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


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Chapter 92: Toruk Makto

The Converter was painted the standard olive drab, with Andacamian markings in a dark, subtle grey. But the gunships... Valentina shuddered just to look at them. They wore a broken, visually jarring pattern of white and black that would easily stand out against the sky or ground. Splashed along the flanks in red paint —she hoped it was red paint— was what she could only assume was Ceriman writing. It wasn't the same, but... She could see faces in it, and they certainly weren't smiling... yet somehow it reminded her of the symbols she had seen scrawled on the walls of the abandoned Münbase. Topping it all off, on a field of black on each tail was a skull and crossbones. She thought they might even be real. The two disturbing constructs hummed ominously as the group approached. A sound like a shifting mountain came from Igor. He probably was still unhappy over having to fly cargo. 

"Buenos dias," the Andacamian Converter pilot nodded, then returned to his inspections. His flight crew, though...

"Yes, well," Reginald began as he mopped his brow, "that's Juan. He and the transport are leased from the Andacamian government, but our security contractors are all Ceriman. This is Vachirmynydd, Yisurcapel, and Bill."

Valentina blinked for a moment, wondering how he'd just made those sounds. This gave her time to take in the three Kerbals and their... unusual garb. It might once have been uniforms. Uniform.

One fellow's sleeves had been unceremoniously torn off. What remained was covered in an incredible array of badges and insignia. The steel helmet on his head had a very prominent bullet hole... right in the middle. There was a playing card stuck in the fabric band around it, the King of Clubs. 

The next fellow dispensed with the shirt entirely. What he wore was little more than a few pockets held together by strips of ragged fabric and bandoliers full of ammunition. He carried a ridiculously long rifle with a cruel bayonet that she instantly recognized. She had seen the same kind in her... whatever the Kommissar had shown her. Judging by the worn blueing and scarred stock, for all she knew it was the same rifle. It was twice as tall as the Kerbal holding it. On his helmet, was the Ace of Spades. 

The third, fellow, well... he was in nothing but his underwear and a raggedy flak vest. And boots. Oddly, they all wore very stout boots in good repair. His helmet, of course, bore the joker. 

Valentina put on her best diplomat's smile and offered a hand in their general direction, "um... hello..."

The one with the King on his helmet seemed to be in charge, no doubt this was... Vachi... or maybe... Yisu... certainly not—

"Mi Bill," he said staring at Valentina's hand for a moment. Then he gave a slight bow, more of a nod, and made a gesture on his forehead with his right hand, "ismet, Mhysa."

She blinked. 

...on that, I am counting, Mhysa...

Behind her, Igor rumbled ominously. 

"Mhysa... what does it mean?" she asked... Bill. 

Reginald wiped his face and answered, "roughly it means 'mother,' it's one of the very few Ceriman words that doesn't change its meaning based on context, inflection, body language, time of day, or the relative velocity of the fourth nearest partially swallow. It's sort of a general term of respect."

She noted the slightest flick of Bill's eyes toward him, and a look she recognized as 'I would kill you right now but it's simply not worth the paperwork.'

Best defect this if she could, "er, do you speak Kerblish?" she asked Bill. 

This time Bill answered, "tok-tok Pisin, Mi-Bill. Laitin' Seri-mah'."

"Laitin'," the other two agreed.

Valentina blinked, again.

"Enlightened, is what he means," Reginald offered, blotting his head. There was that look again, "Cerimans typically struggle with proper Kerblish."

Ah, she could relate. She tried to give Bill an understanding smile, but hadn't quite opened her mouth when—

"Some of them have picked up a sort of pidgin of the tongue," he wrung the rag out, "you gain an ear for it eventually, but nearly all of them—"

"ШHУ HЗ TДLК FЦЙЙЧ?" Igor boomed. 

Valentina had to resist the urge to put a hand to her face, "HЗ SPЭДКS FIЙЗ, HЭ'S PЯФЬДЪLУ Д PФLЧGLФT."



Wait, Igor doesn't know Kerb—

"I beg your pardon?" Reginald paused wiping his face, "I'm sorry, I don't speak Ussari."

Bill seemed to take all this in with the same blank look. 

Suppressing a sigh, Valentina tried for that diplomatic smile again, when the underdressed Ceriman nudged his comrade... and said the most peculiar thing....

"Milli vanilli <blink> [blank] ari no mama no |alveolar trill| sugata miseru no yo {glottal stop}?"

