CatastrophicFailure

Whispers of the Kraken (Chapter 96: Shadowscourge)

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Spoiler

 

It has begun. The Story speaks again. I'm still not quite sure where it's going. Things may move slowly until 64k is fully released so I can get to the meat of things. Yes, this is the follow on to

Shadows of the Kraken

, now with New and Improved actual beginning! It should hopefully be accessible enough to everyone tho. Expect much Russian jokes. Our story begins some time before the events of SoK....

 

 

A more detailed account if the rise of the Ussari Space Program its self can be found here.

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The Mappe. Complete credit goes to @Pds314 and his thread can be found here.

MjWmrtN.jpg

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Special thanks to @Ten Key for constant editing assistance. :cool:

Prologue: Wind and Snow

ACT I: The First Whispers

Chapter 1: A Clear Night
Chapter 2: A New Dawn
Chapter 3: Politics
Chapter 4: An Invitation
Chapter 5: Poyekhali!
Chapter 6: Into Darkness
Chapter 7: Into the Light
Chapter 8: Starry Night
Chapter 9: Reclining at Table
Chapter 10: Changes
Chapter 11: Kermangrad
Chapter 12: Crimson Square
Chapter 13: Crimson Dawn
Chapter 14: Waiting
Chapter 15: Krazniyy Oktyabr
Chapter 16: The End of the Dream
Chapter 17: A Pleasant Night
Chapter 18: For All Kerbalkind
Chapter 19: Crow
Chapter 20: Arrangements
Chapter 21: An August Summer Night
Chapter 22: Winds of Change
Chapter 23: The Flight of Sila, pt. 1
Chapter 24: The Flight of Sila, pt. 2
Chapter 25: Choices
Chapter 26: Night and Day
Chapter 27: A Pound of Flesh
Chapter 28: The Fall
Chapter 29: A Shot in the Dark
Chapter 30: Zarya
Chapter 31: A Prelude to Silence
Chapter 32: Hunting
Chapter 33: Silence
Chapter 34: The Darkness... and the Light
Chapter 35: Homecoming
Chapter 36: In Union Assembled
Chapter 38: By Dawn's Early Light
Chapter 39: Der Kommissar
Chapter 40: The End of the Beginning
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Interlude: Heavy is the Head
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ACT II: Stranger in a Strange Land

Chapter 41: A Long, Strange Trip
Chapter 42: Diplomacy
Chapter 43: Stranger in a Strange Land
Chapter 44: A Hard Day's Night
Chapter 45: The Wretched Hive of Scum & Villainy
Chapter 46: Food and Drink
Chapter 47: How to Make an Entrance
Chapter 48: Close Encounters of The Weird Kind
Chapter 49: A History Lesson
Chapter 50: Rain
Chapter 51: The Cheeseburger
Chapter 52: One Giant Bleep
Chapter 53: The Halls of Medicine
Chapter 54: Uncomfortably Numb
Chapter 55: The Kerb of the Hour 
Chapter 56: Summoned, Sentenced 
Chapter 57: Wanderings 
Chapter 58: Off We Go... 
Chapter 59: ...Into the Wild Blue Yonder 
Chapter 60: Girl, On Fire 
Chapter 61: Crash and Burn 
Chapter 62: Casting Out 
Chapter 63: Words, Words, Words... 
Chapter 64: High Noon 
Chapter 65: O Brave New World 
Chapter 66: All Good Things...

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Interlude: Whispers of the Past, Shadows of the Future 
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ACT III: Shadowscourge

Chapter 67: Awakening 
Chapter 68: Home, Sweet Home 
Chapter 69: Seeking Answers 
Chapter 70: A Last Whisper 
Chapter 71: Night Train 
Chapter 72: Dangerous Thoughts 
Chapter 73: A Terrible Mistake 
Chapter 74: The Right Questions 
Chapter 75: Shattered 
Chapter 76: McQueen, She Ain't
Chapter 77: Monster 
Chapter 78: Old Friends 
Chapter 79: Igor Ex Machina 
Chapter 80: ...And a Light Went Out of the World 
Chapter 81: Out of the Frying Pan... 
Chapter 82: ...But Left a Spark 
Chapter 83: ...And Onto the Pyre 
Chapter 84: A Memory of Darkness 
Chapter 85: One Small Step 
Chapter 86: House of Shadows 
Chapter 87: Ghosts of Yesterday 
Chapter 88: Shadows and Mündust (Redux) 
Chapter 89: Lies 
Chapter 90: Truth 

Chapter 91: Out of Her Mind... Back in Five Minutes! 
Chapter 92: Toruk Makto 
Chapter 93: Paint it, Black 
Chapter 94: Down the Smeerp Hole 
Chapter 95: Hello Darkness, My Old Friend 
Chapter 96: Shadowscourge 

 

Officially Unofficial I-don't-own-any-of-it Soundtrack

 

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Prologue: Wind and Snow

Clouds hung thickly, gray and featureless, obscuring the mountain peaks higher up and making the valley seem even more isolated. Where the clouds met the mountains, their edges churned and roiled, driven by the fierce, frigid, hurricane-force winds cascading into the valley below. As the wind descended and spread out across the valley floor it slowed and warmed, until by the time it reached Boris Kermanskiovitch, it was merely a chilling breath. He stood, looking out over the valley, his bare hands folded behind him, oblivious to the cold as the wind whispered around him. He wore a heavy coat trimmed with fur, massive thick boots that added to his already imposing height, and a tall ushanka on his head, the ear-flaps always pinned up, emblazoned with the Crimson Star of the Ussari Union, and the insignia marking him as a Kommissar. He stood, impassively, a half-smoked rattail dangling from his lips, and observed the flurry of activity in the distant pit in the valley floor as snow slowly drifted down around him.

He sensed the other's approach, and leaned heavily on the ancient wooden railing before him. It creaked and groaned in protest, as did the worn floor boards as the other Kerbal joined him at the railing. Boris did not look away from the valley, but produced a half-empty pack of rattails from his coat, which he offered wordlessly to the newcomer, who took one as he, too, leaned on the long-suffering railing. The newcomer dug out a match, struck it into flame on the railing, and lit the rattail, taking a long, deep drag. He took it from his mouth and regarded it for a moment, blowing the smoke out to mix with the harsh draft, then took another slow drag.

"ЬФЯSCHT," said Igor finally.

Only the slightest flick from Boris's eyes, "ЬФЯSCHT?"

"DД."

"DД?"

"DД."

"ЙУЗT."

"DД."

"ЙУЗT!"

"DД!"

"DД?"

"DД."

"," Boris sighed heavily. Igor nodded, rose, and saluted smartly. He did not wait for the senior Kerbal to return the salute, but pivoted on his heel and withdrew, silent but for the creaking floorboards. Boris listened to him depart, staring off towards the valley. At length he stood, and took a long, final drag on his rattail, now down to a nub. He plucked it from his mouth and held it before him, turning it back and forth in his stubby, callused fingers, holding in the acrid smoke. Finally he flicked it away, watched it arc through the air and land in the snow, which retreated out of revulsion.

He blew the smoke out in an ominous cloud, "." For a time he stood motionless, hands clasped behind his back again, staring at nothing.

ЬФЯSCHT, he thought, .

"..." he said to the wind.

Slowly, a trembling sneer grew on his lip, the trembling then spreading over his entire body.

"PЦTIЙ" he swore roughly, spat, and then stormed off.

Snow swirled as the wind whispered indifferently.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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Chapter 1: A Clear Night

Valentina Kerman pulled her heavy coat tight against the uncaring wind. She walked quickly on, ignoring it, across the complex. The cold never bothered her much anyway. Despite the multitude of lights, the stars shown brightly overhead on this crystal clear night. She looked up at them as she walked, reminded of the frigid, sparkling winter nights back home on the taiga. How many times had she stared up at them, the cold biting at her face, as they seemed to beckon and whisper? As long as she could remember, she dreamed of being up there, in that immaculate lucidity. How many times had she stood there, oblivious to the snow up to her waist, reaching and dreaming until her old gran-deda--?

