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


CatastrophicFailure
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Yeah, I'm kinda hoping that's just another battery gone undervolt. :(  On the other hand - if she is dead then respect to CatastrophicFailure. Killing off characters aint easy, or perhaps that's just me. Not to mention that it's going to be... interesting watching Val completely lose her PЦTIЙ.

Top marks for the orbital mechanics part though! Counterintuitive piloting, solved in a way that was completely true to the character and with a Star Wars reference snuck in there for good measure. :) That was fine writing indeed - well played!

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Chapter 34: The Darkness... and the Light

Deda?

Please wake up...

You have to wake up!

Please...

Do not leave me...

Valentina's heart pounded in her chest. Breath would only come in ragged gasps. 

No...

She pulled herself along toward the gaping hatch as fear constricted around her spine, dug into it like ice. 

Fear, bleak and certain. 

One of her helmet lights had been smashed in the chaos, the other flickered uncertainly. The darkness and the light continued their struggle before her as she clawed her way along. Reaching the breach, Valentina thrust herself inside, head first, her breath tight in her throat. 

But it was too late. 

Dibella's lifeless eyes stared back accusingly, glassy and vacant, one pupil blown. Her skin was pallid, gray; her mouth hung open, eyelids drooped. 

"No..." Valentina shook her, her head flopping back and forth, unresisting, "no, you cannot..."

No...!

The sobs came in great, ragged heaves, echoing in the tiny space of Valentina's helmet like the last dying wails of innocence. There was no anger here, no vengeance, only sorrow. Tears clung to her face before sloughing off to float around like tiny crystal globes. 

There were no words. There was no point. 

The cold metal tomb drifted through space that paid no mind to the anguish within, empty and indifferent. Valentina's remaining helmet lamp flickered one final, futile time, then darkness consumed her. 

What?

...only, it... wasn't dark.

Valentina blinked against the tears that clung stubbornly to her eyes, and gasped. The tiny space of the capsule was lit up like a galaxy. A thousand points of light danced, swirled, played across the walls. They swayed and cavorted, each one like a... like a memory, a memory of light. Even in this place of final darkness they glittered; frail and fragile, still they shone, they burned back against the darkness, and they denied it. By their tiny beacons, Valentina stared into that darkness, and found hope. 

Hope.

But where...? How...?

Her eyes flicked around the cramped cabin and... there.  Bolted to an experiment rack on the wall was a small, translucent capsule. She couldn't tell what was in it, whether it was liquid or solid, but whatever it was, it was glowing, the light refracted and scattered by her own tears floating about in her helmet. Not even daring to give the thought form, Valentina looked back to her friend and...

There.

She never could have seen it in the harsh glare of her helmet lamps. Inside of Dibella's faceplate, over her open mouth, was a tiny patch of fog that hesitantly waxed and waned. 

With a cry, suddenly fighting against hands that seemed slow and numb, Valentina pulled the hastily-machined adapter from a pocket, snapped it into place on her chest pack, then pulled Dibella's umbilicals from the panel socket and clipped them into it. Her ears popped as the pressure between the two suits equalized and for a moment her own life support struggled to keep up. Valentina waited, not even daring to breathe, the only sound the distant rush of air in the hoses. 

Time stretched out, Kerbin continued to drift by, unheeding, far below.

But it was not to be. Not in this place. Valentina sadly closed her eyes, her faceplate clicked against her friend's. No, this was not one of those saccharine Foreign films Dibella had taken to. There would be no last minute reprieve, no rescue, no miracle. 

There was only the dark, still, finality of the gr--

Dibella's thin chest heaved. Her limbs convulsed, her body spasmed. She took in air in long ragged gasps, coughing and shaking. Finally, her eyes fluttered, then focused. Valentina stared, still not quite believing. 

"Valentina?" Dibella said, her voice thin and reedy, carried across the abyss of vacuum by their touching faceplates.

"I knew you'd come," she closed her eyes as her breathing steadied, "...knew you'd come..."

The two friends floated there in the darkness, together, denying it. There were no words. There was no need. Together they breathed and cried and hugged each other's helmets. Which was awkward, because they were huge. 

At length, as the situation at hand started to creep back into Valentina's mind and the shared air in their suits stabilized, she began to notice... 

"Um... ЬЯЗZHИЭVS ЪДLD PДTЗ what the PЦTIЙ is that smell?!"

"Er... I think that's.. me," Dibella said sheepishly, "I haven't bathed in three days and this space food is a bit..."

Somewhere, distantly, was a sound disconcertingly like a rocket engine. 

"...unsettling."

In a tiny capsule floating in a void above an inconsequential world, the two laughed, until the sun peeked over the horizon and flash in Valentina's ear drew her attention.

"Valentina... Kokos... what is going on? What happened? Are you... Is--"

"She is all right!"

There were no words. There just were not. Valentina heard the cries of jubilation as Tercella simply held her mic open. In the coming days, a grainy, anonymous photograph would make its way to every news outlet in the world. Tercella Kerman holding her headset above her bowed head, surrounded by cheering controllers. 

"So, can we go home now?" Dibella managed a fragile smile, "I'm sick of space."

