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


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:) 

I suspect that Comrade Kermanskiovitch would not wholly approve of that doctrine. A little too 'overly patriotic', da?

Edit: Although, no doubt the Party finds it convenient to have a representative in lowing places...

 

I'll get my coat.

Edited by KSK
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OK, I can't resist this. As usual all singing can be deleted at request of thread starter. :)

Serve up the vodka and the beets!
They're what good Ussaris eat,
A foot of snow just makes us scoff,
Scoff with a hacking rattail cough.
Yakkity-yak - don't talk back.

The Empress (may she live forever),
Reigns on through cold and frozen weather.
Our politics are not so murky,
Just tougher than yak jerky.
Yakkity-yak - don't talk back.

Yakkity-yak, yakkity-yak.
Yakkity-yak, yakkity-yak.
Yakkity-yak, yakkity-yak.
Yakkity-yak - don't talk back.
 

 

Edited by KSK
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9 hours ago, KSK said:

OK, I can't resist this. As usual all singing can be deleted at request of thread starter. :)

Serve up the vodka and the beets!
They're what good Ussaris eat,
A foot of snow just makes us scoff,
Scoff with a hacking rattail cough.
Yakkity-yak - don't talk back.

The Empress (may she live forever),
Reigns on through cold and frozen weather.
Our politics are not so murky,
Just tougher than yak jerky.
Yakkity-yak - don't talk back.

Yakkity-yak, yakkity-yak.
Yakkity-yak, yakkity-yak.
Yakkity-yak, yakkity-yak.
Yakkity-yak - don't talk back.
 

 

This right here is gold :D:D:D:D:D

Now we just need a cadre of kilted yaksmen for an official performance. 

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4 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

This right here is gold :D:D:D:D:D

Now we just need a cadre of kilted yaksmen for an official performance. 

Ooooh - can we get a cameo from a troop of burly fisherkerbs too? :)

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Quote

cadre of kilted yaksmen [...] burly fisherkerbs

Now I'm seeing a flotilla of nomads each quietly seated atop their colossal beast, patiently navigating over the endless sea of the steppe. Cows week, as it were.

(Sorry. It was "yaksmen" that did it.)

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2 hours ago, CSE said:

Now I'm seeing a flotilla of nomads each quietly seated atop their colossal beast, patiently navigating over the endless sea of the steppe. Cows week, as it were.

(Sorry. It was "yaksmen" that did it.)

I am not too sure how many non UK types will make the link between Cowes week and sailing. But will be interesting to see non-the-less.

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7 hours ago, CSE said:

If we weren't seeing Kerbin through her eyes and hearing her thoughts, Val would be rather overpowered and really quite scary.

Well, there is a reason everyone is trying to get her on their side. :ph34r:

 

7 hours ago, KSK said:

Ooooh - can we get a cameo from a troop of burly fisherkerbs too? :)

...and apparently there's a musical in the works now, as well. :confused:

 

3 hours ago, Shania_L said:

I am not too sure how many non UK types will make the link between Cowes week and sailing

I had to Wiki it myself. I thought he was making a reference about something like Shark Week but like with udders.

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1 hour ago, Ten Key said:

No, it's like Shark Week but with rudders. :confused:

That was dreadful. Dreadfully dreadful. :)

One virtual sugar-glass bottle flying towards your stage as we speak, sir!

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On 16/04/2016 at 10:10 AM, CatastrophicFailure said:

"RSO?"

"Range is clear, range is clear, you have a go."

"PLT?"

"Go flight!" Came Burdous's nasally, jubilant voice echoing through the air. 

"BLT?"

...

"BLT?"

...

"Where's my BLT!"

Enter Lunch Lady.

 

On 23/04/2016 at 6:51 AM, CatastrophicFailure said:

"Oh, no no no, we have real medicine here," the doctor said with a note of concern, "things with long unnecessarily polysyllabic names like trinitrotoluene, transphlablamaphlognol, and cyclopentanoperhydrophenanthrene."

The first on that list no doubt discovered by Dr. Murrell Kerman.

 

On 25/04/2016 at 8:32 AM, CatastrophicFailure said:

On a completely unrelated note, what does the "handwritten" note from the doctor above look like to everyone? On my PC it's comic sans, but on my iThings™ it actually looks written. 

Comic Sans on my Ubuntu box. Tested with Opera and FF. (I do have the windows font package installed for Wine)

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Yup, had entirely too much fun on this one.
With apologies to @KSK... and Gloria Gaynor:blush:

Chapter 55: The Kerb of the Hour

"....anything for love... Oh, I would do anything for LOVE! ...I would do anything for love... but I won't do that... No, I won't doooooo thaaaaat..."

As last few bars of piano rang to silence, the room exploded. Every Kerbal in the building was on their feet cheering at the top of their lungs, whistling and shouting, and Valentina was pulled right along with it. Though the lingering soreness in her hand kept her applause somewhat less enthusiastic than she would have liked. 