"Comrade Pilot!"

Valentina jerked back to the present, returning a tepid salute to the surprised young technician as she walked past. The facility was nearly deserted at this hour, but Kerbals could still be found here and there, going about some important task on this unseasonably cold spring night. She tried to keep to the shadows as she moved, the technicians wouldn't say anything, but she needed to avoid--

"Comrade Pilot!"

She gave another listless salute. She still found it odd that they looked at her with such awe. If only they knew... She looked up at the brilliant stars again. It wouldn't be long now. Two more days. She just had to get through tomorrow. She hated such politics. Get through tomorrow, and then it was just the automatic actions of a well-trained pilot. Then, she would bring respect and an honorific to her family. Just get past the political--

"Comrade Pilot."

PЦTIЙ.

Speaking of politics...

"Comrade Political Officer," she saluted smartly this time, "it is late for you to be about."

"One might say the same of you, Comrade Pilot," he smiled a wide smile that did not touch his eyes, "with respect, papers, please."

She held his gaze and resisted the urge to roll her eyes as she handed him her small document wallet. The other Kerbal took it, produced a tiny flashlight, and meticulously looked over the myriad of paperwork.

"As expected, Comrade, all is in order," he said as he handed the wallet back to her with that cold smile, "there is a chill in the air tonight. Do keep warm."

She saluted again. He returned it, turned and left, saying before he did, "glory to Arsotzka."

Valentina blinked. That was an odd thing to say. She sighed and walked on, hearing somewhere off behind her, "Halt! You there! Papers, please!" She turned a corner, and there it was, looking helpless as a beached whale on its horizontal rail carrier. Her rocket. Her passage into space. She approached slowly and stared up at the multitude of engine nozzles in their protective covers. She would be the First.

Well, not the first. That honor had already been claimed by another. No one had seen it coming. No one had expected it. The Foreigners had been the first to put a Kerbal into space. And not only into space. He had orbited the planet, opened his hatch, climbed out, and claimed the first spacewalk as well. Valentina began to climb the steep ladders up the scaffolding.

It had been an embarrassment to the Imperium the likes of which had not been seen in a generation, broadcast live over the air where not even they could conceal it. Funding to the overwhelmed Ussari space program had flowed freely since then. The Union would reclaim technological superiority at any cost. A race was beginning. A race to the heavens, and beyond. The Foreigners boasted loudly about their next planned launch. A second Kerbal in space before the Union had launched even one was unthinkable, and yet there it was, on the entertainment box, for the world to see. The Imperium had not even tried to suppress it. Valentina reached the platform at the top of the stairs.

And then the accident. Live, on the entertainment box, for the world to see. Smoke, and confusion, and fire. So much fire. She knew the Kerbish language well enough to understand the announcer's pained and futile calls for help, before the screen went to static. It had been heart-wrenching to watch, even if they were strange foreigners. Everything had changed after that. And tomorrow...

Ugh, how she hated politics. She reached out, and touched the cold steel casing of the solid rocket motor. This was something she could understand. Valentina began to walk down the platform, along the flank of the massive rocket, running her stubby fingers along the painted steel. This, this was something real. She was to be First. She knew why she had been chosen.

She was the Best. Top of her class at the Imperial Air Force Academy. Thousands of hours flying the fastest things on wings at a ridiculously young age. She flew like the infamous Ussari winter: ice cold. No mistakes. She took to the theories of orbital mechanics naturally, could work out the equations in her head as if she could see the trajectories. She could run faster, climb higher, punch harder than any of her fellow Select. She had remained conscious for over a minute in the vacuum training chamber, had pulled eighteen G's in the centrifuge. But she knew this was not why she was chosen.

She was chosen because she was the smallest.

The other three Select were all small, but even Sergei stood centimeters over her. His ego, of course, was not so small. Valentina reached the tip of the rocket. Within the pointed nose cone and its launch escape tower, was her tiny, spherical pod. It was a simple matter of physics, really. This rocket would take her on a suborbital flight into space, but only just. Every gram saved on the pilot was another precious few meters of altitude. She would be little more than inert payload anyway. The Foreigner had flown his rocket all the way to orbit by his own hand. Valentina's rocket was completely unguided. It would rely on careful engineering and a natural gravity turn to bring her to space for just a few fleeting moments. It was the best--

"Valentina," said an ominous voice behind her.

"PЦTIЙ," she said to the wind.

"Language!" the Voice scolded.

This time she did roll her eyes. She turned.

"Hello, Igor."

"Is late. You should not be about. Is important day tomorrow." Igor simply towered over her. He towered over most Kerbals. He was built like a stone, and twice as stubborn. He probably ate them, too.

"Indeed. How do you expect me to sleep on a night such as this?"

Igor raised his eye... bulges, "is great Valentina Kerman afraid of uniforms and handshakes?"

"I would rather fly to space on the outside of this rocket."

He smiled... warmly. From some cavern in his heavy coat, he produced her wide-brimmed hat with the two small, gold stars marking her as a Lieutenant. He placed it gently on her head.

"Come. Is cold. If you catch death, I must see Kommissar. I do not like to see Kommissar."

Valentina sighed, and descended another steep staircase with him. Igor had a very dry sense of humor. He was also the only person she'd ever known who spoke with an accent in his native language. She thought it must be all the rattails he smoked. That couldn't possibly be good for the brain.

The two walked in silence through the deserted complex. Above, the Mün now shown down with a sickly light. It had always made Valentina uncomfortable. She couldn't quite say why. She much preferred the darkness of a starry night to that insincere glow. Around them, the wind swirled and blew on.

It whispered troublingly.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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Chapter 2: A New Dawn

 

Dawn broke as clear as the night had been, the frigid wind replaced by a cool stillness. The sun, still hidden behind the mountains that ringed the valley, lit up their snow-covered peaks like flaming beacons. As indigo light slowly drained into the valley, Valentina Kerman stepped out onto the running track next to the fitness center. She breathed deeply as she did her morning stretches. The stillness of this place at dawn had always amazed her. Back home, in the taiga, dawn was a cacophony of sound as the wildlife that had survived the night boasted that fact to each other.

She began around the oval track at a leisurely jog, looking out at the facility. A good morning run would help to calm her nerves. None of the others would be up yet, the Kommissar had designated this a rest day of sorts, at least until... later. She sped up as the crisp morning air filled her lungs and her muscles warmed up. Yes, a nice, solitary run would be a good start to the day. Work out the stiffness from the plank-like--

"Valentina."

PЦTIЙ.

"Sergei."

He came jogging up alongside her. Sergei Ilyich Kermanski. It was a minor honorific, but still more than she had, and granted to Sergei's family by the Imperium its self, for something his father had done during the Troubles. What exactly, he would never say, but never stopped reminding everyone of the rest.

"You are up early," he said with his typical smirk.

"It seemed a good time for a run... alone."

He raised an eye... bulge, "you have snuck away from your handler again, yes?"

Of all the pompous--! She kept her eyes ahead, "he sleeps."

Sergei made a show of looking around, "there is no one to disturb us, then? A race, perhaps?"

"You always loose."

"Valentina, you wound me! I am wounded. Surely you are not one to shrink from such a challenge."

ЬЯЗZHЙЭV, there was just no avoiding it, "very well."

"A lap, then? To the flag pole?," the smirk bared teeth, "Go!" He stepped into her and shoved, darting out ahead.

So typical. Valentina stumbled but managed to keep her footing. She charged onward, keeping pace just to the side and slightly behind Sergei. No sense making this any more unpleasant than it needed to be. The two plodded on, in their awkward, head-low, but surprisingly swift Kerbal gait. She could hear him grunting, straining to stay ahead. Good, let him exhaust himself. Valentina's own body was working like a precision-tuned aircraft, her foot-falls perfectly efficient, her breathing rapid but measured. Her timing must be flawless.