"," Valentina said emphatically, then clipped a tether to Dibella's suit, "you are not getting away from me again."

She struggled her way backwards out of the hatch, then assisted Dibella, being cautious of the other Kerbal's delicate suit, never intended for EVA. Dibella paused as she left the capsule, taking a moment to watch the face of Kerbin below, raising a hand and shading her unshielded face against the glare. 

"It really is beautiful, isn't it?" She said distantly, touching her helmet again to Valentina's, "I never thought I'd actually get to see it like this."

"It is," Valentina stared for a moment too. Nearing the western terminator, the two great powers had reversed roles. Now the darkness fled, and the light triumphed. The light, and the darkness. She suspected there was another profound revelation in there somewhere, but at the moment, Valentina was just too PЦTIЙIЙG tired for profound revelations. The darkness had been denied twice, now, and a price would have to be paid. She was more sure of that than ever. But not now. 

"Come," Valentina said, "we are not home just yet."

Then she reached down and keyed her mic, "control, do you copy? We are in position."

"Copy you... I am bringing Zarya in slowly... ugh this is not easy with just a camera..."

"What? Zarya?" Dibella carefully peeked around Valentina's helmet, "how... how did you get that?"

"I stole it."

The other Kerbal did a double-take, their two faceplates going click-click, "you... you stole a space ship?!"

Valentina grinned, "no, of course I did not steal it. Bit of a long story, I will fill you in later. But really, stealing a space ship? What sort of buffoon would come up with an idea like that?"
 
Dibella just glared at her for a moment, then her eyes widened and she began frantically pointing. Valentina spun around, slowly and awkwardly spun around, just in time to see the tip of the parachute at the end of Zarya's nose come to a halt only centimeters from her own faceplate. Close enough to see... 

Her eyes narrowed. "MADE IN GYTEP" was stamped on the casing in three different languages. 

Lately, it seems everything is made somewhere else, but she shook the thought away for another time. 

"Control... you nearly made a paste of me."

"Ah, sorry about that. Trying my best, I have had even less training than you."

"What? Tercella? You are flying it? But you are the CAPCOM..."

"Yes... apparently in a room full of rocket scientists I am the only one qualified to actually fly one."

Valentina put a a hand to her faceplate. Dibella gave her a quizzical look, not having heard the exchange. She shook her head and clipped a tether to a recessed ring on Zarya, then offered the other Kerbal a hand. Dibella took it, and again their faceplates clicked.

"One moment," Dibella said. She braced her arms, put a boot against her stricken Orbiter, then gave it a mighty shove... or as mighty as she could manage. 

"PЦTIЙ on you!"

The pair watched it slowly tumble away for a time, before finally retreating into Zarya. As she slid the hatch closed and switched on the cabin lights, Valentina could see the weariness in her friend's face. 

"You look you something Igor dragged in," she smirked as she slid her faceplate up.

"I feel like it," Dibella did likewise, "probably smell like it too. But I'm alive, thanks to you."

Valentina resisted the urge to wrinkle her n... face, "then let us go home." She entered the sequence into IVAN, anxiety nibbling at the back of her neck until the thrusters had finished their burn. She switched to the estimated landing display, checked the numbers, and... giggled.

"What?" Dibella raised an eye... bulge, "what is it?"

Valentina smirked back at her, "you are not going to believe this..."

Some time later, the capsule cleanly separated from its service module, as the tenuous upper atmosphere began to lick at the hull and glowing ionized gas danced around it. 

 

.   .   .


Ping.

"What was that?"

 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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2 hours ago, SpaceplaneAddict said:

Again with the oh-my-gosh-they-saved-each-other-but-now-they-might-die cliffhanger? Real great :)

Cliffhanger yes, but I saw a smirk from Valentina, so I think its not a 'fatal' cliffhanger just a funny one as to where they will be landing.

As someone who has recently watched Rocket Girls, I rekon I have a decent idea where this is going :)

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Chapter 35: Homecoming

Gradually, the red glow outside the windows died away, followed a short time later by the crush of deceleration. The stomach-turning feeling of weightless returned briefly until a pair of loud bangs signaled the successful deployment of the parachutes. Zarya was soon drifting sedately to the ground beneath them, her nose pointed halfway between the horizon and vertical. Valentina switched off a few more circuit breakers as the checklist specified, but mostly kept still and braced for the coming impact. 

When it finally came, it was accompanied by an awful crunching noise, the capsule tipped forward onto its flank, rolled back and forth for just a moment, then was still. 

"Crumple zones," Valentina said, "quite clever, really." Dibella managed a weak smile. 

A pair of more muted bangs announced that the parachutes had automatically cut to keep from dragging the capsule. Valentina shut down the final few systems before sliding the hatch open and exulting at the feel of fresh air on her face again. Still, that landing did seem a bit softer than she'd been expecting. 

She hopped up to sit on the lip of the hatchway, raising a hand against the glare of the low, late fall sun. And swallowed hard. IVAN may have its teething problems, but its landing calculator was certainly accurate. With nothing else to do for it, Valentina reached down and pulled Dibella up to sit on the edge as well. She felt as yielding as a sack of potatoes, a small one, but after taking in the scene for a moment herself, still managed a trembling wave. 

