CatastrophicFailure

Whispers of the Kraken (Epilogue: Revelations of the Kraken)

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Chapter 18: For All Kerbalkind

 

The day had finally come. Anyone able to beg, borrow or steal the necessary clearance was crammed into the mission control room, and the warm press of bodies was made that much worse by the thick smell of wet paint and fresh plaster. Construction workers still scurried back and forth, finishing the last-minute renovations to the already brand new building. Few of the spectators noticed the smears and streaks on their fine suits or uniforms, their eyes drawn instead to the far wall, where the three largest video screens ever built stood ready to display telemetry, orbital track, and a live telephoto video feed from the roof of the VAB.

Beyond the massive window panes, Empress Alexandra I stood ready on the launch pad, the mirror-polished aluminum skin of her fuel tanks glinting in the sun. Except for the oxium tank in the lower half, where frost from the cryogenic liquid stubbornly covered the "UNION" of "USSARI UNION" painted in large crimson Kerillic letters down its length. The white paint on her six solid rocket boosters and protective nosecone had been buffed and waxed like a fine automobile. Even the launch towers had been cleaned and painted.

Surrounding this, all over the grounds of the cosmodrome, were people by the thousands. From all over they had come, or been dragged. Every State in the Union, every ally, every rival. Reporters and correspondents and respected dignitaries, bringing all manner of cameras, now pointed at the launch pad. This, security had expected. But they had not anticipated the people. Entire towns nearby had been virtually emptied, and descended on the grounds of their own volition. The police and security forces struggled to maintain some kind of order. Controlling crowds was something they had more than a little experience with, yet the sheer numbers threatened to just sweep them away.

In Crimson Square, the bleachers that had been erected lay crumpled and smashed in a back alley. People filled every square centimeter of the huge space. They hung from light poles, crowded balconies and rooftops, and had knocked over no less than a dozen broadcast antennas trying to get a view of the rocket as it would rise over the Dome of the Imperium. Here, the police had utterly given up on controlling the crowd, and had instead retreated within the ancient walls of the Fortress, hoping they would offer the same protection from this horde as they had in ages past. The Imperial Guards maintained a tenuous balance at the gates, some terrified they might actually have to use their anachronistic ceremonial polearms in ways they'd never learned. In the days to come, statisticians around the world would try and fail to arrive at an accurate count on the amount of people in this one place. They all agreed, however, that the weight of the gathering transcended any mere number.

All across the expansive nation, from Kerbelsk to Kerliningrad, from the desert to the tundra, everyone within a day's hard travel of a screen was watching. Whether they wanted to or not. Even beyond the cloistered Union, in hovels and palaces, factories and farms. A sold-out Solpugids concert at Madison Tetrahedron Garden was preempted, a cadre of ranch-hands in east Exast gathered around a fuzzy, barely-working box with an antenna made from a pair of old spurs, the crew of a fishing boat in the middle of the Great Southern Sea listened intently to their radio, the patrons of a tiki bar on Pogagalas stopped their banter, the fighting in Cerima even paused for a few, precious moments, and the transmitter on a brand-new communications satellite burned out from the load. And of course, Her Imperial Majesty Alexandra II watched from her gilded cage, coolly aware of the significance of this rocket named for her predecessor. Indeed, the world was watching.

And in the middle of it all, surrounded by an odd little pocket of space in the crowded Mission Control room, stood Valentina Kerman, fidgeting anxiously with a pencil. Whether it was from the look in her eyes, the scowl on her face, or... something else, no one came near. If she moved, the pocket moved with her, like fish evading a predator. Despite her stature, she alone had a perfect view of both the window and monitors.

Sergei. All this fuss for Sergei.

All this should have been yours...

She shook the thought away. She didn't want it, she didn't want any of it, but... just some shred of recognition?

All his fault...

Most infuriating of all, he was actually good at it. He was completely composed and comfortable before all the attention, thriving even. Already given his second mission, commanding the first flight of the new ship, before even flying this, his first. The PЦTIЙSКI had even given a speech-a speech!-before disappearing into the capsule a couple of hours ago. Some nonsense about duty and courage.

