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


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Chapter 43: Stranger in a Strange Land

Valentina stood amidst a meandering, babbling throng of people, beneath a sweltering tropical sun, her hands clutching a half-empty water bottle to keep them from trembling. After many hours, the people seemed to have finally gotten their fill of her, and were now milling about aimlessly, pointing and staring at the various sights around the Space Center. 

A tremendous roar went up from the crowd as an aircraft thundered past overhead, its engines shaking the ground, a thin trail of white smoke following behind. It pulled up abruptly, pirouetting about its own axis several times before flying back the way it came, inverted. 

"Let's get a big round of applause for Kerbonaut Jorrigh Kerman demonstrating the Krünian-built Oskar EW-5894 Fleischgewehr advanced trainer!" An announcer echoed over the loudspeakers, "but keep your cameras out, folks, we've got a big surprise coming up for you in just a few minutes!"

The crowd obliged on both counts, Valentina just took a deep breath as another drop of sweat plopped into her left eye. How did these people live like this? Sure, people grumbled about the humid Ussari summers but that was nothing like this! She hadn't stopped sweating since she'd arrived, even with seemingly every building of any size having air conditioning. Which was also strange. And this sun... she could feel it searing her skin just standing here!

Still... it hadn't been all bad, so far. Saying her goodbyes to Igor and Junior Lieutenant Kerman had gone fairly smoothly, even if the good Junior Lieutenant had looked as if he was about to jump ship and claim asylum for a moment. But ultimately, he had decided that several hours trapped in a confined space with an aerophobic behemoth was less daunting than pledging allegiance to a fruit-filled confection. Hmm, she was going to have to ask someone about that bit, too. 

The speakers echoed once more, "ladies and gentlekerbs, Kerblings of all ages! The Kerbal Space Administration is proud to bring you the shining pinnacle of aviation! Please turn your eyes skyward and welcome Captain D.N. Kerman flying the Layland L-1011 spaceplane!"

A hush drew over the crowd. With everyone else, Valentina looked up, straining her keen eyes. Nothing to see but clouds and--

In an instant, something black and pointy flashed by silently overhead. The shockwave came a moment later, scattering anything not held tightly and nearly lifting Valentina clear off the ground.

"How 'bout that sonic boom!" The announcer gushed. Valentina was holding her head, wondering if she had permanent hearing damage now. Bizarrely, the rest of the crowd just seemed amused. The dark, vaguely triangular shape shot up into the sky at an incredible rate of speed, long bluish trails of fire spitting from its engines.

"This cutting edge design from the good folks at Layland Heavy Industries has already distinguished its self as the fastest aircraft ever made, and the first to fly into space and return in one piece. Mostly. Watch Captain D.N. as he makes a low pass over the water!"

Straining to see over the other people, Valentina raised up on the tips of her toes but could see nothing but necks and hair. Was this the new KSA spacecraft? That didn't seem likely, they weren't exactly being secretive about it.

"Lookit that rooster tail! The L-1011's afterburning propellium engines can send it to the edge of space and beyond on their own, but this bird is packing one extra punch over the L-1010 model!"

Again the sleek form raced upwards, then circled the Space Center and turned back for another pass over the crowd. Just as it flew over the launch pad, a tremendous explosion rocked the ground, Valentina could feel the heat from the blast on her face, then she saw the aircraft shoot skyward on a pillar of fire.

"It's all perfectly safe, folks, the L-1011's hypergolic rocket engine runs on fuels that are nearly harmless to Kerbals!"

Valentina put a hand to her face. These people really were quite mad. At least dinner last night had been... pleasant, if a bit awkward. It had been just her and the KSA Kerbonauts, the 'cargo,' as that obnoxious PЦTIЙSКI had put it. That gorgeous, dimpled PЦTIЙSКI. Being little more than cargo, that she could relate to. But there had been no mention of the incident, just pleasant conversation she'd only struggled a little to keep up with. 

Edmund had regaled them with thrilling tales of his time flying rescue missions for the Kleptogart Coast Guard. Jorrigh had spoken candidly about his own time in space, and once Valentina had begun comparing notes the exchange had quickly broken down into a bizarre hodgepodge of broken languages and emphatic hand gestures that amused everyone to no end. It had been an odd path from the deserts of Gerin to the Kerbal Space Center for Jerdous, as he had explained, and Burdous just spent most the time pouting, when he wasn't threatening people with a soup spoon, which was also odd. 

Speaking of soup, the meal had been quite pleasant, too. Some things had been familiar, some things not, but Valentina had eaten heartily. She hadn't the heart to tell the chef about the borscht, though, he had obviously tried very hard. But it just wasn't the same without beets. Finally, with a full belly and feeling quite optimistic, she had retired to a room that looked very much like her room back at the Cosmodrome, and slept the sleep of the utterly exhausted. 

And then today happened. 

Above, three aircraft shrieked by in tight formation while the announcer prattled on. 

Valentina was used to bureaucracy, the Union ran on it, but she had expected this place to be... different, somehow. Instead, it seemed like everyone needed her to sign something here! First was the immigration and customs paperwork, then nondisclosure agreements, safety wavers, and very formal diplomatic documents that used as many words as possible to say absolutely nothing. That was all well and good, but the people!

It had started last night, just the odd request here or there, but today with the crowds it had come in a torrential wave after the speeches and ceremonies. They were all very polite about it, of course, but it had been long hours of slow moving lines. Everyone wanted her to sign something, pictures of herself, mostly, but also books with lots of other signatures, a myriad of merchandise from something called a 'gift shop,' and one very odd fellow who wanted her to sign his--

Valentina shuddered, despite the baking sun. She'd been sure to wash her hands very thoroughly after that. And burnt the pen. 

Now, the flow seemed to have ebbed, and she found herself mostly alone and unnoticed among this jostling crowd of sweaty bodies. This whole 'open house' affair was really quite strange, its self. All these people just wandering around the Space Center with almost no supervision! The more sensitive places were simply roped off, and there didn't seem to be any crowd control squads at all, just ordinary police officers zipping about in their strange little VTOL's. And with the near-constant barrage of high-performance aircraft streaking by overhead, she thought the whole thing must be some sort of thinly veiled display of martial prowess. 

