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


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I saved everything on my end just in case. Now I know that Shadows clocks in at about 56,000 words and Whispers currently 44,000. Definitely not thrilled about this new forum stuff but I'll give it time before ranting. But all my painstakingly crafted bogus Cyrillic ;.;

 

Should have another chapter up in a day or two. 

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Chapter 30: Zarya

 

Once again, Valentina found herself in a small, open-top ute trundling across the concrete towards the launch pad, her stomach unsettled in a distantly familiar way. The sodium floodlights cast the world in a sickly yellow pallor, and drowned out most of the stars overhead. Her EVA suit didn't fit well, it had been specially constructed for Dibella before EVA was removed from her flight plan, and Valentina was smaller still. The folds and bunches made her squirm restlessly in the unpadded seat as the ute bounced along. Or maybe it was her stomach after all.  

"You not have to do this," Igor said from behind the wheel, seeming to note her discomfort. He looked unusually unsettled as well, if not truly nervous, but that was impossible, not Igor. Except... Except it felt like she hadn't seen him in days, longer even. Was that true? Or was it just another effect of...

"Of course I do," Valentina said, still staring ahead at the rocket, then more softly, "I have to." Tercella hadn't argued the point when she'd returned. Moving about outside a spacecraft was difficult, but it could be learned. A pilot's eye, a pilot's feel... that could be honed, but not taught. Not in mere hours, at least. And of course, there were other concerns...

The ute squeaked to a halt at the base of the gantry tower. Technicians ran, truly ran, every which way, straining to accomplish in hours what was planned over days. Clouds of drifting fog and faint hissing lent an unearthly feel to the launchpad. With the setting of the sun and clearing skies, the temperature had plummeted, squeezing the moisture out of the air and coating nearly every surface in sparkling white frost. It was risky to launch like this, they all knew it, but for the moment, fear of risk had vanished along with the day's clouds. 

"You will come back," Igor said grimly as Valentina struggled from her seat. 

"I will," she said, and hoped she managed a smile. As she stepped from the seat, her motion abruptly stopped from an irresistible force around her arm. She turned to find Igor gripping it. 

"You must come back, or I must see Kommissar."

She managed a real smile this time, "and you do not like to see Kommissar."

"No one like to see Kommissar."

"Yes," Valentina said, looking up at the towering rocket bathed in ice and light, "yet it seems like no one ever does."

"Trust me, it is better than the alternative," Tercella said as she approached, carrying Valentina's helmet, "here, I have made some adjustments. You should not have the same problems I did."

"No, I will have all new ones," Valentina smirked as she took it. Tercella just frowned at her. She turned the helmet over in her hands, it seemed far too large, but had gained a thick leather-covered pad at the back and a switch that flicked on bright new lights. 

"Is a helmet that fits a female's head really too much to ask?" Tercella grunted, "it feels like being in a fish bowl. The pad should help. I do not know how well the lights will hold up in space, but they are worth a try. There is a double lock on the faceplate now, too."

Valentina opened her mouth to say something, but Tercella grabbed her arm and was nearly dragging her towards the gantry elevator, "come, time is short. Have you eaten?"

"Ah, a few hours--"

"Survival kit?"

"I think--"

"Flotation vests?"

"I am not sure where--"

"Checked your seals?"

"I am just as--"

"Space diaper?"

Valentina opened her mouth. 

Valentina closed her mouth. 

Tercella turned as the two reached the elevator, a wicked grin on her face. She took the helmet and gently set it on Valentina's collar, securing the latches, then went about checking the seals. 

"There are snacks in bin TK-421," the grin became a fragile smile, "the survival kit is overhead next to the hatch, and the floatation vest is under your seat."

Valentina smiled back, "DФ--"

"Фon't say it," Tercella held up a finger, "I will see you back here. Both of you. If you die, I will kill you."

"I was going to say 'don't worry, I will get us back.'"

The two looked at each other for a moment, then hugged. Awkwardly, due to the enormous space helmet. Valentina stepped into the elevator car, slid the gate shut, and waved as it ascended into the floodlights. 

Electric motors whined and fittings hissed as she was drawn up the flank of the rocket, its usually drab green skin now entirely white with frost and trailing tendrils of heavy mist. Strange forms shimmered and danced as it drifted by the floodlights. Upward she went, the lift seeming to take an very long time. This was the tallest rocket in the Union, probably in the world, but as the writhing shapes in the fog beckoned, Valentina wondered if it was just her nerves. 

Just nerves. That's all. 

"Comrade Kerbonaut!"