Dibella was, again, busily coordinating the final checkouts as capcom, and Tercella was standing by with a dozen Converters in the expected recovery zone, leaving Valentina alone in the throng with her thoughts.

Well, not completely alone...

They abandon you, now in your time of need. But the darkness is always here... always waiting...

She pushed it away, still twirling the pencil between her fingers.

"Fifteen seconds, Empress, all systems go," she heard Dibella say.

"I am ready! Let's go!" Sergei practically squealed.

"Vósem..."

"Sem..."

"Shest..."

"Pyat..."

 

"Main engine start..."

Out on the launchpad, the pair of ethanol fueled engines beneath the rocket sputtered and then roared to life, rattling the windows and sending thick clouds of smoke rushing from the flame trenches.

"Main engines running, one hundred percent!"

The pencil flipped and spun.

"Tree..."

"Dva..."

"Odéen..."

"Booster ignition!"

The roar of the liquid engines was shamed as the six huge solid rocket boosters thundered and roiled, the sound slamming into the building like a landslide, shaking the windows and even cracking one.

The pencil twirled faster.

"Liftoff! We have liftoff! Empress Alexandra I has cleared the towers!

"Onward! Onward!" Exclaimed Sergei, his smug, smiling face bouncing slightly in the monitor, "For the greater Glory of the Union, in peace for all Kerbalkind!"

Valentina's face drew into a sneer as the sheer power of the launch continued to assault the building.

There is power in you too... Great power... feel it, burning in your veins like fire... you cannot deny it...

"Shut up!" Valentina snapped. Another onlooker gave her a nervous glance and inched away a bit more. The pencil went back and forth across her fingers. Back and forth, back and forth.

"Empress, tell me you have a pitch program..."

"DД! Pitch and roll! My systems checkout good. It's very smooth, acceleration is building slowly... I can see the horizon now, the landscape below is incredible, even now! I simply don't have the words!"

That would be a first. Valentina ground her teeth. They'd actually given him a window. A window! All that was necessary was to cut a hole in the nosecone in the right place! Back and forth, back and forth.

The clouds of smoke around the building were finally drifting off in the light wind. The rocket was just visible in the sky as it arced away.

"This is but one small step for a Kerbal, but a giant..."

Lousy stuck-up no-goodnik. Even now he was still... speechifying.

Back and forth, back and forth.

Grinning in the monitor, pausing for dramatic effect, enjoying himself.

Back and forth, the pencil went back and forth.

Bah, she hoped he soiled himself!

You cannot escape the darkness...

Back and forth, back and forth.

She hoped he puked in his helmet!

It is always waiting...

Back and forth, back and forth.

Why, she hoped he...

You can only...

She hoped he...

Back and forth....

Hoped he...

Embrace it.

He...

Exploded.

There was no warning, no sound at this distance. A momentary puff of smoke in the monitor, then a cascade of fire. So much fire. Searing, raging, tearing. Beyond the window, the six mighty solid rocket boosters, now freed from their charge, bloomed into a death-flower that mocked in its beauty. In the crowded mission control room, and the grounds beyond, not a sound was made. Billions of people across the globe stood silent as the grave.

No sound, save for the soft noise of two bits of pencil dropping to the floor.

In the window, the cloud of smoke and fire grew, until finally, after a wheel of eternities, a thin sound like thunder in the distance, and the barest rattle of the glass.

Then, chaos broke loose.

"Loss of signal, telemetry is null."

"Empress, control, do you copy?"

"Range now tracking multiple signals."

"Empress, this is control, do you copy?!"

"Signal still null, abort tower did not fire."

"Sergei, do you copy?"

"Lock the doors."

"All channels still null, no beacons at this time."

"Secure your stations."

"Sergei...?" Dibella's voice began to crack, "Sergei...?"

In a maelstrom of confusion and chaos, of shouts and barks yells, in a little pocket of space, Valentina Kerman fell to her knees.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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Chapter 19: Crow

 

A light, cold rain fell from a featureless grey sky. It slid from the top of Valentina's wide-brimmed hat, dripping down the back of her neck, but she took no notice. She stood stiffly, motionlessly, fingertips touched lightly to the edge of that wide brim. She stood in a line with others, but took no notice of them, either. Once again, Crimson Square was filled with people.