The pair rounded the final curve, heading back toward the unadorned flagpole in the center of the track.

Now!

Valentina surged forward, digging into her reserves of strength, quickly closing the gap with Sergei. She saw the elbow coming. She grabbed, twisted, drawing a squeak from him, pirouetted and rebounded off, then passed out of his reach, passing the flagpole a moment later. She continued on for a moment before slowing, then turned, ready for...

Sergei was half a meter behind the line, red-faced and panting.

"You...cheat...!" He huffed.

"You elbow."

"An...accident!"

"Unlikely."

"I...shall see...Kommissar!"

Valentina grunted and rolled her eyes.

"If you ever actually saw the Kommissar, you would run away as fast as you could, just like anyone else," she said, putting her hands on her hips, head cocked, "and you would still be slower."

"Gah!" He blurted, balling his hands into fists and drawing himself up to his full, unimpressive height, "I do not have to take such insult from a mere peasant girl!"

Valentina narrowed her eyes. That stung.

"STДLIЙSКIУ!" She took a step toward him.

"Kiss your mother with that mouth?" He smirked, "oh. No, I guess you don't."

That was--! He was--! Even for him--! She bared teeth and prepared to charge.

Suddenly, the brightening dawn dimmed. They both looked up.

"Ah, Comrade Igor," Sergei said with a smug smile, "your charge here was just about to--"

Igor lowered his massive head till it was a centimeter from Sergei's face, whose smile quickly faded.

"Break. You." Igor said softly.

Sergei's eyes widened till they took up most of his face.

"Like. Egg."

He swallowed hard.

"You. Go. Now."

Sergei suddenly remembered some very pressing matter somewhere not there, and scuttled off. Igor straightened, and glowered.

"Valentina."

"But he... I..."

Igor sighed like a gale, "is my job protect you. If you break Sergei, I laugh. But you not go to space. And I must see Kommissar." He smiled, "I do not like to see Kommissar."

As if finally deciding it was safe to come out, the sun hesitantly peeked over the mountains to the east. Warm light flooded the valley, and an unfamiliar sound. Valentina looked up, and beheld a strange sight. As a pilot, she knew aircraft. Even this one.

The Foreigner had arrived.

"Come," said Igor grimly, "is time."

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
more PЦTIЙ
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I'm liking Igor already.

Not to mention the cussing. :)

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Chapter 3: Politics

"It's been an honor and a pleasure to meet ya Luftennant, truly, and the best of luck on your flight tomorrow."

He released her hand and wandered off to find some other as-yet unshaken hand, his mop of red hair tinged with grey blowing in the breeze. He was so dashing! Not at all what Valentina had been expecting. Of course, she wasn't quite sure what she'd been expecting. She'd never met a Foreigner before. No one had. The occasional exchange trainee from some far corner of the Union, perhaps, but none of them were so... foreign.

They milled about on the concrete apron not far from the launchpad, where her rocket had been erected earlier that day and was now draped proudly in the Great Flag of the Ussari Union. "Her" rocket. It seemed like such an odd way to think about it, it belonged to the People of the Union after all, but never before had she had something so completely her own. Every dial, every gauge, she knew them better than her own face. Blindfolded, upside-down, and under water, she could operate every switch and locate every button not even by feel but by pure muscle memory. She knew her pod better than the engineers who built it by now, they still had to reference manuals and diagrams.

Valentina sighed and looked away. She would rather be up there now, training, than down here with... politics. The whole day had been handshakes and speeches about courage and sacrifice and awkward small talk. The Foreigner had brought a small cadre of comrades, and representatives from the Empress, the Imperium, the military, the Academy of Sciences, the design bureaus, the NKOTB, and all the Union Oblasts were in attendance. She'd never seen a bigger group of people who really didn't want to be around each other. Off in a corner, a traditional Ussari band played traditional Ussari music. They had tried playing the music of the Foreigners for a time, until it was mutually agreed that continuing to do so might inadvertently trigger a war and the band should just stick to what it knew. And of course, the Political Officer, wandering through the crowd in his never-ending quest for papers. Strange, that he seemed to keep his distance from the Foreigners.

At least things were winding down now. The flow of awkward handshakes seemed to have tapered off. And come to think of it, she hadn't even seen--

"Valentina."

PЦTIЙ.

"Sergei."

She kept her eyes forward as he sidled up next to her with his usual smug grin.

He nodded towards the Foreigner, off aways talking to the Premier of Nusad, "ДИЙД КФЦЯИIКФVД DФ SVIDДЙIУД VФDКД?"

Well that was a rude thing to say. Valentina kept her face neutral. What was Sergei up to?

"ИУЗT?" He grinned, "MДЯIД SHДЯДPФVД SPДSIЬД STФLICHИДУД, DД?"

Her eyes widened. Now that was uncalled for. She thought she'd seen the Foreigner twitch, and... oh, no, he's coming this way! She took a sidestep away from Sergei.

The Foreigner stepped right up to Sergei with his perpetual, mischievous grin, that stood in such contrast to Sergei's smug smirk. "Ah dunna believe we've met, sir," he said, extending his hand.

Sergei's smirk deepened, "Kipitan Sergei Ilyich Kermanski of People's Imperious Crimson Air Force," and he snapped a salute. The Foreigner stood there grinning, his hand still outstretched. Sergei let it hang well into awkwardness before slowly lowering his own hand and taking the Foreigner's.

Which was followed immediately by a soft, wet, crackling sound.

Sergei suddenly stiffened, eyes wide, smirk gone.

The grin never left but something subtle changed in the Foreigner's eyes, "and you know bloody well who Ah am b'now. Ah dunna care a RatSquirrelFish's fluffy wet behind what y'say of me, but Ah'll have y'know m'mum was a damn fine lady, rest her soul, and Ah'll not have her spoken ill of in m'presence. So if'n Ah hear any such as that out of you again, then international relations be damned, and Ah'll be obliged to show you y'r own elbow."

Valentina clapped a hand to her mouth to stifle a giggle.

He have Sergei's hand a single, brisk shake, eliciting another squeak as something popped, then released it. He turned to Valentina, the mirth back in his eyes.

The Foreigner tipped a non-existent hat to her, "and once again, a great pleasure to have met you, Luftennant, and the best of luck tomorrow." And with that, he was gone.

The other two Kerbals stood silently for a moment, shaded from the spring sun by their wide-brimmed hats, one with his hand still hanging in the air, fingers bent into headache-inducing forms, twitching slightly.

"Did you not know?" Valentina finally asked, looking off towards the Foreigner. Sergei stood perfectly still, other than his twitching, but his huge eyes slowly moved to her.

"The gentleman speaks fluent Ussari. Quite well for one not born to the tongue."

Sergei's eyes crept forward again. Then he slowly turned on his heel, and walked stiffly off, his hand still sticking out in front of him.

Valentina folded her hands behind her back and looked around the crowd once more. Other than Sergei, everyone seemed to be getting along quite well, for people who weren't supposed to like each other. Were these really the untrustworthy adversaries? Only months ago, this place, built in a deep pit, dug out of a hidden valley, surrounded by impassable mountains, in the middle of inhospitable steppe, had been the most closely guarded secret in the Union. Now the very people it was most to be kept secret from were wandering about looking at everything. She looked again toward the Foreigner, having a very animated conversation with an adjunct from Abvonovichatkaderivokistan, though she was quite sure neither spoke the other's language, and finally saw a friendly face coming her way.

"Have you ever seen hair like that on a person? Why, it doesn't even look real, and yet it is."

"They are strange people," said Valentina.

"Indeed," said Dibella Kermanov, smiling. Like Sergei, she was the progeny of a respected Imperium official, but quite decent despite that.

"Here, try this," she said, handing Valentina a cup of dark, steaming liquid.

