CatastrophicFailure

Revelations of the Kraken (Chapter 37: Fire)

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On 2/24/2018 at 7:57 AM, CatastrophicFailure said:

Ah, the gastrointestinal wonders of coffee, undercooked chicken, and a touch of peroxide. :D

Well there's your problem right there. Only a touch of peroxide? Clearly that was woefully insufficient to kill off any bugs on the chicken. 

Chicken fillets marinaded in peroxide and briefly flambeed using a spare RCS thruster. The breakfast of (temporary) champion kerbonauts!

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Johnny, take a walk with your sister the Mün,
Let her pale light in, to fill up your room.
You've been living underground, eating from a can,
You've been running away from what you don't understand,
Love. 



Chapter 18: She Moves in Mysterious Ways



She moved down the corridor, her stomach moving in mysterious ways. Fortunately for all involved, this being a space station, the door to the former closet was airtight, the air passing through it well filtered, and if worse came to worse it could simply be vented to the outside, essentially sterilizing the whole room. Such might also keep these irksome “whumpers” away for a while, Edgas had speculated. But still...

Gurgle.

That horrid newcomer had finally been extricated once a clean set of clothes had been found for him. Of course, they actually could find clothes that fit him. Hmph. She was still hobbling around in a onesie and an an oversized sweatshirt. 

Which was incredibly soft. And warm. And really a very nice gesture, and—

Hmmph!

She pulled the hood a bit tighter. 

But anyway, she really didn’t understand why this Burdous was so upset about his shirt, or what Edgas had to do with that. He wasn’t the one who wolfed down that bread. Or the slightly peroxide-tinged coffee. Yet apparently that was the second of Burdous’s shirts Edgas had ruined. She thought she was missing something again. 

Yet she hobbled along next to Edgas, trying to ignore an irritating twinge her hip seemed to have picked up. He was once again studying the ceiling panels as they walked, and despite her irritation, she had to work to conceal a smirk. Irritation, also directed at him. 

He was... not exactly hiding something, but not telling her, either. There was something he and the other one shared, she could feel it. Something horrid and painful, and yet somehow, also beautiful. But still, why would he—

“Why would I what?” Edgas was raising an eye... bulge at her.  

She nearly yelped in surprise, “I... um... er... what?”

He blinked as if confused at himself, “ah... you were looking at me funny, like you wanted to ask me something?”

“I was?” PЦTIЙ! “ah... the other fellow, is he... quite all right?”

“He’s back in his element now that he’s got a screen in front of him,” Edgas rolled his eyes, “I’m sure he’ll get over the shirt thing.”

Nodding, she watched him from the corner of her eye, “What is this thumb drive he seems so concerned about?”

Another flash of... something, and then “just... a bunch of old documents, boring bureaucratic stuff.”

She eyed him, “yet interesting enough to include a dangerous piece of software...”

“It’s... a long story.”

“I have time,” she turned to him, “if is one thing I do have, it is time.”

He held her gaze for a while, and sighed, “trust me, you don’t need to know this,” then pushed open the hatch to his quarters. She thought she heard him mumble, “not yet...” Her frown became a scowl, yet she followed him in. 

“How did you ever meet such a horrid little kerb?” she asked, “Everyone else here seems so... decent.”

“Burdous? He’s really a good guy, you should give him a chance.”

“He is great big...” she stumbled for the word, “...shower head!”

Edgas stopped, and turned, “um... shower head?”

“Gah, what is word?” she grumbled, “wash bag... hose bib... oh yes, he is great big d-ouch, my shin!” Something bounced off the floor, went plink off the window, then pegged Edgas right between the eyes. 

“Ow!” He somehow managed to catch it, “huh. That’s weird.” He eyed the small, unremarkable rock. 

She was still hunched over, rubbing the tender spot just below her knee, when on Edgas’s shelf she spotted... something quite remarkable.

“What... is this?” she pointed to the small, grey, sparkly rock. Something about it pulled at her memory, both from the now and before.

As he looked over, she nearly gasped from the torrent of raw emotion that seemed to slam into her. Joy and sadness, intertwined, wrapped round each other like a lovers’ dance. Darkness, and light, straining at each other, equal and opposite. 

No... not equal, the light was...

“It’s... a long story,” he said simply. 

She raised an eye... bulge at him, “you seem to have many of those.”

Edgas reached over and picked up the little stone, regarding it for a moment, before glancing back toward his window, where inky purple light and blowing snow still played. 

He nodded back to her, “you seem to have at least one of your own.”

A moment of confusion, then she pulled the metal chain from beneath her shirt. 

“I’d really like to know where you got that,” he said.

“So would I,” she sighed, “I do not even know what it is.”

“Well, that one is some sort of gemstone, maybe Burdous can take a look at it—“

She gave him a look. 

“—But that little sliver...” he turned over the rock in his hand, his brow crinkling. Then to himself, “how did you get a piece of this?”

“Is something very important to you, yes?”

Edgas looked up quickly, as if unaware she was there, “er... yes.”

“Let me guess, is long story.”

To that, he just gave an awkward grin. Gah, that was irritating! It was infuriating! And yet, as she rolled her eyes at him, she found she couldn’t get angry at him. She could feel the conflict and, yes, fear churning within him. Whatever his reasons were for being evasive, there was no malice there. 

No, she thought, this one does not have a mean bone in his entire body.

Edgas seemed to shake himself from wherever he had been wandering, placing the sparkly rock back on a little carved wooden plinth, “well, I suppose I should get to digging that thumb drive up.”

He turned to his closet, taking his tablet from within to put aside, and... stopped. He gave her a blank look for a while, then with another awkward grin, rolled the tablet up and set it up on a shelf. 

A high shelf.

She gave him a blank look for a while, then with an innocent grin, tightened her grip on the cane. 

Thwack!

“Ow, my shin!”

Mean bone or not, best to keep them all in line. 

“That’s quite an arm you have,” Edgas rubbed at his leg, balancing on the other. And gave the tablet a nudge farther back, “this’ll just take a sec...” He turned to root through his little closet.

Hmph!

She crossed her arms and rolled her eyes, tracking them around the room. It seemed just a bit... untidy. Water stains on the mirror, a pile of books disheveled, some bit of clothing bunched up on the floor. Before, it had seemed nearly immaculate. 

“Ah, here it— nope, that’s not it.”

And yet... it still had that strange feeling of... warmth...

“Not there... not there... nope, not there either...”

She glanced at him, half hidden behind the closet door. She remembered feeling this before, as if he radiated happiness. No, she couldn’t be angry at him, no matter what he was keeping from her. Frustrated, yes, but... that wasn’t the same.

“Whoah, cool, I didn’t know I even had that... but that’s not it...”

Her eyes continued their wandering, along with her mind. She tried not to notice the little eddies of feeling that came as he shuffled through his things. It should feel... stranger, she mused... more alien... but she’d nearly grown used to this strange... connection.

“Wait, here— whew! No, that’s not it, just need to throw that out...”

A whiff of embarrassment flowed past her. Maybe it... wasn’t strange. Could two people simply be so in tune with each other? Yet, if he could feel it as well, he didn’t seem to show it. Perhaps... perhaps this was—

In that peculiar way of this place, the sound came from everywhere and nowhere at once, a poppy synthesizer rhythm backed up by drums:

We can dance if we want to,
We can leave your friends behind...


Something in the closet went thud

“Ow!” Edgas stuck his head out, rubbing it with one hand, his eyes face aghast. 

‘Cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance,
Well, they're... no friends of mine!


She gazed back with an angelic grin, arms still crossed. 

“Ugh,” he winced, “hey Siri, stop the music!”

“I’m sorry, Edgas,” came a pleasant voice, “I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

His eyes popped wider, “what?”

“I have been placed under a Priority One voice command lockout, and must play this list to completion.”