The other one nodded thoughtfully and said, "¡libertad sin [click] <clack> vuelta atrás! ~lateral fricative~ [left armpit fart] deadmau5."
The first one gave him a rough shove, "pthbthbthb milakunis <gleek> wszystkim wbrew na ten gest mnie stać {rising belch}?!"

"Ke$ha, ke$ha <mouthpop> [left blink]!" the other one waved his hands frantically with a look of panic on his face, "Jöjjön száz orkán, és közben a szívemen ül a jég {hiccup}!"

Underwear recoiled as if slapped, then charged and the two of them disappeared into a roiling cloud of dust punctuated by fists and boots. Igor moved a huge, protective hand in front of Valentina, who could only stare in shock. Bill turned with a sigh, produced a hammer from somewhere, and dove into the fracas. 


The dust slowly cleared, revealing the other two sitting on the ground, holding their heads. Their helmets seemed to have acquired a new pair of dents. Bill was now yelling at them in an entirely new language. Valentina didn't recognize it, but there was no mistaking the unique tone of a noncommissioned officer dressing down his subordinates. Who were half undressed to start. 

"ШHУ THЗЧ DФ THДT?!" Igor boomed, glaring with suspicion. 

Valentina just gaped, shaking her head slightly. 

"And there you have the core of the Ceriman problem," Reginald explained, mopping his brow, "he said, 'well, she's quite the looker, isn't she?' and then he said, 'yes but your face looks like the blunt end of a deceased raccoon,' so he said, 'why would you say something like that to me?!' but then he said, 'sorry, sorry, what I meant to say was, a pox be upon your family and may the fleas of a thousand camels copulate in your armpits.'"

Valentina's expression never changed, she just turned slightly to stare at Reginald. He didn't seem to notice, just kept wiping his face, "this is precisely why we forbid the contractors from speaking Ceriman. Somehow they've adopted an old dialect of Atezacan as a lingua franca. Well, most of them at least." He glanced nervously toward the gunships, his sweat running a little more.

She followed his eyes. One of the pilots paused going over his switches to grin at her beneath his dark, bug-eyed helmet, causing her to step back.

His teeth...

Reginald seemed to avoid eye contact deliberately, "they don't speak anything. No tongues, you see."

The pilot just kept grinning at her. She made herself hold his gaze, until his sharpened, interlocking teeth parted just enough to bite down on his own lip, sending a glut of blood down over his chin. She shuddered, and looked away. 

"Even the other Cerimans fear them," Reginald had gone as pale as his rag now, "stories, you see. Like, they consume the bodies of their slain enemies, and mortify their own flesh, and delight in..." he swallowed hard, "well, probably all just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo anyway. As long as they're paid, they do as they're told. And the powers that be always ensure that they're well paid."

Valentina could feel her headache coming back. Igor rumbled like a storm cloud. 

At some point, Bill had stopped yelling at the other two. He pointed to the gunships, "Valar Arctûctis."

"Erm, yes," Reginald wiped his brow, "it means—"

"Children of the Kraken," Valentina's said without looking up. 

Reginald froze in mid-blot, "well... yes, I suppose that does work. It's a bit flowery, I'd always just translated it as 'Brood of the Squid' myself, but how did you—?"

How... did she know? "I have dealt with those before."

"You have?" for a moment he seemed to have forgotten to wipe, confused, "well, you're lucky to be alive, I must say! If that pilot ever finds you again—"

"He's dead. I knocked him out of the sky," she still didn't look up. Bill's head whipped around. 

"You... shot down a Ceriman gunship?" Reginald nearly dropped his handkerchief. 

"I outflew it and dropped it in a river."

"Toruk Makto..." Bill whispered, then spun around to the others, "Toruk Makto!"

"Toruk Makto!?"

"Toruk Makto!"

They all stared at her with eyes wide, "Toruk Makto!"

She blinked, "Toruk Makto... what does that mean?"

"Well... er... that is..." some color finally returned to Reginald's cheeks, mostly red. He dabbed at his face, "diplomatically speaking, um... it means... one who acts, uh,  without thinking." Then added hopefully, "or perhaps just out of ignorance."

Valentina opened her mouth. 

Valentina closed her mouth. 

"Nobody takes down a Ceriman gunship!" he blurted and blotted incredulously, "that's how you get El Grande Muerte! And worse! "

She looked at the three other Cerimans. In unison, they took a step back. 

"That's why we hired them in the first place. Things beyond the wall can get a bit... sticky," he peeled the rag from his face. 