At last the elevator reached the top of its travel. A handful of technicians in white scrubs greeted Valentina, waited respectfully for her to step off the lift, then took her place and descended back into the fog. All except...

"Comrade Kerbonaut."

The timid technician was standing nervously next to the open hatch of Zarya.

"I... was not expecting to see you up here," Valentina said, somewhat confused.

"I'll be finishing your briefing," he gestured awkwardly towards the waiting hatch, "emphasis on the 'brief' part."

Valentina thought his smile looked a bit forced. She approached and slipped into the conical capsule and down into the left seat with relative ease, despite the bulky, ill-fitting space suit. She took a moment look the interior over, and pause for breath. 

Nearly every surface of the forward section was covered in switches, knobs, or dials. Several of which were missing. Her old, ironically named Orbiter had seemed rather spacious in comparison, being little more than an empty sphere with a few boxes. This... this was not exactly cramped, but full. There was space to move around up front, but only enough, the rest filled with equipment and more switches. She knew what they were for. Well, most of them. Probably. But laying here on her back, it was all just a bit...

"Overwhelming?" Timid stuck his head in the wide hatch. 

"Er, yes..," Valentina said cautiously, "hours in that mockup... and I do not feel like I have retained a thing, now."

"Um... It'll click, I'm sure..." He tried to smile again, then pointed wildly, "a few things are different, too. This is over here, that's there, this thing got moved down here, and those are over there

Valentina tried to follow his motions, shifted around in her seat to look towards the back of the capsule. Here, there was a small, square vestibule, just enough for two Kerbals to stretch out in. The sides were lined with dozens of marked bins and more equipment, and of course, at the very back...

"What about this?" Valentina said, eyeing the other Kerbal, "is it... safe?" 

She was pointing to the large, round hatch at the back of the capsule. The hatch... the hole... in the heat shield. 

"Um, well, that's one thing this flight was meant to verify," he said sheepishly, "but don't worry, all the suborbital tests worked. It'll weld its self shut on reentry. Probably. But don't try to open it in flight, the crew tunnel back there is just a placeholder, and the pressure differential would..."

Valentina stared at him flatly. 

Timid chuckled, and began nervously scratching at the back of his head, "y'know, it's kind of funny, the Foreigners got wind of it, some photos of the mock up got leaked, but they never could figure it out. Or the docking port at the back. That's not installed either."

Valentina continued to stare. He didn't seem to notice. 

"Someone decided to mess with them," he chortled again, "fed them some false info. They...snicker... they spent days chasing an imaginary undetectable submarine all over the Southern Ocean, and..."

Valentina stared.

Timid scratched at his head again, "...and I probably shouldn't have told you that."

She just rolled her eyes and shuffled around in the seat again, "what else do I need to know?"

"Er, um, okay," he shuffled through a pocketful of notes, "now, there's no life support equipment in the service module. You'll be on the return capsule's reentry reserves the whole time. That, and the chest packs. Should be enough but you'll be cutting it close. As soon as Dibella's on board you'll need to start the landing sequence."

Valentina huffed, "right. This, I know."

"Well, uh, pretty much everyone in the world with a short wave and binoculars will be watching out for you. Most of them are friendly. But, um, if you end up in a bad place like Cerima..." Valentina craned back to look at him, "there's explosives and instructions in bin TK-420. But try not to mix them up with the snacks in the next bin, they taste about the same, also--"

"Wait, how do you know that?!"

"Er, don't ask," that sheepish grin again.

Valentina sat back, and let her eyes wander over the panels as Timid droned on about things that had already been explained. Irritation was creeping into her mind again. The voice was still there, but she'd been so busy these last hours she'd barely heard it. It would be a long flight, alone with her thoughts. Still... she was beginning to find a certain comfort with the "just right" space of the craft. It was familiar, like the cockpit of an airplane. She couldn't remember the last time she'd been--

Wait, what?

"Hey," Valentina broke into the other Kerbal's stream, "what is this?" She pointed to a mostly rectangular metal box low on the panel between the seats. Black and yellow hash marks adorned one side, an odd little antenna stuck up from the top, and on the other side were two large, round lights, one green, and one red. Had it been there a minute ago?

"Oh, um, that's it."

"It?"

"It. It's so secret we're not even allowed to talk about it..."

Valentina glared at him. 

"Er, well, I suppose you fall under 'need to know,' now. That's the Mechanical Inertia, Velocity, Attitude, and Navigation package."

She looked at the box again, "an autopilot?"

"Partially. More of an all-purpose flight computer. It can help you with the rendezvous calculations. There's a hexadecimal keypad over there, and the manual is in bin OU-812."