The stout technician had been, as they said here, 'killing it' by halfway through the song. Then Lolli Kerman had joined him on stage for a final duet, and for a brief moment the cheers had completely drowned out the powerful sound system. Once she had begun singing the crowd had quieted down, again hushed into awe by that deep, penetrating voice that was far too large for such a small frame. The fellow Valentina didn't know had brought it home at the end, and now the cheers went on and on. 

Instead of glassware, the crowd  threw roses at the bowing, blushing pair. Which, Valentina noted, looked awfully similar to the ones in the shrubbery outside. Eventually, the tide subsided and the singers were able to make their way off the stage. Yet... something bothered her...

"What is 'that'?" She asked Edmund. 

"What?" He blinked. 

"That."

"What?"

"That thing he won't do."

"Who?"

"Him."

"Him who?"

"Him in song."

"Oh. Yeah, he won't do that."

"Do what?!"

"He just said."

"When?!"

"After every verse."

"But what is that?"

"That's what."

"What is what?"

"What?"

"What he said!"

"Who?"

"Isn't he on first?" Jorrigh offered. 

"Gah!" Valentina threw her arms up, "you people really are mad."

"What??" Edmund said innocently. 

"No, who," corrected Jorrigh.

"What?"

"He's on second."

"Who?"

"What? Where?"

"No where, he's--"

Their argument was interrupted by the regular beat of Valentina thumping her head on the table. 

"What's with her?" Jorrigh asked. 

"Wait, I thought what was on third?"

"No, I don't know."

"But you just said he was?"

"Who?"

"No, what."

"What?"

Valentina clapped hands to their mouths, "SHЦT ЦP SHЦT ЦP SHЦT ЦP! I ШILL КILL УФЦ! I SЩЗДЯ, I ШILL КILL ЧФЦ ЬФTH."

Edmund and Jorrigh shared a glance, then shrugged. 

Edmund carefully removed her hand, "what'd she say?"

"I'm not sure," said Jorrigh, scratching his head, "I think I'm messing up the declensions. Something like 'close... the attic door, my yak sings... a hairpiece.'"

Valentina gaped at him for a moment, then put a hand to her face, "I need a cheeseburger."

"Hey, you did it!" Edmund gushed.

"Did what?" She asked with resignation. 

"Used an indefinite article!"

"What?"

"'A.'"

"Uh?"

"No, 'a'."

"Uh what?"

"An 'a.'"

"Anna who?"

"Uh uh, an 'a.'"

"I do not know this Anna."

"No, an 'a!'"

Valentina's mouth worked silently as her brain quietly overloaded. Then, at the very moment she was sure she would go mad, and welcome it too, another cheer from the crowd distracted the three from their linguistic merry-go-round. It surged toward the newly opened door, whistling and clapping, to greet a very bedraggled looking Burdous Kerman, partially supported by Gene. 

Burdous put on a weary, bewildered smile at the sudden frenzy of attention, and gave a weak 'thumbs-up,' sending the throng into more cheers. He looked like he hadn't slept or eaten in days. And based on what Valentina knew about spaceflight, that probably wasn't far from the truth. The debriefings alone would do that to a person. 

Led by Ol' Sam and assisted by Gene, Burdous made his way to the picture case behind the bar. Ol' Sam unlocked it, and Burdous added his own picture to those of Chadvey, Jorrigh, and that young face no one would speak of. Another round of whoops and hollers, then Ol' Sam poured a strange-looking concoction into something that resembled a small rocket nozzle and handed it to Burdous. He downed it with some difficulty, held up the upturned cup for the audience to see, and shrank bank a little as cheers roared again. 

They charged the bar, seized Burdous and raised him on their shoulders in a triumphant procession down to the main floor. Here, the tables and chairs had been quickly cleared away with military-like efficiency, leaving a wide open space before the stage that was shortly filled with waving, cheering Kerbals. Burdous somehow found himself atop a chair held high by the crowd, bouncing and waving this way and that. The way it swung and tilted, Valentina wasn't sure if the people were trying to give Burdous a ride or throw him to the ground, and by the look on his face, neither was he.

The chair rose and fell as the crowd chanted:

For he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good fel-LOW...!

We're all glad he didn't die!

Burdous maintained a nervous, slightly terrified smile as the serenade continued:

We're all glad he didn't die, in a fireball in the sky!
Scattered before the eye, no remains to identify!

His smile faded when the macabre routine didn't cease.

Or get crushed by gee-force high, and his body liquified!

His bloodshot eyes grew ever wider:

Or land in the desert nigh, where his corpse would mummify!

A nervous laugh escaped his lips. They were joking, right?

Or a jungle swarm of big bot flies, what a tragedy to decry!

But it just went on and on:

Or a windswept mountain high, his bones all bleached and dry!
Or a Badlands farm to buy, with hungry critters nearby!
Or crash 'fore the public eye, and get smashed into Kerbal pie!

And finally, when Burdous looked near to tears, they swung back around:

For he's a jolly good fe-eh-looooooooooow!
We're all glad he didn't die, HEY!

Some disappointed-looking Kerbals finished in a perfect four-part harmony:

We had a poooooooooooooool.

