CatastrophicFailure

Revelations of the Kraken (Chapter 38: Talking at Windows)

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Irony that I’m typing this on an iPad is not lost. :P

How else would you know? :P

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Sing like nobody’s listening,
Love like you’ve never been hurt,
Dance like nobody’s watching,
And live like it’s Heaven on earth. 

Chapter 32: Perfect Tonight

The four sat, rather droopy, in a ballroom that was, like every other room in this place, quite enormous. A few couples swirled to a melancholy waltz out on the dance floor while a chamber quartet played on. Edgas recognized some of them. They were members of the House staff, even the musicians. He thought that odd, but was hardly an expert on such things. 

The Empress was seated off to one side, overlooking the floor from what was absolutely not a throne on a low dais. Her face was unreadable as ever, yet even she seemed somehow sorrowful. Edgas tried not to look at her, and to ignore the rhythmic pains in his head that felt like they were bouncing around back and forth inside his skull until the scar on his face quivered. His anger had abated to a low burbling, or maybe that was still his stomach. He really should have eaten more. 

Beside him, Burdous let out a low sigh, “well, this place sure is a drag.”

Dibella waved a finger at him, “don’t get any ideas!”

“What??” he said defensively. 

She looked at him. 

He looked at her. 

“Oh, come on!” he blurted out, “it worked, didn’t it?”

Valentina broke in, “you have to admit, it did liven the place up.”

“Wait, what? What are we talking about?” Edgas asked. 

Dibella crossed her arms, “you don’t want to know.”

Edgas frowned at her, then frowned at Burdous, “do I even know you?”

“Hey, spending a few years in a hole in the ground that doesn’t officially exist can change a person, y’know?” he shot back, “Some of my talents just weren’t appreciated there.”

Edgas blinked, then turned to Dibella, “you’re right, I don’t want to know.”

Besides,” Burdous straightened up and adjusted his bowtie, “I have other plans tonight, anyway.”

Edgas followed his gaze, “oh, nonononononono! Are you nuts?! Do you want to get us all turned into newts??”

“Well how do you know you wouldn’t enjoy being a newt?” he shot back, “it’s probably a nice, peaceful, low-stress life. Besides,” he stuck his chin up, “you get to spit fire and wade through lava.”

Edgas buried his face in his hands, “you’re thinking salamanders...”

“Whatever. I’m a nuclear physicist, not a herpetologist.”

Those salamanders don’t even exist!”

“Well I’m not a cryptobiologist, either.”

“Gah!”

“Now if you’ll excuse me,” Burdous rose with a disquieting grin on his face, “it’s time to make my move.”

Valentina grabbed his belt and pulled him back down, “Burdous, er, as your friend, I must say... out of all the kerbelles in this great, wide world, she is the one who is possibly the most out of your league.”

He grinned back, and did that... thing with his eye... bulges, “since when has that ever stopped me?”

Valentina palmed her own face, “you have a point...”

Edgas grabbed him again, “wait! No...  c’mon, really... um... what about the seamstress there, on the mandolin? Whatshername, Jencine... she’s cute, right?”

Burdous recoiled, “what, the hairy one?! She has chest hair!”
“I do not have chest hair!”

He looked over, “wow, and really good hearing, too. But no!”

“I thought you liked hair in strange places?” Edgas gawked back. 

“Why would you even think—? Oh. But no!

Edgas thought a moment, “ok, what about the one in charge, Triti, is it?”

Burdous’s pupils shrank down to singularities, “she scares me. And not in a good way.”

“Ugh, how about Haylotte?”

“Butterface.”

“Negy?”

“Smells weird.”

“Leelenna?”

“Big feet.”

“Hel... len.... na.....” And right about this time, Edgas felt a peculiar itching sensation on the back of his neck, and Burdous had grown quite pale. Slowly, he turned...

Valentina was surrounded by an aura of raging flames, which also danced in the eyes her slasher’s smile did not touch. 

“How do you know all these other kerbelle’s names?” she said without moving her lips. 

Edgas... really didn’t have an answer for that. He knew he should have eaten more, his blood sugar must be getting low. That would explain the weakness, trembling, hallucination, and impending sense of doom at the moment. 

...right?