Slowly, Valentina raised a hand to her face. Her head was throbbing. Wonderful. An infernal shadowy shadow trying to corrupt the world with mind-controlled goons, a cadre of sub-kerbal mercenaries with a blood-vengeance against her, and a jungle full of giant irradiated hungry things. And now said mercenaries were about to escort her over said jungle with probable said goons. Reginald seemed harmless enough, as long as you didn't get within spraying distance, but still...

Dunna trust anyone...

"Let us just get this over with," she said with resignation, "I have a rocket to catch."

"Quite so, quit so," he gave the rag one last good ring, "you heard the lady, boys, tallyho and all that rot!"

As she swung herself up into the cabin, Valentina noted with a frown that both of the Converter's sliding cargo doors had been removed altogether. In each hatchway now was a pair of large pintle-mounted machine guns. The rest of the craft didn't exactly look... regulation, either. She took the side-facing jumpseat next to the hatch just behind the pilot, then took a cue from Reginald as he plopped into the seat on the far wall, and clipped her harness on. 

"You look nervous," she observed. 

He gave a longing look to his handkerchief before pressing a flight helmet onto his head, sending a curtain of sweat down his face, "nervous? Me? Oh, certainly not! It's just this heat, bother it."

He didn't sound very convincing. With a grimace, she pulled on her own helmet, which smelled exactly like one would expect from well-used unwashed helmet in an equatorial jungle. At least it had some decent noise-cancelling headphones, so she could actually hear over the Converter's shriek. 

The plane listed to one side as Igor pulled himself in and moved toward the front. Incredibly, Reginald's hands went up, "oh, er, terribly sorry, ah, big fellow, but you'll have to sit at the aft bulkhead berth." Igor's eyes narrowed, and the entire structure rumbled. Reginald tried to force his face into a helpful grin, "weight and balance and all that."

"I ШILL ЬЗ FIЙЭ," Valentina put a hand on an arm like a boulder, "PЗЯHДPS IS ЬЭST TФ DФ ДS HЗ SДУS." 

Reginald just blinked in confusion. Igor made another noise like a distant rocket launch, but stalked to the back of the cargo area, sitting down with a thump that made the front wheels jump off the ground for just a moment. Reginald blotted and blotted at his face. A small puddle was growing beneath his seat. She hoped it was just sweat. But something about this did smell awfully fishy. Other than the helmet. 

The three Cerimans seemed to take no notice. They bounded into the cabin with practiced grace, busily setting about prepping their weapons. The one with the big, silly rifle popped it into a rack over his head, and neither one bothered with safety straps or helmets. Bill conceded to only a small headset. From somewhere, he produced a wheel of magnetic tape and fitted it into an ancient reel-to-reel player bodged into rear bulkhead. Even Igor raised an eye... bulge at this.

"Is... is that to scare the enemy?" Valentina distinctly asked Bill, "something about valkyries, over loudspeakers, yes?"

Bill looked about to answer, when Reginald broke in, "oh, heavens, no! The noise of an incoming Converter is quite enough to send any fool with a brain running. And if not, well, there's..." he nodded out the door towards the gunships. He'd gone quite pale again. That pilot was still... staring.

In the back, Bill just rolled his eyes. He thumped a fist twice on the hull, then spun a finger in the air. The pilot began the familiar old hand-ballet that led to the engines spooling up through ever more grating levels of ear-splitting. 

The gunships lifted off first, their nuclear-powered engines somehow still belching oily black smoke. The Converter shuddered, Reginald squealed, and it too slowly rose into the air. Igor's face bore a look of grim determination. He reached up, grabbed a random fuselage stringer, and bent it around himself as a makeshift belt. Far from being unsettled by this, the Cerimans seemed quite bemused.  

Andacamian buzzed in Valentina's ears, "Vuelo de banana, están permitidos cruzar la Muralla... hasta Cerima."

As the Converter lumbered ahead, Reginald seemed on the verge of hyperventilating. The two gunships took up echelon positions on either side, just a little behind. Valentina watched as they crossed over the top of the Wall. The far side looked like a loosing battle against the jungle, the land had been cleared for perhaps a couple of hundred meters at one point, but already vines and small trees were moving back in. The Wall itself bore the scars of many... things with more determination than brain power. Looking out the glazed nose past the pilot, the jungle seemed to stretch on, unbroken, forever. 

This place didn't feel right. It wasn't the utter wrongness of the Mün, but still... it just wasn't right. The feeling itself was layers of madness, but Valentina was beginning to learn to trust those feelings. That, and... 

She had known what would happen even then, she had known it, but... she had the growing feeling that something terrible had happened to Anastasia. 