With great difficulty due to his awkward position hanging into the hatchway, and distinct lack of such, Timid puffed out his narrow chest, "we call it IVAN."

"Ivan." Valentina said flatly, "You certainly seem to know a lot about this ship for a control technician."

"Uh, well, yes... I kind of designed it... mostly...

"You?!"

"Bit of a long story, you see, my-- No, I probably shouldn't tell you that either. Time is getting short."

He ran his hand along an interior panel with obvious affection, "don't worry, she's a good ship, she'll get you back," then yelped and stuck his finger in his mouth.

"Just a little rough around the edges," he said around his finger. 

"If you say so," Valentina said. 

Timid looked back at her with surprising intensity, "this is the ship we could have--" he winced, "should have had all along."

Valentina opened her mouth, but a flash of static from the radio interrupted. Timid looked at his watch, and yelped again. 

"Ack, time to get buttoned up, pad needs to be cleared," he said quickly, "I'll let you close the hatch from inside, it's a little different than the mockup."

"Wait! I, ah... I never did catch your name..."

"Me? Er, um, Sergei..."

Now it was Valentina's turn to wince.

"...Kermanev."

Her eyes widened.

Sergei looked slightly abashed, "Director Kermanev was my uncle. I'm named for him."

"Sergei, then..." Valentina managed a smile, "I have not had a chance to thank you. For speaking out for Dibella."

Sergei truly blushed, "d-don't thank me just yet. There's still a lot to be done and--"

The radio hissed again. 

"Y-you'd better check in, less than an hour, now. Um... udachi, comrade." And with that he was gone. 

Valentina frowned, pulled out a checklist, and plugged in her microphone. 

"Oh, one more thing!"

And banged her head into the console. 

"Keep an eye on the primary buffer panel, it likes to work its self loose."

"The wh--?"

And with that, he was gone. 

Valentina grunted in annoyance, and keyed the mic.  

"Comm check, this is..." she scanned over the checklist, "Kokos..?" Really? Engineers. Pfft.

"Kokos, there you are!" Came Tercella's slightly distorted voice, "we were beginning to get nervous."

Nerves, again. 

"Uh, just getting settled in."

Valentina sighed, shifted around, and eyed the hatch. She grabbed the latch handle, pulled down... and to her surprise, the hatch slid down, smooth and silent. Pneumatic dampers slowed its motion until it just clicked into the rear catch. She pushed forward on the handle, and the front of the hatch popped down onto its seal, again with just enough force. She set the lock, gave it a tug, and found it not to move at all. The precision of the whole affair gave her an odd sort of relief. 

"Hatch secured."

"Copy, Kokos. Take your time getting strapped in, not much for you to do until you reach orbit. Everything is automated."

"Understood," Valentina said flatly. Bah, canned meat again. Her eyes drifted down to the glowing red light on the odd little box again. She had the unsettling impression it was... staring at her. 

ЬЯЗZHЙЭV on these PЦTIЙ nerves!

She looked up again. There, at the front of the capsule, was the thing's most redeeming feature. The window. That big, beautiful, glorious, highly-reflective window. Of course... lit from within as it was, she saw only darkness in it. Darkness, and her own face. 

Valentina Kerman settled in to what would surely be a long wait. A long wait, with a litany of things not to think about. It was maddening. Nothing to do now but sit back, await the final countdown, and--

PЦTIЙ!

STДLIЙ!

GФЯЪДCHЗV!

ЬЯЗZHЙЭV on these Foreigners and their wretchedly catchy music! 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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Ahh, man that was a good chapter. You got the 'prototype spacecraft' feel just right, although I hope it all goes better than Soyuz 1...I chuckled at IVAN too - a surprisingly unforced acronym! 

One question - is there a broken radio in bin TK421? :)

Edited by KSK
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Chapter 31: A Prelude to Silence

 

"Auto-sequence start..."

The light on the little metallic box changed from red to green, and the capsule shook as the eight engines far below burst into life. The darkness in the window was instantly replaced by a light so brilliant Valentina had to shade her eyes. 

"Eight at one hundred."

"Tree..."

"Dva..."

"Odéen..."

She quickly put her head against the thick, leather-covered pad, crossed her arms over her chest, shut her eyes and braced for the bone-jarring--

"Liftoff!"

What?

Valentina's eyes shot open. 

Something's gone wrong! The engines must have--

"Kokos, you have cleared the tower, yaw program running."

Her eyes flew over the instruments. Everything was... perfectly normal? There was no explosion of sound, no crush of acceleration. There was barely any sensation of movement at all, only a light push and gentle rocking. Even the rumble of the engines sounded distant and indistinct. The light in the windows faded away as the rocket climbed beyond the gantry. 