“Welp,” Burdous rose again, “I’ll leave you two to work that one out. The heart wants what the heart wants.”

Edgas looked to Dibella and squeaked, “lil’ help here?”

“Oh, no,” she leaned back, smiling a diabolical smile, “I want to see where this goes,” she looked between the two of them, “both cases.”

He sighed as he watched Burdous go, wondering vaguely what it would be like to be a newt and whether that might get Valentina’s burning eyes off his neck. Burdous trundled around the slowly spinning couples, his face set in a look of confidence while still trying to avoid eye contact with all those names. Roland, looking quite bored himself, barely raised an eye... bulge at the approach. 

And then, before the Empress, Burdous bowed low, extending his right hand with a twirly flourish, “my lady... would you do me the honor of a dance?”

Roland’s eyes popped wide, “now see here, you artless, flap-mouthed clotpole—!”

But the Empress, face as unreadable as ever, stayed him with a hand. Without saying a word, she gave Burdous the other, and let him lead her out on the dance floor as the quartet began a slow canon in D. 

The three watched incredulously for a time, expecting at any moment to begin growing damp and sprouting tails. And yet... Burdous and the Empress simply... danced. And his hands stayed put. Where they belonged, even. 

“Wow... he is good...”

“He’s very good...”

***

“You dance very well,” the Empress said as they swayed and circled through the steps, her face revealing nothing. 

“And you’re surprised,” Burdous gave a smirk and a wink. 

She seemed to consider this a moment, “I must admit, I am.”

“That’s the thing nobody ever mentions about deep space travel,” he shrugged, “it’s really boring.”

The slightest hint of a frown curled the edges of her mouth, “I am afraid I... do not understand...”

The smirk on Burdous’s own softened just a touch, his eyes wandering off to nowhere, and the two twirled about, “when we left for Eve, it was a flurry— no, a blizzard of activity on board, headless chickens and all that. There just didn’t seem to be enough hours in the duty cycle to do everything that needed doing, even with every moment of our time planned out to the second. The scientists were salivating at the trickle of interplanetary data coming in, the pilots were checking and quadruple-checking our course, and the engineers dared not even blink as they monitored my— ahem, the engine.

“And then, about a week later, it all just... stopped. Somehow, this time, I... I thought it might be different, but I guess that’s just what happens when everything is going right. You can only stare at the same numbers so long. We lost any meaningful throughput on the DeepNet within, say, a day of leaving. Couple days later, we couldn’t really talk with Mission Control either— each reply took seconds, then minutes, then...” he shrugged, as they swayed, “we all went through our supply of e-books within... a month? Then it was nothing but old reruns of Space Schlep someone had brought on a thumb drive.”

The Empress... said nothing. The music built and swelled as they moved along, Burdous’s feet moving with relaxed, practiced grace. Only the slightest raising of her eye... bulge...

“Then we arrived at Eve, and it was right back to poultry in motion again,” this brought a bare twitch of her lip, “Gilly was any spacekerb’s dream, we were all going a bit stir crazy by then and it felt so good to get out of the ship... even if it was, really, just into much smaller ships. We actually enjoyed ourselves, the boffins say that golf ball I hit will be in orbit forever. Then it was on to Eve, that was much more serious. No one would admit it, but we were all scared out of our wits, even the guys who stayed in orbit. That was interesting, but it was no fun, even with exosuits. I’ll tell ya, if you ever need a little motivation for your diet, go for a walk on Eve.”

Her eyes most certainly grew wide at this. 

“Er, sorry... but, I ramble. Anyway, then we headed for Moho, and had all the same excitement and anticipation. We’d done something important, we knew that, and were going off to do more important stuff... but that didn’t last either. The boredom returned twice as fast, the ship was in perfect health, on perfect course, and scientists had to package up all their samples for return without really looking at them. Eventually, we couldn’t even look out the windows anymore. Had to close the thermal covers.”

The Empress, for her part, showed no sign of boredom, at least not outwardly. She never once let her eyes wander, or try to hurry him or even begrudge him a point, even if her dancing was perhaps a bit... mechanical. 

Roland, for his part, also looked anything but bored, and was busy staring daggers at Burdous from across the room. 