Valentina shook her head. And she thought they had a morbid sense of humor back home. Yet... something still bothered her.

"Where is Mister Jerdous?" She asked Edmund, "should he not be here for such celebration? Is his brother after all..."

Edmund looked like he was either desperately trying to contain a laugh, or had just swallowed something unpleasant. He pointed to the stage as suddenly a crystal clear piano rang out. The noise of cheers rose to ear-splitting levels, the air now filled with lurid cat-calls and whistles. Valentina strained for a view, to see what could have possibly driven the crowd into such a frenzy. Incredibly they parted, and when she saw the figure poised in the spotlight, her jaw fell like lead. 

There was Jerdous, wearing a sparkly gold-sequined dress, a huge frizzy wig, ill-fitting heels, and sporting a pair of enormous, bouncy, fake... eyelashes. 

He waggled them at the crowd, and the clamor became deafening. 

"Ladies and germs!" He said, waving them down to a dull roar for a moment, "let's hear it for the Kerb of the hour, back from a stunningly successful spaceflight, my own brother Burdous!"

The cheering raged to a fever pitch, Valentina clapped her hands to her ears in a vain attempt to drown it out. 

"This one's for you, bro!" He winked.

Behind him, a significant live band had gathered, led by...

"Play it again, Sham," Jerdous pointed, and Ol' Sam played another flourish on the piano. 

Jerdous raised a hand...

"At first I was afraid, I was petrified, kept thinking I could never live without you by my side..." Jerdous sang in a nasally falsetto oddly reminiscent of his brother, "but then I spent so many nights thinking how you done me wrong, and I grew strong, and I learned how to get along..."

He grinned slyly as the pause drew out, the silence filled by the cries of the crowd. He let them call on in mounting antici........pation.

Then the drummer tapped out a syncopated beat on the hi-hat, and Jerdous jumped into the music with both feet.

"And so you're back, from outer space (WOOOOOOOOO!), I just walked in to find you here with that sad look upon your face! I should have changed that stupid lock, I should have made you leave your key, if I had known for just one second you'd be back to bother me!

"Go on now go (STOMP)! Walk out the door (POINT)! Just turn around now (SPIN), 'cause you're not welcome anymore (HAND)!"

As they said here, Jerdous could not carry a tune in a bucket, yet what he lacked in pitch he more than made up for in zeal, cavorting and pantomiming to the lyrics, and, as they also said, shaking his grooved thing. 

"Weren't you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye? Did you think I'd crumble? Did you think I'd lay down and die?"

"Oh no not I! I will survive!"

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

"Oh as long as I know how to love I know I'll stay alive! I've got all my life to live, I've got all my love to give, and I'll survive!

"I will survive!"

HEY! HEY!

The crowd threw their hands up to the beat, and soon the open space before the stage became a dance floor. Over a hundred green, sweaty bodies bopped and bounced and... pointed to something on the ceiling... and the floor... and the ceiling, though Valentina couldn't see what. And as she sat there, feeling her shoulders inexorably pulled along to the beat, a green hand appeared before her. 

"May I have this dance?" Jorrigh said brightly. 

Valentina threw her own hands up in panic, "oh nonononononono I cannot-EEEEEK!"

As it turned out, Jorrigh couldn't dance either, and didn't seem to care much, which made dancing with him very easy. All she had to do was move her own feet trying to avoid his, and occasionally flail her arms for balance, which oddly enough seemed to fit right in. She still couldn't figure out what was so interesting on the ceiling, though. 

The bassist slapped and popped, the horns rang and the violins sang, while the guitarist strummed a staccato wacka-wacka rhythm. Valentina bumped and grooved and tried to avoid getting kicked in the shin, but the part of her mind that was always alert, always wary, honed by years in the dense and unforgiving taiga, picked bits out of the lyrics and filed them away for later:

It took all the strength I had
Not to fall apart
Kept trying hard to mend
The pieces of my broken heart

wacka-wacka

And I spent oh so many nights
Just feeling sorry for myself
I used to cry
But now I hold my head up high

dirnt-dirnt-dirnt

And you see me
Somebody new
I'm not that chained up little person...

wacka-wacka-wacka

And now I'm saving all my loving
For someone who's loving me...

A soulful sax blew into a solo, and the music played long into the evening. Songs about staying alive and hustling and burning someone's poor mother, it all seemed quite morbid despite the catchy, uplifting beats. It goaded her, but Valentina had to admit to herself she was having, well, fun. Even Burdous seemed to be finally enjoying himself. But a distressing thought lingered in the back of her mind as she danced the night away avoiding Jorrigh's tibial onslaught. 

Jerdous Kerman, dressed in drag, singing "I Will Survive," chilled her to her very core. 

Far more than it should have. 

 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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  • 2 weeks later...

Chapter 56: Summoned, Sentenced

"Major Kermanova reporting as ordered, sir!" Valentina snapped a crisp salute. 

"Put your hand down, relax, this isn't the military," Gene sighed, "have a seat, please."

