CatastrophicFailure

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

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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.

Them's fightin' words!

But it's :P before :huh: except after :cool:. Maybe.

***

also, related but not at all related:

NkqBOwR.jpg

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Chapter 23: The Flight of Sila, pt. 1

 

"If you die, I will kill you."

Those were Valentina's last words to Tercella before the latter disappeared into the elevator car to the top of the launch tower. Now, once again, frost clung stubbornly to a waiting rocket's skin. Now, once again, a Kerbal sat in a tiny capsule atop it. Beyond the cosmodrome, and beyond the skeletal, blackened forest surrounding it, the first hints of orange and red fringed the lower leaves of the trees. This, and the unseasonably cool day signaled that fall would soon arrive. In Ussari, the fall never lasted long.

Once again, Valentina stared out the expansive windows of the Mission Control building, trying to calm herself. The sky overhead was slightly darkened by a high overcast. The weather center didn't expect it to delay the launch. Valentina hugged herself against the slight chill in the room, silently wishing it would. Gone were the crowds of spectators, the few who had shown up were kept outside by very serious-looking security. The launch would be televised, of course, now on a five minute delay. There was still anticipation in the air, but it was guarded. As guarded as the building now was.

Dibella, once again, was coordinating the mission. She quietly went through the final procedures with the engineers at their stations. So far, everything had gone smoothly. Valentina rubbed her arms, and took a long breath that shuddered just slightly. It had gone smoothly before.

"Terminal countdown commencing," Dibella said into her headset mic, "how are you doing, Sila?"

"All systems nominal, checklist complete. I am ready," Tercella's voice crackled over the speakers.

Calm. Professional. Detached. Every face like stone. Even Tercella lacked her usual lightness. Valentina took another slow breath. She wondered how many others were consciously trying not to hyperventilate. The voice was here too, always here, a susurrus of madness.

"Sem..."

"Shest..."

"Pyat..."

"Auto sequence start..."

Once again, thunder rolled outside. The sound of the four kerosene main engines and their four vernier counterparts roaring to life was quite unlike the the chaotic noise of the older solid-fueled launchers. The ground still rumbled, the windows still shook, but it was ordered. Tight. Controlled.

"All engines running."

"Tree..."

"Dva..."

"Odéen..."

Valentina's breath caught. For a moment, mission control was once again filled with that awful, pregnant stillness. And then...

"Liftoff, we have liftoff. The clock is running."

There were no cheers, no shouts, just the sound of a few dozen people breathing again. It took Valentina a moment to join them. She watched nervously as the long, green rocket lumbered past the launch towers, then rolled to the proper azimuth. She could do nothing, now, but watch. After a few moments, it disappeared into the cloud deck, leaving trail of matching grey smoke, and even watching was denied.

"We have planned shutdown of engines two and four."

"Sila copies, confirm engine shutdown, all lights still green."

Valentina turned her attention to the array of screens as Dibella and the controllers went through their procedures with frustrating calmness. A video feed from the hull of a fuel tank showed a shaky image of the gleaming white top of the cloud deck. She watched, as the image slowly changed, the clouds stretched off into the distance, then finally met the sky. The horizon gradually crept towards the middle of the screen. The shaking began to get worse.

"Sila, control, you're coming up on staging."

"Copy, control."

An engineer slowly counted down, then the image on the screen suddenly went to static.

Valentina's heart stopped.

She stumbled back when the feed sputtered and then returned, the spent first stage just visible as it began to tumble away.

"Staging is good, ullage burnout, secondary engine at one hundred percent."

"Sila copies, confirm staging. Tower jett is armed."

"We have escape tower jettison, all systems still nominal."

Breathless minutes trudged by as the greatly diminished rocket now clawed for the speed to achieve orbit. Even the video was now useless, all Valentina could do was watch the telemetry display. The numbered blinked and stuttered from the weak signal. Trying to distract herself, she began going over Kerblish verb conjugations in her head. She'd teased enough from the further pages of the manual to know that this was the most dangerous part of the ascent. An abort from this speed and altitude was possible, in theory, but the gee forces from such a steep descent...

She pushed the thought out of her mind, tried to breathe, tried to focus on something else. Words. Words. Words! She looked away from the screens. At any moment, the call would come, any moment! Something had gone wrong again and now--"

"Sila, control, we have SECO. Awaiting final telemetry."

What?

"Sila copies, confirm engine shutdown, separation light on."

"Sila, this is control. Telemetry confirmed, you are go for at least five orbits."

A thick, heavy silence stretched out. Some machine or other beeped softly.

And then, "PЦTIЙS LЗFT ЭДЯ, I did it!"

The room exploded. Valentina's hearing was still off, it probably wasn't as loud as it seemed. But then again, it just might have been. Cheers, whoops, shouts of joy filled the cavernous room. Papers and clipboards flew to the ceiling, one of which took out a light fixture but no one seemed to care. All around, people were hugging or shaking hands. Someone ran up to Dibella and gave her a big kiss on the cheek before running off again, leaving the former staring wide-eyed and gaping. Then someone tried to do the same to Valentina, but encountered her elbow instead, which by an odd coincidence arrived at the same place at the same time.

Flashes and explosions outside made her jump, convinced something else had gone wrong, before she realized they were fireworks. Small monitors in the control room playing news broadcasts showed people flowing out into the streets, waving flags, hanging from light poles. And in the tiny broadcast room in the back of the mission control building, Mikhail Kerman was so busy dancing around and not standing by his station that he was singly responsible for Tercella Kerman swearing on a live international broadcast. No one seemed to care, though. They had done it, they had finally done it.

A burst of garbled sound came from the speakers.

"All right, all right, quiet down!" Dibella yelled over the din, trying to regain her composure, "we still have a mission to run here!"

"Did not copy that, Sila, say again," she said into her mic as the noise died down.

"Control, do you have a problem?" Tercella said, "I just had the oddest bunch of red lights come on up here."

Dibella looked nervously over her control panel, rolled her eyes, then walked to an engineer still sitting on his own panel, and slapped him upside the head. He hopped down sheepishly.

"Um... disregard control, they all went green again."

"Let's get back on track here, give me a status report, Sila."

"Copy... oxygen 99%, batteries 98%, flight fuel 94%, re-entry fuel 100%. All systems nominal."

Dibella looked to the massive central monitor that plotted Tercella's predicted course on a map, "we're in this for the long run now. Power off antennas 1, 3, and 4, and switch to your orbital checklist. You're coming up on the coast, twenty minutes to Objective One..."