The doors to the familiar-looking VAB stood open, and Burdous's rocket inside, well... it just looked quite tiny in the massive building. Valentina had never had a good look at any of the Foreigners' rockets before today, all the film she had seen was grainy or blurry. Seeing it now, the same design that had launched Sir Kerman and poor Edmund... she thought it might be the ugliest thing she had ever seen. Not at all like the sleek, modern Ussari rockets. It almost looked like it had been cobbled together from junk one might find lying by the side of the road. And why would they need such a huge building to support it?

The KSA was also expanding, that's what someone had said. If the Kommissar wanted her to uncover information on a new and presumably larger spacecraft, it would presumably need a larger launcher as well, she supposed. But, from what else she'd heard, the KSA wasn't having much luck with that part at all. One thing they did seem to have no trouble with, was recruiting new Kerbonauts. The lower floors of their Kerbonaut Center had been practically crawling with young, slightly bewildered faces last night, while the top ones were nearly empty. It did seem like quite the production, but what could they be up to, being so far behind the Union in actual technology? In fact--

Something tugged on her pant leg. 

Valentina looked down into an enormous pair of bright, intense eyes. Hiding behind the eyes was a tiny face. 

"Aw you da thpathekerb?" Said the face.

"Um..." Valentina mumbled, trying to translate.

A tiny hand tugged on her pant leg again, "my bwudda's gonna be a thpathekerb."

She didn't have much experience with Kerblings, how was she supposed to respond again? "Well... isn't that..."

"'E gonna go up inna thpathe an bwing me back a Münwock."

The face nodded very solemnly, "'e pwomithed."

What was it one was supposed to do with children again? Give them candy or some such? The Kerblet seemed to be expecting some sort of response. Valentina was saved from any further contemplation of her complete lack of maternal instinct, however, as a voice rose over the din of the crowd.

"Anna? Anna?!"

The horde parted before her and a figure suddenly emerged, "Anastasia Kerman!"

In a single fluid motion, the figure, who sported a towering cylindrical hairdo and gaudy cat eye sunglasses nearly as wide as it was tall, swooped the little Kerbling up into her arms, "how many times have I told you not to go wandering off like that, you little dickens!" She tickled the little one's belly eliciting a happy squeal.

Valentina had thought it was perhaps a trick of perspective at first, but no, the child's eyes really were that large. She pointed a tiny finger at Valentina now.

"Thpathekerb, mummy!"

"Who? Oh. Oh! Oh!" The mother clapped the unoccupied hand to her cheek, "ohmigarsh it really is you! Oh my, oh my, such an honor miss Kermaniva!"

Kermaniva?

Valentina smiled warmly, and opened her mouth to reply, but the strange lady spun around and emitted a sound that could challenge a Converter in both volume and shrillness, "Herb? Herb?! Herb! Get over here! It's her!"

"Coming dumpling," came a weak, placating voice. The crowd parted again and another figure emerged. Only a moment ago, Valentina had thought this lady's voice was the only thing that could rival a Converter for loudness, but this fellow's shirt would have far exceeded that, the grotesque jumble of colors likely would have burned the eyes right out of her sockets had it not been mostly covered by enough camera equipment to survey a small planet. 

"Yes, pumpkin?" The owner of the unfortunate shirt said.

"Look, Herb, it's her, that Ooski spacekerb lady, get a picture!" She of the tall hair and hideous sunglasses pronounced in a slightly less shrill tone.

"Well Illbedarned, so it is!" He raised the monstrosity around his neck, which revealed its self to be but a single camera sprouting lenses and flashes like black plastic tentacles, "say cheeeeeeeeeesedoodles!"

The mother sidled up next to Valentina and held the child up between them.

"Cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesedoodles!"

Valentina was never quite sure exactly what happened next. She thought she might have witnessed the birth of a new star or perhaps a the death of an old one. The entire world disappeared into brilliant, blinding light in a cacophony of clicks and pops. As the light faded, afterimages of strange colors and shapes remained burned into her retinas as the bizarre family continued their exchange oblivious to her blind groping.

"Herb, have you seen the boys lately?"

"Gosh, Schnookums, no, not since Ed said they they were going to take that load of bags from the gift shop back to their room."

"Blah, all the way back to that Kerbonaut building? I 'spose we should we go find them, then, it's stickier than a RatSquirrelFish's tush out here, dontchaknow!"

"Right you are, Loviedumplins!"

"Come on sweetie, let's go find your big brother."

"Biwwy!"

The voices soon disappeared back into the greater bedlam, leaving Valentina to rub her aching eyes and contemplate her likely permanent blindness alone. Her eyesight returned in time, mostly, annoying electric floaters still persisting everywhere she looked. Somehow, she had blundered along to a large roped off area just in front of the VAB. A growing press behind her stalled any thought of going elsewhere, as the loudspeakers once again echoed to life.

"We'd like to thank all you folks for coming out here today to welcome our incoming class of Kerbonauts and to see all that the KSC has to offer. For our grand finale, please give a warm round of applause for world-famous daredevil Ebil Kerneival performing his signature stunt: skydiving without a parachute!"

Wait, what?!

The crowd sent up a tremendous cheer as high above a small plane droned into view. As Valentina watched, a small, Kerbal-shaped form fell from it in a frilly white suit. A drumroll thudded out from the speakers, and the the cheer became a hush, the form plunging toward the heat-shimmers of the concrete below. Valentina stood transfixed, unable to look away from the tragedy about to unfold. The figure foundered, tumbled for a moment, then landed squarely on its helmeted head and bounced.

She gasped. The white-clad figure landed again, and was still. Murmurs began to ripple through the spectators. 

Then the figure popped up and waved, albeit a bit unsteadily. 

"I'm ok!" It said in an equally unsteady voice, and the crowd exploded into cheers.

"Never underestimate the impact tolerance of the Kerbal head! Ebil Kerneival, everyone! Thanks again for coming out to see us and everyone have a safe drive home!"

Valentina stood in the roaring crowd, feeling quite dazed herself. These people weren't just mad, they were positively crazy!

 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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*deafening applause*

And that, right there, is a chapter written by somebody having a ton of fun doing it! I was going to try and quote the bits I particularly liked but decided there really wasn't much point quoting the whole thing when it's all laid out so neatly in your last post!