And, as they say in the Foreign lands, the crowd went wild. 

The sound washed over the two bewildered Kerbals like a wave. All through the throngs of people, tall ushankas, wide-brimmed caps, and one diminutive police officer went flying up into the air with patriotic fervor. Whoops and whistles resounded off the walls. The parachutes had wrapped themselves around a building, boldly displaying the Star of the Union several meters across. Those nearby busied themselves with cutting small swatches off as souvenirs. 

Valentina slid off the side of the capsule to the ground, and realized it had landed on... something. Whatever it had been, it was little more than kindling and ribbons now. She caught Dibella as she, too, slid off, then had to hold her upright as well with a hand around her waist. Valentina was just wondering what to actually do, now, when the crowd parted and a small convoy of utes and trucks rumbled into the scene. Tercella beat Igor this time, sprinting up to the other two, wrapping her arms around their necks and kissing them both on the cheek with a loud smacking sound.

"Do not (mwa!) ever (mwa!) do that again! We have to stop meeting like this!" She took up position opposite Dibella, helping to hold her up as Igor thudded forward. To Valentina's great surprise, Igor simply held out a hand like four thick sausages stuck in a hamhock. 

"Is well," he boomed with an odd little smile. Valentina shook the offered hand gingerly. From the gathering vehicles, personnel spread out across the area, keeping back curious onlookers and discussing how best to retrieve the capsule. A team of medics helped Dibella to a waiting ambulance and began triage. Out of this new crowd, Sergei Kermanev appeared, now wearing a white lab coat himself and looking quite concerned. 

"Valentina."

"Sergei."

"You... um, you lost the primary buffer panel..."

"I... the what?" Valentina looked back at the spacecraft. It looked about like she would expect a re-entered space capsule to look, charred and blackened, but nothing appeared to be missing, "...is that important?"

"Well, typically after that you would experience some slight turbulence, and then, explode."

Valentina's jaw fell open. Despite being somewhat shorter, she glowered at the white-clad Kerbal. 

He threw up his hands, "some of the tests were still inconclusive!"

She rolled her eyes and huffed, then her expression softened, "look, ...Sergei, none of this would have been possible if not for you..."

"Um, well... I uh... just did what anyone else would have done..." he scratched the back of his head nervously.

"Perhaps," Valentina offered a hand, "but I do not know how to ever thank you--"

"I do," Tercella suddenly stalked up to him. She grabbed Sergei's cheeks theatrically, then kissed him so hard his bulging eyes rolled back in his head and his toes curled. And on a Kerbal foot, that's quite a feat. He let out a slight whimper, and toppled over backwards with a thud. 

Tercella walked away looking quite proud of herself, "medic!"

Valentina was staring at the limp form on the ground, wondering if maybe she should help him up, when a dark shadow crept over it. Her eyes rose.

"Comrade Kerbonaut."

She snapped a quick salute, then began digging for her papers before she remembered she was still wearing a space suit. Oddly, the Political Officer just held up a hand, stepping over poor Sergei. He looked... out of sorts.

"It seems you have done it," he said slowly.

"It seems."

"And Comrade Dibella is well?"

"She well will be."

The two stared at each other for an uncomfortable moment in the chilly late fall air. The crowd continued to cheer.

"Out of all the places on Kerbin you could land," he said at length, "you land here."

"Yes," Valentina said, with an innocent little smile.

"In Crimson Square."

"Yes."

"In the middle of the Glorious Octember Revolution Commemoration Parade."

"Yes."

"But..." he nudged a piece of debris on the ground with the toe of his boot. It looked like a pointy wooden beard.

"...you have demolished the float of Great Comrade Kermin!" His voice actually cracked. 

"Y--" Valentina spun around and gawked at the pile of sticks and colorful ribbons beneath Zarya. Oh, so that's what that was. 

Oops. 

The Political Officer took his hat off, scratched his bushy hair with it, wiped an eye, then set it back on his head. 

"I shall have to modify my report," he sniffed. 

He stared at the mess a moment longer, and with a cough seemed to recover some of his usual presence, "but nevertheless, this is a great day! A glorious day!

Then he leaned in close to Valentina, and in an instant the predatory grin with far too many teeth was back. 

"But rest assured, Comrade... this will not soon be forgotten."

 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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13 hours ago, Findthepin1 said:

This is great. Oh btw, I caught the reference to Shadows in Chapter 34. :)

Given the nature of the story, you should catch a great many of those. As long as I'm doing it right :confused::confused::confused:

On December 16, 2015 at 10:36 AM, Shania_L said:

Nobody is dead 'till you bury the corpse ... even then horror movies happen.

Well, I was gonna have this whole "Space-Zombie Dibella" subarc, but then you had to go & spoil it <_<

 

I've been looking forward to writing this next upcoming chapter for a while now, so it may be a while to get it right... or it might all come out in a lump on a sleepless night. But it should be... memorable. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Chapter 36: In Union Assembled

Valentina Kerman stood before the tallest doors she had ever seen in her life. They seemed to go on and on, converging at a single point somewhere high above. The entire VAB could probably fit through these doors. But then, she knew what lay behind them, too. 