“Moho was... creepy,” he shuddered, perhaps feeling one of those daggers, “maybe it was how the sun hung there huge and fat in the sky without ever seeming to move, or how it cast these long funny-looking shadows off the shattered rocks that always seemed like they were reaching out for you, no matter where you moved, or... I dunno, the whole place just felt wrong. We grabbed some samples, did our ‘flags and footprints’ thing and left in a hurry. 

“But that put us in position for a close fly-by of Kerbin on our way out to Duna. I knew we’d only get a couple of hours of useful DeepNet throughput, so while everyone else was trying to download the latest hi-def episode of Lightningbug or Space Schlep: The New Guys, I just grabbed a video series on ballroom dancing, and during the rest of the cruise I taught myself how with an old space mop.” He grinned brightly. 

She considered this for a fitting amount of time, “that is... interesting.”

A nod, “and also learned a couple of very important things.”

“Oh? And what are those?”

“Well first off, learning to dance is a lot easier in the closet on the 0.3g level of the hab centrifuge, and secondly...”

In a single, silky-smooth motion he spun her around and up on her toes, and for one horrifying moment looked ready to dip the Empress backwards...

“...Having the right dance partner makes all the difference in the world,” 

Instead Burdous dipped himself down into a low, flourishing bow, with one leg kicked out behind him and a hand raised still holding hers. The Empress favored him with something that might have been a real smile. 

Roland, on the other hand, was gripping his cane in both of his, and looked ready to start gnawing on it, or perhaps simply snap it in half. 
 
And right on cue, the music faded away. 

***

“Well, that was... unexpected,” Edgas folded his arms and went back to brooding. 

Valentina shrugged, “he does sort of have a knack for such things.”

“We shouldn’t even be here,” Edgas huffed, “this is a waste of time.”

“Look, I am inclined to agree with you,” Valentina offered, “but what else can we do? We are at her mercy, in more ways than one.”

“We should be doing something!

“Oh?” she eyed him, “like what?”

“I dunno, anything! After all we’ve been through, to just... sit around..!” he threw his hands up. 

“Maybe you should not just sit around then,” Dibella said with a grin. 

Edgas looked up, and found Burdous grinning at him from across the room. Then Burdous turned, and winked over at the musicians. The mandolin player, Jencine, he thought her name was, oddly enough winked back. There was a general shuffling about, and she led them into something a bit more upbeat. And odder still, began to sing...

“The summer air was heavy and sweet,
You and I on a crowded street.
There was music everywhere, I can see us there,”

Edgas just rolled his eyes, “this is ridiculous.”

Valentina hesitated a moment, then laid a hand on his arm, “perhaps you should go upstairs, get some rest. You will feel better in the morning, no?”

He jerked his arm away, internally screaming at himself that it was because this was a waste and he was mad, absolutely not because her touch sent his nearly-empty stomach into flip-flops.

“In a happy little foreign town,
Where the stars hung upside down,
A half a world away, far far away.”

“You expect me to sleep? The world is coming to an end, and I’m not even sure what that means!

“I remember you were laughing.
We were so in love, we were so in love...”

“Well, really,” she persisted, “what else can we do right now?”

“And the band played, 
Songs that we had never heard,
But we danced anyway.
We never understood the words
We just sang ‘em,
Oh la la la la la la la!
And we danced anyway.”

From their pinched glare, Edgas’s eyes slowly grew wider. He looked across the room once more, and found Burdous looking back over the Empress’s shoulder... and grinning fiendishly. His stunned gaze drifted over to Valentina, then back to the dance floor. 

“Wow. He’s good.”

“He is very good,” she said, with the same expression. 

“They say you can't go back, but baby I don't believe that,
Come along with me, come on and dance with me...”

About this time, Roland pulled his cane away from his mouth before he actually bit right through it. He set it aside with a wistful sigh, rising stiffly. And then... he made his way over to Dibella. 

“My lady,” he offered a bow not quite as graceful as Burdous’s, “may I have the honor of this dance?”

“Oh, my!” Dibella tried to cover her giggles with one hand, letting him lead her out with the other. 

“Maybe if I hold you close,
Baby we could just let go
Of these things that tie us down, 
We'll come back around.”

