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


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Chapter 86: House of Shadows

Valentina slammed up against the hatch, pounding on it. She strained uselessly at the handcrank that now felt welded in place. Her breath was a ragged staccato, throat dry and face soaked. She circled around in the space that seemed to be getting smaller, trapped, panic rising in her gut. The shadows... she could see the shadows...

The assault came from every direction at once. Pale specters and ghostly phantasms converged on her, tore at her, screaming with unnatural sounds. Thrashing, not bothering to contain her screams any longer, she fell to the floor. A piercing shriek drilled into her ears. She could feel them, pulling, shaking...

As quickly as it began, it stopped. Valentina lay on the floor, panting, covering her helmet. Lingering clouds of dust slowly drifted away. It took her a moment to realize all was still. All, except the awful, undulating shriek. She looked around, confused, before letting out a sobbing laugh. 

Of course! I am such a fool!

Dust mitigation. She remembered now, the dust mitigation system, it activated automatically. Probably engaged it when she opened the outer hatch. Perfectly normal. But... was the door itself automatic too? With that thought, she looked toward the inner hatch... the one something had thumped against. Or... had she imagined that, too? 

Get a hold of yourself, now your eyes are joining in on the—

With a loud thunk as latches released, the inner hatch swung open. It absolutely, undeniably, creaked. The shrieking got louder. 

Just dust in the hinges. The airlock pressurized, you can hear now. All perfectly normal.

Valentina rose to her feet, and took a rock hammer from the pile of tools anyway. It felt incredibly light and pointless. All she could hear was her own breath and that horrible wail. The source of that, at least, became clear as she neared the hatchway. Across, on the far wall, was a bank of four monitors. One was plainly dead, but the others were covered in flashing yellow indicators, and a few red ones. 

She peeked out, awkwardly turning her whole body; just moving her head only showed her the inside of her own helmet. Even that felt like it was getting smaller. A thick, heavy blob of sweat slid into her eye. Just before her, the patch of fog on her faceplate grew larger, the suit struggling to keep up with her labored breath. 

One wall was covered in more tools, supplies, various carts and equipment. The other—

She jumped, in spite of herself. Staring back at her with faceless scrutiny was a row of hanging EVA suits. With a long breath, Valentina stepped out into the room, clutching the hammer in both hands like a lifeline. She thought if she didn't stop that ear-piecing shriek it might drive her over the edge into madness. There was a Master Caution light over the monitors; hoping it worked like every other one she'd seen, she pressed it. 

Mercifully, it did. The din died away, once more leaving her own breath the only sound. For a short time, breathing was all she could do, before conscious thought gradually returned. This was probably an extra status display for returning EVA's. Scanning over the monitors, nothing looked too serious. Filters long overdue for replacement, scrubbers that needed recycling. 

Of more serious concern, the B-block coolant loop had ruptured, but the computer had automatically shunted it to the auxiliary line, which was overloaded but holding. It looked like... yes, that caused an overheat on the #7 RTG, but again the computer had shut it down. Which was impressive, considering the computer had also shut down one of its own cores and put another two into safe mode. 

Valentina took a step back, looking over the whole display. She hoped that dead monitor wasn't hiding anything more serious, but overall this was very impressive. For things to be running at all by now, those KSA engineers sure knew how to—

Gasping, she spun around. Trying not to breathe, her eyes darted this way and that. No, nothing there of course. For a moment, reflected in that black screen, she thought she saw...

Slowly, Valentina shook her head, dislodging another blob of sweat into her eye. She couldn't hear. Couldn't see. Thought it might even be getting harder to breathe. Maybe she should take her helmet off. No, probably not wise...

Her eyes wandered back to the monitors. Pressure 95 kPa, fairly normal. Humidity 12%, dry like her throat. Temperature 28C. Oh, that sounded enticingly cool! Oxium 19%, carbon dioxium 757 ppm. 

Hmm. That was odd.  The O2 level was slightly low while the CO2 level was a touch high. Not nearly enough to be harmful, but... with no load on the life support system, the numbers should be more nominal. Unless something in here was still—

No, that's just silly. Nothing could possibly be alive in here. With all the system failures, it was a wonder those numbers weren't even more off. 

She moved to put a hand to her temple, but found only her helmet again. All right, think. So hard to think, with her head pounding. Mouth so dry. Now... the base was a big cylinder. This was the airlock deck. Galley is below. Probably nothing useful there. Except... maybe a bottle of water. But she'd have to take her helmet off. She looked down, but again saw only the inside of her helmet. 

Sweat ran into both eyes. Valentina took a step back, blinking. Through the metal grating between the levels, she could see the deck above. That should be the control center. Then the crew quarters. Then the labs at the top. Should probably head for the labs, that's where—

A gloved hand gripped her shoulder. 

Valentina let loose with a scream that drilled into her own ears inside the helmet. She spun around and drove the claw of the hammer into her attacker's...

Sigh.

No, she had just ruined a perfectly good EVA helmet. Her own face stared back at her accusingly, reflected in the cracked gold sunshade that now had a hammer jutting out of it. She had to get out of this helmet. She had to. Suffocating was better than this, anything was better than this! If she had to endure one more minute...

Fumbling in the stiff gloves, she released the latches. There was a slight hiss as pressures equalized. She tensed. Valentina took the helmet off and drew in a shaky breath. Her eyes fluttered open. A slow exhale.

The air was... stale, old. Reminiscent of all her months cooped up in space stations. A strange chemical odor overlaid it, like gunpowder. But it was cool and dry and wonderfully open. And... something else too. Old. Familiar. A sickly sweet smell, subtle, like... decay...

That couldn't be right. She raised a hand, and finally was able to rub at her temples. Coherent thought was slowly returning. Now, the crew had used up their fresh food long before they left. That, and the dry recycled air... there shouldn't be anything left to decay at this point. 

Valentina brushed the thought aside for the moment, and looked down at her gloved hands. She might have to leave quickly, was it worth the risk? The air was obviously fine, but... With a grunt, she undid a wrist clasp. She had to hold back another scream, this time of pain. As the glove came off, so did little bits of skin. A thick ooze of sweat dribbled to floor in slow motion. Her skin was shriveled and pruny; pale, like a corpse-hand. Breath caught in her throat as she flexed. She hadn't realized how cramped the stiff glove had made it.