Flanking the massive wooden doors stood two pairs of very serious-looking guards with eyes that never lingered long in any one place. There were no gilded breastplates here, no ceremonial polearms. The rifles the guards held to their shoulders looked very, very functional. Three more stood at the back of the cavernous ante room. 

She had been hoping to avoid all this, or at least deal with it quietly. Hoping, but not expecting, even after being successful. Especially after being successful. The Imperium must have their spectacle, after all. 

A rather rotund Kerbal in a crisply-pressed blue uniform stood just to the side of the door shutter. Gold stars gleamed on his collar. The fruit salad on his suit breast must have weighed an entire kilo. He didn't seem to notice. He stood stiffly, his hands resting on the pommel of a short staff in front of him. His bored eyes regarded Valentina as he might an unfortunate stain on his uniform. One that was about to be laundered. 

Valentina's own uniform had had its first proper cleaning in some time as well: her metal insignia shone, every crease had been pressed just so, even the visor of her wide-brimmed hat had been polished. It probably wouldn't help at this point to made a good impression, but it couldn't hurt, either. At any rate, her sweat was rapidly undoing all the cleaning that had been done. 

"It is time," the rotund Kerbal thundered, seemingly without any sort of time piece. Valentina looked up again at the towering doors and swallowed hard. 

Dibella stepped up from the side, looking somber. She wore a formal yet simple dress, with long, elbow-length gloves to hide the bandages on her hands. Even so, she carefully adjusted Valentina's collar and gestured as she spoke. 

"Now, do not worry, you will be fine," her voice was comforting despite the inevitable, "just remember, chin up, shoulders back..."

Dibella's lips broadened in example, "and smile, she likes that."

Then she leaned in closer, "they hate it."

Dibella stepped back, and the stout Kerbal thumped his staff on the floor three times, echoing like thunder in the cavernous room. 

BOOM... BOOM... BOOM... 

With a clatter of latches, the enormous doors slowly swung open. Valentina squinted against the light beyond, and stepped forward...

...the assault began immediately. A charge of trumpets nearly sucked the breath from her chest. With a flourish of tympani and cymbals, the staccato fanfare swelled, bigger and brighter horns joining in, doubling upon its self and shifting up a key. Valentina found herself utterly frozen for the moment, dimly aware that her jaw was probably hanging open. This room... if it could even be called such... it didn't seem possible. 

Huge. Gigantic. Enormous. A thousand poets writing for a thousand years could not convey the grandeur of it. The village she traded at so many years ago would fit easily in a corner. The latticed glass ceiling above was so high she could barely see it, the distant walls looked kilometers apart, yet there was nothing, nothing interrupting the cavernous space. No columns or posts or buttresses. Every surface, every single one, from the marble floor to the gilded ironwork to the varnished woods, glimmered in the sunlight, polished like mirrors. 

And then, there were the people. Thousands, tens of thousands easily, standing on the expansive floor or in raised galleries around the periphery that gave them a view despite the distance. They stood, rigidly at attention, facing the wide center lane before Valentina, where a long, deep crimson rug covered the marble floor. The rug led to the center where...

Valentina's blood ran cold. 

A subtle cue in the music as a rising chorus of strings joined the fanfare of horns and trumpets now reaching a crescendo. 

Walk.

On legs that suddenly felt like jelly, Valentina stepped forward, just hoping she wouldn't stumble. Right as she did, with a final flourish the trumpets led the full orchestra into an ancient march. It was from a time far, far away, before the Ussari Union, before even the Empire. A time when the Ūs' had been little more than a tribe of vagabonds trying desperately just to stay alive as the former stability of the old Roamin' Empire collapsed around them, and merely surviving was an act of bravery. 

Valentina's step fell naturally into the beat of the march, or the music shifted to match hers. She couldn't quite tell. As she passed the first rows of dark green uniforms and stiffly held, wide-brimmed hats, they executed a crisp side-face in perfect unison, now facing forward. The thunder of their boots punctuated the score, row after row, never facing away from her. She passed by the deep greens of the Army, the dark blues of the Air Force, the crisp whites of the Navy. Every branch of the martials was represented, waves upon waves of them. 

Now, as Valentina moved on, the dress became more varied. The people here did not turn in drill formations, but stood rigidly and somberly, eyeing her with caution. The first droves wore proper yet humble suits. The small part of her mind that was not completely overwhelmed identified them as engineers and academics. As she moved past, the dress slowly became more grand and imposing. Here were the apparatchiks, the minor bureaucrats, the factory heads and committee leads. They gave way to the political officers, the kommissars, the middle managers. 

At the very head of the crowd was, of course, the finest attire. Exquisitely tailored suits of lavish foreign fabrics, long flowing dresses that seemed to change colors, and the occasional completely ridiculous set of gold-braided epaulets. The nobility had been officially abolished just after the Revolution, but these people had never noticed. Here was wealth so vast that who ran the nation at the time was mere formality. They looked at Valentina as one might a particularly unpleasant pest that was most certainly someone else's problem to deal with. 