Valentina grimaced at the smell, but took a small sip anyway. And immediately wished she hadn't.

"Remember where you are," Dibella said with a wry grin.

With difficulty, Valentina choked the bitter stuff down without gagging or spitting, "gah, tastes like rocket nozzle!"

"Quite. It's a drink the Foreigners have brought. They call it 'coffee.'"

Valentina stared at the cup of black fluid, "they drink this? Willingly?"

"It would seem. I am told, it is an acquired taste of sorts."

Valentina blinked. It was clear these Foreigners were not to be trifled with, "surely, acquiring such a thing is an act of great will."

"Indeed," Dibella took a sip and grimaced, "supposedly it's a motivator of some sort."

"DД, I am very motivated to never touch it again!" Valentina said, her eyes wandering back towards her rocket in the distance.

Dibella followed her gaze, "are you getting nervous?"

"I do not get nervous."

"I do," Dibella turned to look off towards the rocket, "enough for two. Really, I am grateful. You get all the attention and notoriety and politics. No one will care about my flight. I can just focus on the science."

"That, or I could spontaneously explode."

Dibella gave her a look, "I thought you didn't get nervous."

"I acknowledge risk."

"Indeed. That is why you were chosen as the first pilot."

"We are hardly even pilots. The rocket is unguided, and even the attitude controls are locked out without the emergency override code."

"It's simply a precaution. We might go mad up there, after all. No one knows."

"He seems normal enough," Valentina nodded towards the Foreigner, who was now dancing the prisyadka with a rather bewildered-looking technician, "well, mostly."

Dibella gave her a heavy-lidded look, "I have my doubts."

"Sergei's flight has no such precaution."

"Well, we will know by then-- ahhhhhhhhh," Dibella smirked and raised an eye... bulge, "so that's what this is about."

Valentina blinked, "what?"

Dibella smiled warmly and took the other Kerbal by the elbow, "Tia, even knowing you this fairly short time, I know that no one on this world wants to be up there more than you. No one deserves it more. You will get an orbital flight. And it will be longer than Sergei's. Or Tercella's. And you will do greater things. Remember, this is still just the beginning."

Valentina smiled, "where is Tercella, anyway? I have not seen her since that third round of boring speeches."

Dibella rolled her eyes and then scanned the crowd, "last I saw, she had that foreign engineer cornered. Or perhaps he had her? Anyway, they were discussing technical specifications on the new liquid engine."

Valentina frowned, "the Political Officer--"

"DД, Comrade Pilot?"

PЦTIЙ.

The pair turned and saluted.

"Why, Comrade Political Officer," said Dibella, "'tis a busy day for you, DД?"

He smiled his cold smile and threw his arms wide, "'tis a glorious day! Our poor, backwards rivals come to us in peace to behold the bounty of the great Ussari Union! We take our place a leaders in the great march forward, and look to a future of cooperation!"

The two short Kerbals shared a look.

"Papers, please."

There were the usual automatic exchanges and shuffling.

"As expected, all is in order Comrades. Now that you mentioned Comrade Sergei, where is he?"

Valentina looked at him innocently, "he said he was going to see the flight surgeon. To give him a hand."

"He did?"

"He did?!"

"He did."

The Political Officer blinked with wide eyes.

"Well, then," he scratched at his chin, "that's quite... decent of him. He stood, looking very confused for a moment, which was a rarity in its self. Valentina desperately tried tried to keep a straight face, and Dibella narrowed her eyes and looked at her. Finally, some distant act caught the Political Officer's eye, and the mirthless smile returned.

"I must investigate this matter further. Good day Comrades, glory to Arstotzka!" He said, and stormed off.

Dibella and Valentina looked at each other, then shrugged.

"You there! Hiding beneath the table! Papers, please!"

Dibella sighed, "what a country," took another sip of 'coffee,' and grimaced.

"Perhaps this would be better with some milk and sugar?" She said, "come, let us find the teacart."

***

Later that evening, long after the spring sun had set, Valentina Kerman plodded into her small room in the barracks, feeling completely spent. This is no way to begin a historic space flight, she thought. She didn't even bother turning the lights on, just collapsed onto her hard, narrow bed. She looked out the window towards her rocket across the facility, lit up by floodlights. She noted a scaffolding around the second stage now, and thought that odd at this hour, but any further contemplation was quickly cut off as she slipped into a troubled sleep.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
PЦTIЙ
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Chapter 4: An Invitation

 

The day began as clear and still as the one before. Only a few tiny, hesitant clouds crept slowly across the sky. It was a perfect day to fly. Valentina rose early, feeling very groggy and unsettled. She had a simple breakfast of kasha and tea while listening to the weather briefing at the flight center, then began her preparations and struggled into her bright orange pressure suit.

Igor and Tercella met her there, the latter going over the pre-launch checklist with her as they climbed aboard the small, open-topped utility vehicle.

"Have you had your breakfast?"

"DД."

"Brushed your teeth?"

"DД."

"Bathed?"

"DД."

"Space-diaper?"

"D--" Valentina shot her a look. Tercella was the bright, young daughter of a factory worker from St. Kermansburg far to the west, and nothing if not practical. And thorough.

"What?" She said innocuously, "PЦTIЙS ЗДЯS! It's on the damn list."

"Language!" Bellowed Igor as he started the engine.

"DД," said Valentina flatly.

"Survival kit?"

"DД."

"Flotation vest?"

"DД."

"Checked your seals...?"

Igor began slowly driving towards the launch tower, "you ask many questions today."

"I'm designated check pilot today, it's my job," Tercella said tersely.

"DД," said Igor over his cliff-like shoulder, "now I have for you. Why you so late returning to barracks last night?"

Tercella glared at him, "advancing diplomatic relations."

"Oh, and would your diplomacy involve a certain foreign engineer?" Valentina smirked.

Tercella went from glare to glower as the ute hit a bump, "he has a brilliant mind. His theories on nuclear propulsion are revolutionary. And he has some serious misgivings about the new ethanol-fueled engine for the orbital flights."

Valentina's smirk grew, "is that so?"

"A doctorate-level engineer, trained as a kerbonaut. Imagine that! Have the people who design the ships, fly them, why can't..."

Valentina raised an eye... bulge, "sounds like someone has made a friend."

"PЦTIЙ!" Tercella was nearly shaking.

"Language, Tercella!"

"Certainly not! He's crude, obnoxious, short-tempered, and swears like a farm hand!"

Valentina raised the other one.

"ЬЯЗZHИЭV on you!"

"Language!!" Igor nearly shrieked.

Tercella stuck her tongue out at him.

Igor sighed, "I not getting paid enough for this."

"We're Imperiousists, we don't get paid at all." She said flatly.

Valentina giggled all the way to the launch pad. It helped to drown out the butterflies in her gut.

***

The three pulled up to an odd greeting party of sorts at the base of the crew access tower. A dozen white-clad technicians stood rigidly, lining the short path to the elevator.

"Comrade Pilot!" The first one snapped a salute as Valentina approached.

"Comrade Pilot!"

"Comrade Pilot!"

Valentina proceeded down the line, receiving each nervous and excited hail, Igor and Tercella following closely. Igor's eyes darted about suspiciously, even for him. As she reached the elevator, the final technician gave his salute, then they dispersed to their various tasks.

Tercella turned to her, "well, this is really it. Good luck. Fly safe."

Valentina smiled, "thank you. DФ--

"--Фo not say it," Tercella held up a finger, "I will see you back here tonight. If you die, I will kill you."

Valentina waved as she and Igor rode the simple elevator to the access arm. She gasped as it reached the top, and a figure limped toward her.

"Comrade Director?!"

"Valentina!" He clapped her gently on the shoulders, "it is a momentous day! I wanted to perform the final checks and see you off personally."

"I.., ah, this is an unexpected honor, Comrade..." She stammered.