Working delicately, her stomach clenching as more dead skin sloughed off, she undid the other clasp and let that glove fall to floor. Her hands were covered in angry red patches, throbbing with pain. Why hadn't she noticed? As she struggled for steady breath, her eyes scanned around... there. A small wash basin off to one side. Did she dare? Stale air was one thing, but water, after all this time? She gingerly turned on the faucet. A slow, clear trickle ran out. Steeling herself, she moved a hand under it. The wounds stung until her fingers twitched, but as the old sweat washed away, sweet relief followed. 

Valentina let the water flow over her ravaged hands for a long time, still mesmerized by the odd way it splashed and sprinkled in the low gravity. She cupped them together, and raised a thick, wobbling pool to her face. The sensation was beyond bliss. It felt like resurrection. Without hesitating to consider the durability of its electronics, she stripped off her cap-like communications carrier and wrung it out over floor. More viscous strings of sweat dribbled down to the grating below. Then she thrust it under the faucet, filling it like a basin before dumping the whole thing over her head. 

She gasped in pure ecstasy. Cold, life-bringing rivulets ran down her neck, flowed into her suit and all around her. Electric shivers ran up and down her spine from the exultation of it. She felt like being born again. 

Opening her eyes, Valentina ran her tongue over parched and dry lips. It took an act of will to keep from sticking her head under the facet and gulping water down, but she knew where it came from, here. Even the tap was placarded, DO NOT DRINK

But she could once again feel vigor returning to her weary frame. There must be something left here to drink, but for now she could press on a little longer. The first aid cabinet above the sink was raided for some soothing balm and bandages for her fingers, by then the skin that had stayed on her hands was already returning to normal. 

Of course she'd been imagining things. Exhausted, overheated, that was to be expected. The mind was strange, like that. Now, to be on to the lab at the top of the base. If she remembered from the documents, that had been Edmund's domain, there must be something useful—

A noise drew her ear. 

She thought... no, there it was again. A faint scratching noise coming from an air duct going up the wall. She stared at it. A bit of loose insulation, perhaps? An errant bolt, driven by the rushing air? Or... had she really heard it at all?

Cautiously, Valentina approached. No, still nothing. An unremarkable tubular duct running up the wall. She leaned her head near it, holding her breath that was once more loud in her ears. Nothing but the muffled sound of rushing air. 

There, see? Nothing to—

She jumped back as something thumped against the inside of the pipe. It thumped again, bouncing the duct against the wall. Then a third time, leaving a dent in the thin metal. 

It was just... rats... she thought as she backed away, eyes wide. 

Yes, rats... that wasn't unreasonable. There had even been a rat on TINKAN 7, after all. Of course, it hadn't been alive, when they found it. The duct banged again, straining at its mounts. 

Just rats... yes, why that made perfect sense! A small group of rats had snuck aboard, this was a large facility after all. And they'd managed to survive. The crew had left literal tonnes of storable food for them. And... that would explain the smell of decay, and strange numbers from the life support system. With such a light load it was only now beginning to fail from lack of maintenance. 

Yes, that was it! Not at all abnormal, just some rats. She wasn't afraid of rats, surely not. Rats... here on the Mün... breeding... exposed to cosmic rays... ionizing solar radiation... and who knows what long-term effects mündust has...

Unbidden, and despite her own resistance, Valentina's mind conjured up an image of a horrible, twisted creature. With beady black eyes, huge, yellowed teeth, wickedly hooked claws... and hairless, its body covered in boils and festering sores. Something that would have seemed ridiculous in one of those scary movies, but now...

The pipe banged, again and again. 

Valentina fled up the ladder.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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Wow, very impressive.

Whats more impressive is how you managed to get 2 chapters of action simply from Valentina walking from her lander into the Mun base, and thirdly that I very much enjoyed them, Bravo !

Question though, regarding the difficulty Val had in walking around and general disorientation, is that based on actual Moon walking experiences, or is that a storywriting/kraken thing?

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19 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

... whew. Well I hope this gamble works. And once again, very special thanks to @Ten Key for editing help. :D And apologies for completely dismissing his advice now. :blush:

As always, use what works and discard what doesn't. Sometimes just having the conversation is helpful. :)

 

5 hours ago, Shania_L said:

Question though, regarding the difficulty Val had in walking around and general disorientation, is that based on actual Moon walking experiences, or is that a storywriting/kraken thing?

We did some poking around on the internet during the editing process and I think the final product is fairly true to life. Turns out our brains are pretty well programmed for Earth standard conditions.

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.600.6784&rep=rep1&type=pdf 

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10 hours ago, KAL 9000 said:

Of course the base is still working! Billy did the maintenance!

And once again we have a case of the reader analyzing the story even better than the author. :D

9 hours ago, Shania_L said:

 

Question though, regarding the difficulty Val had in walking around and general disorientation, is that based on actual Moon walking experiences, or is that a storywriting/kraken thing?

Ten Key beat me to the punch, but yes it's a bit of both. 

Apollo astronauts really did have trouble getting their bearings and finding their "moon legs." The lack of atmosphere means objects don't fade out with distance, so between that and the complete lack of familiar sights, it was difficult to judge distance. They also had weeks of training suspended in spring-loaded lunar gravity simulators, and the ever popular Vomit Comet. Poor Val has had none of this, and has already been put through the wringer a few times with little to no rest.

The fact that she's also within spitting distance of an artifact that contains the essence of an eldritch abomination from beyond reality that's had plenty of time to move into its new digs and settle in after scrambling the brains of everyone nearby, might have something to do with it.  :wink:

 

One one thing I could not find any good info on was how water behaves in low gravity. All had was a snippet from Buzz and this. So I really had to guess. Apparently NASA never told an Apollo crew to just pour some water into a beaker and describe what it does. :huh: Of all the reasons to return to the Moon, this is by far the most pressing (I'm looking at you, Jeff Bezos!).

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2 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

One one thing I could not find any good info on was how water behaves in low gravity. All had was a snippet from Buzz and this. So I really had to guess. Apparently NASA never told an Apollo crew to just pour some water into a beaker and describe what it does. :huh: Of all the reasons to return to the Moon, this is by far the most pressing (I'm looking at you, Jeff Bezos!).