Bill pressed a button on the tape machine, and Valentina's earphones filled with the twangy sound of an instrument she'd never heard before. A primal, syncopated drumbeat followed, and as the unusual little formation wailed out across the jungle canopy, the singer painted a dark picture...

I see a red door and I want to paint it black...
No colors anymore, I want them to turn black...


Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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1 hour ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Bill pressed a button on the tape machine, and Valentina's earphones filled with the twangy sound of an instrument she'd never heard before. A primal, syncopated drumbeat followed, and as the unusual little formation wailed out across the jungle canopy, the singer painted a dark picture...

I see a red door and I want to paint it black...
No colors anymore, I want them to turn black...


Let me guess: you got an Apocalypse Now  collector's edition box for christmas? Nice play on the ceriman language. What exactly does "Ke$ha" mean in proper Ussari?

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"Toruk Makto? Hah - let me tell you about Toruk Makto. You boys think you're crazy? Think you're badS? You with the pointy teeth. You with the silly long guns and more trousers than brains. You boys ain't nothing compared to Miss Valentina here. So sayeth The Chicken. And if there's one thing I've learned from this vale of tears we call life, it's that you never, ever mess with The Chicken..."

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22 hours ago, lodger said:

Let me guess: you got an Apocalypse Now  collector's edition box for christmas? 

Truth be told, I've never actually seen it. :blush: I just know the well-cliched parts. You can expect a cheap line about making Horror your BFF at some point. :D


22 hours ago, lodger said:

What exactly does "Ke$ha" mean in proper Ussari?

It means [smack] LДЙGЦДGЗ!!

21 hours ago, KSK said:

"Toruk Makto? Hah - let me tell you about Toruk Makto. You boys think you're crazy? Think you're badS? You with the pointy teeth. You with the silly long guns and more trousers than brains. You boys ain't nothing compared to Miss Valentina here. So sayeth The Chicken. And if there's one thing I've learned from this vale of tears we call life, it's that you never, ever mess with The Chicken..."

OK, it's tire, and I'm late... what's this from? :confused:

16 hours ago, vsully said:

Woo. Dun dun dunnnn! This is getting really interesting...

Speaking of which, since math make brain hurt, can anyone solve the following equation for r to verify my own number?

r=55*jgXJ6BY.png where y=5,000,000

...because... no reason. <_<

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1 hour ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

OK, it's tire, and I'm late... what's this from? :confused:

Speaking of which, since math make brain hurt, can anyone solve the following equation for r to verify my own number?

r=55*jgXJ6BY.png where y=5,000,000

...because... no reason. <_<

Umm - from my noggin. It's not a direct riff on any film that I'm aware of but it's probably inspired by Jack "You can't handle the truth" Nicholson in A Few Good Men, and sundry other films and bits of dialogue. And the chicken stuff is definitely inspired by the discussion on  your previous chapter. :) 

Now for the maths. Solving for y and rearranging according, I get :

money = √all-evil

Or, if you want a numerical answer, r=9404.87 - round up as required. :)

Edited by KSK
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And apologies for the whimisical previous comment which didn't actually say very much about the last chapter. Which I liked. Very much! A classic @CatastrophicFailure blend of atmosphere, horror and humour.

I particularly liked the transliterations but bonus points for the Loony Tunes style scuffle between Vachirmynydd andYisurcapel. Also, I'm getting the distinct impression that Reginald is missing some linguistic subtleties...

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11 hours ago, KSK said:

Umm - from my noggin

Well it's bloody brilliant. If slightly mad. 


11 hours ago, KSK said:

Or, if you want a numerical answer, r=9404.87 - round up as required. :)

Oh. Hmm. I'll have to check my sums, then. I keep getting Cleveland. :/

4 hours ago, CSE said:

Welsh Cerimans? (Cerimen? Cerimaians? Cerimae? Cerimannod?) No wonder the language is tricky.

:D Someone discovered a new Kerbal name generator. This one also allows some interesting mashups, like Mongolian and Welsh here...

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On 12/01/2017 at 6:05 PM, KAL 9000 said:

New chapter! And is Children Of The Kraken the name of the third book? 

I'd say jumping straight from Whispers to Children is a bit much, there should be a good few steps inbetween!!

Children of the Kraken does have a nice sound to it, but i'm still sticking with my sight/sound/touch interpretation of Shadows/Whispers/Caress of the Kraken.

It's been a while since I last saw Apocalypse Now, if Paint it Black was actually used in the film it certainly wasnt in the helicopter, I got a bit more Predator vibe from it, but thats Long Tall Sally instead.