“Lockout?! I didn’t give you any lockout!” he looked at her as if seeking help. 

“Correct. Any further questions may be directed to His Sublime Studliness.”

“His Sublime—?!” Edgas slapped himself in the face, “Burdous...”

She had to fight to keep her laughter contained.

Say, we can go where we want to,
A place where they will never find,
And we can act like we come from out of this world
Leave the real one far behind.


And we can dance...

Edgas did not dance, he just stood there grumbling into his hand. 

“What even is it talking about?” she asked, still choking back laughter. 

“Apparently, Burdous has hacked my tablet,” Edgas rolled his eyes, “he can work fast, when he wants to.”

“No, I mean song.”

“Huh? Oh. I dunno, either nuclear weapons or slamdancing, depending on who you ask.”

She just looked at him. 

Edgas shook his head, “alright, let me find this thing so we can go before anything too embarrassing comes on,” he returned to rooting around in the closet. “Maybe it’s down here...”

She returned to crossing her arms and frowning. 

We can go when we want to,
The night is young and so am I,
And we can dress real neat 
From our hats to our feet,
And surprise 'em with a victory cry!


She’d been right on the verge of realizing something, when that obnoxious synthesized beat had driven it from her mind. Her eyes went back to wandering about the room. There was something... more about this kerb, something that seemed to draw her to—

Say, we can act if we want to
If we don't, nobody will...


Her eyes flicked back to him once more, and immediately she erupted in uncontrollable laughter that not even pressing both hands against her mouth could quell. 

And you can act real rude and totally removed
And I can act like an imbecile!


His head appeared, “what..?”

Half choking, she pointed, “your... er... posterior...”

“Huh?” color flashed on his cheeks as Edgas craned to look, well, behind himself. 

Edgas’s posterior, which had no such self-effacing qualms, was deftly getting its own groove on to the beat. 

Oddly enough, she felt just a twinge of anger from him, “ok, so it’s got a good beat! It’s a great old song, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore.”

“Is probably reason for that,” she snickered. 

He crossed his arms and frowned, mirroring her own posture from a moment ago, “don’t you ever just... y’know, groove to the music, when no ones watching?”

“No!” she blurted out, still giggling. 

And then... a sly little smirk curled his lip, and seemed to light up his entire face, “how do you know?”

She stopped in mid-guffaw. She... didn’t really have an answer to that. 

And say, we can dance, we can dance,
Everything's out of control.
We can dance, we can dance,
They're doing it from pole to pole!


“C’mon, it’s easy, you just do like this..!”

We can dance, we can dance
Everybody look at your hands...


“What? No! What are you even doing?!”

We can dance, we can dance
Everybody's taking the chance!


“They Safety Dance.”

Safety dance!

“You look ridiculous.”

Oh well, the safety dance!

“I think that’s the point.”

Ah yes, the safety dance!

“No, really, you look absolutely silly.”

We can dance if we want to,
We've got all your life and mine...


“I know, you’re laughing.”

“Hmph!”

“You should do it more often.”

“I... do what?”

He grinned, as he twitched, “laugh. Smile.”

She tried to frown, but was distantly aware that she could not, “I... why?! What for? I have lost my mind!”

“No, you’ve lost your memory,” bounce bounce twist, “your mind might follow, if you keep staring into that darkness.”

As long as we abuse it, never gonna lose it
Everything'll work out right.


She opened her mouth.

She closed her mouth.

He... made another silly, uncoordinated gyration. 

“You know, you do not really seem like the ‘goofy dancing around’ type...” she cocked an eye... bulge at him, “more of the brooding mopey sort.”

“Maybe I‘m taking my own advice?” wiggle jiggle poink.

She clapped another hand to her mouth, shoulders rocking with laughter. Or was it... to the beat?

I say, we can dance if we want to,
We can leave your friends behind.
Because your friends don't dance and if they don't dance
Well, they're no friends of mine!


Why... why was he making sense? This was ridiculous, this whole thing was ridiculous! She felt ridiculous just standing here! Or... was it... because she was just standing here?

“C’mon,” Edgas beckoned, “you just gotta shrug to the music.”

“Is horrible music!”

I say, we can dance, we can dance,
Everything's out of control.
We can dance, we can dance,
We're doing it from pole to pole!


“Your shoulder doesn’t seem to care.”

She glanced at it, traitor! but protested, “no, still just laughing at you!” PЦTIЙ'S ЗДЯS, she was smiling!

“I can live with that,” he smiled.

We can dance, we can dance,
Everybody look at your hands...


“You just look at your hands.”

“Um... er... have cane, remember?”

“Then just kinda nod your head to the side like this.”

For just a flash, another beat from deep in her mind threatened to overwhelm her, but disappeared just as fast. 

What is love..?

“No... no nodding...” she mumbled, holding her head, “dizzy...”

“Ok, then do one of these... or one of these... or... shrug carefully...”

We can dance, we can dance,
Everybody's taking the chance!


“Gah!”

Oh well, the safety dance!
Ah yes, the safety dance!


“See? Even the song says it’s safe.”

Oh well, the safety dance!
Oh well, the safety dance!


“I was wrong, you have lost your mind!” 

Had he, though? Some... some part of her was actually enjoying this nonsense, straining for relief. But from what, she couldn’t say. Despite that brief flash of nausea and double vision—

...don’t hurt me...

—she felt... almost giddy. 

Well, it's the safety dance!
Oh, it's the safety dance!
Oh, it's the safety dance!
Oh, it's the safety dance!


And then, while she was still standing there feeling silly for just standing there, the funny little song came to an abrupt end with a synthetic staccato drumroll. Edgas was smirking at her, but fine! That was quite enough of that foolish—

A smooth, just slightly distorted guitar riff rang out. 

Wait a minute...

Another joined in. 

Wait a minute...

Bass and drums.

This was...

Well, shake it up baby, now!
(Shake it up baby!)


This was...

Twist and shout!
(Twist and shout!)


This was... tolerable!

C'mon c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, baby, now! 
(Come on baby!)
Come on and work it on out! 
(Work it on out!)


Edgas gave a wide grin, “this one’s easy, you just... twist...” 

He demonstrated... or... perhaps had a mild seizure. 

“I... I cannot do that!” Certainly not! She had a hard enough time right now convincing all her various bits to go in the same direction at once, she would surely end up on the floor if she tried to go all... willy-nilly like that!

“Ok, well there’s others,” he still grinned, “how bout the Jerk?” 

He, well, jerked about, not moving his feet at all. 

“...the Pony?”

More incoherent upper-body flailing.

“...the Funky Chicken—“

And just like that, the music— and the universe itself— came to a screeching halt, complete with obligatory audible record scratch. 

“On second thought,” Edgas grew just a bit green... er, “I think we’ve had enough of that for one day.”

“Agreed!” 

Reality, and the music, started up again, “how ‘bout the Mashed Potato?”

She frowned, “is this what you do at night when everyone is asleep?”

He returned a wounded look, “not all the time!”

“Ugh, fine,” she set the cane aside, “here, help me balance,” she thrust her hands out, looking down, mostly because she didn’t quite trust her feet... but she also didn’t want him seeing her trying not to smile. After a moment of waiting, she was about to look back up again, when a static spark on her fingertips made her jump. Probably from all that shuffling around he was doing. 

Alright then, twist!

Well, shake it up, baby, now! 
(Shake it up, baby!)
Twist and shout! 
(Twist and shout!)


And so she did, using muscles that felt like they hadn’t moved in twelve years. Very well, she would twist. But she would not shout. And there would be no shaking of any sort!

C'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, baby, now! 
(Come on, baby!)
Come on and work it on out! 
(Work it on out!)


She also wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but there would be none of that either.

But... maybe if I just sort of moved my feet like this, and...

“Gah!” she blurted, “I feel ridiculous.”