The crowd ended now. An open expanse of marble floor led to a dais that must have been ten meters high, and above that... Valentina had been deliberately trying not to look up, afraid she would lose her nerve, but it was unavoidable any more. 

High above the rostrum, suspended god-like in seats of iron and stern wood, above everyone and everything, it was them. It was they. It was the Grand High Imperium of the Ussari Union. They looked down on all those gathered with eyes as cold and remorseless and the long Ussari winter. There was no hate there, hate would have been a feeling. The eight faces above were as feeling as stone: watching, measuring, judging all they perceived as tools to be used to their own ends, or impediments to be removed. And towering above even them, beyond the crystal ceiling of this palace behind the walls of its Fortress, loomed the stark, grey curve of the Dome of the Imperium.

Some part of Valentina's mind saw all this, cataloged it, saved it away for later. The part that had been honed by years in the taiga to be ever watchful, always aware of the dangers surrounding. Her conscious mind, however...

It saw only her.

The thundering march softened to a melody of strings as Valentina's foot stepped onto the first of the wide steps leading up the dais. By statute, her picture hung in every home in the Union, not a single person didn't know that face. And yet, it was a scarce few who ever truly saw her like this, so close. She wore a long, flowing white gown with ruffles and filigrees and other fancy... things Valentina couldn't name. Her long, pale hair was gathered into a single braid hung over her shoulder, and she wore a simple tiara on her head. Her face was serene and ageless, her eyes sad despite the patient smile on her lips. There was no trace of sweat on her smooth skin despite the warmth. She stood before the Winter Throne atop the dais, her hands folded demurely in front of her. Tall, so tall, and slender, seemingly born of grace and poise, she was... resplendent. Seeing her, Valentina could not help but smile. 

Her Imperial Majesty Alexandra II awaited.

Valentina stepped to the top of the dais, the music ending with a final flourish the instant her last foot was down. For a moment she just stood, unsure of what exactly to do. Should she say something? Bow? No, they'd been very specific about that. No one bows to the Empress anymore. Then the Empress stepped forward, her heels clicking softly on the marble floor. 

"Welcome," she said simply, quietly, with the slightest hint of a nod. Then she turned to face up at them in their high seats.

"May it please the Imperium," and she most certainly did bow, but did not seem to wait for a response before turning back and looking over the crowds of people. She looked slowly from one side of the expansive space to the other, the silence stretching out, then unfolded her hands and raised them slightly in greeting.

"Comrades. Esteemed dignit'ries. Honorede guests. Friends." The Empress spoke with the ancient nuances of the old dialect, her words clipped yet lilting, adding or dropping syllables seemingly at random, like a distillation of Dibella's own faint accent. She continued scanning the room as she spoke, as if wanting to include every single person in what was said. 

"We gather here, today, in this place of history ande monuments, to honor one," her gaze fell back upon Valentina, still standing stiffly at attention, "who is most worthy." Her slight little smile, it was enchanting... but there was something else, there, too. Valentina also realized with a shock the Empress appeared to be speaking with no electronic amplification, not even raising her voice. The acoustics in this hall must be that good. 

...right?

"By her actions ande devotion to her comrades, she has demonstr'ted the very pinnacle of what it is to be Ussari, to stande for our Glor'yous Union, and to ...serve our Great Advocate, the Grand High Imperium."

Valentina blinked. Did she really hear...? No, it must simply be the other's odd speech pattern. 

The Empress gestured to the side, every move she made deliberate and flowing. A page scurried up the dais, and held out a flat box of lacquered wood to her. She opened it gently, and took a scroll from inside. 

"I shalle now read the c'tation," she scanned across the audience again. Valentina was sure there was... something in her eyes. 

"Be it knowen," she read, "that on or about the Octeenth of Septober, in the twenty-first year of the rein of Her Imperial Majesty Alexandra the Second, one Valentina Kerman of Kerberia Oblast, Lieutenant, Crimson Air Force, did act with honor ande courage most befitting a Comrade of the Imperious Union of Ussari States."

Her voice was full and melodic as it carried through the expansive space, the strange little smile never quite leaving her lips, "on or about said day, Lieutenant Kerman did willingly, ande without hesitation, volunteer to take command of a dangerous mission, using untested equipment, against impossible odds, to rescue her Comrade, one Dibella Kermanov of the City of Kerman, who was marooned in deep space while engaged in the noble pursuit of its expl'ration."

Valentina could feel her cheeks flushing, but kept her face neutral. It hadn't been as grand as all that, she just did what anyone would have done. Right? She sensed the cold eyes above measuring her even as the Empress spoke. 

"...on or about said day, Lieutenant Kerman engaged in acts of physical ande mental prowess never before endured, accomplished that which was heretofore impossible, and at great personal risk returned both her Comrade and sensitive hardware safely back to Ussari soil."

Then the Empress looked to her with piercing blue eyes. There was measurement there, too, and shrewdness, but mostly... curiosity. And something else Valentina still couldn't quite place. 

"Valentina Kerman, in recognition of these acts ande others, for demonstr'ting a measure of devotion ande selflessness that all Comrades of our great Union should aspire to, ande for gallantry and courage above ande beyond the call of dyuty..."