"Yaw complete. Roll, pitch program."

Valentina's eyes wandered to the mechanical IVAN. Numbers and flight data scrolled on a small CRT nearby. There was no lockout on the flight controls. She eyed them reproachfully. There was no need. It had been explained to her in explicit detail all the awful things that would happen if she did touch the flight controls during launch. 

Canned meat again. Humph. 

Her crossed arms became folded in annoyance. For a moment she considered crossing her legs, too, but the acceleration was finally starting to build. 

"Kokos, control."

Valentina blinked, "go ahead control...?"

"Be advised, confidence is high, if you keep pouting like that a little birdie will come along and poop on your lip."

Her mouth fell open. She searched the panels and... there! The O of her face became a scowl. The IVAN box, the lights on it. It really was staring at her!

Valentina stuck her tongue out at it. 

"Copy that, Kokos. Telemetry now indicates if you keep making that face it will freeze that way."

She recrossed her arms. Canned meat again and she had to deal with this. For a moment, here eyes flicked to the space on the panel marked ABORT. It was nothing but a blank panel, of course. Like so many other things, the abort motors were inert ballast. So Valentina went on grumbling about being nothing more than ballast herself. 

Her fears for Dibella, her anxieties about this impossible rescue... they were sealed deep in the back of her mind. She knew if she gave them breath for even an instant, now, they would consume her. So she went on fretting about trivialities, letting distraction flow and her thoughts wander as the acceleration edged into discomfort. 

"Two, four, confirm shutdown. Pressure is good."

The capsule lurched and her stomach knotted. The force crushing Valentina down into her seat abated as two engines shut off on schedule. IVAN went on cycling through its numbers. In her window, still only darkness. 

Darkness. 

Oddly, the voice seemed somehow distant, diminished. Valentina began to feel a strange sense of clarity as she climbed higher into the black sky. How long since she'd been here? She couldn't say anymore. Back then, she'd been full of dreams and aspirations, and some slim hope that the world might make sense again. 

The rocket thundered ever onward. The world hadn't made sense in a very, very long time, Valentina knew. Not since the day she had awoken and her deda had not. She'd soldiered on for a time afterwords, alone in their small cabin. A year? Two? It was getting fuzzy now. He had taught her well, she knew how to live in, and from, the taiga. 

One of the villagers probably turned her in. They feared the taiga-dwellers, mistrusted them. Even thought they were aligned with darkness or evil spirits. Yet they would still trade coin for a decent pelt. One day when she came to trade, the men were waiting for her, and the last of her old life dropped away. 

"Coming up on staging... MECO in tree... dva... odéen..."

For an instant, Valentina was shoved forward in her harness, then slammed back into her seat as the separation motors pushed the stages apart. Four loud, simultaneous bangs, and the inert abort motors fell away, the upper stage now continuing on its single sustainer engine with glassy smoothness. 

Stages, yes. It just wouldn't do for one so young to be alone, that's what they'd told her. Especially one with her... history. Valentina stared, unseeing, into the darkness in the window. Flashes of a memory blinked in her mind. 

...have to go now...

...never should have...

...searching house-to-house...

But again, the more she stretched for it, the more it drifted away. Whatever they had done, it must have been unspeakable. So the truancy apparatchik had given her a simple choice: join the factories, and disappear; or join the martial service, and serve the Imperium. Serve, and atone. 

To Valentina's continued surprise, she had tested into the Air Force, and surprise beyond that, into the test pilot corps. As her mind drifted and the rocket accelerated, she finally made the connection. That horrible feeling in the mission control room, when the world had crumbled away and she hung helpless on the precipice... she recognized it. 

She recognized it from a day long ago, face down in half-frozen mud, no food or sleep for three days, crawling beneath barbed wire, explosions all around, and a spiteful-eyed drill officer firing his revolver into that mud inches from her face. Everyone in the martials slogged through the same basic training. The brave, the fierce, the powerful, the smart, everyone. It was said they must break you; shatter you and grind you down, burn away the unwanted like ore in the furnace. Destroy you, and forge something new. Something of their will. 

The darkness wanted a tool. And a tool has a purpose. 

"Coming up on SECO, now. Standby Kokos."

"Copy, control."

"Shut down in tree... dva... odéen... mark!"

The distant rumble and push of acceleration quickly died away, then a series of lights flashed across the panels. 

"Shut down complete, venting chambers... clear. Telemetry nominal, stand by for spacecraft separation."

"Copy control, ready."

"Sequence, ready and... mark."