Valentina's anxiety abated for the moment and she finally decided to join Dibella on the platform where the rows of consoles were stretched out. She kept out of the way, watched and listened as Tercella went through a series of attitude checks, visual tests, and activated science experiments. Tercella remarked that Kerbin seemed to be mostly below her. Dibella asked if it was drifting or falling. Tercella confirmed that it was not, but she was floating in a most peculiar way, and the stars looked very different, today. Valentina had the distinct impression she was missing a joke. A bad one.

The indicator lights marked 'TX1/RX1' blinked back and forth as the other two spoke over the radio. The little Orbiter craft had now exceeded Dibella and Valentina's own flight times combined, and continued to perform well. A major mission goal neared as the tiny ship approached the coast of Kerfrica.

"You should be in range, now, Sila. Bring up the frequency on antenna 4 and proceed."

"Sila copies, transmitting."

Now the 'RX1' and 'TX2' light illuminated.

"Greetings and salutations from Ever Glorious Imperious Union of Ussari States," her Kerblish sounded at least passable to Valentina, "I am Kerbonaut Tercella Kerman. I bear tidings of peace and friendship to brave fellows of Kerbal Space Administration and its constituent member states, in hopes of greater understanding and cooperation between all peoples."

RX1 blinked on again, "how... how was that?"

Stillness stretched out for a few moments, then RX2 came on, and an unsteady voice spoke Ussari...ish.

"Greetings and... salad stations. Me am be person of being, Kerman Jorrigh. I proclaimed noise of... opening, and, gooey friendship. Because Mister Union of Conditions, king illegal forest. In it a is! With now of persons, we really can into space."

Somewhere in a forgotten corner of the Mission Control room, an errant cricket chirped softly.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

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And in the tiny broadcast room in the back of the mission control building, #name# Kerman was so busy dancing around and not standing by his station that he was singly responsible for Tercella Kerman swearing on a live international broadcast.

"we're in this for the long run now. Power off antennas 1, 3, and 4, and switch to your orbital checklist. You're coming up on the coast, ## minutes to Objective One..."

I get the horrible feeling that this wasn't the final draft, unless these facts are -REDACTED-

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I get the horrible feeling that this wasn't the final draft, unless these facts are -REDACTED-

well now, that's embarrassing. :blush: That's what I get for mixing hashtags with Asterix in my drafts.

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well now, that's embarrassing. :blush: That's what I get for mixing hashtags with Asterix in my drafts.

Yeah, you'll need to getafix for that in the next draft. :)

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Did you run out of ketchup? ;)

No, but I dipped a potato in it anyway.

For the record, it tastes really really awful. ;.;

wait a minute, let me test this... *name* Kerman

LOL, I use asterisks as markers for italics, Kerillic, stuff I gotta replace later. For some reason, I didn't there. :sealed:

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Chapter 24: The Flight of Sila, pt. 2

 

The silence in Mission Control stretched out.

Tercella's hesitant voice finally crept from the speaker, "did... did I sound like that?"

Dibella put a hand to her face.

"Ach, give me that!" The RX/2 light flickered again, and Valentina heard a familiar voice speaking Ussari with that same odd accent, "what m' linguistically challenged friend here is trying t' say, is, on behalf of the KSA and its member states, welcome. Now if you'll take a look out yer window there, about twenty klicks north of Capitol City, we've prepared a little something for yah, in a gesture of goodwill."

The assembled Kerbals looked at each other. Dibella keyed her mic.

"Sila, control, do you see anything?"

"Looking now... I can just see the Space Center far to the south... and that must be the city... I do not-- wait, there! Just as he said, in a field north of the city. They have made an enormous Crimson Star. It must be a couple of kilometers across. I cannot tell what it is made of, it is rather faint but easily distinguishable. Taking pictures now..."

"'Tis but a small gesture but one we hope will be well received," said the Voice over the speaker, "I see yer about t' pass out of comm range now. We look forward t' a new era of cooperation, and will be watching for you on yer next pass for Phase Two."

Tercella tried to yammer out a fitting thanks, but her ship had already drifted too far. Valentina thought the entire exchange a bit... off. Nice, perhaps, but... She pushed it away. There were more pressing matters.

"He is right, you'll be passing out of our commsat range momentarily too," said Dibella, "confirm you're on item 3-a of the on-orbit checklist, Sila"

"Confirm, control. Will be continuing from item 3-a. Will see you on the other side."

"Good luck, Sila."

"Aaaaaand..... it's gone. We have loss of signal at MET+32:20," said a technician.

Valentina stepped back, and let the mission control team go about their tasks. Tercella's spacecraft had now passed southeast over the ocean, beyond the range of ground stations yet below the Union's still fragmentary satellite network. They had tried to build a ground station in Cerima, until the locals realized that the construction materials were equally as useful for beating each other over the head with.

The ship continued to follow its sinuous path across the map on the enormous tracking monitor, based on its expected position. It plunged deep into Cerima, passing into orbital night, before appearing to turn northeast again. Its track roughly paralleled the borders with Atezaca and Andacania before heading out over the Great Tethys Inland Sea. As it passed over the Erakonian Peninsula, lights on the various mission control panels began to blink on again.

"Signal acquisition at MET+1:06:37," said the technician, "we have telemetry."

"Sila, this is control, how do you read?" Dibella said into her mic with a hint of uncertainty.

"Control, this is Sila, all systems nominal," came the response. Valentina realized she'd been holding her breath.

"Glad to have you back, Sila. You're officially the first person to overfly Cerima without being shot down."

"Well... judging by the flashes on the ground I saw, they probably tried. I do not think they realized I was out of range. But do I have stories! Remind me to tell you about the fireflies."

The technicians looked at each other uneasily. 'Space madness' drifted among the muttering. Dibella just rolled her eyes.

"You can fill them in at the debriefing. Are you ready for Objective 2?"

"Affirmative. Checkout completed during blackout. Protein pills taken and helmet secured. I am ready."

"Copy that Sila," Dibella looked to a technician, who gave a thumbs-up, "control is Go, on your mark."

"Venting complete, I'm opening the hatch."

Dibella pointed to the broadcast technician, "bring up the external camera feed." He nodded, and threw some switches. One of the looming monitors became a grainy, shaky, monochrome view looking down the length of the ship from the instrument ring above. A washed-out Kerbin drifted slowly in the background. Presently, the tiny pod's hatch could just be seen swinging open.

"Hatch open, cabin secured. Do you have me, control?"

"Affirmative, Sila. We've got a nice view, board is green. When you're ready."

"Control, I am stepping through the door..."