Valentina swallowed hard. 

"...the Grand High Imperium of the Imperious Union of Ussari States hereby advances you to the rank of Major in the Glorious Crimson Air Force, ande names you, Hero of the Ussari Union."

A lightning fast wave of dizziness washed over Valentina, but she somehow managed not to sway. Behind her, she heard a murmur in the crowd. The Empress replaced the scroll in the box, and slowly lifted the gleaming medal, holding its ribbon strap wide. For a moment Valentina thought she might panic. She really felt she should bow or... or something. But the tall Empress deftly lifted the medal over her head with a practiced hand, laid the ribbon upon her shoulders, and tucked it under her collar. It felt quite heavy. 

Then the Empress stepped back, heels clicking softly, and regarded the audience. The murmuring began to build toward applause, but she half-raised a hand. 

"There is more," she said, the corners of the smile on her serene face ticking up a fraction higher. She nodded to the page, who swiftly drifted down the steps and returned with a much larger scroll, sealed with a daub of crimson wax. He handed it reverently to her. The Empress snapped the seal with her thumb and unrolled the scroll solemnly. Valentina's brow furrowed. In the Empress's eyes, was that a... mischievous twinkle?

"An Imperial Proclamation," the Empress cast her gaze across the crowd again, as murmurs grew to mutters, then read, "on this date, in Union assembled, in lawful accordance with the rights and privileges afforded under the Agreement; I, Alexandra the Second of the House of Kerman, pronounce the following Decree: in recognition of the actions of one Valentina Kerman, on or about the Octeenth of Septober; be it knowen: that land ande property in Kerberia Oblast lawf'lly seized under the Truancy Decree from one Pyotr Kerman upon his passing, are hereby restored,"

Valentina gasped.

Deda...

"Be it knowen, that derogatory records ande dockets in the matters of Vladimir and Elena Kerman are hereby expunged, and they are pronounced rehabilitated,"

Again Valentina had to struggle to remain upright. She felt like she'd been punched in the gut. This... this wasn't mentioned... Now the murmurs came from the high seats above as well. Why would--

"And you, Valentina Kerman," the Empress's winsome, considering eyes fixed on her once more. They seemed to have reached a conclusion, "for your devotion to your Comrades, and valiance in the face of danger, by my Imperial prerogative under the Agreement, I bestow upon your family name the following honorific, and name you henceforth, Valentina Kermanova." 

For a moment, Valentina felt like she was back in space. The world shifted and lurched, she felt weightless, and was sure she would have collapsed if the Empress had not suddenly... hugged her? The world shifted the other way. Yes, the Empress, the Empress, was hugging her! It was warm and wonderful and genuine. And just a bit awkward, what with all the ruffles. She smelled of lilacs and honey. 

Then the Empress whispered softly in Valentina's ear, "turn around and let the people see you, child, for you are worth seeing."

Valentina somehow found her footing as the Empress stepped back. Placing her toe behind her other ankle, terrified for a moment she would spin out of control and tumble down the steps, she made the most precise about-face of her life, stood rigidly to attention, and looked out over the spectacle for the first time. 

The rows of people seemed to go on forever, the orchestra pit to the side was, of course, immense, with fields of brass and stings and woodwinds. And one tympani player in an enormous spherical helmet. But more importantly, there, in the very front...

Dibella was practically beaming. Igor looked quite sharp in his dress uniform. Someone had managed to get Tercella into an actual dress, and by the way she was picking at it irritably, they probably wouldn't be doing anything else for a few weeks, at least until the casts came off. 

The Empress floated up beside Valentina, her voice louder and clearer than ever, "Comrades. Esteemed dignit'ries. Honorede guests. Friends. I present to you, Major Valentina Kermanova, Hero of the Ussari Union!"

The applause began reverent and mild, but any hope for decorum was soon lost when someone in the back among the martials yelled "WOOOOO!" and the entire gallery exploded into cheers. Whoops and hats and the same diminutive officer went flying up into the air, but he seemed to be enjoying himself a bit more this time. 

She had done it, she had finally done it. Recognition, respect, redemption. This is what she had set out for all those years ago in Kerberia... right?

Bah!

Enough with the thinking! That was for later, for now, Valentina would just enjoy this beautiful, perfect moment while it lasted. She could feel eight pairs of eyes boring into the back of her neck like fleshworms. She suspected she hadn't made any friends among them today, their spectacle had not gone as planned. There would be... repercussions. 

But for this one beautiful, perfect moment, Valentin Kermanova did not give a PЦTIЙ

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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Ahh man, that was a good chapter. The description of this vast enclosed space was spot on, I liked the way all the rank and file of Ussari society were mentioned, right up to the Empress (may she live forever) and I'm also guessing that the march was suitably Imperial, DД.? :)

And Tercella - Tercella never changes. There's a kerbal who very rarely gives any sort of a PЦTIЙ! I think of all the high points about this story it's the characters that really do it for me. Val, Igor, Tercella, Comrade Political Officer - they're all just really really vivid and well drawn. Likewise, Ussari herself in a strange sort of way. Not really a character, rarely mentioned directly but definitely comes across as a Soviet style state, albeit a slightly more relaxed, kerbalised one.