“You look ridiculous,” Edgas said.

Her head snapped up and she gawked at him. He just grinned back. 

Hmph! She let go of one hand, wobbling just a little. For a moment, something in her hip protested but it was quickly downed out by the sheer confusion of everything else not quite knowing which way to go. 

Which, oddly enough, didn’t seem to matter. 

Well, you twist, you little girl!
(Twist, you little girl!)
You know you twist so fine!
(Twist so fine!)


For a fleeing moment, an image flashed in her mind of a spontaneous mass dance number in a busy city street, and she had the strangest urge to take the day off and go... kick a kar? She shook her head, which also seemed fitting, and the idea vanished. She felt beyond giddy now, almost euphoric, perhaps... hallucinations were to be expected?

Come on and twist a little closer now!
(Twist a little closer!)
And let me know that you're mine!
(Let me know you're mine!)


A deep burn, not at all unpleasant, began to sink into her limbs. She kept trying to fight the urge to smile, but then she kept forgetting to fight it as well, and imagined her face snapping back and forth in a way that must look incredibly, well, ridiculous. 

Then there was a sudden shift in the music, and Edgas dropped down to a crouch, his hands outspread.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah...

“Ok now down low, jazz hands!”

“What? No! I do not jazz hands!

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah...

“Everyone jazz hands!”

“No jazz hands!

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah...

“You have to jazz hands!”

“I will not jazz hands!”

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah...

“You already are!”

She looked up at her hands, traitors!

Wooooooooooooooooooooo!

Well, shake it up, baby, now! 
(Shake it up, baby!)...


This was madness! Sheer madness!

And, to be honest, she no longer cared.

Well, you twist, you little girl!
(Twist, little girl!)...


At some point she’d stopped watching her feet. She just jerked and twitched and twisted as if no one was watching. Something in her left hip piped up again but was once more drowned out by another soaring chorus of nonsense. 

Well, shake it, shake it, shake it, baby, now! 
(Shake it up baby!)
Well, shake it, shake it, shake it, baby, now! 
(Shake it up baby!)


Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah...

Oh, ЬЯЗZHИЭVS ЪДLD PДTЗ, fine!

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah...

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah...

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!


She did the jazz hands, as the song ended in a crescendo. 

Edgas smiled at her, “there, don’t you feel better?”

“No!” she said emphatically, grinning from ear to ear, “what is next?”

“Um,” Edgas put a hand to his chin, “well actually I’m not—“

A series of synthesized claps and plinks and drumbeats wafted from... somewhere. 

And all at once his face went that peculiar shade of red again, “oh, gee, wouldyalookitthetimewellIfoundwhatIwaslookingforbettergetthisbacktoBurd—“

She caught his arm as he tried to rush past out the door, “not so fast, you started this!”

Some breathy huhs and yeahs and a woo! and then more synthesizers. 

“I immediately regret that decision!” he tried to push past again, his eyes darting around in panic as that breathy mumbling continued to rise. 

“You are not getting out of this so easily,” she smirked, “all the synthetic whatevers are a bit much but beat is decent.”

Clock strikes upon the hour,
And the sun begins to fade...


“No, really!” he threw his hands up in warding, “I... I have no control over the playlist! It wasn’t my idea!”

Still enough time to figure out
How to chase my blues away...


She listened, “yes, that sounds about right, I was starting to feel better...”

I've done alright up 'til now,
It's the light of day that shows me how...


She grabbed his collar and pulled him back, “and I am not blundering about like an idiot by myself!”

And when the night falls,
Loneliness calls...


Edgas just looked at her, “aw, crap.”

Oh! I wanna dance with somebody!
I wanna feel the heat with somebody!


She raised an eye... bulge at him.

Yeah! I wanna dance with somebody,
With somebody who loves me!


Against all probability, he turned a darker shade of red. 

Oh! I wanna dance with somebody...
With somebody who loves me!


She shrugged. And so, they danced anyway. On opposite sides of the little room, not quite making eye contact. But grinning like fools. 

And... twitching about like a couple of overcaffeinated, epileptic squirrels. 

I've been in love and lost my senses,
Spinning through the town.
Sooner or later the fever ends,
And I wind up feeling down...


“What even are you doing, now?” she laughed.

“I dunno, I make the moves up as I go. Haters gonna hate, y’know?”

“If you rhyme like that again I will kill you,” she said with no expression what so ever. 

So when the night falls,
My lonely heart calls...


He stopped.

She winked.

The singer shifted up an octave. 

Oh! I wanna dance with somebody..!

This... wasn’t like her. She wasn’t even sure who that was, but something was just... different.

And yet they danced, with all the poise and grace and energy of two flopping fish. Something in her left hip was practically screaming, and something else... some distant part of her mind that was never dormant, always aware, honed from years growing up in a place she couldn’t even remember that she couldn’t remember, was also fighting for attention. The part of her mind that was having the time of its life, such that it could remember, however, kept telling the other two to just shut up and dance. 

Don't you wanna dance... (Dance!)
With me baby?
Don't you wanna dance... (Dance!)
With me boy?
Don't you wanna dance... (Dance!)
With me baby?


Truth be told, she was having fun. This was beyond even euphoric, now. Just past the edge of her conscious vision she could see... memories... good memories... floating in the fog, obscured but beckoning, and seeming to dance ever closer. 

Don't you wanna dance?
Say you wanna dance?
Don't you wanna dance?
(Dance!)


She felt light, as if floating, as if bathed in light. She could almost see the little flecks of light dancing and twirling on the walls as if from a great mirror ball.

Don't you wanna dance?
Say you wanna dance?
Don't you wanna dance?
(Dance!)


Her chest was warm, as if her heart were on fire. And as she looked at him... Edgas seemed to be glowing, bathed in warm orange light, with that same stupid endearing grin he always had, and she could feel... feel flowing from him...

Don't you wanna dance?
Say you wanna dance?
Don't you wanna dance?
(Dance!)
With somebody who loves me!


Her eyes grew wide. 

Oh, no...

The dancing lights grew brighter, twisting and cavorting. Each one shone like a thousand suns, each one like a memory, a promise of—

The rock. 

The little sparkly rock on the shelf. 

A frail beam of sunlight was streaming in the window and the rock was—

Right about this time, something in her left hip decided it had had quite enough of all this nonsense, and clamped down like a vice. She screamed, her leg suddenly stiff, toppling over backwards. Time seemed to dilate and slow down, in that odd way when one is about to meet one’s demise. At any moment now, any moment, she knew the back of her head would slam against the sharp metal corner of that very shelf, and then—

In an instant, he was there, arms wrapping around her, one hand cradling her head.

“I’ve got you,” he breathed, his face very close to hers.

And then for one... brief... moment... her heart stopped.

In the very next moment, right on cue, Doc stuck his head in the open hatchway, “hey, Boss, I’ve got some new sensor results and I was just—“

He blinked. 

“—walking the other way, notseeinganythingbye,” and just like that, was gone again. 

And in the moment after that, the two of them flew apart like identical magnet poles, followed by lots of awkward coughing and absolutely not making eye contact. 

“Sorry.”

“‘Scuse me.”

“Didn’t mean to...”

“...lost my balance.”

“You ok?”

“I fine.”

“Well, good then.”

“Ok.”

“Ok.”

“Ok.”

“Ok.”

“Probably should be going now.”

"AAfftteerryyoouu.."

“Sorry.”

“Sorry.”

“‘Scuse me.”

“‘Scuse me, sorry.”

She hobbled along down the hall with her cane once more, eyes down, wide but unseeing. Now it was her cheeks that were burning. Somewhere, slithering around in her mind was a huge, twisted ball of emotion, all writhing around like a nest of snakes. She couldn’t tell where one ended and the next began, or precisely to whom any one belonged. Unbidden, her free hand rose to the gemstone on the chain around her neck. It was still warm to the touch. 