I did like Anastasia though. :)

 

 

 

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Since my native language is german, I really enjoy those (more or less) nonsene german-like sentences and words. "Fleischgewehr" (Fleisch = meat, Gewehr = rifle) - I guess if I use that in my mother tounge it would be considered an offense ... :cool:

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4 hours ago, KSK said:

I did like Anastasia though. :)

She'll be back :cool:

 

1 hour ago, lodger said:

Since my native language is german, I really enjoy those (more or less) nonsene german-like sentences and words. "Fleischgewehr" (Fleisch = meat, Gewehr = rifle) - I guess if I use that in my mother tounge it would be considered an offense ... :cool:

What little German I learned in college is rapidly disappearing, but, with that particular bit, best if you just take it literally and assume it refers to a rapid schnitzel delivery method. :ph34r:

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19 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

What little German I learned in college is rapidly disappearing, but, with that particular bit, best if you just take it literally and assume it refers to a rapid schnitzel delivery method. :ph34r:

Did I hear someone say schnitzel?

 

 

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On 13/02/2016 at 7:57 PM, CatastrophicFailure said:

Ahhh, finally!

The story is officially un-derped from the forum change and I've put up a proper chapter list. That was not fun.:sealed:

Oooh - just took a peek at the chapter list and I have but two words:

Act Three.

*Orders a bag of coffee beans, checks the snack cupboard and settles in for the long haul with a happy smile.*

 

Edit: Congrats on the un-derping. I can attest to the lack of fun involved.

Edited by KSK
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2 hours ago, monophonic said:

Did I hear someone say schnitzel?

Okay, so "Schnitzel" in the US means "fried meat on a stick" - no problem. But if you ever get to visit Germany or Austria, be prepared for the original "Schnitzel" (pictured below: Viennese Schnitzel - the one and only!):

o.jpg

Now I start to feel hungry ...

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6 hours ago, monophonic said:

Did I hear someone say schnitzel?

 

 

Well now... that was truly disturbing. :sealed:

Hard to find good Schnitzel around here. There's a Wienerschnitzel up the street from me, but despite the name, they do not actually sell Wiener schnitzel. :rolleyes:

 

6 hours ago, KSK said:

Oooh - just took a peek at the chapter list and I have but two words:

Act Three.

*Orders a bag of coffee beans, checks the snack cupboard and settles in for the long haul with a happy smile.*

 

Edit: Congrats on the un-derping. I can attest to the lack of fun involved.

Might wanna rent out the back of your seat... (•_•) / ( •_•)>⌐■-■ / (⌐■_■) cuz you'll only need the edge, LOL.

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Chapter 44: A Hard Day's Night

"And if you'll step this way, the important bit is just ahead," Gene said as the elevator door rattled open. He and Valentina stepped out into High Bay One, a significant if otherwise unremarkable distance above the floor of the VAB. Just ahead, a pair of technicians in white coveralls were having a very animated conversation with a large white helmet sticking out of a very small hatch in a conical shape. 

"I know, but battery three keeps dropping too low. We're going to have to pull the entire buss and bench check it, something must've got borked on the install," said the still unseen owner of the helmet.

"If you say so, chief, but that's gonna delay the rollout," said one of the technicians. 

"You just get the buss pulled, I'll handle the tests, we can get this pig back together before third shift," said the helmet. 

"Afternoon, Burd," Gene said with just a hint of extra amicability, "buss B still being a pain?"

"I knew it was gonna bite us to update the electrical subsystems this late in the game," came the voice from the helmet, "it's causing more problems than it was supposed to fix!"

"We can come back later if you're busy with the capsule..." 

"Huh?" The helmet twisted awkwardly around, revealing a familiar unhappy face whose eyes locked onto Valentina, "oh, it's you. Playing tour guide again, Gene? That's all right, I was just leaving."

The helmet wiggled around again, then popped loose, "here, Burbles."

The other technician took the helmet, and stepped back. Burdous thrust one arm through the narrow hatch, then the other, then began a sinuous wriggling motion, slowly emerging from the tiny space like some sort of bulbous, oddly graceful insect emerging from a cocoon. Valentina could only stare in awe.

He stepped up to her and thrust a space-mitten at her, "don't touch anything, got it?" then moved to a nearby workbench and began stripping out of his pressure suit. 

Gene looked mortified but nodded to Valentina, "go on, have a look. Everything's on the table, remember?"

Valentina glared at the obnoxious spacekerb for a moment, then gingerly crouched and stuck her head inside the capsule, careful not to touch anything. Once again she stared in awe. Nightmarish, claustrophobic awe. The capsule didn't look that bad from outside, but the inside was completely filled with equipment. She thought even she, with her small frame, would have trouble squeezing into it, even without a bulky pressure suit. 

"You go to space two days like this?" She looked at Burdous, "you are brave Kerbal."

He sneered back at her, "well some of us don't need luxury to get our jobs done."

Valentina frowned, she hadn't meant it like that, "we have no luxury, we put equipment on service module, no need for land. Sphere is better use of space, also. This like, what is word? Sardine can."

Surprisingly, Burdous turned to Gene, "there, you see? I told you we should have gone with the Spud."

"A bit late for that old argument, isn't it Burd?" He sighed. 

"I'm just saying," Burdous said, hanging his pressure suit on a rack, "there's a reason these Ooskies are putting twenty tonnes at a go into orbit and we're still struggling with five."

"Not the time, Burdous."

"That's fine, I'm done," he turned to the technicians, "Burbles, I'm gonna hit up the little Kerb's room then grab us some coffee, page me when you've got that buss out."

"Right, chief," the other fellow said, not looking up as he began unscrewing panels. Burdous disappeared into the elevator. 

Gene turned to Valentina with a worn look, "again, I'm sorry about that."

Valentina looked thoughtfully toward the elevator, "he is like D.N., yes? Big wash bag?"

"Wash bag?" Gene blinked, "oh you mean d-ouch, my shin!" A small rock bounced off the wall, fell through the floor grating, then pinged its way down through the rafters and uprights.

<bonk> "Ow!"

He looked up from rubbing his leg, "anyway, Burdous, he's... selective. That sort of comes along with genius, I've found. You have to find a way to relate to him on his level. You might be surprised how loyal he can be, once you do."

Valentina again looked to the elevator, "indeed..."

"Well, we probably shouldn't pester the crew if they're working on the capsule. I'll show you the launch pad and fueling systems next, their crews should probably be clocking off shortly..."
 