On a platform before her, rested the coffin. It was more of a formality, really. The capsule had disintegrated instantly, debris scattered over hundreds of square kilometers. They had found just enough to be... sure. It was empty, except for the medal. Hero of the Ussari Union. Awarded on behalf of a grateful nation.

The bureaucrat had just finished his speech, as a soldier held an umbrella over him. Some nonsense about duty and courage. At a command, the cadre of Imperial Guard surrounding the coffin, with their mirror-polished breastplates and gleaming helms, began folding up the flag. They moved stiffly, mechanically, with faces like stone. When it had been folded just so, a Guard turned, and handed it to Sergei's father. He didn't look anything like Valentina had expected. He looked old and tired and sad, and very, very... human. He nodded, the Guard saluted, and returned to his place in the sea of black. He, too, took no notice of the rain.

She didn't react when the cannon fired, as ancient and scarred as the wall it was mounted on. Like the Guard's armor, it was an anachronism of another age. Then the band began, a somber patriotic hymn older than the Union its self.

Valentina just stood, seeing and not seeing. To say the launch was an unmitigated disaster was an injustice, yet better words simply were not there. Over nine thousand liters of hypergolic monomethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide had ignited on contact, creating a toxic cloud of gas that drifted with the shifting winds, poisoning the ground and sickening thousands. Or worse. Smoldering boosters touched off wildfires whenever they landed, many of which still burned days later, including a huge one in the forest near the cosmodrome that nearly required its evacuation.

And of course, the rumors. They spread even faster than the fires, despite the Political Corps attempts to extinguish them. That engine was bad. No, it was the other. No, the fuel was contaminated. No, it was an O-ring in a solid booster. No, it was an inherent design flaw. An engineering failure, just waiting for a minor manufacturing defect to cause a catastrophic failure. And it had happened before. Twice. But high enough that it could be kept hidden. But Valentina knew there was no truth to them. She knew the real cause of the tragedy.

It was her. She had done this.

...Great power within you...

The hymn ended, and on a barked command, the Guards lined the track to the vault in the wall of the Fortress. With more precise, mechanical movements, they crossed their gleaming halberds over the path. A drummer beat a solemn dirge, and the casket slowly made its way along the track, disappearing into the Wall. Another bark, and the massive marble capstone slid down to cover the vault, slamming home with a noise like

thunder

cracked outside, rattling the window of Valentina's simple room. With the coming of darkness, the gentle rain had become a raging storm. Lightning crashed, thunder boomed and cracked, the roaring wind blew great sheets of rain against the glass. It was as if the very world was aggrieved, and now crowed its condemnation.

Darkness...

She sat at her small table before the window, staring out at the cosmodrome as the flashes lit up the structures like waiting specters. On the nightstand stood the little bottle. Darnitol, 75mg. Sleep. Sleep, without dreams. There would be no need for that tonight. Valentina knew sleep would come sooner or later, of that she was sure. And knew what it would bring with it.

Only here, in the darkness, can you hide...

She pushed the voice away again. Rain flowed down the window pane, the world outside wavered and drifted. She hadn't cried for the Director. She hadn't even cried for herself. But now, for Sergei of all people, she wept bitterly.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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And also, a very special thanks goes out to Ten Key, who's editing advice has been absolutely invaluable. Whatever I'm paying you, consider it doubled.

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Note to self, read Fan Works before Mission reports.

Even so was worth it for the storytelling, I am sure I have said it before, but awesome work I always look forwards to a new update.

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I do try to keep everything synchronized (hence the long delays), but yeah prolly best to come here first, lol. And thanx.

- - - Updated - - -

STALIN that Sergei guy, he was a little PUTIN anyway.
Language!

.....

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Chapter 20: Arrangements

 

Valentina jerked awake from the nightmare, disoriented, her skin still burning until she realized it was sunlight streaming in from the window. She was still seated at her small table, her face dry and crusted. She sat a moment longer, just breathing, letting her heartbeat return to normal.

It... it was... whatever it was, was gone now.

She stared out the window, waiting to feel... something, but nothing came. She thought she should feel angry, sad, helpless, but instead there was just... nothing. Numbness. Not knowing what else to do, she washed, and went downstairs.