For what it's worth it seemed about right to me. Low gravity so surface tension plays a bigger role and thus fluids don't flow as well. Sweat feels more viscous simply because it's not running off you as easily.

Getting Bezo's astronauts to do some - literal - dripping tap experiments would be instructive too. The transition from turbulent (dripping or 'just on the verge of dripping') flow to laminar flow would be interesting. 

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and of course, another nod to @Ten Key :cool:

Chapter 87: Ghosts of Yesterday

The command deck, at least, was silent, save for the soft hum of computers and the whir of air handlers. Unfortunately, it was also dark. Only a couple of stubborn overhead lights still shown, one flickering just slightly. The arrays of blinking red and yellow lights from the displays surrounding the room melded with the flicker, and cast disconcerting shadows that twisted and moved like things alive. 

No, Valentina quickly concluded, this was not a place she wanted to linger either, and continued on up the ladder. Crew deck. At least the lights were on, here. Probably nothing useful, though. Best to start at the top and work down. But as she looked up, she saw that the hatch at the top of the ladder was closed. 

The lab. Edmund's lab. She had seen him, she had seen him... what, exactly? What had she seen? Only days ago, now it all seemed so fuzzy. Indistinct, like trying to remember a dream. Or a nightmare. Something happened to him here. Maybe up there. Behind the closed hatch. 

But... not unusual. Prudent, actually. The rest of the base seemed to be one enormous pressurized space, that seemed unusual. Probably standard procedure to keep this hatch closed. Valentina reached up, and gave the crank a turn. It squealed in protest, grinding with the feel of old, corroded bearings. She had to strain to get it to move at all. Finally the mechanism hit a stop, and Valentina felt the hatch release. 

Heaving with her shoulder, she forced it open the rest of the way. It creaked and groaned even louder than the crank, the sound seeming to reverberate through the empty base. Again, something skittered in the walls. Beyond the hatchway was only pure, inky darkness. 

That... is odd... she thought. 

There were windows in the lab. She'd seen them from the surface, seen lights glowing inside. Even if the lights went out, the low sun should give some illumination... Being a pilot, Valentina produced a flashlight, and carefully poked her head up through the hatchway. 

She tried to scream, but the air had been torn from her lungs. 

Everywhere. 

It was everywhere!

Splashed on the walls... SAW IT smeared on the windows... SAW IT! Dried with age and black as night... FLOATS The stench, thick and ripe, stealing her breath away... IT FLOATS! And all over... SAW IT!! All over... I SAW IT! Traced by hands in shaky block letters... IT FLOATS! All over... and over... and over again... WE ALL FLOAT

Her hands grew weak and she slipped back off the ladder. Falling... falling in slow motion like a nightmare. And she could see it... see the darkness take form... reach out for her... falling... floating...

With some latent bit of sanity, Valentina thrust a hand out as she fell, grabbed the latch, and pulled the hatch shut with her. The bump as she hit the floor grating seemed to jolt more sense into her. She scrabbled back up the ladder in near panic and hurled the handles of the crank around and around until it latched shut before dropping back to the floor. Something thumped against it. Hard. She scuttled backwards until something solid blocked her way, eyes never leaving the hatch. 

Edmund...

But... he hadn't been...

Valentina sat there on the floor, staring up, barely daring to breath. Expecting at any moment...

But no sound ever came. No squeal of the crank, no more skittering in the walls. Eventually, she looked around. She was... next to the open door to one of the crew rooms, bathed in a little pool of light. What..? Pulling herself up, she looked at the nameplate on the door. 

EDGAS J KERMAN
SCIENCE OFFICER

Edgas..? Oh yes, the taciturn one. The one who always seemed so awkward and uncomfortable on the news reels leading up to their launch. She had met him, once, a very long time ago. Why did she always have such trouble remembering his name? 

Stepping into the tiny room, Valentina found the overhead light still on. It seemed... brighter, somehow. In fact, everything seemed lighter in here. All the darkness... the fear... the doubt... it was still there, but... muted. As if behind a wall. She felt more than a bit awkward herself as she looked around, being unbidden in someone's personal space. 

The bed was little more than a cot, its sheets lay tangled in a lump on the floor. A stack of papers from the diminutive desk had been scattered about, undisturbed after all this time, and next to an overturned glass—

Valentina's eyes grew wide. Her throat spasmed involuntarily. There, not far from the glass, laying where it had fallen two years ago...

A bottle of water. 

She picked it up with trembling hands. Not daring anymore to think, she tore the seal off and gulped it all down in a single draught. For an instant it seared at her parched throat, then became sweet, cool, blessed relief that traced its way down to her stomach. She fell to her knees, and there saw, tucked away in a corner under the table, a cache of three or four more little bottles. One by one their contents disappeared over lips cracked and dried, but even as they did Valentina could feel life returning, coursing once more through her veins. She toppled back in a heap, leaning up against the wall, and raised the final bottle up with one last swig remaining. 

"Mister Edgas," she gasped, "I could kiss you," then downed the last bit. It wasn't enough. She didn't think she could ever drink enough right now. But it was much, much better. She sat there for a time, just breathing, beginning to feel like a Kerbal again. 

But, as the Foreigners said, there was no rest for the weary. Valentina pulled herself up, grateful for the first time for the low gravity. Still not feeling quite right about it, she had a look around the tiny room again. It felt... different in here. There was no denying or brushing it away. Like... not a shadow, but the opposite of a shadow; like a lingering spirit of something gone away. Something right... amidst all this wrong.

There was an old, drying photograph taped up next to the polished steel mirror. A portrait of the crew, clad in their suits and holding their helmets before a model of the Münbase. A scale Isfjell launcher poked up behind them. Edmund was at the center, of course, looking very different than last she'd seen him. Strong. Proud. His mustache still trimmed just so, to hide the old scar on his lip. What had happened to him? For now, Valentina just sadly shook her head. 

To his right was another face she could never forget. Always so bright and earnest. Even as international relations had soured, these three faces had been plastered across every newspaper and screen for weeks before the launch. And every single time, Billy-Bobrim Kerman had that same unbeatable, eager smile beneath his dark, bushy hair. Even in grainy monochrome newsprint, she had marveled at the boyish wonder in his eyes. She had never met him again after that hallway long ago at the KSC, but that look always stuck with her. It brought a smile to her face again now. 