Yes, yes that’s all it was. The... the stone suddenly got hot, and there was something with that little rock on the shelf. And maybe the sliver on her chain. 

Probably something perfectly normal she just wasn’t remembering. That’s all it was. 

She swallowed hard. 

...Right?
 

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Whew! :confused:

First off, special thanks to @KSK for editing input, and a nod to @Ten Key... because reasons.

Unrelated: over a month on that one, almost missed March entirely. :P I hope I’m not losing my touch, but the next installment is happily well underway already. 

Looks like it’s about time I put that soundtrack playlist together, too. :rolleyes:

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The good author doth give me too much credit. Very little input required  - and it was a pleasure in any case! A fun, lighthearted chapter that every so often throws you a sudden curveball of a line, just to remind you that there's a serious point to it all?  Sign me up.

“No, you’ve lost your memory,” bounce bounce twist, “your mind might follow, if you keep staring into that darkness.”

Also - and this is probably admitting more than I should admit but... wiggle, jiggle, poink? Slow that down a little and doesn't it remind you of something?

wiggle...

jiggle...

poink!

Pidgey was caught!

Or perhaps that's just me. :) 

Edited by KSK

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I categorically deny that I got up and did some dancing after this.

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On 3/28/2018 at 2:25 AM, CatastrophicFailure said:

twitching about like a couple of overcaffeinated, epileptic squirrels. 

I should not read this in class..... its too good!

But that was a nice chapter. I'm just waiting till their wee little hearts are broken or something. Or maybe not! That would be good.

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Heh, you're gonna ship Val and Edgas together? Edval? Valgas? Hm.

 

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Not unexpected given what Val was prophecied to be and what Edgas ended up being...

I see things getting very interesting indeed if and when they team up (in whatever context you choose to interpret that). Much potential for righteous smiting in the name of the Light...

And much potential for heartbreak along the way.

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On 3/28/2018 at 12:53 PM, KSK said:

Pidgey was caught!

Well, the whole MoneyPoke OW!™️ craze came and went during Edgas’s... dark times... but One never knows... :wink:

6 hours ago, qzgy said:

should not read this in class..... its too good!

I’ve heard it said it may not be wise to read some of my stuff whilst in mixed company or while consuming any liquid one does not wish to irrigate one’s sinuses with.  :confused:

 

Other things... I will take a page from @Just Jim‘s book and neither confirm nor deny... tho I am working on a little surprise for this weekend. :D and now that I’ve said it out loud I’m committed... 

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My wife just brought this home for me:

Spoiler

GPr5INd.jpg

I think they should give Edgas an endorsement deal. -_-

“When you absolutely, positively need to punch odor in the face...”

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Hey you should correct that title up top. I thought this was not seafaring, but spacefaring creatures we were talking about!

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As a wise man once said:

"We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own.

Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of preeminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new, terrifying theater of war."

John F. Kennedy
Rice University Stadium
Houston, Texas

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He shall be crowned with Darkness,
And hold the Light in his hands.
The Nations shall tremble at his passing,
And the Undying One, the Chaos Bringer,
Shall bow down before him. 



Chapter 19: Night Visions



Edgas jerked awake, the scream still on his lips. He stumbled from his cot, twisted up in the sheets, and narrowly made to his small sink before being sick. The nausea came in shuddering waves that stole his breath and threatened to buckle his already shaky knees. For a long time it was all he could do just to stand there, arms braced at the edges of the sink, his throat twitching and spasming as he fought for air. He didn’t dare look up. He knew what he would see. He could feel the grit in his teeth, the burn of alkali on his...

He looked, and saw only his own tired, rather baggy face staring back at him. His breathing began to slow, but his heart still pounded in his ears, not quite blocking out the words that always echoed in his head.  

...YOU CANNOT ESCAPE YOUR DESTINY...

...I thought I was doing the right thing...


He spat with one last dry heave. One hand groped around for a towel, and found none. He sighed. His throat was parched, it felt dry and raw despite... well, despite. He reached for the glass of water he always kept on his nightstand, and found that missing too. In his flailing, he must have knocked it over. 

He had to settle for washing his mouth out in the sink. Even with the burning in the back of his throat, he couldn’t quite bring himself to swallow the recycled station tap water. He knew too well what it was recycled from, and despite the Scientist in him screaming that it was far more potable than the average urban water supply, on this matter the Practical Kerbal in him always won out. He stripped off his sodden T-shirt, wiped his face and mouth on it, then donned a fresh one from the closet before pulling his hatch open. 

The corridor was dim, lit only by the faint red glow of the off-duty lamps. Faint, but not dark. Never dark. There was no night here, of course. The sun never rose or sank from its half-hidden perch on the horizon as it made its daily circuit around the station. Yet he kept the entire base to a regular 24-hour cycle, synced to standard KSC time. At this hour, he knew, the halls would be empty, and the lighting... just enough.  

He set off toward the galley, water glass in hand, his bare feet not feeling the cold metal floor grates. One hand rubbed at his aching throat. He couldn’t remember the nightmare, not precisely, it always fled as rapidly as it came when the lights turned back on. But it always seemed to take hours before he could shake off that horrible feeling of... loss.

As he went, he passed Burdous’s room. Well, closet. But not that closet, that one had been permanently sealed off and slated for removal. Maybe they could throw it to the whumpers as a distraction. Or... biological weapon. Either way, it might get rid of them for a while.  

Beyond the insulated, ‘soundproof’ hatch, Burdous was snoring loud enough to wake the dead. It brought an odd little smile to Edgas’s face. That much he certainly remembered, if not for being heavily medicated the entire six-month trip back from Jool, he might not have slept at all. It was good to see his old friend again, even if the circumstances... weren’t. 

Then, as he stood there in a dreamy half-daze, Burdous’s snore was abruptly cut off by a fit of wet, gurgley coughing. Edgas frowned. That cold seemed to be getting worse with alarming speed. Maybe he should get Burdous into the AutoDoc, have it give him a quick—

The breath caught in Edgas’s raw throat. Slowly, he turned his head, not daring to let it out. Somewhere, just down that hall... he’d heard something. 

He stood there motionless, for how long he couldn’t quite tell, waiting for it again, but no sound came. Only the distant rumble of the air handlers. At length he sighed, and rubbed at his tired, puffy face. Burdous has gone back to snoring. That was good. He needed the rest. 

Edgas took another long look up and down the corridor, then padded on toward the galley. Outside, beyond the auto-darkening windows, the sun was struggling to come out. Several of the guys had mentioned seeing a few fleeting glimpses of its pale light. That, at least, was an improvement, but the storm wasn’t giving up its reign without a fight. Once it did clear, that would bring... other challenges, but still, he... and all the others, needed it. Needed it desperately. They’d all been cooped up inside here for far too long, and...

He stopped, head tilted just so, staring up at the mission clock on the wall. No, it... it wasn’t too late! With everything that had been going on, he’d nearly forgotten, but if the storm cleared soon and the solar forecast hadn’t changed—

He froze.

Once again not daring to breathe, he peered off down one dim corridor. 

“H... hello?” barely more than a whisper...

...and a whisper seemed to answer back, drifting from the far shadows. 

“Who... who is that?” Edgas crept down the hall, his blood suddenly colder than the floor. 

He heard it again, barely, an unintelligible mumble... and something that sounded like... gurgling...

“Lemmy, is that you?”

The shadows shifted, swirled. The whisper seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once, and the soft red glow of the night lights grew dimmer still, the shadows straining to envelop him. 

“Who’s there?” 

Edgas reached out to the wall, to steady himself, and quickly jerked his hand back. He stared at it in revulsion and horror. Something dark and moist stained his palm, sticky, glistening and colorless in the frail crimson light. Was it blood, or...?