Valentina took her seat next to Tercella and Dibella at their simple table. They stared at empty plates, eyes red and puffy, just nods to acknowledge her. For a long time, the three simply stared.

"What will become of us now?" Dibella finally said to no one in particular.

"Back to the factory," Tercella said softly to her plate, "this is the end. They cannot recover this, the program will be shut down."

Silence stretched out, before Dibella addressed her own plate, "They say the fires have finally gone out. Maybe the trains will run again soon."

"Yes, trains," Tercella shrugged, "maybe I can take a train back to Nusad. It was peaceful there. I did not mind the yaks."

She idly played with the edge of her plate, "do you think they would give me papers to go to Nusad?"

A faucet over the sink, not quite turned off, dripped a slow staccato.

Drip...

Drip...

Drip...

"They say there was a riot in Kernobyl," Tercella told her plate.

Drip...

Drip...

Drip...

"No, it was Kerbul," said Dibella to the table.

Drip...

Drip...

Drip...

The door suddenly opened, and Igor entered, looking grim. In his hand was a large sack. It looked like it contained something very heavy. He raised an accusing finger.

"Tercella... you are--"

She threw her hands up, "he asked for it, I swear! Practically begged! I did not know he was under age."

The other two turned to her, eyes wide.

She looked back and forth, grinning nervously, "the rash, it should have cleared up by now..."

They scooted their chairs away.

Tercella kept looking back and forth, pleading, "I did give him his money back..."

They scooted a little farther.

She slammed her hand on the table and glared at Igor, "he should have told me he was allergic to latex!"

Now Igor's eyes widened.

Tercella leaned back in her seat with arms crossed, accepting defeat, "That was the best tattoo I have ever done! And I did not even get paid."

Igor opened his mouth.

Igor closed his mouth.

Igor put a hand to his face with a loud slap.

"No..." he said feebly, "you are it."

Tercella blinked, "..I...I am what?"

"You go to space next."

"But, the fleet is grounded," Dibella began, "how--"

"You can't put her in one of those things!" Valentina nearly screamed, "she'll end up like Sergei!"

"Arrangements," Igor retrieved the item from the sack, and dropped it on the table with a loud thud, "have been made."

His gaze lingered on Valentina for a moment, "you all read."

Curiosity cut through the numbness for a moment, and Valentina pulled the object over to look at it. It was an incredibly thick binder covered in foreign letters.

Eyes pinched, she tried to sound out the unfamiliar writing, "l... la... laa... w-wooo..."

"Bah!" She pushed it over to Dibella, "I don't even know what language it is. You read it."

Dibella's lips moved slightly as her eyes scanned over the cover, pinched, and then widened.

"Aloud would be nice..." Tercella quipped.

Dibella shot her a look, then, "it's a technical manual. LV-T30 'Reliant' kerolox engine and support systems."

The other two looked at each other.

"What does this say?" Valentina asked, pointing to a stylized series of thin, angular letters.

"Produced by Layland Heavy Industries."

 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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STALIN that Sergei guy, he was a little PUTIN anyway.

DÃâ€. But did not deserve to die in fire.

"What does this say?" Valentina asked, pointing to a stylized series of thin, angular letters.

"Produced by Layland Heavy Industries."

Dun...dun...DUUNNN

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So did Tercella give the little chap the time of his life or a tattoo...

Possibly both depending on his personal proclivities. But those - we do not speak of. :)

Top notch double entendre's though. I laughed. A lot.

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Not sure how I'd feel if I was having THAT and a tattoo, either way, Tercella is strange.

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So did Tercella give the little chap the time of his life or a tattoo...

I had to re-read the chapter twice to get that. Apparently, I'm more sleep deprived than I thought, but in my defence, I use latex more to make fossil moulds, so I forgot its other connotations!

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Aw, man, get y'alls minds out of the gutter. Of COURSE it was a double entendre about tattoos & fossil moulding. What else would it be?:D

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Heh - 'fossil moulding' is the new version of 'etchings'. As in:

"Hey baby - wanna come back to my place and look at my etchings."

Maybe that's a Brit thing. I don't know. :)

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Heh - 'fossil moulding' is the new version of 'etchings'. As in:

"Hey baby - wanna come back to my place and look at my etchings."