"PЦTIЙ to such formalities!" Igor opened his mouth, but closed it quickly at a look from the Director, "that is for the Kommissar!" He put a hand lightly on her shoulder and led her towards the waiting pod, "please, you must dine with me tonight after your official debriefing, I want to hear every detail!"

"Ah... of course, Comrade," she said abashedly.

"Zdorovo!" The Director exclaimed, "Mikhail here will get you prepared, I will bolt the hatch myself. Nothing will be amiss today!"

Valentina nodded, then squeezed through the hatch into the tiny, spherical pod she knew so well. Then came the laborious process of connecting the myriad of hoses and cables, with the technician's help, Igor keeping a close watch the entire time.

Eventually she fiddled the cloth cap with her communications equipment over her head, "comm check. Control, this is Kedr, how do you read?"

"This is control, reading you loud and clear Kedr," said a familiar voice.

"Dibella? Is that you? Where is Sergei?"

"Sergei is... indisposed," came the smiling reply, "I will be capcom for the day."

"Sergei smash hand in door, very sad," said Igor from the open hatch, "is bruised and swollen, look like eggplant. Doctor say he fine in few days."

Valentina smiled. Well, this was a pleasant development. She'd been expecting to have to hear Sergei all day.

"The countdown has crossed one hour to launch, Kedr."

"Kedr copies, Control."

At last Mikhail stopped fooling with the connections, gave her a thumbs-up, and backed out of the pod.

Igor's ham-like head replaced him. He looked grim.

"You come back tonight, please. If you not come back, I must see Kommissar," then he smiled, "I do not like to see Kommissar."

Valentina smiled back, "I will come back, I promise. DФ SVIDДИIУД, Igor." She raised a hand. As he took it in his own massive pair, she felt him press something into her palm.

"To watch over you," he said, and winked, which looked very disturbing on his huge face. Then Igor, too, was gone. Valentina looked at the item in her hands. It was a bit of colored paper, folded skillfully into the shape of a bird. She thought it an odd thing, coming from Igor of all people. She clipped it to a checklist on the instrument panel.

"All set then? It's time," said Director Kermanev from the hatch. She gave a thumbs-up. He smiled, "tonight, we dine."

Then the hatch banged shut, making Valentina jump. The scrabbling and muffled voices outside as the hatch was bolted shut brought the whisp of a memory to the back of her mind. As she reached, it seemed to drift farther, like a star so dim she could only see it from the corner of her eye; if looked at directly, it vanished. She sighed, and pushed it away. One thing she was sure of, that hatch had slammed closed with all the finality of a tomb.

Suddenly, Valentina Kerman felt very alone.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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Udachi, Comrade Pilot... udachi.

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Might've overdone the Papers Please reference a bit there, but otherwise, I love it.

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Heh - I facepalmed when I finally figured that reference out. Took me a while. :)

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Tercella's date was Burdous!!!

Sorry if spoiler

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I want to fix that "russian". Just write it in English what you want to place there, I'll translate. :P

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Pity, it's nice otherwise, just difficult for me to read, as I see familiar letters and my brain starts searching for sense in them. :P

Maybe if we include a translation?

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Well that's the thing, anything in fake-Cyrillic is either meant to be something very.... impolite, or a bit of fun poked as common Russian terms "everyone" knows (da, nyet, etc). In the case of the former, I deliberately don't want the *actual* wording, since this is a family forum after all. And in the latter, using proper Cyrillic would need a translation, yes. Any "real" Russian is an italicized transliteration, and I do try to at least get that right.

But it is worth noting that Kerbal fiction (at least in my case), borrows the same convention as Tolkien (ie: Bilbo Baggins' name is actually something like Bilba Labingi): Kerbals are little alien beings with their own languages & customs, they don't speak "English" or "Russian" per se, these stories are just translated from the original Kerblish & Ussari (Etc) languages into something that makes it comprehensible to the reader and simply gets the point across.

Otherwise authors would have to spend pages describing what a "smeerp" is. ;)

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smeerp- a kauti, mainly used in conjunction with feeirt, has far reaching polnitzi in various remneto when the amcolupa has fully wuquloc gannaremera in the cyolino calnimi.

See zreech

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Chapter 5: Poyekhali

"All personnel clear the launchpad! All personnel clear the launchpad!"

It became eerily silent inside the cramped pod once the scrabbling and banging and muffled voices departed. The distant hum of the instrument gyroscopes, the soft whir of the air handlers, but to Valentina, by far the loudest sound was her own steady breathing.

"Kedr, control, set launch abort to master arm."

"Master arm, set." She pulled the pin that disengaged the final safeties inhibiting the launch abort tower high above, and stowed them.

"Set launch abort to flight arm."

"Flight arm, set." She removed the small metal cage protecting the big, red abort handle on the instrument panel in front of her. One pull would send her pod shooting away from a failing rocket.

In theory.

With no way to shut down the five huge solid rocket engines below once they were lit, she had her doubts about the abort system's ability to out-run them. Sure, she'd been over all the test data, been heavily involved in the test program, even, but--

She stopped.

Am... am I nervous? She thought, that is ridiculous, I do not get nervous. I have landed half an airplane on a damp sponge before, why would I be--

She stopped again. Not nervous, just nerves. Nerves, that's all. Nothing to do now but listen to the mission control chatter and flick the occasional switch. She looked over the expansive instrument panel before her, covered in an obscene amount of switches, knobs, and lights. She knew each one by heart, by feel, by simple spacial awareness. Then she looked to the control panel to her left. All the important things, covered by a piece of plastic locked by an override code she wasn't trusted with.

Valentina frowned. There was a tool kit under her couch. The plastic was pretty flimsy, maybe she could pry it up. There was a screwdriver in the kit. But that would hardly be professional. Still probably wouldn't work without the code. Maybe she could--

She snapped her head to the right and looked straight into the horrible face of... the breaker panel? Valentina realized she'd been holding her breath. For a moment... just a moment... she could have sworn she heard--

"Say again, Kedr, did not copy that."

Had she said something?

"Ah... disregard, control.... must have jostled the mic..."

"Understood, Kedr, countdown is proceeding normally, thirty minutes to launch."

"Kedr copies."

Just her mind playing tricks, that's all. Still, that was unusual. Growing up in the taiga, you never let your mind play tricks on you. There were plenty of hungry things trying to do that already. Her deda had taught her that when she was very little, one of the very first things she remembered. Everything before that was... fuzzy. She sighed and looked out of the small window in front of her, seeing nothing but the inside of the protective nosecone covering her capsule. Soon, through that window, she would be the first of her people to see her planet from above the atmosphere... and only the second person ever. She should be brimming with excitement. Why on Kerbin did she feel like--

Valentina snapped her head left, seeing only more indicators. She'd been holding her breath again. She knew she'd heard--

"Say again, Kedr, did not copy. Your heart rate's up, are you all right?"

"Must have bumped the mic again. I am well, just excitement building," she lied.

"Copy that. Final clearance has been received, ten minutes to launch."

Ten minutes? The thirty minute call was only moments ago, wasn't it? Had she been in a fog that long? For a moment, Valentina thought of calling a scrub to the launch right there... but no, not when they were so close, not over some little preflight jitters. This will be a Great Day, and only the first of many. She grabbed a checklist and went through it once more.

***

"Kedr, control, five minutes to launch. Terminal countdown has commenced."

"Kedr copies, final gyro synch complete." As Valentina had hoped, the nerves began to abate as the clock ticked down. Just well-practiced, automatic actions now. No room for thought.

"Four minutes, beginning startup sequence, pre-ignition heaters running."

It all came down to this. All the hours of training, the exhaustion, even the damn politics.

"Three minutes, close your visor, verify bleed valve status, Kedr."

Valentina closed and locked her helmet visor, sealing out the last of the sound from the cabin. Nothing but her own breathing, now amplified off the thin plexiglass. It was time.

