here operates on a ‘stable time loop’ model… Kaye’s plan is doomed to fail. Nothing can be erased from the consistent timeline.

We get a flashback to KayWai (later Kaye)’s analogously-transmisogynistic abuse by Muri the analogous-therapist. Though it also seems to be a metaphor for antiblackness, with different doors for Jellies and for humans and a heavily implied power structure with humans on top. This mixed metaphor is… pretty fucking uncomfortable. KayWai works in the Museum of Precosmic Archaeology.

In the Stormfall Sec(tion), we have exhibits including an “ancestral casket” (significant in both the other stories in the UJ-PDH meta-story) and a “Preserved fragment of Chou Yaru Kazemahou” which has been stolen - by KayWai, of course.

If travel into Stormfall splays is forbidden… how were these artefacts gathered? Given KayWai’s splay is a non-stormfall one I think?

…Muri was responsible for donating Kaye’s H-Hold? The note there says ‘Love and luck, Muri’ The label on the H-Hold says “H-Hol[d]/Humano[id]/Electani[c]/Cautio[n]”. Muri came around?

We learn why CURSOR’s chamber is so damaged in PDH: it’s Kaye shooting up the place.

And at last, the evil trans woman, driven to violence, is put down. :/

If a non-trans woman wrote this story, I would give up in disgust at this point. But… I’m going to see it through.

We’re now leading up to the events in the flash of future sight we saw during the time travel incident, when Kaye, missing the top of her head, was threatening the crew with a gun.

Oh no… Uni… I mean Only… not again…

The American settler colonialism metaphor with the Jellies was already very explicit, but now manifest destiny is mentioned explicitly. I’m… really uncomfortable with the whole ‘Kaye has become just as bad as the humans’ idea here.

CURSOR sees them leave is the implication here, I think. Or is it that Chou’s consciousness has been left in the future?

While I understand the principle, I don’t think you can escape a stable time loop that easily… I’m pretty sure he’s going to walk to that exact spot, and die, whether he likes it or not.

And now we see why Vola showed up so briefly to ‘miss the boat’ at the beginning. I’m impressed at the care and planning this must have taken!

Sure enough, the narratively inevitable time travel event.

Oh bloody hell. So Pho himself killed his alternate KaiWai.

So in their little escape pod, they ‘recommerse’ in… PENIS LAND! yaaaay (anyone remember Pen Island . Com)

Now it gets confusing. Pho is no longer tumbling, but standing in a corridor, where he’s receiving a psychic message from… well it’s not clear. Someone. Chou?

It is Chou.

And that’s the end.

So rereading the last few strips a few times, I think the interpretation of the one-sided converation is… Chou has ascended to even greater godhood than before, become the post-singularity AI she already had been… and has been manipulating events ever since they left the distant future and created CURSOR, in order to catch Kaye and imprison her, for the good of all the different KaiWais. 

“I too had such a friend, but I never admitted my devotion”… is Chou speaking of KaiWai here? I think she may well be.

And that’s the ending. Bittersweet.

I think, on the whole, To Save Her is… possibly my favourite of the two-and-a-half Unicorn Jelly stories I’m reading. I prefer the visual style of Unicorn Jelly, and of course it introduced all the concepts, but in a way, To Save Her is healing after the horrific ending of Unicorn Jelly. And it plays with multiverses and alternate realities (and a little time travel) in a way I’ve not seen done as well apart from Homestuck.

If you’ve read Unicorn Jelly, I strongly encourage you to read To Save Her. You don’t need to read Pastel Defender Heliotrope, though PDH adds a little extra context - but mainly, To Save Her adds context to Unicorn Jelly instead, by explaining the origins of CURSOR and the Krawlni.

Oh no, help me, I think I’m becoming a fan of JDR’s work.