She did as he said, taking a seat before his desk in a way that felt oddly reminiscent of her encounter with the Kommissar, and yet, completely different. Gene seemed to take a moment to gather his thoughts, one hand rubbing his temples and shading his bloodshot eyes from the harsh fluorescent light above. Valentina used to opportunity to quickly run her own eyes around his office. 

On the wall behind him, between two large windows looking out on the launchpad, was a massive group photo of the current Kerbonaut Corps, all smiles posed before a mockup of their Orbiter and upper stage in their shiny metallic pressure suits. Nearby was a much smaller picture featuring a dozen or so rather overwhelmed looking faces clad in blue. Valentina guessed this must be the first fledgling class of new cadets. Below it was room for many more frames. 

The utilitarian, white-painted cinderblock walls were festooned with all manner of stylized space art. Sleek painted rockets roared past enormous ringed space stations, or towards more exotic destinations like Duna or the moons of Jool. Mixed in were more realistic renderings of space capsules and satellites. She even noted several Ussari works, including the all too familiar portrait of... Sergei.

One wall was mostly empty, just a few old-looking photos of Gene with some Kerbals she didn't recognize, all looking very happy, but oddly cropped. In the center of them all was a single framed picture, a different image of the same young, smiling Kerbal from the case in the bar, the one no one would speak of. Engraved on a small brass plaque beneath it, she could just make out the words AD ASTRA PER ASPERA.

Gene's desk was covered in neat, ordered stacks of papers and thick binders. Just in front of Valentina was a gold-colored model of a conical craft she hadn't seen before, but for the moment, she returned her attention to Gene, who seemed to be recovering. 

"So," he said, suspiciously neutral, "how's the hand?"

"Is sore."

"I see. It says here," he pressed a finger to a paper on the desk, "you had another altercation with Dean."

"."

"And punched a wall."

"."

"And cracked it."

"D--what?"

"There's a crack. In the wall. Just a small one."

She gaped at him for a moment, then snapped to attention in her seat, "I humbly accept whatever discipline you deem fit, sir!"

"Stop doing," he waved his hands at her, "that."

Gene leaned back and sighed, putting his hand to his temples again, "this 'Dean' thing has got the be remedied," he said to no one in particular. 

"He is d-... d-..." she fumbled, "what is word? Difficult."

"Yes, he is," Gene breathed, leaning forward again, "but he's really not a bad guy, once you get past his ego. Which, unfortunately, is huge..."

Valentina opened her mouth to say something, but didn't get far.

"...so I've scheduled you two some flight time together."

Her mouth now fell open, before she snapped to attention again, "sir, yes, sir!"

"Stop that," Gene said emphatically, then more softly, "look, I'm just trying to help everyone get along here. No one here can challenge Dean in the air, but from what I've heard, maybe you can. Show him a thing or two. Find a chink in that armor."

"...armor?" Valentina said, confused. 

"Figure of speech. Anyway, I have the two of you down for a block of time tomorrow afternoon. If you can earn his respect, I think you might just see a different side of him," Gene gave her a hopeful, not-quite-believing-it smile.

Valentina returned one equally as awkward. 

"Um..." she foundered, seeking a distraction, "is new spacecraft?" She pointed to the golden model on the desk. 

"Yep, that's DUOS," Gene looked relieved himself, and handed her the fragile-feeling bit of plastic, "the latest in cutting-edge KSA technology. It will be our own foray into performing rendezvous and docking in space."

Valentina kept a polite smile as she turned the model over in her hands. It bore a very passing resemblance to Zarya, but could certainly not be called a copy. It looked like little more than an upscaled version of their conical orbiter capsule mated to an overly large fuel tank and engine, which she suspected was actually the last stage of the lifter. She also noted, it did not appear to actually have any sort of docking port. Or even any place to put one. 

"Just a prototype, of course," Gene said, as if reading her mind, "once these early bugs are sorted out there's plenty of room for improvement."

"Er... bugs?"

"Figure of speech," he said, rubbing at the wide, flat spot between his eyes, "I'm sure you've heard about Rockomax's um, difficulties. Just normal development snags, that's all. They have another test flight scheduled from their west coast facility tomorrow, actually. I'm sure everything will..."

Gene stared at her, as if not sure where his own thought had been going. 

He returned to rubbing his temples, "wow, I'm talking a lot..."

Valentina looked at him, concerned, "are you all right?"

"Oh, I'm fine," he said with a half-hearted, dismissive chuckle, "just the challenges of being the Flight Director. We're in a good place. Burdous's flight was a great success, just have to get over this one little hump, now."

Every recent Rockomax launch had failed, every one that wasn't crewed, that's what someone had said. Could he not see the obvious? Or was she just being paranoid? Rockets were tricky things, after all, prone to failure from the tiniest flaw, and the entire program here seemed far behind the Union's. Ironic, since so much of the Union's hardware came from... 

The thought evaporated, as another flash of distant emotion wandered through Valentina's mind. 

She pushed it away, and wrenched her attention back to Gene, "still, uh, you should get rest. You do not look well."

"I'll be all right," he grinned weakly, his eyes seemed to have grown redder in just these few minutes, "no rest for the weary, after all."