"Down and locked, cabin bleed valve to flight dump, safeties locked."

"Two minutes to launch, Kedr now running on internal power, clear umbilicals."

She threw the final few switches, and again looked out the window at the featureless nosecone wall. Nothing left to do but wait.

"One minute, launch key in, all systems go!"

She crossed her arms over her narrow chest and grabbed the straps on her harness, scrunching into her launch couch, and fixed her eyes on the gauges. Finally, this was it. Everything would be different now. The fulfillment of a dream, but more importantly, honor and respect for her family, so long departed. And perhaps... even atonement. Then why did she feel--

"Dvenádtstat..."

"Odínnadstat..."

"Désyat..."

"Dévyat..."

"Vósem..."

"Sem..."

"Shest..."

"Pyat..."

"Chetíreh..."

"Tree..."

"Dva..."

"Odéen..."

Wait, what was--

"Ignition!"

The whole world became Sound.

It was everywhere, everything. Sound filled reality with empyrean ubiquity. She could feel it, smell it, PЦTIЙ, she could taste it! It was far beyond pain or pressure, it was like sentience from her very bones. A memory drifted up, but was quickly scattered by the sheer power. For a moment, she thought the rocket had simply exploded, then acceleration slammed her deep into her couch and the gauges came alive.

"Kedr has cleared the tower!" There were cheers and whoops in the background.

"Poyekhali!" Valentina squealed, completely overwhelmed by the moment.

"Control reads Strannik-Б˜ is stabilizing, how do you read Kedr?"

"I am receiving you, I am well," she tried to drag her focus back to the mission, "the noise is truly incredible."

Acceleration and vibration were already rising. The 2.6 gees at ignition soon climbed past three as the rocket slowly pitched over with gravity. Three large, sudden jolts caused a hurried scan of the instruments.

"Kedr is on course... deviation within limits... getting bumpy up here..."

"We copy that, Kedr, confirm telemetry is good, you are still on course."

Acceleration rose past four gees now, edging into the unpleasant. The tiny cabin was shaking so much Valentina could barely see the gauges, with the worst still yet to come. She gritted her teeth and shifted in the couch.

"Kedr, check your indicator, we read your course drifting northward."

", I see it," the vector was wandering off its target, slowly pulling the rocket's trajectory away from the intended landing zone.

"Guidance is suggesting you abort. It doesn't appear to be improving."

Valentina eyed the large, red abort handle on the panel. Three more sharp jolts rocked the capsule. Then she looked at the map ball and did a quick mental calculation.

"It's still within the secondary landing zone. We've come too far to panic over a mild course deviation, I say we continue. Maybe it will settle out after booster separation."

There was an agonizingly long pause while she waited for a response from mission control. Gee force was now edging over the five mark on the gauge.

"Control concurs," came Dibella's relieved voice. We will monitor, and respond as needed. Thirty seconds to booster sep."

"Kedr copies."

Valentina knew they would be the longest thirty seconds of the short flight. As the engines grew ever more powerful in the rapidly thinning air and the ship grew ever ever lighter as the propellant was burned away, it accelerated faster and faster. Valentina could no longer make out the instruments from the violent shaking.

But she knew the feeling well enough from centrifuge training.

Five and a half gees... now six...

Three more jolts. Then a fourth.

Something went red on the warning panel. She couldn't tell what it was.

Seven gees... instinctively, she started grunt-breathing, desperately trying to keep oxygenated blood in her brain.

Seven and a half...

Eight...

Eight and a half...

Darkness began closing in at the edges of her vision.

The ship was coming apart.

A ragged shimmy back and forth... and the punishing acceleration died away. The sound and shaking dropped to a low rumble. Valentina blinked back into reality.

"Kedr, respond, do you copy? Kedr, do you copy?"

"Control, Kedr, I am here. Staging is good, core stage has ignited."

"Control copies staging. Thought we'd lost you for a moment there. You had a bunch of people about turn blue, we're breathing again."

Had she actually blacked out? She hadn't thought so. "Core stage is much smoother. More of a push now. Course has stabilized, still off to the north. All systems are green."

"Control concurs. That should have been the worst of it, two minutes to core staging."

The rocket clawed higher and higher, though its course was now more horizontal than vertical. Valentina again wished for some sort of window in the nosecone. All she had were instruments to know the outside world. And they were now telling her she was already traveling higher and faster than anyone before. Well, anyone but him. At least the flight had smoothed out. The next two minutes passed uneventfully, the core solid motor performing exactly as expected. The final stage would be milder still, specially de-tuned for a slow, easy push out of the atmosphere and into space.

"Approaching final staging, Kedr, set comm array to mode three."

"Kedr copies, mode three."

"Relay acquisition is good, staging in tree... dva... odéen... mark."

Just a thump this time. The mounting acceleration dropped once more, sound dying to a distant rush.

"Staging is good... final stage reads nominal."

"Control concurs, Kedr, standby to switch... ah Kedr check your vector we read your course deviating."

Valentina checked the gauge. The vector was drifting northwards again. The dull rumble seemed to be rising quickly.

"I read the same."

"This isn't looking good. Telemetry is showing multiple channels off spec. Try resetting... channel... buss... sxkkvvzz"

She checked the breaker panel. Why was it getting hard to move?

"Say again control, did not copy."

"Telem... set... cxkgyzzz"

"Say again, did not copy, say again." She reset the comm switch, tried a different antenna, then noticed the gee meter. Four gees, rising faster than ever before. Far beyond what this motor should be producing.

PЦTIЙ!

The course vector was deflecting farther and farther, pushing the craft off to the north.

"Control, Kedr, do you read? Control?!" Nothing this time, not even static. Standard procedure was clear, here.

Abort the mission.

Valentina steeled herself and strained for the abort handle on the panel before her. Her gloved fingers stopped a centimeter away. She pushed again, struggling against the acceleration making her arm feel heavier and heavier. It was just out of reach! Gritting her teeth and snarling she surged at it once more, her fingers just brushing the edge, then with her last ounce of strength...

Lowered her arm with as much control as she could muster, knowing if she just let it drop her bones would shatter. Too late, the abort motor couldn't pull against this kind of acceleration anyway.

Six... seven... eight gees...

One by one red lights blinked on all over the warning panel, then something exploded in a hail of sparks.

Nine gees... now ten... now eleven...

Even grunt breathing couldn't help now. This shouldn't be possible! Darkness danced at the edge of her vision once more, she could feel her bones pressing through her flesh, her eyeballs distorting and blurring.

Twelve... thirteen...

The capsule creaked and groaned. Something else exploded. The tiny window cracked and shattered, the air rushing out in an instant.

Darkness closed in, narrowing her vision to a point.

Fourteen... fifteen... then the gauge exploded.

Sparks cascaded across the panels, the cabin lights flickered and burst, and the darkness took her.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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Chapter 6: Into Darkness

Valentina Kerman was bathed in brilliant, warm, penetrating light. She could hear... something. All around, faces... familiar faces... soft and indistinct. She felt like she was floating.

Am... am I... dead?

Bright... so bright...

She raised a hand against the blinding brilliance.

And blinked.

Pure, unfiltered sunlight streamed in through the hole in the cabin where the window had been. A steel washer floated weightlessly by. Slowly, the sun drifted past the edge, and the capsule was plunged back into darkness.

No, I'm... I'm in space!

Disoriented, she checked her suit display... still holding pressure, backup power on. The nosecone must have decoupled! What on Kerbin had just happened? Light from the window drew her attention again...

Then all... conscious... thought... ceased.

The curve of Kerbin passed into view as the ship slowly tumbled. The fuzzy line of the atmosphere gently gave way to the patchwork of vivid blues, greens, and whites spread out below like a map. Valentina could see the ocean. She had never seen the ocean before. Deep blue faded to rich turquoise dusted by frail white clouds. She could see sunlight glinting off of individual waves. As the pod turned, here and there were cross-crossing trails of white within the thinner clouds, converging at the land. She realized these were ship tracks from the busy port city of Kerbelsk.