Tercella's huge helmet and gilded faceplate suddenly appeared on the staticky screen. "СССР" was emblazoned in large, dark letters on the brow. It was a rather archaic moniker, but these images would soon be seen on screens across the world, and so it made a very subtle yet effective statement. Tercella was now extra-vehicular. Her torso appeared, and floating arms, and then she just... stopped.

"Uh, Flight?" said the Flight Surgeon, "her heartbeat just went up quite a bit."

"Sila?" Dibella said with concern, "how are you doing?"

Nothing but light breathing came back over the radio.

"Sila, do you copy?"

Still nothing.

Dibella looked to the Flight Surgeon again, "I... I don't know, her vitals are OK, heart rate still a bit high but well within limits. Neural activity is a bit... odd."

Whispers of "space madness" again floated around the consoles.

"Tercella, do you copy me?" Dibella said with irritation.

"Wooooooooooooooowwwwwwww......."

"No copy, Tercella."

"It's... so... beautiful..."

"Did not copy, Tercella, say again."

"So beautiful... I can see... I can see everything. The whole world. The whole everything. The Union, and the Foreign lands and all the oceans. And the Mün, just a sliver but I can see it. Minmus is so clear I can see the ice seas... this... this is awesome."

Dibella smiled just a bit, "OK, you've got a few minutes for spectating before we're up on the objective. Don't forget your camera."

"Copy...."

"Heart-rate's back down," said the Flight Surgeon, "everything's coming back down, now. She's really relaxed.

The RX/2 light on Dibella's communications panel began blinking once again. She pressed it, getting the additional signal in her headphone.

"Well, time to give her a mission again," Dibella said, "Sila, that's enough for now I'm afraid, but keep the camera out. You're almost to the observation point."

"Copy that, Control. The ship is starting to drift a bit but I've got a good angle from here, camera ready."

"Understood, Sila, their countdown is coming in now... seven... six... five... engine start.... three... two... one... booster ignition.... liftoff! Confirm liftoff, it's cleared the launch towers now."

"Copy. I am just south of the Space Center, passing southeast. Nothing yet... I can see the Center easily... there's some drifting clouds and-- wait! There it is! There it is! I can see the smoke trail."

"Copy that, you confirm you see their rocket trail?"

"Affirmative. It is far but it is quite easy now that I know where to look. Do not know how well the camera will pick it up. The rocket has cleared the clouds and is pitched mostly over now.

"Reading booster burnout, separation now, Sila," Dibella said.

"Yes, the smoke trail just changed... it is much fainter now.... getting very hard to track.... lost it.... no there... no, it is gone. I can barely see the engine plume and.. nope, just lost that too."

"Copy Sila, KSA reports staging complete, you probably couldn't make out that upper stage plume from there."

"Understood. But what a thing was that, hmm? The first rocket launch witnessed from space. You must extend my congratulations down the line to this 'Kerman Jorrigh' person."

"I will do that, Sila. But it's main event time now, are you ready?"

"I was born ready! Tethers secured, let us do this!"

"That's the spirit. All right, you're cleared to make your way to the forward experiment package."

"Copy."

On the monitor above, the ghostly, washed-out figure came fully into view now, bobbing back and forth in an odd way.

"<grunt>This is going to be a workout... was not expecting the suit to give so much <grunt> resistance. Is very hard to move against it with no leverage, standby."

"Hm, heart-rate's rising again," said the Flight Surgeon, "need to keep an eye on that."

"OK, almost there...<grunt> ugh, this suit... it is puffing out like a balloon, takes effort to keep my arms in front of me.<grunt> Legs pretty much useless. OK, I'm there, clipping on."

"Pace yourself, Sila, you do not want to get over extended."

"Copy that, control. Knew it was <grunt> gonna be a rough time. Takes more than hard work to stop me! Working on the instrument cover now... bah, still no leverage."

Tercella was just barely visible now, having crawled over the camera to access the necessary housing. All they could see was her white form swinging back and forth.

"Gah, ЬЯЗZHЙЭVS SHФЗ this is a <pant> PЦTIЙSКIУ of a thing."

Dibella sighed, "Let's mind the language, Sila. This isn't a live broadcast anymore but it's not much better if half of it has to get bleeped out in post."

"<pant>Understood, almost... there! Cover's off, now just-- PЦTIЙ!"

A hand again found its way to Dibella's face, "what's wrong, Sila?"

"Lost the cover... <grunt> it's drifting off now, nothing I can do about it. Ugh. <grunt> Collecting science data now. Capsule is starting to drift a lot now, <pant> can you trim it?"

"See?" said one engineer to another, "I told you it needed an independent SAS!"

"Bah," said his target, "you wanted a full blown probe core. We can trim it remotely."

"Flight, her heartrate is still rising. Body temp is following too. She really needs to slow down."

Dibella nodded, and rolled her bulging eyes, "Once you've got that secure take a minute to rest, there's lots of work ahead yet. We're trying to steady the ship."

"Nonsense <grunt>, we have limited time before the next blackout, <pant> I can handle myself. OK, data is secure with me. Moving <grunt>on to next test. Am I back in view?"

"Affirmative, Sila, we can see you. Be careful now."

"Ok, tethers double <grunt> checked, here I go!"

In the staticky view on the monitor, Tercella suddenly pushed off from the ship, drifting for a moment before her tethers went taut, making the whole ship jerk.

"Oof! Wasn't quite expecting that, the <grunt> whole ship's bucking around now... <pant> ok trying this... no, that's not working, maybe if I... PЦTIЙ, that's no good either! <pant> Gah, now I'm... I'm drifting around..."

On the screen, she flailed about, bouncing slightly when the tethers reached their limit. The ship was tumbling randomly now. Watching it, more than a few of the controllers were looking a bit green... Er.

"Uhg, this is not working, I can't maneuver at all using just the tether and--ack<grunt>! Now I am going back the other way, I am passing under the ship I think, the tethers are wrapping themselves around it, can't stop... PЦTIЙ! <grunt> Ow! That just slammed me up against the hull.

"Sila, are you all right?"

"Heart-rate still climbing, this is getting disconcerting."

"I will be fine <pant>. This is a no-go <pant>. I am going to try to work my way back around the <pant> hull to the next experiment package."

"Understood, Sila. Try to take it easy, your vital signs are a bit of a concern."

"Like I said, it is a real work out. I'm fighting against the suit to do anything, it keeps ballooning. I can already feel sweat sloshing around somewhere. I am going to purge it down a few more millibar."

"Careful with that, you need all the oxyium in your blood you can get right now."

"Understood <grunt>, just a touch. OK, moving on to the rear compartment... <pant> hard to move back here, there's no <grunt> hand holds, cannot get a grip anywhere and-- gah!"