***

Gene did make for an amusing tour guide, Valentina thought as they made their way down through the bowels of the building. She had finally realized why everything seemed so familiar here, it was because it was. The layout of the Space Center, even the general architecture, was nearly identical to the Cosmodrome. She had the thought that if she could cut down through the concrete pavement and measure the thickness, even that would be the same. But the similarities ended there. Everything about the Cosmodrome was ordered and mechanical, but this place... it seemed like chaos lurked just beneath the surface, like a dead log covering a nest of rotbeetles that would writhe and scatter if exposed. The Kerbonaut Center... the aircraft facilities... the Administration building... everywhere she had been today, she could feel it. People running around busily, but somehow oblivious to it. 

Oblivious? Or just... accepting?

She pushed the thought away, as they stepped out into the late afternoon sun. Gene... he looked very tired. Somehow, she suspected, he always looked like that. But... she had her own job to do, too. 

"...so the pipelines come in from the tankers off shore, they never even have to dock, and the propellium goes right into those big storage tanks there," Gene pointed as they walked outside, "all triple-walled, ridiculously strong. The fueling crews come from Exast, of course, no one knows the industry better. I'll introduce you if we get a chance."

Burdous had said something about their rockets having trouble, but... how to broach the subject... diplomatically...

"Um, tell me, Gene... Mr. Burdous, he say the rockets have trouble..."

Gene looked at her quizzically. 

Nope, that wasn't the way. How about...

She smiled and gestured toward the towering VAB, "is very large building for so small..." and winced. 

After thinking for a moment, Gene's shoulders fell just a hair, "full disclosure, right? Well it's... complicated. The Rockomax Conglomerate has been our primary contractor ever since the pre-KSA days when J--" 

He seemed to choke on his breath for an instant, "...when... spaceflight first seemed possible. They've built nearly all our launch vehicles."

"When... J--?" Valentina asked curiously. 

"We, um, we don't talk about that. It's also... complicated. Anyway, Rockomax has had some, er, delays, producing an uprated launcher. In the mean time, Layland's been courting us pretty heavily. That's why J.R.'s here. They financed this whole facility in exchange for the KSA handling the flight operations and systems management of their spaceplane program."

"Did someone say spaceplane?"

PЦTIЙS ЗДЯS, not this one again.

"Afternoon, Dean, fellas," Gene said with a grin.

The pilots had again managed to arrange themselves like they were in a publicity photo, "you were just about to tell the Ooski here that five of the last six Rocko-klutz test launches failed, right? And the sixth failed spectacularly?"

Gene's jaw clenched before he spoke, "that's a matter of public record, I'm sure they know."

"And yet the Widowmaker sets records every time she flies, or at least every time I fly her," D.N. said, flashing another winning smirk.

"There's a reason it's called the Widowmaker, Dean," Gene said flatly.

Why did they tolerate such insubordination here? Whatever the situation was, this PЦTIЙSКI's behavior was just not proper! Valentina stepped up to him, noting he seemed taller today.

"Your plane has put how much in orbit, how you say, fly-boy?"

His expression darkened. Even his sneer was gorgeous.

"You need to remember who you're talking to, girlie!" He poked a finger at her. 

Girlie?! Valentina resisted the urge to see how far back she could bend that finger before he noticed.

"In my country, Kerb have respect for superior," she glanced down, "and he does not wear high heel."

"They're elevator shoes!" D.N.'s voice cracked with rage as he took a step toward her. 

"Dean..." Gene now stepped up, a hint of something dangerous in his eyes. 

D.N. held his stare, and spoke without breaking it, "come on boys, let's hit the highway."

"To the danger zone?" Waterfowl offered helpfully. 

D.N. turned to him, "what? No! What kind of ridiculous response is that?" He looked at the rest of them, "c'mon!" Then they stalked off in formation. 

Gene sighed, "I'm--"

"--sorry about that, yes, this I know," Valentina stared after the others. 

He put a grateful hand on her shoulder, "so where was I? Oh, the launch pad, I'll--"

An explosion suddenly rumbled the ground from the direction of the research center, followed immediately by a "woohoo!"

"Heads up!" Yelled a nearby worker.

"Line drive!" Screamed another. Gene grabbed Valentina and pulled her to the ground just as something sparked once, twice, across the pavement then embedded its self in the nearby wall of the VAB, a tiny flame still burning on one end. 

"All clear!" Came a third voice. 

Gene sighed once again, pulled himself and Valentina up, then stepped over to the jagged metal something jutting out of the wall. 

"Y'know what?" He said, blowing out the tiny fire, "that's enough touring for one day. C'mon, I know just where to blow off some steam."

Valentina gaped at him in horror, "blow off?! Even for rocket center, is too much blow off here!"

"What? Oh, it's a just a figure of speech, nothing dangerous there. Well, not usually."

Gene quickly requisitioned one of a small fleet of open-air vehicles parked by every building at the Space Center, Valentina thought they were called 'golf carts.' It seems people here really did drive everywhere, it was very strange. He drove them to a clump of low, stucco-covered domes at a far edge of the facility, parking in a lot already filled with an absurd collection of kars, each one seemingly trying to outdo the next with its own ridiculous collection of nonsensical tail fins and bubble canopies. Before they even reached the door, Valentina could hear raised voices and pulsing baseline thrumming from within. There was a sign over the door in some sort of writing far too stylized for her to read, featuring a carving of a bizarre looking reptilian creature. 

"Welcome," Gene raised a hand, "to the 'Grieving Burrick,' the finest non-alcoholic bar east of... well, pretty much anywhere."

Valentina wrinkled her brow, "non-alcoholic?"

"No alcohol allowed on the Center grounds," he said, "besides, you really wouldn't want to get a crowd like this liquored up."

From inside there was a crash, and then a cheer. Valentina eyed the door uncertainly. 

"You should be all right," Gene pressed a hand against it, "only watch your step, this place can be a little rough."

"Oh, yes yes, I know of this," she smiled, "is wretched hive of scum and villainy, no?"

Gene paused, and put a thoughtful hand to his chin, "well, not really, they're pretty decent folks, it's just... Well, you'll see."

He opened the door, and they descended into darkness.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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5 hours ago, monophonic said:

The Grieving Burrick sounds like a place that would have something akin to the Cubi Point Catapult. Probably those fighter jocks would try to somehow humiliate Val with it too. :wink:

(Here, scroll about a fifth down the page or search for "Cubi".)