A muffled bang, joined by four smaller ones shook the capsule. Light flared in the windows as the discarded rocket stage backed away with its separation motors, then sound died away to the soft hum of air handlers and instrument gyros. 

Tentatively, Valentina opened her faceplate with a whisper of air. Her stomach twisted uncomfortably at this odd new sensation, now that she finally had time to appreciate it. She turned the buckle on her harness, and the belts sprung out and bounced in strange ways. Oblivious to the world, she drifted from the seat and pressed her face close to the window. 

Below, or really above from her current perspective, the lights of Bylia and Gytep spread out like jewels on the felt of the globe. Zarya drifted along the borderline, the web of illuminated roads twisting chaotically as they followed the unseen contours of the land. Then the lights disappeared beneath clouds, and the ship passed high over a storm raging in the Yaltik Sea. Sporadic flashes of lighting lit the clouds from above and below, the arcs stretching out and rebounding like the neurons firing in her mind. And further beyond, a thin rainbow line of airglow marked the distant curve of the horizon. 

But Valentina Kerman saw none of this. 

As the craft slowly tumbled, her eyes remained fixed on the stars, exploding forth in their billions upon billions. So many, so many she could never count them all, with a vibrancy and depth that shamed even the clearest night back home, sitting on the roof of her cabin in the cold. The disc of the galaxy was painted in light across the reach of space, stars proceeding from it like any army. For a moment, a wordless, unformed thought drifted in Valentina's mind, of fortresses and armies and desperate last stands. But no, that was for another. This, now, was hers alone, a knowledge that no night was never truly dark.

"I finally made it, Deda," she whispered. 

A flash of noise in the headset brought her back to the world. 

"Kerbin to Valentina, come in, Valentina..."

"Huh? What? Yes, I am here."

"We know. We have been staring at your knee for the last ten minutes."

Ten minutes?! Valentina tried fruitlessly to stammer something. 

"Relax, Kokos," Tercella sounded bemused, "thirty minutes still to your first maneuver. You will need to calculate a phasing burn at apokee, then we need a thruster control check."

"Copy," Valentina said with a hint of a sigh. She settled back into her seat and hooked the toes of her boots under straps on the pedals. Her hand reached for the IVAN keypad, then froze. 

The voice. It was... gone. 

Not merely distant, but gone. Her head was clear for the first time in a long time. 

Any further thought on the matter was cut off, however, as Valentina noticed the writing etched into the keypad housing. It was subtle, difficult to see if she wasn't looking at just the right angle. Along the top edge of the panel was a complex, dense script she thought might be Gytepi, but along the bottom were familiar Kerillic letters, giving her the distinct impression they said the same thing. 

Mech.IVAN rev. 202
A product of Wutani-Kokuni, LTD

That was... odd. With all the secrecy, Valentina had assumed the strange little box was a product of the research department. But, with all the Foreign goods flowing into the Union, who could tell anymore? Bah, that was a thought for another time. She flipped through the paperwork, entered the nonsensical hexadecimal string into the keypad, then hit the 'INPUT' button. The tiny CRT on the panel flickered and changed:

HOHMANN TRANSFER TO TARGET
RECALCULATING. . . .DONE
MANEUVER NODE IN M+33:42
END OF LINE

Valentina frowned. That sounded right... sort of. The thruster check should make more sense. With only a moment's pause to think, she threw the relevant switches on the panels, and finally set her gloved hands on controls. A side stick was to her left, controlling pitch and yaw. The pedals below the panel controlled roll, and a thick, stubby knob to her right controlled translation. Hesitantly, she moved the stick, and a flash of light in the window and sound like a muffled gunshot announced the RCS thrusters were working. She spent a few moments moving the ship about, finding she adjusted naturally to the slightly odd control arrangement. It responded crisply and precisely to her commands, with no hint of overshoot, again reminding her of a well-designed aircraft.

As Valentina watched the sparkling lights of Kerbin's cities shift around in the window before her, she found to her dismay that she was happy. Despite everything that had happened, everything that was yet to come, despite knowing that her friend was up here, somewhere, alone and clinging to life, Valentina was happy

And it dug into her heart like a knife. 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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On 8/25/2015, 9:32:34, CatastrophicFailure said:

"I almost didn't," she said with a touch of irritation, "if I hadn't got past the control lockout--"

"Hah-haah!" The Director clapped his hands and shook a finger at her with a smile, "I knew you would figure it out!" Valentina blinked, then took a long quaff of kvass.

"The Kommissar insisted that there be a code, but he didn't say it had to be a good one! So I picked something simple, easily guessed. The same one I use on my luggage, and-- my dear, are you quite all right?"