"Sila?"

"Lost grip <grunt>, slipped off... OK <pant>, almost there.... I am at the <grunt> equipment box... trying experiment 1..."

Her suited form swung back and forth uselessly, just in view of the camera.

"PЦTIЙ! PЦTIЙPЦTIЙ!PЦTIЙ! <grunt> Can't even turn the STДLIЙSКIУ  <pant> nut, no leverage, <pant> I just <pant> spin the other way."

"Steady now, Sila."

"PulseOx is dropping now, heartrate still rising. I think we have a problem developing,"

said the Surgeon.

"Sila, we're getting a bit concerned down here, maybe you should--"

"Gaaaaaaah!" Tercella raged helplessly as something that looked like a wrench went drifting past the camera and off into space.

"PЦTIЙ! PЦTIЙЬЯЗZHЙЭVSTДLIЙ.....GФЯЪДCHЗV!"

Again, the controllers looked back and forth uneasily.

"W...What is a Gorbachev?" Said an engineer.

"Um, I think it's some sort of birthmark." said a technician.

"Bah, <pant> I'm all out of swear words, <grunt> I needed a new one!" Tercella said, as if hearing them.

The Flight Surgeon took Dibella's elbow, "Her heartrate is reaching critical. Pulseox still dropping, and now her body temperature is getting dangerously high. We need to call this off. Now."

Dibella nodded slowly at him, "Sila, I need you to take two minutes to rest, then return to the cabin, we're going to have to cut the EVA short."

"No I... <gasp> I am all right, <pant> I can keep--<pant>"

"Tercella...."

"OK...<pant> maybe enjoying the <pant> view for a bit doesn't sound <pant> so bad after all... visor is so fogged I can <pant> barely see anyway."

Now an engineer nudged Dibella, "We may have a bigger problem. If her body temp is as high as he says, it's pushing what the capsule can handle. The cooling system is pretty weak, and having the electronics exposed to vacuum for so long isn't helping either. If the cooling capacity is overwhelmed, the capsule won't be able to cool her down, or the equipment."

"I see," said Dibella worriedly.

The engineer looked her sternly in the eyes, "If we cross that line, even if she gets back in she'll cook in there."

Dibella nodded, and pointed to another technician, "You, bring out the scrub checklist. Start going through the procedures. Listen up, everyone, this has gone relatively well and we need need it to end well, too. I'm officially calling a scrub to the mission. We bring her down on her next orbit. You, start going over the equations, you, scramble the recovery crews and get them to the LZ, and you, go find the political officer so he can make something up."

She keyed up her mic, "Tercella, how are you doing?"

"I am <gasp> all right. Getting... <pant> warm in here."

"She's stabilizing, but her temperature is still way up. Need to get her back inside, carefully."

"Ok, start making your way back to the hatch, slowly. You don't want to overheat."

"Copy <grunt>."

Tercella's ghostly form appeared in the monitor again, moving slowly and awkwardly. It seemed to take ages for her to return to the hatch.

"We need to cut the heat down," Dibella said to an engineer, "shut down everything we don't absolutely need, including that camera as soon as the hatch is shut."

"Understood, Flight."

"Almost there...<grunt> cannot <gasp> see a thing... <grunt> Ok... <gasp> Ok, I am in."

"Can you get the hatch?"

"<gasp>...harness...<gasp>"

"Don't worry about the harness, just get the hatch closed for now."

The Flight Surgeon looked more and more worried.

"Tercella, do you copy?"

The engineers glanced around.

"Tercella?"

"I have a hatch seal light," said a technician.

"Get pressure restored, I want it as high as possible to get the temperature down."

"On it."

"Uh, Flight?" Said a timid-looking technician in another row, "she will be going into comm blackout any minute now."

"What?!" Dibella's head snapped to the map display, "PЦTIЙ! Already??"

She keyed her mic, "Tercella, do you copy?"

"She's alive, that much is certain," said the Flight Surgeon, "but she may be unconscious."

"If we abort now and fire the deorbit engine, she could be on the ground in ten minutes," an engineer offered, "but..."

"Well, spit it out!"

"She would land in Cerima," he said softly, "one of the less nice parts..."

The Flight Surgeon's eyes grew wide, "if she were to land in Cerima, of all places, unconscious... but if she's not strapped in properly the deceleration alone could kill her."

"Internal temperature in the pod is rising," another engineer said, "we may not have another hour to bring her down here."

"We'll be in blackout any moment," said the timid one in the back, "after that, we can't do anything until signal reacquisition, somewhere over Erakonia."

"Bah!" Dibella snapped, "where is the Kommissar? Why is he always away on these flights?!"

Valentina stepped forward, her eyes met Dibella's.

"You're acting Flight Director," the Flight Surgeon said to Dibella, "it's your call. But we don't have much time."

Dibella ground her teeth, and looked again at the looming display. Valentina stepped back. She desperately wanted to say something, but words would not come. Softly, in the back of her head, the voice was laughing.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

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Grrrr - putinskya cliffhangers!

Nice (but scary) chapter - and I see what you did here. :D

"Affirmative. Checkout completed during blackout. Protein pills taken and helmet secured. I am ready."

Trying to think of a way they could jerry-rig the cooling system - not coming up with much. :(

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The release timing was completely unintentional :D.

I had a really hard time writing this one, and then I realized how long it was. Apparently being out of work for a week is conducive to more USP flights but not for writing.

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Chapter 25: Choices

 

"Ma'am, we need a decision," said the engineer, "w... what do we do?"

Dibella stared at the monitor, at the line through the heart of Cerima. Her breathing was calm and measured. Her face might have been carved from stone. She folded her hands behind her back. Only Valentina could see they were trembling.

The engineer's hand hesitantly moved toward a button.

"No," Dibella said softly, closing her eyes, "we wait."

Murmurs rolled through the room.

"Comrade Tercella's is not the only life at stake here," her voice rose, "if we were to allow that pod and its technology to fall into Ceriman hands, every person in this room would be sent in Kerberia. Or worse. We wait, and bring her home as planned."

More murmurs, then a technician spoke up, "we have loss of signal at MET+2:45:24. Expect thirty two minutes to reacquisition."

Valentina flew up the stairs in the back of the room, and charged out the door to the deck behind it, knocking over a coffee pot as she did. Her shaking hands gripped the cold metal railing. This was lunacy from the start! For all their talk of cooperation and parity, they still had to outdo the Foreigners. A solo EVA, from an unsteady, primitive craft.