Maybe that's a Brit thing. I don't know. :)

I grew up in the north of England, and now live in the south, and I have never heard that phrase in my life!

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Once you get past "Hey baby - wanna come back to my place," whatever you put on the end is irrelevant to your actually intent :)

Also, its probably just me but I got the 'other' meaning for latex straight off ...:blush:, but I still cannot figure out the link between latex and tattoos ... ?

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It appears I may have opened a can o' worms here. And as amusing as the implications of Kerbal dimorphism are, I wonder if this is starting to wander a bit off topic and risks drawing mods...

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Chapter 21: An August Summer Night

 

"Oh come on, Tia! It's going to start any minute!" Dibella was practically dragging her by the hand up the crowded staircase, with Tercella snaking along behind.

"Who are ('scuse me) all these (sorry) people?" Valentina grunted as she squeezed past.

"I haven't the slightest idea," Dibella was somehow able to cut through the press with a few stern looks, "I was afraid they'd break the door down, so I just unlocked it. They seem to be keeping out of the offices."

"This is insane (hey that's my foot!)..." Tercella managed, "wait, how is it (creep!) you have the key?"

"My family owns this building..," someone, who'd been enjoying themselves a little too much, could be heard hurking in a corner... loudly, "we... were planning to renovate it anyway."

Valentina followed along, still numb and quite bewildered by the whole thing. It had happened so fast. The grumbling and unrest had been stopped dead in its tracks and was now looking around, confused, wondering what the PЦTIЙ had just happened and not quite sure what to do with its self. All around her, people were wearing those odd but oh-so-practical blue canvas slacks, and here and there strange tall boots with narrow, tapered toes, and even some very silly looking hats that looked several sizes too big. Someone had said they were measured in liters. And leather. Lots and lots of black leather.

She understood the significance of the last few days, but still struggled to pull her mind out its fog and relate to it. The voice in her head ebbed and flowed, but was becoming ever more insistent, ever more convincing. She didn't understand what it wanted, or even what it offered, but every day it grew more difficult to resist.

Here, in the darkness, there is solace.

Here, in the darkness, there is peace.

"Ah! This is it! Keep together, now," Dibella said, pulling Valentina from her fugue as they topped the last staircase and went through a door into the muggy late summer night. The din was even worse up here, the press of bodies tighter. Valentina felt a peculiar sensation in the air that made the fine hair on the back of her neck stand up, like the feeling just before a lightning storm. Dibella seemed to have a growing talent to get people to do what she wanted, including standing just to the side there, bit more, thank you very much, vacating a strip of valuable real estate for the trio. Valentina finally stepped up to the railing at the edge of the rooftop, and despite barely being able to see over it, her mouth fell open.

Once again, every scrap of space in Crimson Square was filled with people. Every rooftop, every window, every balcony. The clear night was filled with voices and rattail smoke and... something rather unpleasant. The Great Banner with its gold-edged crimson star festooned the buildings, but a new form hung now, too. A dark banner with an odd silver form that resembled a large insect. All around, colored spotlights waved back and forth, occasionally illuminating the drifting clouds of smoke.

And dominating it all was the stage. Erected against the Wall of the Fortess, a respectful distance from the Mausoleum, it was completely unlike the stages built for the bureaucrats. It was chrome and aluminum and more lights, an oddly entrancing amalgam of black and shiny. In the center, near the back, was an enormous drum set, and behind that, the expansive granite flank of the Wall.

Valentina was mesmerized by the sheer weirdness of it all. Everywhere, people were talking or cheering or randomly woo!ing. She could feel... something, too. An odd tingly-twisty sensation at the base of her spine. It was like the anticipation of hunting... or being hunted... At least, she realized, she felt something.

She grew frustrated with trying to see over the wide concrete railing, and simply pulled herself up onto it as others were doing. The entire expanse of the Square now spread out before her. Here and there she could see pockets of crowd control police, and even they seemed more interested in the stage than in shoving people. Even the GUM store was--

A sudden surge in the crowd drew her attention. The noise, the noise! She was used to rocket launches by now, but this... The stage suddenly lit up, and the crowd grew louder. On the Wall behind it was that odd insectoid shape. It took Valentina a moment to comprehend, but somehow they were projecting it there. The very Wall of the Fortress had just become the world's largest screen, dwarfing the monitors at mission control.