Rounding out the crew, to Edmund's left, was... Gas-something? Valentina winced. Edgas. She had just said the name a few moments ago! It was as if her mind... rejected it, like—

...not real...

She blinked, then shook it away. Edgas looked confident in the photo. In more candid settings, he had always looked overwhelmed. Startled. For a mission assignment like this, he must be very good as something. Perhaps he just didn't like the cameras? She could relate to that. 

Now, what else— there. She took a small book from near the mirror. An old photo album, by the looks of it. That seemed like an odd and fairly heavy thing to bring to the Mün, but she supposed the crew had personal effects mass allowances the same as she'd usually had. And something so personal probably shouldn't be looked through by the likes of her, but nevertheless...

Feeling more than a bit guilty, Valentina opened the cover. A baby with a very familiar overwhelmed, startled look stared back at her. The smiling couple holding him looked old enough to be his grandparents. She flipped the page and— hmm. The baby was now a toddler with the same overwhelmed look, but the pair holding him had changed. They were much younger. She flipped again... and again...

With each page, the bewildered youngster got a bit older... but the couple with him always changed.  Older, younger; different faces, different smiles... sometimes looking more than a little forced. Was... was this Edgas... an orphan?

Like me... Valentina's lips moved silently. Her eyes flicked back forth as pages turned, and the pattern repeated, until all at once... everything changed. 

Now a boy, Edgas was smiling brightly. This, despite a fading black eye and bandaged right hand, which was draped over the shoulder of an unmistakable, earnest young face, with a smile every bit as bright. Behind the pair was a new couple. Their faces drew only a vague recollection from her memory, but she could never forget that shirt. The after-image was still permanently burned into her retinas. And they bore the brightest smiles of all. 

Valentina continued to turn the pages, a broad smile blooming on her own face. The changing guardians with Edgas were always there, but now each photo was tempered by one of the new quartet. Just as she expected, as the boys grew, eventually little Anastasia came along, an unmistakable tuft of golden hair sticking up past those enormous eyes. Within a page or two, those eyes found her brother, and then never left. 

Somewhere, Valentina felt a certain pang of longing for what looked like an unusual, but very happy, family. The last page was only Edgas and Billy-Bobrim —and Anna peeking in from the background, eyes still locked on her brother— their arms draped over each other's necks again, dressed in blue caps and gowns and grinning with all they had. Not that far behind, a KSA Colossus rocket sat on its pad. Printed across the top were the words, "KSA GRADUATING CLASS No. 1."

She closed the album, and laid it down carefully, almost reverently. Something so bright... in this place of darkness. Uncompelled, she closed her eyes, let something... she could feel it. She could feel it. A thousand kilometers way, or a million, like a candle flame in the black depths of the long Münar night... something... no, someone, was there. A little bundle of emotions that were not her own. Frail. Weak. Defeated. But she could feel the connection pulsing, back and forth like a second heartbeat. Drawing strength in its weakness. Drawing it... from her. 

Valentina straightened, beholding herself in the steel mirror. She didn't know what was going on, but it was, undeniably, going on. And... something more. With effort, she let go a little more... let herself... feel... or tune in... or whatever it was... 

This place... everything here... all the wrongness of it... it... it floated... it, too, pulsed... back and forth, in syncopated, opposite time to that bundle of feelings on the other side of reality. 

I am no hero...

"No," her lips moved uncommanded, "he is."

Her brow pinched at the unsolicited idea as she looked around the small space. She wouldn't find anything here, this room was a... a sanctuary, some how. A leftover image of a Kerbal she didn't know, like a shadow.

Or a ghost. 

She was about to leave, when something caught her eye. Standing on the tips of her Münboots, being careful not to snag her loose, hanging EVA suit on anything, she fished around on a shelf high up on the wall. Now what's this? It looked like a small, translucent, pill-shaped container of some sort. Whatever was inside was thick and sticky, but more strangely, appeared to be glowing. Some sort of standardized experiment the KSA was fond of, if she remembered correctly. But what was it doing in here?

Dismissing the question for later, Valentina tucked the pod away in her suit. And paused. Again not quite knowing why, she fiddled around until she could secure it inside her flightsuit. Then she left the small room behind. 

It crashed into her like a fallen star. The impact, the sheer force of it sent her reeling, tumbling. She hit the floor hard, scrabbling backwards. The shadows... the shadows...

Not real...

It's not real...

The back of her head slammed against something hard. 

The shadows. She could see them...

All of it. All the doubt, all the fear, all the wrongness of this place that had been held at bay now assaulted her with renewed strength. 

The shadows...

She could see them...

Reaching for her...

"Not real... it's not real!"

Scratching in the walls... thumping in the air vents...

And the shadows... the shadows...!

"It's not real!" Valentina pressed her hands to her head, her words dissolving to a sobbing shriek as she screwed her eyes shut. 

She didn't know how long it went on. Eventually, her throat became raw, and no more sound would come out. Only then did she realize the silence. Silence, save for...

Plip... 

Plip...

Plip...

She opened her eyes, panting. The shadows lurked, immobile, hiding in corners. 

Had... had she just imagined it all..?

In answer, a soft tap tap tap of little feet traced along an overhead air duct. Slowly, she rose. Edmund's door was now behind her. Dream-like, her hand came up, reaching for the knob. Something skittered in a dark corner. Her fingers touched the cold, milled surface. 

Suddenly Valentina jumped back, looked around, confused. What...? Her eyes moved again to the door, and she drew her hand back a little more. No... No, whatever is in there, best leave it be. 

She moved to the final room, her eyes still not wanting to leave Edmund's. Billy-Bobrim's door was slightly ajar; expecting something to jump out, she stood back and carefully pushed it open. The light was still on after all this time. And inside... it looked like a bomb had gone off. Clothing, papers, all sorts of things lay scattered about wherever they had fallen. A large metal cabinet had been torn from its mounts and a corner embedded into the polished steel mirror. What sort of person could do such a thing?

But... amidst the chaos was one tiny refuge of sanity. On a nightstand next to the overturned bed, sat a wooden-framed, rather formally set photograph. Valentina had seen it just moments ago. It was a duplicate of the last one in... that other fellow's album. The picture of the happy family all smiling together. It was resting on what looked like an old, worn-out textbook. Field Geologist's guide to the Biomes of Kerbin, read the faded cover. 