"But," she blinked, "it is weary who need rest, no?"

"Figure of speech," he groaned.

"Your speech has many figures," frowned Valentina, "like matryoshka doll."

"Like m-what?"

"Matryoshka doll," she gestured vaguely. 

"I have no idea what that is," Gene blinked, as if he should have, then shook his head, "maybe I could use some coffee..."

He sighed, and looked back to Valentina, "you'll do fine tomorrow, and don't go easy on Dean either. Really show him what you've got. It'll be fine."

They stared awkwardly at one another for a few moments. 

"Er, yes, you can go," Gene rolled his eyes, then clapped a hand to them, "and on your way out, do me a favor and kill the lights, please."

She stood, saluted again, felt a bit silly, then went to the door. At the light switch, she paused a moment, wondering if perhaps she should punch it, but Gene probably just meant 'turn them off.' So many incomprehensible figures of speech here, like turning your hat in winter. Shrugging, Valentina flicked the light switch. The room didn't change much, with the late afternoon sun streaming in the windows as it was. Gene didn't seem to register it either way, he now sat with his face in hands, fingers rubbing his forehead. 

Valentina gave him another concerned frown, and quietly closed the door behind her. She made her way down the hall, out past the ever-smiling secretary, and through the legions of apparatchiks clacking away at their typewriters, to the elevator. Some things, she supposed once more, truly were universal. Only they didn't call them apparatchiks here, right? What was the word? Pencil-pusher, yes? That made no sense either, none of them had pencils as far as she could tell. The doors binged open, and she walked through the lobby and out into the stifling tropical sun with a headfull of thoughts. 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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Chapter 57: Wanderings

Valentina wandered aimlessly across the space center grounds, no real destination in mind. Here and there, workers busied themselves with their tasks. A large, cylindrical object was being inched into the VAB on its special low-boy trailer, still veiled in white shrink wrap. The upper stage for Jerdous's rocket, due to launch a few weeks from now, she surmised. 

And then what? She'd seen copies of launch manifests, filled with both the mundane and the ambitious. Nearly every flight followed by the letters 'TBA.' Even Gene seemed to be nearing his limit. Something here was wrong, she knew it, but--

Movement drew her eye, and Valentina looked up to see Burdous walking her way, followed at an odd distance by his brother. She mentally braced herself for another of his profanity-laced tirades, but much to her surprise he simply walked right by, glassy eyes fixed the concrete. He smelled like he hadn't bathed in... well, longer than usual. 

She watched Burdous go, then turned to his brother as he approached, "what is, how you say? Chewing upon him?"

Jerdous raised an eye... bulge, then shrugged, "you remember that concert he was going to a couple days ago?"

"Indeed, Solpugids, yes?"

He nodded, "he was on top of the world, playing the heroic spacekerb. Had a date with that pretty weather gal from Channel 3, rented a limo, even combed his hair. Arrived at the VIP entrance to the stadium, with her on his arm, to a gauntlet of cameras."

A sigh, and a defeated, one-sided smile, "the tickets were fake. Someone swindled him. Got turned away at the door."

"That is horrible!" She blurted, "do you know who has done it?"

"He won't say," Jerdous looked off towards the drooping figure, his own arms folded, "hasn't said a single word since. I think he even walked home."

"He... no, he does not deserve such."

"I warned him about shady resellers. He's real smart when it comes to engineering, but people? ЙФT SФ MЦCH.*"

Valentina raised an eye... bulge at the Ussari interjection.

"I'd better go keep an eye on him. Takes him a while to bounce back from these things," Jerdous nodded, then trotted off. 

Valentina frowned after them. No, not even that one deserves such, rude as he is. A smack on the head, perhaps, but he already seemed to be well supplied with those. She continued on her way across the grounds. Jerdous, at least, looked more himself today. Something... something was not right there either. Nightmares. She could understand that. But something else about him just felt... wrong. Wrong... yet, familiar. Like in the spring, when the days became sunny and beautiful but all that which had died during the long winter began to fester, and the sticky sweet smell of decay mingled with the subtle perfume of flowers. 

It felt like... when the voice had called out to her. 

...do not think too hard on such things...

Could it be? Could the voice have other... charges?

...or did you just imagine it all? A side effect of stress, a mind's way of coping...

She should do something. She should do something. If it is true. She couldn't just leave him like that. She had to help. There must be a reason, a reason she was here at all. 

...never ever make noise...

...you have such power...

...you may not like what you find...

Valentina shook her head against the competing thoughts, and a wave of emotion sloshed about her mind.  

What... could she do? It all seemed so ridiculous. A rational mind didn't didn't think like this. Didn't hear voices and feel emotions that were not its own. Either she really was going mad... or the reality was far, far worse than she imagined. 

...you took an oath...

But what could she do? This was beyond her understanding. It was all subtlety and scheming and... politics. She did not know these things. 

Somewhere, not that far, someone was having a great laugh about something. It echoed back and forth inside her brain.

...I don't understand...

...believe...

...do not think too hard on such things...

...you have such power...