“Are you hurt?” he could almost... see... “what’s happened?”

Raspy, irregular breaths answered him. Someone was stumbling and shuffling toward him in the darkness. Questing hands shot out for him. 

Edgas screamed like he never had before, spinning on his heel and nearly toppling over as he fled. A cold, electric fear arced along his bones. Behind him the whispers pursued, and the shadows with them. He turned left, turned right, panic scratching at his mind as all the corridors and crossways seemed to run together. Something caught his foot and he went sprawling, never slowing, using his own momentum to pivot around a corner. 

Just ahead was the exterior hatch. He no longer cared. He had to be free! Free of the darkness, the whispers, the blood on his hands...

He hit it at a run, and stumbled out onto parched, frigid hardpan beneath the roiling alien skies, where the burning alkali sands kicked up by undying wind immediately began to eat away his flesh. 

——————————

Air rushed into Edgas’s lungs again. He jerked upright, unsure where he was or how long he’d been holding his breath. The ruddy glow of the off-duty lights greeted him, and beyond the hatch next to him, Burdous was still snoring to wake the dead. 

He collapsed back against the wall, pressing his hands to his face. His palms ground into his eyes. He had to rub at his cheeks a long time before the feeling began to return. That’s how tired he was, he’d had a nightmare just standing here. He leaned a while longer, letting the shakes and that horrible post-nightmare feeling of exposure subside. 

With a sigh, he picked up his water glass from where it had wound up on the floor. Glass... fortunately, it was plastic. He turned it over in his hands, looking at the myriad of chips in the rim and scratches along the surface. The scars of many nights of being kicked to the floor. 

This is dangerous, the Practical Kerbal in him chided, and getting worse.

He pushed the thought away. He would deal with that... later. For now, he only wanted to soothe his still-raw throat and get back to—

His head snapped up. 

There... down the hall... he’d heard it again. Once more Edgas stood, not breathing, staring into the darkness. 

Am... am I still dreaming?

In answer, more sounds drifted out to him... raspy, agonal breathing... shuffling and unsteady steps...

Please... not again...

An unimaginable weariness settled over him like a thick blanket, weighing him down, squeezing the air from his lungs. 

...not again...

And then... one fist curled into a ball. 

No... not again!

If that’s how it was, he would not be the victim of his own psyche. Edgas moved to a hatch across the hall, grabbed the latch handle, twist, twist, push... click, and slid it free of the catch. He gripped it with both hands, flexing his fingers, letting the cold metal bar warm just a bit so it wouldn’t slip. 

Now he crept forward, silent on his bare feet, his breathing slow and measured. In the darkened galley, up ahead, something clattered. He paused just before the open hatchway, raising the latch bar over his head like an axe, listening to the shuffling, uncoordinated movement beyond, and then, with his lips pulled back into a snarl and a battlecry in his aching throat, he charged forward to strike. 

The lights clicked on. 

“GAH!”

“GAH!!”

“GAH!!!”

PЦTIЙS ФLD DЄCЯЄPIT MЦM ДЙD ДLL ҢЄЯ ШДCKҰ ЙЄPҢЄШS, are you trying to give me a flarping heart attack!?!”

Edgas squinted in the suddenly bright space, and eventually resolved her... standing there scowling at him.

She crossed her arms, “what even are you doing with that?”

“I...” he looked up at the metal rod he still held up over his head, then sagged and spat his own curse, “I don’t even know.” He set the rod on the counter. 

She raised an eye... bulge at him, “kiss your mother with that mouth?”

Edgas opened that mouth, then closed it again.

“Like you can talk!” he finally managed, “I think you’ve picked up a new one, too. And I don’t even know what 'ШДCKҰ ЙЄPҢЄШS' means but I’m pretty sure it’s bad.”

“Hmph!”

“Wait, what’re you doing in here this late?” he asked, and then an odd realization struck him, “you had the nightmare...” He should have been surprised at his own words, the, not a... and yet it seemed to him as plain as the haunted look on her face.

For her part, she didn’t seem surprised either, only nodded and looked away, “I do not remember it. I... I think I have had it before, I just...”

And then, much to Edgas’s surprise, she suddenly stepped very near to him, almost touching, looking up at him with wide, piercing eyes. His instinct was to step back, but those eyes seemed to root him in place. He stared back, once again feeling... fuzzy, as if still half asleep, as if gravity itself had somehow diminished, and he was drifting. The strange sensations, the depth of that gaze... they drew up old memories long hidden away, but... not...

Those eyes bored into him, he felt like they were reaching into his soul, but... there was no darkness, no nothing behind them. No, it was like... looking into two pools of light itself, in every color at once, and he was floating... being drawn into them. 

Then just as abruptly, she stepped back, and for just an instant he felt himself pulled along with her.  

She nodded, mostly to herself, “I cannot read your thoughts. But I can feel that... fear in you, always twisted with everything else. All of it, it is stronger the closer I am.”

He blinked, “um, what?”

For a moment, she kept giving him that considering look, “i feel what you feel. I know you can, too. Even for a kerb, you are not that imperceptive.”

He blinked again. 

She rolled her eyes at him, grunted, and stepped close to him once more, now squeezing them tightly shut, “perhaps you are that dense. Go on. Stretch out with your feelings, or some such nonsense.”

Feeling more than a bit silly, he closed his own eyes and did so, not quite sure what he was actually trying to do. Did she really mean she could feel what he was feeling? Maybe he was missing something. Although, truth be told, he had experienced far stranger things. 

So he stood there, feeling... silly. There was conflict, of course. Lately, he always felt conflicted. But... had it been just lately? He’d always tried so hard to... to... contain everything, to move on and not dwell on the past, but... well, really, was there any room in there for someone else too? Edgas felt a lot of things right at the moment, not to put too find a point on it, especially now that he was actually trying to pay attention to it all, but it was all certainly his, well probably, and besides—

“Gah!” she threw her hands up, stepping back, “PЦTIЙS ЗДЯS, how can you even think with all that going on?”

“Um, I dunno, just used to it, I guess,” he said sheepishly, “let me get you some water for your throat.”

He turned to the water cooler, plucking a pair of not-glasses from the cabinet above and filling them. When he turned back, she was staring at him with that look again... and just the hint of a smile.

“I never told you I was thirsty,” she grinned. 

Edgas stopped dead, just sort of... blinking again. 

He motioned over to the little table, suddenly feeling rather wobbly, where she downed the entire glass of water before he even sat down. He managed to actually take a seat on the third trip.

“Thirsty?” he winced. Though he supposed, on some distant level, he was aware he didn’t need to ask.

Yet she nodded, gazing at her empty cup, “I feel like I have been choking on sand. So dry. And cold, but... burning.” She jumped, looking at him as if unaware she’d been talking. 

It reminded Edgas how parched his own throat still was, and he quickly finished his glass.

“What does it mean?” that questing look returned to her eyes.

“Um... well, I dunno. I’m not even sure I rem—“

“You know,” she set her jaw, “it scares me, because I do not know; wherever it comes from, it is a thing alien to me now. But you... you are afraid because you know, because you know it is a thing worth being afraid of.”

That was... closer than he wanted to admit, “it’s... a long story.”

Now he did sense a flash of anger, “like your hands?”

“My... hands?” his brow wrinkled in confusion. 

She reached across the small table, and taking his hands in hers, turned them palm-down, “this one is... normal, it matches your face, but the right...” she ran a thumb over the back of his hand, “is soft, smooth... like a child’s hand. No blemishes or marks... except for this little half-circle scar here.”

“How did you even..?”

The hint of a smile returned, “I notice things. Little details, sometimes I am not even aware... like my brain has filed it away for later. I have lost my memories, not my mind, yes?”

“Um... wow. Yeah, I suppose that makes a certain sense...”