Great work all round.

 

 

 

 

Edited by KSK
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5 hours ago, billbobjebkirk said:

Hmm, the title of this chapter would fit right in with the tune of the Soviet national anthem...

EDIT:

duuuunnn

In union assembled, how glorious and mighty!

So noble and grand is our Imperium!

...

I'll work on the rest.

 

I greatly look forward to hearing this. Er, seeing it...

 

12 hours ago, KSK said:

Ahh man, that was a good chapter. The description of this vast enclosed space was spot on, I liked the way all the rank and file of Ussari society were mentioned, right up to the Empress (may she live forever) and I'm also guessing that the march was suitably Imperial, DД.? :)

And Tercella - Tercella never changes. There's a kerbal who very rarely gives any sort of a PЦTIЙ! I think of all the high points about this story it's the characters that really do it for me. Val, Igor, Tercella, Comrade Political Officer - they're all just really really vivid and well drawn. Likewise, Ussari herself in a strange sort of way. Not really a character, rarely mentioned directly but definitely comes across as a Soviet style state, albeit a slightly more relaxed, kerbalised one.

Great work all round.

 

 

 

 

Suitable for a throne room at the very least :wink:

 

Ussari herself is definitely taking on a life of her own, and continues to surprise me. I plan to throw in a proper history lesson eventually, seems there's a lot there. Y'all may know the professor, too...

 

in an interesting turn, I got a "reward" day at work today. That's their silly way of saying they're so overstaffed they're gonna pay me my ridiculous gummint salary to sit around all day & do nothing while some newbie goes out & does my work to get some actual experience. So my iThing™ battery is about dead but the next chapter will be going up as soon as I get home. :D

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Chapter 37: Sacrifice

Thick, yet broken clouds drifted slowly across the ground, cloaked in inky midnight. The Mün, pale and bloated like a corpse, occasionally peered through the gaps. Below the clouds, a nightmare stained the land. The twisted, blackened forms of dead trees, their limbs burned away, jutted from the ground at unnatural angles, like the fingers of the damned reaching up from the grave. Some weeks ago, a blazing rocket booster that had lofted Sergei Kermanski on his brief breach of the heavens had fallen here, and hell had followed with it. What was once a verdant forest became an inferno, the conflagration raging for days, burning away every trace of life on the surface, and far below.  

Already, the local farmers and miners shunned this forsaken place. In hushed words by the consoling glow of their cook-fires, they told stories of strange sounds and unearthly figures that haunted these skeletal woods. Do not go near, they said, or you will hear the voices of the accursed beckoning to you, and be bewitched. Do not go near, for that is a place where lost souls roam. 

One of them wandered through the spectral trees now, a dark voice indeed whispering in its ear. It had been given the name Valentina Kermanova. 

She had slipped away from the celebrations at the nearby Cosmodrome easily enough, once the obligatory analyzing of rocket fuel had begun. Despite the prevalence of the tradition in Ussari society, she'd never gained a taste for it. It clouded the mind and dulled the senses, and tonight... tonight she would need her head clear for... as long as it took. In her hand was a small, brown glass bottle of translucent blue pills. Darnitol™, 75mg. Sleep. Sleep, without dreams. 

The easy way out. 

The voice had returned as the lonesome capsule had descended through the clouds, harrying and offering. All through the pomp and circumstance, it had not ceased. Valentina realized this was not sustainable. After all that had happened, after all that had been lost, and gained, the voice had always been right about one thing. The price must be paid. There must be sacrifice. There must be blood. 

Valentina walked along before gnarled hulks that leered like demonic sentinels, a frigid wind chasing away puffs of soot cast up as her boots crunched along the baked ground. Something was wrong. Something was wrong about this place, far deeper than these tortured pillars. Something was... hungry. It watched. It stalked. It smacked its lips in anticipation. And yet, it waited. Valentina had hunted many things. Hunted, and been hunted. Something haunted the darkened halls of the Cosmodrome, the bustling streets of Kermangrad, the forbidden passageways of the Fortress. Something beyond the mere ambition of any Kerbal. Or even eight Kerbals. If it had all this before it, and still stayed its jaws, that could mean only one thing. 

It wanted more.

Valentina turned the bottle of pills over in her hand, oblivious to the cold air biting at her face, focused on her grim task. Presently she came to a clearing, where a lens of fetid, poisoned water had filled the crater left by the falling missile. Misshapen hunks of ice in eye-watering colors dotted its oily surface. The dead trees seems to gather round it like black-robed figures at an arcane rite. Valentina stepped to the edge, and saw her own twisted reflection staring back at her. 

She knew what must be done. There were two ways to stop a hungry predator, no more, no less. Kill it, or feed it. 

Sacrifice. 

Kermanova. She sighed.

-ova. It was an ancient honorific, from a dialect no longer spoken and a time long past. It meant the dauntless. Valentina gave a mirthless chortle at the horrid visage gazing up from the water.

If only they knew... she thought bitterly. 

It does not have to be like this, the voice coaxed in her mind, there is another way.