Setting the photo down and gingerly opening the it, Valentina smiled at the inscription on the cover page, written in neat, orderly letters:

BEST BUDZ 4-EVER!
KSC KLASS 01!

The dense, bone-dry text further in was peppered with pale yellow highlighting. Shaky, barely legible notes filled the margins. Here and there, the same precise hand from the inscription added some little bit of insight to them. Valentina turned the delicate sheets over as if reading from a holy book, watching the lessons play out around the edges. It went on for page after page; notes, notes on notes, analysis of noted notes. Valentina had to struggle to read the wobbly writing, reading Kerblish was a struggle for her in general, but after a while she could almost see the knowledge moving off the page and into the scholar. 

When she reached the end, she found a a small, equally bland award taped to the back cover:

UPON SATISFACTORY COMPLETION OF REQUISITE COURSE WORK, THE KSA RESEARCH DIVISION HEREBY CERTIFIES

Billy-Bobrim Kerman

AS A LEVEL 1 FIELD GEOLOGIST

It was dated only a few months after the photograph. As Valentina ran a thumb over the worn embossing, a bit of paper slipped out from underneath. She peered at it for a moment, and her smile widened. It was written in a beautiful, flowing hand in what looked like newer pink pen ink. 

Billy— 

I finally got my rating today! Thanx eversomuch for all your help!

                                                                                        —Lolli

She thought she could see a hint of faded lipstick on it, too. It seemed Billy-Bobrim had learned well, and payed it forward. Somehow, she wasn't surprised. 

Valentina set everything back as she had found it, and once more looked around the room. No, what she needed wasn't up here. Like the rest of this place, there was nothing left here but ghosts. She stepped back out into the common room, pausing, not daring to breathe, to watch the shadows. Now, nothing seemed to move. Nothing made a sound. Except...

Plip...

Plip...

Plip...

It sounded a thousand kilometers away. Like everything else, she wasn't even sure if she actually heard it or not. But the shadows... the whole base... it did seem awfully... quiet, now. 

Have the air handlers stopped?

Sliding down the ladder to the command deck and landing with a thump, she quickly scanned over the myriad of blinking lights and other errors. No, no major failure indicators. No alarms going off. Then what...? There. A flashing red light on a console. 

But... her eyes twitched back and forth... this is just a video terminal. The light was indicating a new recording. That can't be right... Valentina hit a few buttons. 

MOTION TRIGGER: CAM13, DOCKING LEVEL.

It... it was dated two years ago. The day... whatever happened, happened. Dread... darker than the deepest Münar night sank into her. A fear beyond anything this curséd place had yet shown. 

She knew... somehow, she knew...

Plip...

Plip...

Plip...

She didn't want to see... she knew... but she couldn't stop... her finger reached out, trance-like, and pushed the blinking red button.

A grainy image appeared on the screen. The docking tunnels far below. Dim utility lights cast twisted shadows. Presently, one of them moved... and a soft, ragged voice came with it.

"Don't... don't want to..."

A figure emerged, collapsing against the far wall.

"No... please..."

That bushy hair... it was unmistakable.

"No... No..."

The Figure clasped hands to its head as it thrashed about.

"Don't want to..."

She could hear his wrenching sobs.

"No!"

Billy threw his head back in anguish, his face now clear on the camera. 

"You... you can't have him! I... I won't let you... I... I..."

For a moment, he looked down at his own hands, then raised them to his eyes...

"No..." Valentina breathed, "NO!" She slammed her fists uselessly against the console. 

Guilt flared, she tried to force herself to watch in penance, but it was just too horrible, and she turned away. Huge, gelatinous tears fell slowly to the grating below. Her shoulders heaved in answer to every scream from the tinny speaker. Then all sound abruptly ceased.

Plip...

Plip...

Plip...

Still choking on her own sobs, Valentina looked up, and saw.

It.

It was looking at her. 

It had no eyes left, but it was looking at her. 

Across a gulf of years, it was looking at her. 

Bloody lips pulled back into a grotesque smile over jagged, needle-like teeth. Its mouth moved, but the voice was in her own head.

MARATH'INDE DAMANE, it hissed, I SSSSSSSSEE YOU!

Valentina screamed as if casting all the air from her lungs might purge that horrible voice from her mind. Her shoulders quaked before the flood of emotion that broke over her. Silently, her hands balled into trembling fists. 

It was down there. 

It was still down there. 

She was going to find it.

And punch it right in the face.  

 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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On 11/19/2016 at 0:43 AM, CatastrophicFailure said:

She was going to find it.

And punch it right in the face.  

 

On 11/19/2016 at 0:43 AM, CatastrophicFailure said:

Was... was this Edgas... an orphan?

Like me... Valentina's lips moved silently.

Therefore, we must conclude that Edgas and Val are siblings.

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So I built a carrier and hired 25 random Kerbals to crew it. Kerbelle #7 was named Tibella. I decided the best place to send my carrier was Bop. So now Dibella's twin sister is orbiting Bop with a giant, 350 part ship. I spent five minutes getting a good picture, then found out that I can't just attach pictures to my post... I don't use imgur or anything, so I could use some help: How can I attach a image straight off my desktop? There is an option to "insert existing attachment, buuuut I don't have any existing attachments. Any help here?

 
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@vsully you do have to use an outside image hosting service, I'm afraid. :( The forum software does support forum-based images, but the hosting its self isn't enabled (that kind of bandwidth & storage gets expensive, fast). Imgur is one of the more popular hosting services and pretty easy to use, just stay away from usersub. Especially at night. :blink:

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  • 2 weeks later...

And again, @Ten Key, you have been indispensable. :lol:

Chapter 88: Shadows and Mündust (Redux)

Valentina's throat was tight and raw as she descended the ladder down to the galley level. It was still down there. Somehow, it was still down there. It would always be down there; some part of it infected this place, permeated every bolt and wire. And not only here

Edmund. It had corrupted her old friend, twisted him...

...the day they went to the anomaly... something changed. I could hear it in Billy's voice, almost... feel it, too...

...and that poor boy Billy...

...there's something else there. Behind the bandages. And like... I can feel it... looking at me... like... it's hungry...