The noise of the crowd slowly gained form, and people pumped their fists in the air to the simple triplet rhythm.

Sol-pu-GIDS!

Sol-pu-GIDS!

Sol-pu-GIDS!

Sol-pu-GIDS!

The chant grew and grew, Valentina could only stare and gape. Even Dibella and Tercella had joined in. She tried to say something to them, but no sound came. She could feel her vocal cords move, but her own voice in her head had been stripped away like breath in a gale. Every voice in her head.

Against possibility, the crowd grew even louder, and movement on the stage drew her attention. The projection on the Wall was now a video feed of the stage, so Valentina could very clearly make out... the four strangest Kerbals she had ever seen.

The first one came out and she... was it a she? Valentina had never seen long hair on a he before, but this one was short, had long blonde hair, and a terribly receding hairline. S/he waved to the crowd while bouncing around the stage like s/he had had entirely too much coffee, then took his/her place at the enormous drum set.

The next one came out and ...he? also had long hair, but black and curly. A smoldering rattail dangled from ...his? lips, ...he? wore dark tinted spectacles despite the night, and had, of all things, a top hat on. On a strap around ...his? neck was an instrument that looked something like a balalaika but with far too many strings.

Then the third stepped out, and there was no doubting he was a he, because he had short cropped hair... and wore nothing but his underwear. The edge of Valentina's lip curled up in a sneer of confusion. Probably. He, too, had a not-balalaika-thing, with a much longer neck.

Then the last one came up, and she was definitely a lady. She had on a colorful, flowey blouse with long flowey bits at the wrists, carried a stand microphone with another flowey bit tied to it, and, of course, long flowey hair. It was all very... flowey.

She stepped to the center of the stage, and the crowd surged yet again, then she said something into the microphone, and Valentina realized she was not, in fact, a lady. She was a... what was that word they were using? Dude? Well he looked like a lady. He said something again, making the crowd cheer. Valentina couldn't understand a single word. She thought it might be Kerblish, but between the roaring crowd, echoing speakers, and the gravelly voice, she couldn't tell.

Flowey spoke again, the crowd surged louder than ever before, then dropped strangely quiet. Flowey began to whistle...

 

Just a simple, eight-note melody. Across the crowd, first one... then another... and another... Tiny yellow lights burst into life. They spread across the sea of darkness like a sheath of light, swaying and pulsing, thousands upon thousands. It again took Valentina a moment to comprehend, people were raising and waving their rattail lighters. And, being Ussari, there were a lot of them.

After a couple of bars, Tophat began playing ...his? not-balalaika. This, too, was unlike anything she had experienced. It was clear and crisp, with amplified sound that let the chords ring on. Flowey began to sing, and once more the crowd surged. Valentina still couldn't pick out any words, but people in the crowd certainly seemed to know them. The melody repeated, the cheers ebbed and flowed, and the flood of lights waved on.

Quickly the sound built, then Underwear and Hairline joined in, and the sound became complete. The drums pounded in her chest like a heart, and the melodies surged in her nerves. The Sound enveloped her, washed over her, yet pulled at her too. It was a Power inexorable, flowing in her soul. All around people were waving and cheering, and Valentina caught a soundless woo! from her own lungs, too.

Then, for a few bars, the sound shifted, and dipped. It hesitated for just a moment, then surged forth on its own, building and building, until every spotlight in the Square was on Tophat. He stepped into the light, and did something different, and suddenly that wondrous thing around his neck burst into a new sound. It swooped and dived, twirled and banked in the muggy night air. It spoke, it sang, it flowed all around the crowd. It soared like a thing alive. The Power fed from it, or it fed from the Power, and together they built into something incredible.

Now everyone was singing. All across the Square, from every rooftop, every window, every balcony. The police down below stood with their arms around others in the crowd, swaying back and forth with them. They weren't singing the right words, they weren't even singing the same words, but it didn't matter, and Valentina finally realized she, too, was singing right along. It was silly, she knew that. It was absurd. It was all patently ridiculous.