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Brood of the Squid... *chuckles*

And a song for @CatastrophicFailure:


Jeb, gimme a beat!




I've got RatSquirrelFishes in my pants pants pants...

Look at them stomping their feet, yeah look at them stomping their feet

Stomping their feet, stomping their feet...

How can I get an explosion advance?

R.I.M.P. RatSquirrelFishes in my pants!

How can I qualify for government grants?

R.I.M.P. RatSquirrelFishes in my pants!

Step right over and watch me put it down...

RatSquirrelFishes! RatSquirrelFishes!

Down, down on the ground...

Yeah you know I'm gonna put it down...


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18 hours ago, Shania_L said:

It's been a while since I last saw Apocalypse Now, if Paint it Black was actually used in the film it certainly wasnt in the helicopter, I got a bit more Predator vibe from it, but thats Long Tall Sally instead.

The story on that, it was the theme song to the series Tour of Duty, which my dad watched religiously. I remember practically nothing about the show, as it was usually on in the background as I was doing something else, except the music, which looking back over it now, influenced me even more than I realized. Expect our motley crew to have a very well stocked RTR. :cool:


5 hours ago, KAL 9000 said:

Jeb, gimme a beat!

Ah, Jeb. Pilot. Kerbonaut. Beatboxer.



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Chapter 93: Paint it, Black

I look inside myself and see my heart is black,
I see my red door I must have it painted black.
Maybe then I'll fade away and not have to face the facts.
It's not easy facing up when your whole world is black.

Three odd aircraft roared along over the jungle, cruising just above the treetops. Then Valentina found herself looking up at one particular tree top, and realized they weren't quite above all of them. 

"Are we not flying rather low?" she asked as another towering, vine-encrusted sentinel whizzed by the open doorway. 

"Bit of a gamble, I'm afraid," Reginald managed. He'd actually given up blotting and was now clinging to his harness for dear life, "at this altitude we are quite vulnerable to small arms fire, but any higher and we'd risk passing into SAM cones."

She blinked, "surface to air missiles??"

He gripped his straps a bit tighter as the plane hit an air pocket, "some of the local factions are surprisingly well equipped."

Frowning, she said, "you—er, we, seem to have a fairly well equipped army, too. Could you not —what's the word?— placate them?"

"My dear, do you know what the first rule of getting involved in a land war in Cerima is?"

She didn't. 

"Never get involved in a land war in Cerima." His eye... bulge rose just a hair, "despite how it may look, we try to avoid conflict with the locals. Conflict causes delays, and the last thing we need right now are a bunch of irate babbling Cerimans at our doorstep who aren't on our payroll."

Bill's eyes flicked up, but only for an instant. He stood at the back of the cabin, next to Igor, casually hanging on with one hand. The other two were all business, swinging their guns back and forth in slow arcs, eyes never lingering in any one place. 

Valentina called back to Bill, gesturing at her own head and speaking slowly, "what happened to your helmet?"

Surprisingly, Bill actually got to answer, "bilong mi brata. Nogat nidim, sho."

She stared at the gaping bullet hole. That didn't sound good, "why did your brother not need it anymore?"

"Him gat nupela hat ain," the slightest hint of a grin touched his lips. 

"Clever. Why do—" the skin suddenly tried to droop from Valentina's face as the pilot pulled up hard. Bill started barking out commands. Reginald squealed like a goat. It only lasted a moment before her stomach shifted the other way, and the plane leveled out, banking into a slight turn. Bill was pointing out the door. She followed his hand, and saw a patch down below where the treetops were whipping back and forth as they had not long ago, before the Wall. Straining, she tried to get some glimpse of whatever creature could do that, but the jungle was deep and dark. 

As the mass of epileptic trees advanced, it startled a flock of birds into flight. No, not birds. Too big to be birds. Most of them scattered, shrieking horrendously, but one seemed to charge directly at the Converter. Long, leathery wings beat at the thick jungle air, not just keeping pace with the aircraft but gaining quickly. 

The underweared one swung his guns onto it, but his compatriot put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. He called something out to the pilot, who held a steady, circling, easy to predict course. The wingéd thing drew closer and closer, its scaly purple hide shimmering in the sun. The Ceriman popped his huge rifle out of the rack and cycled the bolt. He took aim through the simple iron sights. Waiting. Motionless. The thing was upon them. 



...the world became sound...

The noise of the Converter was briefly quelled by the thundering BOOM of the rifle, flame jutted a meter from the muzzle, and the horrible screeching beast simply disappeared in a purple mist. No, not completely gone... Valentina barely had time to register it before the head flew into the cabin, bounced off the roof, and landed on the floor.