Valentina was gagging and choking on inhaled kvass.

That bit.

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This thread has over a hundred thousand views. If I remember correctly, the forum only counts new views when a totally new person clicks on the thread.

So, even if only half of those people ever read it, you have more readers than many professional authors.

Congratulations, man. (Seriously, have you written any novels? If you haven't, you should.)

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4 hours ago, Vaporo said:

This thread has over a hundred thousand views. If I remember correctly, the forum only counts new views when a totally new person clicks on the thread.

So, even if only half of those people ever read it, you have more readers than many professional authors.

Congratulations, man. (Seriously, have you written any novels? If you haven't, you should.)

Thank you for the kind words, tho I do believe you're missing a digit there :wink:. The old forum counted every "reload" view, this one doesn't seem to be counting ANY, so I dunno. It continues to amaze me that I've kept at this, usually my problem is I have grandiose ideas but never finish anything. Then I look at KSK's awesome work and I'm not sure whether to be inspired or challenged. :sticktongue: I think I am rapidly approaching novel length, at least.

Should have the next installment up middle of the week again:

Spoiler

Don't click unless you really wanna know

Spoiler

Can't be unseen

Spoiler

Maybe you should wait...

Spoiler

Last chance...

Spoiler

Next chapter will be a cliffhanger :mad:

 

 

 

 

 

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Chapter 32: Hunting

MATCH VELOCITIES WITH TARGET
EXECUTING NODE...25%...50%...75%...DONE
SEQUENCE COMPLETE
END OF LINE

The gentle push of the maneuvering engines died away. Valentina scanned over the instruments, then went through the shutdown procedure.

"Last maneuver complete, control. Engines safed."

"Copy, Kokos. We read you in position. Not a moment too soon, either. Her battery voltage is dropping off and we are starting to loose telemetry channels, even with every dish in the KSA pointed that way."

"Understood. How do you read my position?"

"Gednalna radar range marks you about seven kilometers from the target, maybe 10 degrees off your Z-minus axis. That is the best we can do, I am afraid. The resolution just is not high enough."

"Copy," Valentina stretched a kink in her neck. The approach radar for the docking system wasn't installed, of course. She would have to make the final approach entirely by eye. Even the best IVAN could figure was only relative speed and distance based on radio signals. Tightening her grip on the controls as the sun rose over the horizon, she pointed Zarya's nose down... and saw nothing but Kerbin passing sedately below. 

"No joy, control... I am not seeing the target anywhere, can you recheck position?"

"Standby Kokos... they are saying position is unchanged, deviation still within error scope."

Valentina grunted to herself, "understood. I will have a look around." She pivoted the spacecraft in long, slow arcs, her eyes straining for any sign of the other. She glanced at the tiny screen. 6.8 kilometers, moving away slowly. But where? There was no sign along the Z-minus axis, 'below' her. She let Zarya's nose continue drifting, up towards the horizon, when a flash of light caught her eye. Valentina squinted against the the rising sun.

No... it couldn't be! That tiny speck? She could barely see it at all, and her eyes were far better than most. 

"Control? I think I have it, but... it is in front of me. Hardly a dot, can you verify range?"

"Range confirms, no other targets in vicinity. That must be it."

Valentina frowned, and re-entered the data into IVAN. She pointed Zarya at the node, fired a long burst of the translation thrusters, then nervously watched the display. For a moment the numbers flickered, the relative speed increasing, but... that can't be right...

"I think I may have a glitch, control. I am showing range is increasing. Can you verify?"

A long pause, and then, "that... checks out, Kokos. We are getting tracking data from Exast, now, too. We concur, range is increasing. Maybe check your input?"

The input string was correct, Valentina knew it was... yet... She grunted in frustration, repeated the entire process, thrusting again. The numbers kept going the wrong way. The speck in the distance began drifting away towards Kerbin.

"Control this... this isn't working. The... it is not making the right calculations. The target keeps moving away!"

"It is only as good as its programming. The engineers are checking the equations now. Terminal guidance like this is still theoretical. Standby one..."

"We do not have time to stand by, we are running out of time!" Valentina slammed a gloved fist into the console. Snarling, she pointed the nose again and fired. Her hand was trembling from its death-grip on the stick, the nose wandered and spasmed. 

This, is not the face of a hunter, Tinka. You have been taught better.

Valentina jumped. She held her hand up to her face, the trembling apparent even through the bulky glove. Her muscles ached, her tendons screamed. 

Yes, yes I have.