But somehow, in this closeted nation of hyperbole, it was glorious.

The band played on until the first violet tendrils of dawn touched the sky, and all the time the voice whispered in Valentina's mind. But somewhere, on that august summer night, she found the strength to fight on a little more.

Valentina never did find out what that dude (looks like a lady) was singing about. She thought it had something to do with flatulence and coins.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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Chapter 22: Winds of Change

 

A single drop of sweat rolled down Vladimir Kerman's temple. He gingerly nudged the controls. Steady, now. Veeeery steady. Even professionals get nervous, he reminded himself. And his was an unusually... unique profession. He watched the hand signals from the rigging foreman far below. Up now, gently. The enormous white form, still in its protective shrink wrap, slowly lifted from its transport cradle.

It wasn't that it was heavy, far from it, it was just huge. The crane had been built specifically for this task, one of only two in the world they said, but a load of this size was stretching its limits. Vladimir couldn't see a thing beneath it, he relied entirely on the foreman's guidance as he translated the structure back from the train car. There we go, down now... easy... eeeeaasy... there!

The foreman give him a 'thumbs up.' Vladimir put a hint of slack in the lines as the rigging crew busied themselves below, then leaned back and breathed a sigh of relief. He scratched his arm absently, and looked again at the waiting train. Just arrived from Kerbelsk this morning, a thin tendril of smoke still rose from the locomotive. One down, five more to go. Then another half dozen tomorrow. Then more trains carrying upper stages, spare parts, and support equipment.

The rigging foreman yelled something rude, and Vladimir jumped back to the present. The gleaming white form crept off toward the VAB on its hundred-wheeled power dolly, an empty one already pulling in to take its place. Vladimir slewed the gantry crane sideways towards the next rail car, and scratched at his arm again. Yep, it was going to be a long week. And the damn rash still hadn't cleared up yet.

***

Valentina watched from her window as the train was carefully unloaded. It had all happened so fast. She sighed, and looked again at the massive technical binder. She'd manage to force her way to page 6 by pure will. Tercella was scheduled to fly soon, and Valentina had to trudge through it all first. Her red eyes wandered over the other books scattered across her small table, the bed, the floor, and a particularly obnoxious one still embedded in the drywall. It wasn't the technical stuff, that much she could grasp. It was this PЦTIИSКI language. She picked up a thin, colorful book.

S... s... see Spot.

See Spot run.

Run, Spot, run!

Yes, Spot, you'd best keep running. This was asinine! If this was how the Foreigners learned their language, maybe the Imperium was right about them after all. She paused, and rubbed at the wide flat spot between her eyes. Everyone in the Union knew at least a few words of other languages. Nihaciman was very common, as was Abvonovichatkaderivokistani, and Dachlandish for the educated who'd been to the University. Krünian was becoming more and more popular too, being so near the city. The construction foremen favored it, it was a good language for yelling at people in.

Krünian, now there was a logical, efficient language. No extra letters. Well, except for the really important sounds like Phlegm and Spittle. It must have given all its extra letters to Dachlandish, which seemed to delight in using as many letters as possible to represent a sound, but even that had a certain order to it. But the entire manual was in Kerblish. It... it was...

It was just chaos! Pure chaos! Valentina paused for a moment to thump her forehead against the table a few times. It felt better. Beyond a few words the fool language made no sense at all! There were rules, so many rules... but then there were more exceptions to the rules than rules themselves. I before E except after C? What lunacy was that?! Then they followed with a string of times when I did not, in fact, come after E. It was madness!

And then there was the alphabet! Honestly, why couldn't people just use nice, normal, Kerillic letters? This Foreign writing system... this letter looked like that letter but it sounded like this other letter. And what was this? What was this? Was it a letter or did someone sneeze on the page?! Bah! Anyone who could master such insanity must have the patience of a rock.

Dibella might have been able to help. She could speak (and read!) a half dozen languages. What was it she had called herself? A polygamist? Polygon? Either way, the word sounded unpleasant, but it meant all this nonsense came easily to Dibella, she was already fluent in Kerblish. Studying with Dibella might help. There was just one problem.