The city now came into view, and Valentina could see the maze of roads... the long, thin, black smudges of smoke from the factories... the port its self... even individual ships, all with incredible clarity and detail. She saw the railroad tracks, snaking throughout the city and then concentrating beyond the city to the east, merging into the Great Trans-Kerberian Rail Road. She could see the scar it made for leagues and leagues as it cut through the dense taiga forest, and huge, kilometer-long trains headed by more smudges of smoke as they went along.

To the north, the green of the forest diffused into the white of the tundra like a line of battle. The pod tumbled on, and the entire great breadth of Ussari spread out before her further east, taking up the entire horizon as the opposite curve of Kerbin drifted into view, with the stark blackness of space beyond.

Then the Mün wandered into view, and suddenly filled her with an inexpressible terror that jolted her back to reality.

She shouldn't be seeing this. She shouldn't be seeing any of this. She was much too far north!

Instinct came roaring back, and Valentina desperately tried to restore power. Main buss A, dead. Main buss B, undervolt. Cross feed from aux batteries, switch the breaker, and... there!

A single bulb flickered weakly to life, casting a dim yellow in the cabin. Debris floated everywhere. Quickly, cautiously, she reset the circuit breakers for the most important systems. The map gauge confirmed she was far off course to the north, heading towards the frigid North Yaltik Sea. She had to fire the retro rocket pack and land before she reached it. The pod could land in the water, but the nearly freezing water would kill her in minutes if she landed there. With that gaping hole, the capsule would sink like a stone.

"Control, this is Kedr, do you read?"

Nothing.

"Control, Kedr, do you copy?"

Not a sound. She couldn't be sure if the ship was even capable of transmitting. Or receiving. Or if the rest of it, and the retro pack, was there at all. She reached for the manual controls and--

PЦTIЙ!

The lockout.

She couldn't fire the rockets, jettison the service module, or set attitude for reentry. Even if the automatic system still worked, without buss A there was no way to power it. In frustration, she slammed her fist against the plastic cover. It shattered, sending cascading about the cabin.

But as she knew, the controls still wouldn't work without the override code.

Deep in the back of her mind, something leered and snickered in the shadows.

She was done for now, there was nothing--

A small, colorful paper bird drifted past her faceplate.

Mouth agape, she gently reached out and plucked it from the airless vacuum. Gingerly, awkward with her thick gloves, she unfolded it. The words "override code" in a certain heavy, deliberate script appeared.

"Igor, I could kiss you!" Valentina squealed to the instrument panel. She flipped the paper over, and stopped.

12345.

Unbelieving, she entered the code into the panel. The red light changed to green.

"Unbelievable, that is the kind of thing an idiot puts on his luggage!" She said aloud as she manually powered up the controls.

Quickly, must act quickly. Need retrograde attitude first, 34 degrees nose down.

She hit the button to fire an attitude control thruster.

Nothing happened.

She hit it again.

Nothing.

Deep in her mind, something snickered again and eyes pierced out of the shadows.

She pressed it and held. Still nothing. Had she set the power correctly? Were the right valves on? Maybe--

She felt the ship move.

She tried another button, pressed, held... after an eternity, the ship moved the other way.

The firing is delayed! It wasn't like this in the simulator!

With agonizing lethargy, she brought the capsule around to the right attitude and stabilized it. She wasted no time hitting the sequence of switches to fire the engine. After a heartbeat of eons, she finally felt the push as it fired.

She hoped it would be enough. If the altimeter was working, she was already dipping back into the atmosphere. The tiny engine fired on and on. She willed it to go faster. This wasn't the right attitude for reentry. With the service module in place, the capsule would eventually flip around nose-first, even with the attitude thrusters, pointing the parachute pack directly into the fiery plasma.

"Come on, come on, faster!" Valentina yelled at the ship.

Finally she felt the push cease, and saw the light on the console go from yellow to red. Slowly, ever so slowly, she brought the ship to the proper reentry attitude. She switched off the safeties and fired the decoupler. A slight bump, and the console lights changed again. There, now the ship should be stable, just have to hope the heat shield--

There was a tremendous jolt, and the craft started oscillating wildly. The view in the window began rushing around, the push of acceleration returned, and the Thing in the back of her mind cackled with glee.

PЦTIЙ! STДLIИ! ЬЯЗZHЙЭV!

In her haste she'd mixed up the procedure. The module should have been detached before changing attitude! Now it must be jammed against the bottom of the capsule by the force of air rushing against it. She looked at her horizon gauge, spinning around and around. It was canted off to the side, too, the pod made unstable by the mass pressed against it. Gee force pushed her deeper and deeper into her couch as the pod plunged into the thickening atmosphere.

Shuddering and shaking now returned as well, Valentina could see a dull orange glow through the hole in the hull. It grew brighter, whisps of superheated plasma and glowing bits of... something streaking past. Then in an instant, the capsule shifted, and now the plasma was inside, flailing and searching like a thing alive, incinerating anything it touched. The edges of the window-hole incandesced in red and orange. She was paralyzed by the crushing gee force as the Thing in the back of her mind paced rapidly back and forth like an anxious animal, giggling all the time.

But as quickly as the tempest had begun, it faded. The glow dissipated, the acceleration dwindled, and soon the pod was simply falling. Not willing to trust the altimeter any farther, Valentina hit the manual parachute release, and was relieved as the pod bucked back and forth beneath it. Eventually she felt the reassuring push as the canopies fully opened, the capsule slowed, and gently rocked on its lines. A loud bang, as the heat shield decoupled and fell away, then she hit the switch for the landing airbags.

Nothing.

No indicator light either way, no sound or motion. For all she knew they might not even be there anymore. It would be a hard landing. She strained, trying to see anything useful through the charred and blackened window-hole, but could see nothing but sky and clouds from this angle. She had no idea if she was even over land or--

The pod slammed into the water, only theoretically softer than solid ground. The impact knocked her senseless for a moment, water pouring in through the hole as the capsule bobbed and rolled in the waves.

PЦTIЙ!

This, at least, Valentina had trained for. Not much time. She knew the parachute would quickly drag the pod under the water, even if it hadn't been flooding. Her timing must be perfect. Just before it did, it would roll over with the hatch pointing to the sky. She had to blow it then, up and out of the water and away from the ship, then climb out before the sea poured in.

She had to move quickly. The Thing in her mind bounded back and forth, slobbering and whimpering, still not daring to leave the shadows. Faceplate still down and locked, good. She closed her suit valves, unhooked the umbilicals, then unfastened her harness. The survival kit was under the couch, she would need the medical kit out of locker A3--

The hatch blew out.

She had just enough time to recognize that fact before the incoming torrent of water smashed her face into the instrument panel, and again darkness took her.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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Chapter 7: Into the Light

Darkness.

Nothing but darkness.

Thick, crushing, suffocating.

Valentina started awake, consumed by a darkness so deep it stung her eyes.

Where am I? What happened?!

Confusion. Muddled thoughts. Here eyes were burning.

I can't see!

The pod... the pod sank and I can't see!

I'm blind!

I can't--

I can't--

Panic burst forth out of the shadows and into the forefront of her mind. Simpering, gibbering, growling, mad. A wild animal, all claws and fur and fangs.

And she was paralyzed before it.

Panic lunged...

Tinka! Calm yourself! Her Deda's voice suddenly cut through the darkness like a beacon.

Panic was upon her.

She kicked it in the head.

Breath. Think. Then act, he whispered in her mind.

She could breath. Thick, humid, unfilling breaths. There was air in her suit. She was pinned against the wall of the pod by the bubble of air in her suit! Slowly, cautiously, she felt around... the auxiliary oxium valve was there...

Panic leapt at her again. She parried, caught it by the throat, and slammed it behind a Door.