Anastasia had been right. Edmund knew something. Edmund knew everything, and with his connections... this thing... for all she knew, the whole world was stained by it. Every person could be like Edmund, now. I could be, too. Maybe I have been, all along. There was no use in going back. She had already accepted this place would be her tomb.

A dim light of emotion tugged at her mind, far away.

No, not every person. 

And if one person... maybe more. Valentina Kermanova would not go down without a fight, she would take it down with her. She would find it. Stop it. Kill it, if she could. 

I am no hero...

No, but that makes me... expendable.

Sacrifices must me made...

There was always... a price...

Below layers of fabrics and plastic, the Münstone was throbbing against her skin, pulsing with the same cadence she'd felt not long ago. And all the time, she could hear that incessant, dripping noise.

Plip...

Plip...

Plip...

The galley was as empty as the rest of the base, a moment frozen in time. The hatch to the docking tunnels below still sealed tight. Valentina didn't hesitate, she spun the crank around and around until it thunked, and the hatchway creaked open. Below was inky darkness, broken only by the dim glow of emergency lights. 

The sound grew louder. 

Plip...

Plip...

Plip....

Rage, indignation, fear Dibella spurned her on. She slid down the ladder into the node to face it, to deny it, to avenge...

...I am a monster, too. And I am coming for you...

Then the terror took her, and immediately, with every fiber of her being and remaining shred of sanity, wished she had not.
 
Everywhere...

It was everywhere..!

Not the dried, blackened stains of the lab above. Here it was fresh, dripping from the ceiling or oozing down panels with the fetid reek of a slaughterhouse. All over the walls... all over the walls... it was smeared in hideous, arcane symbols that stung Valentina's eyes just to look upon them. The accursed words they spelled out... to know them was surely to know madness. 

Her face a mask of horror, Valentina staggered backwards from the ladder, deeper into a tunnel. The shadows cast by the dim crimson lights shifted and writhed. She could hear them... scratching at the walls... scuttling in the ducts. Something soft and yielding found its way under her foot with a shrieking squeal, causing her to stumble. Her hand disappeared into one of the shadows, and pain flared. Jerking it back, she saw her own blood oozing from two pairs of tiny teeth marks on the edge of her palm. 

Deep in the shadows... deeper than where the wall should have been... a pair of beady little eyes gleamed in the meager light. Then another appeared. And another. 

Something scuffled along the conduits just behind her. Little feet tap-tap-tapped in the darkness. Then the shadows themselves began to change. They shifted and moved, crawling along the walls, slinking along the floors, denying the already feeble light and reaching out for her. 

Terror sunk into Valentina's spine like a knife. This was no hallucination, no nightmare, this was real and the shadows were reaching for her! With cold dread she realized that everything —everything!— that had led her down here had been crafted to that point. The doubt. The rage. The fear. 

This... was a trap. 

As the shadows circled around her ankles, conscious thought, wrath, and despair departed, and were replaced with one, single, base instinct:

Survive. 

She bolted from the tunnel, flew up the ladder. She was nearly out when something seized her foot and yanked her back down. Falling hard against the raised lip of the hatchway, the goo container under suit shattered. Jagged shards of glass dug into her flesh, tearing it open. She kicked back against the threat, but might have been kicking against air. Hand over hand, finding good purchase on the grated flooring, she managed to pull herself from the hole. She braced a foot against the rim, and turned over to find an abomination of inky tentacles slithering ever higher up the leg of her suit, straining to drag her back into the yawning darkness below. 

Choking back a scream against the flare of pain in her flank, she reached back over her head and grasped the zipper pull of her EVA suit. With one fluid, practiced motion, she bowed her head and folded herself in half as she pulled up on the cord, splitting the back of the suit open and emerging like an insect shedding its skin. She grabbed tight to the floor again, letting the foul thing pull the suit off and down into the hatchway, ripping away water tubes and electrical cords. Beyond the rim, something squealed in anger.

With a wordless cry, Valentina threw herself back at the hole, slamming the hatch shut as she landed. She had barely turned the handcrank when something slammed against the other side, but the bolts held. Around and around she spun the handle while an incredible force bashed against it again and again. A blow actually knocked her backward, and she saw huge dents appearing in the thick aluminum surface. Each bang seemed to grow stronger and stronger. A light overhead exploded in sparks. The floor began to buckle. Then a coolant line ruptured, sending a spray of toxic ammonia up into air. 

Survive.

She fled up the ladder to the airlock deck. Reaching the row of spare KSA EVA suits, she threw aside the one with her rock hammer still jutting out of the helmet. And that's when it grabbed her. Looking down, she saw found it gripping her legs, trying to pull itself up or her down. 

Instinct... only instinct now...

She ripped the rock hammer from its gold-tinted faceplate and slammed it down again.

Crack!

Crack!

Crack!

Each blow brought a gout of vile black fluid running out of the hole. The empty suit grappled with her a moment more, then became still. She turned to the next one, and now it, too, reached out for her, pawing at her neck from its hanger. Struggling this close, Valentina finally noticed the reflection...

There wasn't any.

The thing's mask was a featureless golden expanse. She brought the hammer up and drove it down with both hands, shattering the plexiglass and revealing nothing but black nothingness beyond. One by one, the other suits raised their flaccid arms, and reached for her. 

Valentina staggered backwards, away from the blank-faced horrors. She began retching as the acrid tang of ammonia reached her lungs from the deck below. Her eyes teared up, burning from the fumes. Her wounded flank roared against her. Doubt flooded across her mind.

Trapped...

She was trapped...

No way ou... EDGAS!

A memory flashed in her mind, a dim snippet from a dusty report read while half asleep in a broom closet a world away. She sprung to the ladder, pulled herself up hand-over-hand, ignoring the screaming in her side, her feet not even touching the rungs.

The lab.

She reached the sealed hatch again. All around, the shadows were shifting, slinking. Scratching in the walls. Tiny feet in the ducts. The sounds of deforming metal rang up from below. She spun the handcrank around, threw open the hatch. Forgetting the atrocities sprawled on the walls, Valentina hauled herself upward, ever upward, as the shadows closed in around. One more hatch, and she reached the auxiliary airlock at the very top of the base structure. She slammed it back down, cranked it shut just as something else slammed against it from below. She ignored it, focused all her attention on donning the bright orange rescue suit.