Valentina yawned, wiggled her jaw back and forth. She tapped at her eardrums, then made slow 'ooo-wah' motions with her mouth. The Flight Surgeon had said that her hearing would return in time, to which she'd said 'WHAT?' He then sternly cautioned her against doing anything that again, as continued exposure to excessive sound levels would eventually cause permanent hearing loss, to which she'd also said 'WHAT?', at which point he'd given up and just written her a note. As it was, 'WHAT?' had become somewhat of a defacto lingua franca around the Cosmodrome. Since neither of the two could hear, studying together wouldn't be much use.

Valentina grunted in frustration, sat back, and looked out towards the crews unloading the train. It had all happened so fast. A dozen complete launch vehicles manufactured by something called a 'corporation,' a few incomplete ones, and spare parts to build several more. Then more would be built here in the Union under something called a 'license.' The Kerbal Space Administration and the Imperious Academy of Sciences had signed an 'Agreement of Non-Competition and Preface to Cooperation.'

Living deep in the taiga, only making the arduous trek into the village a few times a month, Valentina had been spared from much of the... politics regarding the Foreigners. Most people accepted what the Imperium's Ministry of Truth told them with an eagerness that had always disturbed her. In the taiga, perceptions were often skewed by clever things looking to make a meal of you. She'd learned not to trust what the world 'told' her, to see the truth beyond it. The greater World beyond the forests told that the Foreigners were something lesser, something alien. If not outright enemies, they were bitter rivals to be kept at arm's length. And certainly never to be trusted. Shake their hand, until you found a stick.

Then their rocket had disintegrated, and Edmund Kerman had been fished barely alive from the sea. For a fleeting moment, there was... something, just out of reach. Then the propaganda had returned as strong as ever, and the Foreigners were once again something to be overcome. An obstacle to be surmounted at any cost.

And then... Sergei. Valentina looked down at the books surrounding her. Not long ago, any Foreign goods except those from a few trusted allies were strictly forbidden, and now the Union its self was buying rockets from them. It was just so... logical.

The main engines of the Stolitsa launch vehicle were fatally flawed, and finding that flaw had turned up a litany of others that simply hadn't failed yet. A new launcher, new engines, everything would have to be redesigned from the ground up. It would take years, if nothing went wrong. Years that would allow the KSA complete domination of space, with any remaining niches filled by the more humble space programs of the world. The embarrassment to the Imperium, especially after such fanfare... well, it would be difficult to put words to. The Imperium was known to be boisterous, idealistic, and above all, proud. Buying Foreign rockets to maintain the space program, loosing a little face to save more in the long run... it was a cool, calculated, rational decision.

The Imperium simply didn't do that!

What struck her the most as odd, however, was that this 'Layland Heavy Industries' had over a dozen rocket stages just sitting around waiting to be sold in the first place. She knew the Foreigner's economic system was quite different. Maybe it was normal for them to have lots of stuff just sitting around, waiting to be sold, if the sudden influx of other goods was any indication. People in Kermangrad bustled about, now, in their blue jeans and yak-kid boots, eating their McKerbal's™, so of course they wouldn't wonder about where the rockets came from. Everything had changed, and yet, nothing had. It was all very... convenient.

And familiar. She had experienced it enough to see the pattern. Valentina knew the Imperium was not the Great Advocate it made its self out to be, but such was just life. Such was the Agreement. Challenge the Imperium and, well, that's how you got the Troubles. She hated politics, hated them. But she knew this darkness. She could see into this forest, and in the shadows, catch a glimpse of a predator staring back at her.

Valentina sighed once more, rubbing at her tired eyes. Maybe she was just overthinking it all. Maybe it all was a turn in a positive direction. But either way, it wasn't helping her get through the manual. With a groan, she picked up another reader. Well, on the bright side, at least it wasn't Ceriman. With that one, blink your right eye instead of your left and 'hi, how are you?' became 'your mother has unnatural relations with farm animals and I will see you dead before the sun sets!' And their writing system seemed to consist almost entirely of various smiley faces. It was no wonder those people were always at war.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
Abvonovichatkaderivokistan really needs a shorter name =\
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Loved the rock concert - could almost feel that bass through the screen. And as for the last chapter, I hope I have this right but:

:huh::P:) :) :P , :blush::blush::wink:

I think that says it all.

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