...door...

She knew she was weakened, whatever happens that Door must not open.

...door must not open...

Confusion.

Memories wandered, drifted, blinked in and out like dim stars.

...must not open...

...you must not open this door...!

Hypercapnia. Carbon dioxium poisoning.

The thought jockeyed for attention in her muddied mind.

She'd been rebreathing the air in her suit. Each breath driving the ratio of the toxic gas a little higher. Confusion, hallucinations, difficulty concentrating, sweat... sweat in her eyes, stinging them!

She had to get out. She had to get out now!

The auxiliary oxium valve was there, the breaker panel was there, the supply locker was there. She was against the right side of the pod! It must be on its side.

Panic scrabbled and scratched at the Door.

...must not open...

...no matter what you hear...

...must not open...

Fighting for focus, she felt around... the hatch must be... there! Her she could feel along the edge of it. She wrapped her fingers and slowly pulled herself toward the opening.

Her foot was caught.

Panic slammed hard against the Door, giggling like a lunatic.

...you must not open...

...help! They're in here...!

...whatever happens...

Valentina reached down, muscles screaming, felt the strap around her foot... pulled...

Stuck.

She pulled again.

Still stuck.

Panic snarled, cackled, scratched.

She felt along the strap... felt the edge... pushed and... there! Her foot was free! Gingerly, she felt around the capsule, found the edge of the hatch again, grasped it, pulled.

Expelled into nothingness.

Panic slammed its self against the Door again and again.

...in here...!

...you must not open...

...no!...

Nothing. Nothing anywhere. Such complete darkness her eyes wailed for something... anything... anything but nothing.

Focus... must stay focused...

She felt along her chest, found the ring, pulled, felt the life vest inflate.

Now nothing. Wait. Breathe. Don't move.

All around her crushing pressure, empty darkness.

But not empty... Panic whispered from the other side of the Door as it dragged its claws along the wood, you know what lives in these waters...

No, not empty. Clicks. Whistles. Shrieks. Coming from everywhere and nowhere.

Helpless in the darkness.

Panic hit the Door again, and the wood started to crack.

...they're in here...

...must not open...

Valentina floated. Tired... so tired... am I even awake...? Am I even alive...? Is this oblivion?

Focus...

Scratching... whispering... laughing...

Shouting... crashing... screams...

...must not open...

...no matter what you hear...

...must not open...

Madness... this is what madness feels like... darkness... darkness forever... inky green darkness....

Green...?

She blinked.

The darkness.... changed.

She blinked again.

There was a difference.

The darkness outside was tinged with green.

Panic roared and howled in her mind. Her lungs begged for breath. A hallucination?

No, no the darkness was getting greener... getting lighter.

Focus... a little more, just a little more...

Panic thrashed and raged behind the Door. Another impact, a splinter flew off, wood crackled.

....must not open...

....must not open...

And then, as the green grew lighter and lighter, enormous shapes materialized out of the gloom. They shifted, and turned, like living mountains. The strange noises grew louder.

Crack!

The Door split down the middle.

...you must not...

...you must not...

The water grew ever greener, ever lighter. The huge forms moved, circled. Points of light reflected on waves. Her lungs burned, her muscles shrieked, her head throbbed. Darkness, like an old wound, began to close in at the edge of sight.

...in here! They're in here...!

...you must not open...!

...come quickly...!

The Door shattered into a thousand shards. Panic burst through, all claws and teeth. It charged at her, jaws wide as an open tomb. She burst through the surface of the water into unimaginable brightness. Into the Light.

...help! They're in here...!

...quickly...!

...no matter what you hear, you must not open this door...!

...but papa...

Panic was upon her.

She shoved her fist down its throat.

Panic gagged.

"Not today," she said into its wild, rolling eyes, "today, I live."

She grabbed its spine from the inside, and broke its neck.

Flailing, Valentina hung in the air for just a moment before splashing back into the water. She foundered, found the knob that inflated her neck dam, grabbed the catch and threw open her visor--

And got a facefull of frigid seawater for her troubles. She floated there, gagging, coughing, heaving, but she was breathing. She was alive. She took a moment to just breath, bobbing amidst the rolling swells, but only a moment. She looked around... land! There, not far, just a few hundred meters--

The water in front of her exploded upwards in a jet of mist, then a monstrous, triangular fin broke the surface, easily four times her height and black as night. Another explosion to her right, followed by another huge fin. Then another, and another, dozens of them, swarming her, surrounding her. Bizarre sounds now filled the air, and an awful, low rumbling she could feel in her spine.

The water broke again, and a new form rose above the surface barely a meter away... and kept rising, and rising. Teeth. Cruel, serrated, blade-like teeth, each as big as her head filed past in a jagged line as the form kept rising, smooth black skin glistening in the failing sunlight. Then it stopped.

Valentina blinked.

A tiny eye, no bigger than her own, winked back.

The colossal, conical head loomed over her like a building, like a planet. The eye stared.

"Well?" She yelled at it, "come get me!"

The eye stared impassively.

"Do you have any idea what I have been though today? I have been blown up, shot into space, crushed, battered, burned, shaken, and nearly drowned! And I. Have had. Enough! So come at me, fish! I break you!"

The eye stared, with the patience of aeons.

The water lapped quietly against the enormous flank. Valentina pinched her eye... bulges. Then she reached out a hesitant hand. All over the skin were circular, grey scars. Her fingers brushed the smooth, rubbery hide. She felt it tremble at her touch. The eye blinked.

The calm was broken by that deafening, vibrating rumble she felt more than heard. The head then swiftly sank back below the waves, the rows of giant teeth sliding past at a horrifying pace.

And then it was gone, and Valentina was alone among the rolling swells as the sun sank towards the horizon. With nothing else for it, she set off in the direction of shore.

***

Some time later, the sun now touching the waves, she took her first shaky steps up the beach, exhausted. For just a moment, she thought it was over, before a large wave slammed into her from behind and drove her face into the gravel. She crawled the rest of the way up the beach, coughing and gagging and shivering as the water swirled around her hands and knees. She finally reached an old, bleached log at the high tide line.

She pulled herself up it onto her elbows, and looked beyond. A dense forest of spruce and pine spread out before her, here and there the last stubborn patches of winter's snow clung to the shadows. Small furry things also clung to the shadows, eyeing her suspiciously and wondering if she was edible. Beyond the forest, a snow-covered mountain towered, lit up yellow and gold by the fading sun.

"I'm... home?" Valentina said incredulously.

Weariness was beginning to set it. With effort, she pulled herself up onto the log and looked out over the ocean. To the southwest, the sun was at last dipping below the sea, painting the horizon and clouds in brilliant red and crimson, while the deeper sky drifted from sapphire to indigo and into violet. It was truly--

An ominous, low buzzing just to her left drew her attention. She slowly turned her head, and looked into the thousand eyes eyes of the biggest mosquito she had ever seen. Its head was bigger than hers, ending in a half-meter long proboscis tipped by drooling, razor-sharp barbs. It rubbed its forelegs together in anticipation of its next succulent meal.

Valentina grunted in annoyance, grabbed the proboscis, twisted till it was pointed at the sky, and pulled. The head popped cleanly off.

The body felt at its neck-stump for a moment, as if not quite grasping what had just happened. Eventually it wandered off, seeming very confused.

Valentina sighed and looked down at the horrible insectoid visage in her hands. It was going to be a long, cold, weary night.

Oh well, at least now she had dinner.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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Yeah - on CatastrophicFailure's version of Kerbin, the kerbals developed spaceflight as a way of escaping from the local wildlife once and for all. See also: RatSquirrelFish. :)

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Yeah - on CatastrophicFailure's version of Kerbin, the kerbals developed spaceflight as a way of escaping from the local wildlife once and for all. See also: RatSquirrelFish. :)

If only we could do that.....

(I wonder how much a lifelong stay on the ISS would cost?)

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