The hatch rung like a bell again and again. These suits, mercifully, had no reflective faceplates, and lacked even a proper helmet. She fumbled, trying to work the unfamiliar fittings as quickly as she could in the cramped space. A tiny window in the outer hatch above let in a fleeting glint of sunlight. The floor groaned, something unseen popped and began to hiss. Valentina finished the last seal and tried to find the pressure controls. A dull, metallic ripping filled the room. She glanced down, saw the hatch begin to lift, saw the shadow oozing out of it like blood, reaching for her. 

No time.

She tensed, and slammed an elbow into the glass-covered emergency hatch release. There was a whump, and suddenly even the meager pull of Münar gravity evaporated. Valentina found herself tumbling, flailing. Black and grey and bright flashed across her vision like a deranged kaleidoscope. She screamed, screamed until her lungs were empty then kept on screaming. Falling, drifting, rising. No sensation, only the flashing of the world passing away. 

Maybe this is the end. Maybe this was what oblivion is like.

The impact knocked the air from her lungs despite the pressure of the suit. Pain like she had never known flared brighter than the sun burning at her eyes as her shoulder popped. Not to be forgotten, the rip in her side began wailing ever louder. She bounced, tumbled, landed hard again. Flipped end-over-end across a blur of grey. When she finally stopped, her head was reeling, the pain radiating through her surging her mind back and forth like debris on the ocean, tossed between fainting and thought. 

Valentina lay sprawled on the surface, just trying to breathe. Each gasp threw a wide patch of fog onto the scratched faceplate of the suit. 

Can't... breathe...

With effort, she sat up. There were no gauges on the suit, no indicators of any kind. Only a few buttons on one wrist. She pawed at them until a feminine, synthesized voice buzzed in her ear:

Warning: minor suit breach. Seek shelter.
Warning: minor suit breach. Seek shelter.

Bones grated in her shoulder, sending hot sparks of pain shooting through the nerves. 

Dislocated... maybe worse...

Her side was still raging. She could feel warm wetness pooling down in the seat of her suit. 

I'm bleeding to death...

And beyond it all, beyond even reason, the shadows now stretched far across the bleak landscape, cast by a sun barely above the horizon. There was no surprise, no horror at such swift motion of the sky on a world that took four days to rotate. Of course the night came too soon, on this world of darkness. 

Off in the distance, barely a spec, she could see the lander, its metallic skin glinting like a beacon in the dwindling light. 

I... could still make it...

All around, Valentina could see the shadows creeping closer, twisting and roiling. Thousands of beady eyes stared out from them. She could almost... hear... the whispers...

Go...

Go now...

Leave this place and never return... 

You are not welcome here...

Go... while you still can...

Survive... but to what end? Could she even survive the return, like this? And even if she did, would there be more like Edmund, waiting for her? Maybe more she knew, maybe even Dib—

She winced at the thought. 

There was still... the Anomaly. She wouldn't need a map to find it. She could feel it, pulsing in time with the rest of this place. Somewhere off over there, a few kilometers. Away from the lander. She tried to move, but pain stole the thin air from her lungs. 

This flimsy suit... not meant for such a trek... I'd never make it.

Again, sunlight glimmered off the lander. It seemed to pull her towards it. 

I am no hero...

Just then, a new whisper floated up from deep within, a whisper of her own voice, so long ago...

...test pilot...

...test pilot...

...test pilot...

...am test pilot. I fly airplane I do not trust, and have no confidence in, to go past edge of envelope and find it so big-head cowboy like you not go too far...

...test pilot...

I am a test pilot.

I choose to go into the shadows, to seek them out, to find their limits. I ride the ragged edges of understanding. I fly into the dark places in the sky, the places others fear and fear well. I chase the shadows, harry them, scourge them. I drive them out, so that others will not have to know them.

I am no hero. 

I am... a test pilot.

There, on the lifeless, ash-colored surface of the Mün, Valentina Kermanova rose. Her face a mask of grim determination, she made her way to the large, tubular rover, her flank cradled in one hand, the other cradling that. The hatch opened. The hatch closed. Gloved fingers moved over unfamiliar controls as if they had always known them. 

BOOT SEQUENCE: COMPLETE

WARNING! ERROR.
RTG 1........FAIL
RTG 2........FAIL
RTG 3........FAIL
RTG 4........FAIL

SWITCHING TO AUXILIARY SOLAR POWER.

WARNING! SOLAR OUTPUT VOLTAGE LOW.
BATTERIES 84%

The dull whine of the motors that hadn't run in years carried through the structure as the rover trundled off away from the base, towards the distant pulsing in the darkness. The world might already be lost, she might already be dead... and as far as the world knew, she was... but...

It didn't want her to go there... that was enough. That's exactly where she would go. 

***  

"What do you think it is, Ed?"

"I don't know, son. I do not know." 

The massive form towered into the dark, starless sky. Directly above, the blue half-circle of Kerbin hung like a cringing eye. Valentina stood before the... thing, trying to comprehend it.

"I'm afraid..."

It seemed to resist being looked at. Her eyes wanted to slide off, focus on something else. Anything else. 

"L...lets get the data and get out of here. Ed's right, this thing gives me the creeps."

With great effort, she could look at it, but it stung her eyes like looking at the sun. A sun that seemed to radiate darkness, not light.

"Hey Billy! You ok? You look like you've seen a ghost."

But even that burning was tempered by the cold, mindless dread that crept through her.

"I don't like it here."

It was terror beyond thought, beyond reason. Beyond the wise fear of the unknown or basal fear of death.

"Me neither. Let's just do what we came to do and go."
 
It was beyond even the dawning fear that came with the recognition that everything... everything... had not been to drive her away.

"Billy?" Uncertain.

It had been to drive her, to scourge her, here.

"B...Billy?" Trembling.

To the hunter. 

"Billy?" Pleading.

This... all along, this... was the trap.

He knew. He knew. And he knew it was already too late. It was the feeling from a nightmare, right before the monster gets you.

Valentina Kermanova screamed. 

And screamed. 

And screamed. 

It came forward.

Greasy, invading tendrils of shadow slithered across the surface of her mind. Searching for any fissure, any weakness, they pried against it like a besieging army. And beyond that, beyond the presence... beyond the nothing...