She cast a rueful glance up at the featureless sky. No. No, there is not. Director Kermanev. Sergei. Tercella. Dibella. How many did she not even know? How many more would be hurt? How many would be lost? It had to end. It had to end now.

This will not solve anything. You will make it worse. Even he warned you of this!

Deda... she squeezed her eyes against the sting. But it was too late, now. 

You do not comprehend the forces with which you meddle. 

That, too, no longer matters. 

Such a waste, such... potential.

"Who are you?" Valentina said to the wind, "who are you really?"

I have so many names...

"What are you?"

The voice of reason, in a world gone mad. Join us, and let your eyes be opened. It is not too late.

She did open her eyes, a single running down her cheek. Indeed, he had warned her.

Never make noise, do what you must to survive. And never, ever take sides.

I am sorry, Deda...

Overhead, the Mün broke through a rift in the clouds, and stared down on her like a blighted eye. With difficulty, she held its fell gaze. 

"Whoever you are, whatever you are, before I go, know this.."

She raised the bottle...

"...know that this night, you gain only a bitter enemy. I swear upon my family's name, I will be a scourge unto you. I will hunt you. I will find you. I will fight you."

...and squeezed until it exploded in her hand.

"And I. Will. Break. You."

The voice cried out, it recoiled, raced back from her mind as if wounded. 

You arrogant fool! You will loose your sanity!

Valentina Kermanova turned, and began walking back toward the Cosmodrome, letting glass and pills and blood... and the still unbroken seal... fall from her outstretched hand, as the first hesitant snowflakes of winter drifted down around her. 

"Come, and take it."

 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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State Anthem of the Ussari Union (What's the nation's full title?)

Instrumental: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5ZWzhhtlNE

 

 

Duuunnnnnnn

 

In union assembled, how glorious and mighty!

So noble and grand is our Imperium!

Created upon the people’s ideals!

Unshakeable faith in our heroic cause!

 

Chorus:

Sing to our glorious union! May she ever prosper!

Built on the shoulders of our workers strong!

Hail our majestic empress! Guardian of Ussari!

For the people’s vict’ry do we march on!

 

May her stunning scarlet standard

forever remind us of Kermin’s ideals!

A greater nation, for all of its peoples,

Built on the triumph of Octember!

 

Chorus

 

A prosperous nation, advanced and fair!

Envy of all others in the world!

Magnificent and wild, our vast frontier!

Full of riches for all to see!

 

Chorus

 

 

Edited by billbobjebkirk
Changed instrumental to longer version
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Two days in a row? You spoil us.

Also, I love the atmosphere your writing gives. I've dabbled in author-ing, but it's still a bit...distant, I feel.

Also also, billbobjebkirk, your signature lies. That looks like a poet's work to me.

Edited by 0111narwhalz
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31 minutes ago, 0111narwhalz said:

Also also, billbobjebkirk, your signature lies. That looks like a poet's work to me.

Heh, that's just a jab at my english teacher. I hate writing on someone else's terms. :P

Anyways, I'm trying to make a video with the flag and lyrics and such, but it's not cooperating. Maybe I should get a better piece of software than Movie Maker, but I'm stubborn.

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3 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

*snip*

Valentina Kermanova turned, and began walking back toward the Cosmodrome, letting glass and pills and blood... and the still unbroken seal... fall from her outstretched hand, as the first hesitant snowflakes of winter drifted down around her. 

"Come, and take it."

Or, as they say in Cerima:

:mad::sealed::confused::0.0::huh::huh:  - :huh::huh::mad:

And thems is fighting words!

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20 hours ago, Ten Key said:

That was really good. In addition to seconding all of the other compliments, I'd just like to say that your ability to weave humor into otherwise serious moments continues to impress. :)

I do sometimes wonder just how well that actually comes off, glad to know it continues to work.

18 hours ago, billbobjebkirk said:

State Anthem of the Ussari Union (What's the nation's full title?)

Instrumental: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5ZWzhhtlNE

 

 

Duuunnnnnnn

 

In union assembled, how glorious and mighty!

So noble and grand is our Imperium!

Created upon the people’s ideals!

Unshakeable faith in our heroic cause!

 

Chorus:

Sing to our glorious union! May she ever prosper!

Built on the shoulders of our workers strong!

Hail our majestic empress! Guardian of Ussari!

For the people’s vict’ry do we march on!

 

May her stunning scarlet standard

forever remind us of Kermin’s ideals!

A greater nation, for all of its peoples,

Built on the triumph of Octember!

 

Chorus

 

A prosperous nation, advanced and fair!

Envy of all others in the world!

Magnificent and wild, our vast frontier!

Full of riches for all to see!

 

Chorus

 

 

It appears I have been upstaged on my own thread, well done.:cool: I will have to usurp annex liberate this at some point. :D

17 hours ago, 0111narwhalz said:

Two days in a row? You spoil us.

Also, I love the atmosphere your writing gives. I've dabbled in author-ing, but it's still a bit...distant, I feel.

Also also, billbobjebkirk, your signature lies. That looks like a poet's work to me.

Keep at it, that's how you learn. Maybe consider a creative writing course. And, of course, read copiously. 

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