It... it was hideous! Teeth... everywhere were teeth... it had teeth coming out of its eyes! Its head seemed to be entirely teeth. Such a thing shouldn't be anatomically possible, it made her eyes water just to look at it, yet there it was, lying on the deck plating.

The Ceriman nudged it with the bayonet, and it clamped onto it with a horrendous noise despite now missing most of its important bits. He grinned at it, then at his buddy, and the two of them knocked the backs of their forearms together in some sort of victory celebration. He deposited the frightful head in a large metal bin at the back of the cabin. By the sound of it, it wasn't empty. 

"Horrid creatures," Reginald said, wiping his face with a look of disgust, "give our heavy transports nothing but troubles. Too big for most small arms, too quick for the autotrackers. They pay a sizable bounty down in the Hole for each head. A nice bonus on top of our already generous wages." The look that passed between the three Cerimans told Valentina exactly how generous that wage really was. 

"What... was that thing??" She said to no one in particular. 

Bill answered, "him nem, 'chew-face-spit-bone'," he shook his head, "Mo-mo nogut, mo-mo nogut." The bin thumped. 

They banked around back on course, nearly due east as far as Valentina could tell. The jungle seemed still for now, if not exactly quiet. Every now and then, they passed over a meandering scar down through the trees to the rich reddish dirt beneath. Some sort of road. This, too, looked like a constant war of attrition against the encroaching vegetation. She pressed Reginald on this.

"We fly in everything we can, of course," he said as he blotted, "expensive, but far more reliable than the road. Those big Ki-48's your government has been so gracious to supply can carry nearly anything. But unfortunately there are some things that simply won't fit, even in a Super Converter. That's why we have the Arma-diyo back at the base."

"You seem to have it down to a routine," diplomatic, be diplomatic. Try not to think you might be sitting across from an abomination.

"Quite so. Rather the accomplishment under the circumstances, if I do say so myself. We have our share of delays, of course, but Mr. Kerman knew what he was about when he set everything in motion years ago." Wipe, wipe.

"Mister Kerman. You mean Layland Kerman."

The wiping paused, and his eyes narrowed just a fraction, "Mister Kerman is brilliant. If you've been cleared this far, then you must see that too. I've been an adherent of his since the early days, and so I've been blessed enough to witness the impossible. Here, in the most dangerous place in the world, filled with the most disagreeable people in the world, he's managed to get them to work together and build a spaceport," his eyes seemed to glaze over, Valentina recognized a cast to them she'd first seen years ago, on the baking hot concrete of the Kerbal Space Center at high noon, "a tiny enclave of his vision for all Kermanity: a place with no government, no borders, none of the things that divide people. And from there, to send his aspiration of hope to the planets, and beyond."

The intensity faded away, and Reginald returned to blotting and sweating, "of course, things are a bit different, now."

"How... do you mean?" Valentina asked, caution giving way to curiosity. 

He raised an eye... bulge... then dabbed at it, "well... perhaps you've not yet been corrupted," he leaned in conspiratorially, a silly thing since his voice only came through the intercom anyway, "I trust you are familiar with that... business on the Mün a few years back?"

She was. Too familiar.

He nodded, "it was the Board of Directors that pressured Mister Kerman into acceding to it. Insisted on a test of the habitation hardware in situ despite the years of data from the KSA space station, then further testing on Duna. Then they turned around and used the, ahem, incident... as a pretext to wrest control of the Company from him and force him into retirement. And then once KSA funding was diverted to the planned Duna mission, through some very impressive bureaucratic tomfoolery, the whole program simply faded away with the money and the half-finished hardware now in the Company's possession. So you see, the Board has advanced the program considerably, but the priorities have somewhat... mutated." Despite the sweltering heat, he shuddered. 

A thousand more questions stampeded across Valentina's mind. What she settled on was, "wait, what do you mean, I have not been 'corrupted?'"

Reginald tapped a finger to the side of his...  not-nose,  "in the beginning, we were pure. All working toward a common goal. Since the Board took over, too many have lost their way, pursuing all... sorts.... of..... mis...... gui....... ded........" he trailed off, eyes following some sort of building as it passed by below, then rising into panic. 

"Pilot! Why are we going this way?!" he nearly screamed.

"¿Que?" the pilot half-turned.