Fuzzy and indistinct, as if through frosted glass; visions of such unspeakable horror, of such suffering and torment that for any mortal mind to behold them plain would destroy it past any vain concept of mere madness. Visions, from which not even death would bring release. And beyond them, beyond the chaos, beyond the hells, beyond the Kraken, waiting in the darkness...

She saw.

As she knelt there before the object, her face twisted in agony, Valentina's own hands rose to pluck the eyes from her face, but found only the thin plastic faceplate. She knew, somehow, she knew, with the shadows pressing at her mind, that sooner or later they would find a crack, and the instant, the very instant they touched her consciousness, that screen would be shattered, the visions would be laid bare, and there was nothing... nothing at all she could—

The Münstone thrummed against her skin, and suddenly Chadvey's voice floated up through the maelstrom. The shock of hearing it, devoid of any trace of its familiar mirth, cut through her paralysis like a knife. 

"Run, lass," it whispered, "you are not strong here."

"Run!"

Still struggling against the thing's overwhelming force, Valentina jerked her arm, sending a bright jolt of pain through her and finishing what the whisper started. She jumped up, filaments of shadow yet scratching at her mind. Wobbling, stumbling, she managed to find the rover again. With a leap she threw herself inside, jamming the controls forward without bothering with the hatch. The big rover lurched forward, away from the accursed thing. She could hear it, feel it within her head, howling with rage. 

She saw.

She saw.

Someone else had to know.

The rover sailed over a ledge, landing hard but level, and the invasion winked out as quickly as it had begun. Now the shadows themselves redoubled their efforts. The sun was just barely hanging over the rim of the crater as she skidded down into it. All around, from every outcropping and boulder, the shadows swarmed. She could see them, she could see them, now. No longer scratching feet and beady eyes, but risen nightmares with claws and teeth. They churned in the darkness, waiting their moment to strike. 

WARNING...WARNING...WARNING

SOLAR VOLTAGE BELOW THRESHOLD, BATTERIES 23%

Valentina ignored the alert, focused on keeping the rover out of the shadows. Every time it passed near the lee of a ridge or depression, they reached out for it. She saw. And she knew that more than ever, they could not let her leave. 

BATTERIES 19%

She bounced along in hollow silence, sliding this way and that as the wheels threw rooster tails of grey dust high above the ground. 

BATTERIES 15%

The gathering shadows charged down from the lip of the crater. The sun sank ever lower, or perhaps they were reaching up for it, too. 

BATTERIES 11%

Distracted by the roiling horde, she failed to see she had already come upon the base again. With a grunt she jerked the controls right, but not before the rover hit a bump and went sailing off the ground, narrowly missing one of the spent lander stages but smashing off its solar panel. 

BATTERIES 7%, DRIVE SYSTEM SHUTDOWN IMMINENT 

Not far from where she'd started, the rover finally slowed to a halt. She was out of the hatch an instant before the looming shadow of the base structure swallowed it. Far away, so far away, the metal skin of her own lander still glinted in the fading light. Valentina loped toward it, stumbling, moving awkwardly in the minuscule gravity even with the lightweight suit. 

Lightweight..?

She paused on a knoll, shadows surrounding her, closing in like an iris. The next lit spot was a dozen meters away. Gritting her teeth against the pain, she put her feet together and jumped with all she had. With only a tiny, simple rebreather instead of the bulky life support pack of the EVA suit, she sailed high into the airless sky. Tumbling, she somehow managed to find her feet just before coming down once more in the other shrinking patch of grey. 

Pain flared, but she pushed back against it, used it to jump even farther this time. Like this, she flew from one vanishing island of light to the next, never stopping, never slowing, as the shadows licked at her heels. They roiled beneath her, reached out in vain as she hurtled past. 

With one final grunt she landed on the wide, flat tank of the lander. She skidded, slipped, caught the hatchway with her good arm and used it as a pivot to swing herself around and back inside. Once more, she swung the hatch shut just as something slammed against it. Breakers on, valves open, guidance override to ABORT. Fuels mixed and the engine ignited. As the last traces of pale soil beneath it disappeared, the lander rose off the ground. 

But only a couple of meters. 

Valentina looked in the landing window, and saw thick, slimy tentacles of shadow entwining the landing gear, straining against the blistering engine, trying to drag the lander back down into darkness. Slowly, they were reaching higher. 

She squeezed her eyes shut, I saw, and flipped open a cover, "not today..."

"Today, I live." Explosive bolts fired, severing the landing legs. The lander rocketed up out of the abyss, arcing into the airless sky, and back into the light. 
 
I saw... I know... someone else must, too.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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Impeccable timing on a great chapter!

I was wondering how the writing was going with all the house shenanigans to get in the way and was about to bump this thread with a polite enquiry :)

But what did Val see....?

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1 hour ago, KSK said:

Impeccable timing on a great chapter!

I was wondering how the writing was going with all the house shenanigans to get in the way and was about to bump this thread with a polite enquiry :)

But what did Val see....?

IT. IT FLIIIIIEEESS!

(the kraken, duh bro!)

Very nice chapter Catastrophic!

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Great work, and the shivers just keep coming! It'll be interesting to see how she explains it all to... and who does she think will believe her? Heading back home to Commisar? May be tricky.

And great work on the red herring of the goo cannister. Nope, not gonna happen twice like that... especially before the other instance of face hitting. Maybe later. :)

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19 hours ago, KSK said:

Impeccable timing on a great chapter!

I was wondering how the writing was going with all the house shenanigans to get in the way and was about to bump this thread with a polite enquiry :)

But what did Val see....?

4sZx57P.png

Crap in boxes. Crap not in boxes. Exotic quantum crap simultaneously in and out of boxes, but also neither. 1600 pounds of crap to the dump alone. Crap that was once looked upon with the words, "I must pay good money for this piece of crap!" Now good money has been paid to send said crap on a barge down to Portland, where the rats no doubt live like kings.

Not having any idea what I'm talking about, this all manifested to Val as Münrats that may or may not have actually been there.

After wading thru successive layers of once-important crap, I'm seeing exactly how a certain archaeologist-turned-Kerbonaut might just go a little crazy.

And tonight I come home to a frozen hose spigot that won't shut off. Yay, home ownership. BangingHead.gif

/rantoff :blush:

 

 

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