...I found things that were... troubling...

...this, we do not speak of...

...progeny of traitors...

Valentina clapped her hands to her head, "shut up shut up shut up, all of you!"

Someone who had been coming the other way looked up at her, then suddenly remembered urgent business in the opposite direction, and set off for it at a brisk trot. She ground her teeth and rubbed her own temples. She most certainly needed a cheeseburger. Or three. Or eight. 

Off to the west, the sun was sinking down towards the horizon, silhouetting several enormous propellium tankers sitting at anchor. Odd, that was an awful lot of fuel for one small rocket, with a launch still weeks away. She recalled that PropelOx stored well, but--

The thought blew away like breath in the breeze. 

Coming down the path were several pipeline workers, roughnecks, they called them. Their faces were streaked with sweat and grease, but their enormous hats were utterly spotless. They tipped them, and offered big friendly, Exast smiles as they passed.

"Ma'am."

"Ma'am."

"Ma'am."

"Ma'am."

Valentina smiled back weakly. After all day lifting very heavy things in the hot sun, the four had perhaps two a half shirts left between them, and, well, they were built like fellows who spent all day lifting very heavy things in the hot sun. 

Valentina swallowed hard, raising a hesitant hand as she watched them depart. Presently, a shadow loomed over her. 

"Good, strong boys, all of 'em. Work like dogs and twice as loyal."

She jumped, and spun around. How does he do that?!

"Evenin', ma'am," J.R. said, tipping his own huge black hat, "fixin' to be a real looker of a sunset, Ah reckon."

"Good evening, mister J.R.," she said carefully, hoping her cheeks didn't look as colored as they felt. 

"Well, Ah'll not keep yah. Three more tankers comin' in the night and Ah'm busier than a one-eyed cat watchin' nine rat holes. Besides," he winked, "you look like a lady with a lot on her mind."

Valentina opened her mouth, and closed it just as quickly. 

"Y'all have yerself a fine evenin', now," he tipped his hat once more, with a rather unsavory smile, "and remember, bein' a team player does have its advantages."

As he walked away, Valentina could just see his shoulders shake as he chuckled. She bared her teeth as his back. Why of all the...! That... slimy... GAH! 

She spun around, stalking off beyond the concrete of the Space Center proper. The sun was nearly touching the ocean, now. She always expected it to make a comedic shhhhhhhh sound and sink into a cloud of steam. Yes, she'd been watching far too many of these absurd Foreign cartoons. Nevertheless, it did amaze her how fast the sun set here on the equator. 

Back home, the sunset seemed to last for hours, the fading light filtered by towering trees. Not far from where she grew up, the sun never really set, in a land of eternal twilight. It was always cold there, too. She wouldn't mind that, it would be a welcome change, the cold never--

A slight tickle on her arm drew Valentina's attention. She looked down in horror to find a tiny mosquito helping its self to dinner at her expense. For a moment, she could only gape in disgust. How did these people live like this?! One of these... these... these... vermin could just make a meal of you and you might not even know! At least the mosquitos back home had to put up a proper fight, first! 

Snarling, she balled her hand into a fist and squeezed until the mosquito burst like macabre balloon. She picked the head off and wiped her arm on a convenient plant. 

Plant?

Valentina looked around, and found herself surrounded by lush green vegetation and stunted trees. Ah, this must be the lake everyone talked about. She walked toward the shore, until her shoes squelched in the soggy ground. It certainly was a very pretty lake. She knew a lake that looked like this back home, for the few weeks it wasn't covered in thick white ice. To the west, the sun had fully disappeared, the splash of orange in the sky fading to red and deep crimson. The dwindling light was maintained by a brilliant, pallid Mün just peeking over the mountains far to the east. She sat on a convenient log, and watched it rise, occasionally batting at the mosquitoes. Somehow, this, too reminded her of home. 

Home. She finally realized how homesick she was. The brighter stars began to pop into the sky, one by one, bringing with them an odd contradiction of emotions that were, thankfully, entirely her own. Her time in this bizarre place was beginning to sink towards its own end, and oddly, she felt wistful about that too. She wondered absently if she would still feel the same tomorrow night. Pivoting on that thought, she was thankful this day was over, and couldn't possibly get any worse. 

And instantly regretted it. Of course it could. 

With a splash and a plop, something emerged from the water. Valentina tilted her head. It was... no, it was more... well, it looked sort of like a fish. And also like a squirrel. But also like a rat. The fact that these descriptions referred to the same creature surely violated some cosmic law of decency. Just looking at it made her eyes water. 

As it hopped and squished forward, its big fishy lips curled into a hopeful grin, its long whiskers... whisked, and its bushy, sodden tail flicked with anticipation. 

Valentina held its beady-eyed gaze and scowled, "don't even think about it."

The critter's countenance fell, and it turned, crestfallen and sniffling, and sulked off back into the lake. 

Standing, Valentina sighed. Two hours in a confined space with D.N. She would rather go running through the forest rapping on Sticks with sticks. Or maybe kiss that... thing.