She thought back to a time, long ago now. Oskar Kerman had been possessed of that quiet ease that told everyone around him he was a pilot, without him having to open his ever-smiling mouth. He'd had a unique way of breaking his primary flight training students of the habit of clutching the yoke too hard. He would have them fly with a pencil tucked under their middle knuckle, the pressure it put upon their other fingers enough to dissuade them from squeezing too hard. Valentina had broken it. And the plastic pen. Bent the aluminum fuel line. It had taken a steel rod, the bruises not fading until after the cross-country flight when he had fallen asleep with his feet propped up on the dash. By then, he was that confident in her. 

You do not charge blindly at your prey, Tinka, you will spook it. You must circle around, behind...

Circles.

Valentina's eyes widened. 

It was all circles, everything was circles up here. She knew circles. She reached down and flicked a switch.

"Kokos, you've switched off your guidance computer, what is wrong?"

"Nothing, I am all right."

She focused on the minuscule dot in the distance, moving farther away every moment. It was a circle! To go forward, she had to go... backwards. With a featherlight touch on the controls, Valentina pointed the ship, and fired the thrusters. 

"Kokos what... what are you doing?"

She ignored the calls, focused on the fading mote lest she loose it against the glare of Kerbin far below. She slowed her breathing, let her hands move naturally, her eyes track the mark. This... this was hunting. 

And she was a hunter. 

Slowly, agonizingly slowly, the mote became a speck. The speck became a dot. The dot became a blob. And the blob, at long last, took the form of a tiny spacecraft, while the face of Kerbin passed beneath obliviously. Valentina deftly steered her own ship closer, closer still, her movements quickly becoming unconscious as she did. The precise, automatic motions of a hunter. 

Finally, she brought Zarya's nose in just under the other ship, the two making contact with a soft bong that resonated through the hull. In the window, Valentina could see the silent bursts of Oduvanchik's attitude thrusters correcting the slight upset. 

"Control... I'm in position."

"How... how did you do that? The lab coats down here are going nuts. That shouldn't be possible, you shouldn't be able to maneuver so quickly without radar."

In Zarya's window, Oduvanchik loomed ominously. Anxiety was quickly replacing the confidence of moments before. 

"They can debrief me later, we have work to do." 

 

 

 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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Chapter 33: Silence

"Er... yes, quite right. Not a moment too soon. Oxium levels are holding steady but the batteries are undervolting one by one, we keep loosing more telemetry channels. We will keep the remote attitude control online as long as we can."

"Understood. How... is she?" Valentina said as she began throwing switches. 

"Vital signs are weak but steady. We have not any direct communication since that channel was shut off some time ago."

Valentina's stomach twisted into a knot. She told herself it was just from the weightlessness. 

"Copy. Controls secure, beginning depressurization procedure. Awkwardly, she retrieved the mobile life support pack from behind her seat, clipped it to the front of her suit, and switched her umbilical lines to it, checking over all the settings twice. 

"Control, Kokos on mobile, how do you read?

Silence. 

"Control, Kokos on mobile, do you copy?"

Valentina's stomach clenched a little tighter. 

"Control, do you copy?"

What to do now? Continue the mission in the blind? No, that wouldn't work either, she would need control to--

Valentina took a slow breath, calm yourself. She fumbled for a moment in the thick glove, then pressed the MAN/TX switch on the chest pack. 

"Control, Kokos on mobile... do you read me?"

"We read you, Kokos, just a bit fuzzy. Is there a problem?"

"The vox mic does not seem to work without the cable. Will have to use the push-to-talk switch."

"Understood, that is ok, we can work with that. Best to me moving, though, you are going to run out of daylight soon."

"Copy that, ready to depressurize."

Valentina threw the last few switches, and waited. She was soon surrounded by the unnerving sensation of her space suit inflating as all sound died away. Silence. Silence like she had never imagined. She had experienced it before, of course, but now, left for a few moments to do nothing but experience it, it amplified the growing ball of uneasiness in her gut. 

Silence. Pure silence, broken only by her breath, now loud in her ears. 

"Sequence complete, I am going out."

Reaching awkwardly in the stiff suit, Valentina released the catch and the hatch slid smoothly open. She couldn't see over her head in the enormous helmet, had to work her way out of the hatch mostly by feel, but finally her dull white form appeared outside of the dark capsule. And as she looked around to get her bearings, her breath caught. 

There was Kerbin in all her beauty, casting a pale blue glow against the harsh sun, now low on the horizon. The two craft were drifting sedately across the eastern terminator, the place where day became night. Valentina was mesmerized by the unending conflict playing out below. 

The darkness, and the light. 