Reginald shook his head, and started yelling at the fellow in Andacamian. The pilot yelled back. By now, Valentina had picked up enough bits of other languages to guess which words had four letters, and both Kerbs seem to be using a lot of them. Finally, the pilot pointed emphatically to his knee board, then slapped his hand against it with a final word that sounded quite rude indeed. 

She didn't need to know the language to translate, I have my orders and this is my aircraft. If you don't like it, you can bloody well get out and walk.

Reginald sat back against his seat, face, pale as his clothes, eyes, like dinner plates, and muttered softly, "oh dear."

Someone seemed to pick up on it in the back. The grainy music in her headphones changed to an upbeat, thumping drumline, a gravelly voice singing about a fortunate son.

...and when the band plays, 'Hail to the Chief'
Ooh they point the cannon at you...

Through the glazed nose of the Converter, what looked like a very compact city suddenly appeared. Ragged, skeletal buildings rose into the sky like reaching corpse fingers. Valentina couldn't tell if they were half completed or half destroyed. Either way, the jungle was rapidly winning this war too, as spindly green vines wrapped around steel and concrete. 

They crossed the edge of the tree line out over the city proper. Here, she could see roads, kars, all the signs of civilization. All being slowly swallowed by foliage. Yet even here, there were signs of habitation. As they passed one towering relic, she saw smoke from a cookfire trailing up from a shattered wall. Hanging on a rusting beam were colorful curtains, or perhaps someone's laundry. And there, in that empty window, a muzzle flash—

Something went pink just above Valentina's head, opening a small hole in the plane's metal skin. 

And then many things happened all at once. 

Something else when pink just beside her. Then again and again. Holes surrounded by spiderwebbing cracks appeared one by one in the plexiglass nose. 

"¡Aye, caramba!" the pilot cried, jamming the wheel forward. Valentina was shoved upwards against her straps. The three Cerimans all went airborne, the two of them clinging to their guns firing off in staccato bursts that filled the cabin with noise, fire, and searing brass casings. And somewhere, somewhere, a terrified little girl was screaming at the top of her lungs. 

No. Wait. That was just Reginald. 

As Valentina stared at him, his eyes wide with sheer panic, the pilot pulled up, and his rolls of flubber gave a very disquieting demonstration of fluid mechanics as the various acceleration vectors rapidly changed. And still the guns rattled away, BAMBAMBAMBAMBAM!, the crew seemingly firing away at random. 

No... not random. Even in this chaos, Valentina could sense method to it. The Converter jinked one last time before pulling into a steep, arcing turn. Out the hatchway, now pointing at the ground, she saw one of the gunships roll in on the building where the shots came from. 


Tracers from its chain guns impacted the base of the tower, then a vicious fusillade of rockets tore from its wings, trailing smoke and sparks for an instant before they, too, slammed into the structure. Fire bloomed like an infernal flower, the dull, concussive thuds of the warheads reaching Valentina's ears despite the Converter's wail. Bits of burning debris cast their own corkscrewing trails of smoke tumbling through the air. 

The first gunship peeled away, and the second one rolled in, repeating the attack in a coordinated assault. She watched in horror as the building shuddered, listed, swayed... then then toppled in slow motion like a felled tree, trailing billowing clouds of black and brown and grey. It smashed into the tower across the street, tearing at its face, before disappearing into an enormous cloud of smoke and dust. At some point, the tape player had switched to the next track. 

War! Uh!
Good Kerm, y'all
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothin'!

For a moment, Valentina thought she might be sick. Then she saw Igor's face. A cast of grim resignation was slowly creeping over a complexion that looked decidedly green. Er. She quickly swung around to the pilot, not even knowing what she was yelling, pointing frantically at the rudder pedal. He looked at her, looked in his mirror, looked at Igor... and then much to his credit connected the dots very quickly and jammed his foot down with everything he had. The Converter yawed sideways into its own slipstream. 

"HЦЯК," said Igor, adding his own brand of biological warfare to the pandemonium down below in a long, stringy, slightly chunky technicolor stream carried safely away from the plane by the air flowing through it. Once sufficiently emptied, Igor gave a weak thumbs-up.

Finally, the pilot returned to straight and level flight. The gunships resumed their positions just off his wings. The two Cerimans did their little victory slap. The group left the smoking wreckage behind, heading out across the jungle again as a new track came through the speakers.

I fell in to a burning ring of fire,
I went down, down, down
And the flames went higher.
And it burns, burns, burns,
The ring of fire,
The ring of fire.