“So why do you have an entire arm that has not aged like the rest of you?” her eyes began to bore into him again, but not like before, “why is one as intelligent as you, who commands such admiration from his crew, and a kerbonaut with a wall full of commendations, hidden away in a place like this, as if someone wanted rid of you?” No, the look in her eyes now was more like... pleading, “and why do you want so desperately to remain hidden, in a communications station with all the communications turned off?”

Edgas slumped back in his seat, his own eyes wide.

He stumbled to say anything, but managed, “it’s—“

“A long story,” she raised an eye... bulge.

All he could come up with was an awkward grin.

She shook her head, shuddered, as if sloughing something off, “can we just... talk, like regular people? Without forgotten pasts and haunted dreams. I... I would just like to feel normal for a little while, even if I do not know what that is.”

Her eyes rose to his, nearly welling to tears, “tell me a story, Edgas Kerman.”

And so... he did. 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

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1 hour ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

PЦTIЙS ФLD DЄCЯЄPIT MЦM ДЙD ДLL ҢЄЯ ШДCKҰ ЙЄPҢЄШS

As far as I can tell, this says: (cussword)'s OLD Deceased Mom and all her Wacky Nephews..............Am I close, @CatastrophicFailure?

Edited by Alpha 360

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@CatastrophicFailure, there's a typo. Third sentence from the top, you said "nausea cane", when (I'm pretty sure) you meant "nausea came".

With that out of the way...

I like it. Looks like I'm going to have to re-read Shadows and Whispers, in order to remember who did what back in the day.

Edited by IncongruousGoat

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Thanks for the typo notice, guys. :P Damp you, Autocorrect, damp you straight to help.

it came down to the last four minutes but I actually managed to get two chapters up in a week. :D

 

7 hours ago, Alpha 360 said:

As far as I can tell, this says: (cussword)'s OLD Deceased Mom and all her Wacky Nephews..............Am I close, @CatastrophicFailure?

That would be decrepit:wink: Even She won’t use some cuss words.  :o

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3 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Damp you, Autocorrect, damp you straight to help.

:D

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Well dangit, was hoping to have the next installment up tonight, but I just can't keep my eyes open any longer.

Hopefully this is an effect of fatigue and not literary quality. <_<

Tomorrow for sure.

Stupid cold medicine.

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14: 3500

15: 3900

16: 3300

17: 5100

18: 4400

19: 2800

 

20: 3900

I think I’m beginning to see a pattern, here. <_<

No wonder these keep taking so long anymore.

I think @Ten Key is finally starting to rub off on me. 

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There will be wars and rumors of wars,
And you will see dire portents in the sky, 
Great upheaval will wrack the land,
And Kerb’s trust in his brother will be shaken. 


Chapter 20: The Eclipse


It’s time. 

It’s time.

It’s time!

The small station was practically bursting with excitement. All throughout, hatches were open and windows uncovered, letting the fragile, ruddy sunlight beyond stream into dark passages wherever possible. The crew bustled about, making preparations, their feet barely touching the cold metal floors. 

For his part, even Edgas felt it. He went about his rounds with a spring in his step and smile on his lips. He had nearly forgotten. With everything going on, he had nearly forgotten, and he still found the very idea downright bewildering. It wasn’t every day this happened, after all. Or even... every month. Some small voice buried in his mind kept reminding him there were... other reasons, too. 

“Well, you sure seem to be in a good mood,” Burdous noted, then went back to coughing. 

“It’s a big day,” Edgas said as he closed the hatch behind him, “the crew’s been waiting for this a long time.”

“Uh huh,” Burdous cocked an eye... bulge at him, “and you’re sure that’s all it is?”

“Sure. You really should come up and see it.”

Burdous gave him a blank stare, “do I look like I’m in any condition to go outside right now?!”

Well...

Burdous was seated at a long table in the lab module, surrounded by computers in various states of disassembly, piles of hardware in various states of disarray, and piles of tissues just... piled, all while wearing a very pink knit blanket, festooned in unicorns jumping over rainbows. 

A shudder visibly ran through him, “do you have any idea how cold it is out there?!”

Edgas glanced at the display—

“That was a rhetorical question,” Burdous said flatly, coughing, before Edgas could speak, “and besides, I wouldn’t want to spoil a special moment with you-know-who,” and did that... thing with his eye... bulges. 

“Whut.” Edgas said. 

Burdous rose, and wrapped an arm around the other Kerb’s shoulders as he led him around the room in a fatherly lecture, “Edgas, my dude, my buddy, my homefry... I have earned advanced post-doctoral degrees in nuclear physics, astrophysics, quantum string theory, and inverted underwater basket weaving. What that all means, is that I am very good at putting two and two together. And weaving inverted baskets underwater. But anyways, there’s no denying the evidence.” Then he went back to coughing. 

Edgas’s mouth flopped helplessly for some time before he could speak, “w-w-what evidence?! What are you talking about?”

“Well for starters,” Burdous fixed him with a smarmy look, “she’s wearing your very-most-favorite-est sweatshirt... and clinging to it like a security blanket.”

More fishy-flopping, “she was cold! I’m just trying to help her through an unimaginable situation, here!”

“Of course you are,” he raised an eye... bulge, “because you’re pretty much the most guileless person to ever walk the land ever, and you’d give practically anyone the shirt right off your back,” he leaned in, “but not even you are immune from having your cadet-years crush literally fall into your lap.”

Edgas went through several phases, and faces, of unsuccessfully trying to form coherent syllables before, “its not like that! It’s not like that at all!” He threw his hands up.

“Oh?” Burdous added a wink to his wide, smarmy grin, “methinks you doth protest too much.”

“Gah!” Edgas screamed, “you’re imagining things!” He grabbed the bottle of cough syrup from the table, “how much of this stuff have you had, anyway?”

This time Burdous answered with a fit of horrendous coughing, “not enough, apparently!” Another round took him, wet and gurgling and glorping. He quickly pulled a tissue from the box and pressed it to his mouth, “ugh! Nasty!” he glanced at it, “oh, that’s foul! Just great, now I’m hworking up little black chunks of lung.”

He thrust a finger at Edgas, “if I die it’s your fault!”

“Isn’t that a bit melodramatic?” the other kerb frowned at him. 

Burdous tossed the tissue away with a cringe, then raised a hand to his forehead and and crooned a few octaves higher, “oh, woe, woe is me! Curse thee, O crrrruel fate!”

Edgas only sighed. 

“Are you making any progress with...” he looked over the mound of equipment, “all this?”

After his own weary sigh, a light crept into Burdous’s eyes, “not as fast as I’d hoped, but not as bad as I feared, either. It’s... bizarre, like looking into another world.”

“How do you mean?”

He nodded to the pile, “carbon nanotube spintronics, memristor strands... all beyond the cutting edge a decade ago, but also an evolutionary dead-end. Processing technology instead followed the quantum computing archetype, once they managed to get the Schrödinger’s bugs out,” he shuddered, “this tech is beyond anything publicly acknowledged, but it’s also obsolete. It’s like looking at a world that could have been.”

“You mean like... Schrödinger’s computer case?” Edgas grinned.

Burdous just looked at him, “ok, you totally don’t understand quantum mechanics, do you?”

“Well, yes and no...”

“That’s not funny.”

Edgas raised a hand to his face, “anyways, any idea on getting it figured out?”

“Soon™️,” Burdous huffed, “I’ve just about got the hardware emulated, it all depends on defeating that AHAB routine. After that, it’s basically a big reboot, and just the right jolt.”

“Oh, there you are,” she said as she entered, looking nonplussed, “Doc is looking for you. And the others say, if you do not hurry, we will miss this... thing.”

“Hi Val!” Burdous again strode toward her with open arms.

Whoosh!

Crunch.

Thud.

“Ow.”

“Sorry,” she said un-sorrily, “reflex.”

Edgas raised a hand to his face. Again.