You mean this thing here? Now that looks like fun!

 cubi_cat.jpg

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D'oh. That slap of palm against face you just heard was me finally getting the 'waterfowl' reference.

KSK - neither of those Ks stands for Kwick. 

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11 hours ago, KSK said:

D'oh. That slap of palm against face you just heard was me finally getting the 'waterfowl' reference.

KSK - neither of those Ks stands for Kwick. 

Knew I should have gone with "Duck." facepalm.gif

13 hours ago, SpaceplaneAddict said:

Woudn't it be neat if some nick named Spaceplane Addict were to be inside the spaceplane hangar?

I'll see what I can do... :wink:

23 hours ago, monophonic said:

The Grieving Burrick sounds like a place that would have something akin to the Cubi Point Catapult. Probably those fighter jocks would try to somehow humiliate Val with it too. :wink:

Hmm, sounds alot like this, but without the alligators. What I have in mind is a bit more diabolical. But still no alligators.

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48 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Hmm, sounds alot like this, but without the alligators. What I have in mind is a bit more diabolical. But still no alligators.

Well, Cubi Point was a major r'n'r location for pilots during the Vietnam War. Flight of the Intruder is a story about pilots in the Vietnam War. It is almost like there was a connection somewhere in there... :wink:

Diabolical, but no alligators huh? I seem to recall there was a lake full of ratsquirrelfishes near the space center though... :rolleyes:

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Chapter 45: The Wretched Hive of Scum & Villainy

A boomy, recorded drum beat assaulted Valentina's ears, followed closely by a noise not unlike a wounded animal dragging its nails across a chalkboard. 

"And IIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEIIIIIIIIIIIII will always love YOUUUUUUUUU--"

A glass bottle exploded against the wall just over the head of the would-be crooner. 

"Shut up!"

"Get off the stage!"

"You suck!"

Another bottle shattered nearby. The hapless Kerbal's panicked eyes darted back and forth while he held the microphone up as a futile shield. The jeers grew a moment more, then a long crook reached out from off stage, hooked the poor fellow around the neck, and quickly removed him before he could cause any more aural damage. 

"Ferfry, everyone!" a rather familiar sounding deejay announced, "give him a big hand.... and maybe he'll promise never to do that again."

The crowd complied with laughter and half-hearted applause. Valentina could only stare with a vague sense of bewilderment and horror. The odd little building was apparently quite a bit bigger on the inside. An expansive main floor below the entrance seated perhaps two hundred Kerbals at an assortment of tables, the stage was set into an alcove flanked by large monitors to the left, and the bar its self ran along the opposite wall, its extravagantly carved shelves showcasing an incredible variety of... not liquor, secured behind thick glass. From the ceiling hung an equally incredible variety of aircraft: mostly models, a few realistic-looking parts here and there, and a very, very realistic looking space capsule over the center of the bar, complete with scorch marks on its heat shield and flanks. 

Below in the sea of bodies, Valentina could see clumps and groups of virtually every division of the space center. White-clad technicians, their scrubs in various states of removal, maintenance crews in their dungarees, the button-down shirts and loosened ties of the engineers and administrators, scientists, who insisted on wearing their lab coats even here, and of course the largest cadre, the cadets in their pale blue jumpsuits. 

The sheer number of them had surprised Valentina shortly after her arrival, and all so young. Before she left home, the first triad of the "New Nine" Ussari Kerbonauts had arrived, not old by any means but all well-seasoned in their fields. These cadets looked barely out of secondary school, and if her few interactions thus far were any indication, selection standards were just a bit... generous. Gene had said the Administration wanted them young and malleable, the rest of their education and training funded by this Layland Heavy Industries again. Not all would go on to be Kerbonauts, of course, they would be engineers and scientists and mechanics. And janitors. A space program still needed janitors. There was a certain kind of sense to it, Valentina noted, but it was all so strange! She also noted, with a bit of satisfaction, that the ratio of females was much higher among them, too. But why--

"Come say hi to Ol' Sam," Gene suddenly snapped her out of her ponderings, "I'm sure he'll be anxious to meet you too." Gene led the way through a stream of patrons and bustling waitresses to the middle of the bar below the space capsule, where a wrinkled old Kerb with a bushy handlebar mustache and vest a bit more impressive than Gene's was busy polishing a glass. 

"Well now, Gene Kerman! Bit of an odd night seeing you in here," the bartender said with an enormous smile. 

"Bit of an odd day, Sam," Gene replied, "I don't think you've yet--"

"My stars..." The old fellow said softly as his eyes fell on Valentina, "if'n it ain't the lady 'erself."

"Is pleasure to meet you, mister Sam, she began, offering a hand. 

"Oi, now, none o' that, 's never been anythin' but Ol' Sam... even when I weren't so ol'," he said with a wink. 

Then to Valentina's great surprise, he took her hand and lightly kissed the back of it, "sure if'n I ain't charmed as a school lad t' make yer acquaintance, mum."

She felt warm color rush to her cheeks, and blurted out the first thing that came to her mind, "what... what is this place?"

"The finest karaoke bar this side of... well also pretty much anywhere," Gene answered. 

Valentina's lips moved just slightly as she turned the unfamiliar word over in her mind, "but... the Kerb, he did not carry key, he very off key. Sound like yak in heat."

Ol' Sam slapped a hand to his mouth and tried to conceal a snicker, "quite the wit, this one."

Gene shot him a look, then explained, "well, that's sort of the point. What better way for a bunch of engineers, scientists, and pilots like this to relax after a long day than to ridicule each other's complete tone deafness?"

Valentina stared blankly at him, "you are very strange people."

"Yar, that they are, mum, that they are," Ol' Sam said with that same endearing wink, "best ye not tarry too long, Gene, 'fore it gets stranger still."

As Valentina paused yet again trying to decode Ol' Sam's odd accent, a display on the wall behind him caught her eye. In a case of very thick glass, surrounded by more space-like memorabilia, was a pyramid of photographs of people she recognized. Sir Kerman was at the top, followed by Jorrigh and D.N., with more open spots on the next rows. Big block letters at the top spelled out 'WALL OF FAME,' but... who was that fellow above Sir Kerman? In the picture was a Kerbal  with short-cropped hair that had begun to recede just a bit, bright, wondering eyes, and a beguiling smile holding a dated-looking pressure helmet. 