Somehow, she doubted tomorrow would end so peacefully. 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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1 hour ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Chapter 57: Wanderings

Valentina wandered aimlessly across the space center grounds, no real destination in mind. Here and there, workers busied themselves with their tasks. A large, cylindrical object was being inched into the VAB on its special low-boy trailer, still veiled in white shrink wrap. The upper stage for Jerdous's rocket, due to launch a few weeks from now, she surmised. 

And then what? She'd seen copies of launch manifests, filled with both the mundane and the ambitious. Nearly every flight followed by the letters 'TBA.' Even Gene seemed to be nearing his limit. Something here was wrong, she knew it, but--

Movement drew her eye, and Valentina looked up to see Burdous walking her way, followed at an odd distance by his brother. She mentally braced herself for another of his profanity-laced tirades, but much to her surprise he simply walked right by, glassy eyes fixed the concrete. He smelled like he hadn't bathed in... well, longer than usual. 

She watched Burdous go, then turned to his brother as he approached, "what is, how you say? Chewing upon him?"

Jerdous raised an eye... bulge, then shrugged, "you remember that concert he was going to a couple days ago?"

"Indeed, Solpugids, yes?"

He nodded, "he was on top of the world, playing the heroic spacekerb. Had a date with that pretty weather gal from Channel 3, rented a limo, even combed his hair. Arrived at the VIP entrance to the stadium, with her on his arm, to a gauntlet of cameras."

A sigh, and a defeated, one-sided smile, "the tickets were fake. Someone swindled him. Got turned away at the door."

"That is horrible!" She blurted, "do you know who has done it?"

"He won't say," Jerdous looked off towards the drooping figure, his own arms folded, "hasn't said a single word since. I think he even walked home."

"He... no, he does not deserve such."

"I warned him about shady resellers. He's real smart when it comes to engineering, but people? ЙФT SФ MЦCH.*"

Valentina raised an eye... bulge at the Ussari interjection.

"I'd better go keep an eye on him. Takes him a while to bounce back from these things," Jerdous nodded, then trotted off. 

Valentina frowned after them. No, not even that one deserves such, rude as he is. A smack on the head, perhaps, but he already seemed to be well supplied with those. She continued on her way across the grounds. Jerdous, at least, looked more himself today. Something... something was not right there either. Nightmares. She could understand that. But something else about him just felt... wrong. Wrong... yet, familiar. Like in the spring, when the days became sunny and beautiful but all that which had died during the long winter began to fester, and the sticky sweet smell of decay mingled with the subtle perfume of flowers. 

It felt like... when the voice had called out to her. 

...do not think too hard on such things...

Could it be? Could the voice have other... charges?

...or did you just imagine it all? A side effect of stress, a mind's way of coping...

She should do something. She should do something. If it is true. She couldn't just leave him like that. She had to help. There must be a reason, a reason she was here at all. 

...never ever make noise...

...you have such power...

...you may not like what you find...

Valentina shook her head against the competing thoughts, and a wave of emotion sloshed about her mind.  

What... could she do? It all seemed so ridiculous. A rational mind didn't didn't think like this. Didn't hear voices and feel emotions that were not its own. Either she really was going mad... or the reality was far, far worse than she imagined. 

...you took an oath...

But what could she do? This was beyond her understanding. It was all subtlety and scheming and... politics. She did not know these things. 

Somewhere, not that far, someone was having a great laugh about something. It echoed back and forth inside her brain.

...I don't understand...

...believe...

...do not think too hard on such things...

...you have such power...

...I found things that were... troubling...

...this, we do not speak of...

...progeny of traitors...

Valentina clapped her hands to her head, "shut up shut up shut up, all of you!"

Someone who had been coming the other way looked up at her, then suddenly remembered urgent business in the opposite direction, and set off for it at a brisk trot. She ground her teeth and rubbed her own temples. She most certainly needed a cheeseburger. Or three. Or eight. 

Off to the west, the sun was sinking down towards the horizon, silhouetting several enormous propellium tankers sitting at anchor. Odd, that was an awful lot of fuel for one small rocket, with a launch still weeks away. She recalled that PropelOx stored well, but--

The thought blew away like breath in the breeze. 

Coming down the path were several pipeline workers, roughnecks, they called them. Their faces were streaked with sweat and grease, but their enormous hats were utterly spotless. They tipped them, and offered big friendly, Exast smiles as they passed.

"Ma'am."

"Ma'am."

"Ma'am."

"Ma'am."

Valentina smiled back weakly. After all day lifting very heavy things in the hot sun, the four had perhaps two a half shirts left between them, and, well, they were built like fellows who spent all day lifting very heavy things in the hot sun. 

Valentina swallowed hard, raising a hesitant hand as she watched them depart. Presently, a shadow loomed over her. 

"Good, strong boys, all of 'em. Work like dogs and twice as loyal."

She jumped, and spun around. How does he do that?!

"Evenin', ma'am," J.R. said, tipping his own huge black hat, "fixin' to be a real looker of a sunset, Ah reckon."

"Good evening, mister J.R.," she said carefully, hoping her cheeks didn't look as colored as they felt. 