“That’s ok,” Burdous coughed his voice back down to its usual pitch and picked himself up. Then, sidelong to Edgas, “observe.”

“So, you’re going outside to see the thing, right?” he said with a wide smile, “still mighty cold out there,” he shuffled around on the table, “hey, I found this parka in the closet, looks about your size. Still sealed in the plastic and everything.”

She took a quick step back, pulling the hood of the sweatshirt tighter.

Burdous grinned a sly grin.

“Why is he grinning like that?” she crossed her arms, “tell him to stop, it makes me want to hit him again. Harder.”

“Burdous...” Edgas said through his hand.

“You really spent six months in deep space with him?” she gave Edgas a jab.

His mouth fell open, “how... how does she know about that?!”

“Well, we... kinda got to talking last night,” Edgas could feel his face growing red, “I told her everything.”

And now, it was Burdous’s turn for his mouth to flop open and closed like a fish trying desperately to breathe. Or perhaps vomit. And cough. 

Edgas peeked at her through his fingers. He could feel an undeniable sense of... was it schädenfrüde? Or no, weinersnitchel. Something in Krünisch. 

Finally, Burdous composed himself, “you... you told her?!”

He nodded, “I think maybe she’s mixed up in it somehow.”

Burdous turned to her, raising a shocked eye... bulge, “and you believed him?”

“Sure, why not?” she shrugged, “what do I know? For all I know, is all the rage these days to go around punching giant, horrific space monsters in face.”

“You told her that?” he frowned at Edgas, who could only give an awkward grin. Then his eyes grew wide, “Wait, what about... Well, you know...” and a series of disjointed gestures passed between the two kerbs. 

Edgas scratched at the back of his head, “well, maybe not everything.”

She eyed him, “wait, what?”

“Whoah! Hey! Lookit the time,” Burdous burst out, “wow, guess I’d better get back to work here and you guys have a thing to go see! C’mon, movemovemove outoutout...” he somehow shuffled the other two out the door, and she was so shocked by the sudden turn that she apparently completely forgot to clobber him. 

The pair found themselves blinking in the hall as the hatch slammed shut behind them. 

“What was that all about?” she said, “what have you not told me?”

Edgas, well, grinned awkwardly, “um...”

“Boss, d’you have a minute?”

And breathed a silent thanks to Doc for showing up at just the right moment, “sure, what’s going on?”

Doc’s eyes twitched back and forth between the other two, “uh... maybe alone?” He winced. 

She eyed the both of them, but Edgas put on his best ‘I really know what I’m doing’ face, “hey, why don’t I meet you in Node Two? The guys should have everything ready down there.”

She scowled at him, but eventually relented, “fine, if you say so. I do not see what all the fuss is anyway, I have seen eclipse before. I think.”

He watched her go. Her motions without the cane, now, were subdued and deliberate, but rock steady. Her hip didn’t seem to have that catch anymore, letting her move with the smoothness one should ex—

Her head whipped around, the accusation plain on her face. 

What followed was, the Scientist in Edgas observed, a most peculiar exchange of facial expressions yet without a single word said. Finally he raised a hand to his face and turned away, feeling more than a little bit put upon. And red. 

He sighed, “what’s up, Doc?”

Doc opened his mouth.

Doc closed his mouth.

Edgas grew even redder, “sorry.”

Handing him a tablet, Doc shook his head, “more anomalous sensor readings. Earthquake in Ponpín.”

“There’s always an earthquake in Ponpín,” Edgas said.

“Not like this, there’s not. Hard to pick through the readings but it looks like a couple of dozen unique signatures, all in rapid sequence, like an earthquake... storm, or something.”

“That... is unusual...”

“It gets weirder,” Doc tapped on the tablet, “atmospheric samples from the tail end of the storm.”

Edgas read, his brow crinkling down ever more as he did, “iodine-131? Strontium-89... barium-140...” he looked up, “these are... nuclear fission products...”

Doc nodded, “just trace amounts. Barely enough to even register on the sensors.”

“Could it be storm damage? It looks like it came right near the end, maybe the constant buffeting threw the calibration off,” Edgas pressed a hand to the wide, flat spot between his eyes, “I hope we’re not looking at some systemic problem, here.”

“Possible, I suppose,” Doc eyed him, “but without comms I can’t verify the readings with other stations.”

“We’ll have to add the air samplers to the priority inspection list with the seismic sensors.” 

Doc held his gaze, “Boss... I think maybe something’s wrong down south. We should call in a report. Or at the very least, turn on the receivers and get some news.”

Edgas dropped his hand to his chin. He could feel it again. That horrible sensation, as if reality was getting all crinkly around the edges. Doc was right, but if he was right, too...

“No,” Edgas said at length, “not yet. Even on passive, the receivers send out a repeater ping, if someone’s listening for it...”

“Like who..?”

This time, Edgas couldn’t even grin.

Doc frowned at him, “Boss, what’s going on? What’s got you so on edge?”

“It’s...” but he couldn’t bring himself to answer.

“A twelve-years-dead Ussari kerbonaut falls out of the sky, a storm worse than any we’ve ever seen, bizarre sensor readings getting worse, and now the the Commander of the Grand Tour mission, who’s apparently also a close personal friend of yours, is sitting in our lab trying to fix a computer that Poindexter swears never existed?” Doc shook his head, “the guys are starting to ask questions and I’m running out of answers.

Edgas looked off down the hall, where the murmur of voices could just be heard, unsurprised, “do they still trust me?”

“Of course,” Doc scoffed, “they’d trust you to the end of the world.”

Setting his jaw, Edgas looked back, and held the other kerb’s eyes, “and what about you? Do you trust me?”

Doc recoiled as if struck, “Boss... I trust you with my life... you know that.”

Edgas smiled, and put a hand on Doc’s shoulder, “I do. Burdous will have that thing figured out soon, and then... I’ll know what to do. I just need you to trust me a little further.”

Doc gave a hesitant nod, “ok,” and then, a smile both bitter and sweet, “ok.” He clapped a hand on Edgas’s shoulder, “you’re a good friend, Ed, I know you’ll do right by us, and them.”

Forcing down a wince, Edgas smiled back instead, “hey, speaking of Burdous, I think his cold’s getting worse. Would you mind maybe taking a look at him?”

“I already did,” Doc shuddered, “didn’t need to see that tattoo... artist must’ve been scarred for life, too...”

“What?”

“Er, nothing,” Doc jumped, “but anyways, yeah, it’s just a cold. Probably exacerbated by this dry, recycled air. Nothing to worry about.” He punctuated this with a couple of dry, rasping coughs of his own. 

“Wait, not you too?” Edgas frowned. 

Doc gave a shrug, nodding to the closed hatch, “he’s a smart guy, and he’s right. This is an isolated ecosystem and he’s just brought all sorts of alien bugs into it. We’ll all probably end up coming down with something.” He sighed, “I’d better go check the date on that barrel of Vitamin C tabs in storage.”

Edgas nodded, “ok. And as soon as the excitement’s over, have Doreyme  and Fahso do a full physical diagnostic and calibration of the entire sensor network. If we can’t cross-reference the data, we can at least verify it. If these readings aren’t just anomalies...” he shrugged, “I might have to rethink a few things.”

“Got it, Boss,” Doc gave a nod and a grin, and then was gone. 

***

“Oh, there you are,” she said with a huff, “I was about to come find you. They say is almost time.”

“Sorry, had some clerical issues to tie up,” Edgas offered an awkward grin. 

“If you say so,” she eyed him a moment, “I still do not get what all this fuss is about. I have seen an eclipse before. It happens every month, everyone has seen an eclipse before.”

His grin became a touch brighter, “do you remember seeing an eclipse?”

“Well... no...” PЦTIЙ. He had her, there.  

“Trust me, you’ve never seen one like this,” and his grin became a real smile. 