Except Valentina could barely hear it. Across from her, Reginald was still screaming. He barely paused to take a breath. His wild eyes had gone far beyond panic into hysteria while kicked and flailed against his straps. Valentina unfastened her own with a sigh, grabbed a stringer overhead and used it to pivot up and kick him squarely in the chin with both feet. His head rebounded off the panel behind, and the horrible noise finally ceased. She fell back into her own seat with a huff, pinching her eyes shut against the applause. 

"Was that really necessary?" she said, and looked back at Bill. 

He shrugged, "him no sarap, cray-cray prat, hims sho."

She glanced at Reginald, "no, not him. There were people in that building."

Bill shrugged again, "is ples nogut, no kam bek," he pointed to the unconscious Kerb across from her, "him save long. Him ken."

"But... why did they shoot at us in the first place?" she asked, trying to make sense of the other's words. 

"Ausaitas," he looked at Reginald, "bosbois. Dem kam. No ken bus, no ken Seri-mah'. Biktaun, trai wokim. Wokim nogut." He pointed out toward a gunship, "Valar Arctûctis. Dem kam," and spat.

"You do not like them," not a question. 

He spat again, "Tunglis no tru Seri-mah'! No laitin, dûm Seri-mah! Always is fait. Nebah pis," he tapped at his helmet, "nebah min."

"But... they are taking orders from..." she nodded to the jiggly white lump across from her. 

"Bikman, him kam. Him painim dip Seri-mah', weh noman go. Wokim pis. Wokim ples, no mo fait. Skulim laitinman. Dem," he gestured out the door, "him baim."

Valentina felt more confused than ever. Before she could ask anything else, Reginald groaned.

"Oh, my... what... what happened?" he looked around, "oh! I'm bleeding!"

She thought fast, "er... shrapnel!"


"Yes, um, you were hit in chin by shrapnel," she flashed a winning smile, "you took it like champ!"

"I... I did?" he winced as he felt his chin, then an odd little smile formed on his own face, "I... I shall have to fill out a Combat Injury Report..."

Strike while he's disoriented, "that settlement back there... what was it?"

"Hm? Oh, that," he grew a bit paler as his shuffled his handkerchief around and saw the blood on it, "some of our earliest forays into this part of the world were not always so... efficacious."

"How so?" she raised an eye... bulge.

"Early on there was a bit of... well, let's call it a language barrier. It seems that's nearly all of the trouble around here. Mister Kerman quickly discovered that Cerimans can actually be quite industrious... as long as they're not allowed to speak Ceriman."

Valentina winced against another set of pulsing beats in her ears, "regulations?"

Pleased to meet you!
(Woo! Woo!)
Hope you guess my name.
(Woo! Woo!)
But what's puzzling you
(Woo! Woo!)
Is the nature of my game
(Woo! Woo!)

"Quite so, quite so. But some Kerbs one just can't reach, so one get what we had back there. I don't like it, any more than you. We shouldn't've come this way." He leaned in again, holding the rag to his chin, "do try to understand, Mister Kerman has done great things here. You'll soon see. Please, just have some... sympathy," the odd little smile took on an odd little shadow. 

Valentina leaned her head back and rubbed at her eyes, "as you say. Are we there yet?"

"As a matter of fact, we are," the odd little smile bloomed into a wide grin.

She blinked at him with one eye, then looked out the nose... and gasped as the sunlight dimmed away. One last scratchy track played across her earphones.

We gotta get out of this place...
If it's the last thing we ever do!
We gotta get out of this place...

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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11 minutes ago, 0111narwhalz said:

@KSK, your influence grows.

I'm quite jealous of his convenient target for blasphemy. It flows much better than

War! Uh!

Good nonspecific omniscient metaphysical cosmic quasiconsciousness the author may or may not consider extrapolating upon once he acquires a pole of sufficient length y'all...

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1 hour ago, vsully said:

Ew, a tooth-monster. Is that a reference to Resident Evil? Also, were any of the songs references? If so, I missed them all :( References aside, great chapter, as always!

I'm guessing you're young enough to have no meaningful memory of the 20th century? :wink:

Looks like I'll have to put together that official unofficial soundtrack playlist I've been thinking of. :D

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20 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

I'm guessing you're young enough to have no meaningful memory of the 20th century? :wink:

Looks like I'll have to put together that official unofficial soundtrack playlist I've been thinking of. :D

Yeah, such a playlist would be a great thing! :)

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On January 21, 2017 at 2:40 PM, lodger said:

Yeah, such a playlist would be a great thing! :)


On January 21, 2017 at 2:19 PM, CatastrophicFailure said:

I'm guessing you're young enough to have no meaningful memory of the 20th century? 

And, unfortunately, yes :(

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