Her eyes fixed on the Great Banner behind the Kerbonaut Center waving proudly on the chill breeze. Overhead, flights of Converters drowned out the wind. Politics. More politics. The railing rattled as she shook it. It was madness! It was--

You have great power within you.

Her breath caught.

Yes, you feel it. Even now, you feel it. It rages within you.

"Shut up," She spat through clenched teeth.

Your anger only makes it stronger. Gives it... life.

"Shut up!"

Your place is here, in the darkness. Here, your power can find purpose.

"ShutupShutupShutup!"

You cannot fight it. But there is... a way.

"Sh--what?" Valentina looked up.

Your friend is not yet lost. Arrangements... can be made.

Her fingers felt like ice on the railing, "what... what do you mean?"

In her mind, the voice laughed and laughed.

If you will but pay the price...

"Bah!" Valentina spun around, hugging herself, her fingers numb against clothes. But she could feel it. She could feel it. Burning, searing beneath her skin. Anger. Fear. Isolation. Burn her, but she could feel it. And there was power in it.

The darkness will welcome you. It it always there, waiting.

"PЦTIЙ on you!" She swore, and went back inside. All eyes in the control room were fixed on the monitors. The mission time read MET+3:17:12.

What? But she just--

She made her way quickly down the stairs, stood alone by the wall.

"Expect signal reception in tree... dva... odéen..." a technician reported. The lights all glowed red. No telemetry.

"Sila, this is control, do you copy?" Dibella said into her microphone.

Silence stretched out.

"Sila, this is control, do you copy?"

Such power...

"Sila, do you copy? This is control."

Such power...

"Sila, do you copy?" Eyes glanced around, murmurs rippled.

...if you will but pay the price...

Valentina stared helplessly at the screens.

"Sila... do you copy?"

Will you pay it?

"Tercella..."

Silence. Only silence.

Valentina closed her eyes.

"Yes," she said softly.

A light blinked on, "control, this is Sila. What took you so long?"

A cheer went up from the small crowd that shamed the one only hours ago. Hoots, and whistles, two engineers tried the hand-slapping thing the Foreigners did but only hit each other in the face. The timid one in the back simply lowered his head to his panel.

"Sila, this is control, we read you!" Dibella nearly shouted, "what is your status? We're not reading any telemetry down here."

"Sorry, I... <pant> turned it off. Trying to get the temperature down."

All across the boards, lights blinked to green.

"Start the re-entry checklist," Dibella said to an engineer, then keyed her mic, "how are you? Are you secured for return?"

"I am a factory girl, I am <pant> used to the heat," Tercella sounded weak and tired, but very much alive, "but... what is it Valentina is always saying about <pant> the cold? I could do with some cold right now."

Dibella jerked, and quickly looked around, but Valentina was nowhere to be seen.

***

The door to the tiny broadcast room swung open, and Mikhail Kerman's head swung around. What he saw in Valentina's eyes instantly convinced him he had somewhere else much more important to be, and he flew from the room. Valentina took his chair, slammed her elbows on the panel as she ran trembling fingers through her hair.

What had she done?

What had she done? She didn't feel... different. Was it all just in her head? Was she just loosing her mind? She wiped her wet face with a wet hand, and watched the feeds from a dozen cameras. From here, she watched Mission Control as Tercella's ship fired its de-orbit engine, watched the capsule separate without incident, waited again through breathless minutes as reentry plasma blocked the signal. Then relief, as Recovery-12's camera swung around and revealed the tiny sphere floating gently on its parachute.

She watched, and smiled at the irony as the capsule plopped down on the muddy bank of the Vulgar River, then tipped on its side. She watched, still smiling, as the recovery teams swarmed over the pod like ants, as Tercella appeared in the open hatch and angrily batted their helping hands away. She watched, as Tercella pulled herself out, and promptly fell face first in the mud. Valentina looked back at Mission Control, and her smile faded, as she watched everyone embracing and kissing cheeks and still not getting that hand-slap thing quite right. She watched, for a moment, alone, then sighed and went from the room.

She never saw Dibella break away and scan the room for her again. Dibella found only Igor, looking very concerned.

***

Later that night, Valentina sat on the bed in her small room, hugging her knees. She had thought of going to find the others, but she knew they were busy. Tercella was still in the infirmary, recovering from exhaustion and mild hyperthermia. Dibella had been in debriefings all evening, but word was already spreading. Dibella was going to fly again, on an endurance-testing three day flight. And Valentina was here, alone, forgotten. Outside, the darkness beckoned.

She looked again to the little glass bottle on the table, as she did every night. Darnitol™, 75mg. Sleep. Sleep, without dreams. The easy way out.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

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Chapter 26: Night and Day

 

The warm summer air pressed down oppressively on the forest, muggy and thick with the buzz of cicadas. Here and there, tinier insects flitted about, oblivious to the still mist. Valentina crept silently between the trees, moving with a preternatural grace, fitting through the branches yet not touching a one. Her face was black with foul mud and streaked with sweat. Her quarry lay just ahead.

She deftly slid past another limb. Moving about this part of the taiga was always tricky. Inadvertently brushing up against a Stick would quickly spoil your day, here. But Sticks, at least, mostly kept to themselves. Mostly. A Twig, on the other hand... Valentina shuddered in spite of the heat.

The villagers avoided the deep wood, feared it, called it a place of death. Yes, there was death here, death in spades. But there could only be so much death because there was so much life. Here, everything was alive. The trees, the soil, the water, even the rocks. Life permeated the air with an otherworldly force. And that life would inevitably bring death. Life fed death fed life, in circles upon infinite circles. The patterns were there, for anyone who cared to look. Valentina knew the circles well, their interactions, their interceptions. Another interception waited in the next clearing.

She didn't know the great furry thing's name. The taiga-dwellers seldom bothered with names. There was so much here, no one could know all the names. "Lunch" or "argh" covered most things, and the names could switch with disturbing speed. Except Sticks. And Twigs. Those were worthy of names.

She had been stalking this particular thing for over an hour, and it had finally let its guard down in the small clearing. Hidden in the undergrowth, Valentina silently drew back on her short bow, its waxed string and supple wood not making a sound. The tiny arrow's tip had been dipped in the juice of berries and crushed beetles. She took a slow breath, let it part way out, aimed...

The thing sensed the threat. It tensed, spun its head... but too late. The arrow caught it in the flank and it was dead before it hit the ground.

Valentina smiled beneath her mask of mud. Now, there would be meat for smoking, bone for tools, a pelt to trade, and... well, those spiky bits on the tail must be good for something.