Here, shadows from mountains and clouds inexorably, unceasingly crept across the ground, casting the vivid colors of the day into subtle shades of pastels, before swallowing them completely. 

The darkness, and the light. 

Here, the day routed before the night, no valiant defiance, no desperate last stands, only unending flight. 

The darkness, and the light. 

Here, in this place of contrast, despite the voice being silent these past hours, Valentina still felt the pull. The hunger. The inevitability. 

Here, the darkness triumphed, and the light died. 

I am a thing of darkness, she resigned, it cannot be helped.

To her right, the sun sped toward the horizon, while to her left, the Mün rose, full and bloated, pallid like a corpse. And like the orbital night inching ever closer, the ball of anxiety in her stomach edged toward fear.

Valentina pulled herself out of the hatch, moving slowly, deliberately, trying not to upset her path as Tercella had described. The suit resisted her motions, stiff from the life-preserving air inside. She crawled along Zarya's surface using only her arms. Flailing her legs would not help, only make her overheat. She clipped and unclipped her tethers as she went along until finally she touched Oduvanchik's hull with a hesitant hand. 

"Control, Kokos, I am in position." Valentina switched her final tether and pulled herself onto Oduvanchik's  flank. 

"Copy that. Stand by, I am going to back Zarya away thirty meters. 

Translation thrusters fired silently in the void. Valentina's gut clamped down more at the eerie sight of her spacecraft moving away on its own. She tried to push the thought out of her head. The riskiest step in the mission lay just ahead. 

There was no... sane way to open Oduvanchik's  hatch. With no provision for EVA built into this Orbiter, the hatch was bolted securly shut with a dozen pyrotechnic bolts. There was no time to even consider removing them one by one, the hatch would have to be blown open. If Dibella's visor was not down, if her suit was not fully sealed, if an errant piece of debris in the cabin... 

Valentina's innards clenched, she tried to push the thoughts away. As the sun sank lower, it gave off a ghostly yellow hue. She pulled herself hand over hand towards the spherical descent capsule, her pulse loud in her ears, her breath like thunder. She came to the small window in the hatch, but could see only darkness inside. Someone had hand-painted a dandelion on it. Remembering the lights on her helmet, she switched them on, the beams cutting into the shadows. The window was rimed with ice on the other side, specks of frost, suspended in the air, glittered in the beams. 

Valentina could see the top of Dibella's helmet, but there was no motion within. Her arms floated limply, lifelessly. The tension in Valentina's gut now worked its way up her spine. 

"I see her. She is not moving. I am going to blow the hatch."

Retrieving a simple tool from a pouch, she swung down to the brightly painted arrow marked RESCUE on the side of the pod, pressed the tool against the catch, popping it open. She grabbed the lanyard inside, threaded her gloved hand through it, then slowly, agonizingly, worked her way back to the other end of the craft. Trying to catch her breath, she braced one hand against a ridiculous fin at the back, steadied herself, then gave the lanyard a mighty pull...

...pivoting over her other hand, tumbling over, and smacking roughly against the hull. She had to restrain a cry, but not out of pain. Again slowly, tortuously slowly, Valentina worked back to the far end of the ship. She pulled the cord and nearly tumbled over again. Mission Control was saying something, but she ignored it. Her vocal cords strained with every breath. 

Leverage... need leverage.

She fumbled, felt around, and finally stuck her boot into the worthless engine nozzle. Bracing again, expecting the worst, she pulled.

The blows came hard and fast from every direction. Light and dark flickered and flashed like a nightmare, Valentina flailed helplessly. For an instant, she had a close-up view of one of Oduvanchik's attitude thruster nozzles before it spat out white gas and sent her tumbling again, bouncing off her tether against the hull. Was she screaming? Crying? She couldn't tell anymore. 

Something found its way into her hand and she held on with everything she had left, finally stabilizing herself as the craft's own motion slowed. She paused, she had to, her breath ragged and choking. Static crackled in her ears.

"Negative copy, Control," Valentina panted, "say again."

Another burst of static. Raised voices. Anger.

"...need to tell her...!"

Fear, like needles, crept up her spine.

"Say again Control, did not copy."

"...needs to know...!" Voices, indistinct. 

Valentina looked back towards the hatchway, now gaping like an open wound. Far away, the sun dipped lower, painting the scene the color of blood. 

"Control... what do I need to know?" .

Silence.

"Control!" Her voice cracked.

"It is probably nothing..."

"What do I need to know?!" Uncertain.

"Just more telemetry dropping out, we--"

"What is it!?" Trembling.

"We..."

"What?!" Pleading.

"We... lost Dibella's vital signs."

And all the light went out of the world.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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