"Well, Ah'll not keep yah. Three more tankers comin' in the night and Ah'm busier than a one-eyed cat watchin' nine rat holes. Besides," he winked, "you look like a lady with a lot on her mind."

Valentina opened her mouth, and closed it just as quickly. 

"Y'all have yerself a fine evenin', now," he tipped his hat once more, with a rather unsavory smile, "and remember, bein' a team player does have its advantages."

As he walked away, Valentina could just see his shoulders shake as he chuckled. She bared her teeth as his back. Why of all the...! That... slimy... GAH! 

She spun around, stalking off beyond the concrete of the Space Center proper. The sun was nearly touching the ocean, now. She always expected it to make a comedic shhhhhhhh sound and sink into a cloud of steam. Yes, she'd been watching far too many of these absurd Foreign cartoons. Nevertheless, it did amaze her how fast the sun set here on the equator. 

Back home, the sunset seemed to last for hours, the fading light filtered by towering trees. Not far from where she grew up, the sun never really set, in a land of eternal twilight. It was always cold there, too. She wouldn't mind that, it would be a welcome change, the cold never--

A slight tickle on her arm drew Valentina's attention. She looked down in horror to find a tiny mosquito helping its self to dinner at her expense. For a moment, she could only gape in disgust. How did these people live like this?! One of these... these... these... vermin could just make a meal of you and you might not even know! At least the mosquitos back home had to put up a proper fight, first! 

Snarling, she balled her hand into a fist and squeezed until the mosquito burst like macabre balloon. She picked the head off and wiped her arm on a convenient plant. 

Plant?

Valentina looked around, and found herself surrounded by lush green vegetation and stunted trees. Ah, this must be the lake everyone talked about. She walked toward the shore, until her shoes squelched in the soggy ground. It certainly was a very pretty lake. She knew a lake that looked like this back home, for the few weeks it wasn't covered in thick white ice. To the west, the sun had fully disappeared, the splash of orange in the sky fading to red and deep crimson. The dwindling light was maintained by a brilliant, pallid Mün just peeking over the mountains far to the east. She sat on a convenient log, and watched it rise, occasionally batting at the mosquitoes. Somehow, this, too reminded her of home. 

Home. She finally realized how homesick she was. The brighter stars began to pop into the sky, one by one, bringing with them an odd contradiction of emotions that were, thankfully, entirely her own. Her time in this bizarre place was beginning to sink towards its own end, and oddly, she felt wistful about that too. She wondered absently if she would still feel the same tomorrow night. Pivoting on that thought, she was thankful this day was over, and couldn't possibly get any worse. 

And instantly regretted it. Of course it could. 

With a splash and a plop, something emerged from the water. Valentina tilted her head. It was... no, it was more... well, it looked sort of like a fish. And also like a squirrel. But also like a rat. The fact that these descriptions referred to the same creature surely violated some cosmic law of decency. Just looking at it made her eyes water. 

As it hopped and squished forward, its big fishy lips curled into a hopeful grin, its long whiskers... whisked, and its bushy, sodden tail flicked with anticipation. 

Valentina held its beady-eyed gaze and scowled, "don't even think about it."

The critter's countenance fell, and it turned, crestfallen and sniffling, and sulked off back into the lake. 

Standing, Valentina sighed. Two hours in a confined space with D.N. She would rather go running through the forest rapping on Sticks with sticks. Or maybe kiss that... thing.

Somehow, she doubted tomorrow would end so peacefully. 

Ah, the infamous RatSquirrelFish! Unfortunately, it has spread like a plague to many planets, and exploratory crews usually have to deal with fishus ratsquirrelius.

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17 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

"No one here can challenge Dean in the air, but from what I've heard, maybe you can. Show him a thing or two. Find a chink in that armor."

"...armor?" Valentina said, confused. 

"Figure of speech. Anyway, I have the two of you down for a block of time tomorrow afternoon. If you can earn his respect, I think you might just see a different side of him."

I have a feeling the next chapter is going to be a lot of fun.     :cool:

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5 hours ago, Ten Key said:

I have a feeling the next chapter is going to be a lot of fun.     :cool:

Same hehe. Will the "flight time" involve a practice combat with live totally not live missiles? :0.0:

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"Time to hit the highway, folks."

"To the Danger Zone?"

"Why yes, I do believe that is exactly where it goes."

 

@Ten Key Yes, I anticipate fun ahead too. Of the Dwarf Fortress, lava and death and screaming variety. :)

 

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"Tin Turkey, Yeti, Ivylog, Garter Snake, and Waterfowl."

Me: Why are those familiar? 

"I'm a bit of a maverick. "

Me: Nooooo... No way... This is just my 80s-Ness coming out.

Wait... don't know what Tin Turkey and Ivylog are, but if I'm right, Yeti = Iceman, Garter Snake = Viper, Waterfowl = Goose. D.N. = Maverick. Waterfowl gave me the the first clue, I was very sure with "I'm a maverick", the need for speed spoof was the nail in the coffin. Is D.N.'s SSTO called Phantomrunner?

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