This, this was right. This made sense. Here, in this fearsome place, was comfort. Belonging. Solitude. Peace. This, was home.

But... that wasn't right, was it? There was something else, something she had to...

Valentina pushed the uncomfortable thought away. She drew her knife, and cautiously approached the carcass.

It burst into flames.

She stood transfixed, too shocked to move. Then the carcass moved. It shifted, strained, then began to rise. As the flames burned ever higher, it slowly turned. The flaming corpse of Sergei Kermanski stared back at her with empty eye sockets.

Valentina wanted to scream, wanted to run, but she was frozen in place. The corpse raised its blazing arms, stepping toward her. Chunks of burning, melting flesh dripped from its bones as it moved, igniting the undergrowth.

"Youuu......" it somehow spoke in a ragged, rasping voice, "you did this!"

"No, no I didn't," Valentina pleaded, "I couldn't..."

Acrid smoke filled the clearing, the flames climbed higher.

"Youuuuu did this to meeee....."

"No! It wasn't.... I-I couldn't...."

Now the trees, too, caught fire. The corpse stalked towards Valentina, its flesh cooking away, reaching for her.

"I burned... I buuuuuurned! I burned because of you!"

"No!"

The conflagration grew and grew, blinding, searing.

"Flames around me! Flames, nothing but flames, burning my flesh!"

"I didn't... I didn't mean to!"

The clearing was engulfed. Now her skin began to burn. It reached, it reached out for her.

"Youuuuu.......!"

And all the while, the voice laughed.

DO YOU SEE? THE LIGHT EXPOSES ALL, BURNS AWAY EVERY SHELTER. ONLY IN THE DARKNESS CAN YOUR TRANSGRESSIONS HIDE!

Blackened, skeletal fingers closed around her neck.

Valentina's eyes shot open. For a brief moment, cold relief washed over her. She was in her bed, in her tiny room, in the darkness. But only for a moment,

She. Still. Couldn't. Move.

The shadows on the walls danced and writhed, eyes of nothing looked down upon her, cold and accusing. She couldn't move. Not a muscle. Not a tremble. She tried to cry out but barely a whimper crossed her lips.

From the shadows, a figure rose. Valentina's panicked eyes darted about, but her body still betrayed her. The figure drew closer, closer. Dark wetness glistened on its green dress.

Valentina's breath grew ragged, but still she made no sound. The Dead Girl looked down on her with lifeless eyes. She strained and wrenched but not a muscle moved. The Dead Girl reached out.

"The price must be paid," burbled through its ruined neck.

Cold, clammy fingers wrapped around Valentina's throat, and squeezed.

In an instant, the phantoms evaporated, sensation returned, and Valentina flailed for the table lamp. For an instant as she turned the switch, she was sure that the light would not come, that the nightmare would go on and on. The Dead Girl's words echoed in her mind.

The price must be paid.

Sooner, or later.

The price must be paid.

***

A cold wind blew down from the rolling hills north of the Cosmodrome, chilling its denizens before moving on south. A slate gray sky hung over the complex, its shades muted, its sounds softened. Despite this, or perhaps defying it, those same forested hills were also alive with color. The hesitant yellow fringe of past weeks was now a sea of gold and crimson. Similar colors were slowly spreading across the Cosmodrome, too, as crews braved the wind and cold to hang banners that marked the anniversary of the Glorious Octember Revolution.

Through all this, Valentina Kerman walked, not seeing the colors or feeling the wind, her heavy coat and tall ushanka little more than habit. The Kerbal coming the other way down the path didn't look at her, or really see her at all, but shifted his course, giving her a wide berth without even realizing he had done so. On the launch pad, surrounded by towers and equipment, stood the rocket that would take Dibella into space again. Valentina didn't look at it, she didn't need to.

She continued along the path, surrounded by a wide bubble of emptiness despite the bustle. As expected, the towering doors of the VAB stood open. Just inside was the reason Valentina had dragged herself from the shelter of her small room. It was already surrounded by a crowd of gawkers, who nonetheless parted as she approached.

Zarya. The second-generation ship, a true space ship able to maneuver and do things in orbit beyond merely being there. Far more advanced than even the Foreigners' craft, it could carry two Kerbals into space for a week or more. Some day. The craft mated to the top of this towering Krasniyy Ivan booster was merely a test article, half its systems still incomplete, scheduled for an uncrewed launch shortly after Dibella's. The crowd continued to stare and murmur, despite the fact that no one could actually see it from down on the floor.

Valentina had made the trek out here, silently hoping for... something. But found nothing. Her face impassive, she turned back towards the Kerbonaut Center. No one saw her go, or had even been aware she arrived.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

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Chapter 27: A Pound of Flesh

 

"Oduvanchik, Control, we have SECO at MET06:37, reading your orbit at 197 by 145, all systems go."

Once again a cheer went up in the cavernous Mission Control room, somewhat muted but no less enthusiastic. Dibella's launch had gone perfectly with not a single parameter out of place. Tercella had the first shift as flight controller, and despite the lingering hesitancy in her voice, had managed it quite well.

"Control, Oduvanchik," Dibella's strong voice crackled over the speakers, "status report. Oxygen 99%, batteries 99%, flight fuel 93%, re-entry fuel 100%. All systems nominal."

"Er, yes, we copy Oduvanchik. You are cleared for an initial 50 orbits. This is the long haul."

"Copy that, control. Let's hope I still feel this chipper in a couple of days. Butterflies in my stomach already. Ready to begin setting up for the photographic survey of north Kerfrica."

"Jumping right in, that's the spirit. Ok, beginning with item 2-a on the on-orbit checklist..."

Valentina watched from an empty corner of the room. If one had been looking this way, this small corner would have appeared... dim, as if the light that passed this way was somehow diminished. That is what one would see, if one bothered to look. But no one did.

Valentina hadn't spoken to the other two in several days now. They were busy with training, and preparing, and paperwork, of course. She didn't want to bother them. She hadn't actually spoken to anyone since... she wasn't quite sure. It didn't matter. Once this was over...

Valentina stood in her dim little corner, keeping silent vigil. Somewhere deep in her mind, a still, small voice fought desperately. It had to warn her. But it was slowly choking in the darkness.

***

After months of setbacks and disappointments, Dibella Kermanov's long flight was finally the publicity victory the Union so desperately needed. Spinning around the globe, each new orbit brought a new record. The first person to sleep in space, the first person to eat in space, the first person to get sick in space from eating space food. Flying at a high 43 degree inclination, she passed over nearly every population center in the world, beaming down grainy, live television broadcasts, often in the viewers' native language, and quickly becoming somewhat of a celebrity. All the while, data flowed back to the Cosmodrome, bringing new insights into Kerbal physiology and space science.