Edgas and Valentina looked on, virtual twins by their glowers and crossed arms. 

Finally, Valentina shrugged, “he is quite sprightly for his age.”

Edgas matched her, “yeah, especially for a guy in heels.”

“Do you remember? We were laughing,
We were so in love, we were so in love...”

“Oh, you have not seen Burdous then?”

“I— no! Why would I even—?!”

“No, you really should sometime, is quite impressive,” she stuck one be-heeled foot out in the air, blushing a bit, “he, er, gave me a few pointers.”

Edgas gawked at her a moment, then raised a hand to his face. 

“And the band played songs we had never heard
But we danced anyway
We never understood the words,
We just sang ‘em, 
Oh la la la la la la la la la,
La la la, whoa-o-oh!”

Spoiler

 

The music faded, and the two went back to frowning with their arms crossed. But perhaps... their frowns weren’t quite as deep as they had been. This was silly, but... Edgas was beginning to feel even more awkward being the only one sitting down doing nothing. 

Er, not quite the only one...

Maybe he should go outside and get some fresh air, clear his head, maybe even snag something from the leftovers... Either way, obviously nothing important was happening tonight. He turned to suggest this to Valentina, only to find her turning to him with the same look.

“Er, sorry.”

“Sorry.”

“Sorry.”

“Go ahead.”

“No, you first.”

She frowned, dropped her eyes for a moment, “well, I was thinking, if everyone else is... perhaps we should should just...”

But before she could finish, music started up again. Someone seemed to have found a proper guitar. 

“I hope you never lose your sense of wonder,
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger.
May you never take one single breath for granted,
Kerm forbid love ever leave you empty handed.”

Burdous was still grinning at them from across the room. Edgas rolled his eyes, “what’s he up to now?”

Valentina just scowled at him. 

“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean.
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens.
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance...”

“Do you think, perhaps, he is trying to...” she said. 

“And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance...
I hope you dance.
I hope you dance.”

Burdous’s grin widened. The two frowned back. 

“Oh, he is good.”

“He’s very good.”

They sat there, arms crossed, staring at opposite corners of the floor and looking grumpy while everyone else twirled round and round on the dancefloor. 

“I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance,
Never settle for the path of least resistance.”


Edgas turned to Valentina, but found her glaring at the floor. 


Valentina turned to Edgas, but found him glaring at the floor. 

“Living might mean taking chances, but they're worth taking.
Loving might be a mistake, but it's worth making.”

Maybe... maybe it wouldn’t be so bad...


...maybe... maybe it would not be so bad.

“Don't let some hellsbent heart leave you bitter,
When you come close to selling out, reconsider.”

Let it go, just for a moment...


...let my guard down, just for a moment.

“Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance...”

She looks so beautiful..


...he looks so... adorkable.

“I hope you dance!”
(
Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along.)

I look ridiculous...


...I feel ridiculous.

“I hope you dance.
(Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder,)
I hope you dance. 
(Where those years have gone?)”

But... I can’t dance...


...I cannot dance.

“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean.
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens.”

Wouldn’t want to dance with me anyway...


...would not want to dance with me anyway.

“Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance...”

But maybe...


...just maybe.

“Dance!”

They both shot to their feet, balled their fists and closed their eyes and screamed at each other, 

WWiillllyyoouuddaanncceewwiitthhmmee??!!

“I hope you dance.
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along.)”

Spoiler

 

They laughed, finally meeting each other’s eyes, and after a bit of confusion as to who was leading whom, Edgas and Valentina made their own way out onto the dancefloor...

“I hope you dance. 
(Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder?)”

Just as the last few notes died away. There they stood, shuffling about and feeling awkward in the crowd. 

Edgas sighed and looked down, which, unfortunately, meant seeing himself, “I must look a mess.”

Then his eyes snapped back up, “what was that?”

“I... nothing,” she said quickly, color rising to her cheeks. 

And then, just when it seemed things couldn’t possibly get any more uncomfortable, Burdous gave one final long, graceful bow to the Empress... and hopped up with the band. 

He looked right at Valentina and Edgas, his smile... quite a bit different, and as a guitar came in, began to sing...