"This Kerb in photo," she pointed, "who is he?"

Ol' Sam's constant smile ran away from his face, "now, we don't talk 'bout 'im, mum. Bad memories, that."

Before she could respond, Gene broke in, "er, so this old bar's been in your family for generations, right Sam?"

"Yar, that it 'as," and just like that the smile was back, "brought o'er brick b' brick by me ol' da' from Suth'Mork back when I was a lad."

Valentina kept a polite smile, but wondered. These people were indeed very strange, but perhaps not all that different, it would seem. There were things even here that... this, we do not speak of. But there were no political officers to monitor such things, or at least none that she had seen. Why would--

A sudden chorus of voices from down on the main floor drew her attention, "Gene!"

Gene waved back to the Kerbonauts, who were waiting at a table down near the front and securing an extra pair of chairs. 

"So what's yer poison tonight, then, eh?" Ol' Sam asked.

Gene gave Valentina a considering look for a moment, then replied, "make it a round of witch's toots, Sam."

"Comin' roit up," a serving tray appeared on the bar, followed by a hexagon of short glasses. Then a bottle, followed by another and another and another, each deftly twirled through the air and caught with a muted clink, depositing a dram of liquid in each glass without so much as a drop being spilled. A final bottle spun higher than all the others... only to be caught a centimeter above Ol' Sam's hand by Gene. 

"Uh-uh. The good stuff," he said with a smirk.

"Nothin' gets by you, Gene," Sam smirked back as he turned and retrieved an ornate bottle from another especially thick glass case. A final aerial flourish and splash of liquid, then he produced a bucket spilling thick, white fog from behind the bar. Tongs were tossed up into the air, caught behind his back, then plink, plink, plink, plink, plink, plink. Valentina stared in awe at the six glowing, bubbling, billowing green drinks.

"'Arf dozen witch's toots, with the good stuff," the old publican winked. 

"Thanks, Sam," Gene said, taking the tray, "put it on my tab."

"Now would that be the tab yer still ain't paid since ye first walked in here three years hence?"

"No, the other one."

"Yer ain't paid that one, neither."

Gene just smiled, motioning to Valentina as he beat a hasty retreat toward the table. Three hands and a scowl were raised in greeting.

"Gene, Valentina! Didn't expect you two on a Joolsday night."

"Hi guys!"

"Privyet Valentina!"

"Did you touch my capsule? You better not have touched my capsule."

"Nice to see you too, Burdous," Gene rolled his eyes, then sat and replied to Edmund, "bit of a long day. Don't plan to stay for the festivities, thought our friend here could use a drink, too."

"What... is it?" Valentina said absently as she lifted the glass, watching the green fog drift down over her fingers. 

"I've found it best not to ask," said Jerdous cautiously, "it's not alcohol, but beyond that... heck, I'm the scientist and I can't even figure it out." This brought a round of laughter from the others, except Burdous, who had gone from scowling to glowering. 

Valentina shrugged, then took a sip from the bubbling glass. It was... well no, it was more like... actually sort of... no, not that either, perhaps... no, certainly not that... maybe... no...

"Kinda just blows your mind, doesn't it?" Jorrigh grinned.

"I... I do not have words, in any laguage..." she trailed off. It certainly was not liquor, that much was sure, and certainly was quite good, even of the fog made her want to sneeze, but beyond that...

"Like he said," Edmund nodded to Jerdous, "probably best not to think about it too much. It hasn't harmed anyone yet, whatever Ol' Sam puts in it. Well probably not, it is always real dark in here."

Valentina sipped at her drink, still trying to comprehend the strange sensations. The fighter pilots must be here too, she noted, up on stage Tin Turkey was singing about an iron eagle and occasionally dodging flying bottles, it was very strange. Her eyes again drifted up to the singed, conical space capsule hanging above it. Was it perhaps from Sir Kerman's histroic flight? She asked the others about this. 

"What, Chadvey's capsule?" Jerdous answered, "oh no, the Royal Omork Museum and the Kerbsonian are still arguing over who gets to keep that one. It's getting pretty heated, actually."

"You can say that again," Edmund only said once, "might even come to blows. Maybe they'll sell tickets! Ever seen a couple of stuffy old nerds duke it out?"

"Hey, I resemble that remark!" Jerdous shot back. 

"I will stab you with this!" Burdous brandished a spoon. 

Jorrigh just looked confused. 

Edmund chuckled, "now I would certainly never accuse either of you of being stuffy. Or old."

"Yeah, you've got that part locked up for all of us," Jorrigh offered helpfully. 

Edmund opened his mouth. 

Edmund closed his mouth. 

Valentina tried to conceal a giggle behind her glass. The setting was certainly strange, but at least the company was amusing. 

"At any rate," Gene finally said, "that capsule pre-dates the KSA. It even predates the Kleptogart space program. It was the first craft to return living things from space. Well, technically. That poor squirrel was never the same. Or the rat. Or the fish. And then they got loose and--"

Roaring cheers from the crowd cut him off. Valentina frowned, there certainly were a lot of distractions in here. Perhaps that was the point?

"That's right, ladies and germs. You know what time it is!" The deejay chided over the speakers. A thundering rhythm began, as at every table, the gathered Kerbals began banging their glasses down and stamping their feet in time.

Boom-boom thud. Boom-boom thud. Boom-boom thud.

Valentina's head whipped back and forth in confusion, then a chant joined in over the resounding cadence.

Trial by fire! Trial by fire! Trial by fire! Trial by fire!

After a moment, the chant died away into even louder cheers, punctuated by whistles, cat calls, and other exclamations that sounded very uncouth indeed. As Valentina craned her neck, a terrified-looking young cadet in blue appeared on the stage, her eyes wide with fright, clinging to the microphone like a lifeline. 

"Ladies and gentlekerbs, please welcome to the stage.... oh you're going to love this.... put your hands together for Lolli Kerman!"

The roar from the crowd was deafening now. At every table, even Valentina's own, an assortment of coins and bills piled into the center. 

She spun around to the others, "what... what are they going to do to that poor girl??"

"What in-deed," leered Burdous, wagging his eye... bulges in a most unsettling way, and earning himself a swift jab in the ribs from his brother. 