But for Valentina, those three days passed in a haze. She spent most her time in the Mission Control center, for lack of anything else to do. A deep-seated anger she couldn't understand festered in her mind, coloring everything, and punctuated by the incessant voice that sounded ever more reasonable. Perhaps there was no more point in resisting.

"Copy that, Oduvanchik, everything checks out down here, we're ready to begin the de-orbit sequence," said the flight controller as he stood by his console. It was some engineer Valentina didn't recognize, but he had a bald spot so large even she could see it. Tercella, again, was out with the recovery crews.

"Switching to de-orbit checklist," Dibella sounded tired, "looking forward to getting home. After that extension to 70 orbits I think I'm beginning to get a bit ripe up here."

Bald Spot chuckled, "copy that, Oduvanchik, should have you on the ground in another hour."

Well, that was it then. Valentina sighed, and walked out the door to the apron in front of the building. She stood there, staring up at the clouded sky, feeling the cold air bite against her face. At least she felt something out here, she felt dead inside.

A technician in a lab coat walked by, hurrying about his business. Valentina ignored him. It was over, now. Things couldn't go on like this anymore. She missed her deda, missed his comforting voice. She could use his guidance now. There was nothing more for it, she would quit the program. Go back home, find the cabin they had once shared. If the forest had not reclaimed it. The police would probably allow her back, now.

Another technician went past, into the door. Useless little pest. Bustling about his pointless life as if--

Valentina blinked. Where had that thought come from?

Do you see? You begin to.

The voice was like silk on steel.

You will be awed by what you can see in the dark, once your eyes... adjust.

Valentina closed here eyes. It was starting already. An engineer went out the door.

"What do you want?" Valentina said softly.

For you to fulfill your potential. You shall join the Great Work. You will find a home, here, with us, in the dark.

"...'us?' You are a... you?"

We are many. We are... legion.

The engineer brushed past again. Valentina looked sadly around the Cosmodrome, at the people hurrying back and forth like insects, Zarya now sitting on the launch pad. Resignation washed over her like icy water. It was all pointless.

"So be it then," she said, "take your pound of flesh."

The voice railed with laughter.

You are not yet ready. The price... must be paid.

"Wha--?"

The technician in the lab coat bumped into Valentina so hard she nearly fell. Anger surged, and instead she caught him by the arm and spun him around.

"What is going on?" she snarled at him.

His eyes were wide with terror, but at her or...?

"There's been... we..." he stammered, "we have a problem."

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

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Chapter 28: The Fall

 

"What will we do? You heard what they said when... when... Comrade Kermanski..."

Several Kerbals gathered around a table next to the rows of consoles, the glow of the screens giving them a ghastly pallor, their hushed voices heavy with defeat.

"Could... would they really do that? Send us all away? But what..."

"It has happened before, comrades," A collective shudder ran through the group, some now eyeing the doors.

The controller with the great bald spot inhaled slowly, leaned over the table and closed his eyes, "Dibella Kermanov is the child of the Procurator General. No matter what we do, or do not do, we are all doomed." He ran a hand over his sweaty face.


One of the exterior doors blew open in a crash of metallic thunder, and his head snapped up, harsh words forming on his lips, the reprimand against the breach of decency. He looked over to find Valentina advancing on them, on him, and suddenly his voice wouldn't work.

She was dragging along the an engineer in the white lab coat, his eyes wide and bulging as the deranged pilot tightened her grip on his collar. The look on her face, the hate in those eyes. The Controller took a half step back and nearly fell over the console.

"What is going on?!" Valentina looked across the group, from one Kerbal to the next, and one by one their eyes fell to the floor.

"There's been a malfunction. . ." the timid technician from the last flight said quietly.

"What malfunction? What is it?!"

"The de-orbit motor," the controller straightened, seemed to regain some of his composure. "It misfired. We think--"

Valentina rounded on him, one hand still latched to the collar of the technician's lab coat. "That is impossible. It is a solid fuel motor, it cannot misfire!" The engineer began to struggle, and Valentina tightened her grip on his collar accordingly.

"That is what the telemetry says, misfire," anger now tinged the controller's voice.

"What about the backup igniters? There are backup igniters, yes?"

Silence.

Valentina let go of the lab coat, spun from one face to another. "You have to do something! The attitude thrusters, venting gas, something!"

"...not ...enough ...fuel left ...up three and a half days ...already," the voice came from the floor, sputtered out between ragged gasps of air.

"Dibella.. I... how long do we-- how long does she have?"

"Eight hours," the timid one's voice was barely a whisper, "Ten, if we use the reentry reserves."

"And this we will not do!" the balding controller drew himself up, "there is no need to prolong her suffering, no need--"

"Coward!" Valentina rounded on the kerb, snatched him up by his lapels, "you cannot just leave her up there!" The others began to back away.

"You have no authority here!" the controller squirmed in her grasp, the fear in his voice betraying the strength of his words, "there is nothing more we can--"

"You. Cannot!" Valentina was screaming now, her grip on his collar like an iron vise, "just leave her to DIE!" The lights in the room began to flicker and dim.

"Security! Someone--"

"NO!!" Rage exploded through Valentina. Fear. Helplessness. Hate. She released the mangled shirt collar, grabbed him by the throat instead, made to break the worm's filthy neck. It would snap like a twig, she knew it, had broken plenty of necks before. It was easy, just like an animal, no difference, just an animal. Her countenance twisted into a sneer, darkness dancing along the edges of her vision, her pulse close in her ears, the other Kerbal's pulse in her palms. Time seemed to stretch out and slow down.

Outside, the gloom darkened, the clouds thickened.

Such power. Such power. Laughter filled her mind, the sound of it raw and hungry. She felt the writhing flesh in her grip, felt the spasms, the terror, the weakness.

Do it! the voice laughed in her head, Do it! One is as good as another!

The controller flailed at her with ineffective hands, his eyes wild and terrified. She began to squeeze, the light in the other Kerbal's eyes starting to go out.

Do it! Pay the price and TAKE YOUR PLACE IN THE DARKNESS!

The price.

Dibella.

But, no... It was something... else...

In the suffocating darkness of her mind, another voice floated up through the fog of hate, weak and frail and achingly familiar.

Tinka. You have been played.

Realization crashed down upon her like a fallen star. She looked up from the terrified eyes, and up along the bald scalp, now glistening with sweat. And she could, just barely, make out the twisted visage of her own reflection.

The darkness didn't want a death. It didn't even want a life. It wanted...

It wanted her.