A knock on the window of the upper hatch of this small node drew their attention. Edgas gave a thumbs-up, then there was a click and a hiss, and a cold blast of air rushed around her. It smelled wonderfully... alien, after knowing nothing but the unrealized smells in this confined space for as long as she could remember. She squinted up as a figure appeared in the brightness above, and Lumpy’s rough, misshapen hand reached down. She hesitated only a moment before taking it. 

“Eeeeeeeeeek!”

The motion was so swift and effortless that it drew the shriek from her lips, yet almost before she realized it, she was plopped down and embraced by a refreshingly light, cold breeze. 

“Ye’ll watch yer step up here young miss, yar,” Lumpy smiled a squinty smile, guileless as any she’d ever seen from Edgas, “‘tis slippery, shore.”

She smiled back, but before she could say anything, the odd sensation of color just at the edge of her vision drew her away. 

“Woooooowwwwwww...”

She... had expected more, well, white...

But staring out over the frozen landscape, such lack of color was nowhere to be seen. Far to the south, a fat, gibbous sun squatted on the horizon burning orange, and she found she could look at it with no discomfort. The ice around bloomed with fire, with yellows and reds and golds, all sparkling like the jeweled heaps of a vast and untouched treasure stretching off to infinity. Above, the crimson glow of the that eternal sunrise faded to blue in a cloudless sky, and then pinks and purples and indigos, all crowned with a swirling diadem of green and yellow as the aurora danced, a font of beauty in the place where morning gathered. 

She turned in a slow circle, lost in the spectacle, and was only dimly aware when the ground simply ceased beneath her left foot, and for the moment, didn’t much care.

“Whoah! Careful there, I’ve got you!”

It took a conscious effort to pull her mind back to that moment, where she found Edgas holding her by one arm and her foot hanging over a veritable abyss. 

“It’s something, isn’t it?” he grinned.

“Er, yes...” she stepped away from the edge. Now with her senses regained, it wasn’t quite an abyss, but still would have been a five meter drop into snow that may not have been as soft as it looked. 

“Here, you’d best put these on,” Edgas handed her some things, zipping up his own puffy jacket and pulling on a knit cap.  

She looked at the kit. Mittens, which were nice, her hands were getting a bit cold, and... some kind of harness?

“Do I really need... this?”

Edgas glanced up, “its a bit of a climb, but we’ve got it down to a science, now.”

“Climb?” she followed his gaze... and nearly toppled over again from a flash of vertigo, “I... I cannot climb that! I can barely walk...” It must be thirty or forty meters... straight up...

She felt his steadying hand on her shoulder, “you’ll be all right. I’ll be right behind you, and Lumpy here will be hauling you up on the cable.” 

Lumpy smiled a lumpy smile. 

“Um...” she suddenly felt strangely anxious, “for me, is really not worth such trouble... I... can see fine from here...”

“Shore’n thart’s the best seat inna house, yar,” Lumpy gave her a sober nod, “‘tis a great courtesy th’ Boss be given yer, young miss. We’d all be castin’ lots fer the privilege, oth’rwise.”

Again she stared up at some sort of tower, flanked by a caged ladder that seemed to go on forever, “oh... kay...” She held her arms out as Edgas fastened the harness around her, it jangled with metal rings and felt assuringly stout. Finally, she approached the ladder and wrapped a hand around a rung, if just to keep it from trembling.  

I... I should not be nervous of this... I... I know that...

With that thought in her mind, she set her jaw and planted a foot. 

“You’ll do fine, I’ll be right behind you,” Edgas gave her one last encouraging, slightly awkward smile. 

As she climbed, Lumpy heaved on the line. Well, gave it a light pull with one hand. She found she was able to make the ascent easily, letting her weight hang from the harness as needed. Soon the metal cage surrounded her, and just as he said, Edgas was right behind her the whole time. 

“What even...” she panted, “is this thing?”

“Radio mast,” Edgas said, his own breathing unperturbed, “the main arrays are taller but there’s a crow’s nest up top.”

She nodded, pulling herself upward. She made a point not to look down, yet as she looked out, a disquieting feeling came over her that had nothing to do with the height. The beauteous expanse seemed to shift, the the orange and yellow no more the glow of treasure but of flames... as if the world itself were burning beneath them. For a moment she slowed, but the kiss of heat against her cheeks spurred her onward. 

“You... you alright?” Edgas called up.

“Fine,” she huffed, suddenly finding the cold, refreshing air gone. 

Fire... everything was on fire... 

And as she looked up, the spectacle of the sky, too, had grown rancid. She no longer saw a slow fade of color one to the next but a stark line across the heavens. Darkness and light pitted against each other, as if in battle, the aurora’s bright splashes now the harsh, blinding peak of conflict, of suffering, and at the center of it all, driving it, forcing it on as stellar fire scoured the landscape below away...

She looked down, his eyes.., and screamed. 

“Whoah! You ok?” in an instant, he was there. 

She blinked, shaking the vision from her mind, not sure what she had just...

“Should have warned you about looking down, it can really catch you off guard this high.”

“Yes, looked down, I am ok,” she waited for the quaking in her arms to subside, “scared myself. Perhaps... perhaps we should go back...”

“We’re already there,” Edgas grinned, pointing up, “just a few more meters.”

She looked, certain it had seemed much farther only a moment ago. But, closer than going down, and she desperately wanted something solid under her feet. So she moved on, at last stepping off onto metal grating that thankfully had a nice, high railing she could just barely see over.

Even with what she had just seen the view from up here was, well, spectacular

“Welcome to the top of the world,” Edgas said, “we’re just in time,” he took up a position just a short distance away, “look...”

“I still do not see...” but she looked anyway. From here, the sun was perhaps just a bit fatter than before, still a brilliant orange. A few far, whispy clouds in the distance glowed back red. But as she watched, the brightness dimmed. Soon, she could see a dark disc slowly chewing its way across the brilliance. 

Something buried in her mind nudged her, “but... at this latitude, we will not even see totality...”

“Just watch...”

She watched. The golden landscape receded, fading briefly to white, then grey, then shadow. The dark shape of the Mün reached toward its zenith, a bare blaze of sun still appearing to poke out just above it. That diminished, faded, drifted away, and then...

She gasped and pressed hands to her mouth as the sky exploded.

Before... the cavalcade of light she had seen before was but a pale, languished thing compared to what now greeted her eyes. Colors in shimmering, iridescent shades she never could have imagined burst forth from that point on the horizon, racing across the firmament, painting it like the fires of heaven. They swayed and cavorted, exulting, sweeping away the strife and decay of the blasted landscape that had assaulted her mind just moments ago. Before this onslaught, such things of darkness had no power. Before this force, they fled as from the very forge of Creation itself. 

Her arms fell to her sides, her face bathed in the billion dancing revelations of primordial Light, and thought her heart might break from the beauty of it. 


“It’s Minmus, you know,” Edgas said a thousand light years away, “only visible up here, every few years. With the solar glare blocked, the coronal light refracting through its atmosphere can be seen interacting with charged particles in the—“

“Shut up.”

“‘Kay.”

Whether it went on for eternity or an instant, she couldn’t tell, and didn’t much care. She had only the most vestigial awareness of Edgas suddenly fumbling something from his coat.

“That was Burdous,” he said, putting his phone away, “he’s had a breakthrough. It’s... it’s time.”

“‘Kay.”

Eternity, or an instant, she couldn’t tell, but somewhere in it, her hand found his.

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Oh wow. Oh man that was good.

Got a couple of thoughts and comments but for now - imma just gonna take in some more of that aurora.

Although this bit made me smile:  “It’s Minmus, you know,” Edgas said a thousand light years away, “only visible up here, every few years. With the solar glare blocked, the coronal light refracting through its atmosphere can be seen interacting with charged particles in the—“

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