Edmund winked at her, then leaned back, cradling his slung arm, "just watch..." A quick flick of his eyes... did he just share a glance with the bartender? Ol' Sam looked completely disinterested behind the bar, busily polishing a glass with the barest hint of a smile on his face. 

Valentina could only stare helplessly at the trembling cadet. A slow jazz piano riff oozed from the speakers, tempering the howls of the audience only a hair. The cadet squeezed her eyes shut, raised the microphone, and took a deep breath...

"You had plenty money nineteen... twenty two... you let other Kerbelles make a... fool of you... why don't you do right... like some other Kerbs do?"

Her voice faltered for only a moment, then settled into a deep, sweet, rich tone like dark molasses. The howls and cat calls evaporated just as quickly. 

"Now if you had prepared twenty... years ago... you wouldn't be a-wandering now from... door to door... why don't you do right... like some other Kerbs do?"

Every pair of eyes in the room stared, transfixed. Every jaw hung open. Except Ol' Sam, who was widely smiling to himself in the back, polishing his glass. 

"Get out of here... and... get me some money too..."

The cadet's eyes were still screwed tightly shut, the microphone quivering in her grip, but she sang out full and warm and smooth, filling the room beyond the tinny sound of the speakers. 

"Why don't you do right..." for just a moment her voice dipped down into throatiness and gravel, then soared up, hinting at a well of sheer power just barely tapped as the piano rose to a crescendo, "like some Ker-heeeeeeeeeerbs..."

She let the rest stretch for a breath before sliding into a single perfect, beautiful, fragile note that rang on and on and on while the piano flourished a half dozen more bars.

"...doooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo...?"

The last vibrations of sound died away, the bar standing in utter silence, then the crowd exploded again into cheers and whistles louder than ever before, but, with a distinctly different tone. 

"Wow..." Said Gene.

"Humuna..." Said Jerdous.

Jorrigh was clapping his hands ecstatically over his head, then stuck his fingers in his mouth and tried to whistle, but succeeded only in slobbering all over Burdous, who didn't seem to notice.  

Lolli Kerman, eyes still shut and grinning from ear to ear, hopped down from the stage and made her way to a table of other cadets, passing through a veritable gauntlet of other Kerbals slapping her outstretched hands or patting her on the back. Patting her only on the back, Valentina noted significantly. 

"What just happened...?" She said distantly. 

"Sort of a rite of passage around here," Gene explained, "they'll respect her now. All the new folks go through it sooner or later."

Next to him, Edmund was also grinning from ear to ear as he gathered his winnings with his good arm, "what'd I tell you, boys? Always bet on the mousy ones."

"You cheated!" Shot a sneering and slightly damp Burdous. 

"Did not."

"Did too!"

"Did not!"

"So help me, I will stab you with this!" Burdous waved a spoon at Edmund. 

Edmund opened his mouth, then his grin, incredibly, widened, "well, lookie who's coming this way..."

"Um... Miss Valentina?" Said a voice so high pitched it was nearly ultrasonic. Valentina turned to see a familiar pair of tightly shut eyes and an enormous, if nervous, smile. 

"Ohwow... Um... you're such a role model to all us girls... you inspired all of us to join the space program here... um... could I please have your autograph?" Squeaked Lolli Kerman, holding out a book in her still-trembling hands. 

Valentina felt her cheeks flush just a bit, ", yes, of course. I am honored." She took the book and pen. 

About this time, Burdous leaned across the table, doing that... thing with his eye... bulges again. 

"So, Lolli Kerman is it?" He leered, "can I have a--gak!"

Lolli Kerman had reached over the table, grabbed him by the tongue, and pulled him halfway across with it, "finish that sentence and I'll rip your tongue out and strangle you with it, mmkay?" The bright, friendly smile on her face never changed. 

Burdous emphatically nodded assent, making a variety of choking noises. 

"Awesome sauce!" She squealed, wagging her head back and forth in time. She released Burdous's tongue, grimaced at her hand, then wiped it off on his hair. Speechless, Valentina handed her back the signed book.

"Oh thanks eversomuch, teehee!" Lolli Kerman cheeped, then scampered off back to her table. 

The Kerbonauts could only stare in wonder, except for Edmund, who chuckled as he counted his winnings, "yup, she'll do just fine around here."

"Wow." Said Jerdous absently. 

"I ink I in uth," said his brother. Jerdous sighed, and pulled him off the table back into his seat, then jabbed him in the ribs again. 

Gene put a hand to his face, "Burd, as your boss I think should advise you that your accidental death and dismemberment policy will not cover that."

"I 'on't 'are."

Jerdous jabbed his brother yet again, "and pull your tongue back in, you creep."

"Pthbthbthbthb," said Burdous. 

Valentina had a hand to her mouth trying to contain a roiling giggle fit, when, quite suddenly, all the mirth drained away. She whipped her head around, looking off towards... what? Anxiety. Fear. Rejection. That way. It almost felt like... no. No, whatever it was vanished as quickly as it had arrived. 

"Valentina?" Jorrigh asked with concern, "you ok? You just got really pale."

"I... I am fine, I..." Deep in her gut, something burbled unpleasantly, "um, where is... how you say, little Kerb's room?"

"Oh, it's that way," he pointed, "by the big propeller."

"Er, no," Edmund interjected, "you'll want the other one, next to the pressure suit."

"Thank you," she said, rising quickly, her stomach spasming, "I will--oof!"

The impact knocked her backwards a step, and sent someone else reeling onto another table, smashing it into kindling.

"Sorry! Sorry! Excuse, please--"

"Watch where you're going, Ooski!" D.N. hauled himself up from the floor and stalked towards Valentina, "are you flarping blind?!"

In an instant, Edmund was between them, stopping the enraged Kerbal with a hand on his chest, "easy now, Dean, it was an accident."

D.N. looked down at the hand, then glared back at Edmund "get your hand off me, old man!" He tried to push past but got nowhere. 

"Old man?! You're like five years younger than me!" Edmund growled, "you need to back it up a notch, son."

"Move your hand or I'll move it!" D.N. snarled back, "right now you're ego's writing checks--"

"Your body can't cash?" Waterfowl offered helpfully. 

They both spun to him, "NNOO!!"

"Gentlekerbs, gentlekerbs," Gene stepped in with placating hands, "let's all calm down now..."

Valentina's head snapped back and forth between the other two, "uh, please, is my fault, very sorry--"

"Box his ears, Ed!" Burdous yelled out.