Destroyed and broken beyond life, or death. The perfect...

Valentina's hands dropped, and she spun away, tears welling. Emotions hammered into her like waves against rocks. Anger. Disgust. Fear. Hate. Hate for herself, for what she had become. And burn her, there was power in it, drawing her like a Siren in a storm. The predator had set a trap, she had fallen right into it, and was now, truly, Lost.

At last! The darkness cackled close in her ear, you are ready. Now finish it, embrace the darkness, and take your place.

She folded her arms around her, drew away from the others, deeper into the shadows of the control room. Her vision swam, her face a mask of agony. The voice was right. It had been right all along. There was no return from this. The room darkened further, the lights on the consoles, signal from the stricken capsule, everything. She felt reality begin to waver and crack around the edges. It was too late.

The world around faded, and as she slid down into the darkness, Valentina lifted her eyes skyward once last time, looked out towards her doomed friend, the only one who had ever cared. She looked out the window. I am sorry my friend, but it is too...

Her eyes focused suddenly, arrowing in on a small, short lived flash of light through the window.

She blinked. Tercella cared. And Igor. And...

It flashed again. And her parents had cared. Her deda.

Somewhere out in the gloom, a tiny hole in the cloud deck had opened, and a thin streak of sunlight shone down, glinting from the distant window of...

Valentina inhaled sharply, deeply, and the anger and hate that burned within her... turned. It turned to something cold, and hard, and very, very focused. She spun back towards the others, one hand flashing out to point up through the window.

"That!" The cloud cover broke completely, illuminating the experimental rocket sitting on the pad. "We send that."

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

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Chapter 29: A Shot in the Dark

 

"Zarya?" the balding controller was rubbing at his throat but apparently uninjured, "it's just a test rig, it's not due to fly for days."

The timid technician's eyes slowly widened, "it could work..." he muttered to himself.

"Well, why not?" Valentina stepped up to Bald Spot, "you can make it work!"

"Half the systems are just dummy parts, ballast," he stammered, "we can't just..."

"It is a rocket, yes?" Valentina shot back, "you are rocket scientists? Do rocket science!"

"It could work," Timid turned to table, swiped its contents unceremoniously onto the floor and began furiously scribbling on whatever was available.

"It's not that simple, you know that," the engineer in the lab coat offered calmly, "there are protocols, procedures..."

"So you are just going to abandon her?" Valentina said, "your comrade?"

"Hey..." the timid one said... timidly.

"Look at the map!" the controller pointed, "Dibella is in a 43 degree orbit. The Cosmodrome won't be under the plane for another 11 hours. She doesn't have that long, even if--"

"Hey..." Timid said a little louder.

Valentina cut him off, "do you want to go to Kerberia? Do you know what they do to old, fat, bald Kerbs there?"

The controller's eyes widened for a moment, then narrowed, "now see here, you're certainly in no position to--"

"HEY!" Timid thundered, surprised at his own volume. Dozens of eyes turned to look at him.

"Er... um... that is... well just look!" He gestured to the scrawls all over the table, "it wouldn't be easy, but it could work!" The other three peered at the table.

The engineer's eyes grew wide, "but... it's never been done before. The equations alone would take--"

"T-that's why we have it," Timid pressed, "but it can only get so close. Valentina will have to fly the final approach by eye."

"Who?"

"Her?!"

"Me?]"

"She can't fly, she's grounded! Comrade Tercella would be--" began the controller.

"We need a pilot!" Timid snapped back, surprising himself again, then quietly, "w-we need a real pilot."

The engineer put a hand thoughtfully to his chin, "it could work... but..."

His eyes scanned over the jumbled scrawls, concentration wrinkling his forehead, "...life support. Oxyium. There's just not enough. Eleven hours to the launch window, a few more-- maybe another half day-- to a rendezvous..."

"Anabiosis," the other Kerbal said.

The engineer blinked at him.

"Hypothermia, coupled with h-hypoxia," he paused to wet his lips, "we lower the cabin pressure, far as we can, just enough to k-keep her alive. Shut off everything in the pod, a-and I mean everything, but the coolant pumps, point it away from the sun. Use the service section as a shade."

The balding controller could only gape at him in horror.

"The young fellow has a point," the flight surgeon said, clearing his throat as he approached, "there is precedent."

The controller spun to him, "you?! You've lost your mind! This is pure desperation!"

The older Kerbal stared at him flatly, "there's no shortage of examples. I'm sure I don't need to be any more specific. Our kind has a rather well documented record of such..."

The controller's eyes darted back and forth between the gathered Kerbals.

"You've all lost your minds. And you've overlooked one critical point. Only the Kommissar himself could authorize this. He has the launch key. And as usual, he's gone," the irritation at this last fact was plain in his voice.

He held the flight surgeon's gaze, "there are worse things than Kerberia."

"Greetings, Comrades!"

The group yelped and spun around.

"Papers, please! Yes, yes, good, good, you, your shots are out of date, you need a booster. Now then," the Political Officer grinned widely, the lights above giving a sinister cast to his features, "does the indefatigable Ussari Space Program have a problem?"

"Well, you see, sir, um, we... I mean..." the controller stammered.

The Political Officer raised a hand, then looked at the timid technician, who shrank back from his gaze.

"You," he said softly, "what you have said, can you do it?"

"Um... I think... just a rough..."

The Political raised an eye... bulge.


Timid swallowed hard, "y-yes."

"And you," the Political Officer turned to Valentina, "what he has said, can you do it?"

Valentina felt icy focus flow through her, "yes."

The Political Officer regarded the other Kerbals silently for a moment before speaking, "as you know, as Political Officer assigned to this facility, during certain emergency circumstances, I hold equal rank with the Kommissar. Do you dispute this?" Heads briskly shook in the negative.

He pulled something from under his shirt, snapping the chain with a quiet plink, then tossed it on the table. The other Kerbals stared in awe at the launch key.

"You have your authorization. You," he said to the controller, "do whatever he tells you," nodding to Timid, who gasped.

"And you," the Political Officer turned to Valentina, "bring her home."

The controller backed away a step, gaping at the others, "you've all gone mad! This is madness! I--" he clapped a hand to his mouth and stared wide-eyed, realizing just what he had said to whom.

The Political Officer grinned again, exposing far too many teeth.

"Madness, Comrade?" He clapped an arm around Bald Spot's shoulders, "this, is Glorious Ussari Union!"

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

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Oh yeahhhhh! Now *that* we did not see coming! Glory to Arstotka, Comrade!

Grinning like a loon right now. Everyone else on the platform seems to be giving me a wide berth.

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