"like to see you try!" D.N. slapped the hand away.

Edmund chortled, "son, I could still whoop you with one arm tied behind my back." 

He shrugged his shoulder and swung his slung arm behind him, "just so happens I have one, too!"

"Don't let him talk to you like that, Dean!" Shouted Garter Snake. 

Jerdous slammed a hand down on the table, "clobber that little d--ouch, my shin!"

"Gentlekerbs, please!" Gene begged. 

"My fault! Is my fault!" Valentina pleaded. 

D.N. shoved Edmund, "come at me, bro!"

Edmund shoved him back, "you stuck up little midget!"

"Geriatric never-was!"

"Pedantic dwarf!"

"Geezer!"

"Pipsqueak!"

"YOUR MOTHER!"

"BAR FIGHT!" someone in the back yelled, grabbed a bottle, and smashed it over the head of the nearest Kerbal. And then, well, all hell broke loose. 

Valentina was roughly shoved to the ground as the entire room instantly dissolved into chaos. Various appendages flew this way and that, the table next to her was shattered by two people busily pummeling each other. Cries and screams filled the air. She was too shocked to move, could only dodge fists and kicks luckily meant for others. A hand closed around her shoulder, and she spun around, her own fist raised in defense, only to find Jorrigh's face grinning at her. 

"Wow, rough night, eh?" He said. 

"What... what in PЦTIЙS ЬДLD PДTЗ just happened?!"

"Usual Joolsday night bar fight," he shrugged, "although it is kinda early. We should prolly scoot before it gets real ugly."

He pointed behind her, "door's that way. Stay low and keep your head down. Don't worry, I've got your back." He smiled brightly. 

With no other obvious course of action, Valentina did as he said, crawling on her hands and knees past demolished furniture and brawling Kerbals. The sound system was thumping out something about a barroom blitz. Or maybe it was ballroom. She couldn't tell over the din around her. 

"Oh! Ai! Not the face! Not the face!" 

"Keep going, were almost there," Jorrigh said behind her, "just to the left."

"Ow! Not there either!"

Splinters of a smashed chair rained down on her, "What?"

"No, your other left!"

"Which way?"

"That way!"

"This way?" 

"No, the other way!"

"What?"

Confused, Valentina stuck her head up to try and get bearings, only to have a bottle smashed over it. She slapped a hand to the wound, cringing against---

That... didn't hurt?

She picked up the broken bottle neck. It looked just like glass, but when she gave it a firm squeeze, it crumbled into harmless little rounded bits. She gaped back at Jorrigh. 

"Sugar glass!" He grinned, "you didn't think we used real bottles, did you? That could really hurt someone!"

Valentina rolled her eyes, this night was already far too weird to go on questioning. The two crawled their way through the rest of the pandemonium, finally reaching the stairs and gingerly squeezing past two Kerbals taking turns slamming each other's heads against them, then escaped into the muggy night air. 

"Don't stop yet!" Jorrigh called, pointing to the south where dozens of flashing blue were bearing down from the sky, "cops incoming!" 

The pair sprinted off towards the space center proper, finally ducking behind a large spherical propellant tank. 

"The police," Valentina panted, leaning back against a girder, "will they... will they take them all away?"

"Huh? Naw, they'll just taze one or two and the rest will scatter," huffed Jorrigh, "but they're probably pretty miffed about their chess game getting interrupted."

Valentina turned and looked back towards the bar. Dark figures with raised truncheons were rushing into the doorway from the scattering of VTOLS now surrounding the lot. "Don't taze me, bro!" Actinic blue light flickered in the darkened entrance for a moment, "aaaaaaaahhhhhhh!" then many more figures began steaming out of a half dozen other exits like enraged ants.

She looked back to Jorrigh, "you... do this often?"

"Every week."

"But the bar... the damage...?"

"Oh, it's all old movie props, more breakaway stuff. Ol' Sam keeps the important things locked down," he smiled back in the dim light, "he'll have it ship shape again by morning."

"You are all quite mad."

Jorrigh scratched at his cheek thoughtfully, "well... we can't drink on post, so I guess someone figured out that beating the tar out of each other every week has pretty much the same effect, right down to the headache the next day."

She leaned her head back against the metal beam, wondering if he could see her eyes roll in the dark. But... there was a certain kind of sense to it. Even if--

Valentina gasped, and spun her head around. There, right there. Off in the direction of the Kerbonaut center. Sadness. Such crushing sadness. But... the feeling... it was... 

Again, the strange sensation evaporated. 

"Miss V?" Jorrigh stepped closer, "you all right?"

"Miss V?" She raised an eye... bulge at him. Jorrigh just shrugged and grinned again.

Valentina shut her eyes, and leaned back again, "I am just tired. Such strange people..."

"Hmm, you should probably go get some rest then, you'll be fine from here. I better go see if anyone needs help limping back."

She smiled at him, "yes, rest sounds nice. You are a good Kerb, Jorrigh Kerman."

He waved, and trotted back off towards the bar. She watched him for a moment, then began walking back to the Kerbonaut center herself, her mind still reeling over the night's events. That strange feeling... that little ball of emotion... 

Bah, probably just her imagination, or whatever was in that drink. Just as well too. The feelings... they felt like they weren't even hers.

 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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"At any rate," Gene finally said, "that capsule pre-dates the KSA. It even predates the Kleptogart space program. It was the first craft to return living things from space. Well, technically. That poor squirrel was never the same. Or the rat. Or the fish. And then they got loose and--"

Dun...dun...dunnnnnnn.

"With no other obvious course of action, Valentina did as he said, crawling on her hands and knees past demolished furniture and brawling Kerbals. The sound system was thumping out something about a barroom blitz. Or maybe it was ballroom. She couldn't tell over the din around her. "

I see what you did there. :)

 

 

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Sigh... this new forum really hates iThings™. Thank you, random anonymous moderator. Anyways...

11 hours ago, SpaceplaneAddict said:

Are these people Irish? :D

Who doesn't love a good bar fight? :D

10 hours ago, monophonic said:

Also, surprised me with the origin of the RSFs. Well done!

Wasn't actually planning on it, just sorta happened. Like most encounters with the little buggers.

11 hours ago, KSK said:

I see what you did there. :)

No, I absolutely was not singing completely wrong lyrics for years before the Internet came out :blush:

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