“I found a love, for me.
Oh darling, just dive right in, and follow my lead.
Well, I found a girl, beautiful and sweet.
Oh, I never knew you were the someone waitin' for me...”

The pair gawked at him, but at the last, just gave up, and with only a bit of fumbling, put arms around each other. Blushing furiously. 

“'Cause we were just kids when we fell in love,
Not knowing what it was,
I will not give you up this time.
But darling, just kiss me slow, your heart is all I own,
And in your eyes, you're holding mine...”

Burdous raised his arms, and right on cue, all the lights dimmed. 

“Baby, I'm dancing in the dark with you between my arms,
Barefoot on the grass, listening to our favorite song.
When I said I looked a mess, you whispered underneath your breath,
I heard it, ‘darling, you look perfect tonight...’”

They looked at each other, swaying just slightly to the melody, grinned from ear to ear and whispered.

“Oh, he’s good.”
“He is very good.”

Jencine joined in the song,

“Well, I found a kerb, stronger than anyone I know,
He shares my dreams, I hope that someday we'll share a home.
I found a love to carry more than just my secrets...”

The two swayed on, while little points of light bloomed across the walls and ceiling, twirling, cavorting, spinning ‘round like a galaxy, perhaps from the glowing münstone around Valentina’s neck, or the little sparkly rock in Edgas’s pocket, or perhaps... another of Burdous’s tricks. 

“We are still kids, but we're so in love,
Fighting against all odds
I know we'll be alright this time.
Darling, just hold my hand,
I’ll be your girl, you'll be my kerb,
And I see my future in your eyes...”

The room, and the lights, and everything else seemed to just fade into the background. All was not right with the world, the wrongness was building and threatened to overshadow the right, but for just this one, fleeting, moment in time,  they decided that didn’t matter. 

Nothing else mattered. 

“Well, baby, I'm dancing in the dark with you between my arms,
Barefoot on the grass, 
Listening to our favorite song.
I have faith in what I see,
Now I know I have met an angel in person,
And she looks perfect, and he looks perfect
No, I don't deserve this,
You look perfect tonight...”

Spoiler

 

The music once more faded away, but the only two on the dancefloor, or perhaps the whole planet, didn’t notice. They kept on swaying, eyes locked on each other, and smiling like they would never stop. 

Until, that is, Burdous found a guitar...

“Well, shake it up baby, now!
(Shake it up baby!)
Twist and shout!
(Twist and shout!)
C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, baby now!
(Come on, baby!)
Come on and work it on out!
(Work it on out!)”

The lights came up, and after one brief moment of mutual contemplation of first degree murder, Edgas and Valentina laughed together, as well. The music played on long into the night, and they kept on dancing like no one was watching. 

Even though everyone was.  

It might have been the jazz hands.

***

Sometime later, a side door of the palatial building flew open with a clatter, and the giggling pair spilled out into a cool night breeze. 

“Oh, this is much better, I did not think a room so big could get so stuffy!” Valentina said, trying to coax a sweat-sodden lock of hair back into place. 

Edgas shook off his horrible suit jacket, “funny, isn’t it, how people can break out into random coordinated dance numbers like that?”

“Indeed,” she said with a laugh, taking his hand and turning down a stone path, “this way, I think, someone said there was a night garden out here.”

“Out... there?” Edgas stopped dead, eyes wide in the dim light. 

“Well, yes, night gardens are typically outside,” she smirked back. 

“But... there’s no lights...”

“They are typically in the dark too,” she rolled her eyes, then raised one, “what is with you all of a sudden?”

“Who? Me? Um, I’m fine...”

Valentina looked off down the pathway, where the house lights quickly faded away to blackness, then back to him.

She planted hands on her hips, “do not tell me you are afraid of the dark!” 

“Um, well...”

“Back in the city you were perfectly fine!”

“Er, we had flashlights... really bright ones...”

She stared at him a moment, then rolled her eyes and grabbed his hand again, “come, I promise I will not let the monster eat you.”

“Oh, that’s real encoura-GING!

...and yanked him along down the path. 

They walked on for a while, hand in hand, perhaps a bit closer than they needed to be while their eyes adjusted to the light. The stone pavers soon gave way to grass, with tall manicured hedges rising up on either side. 

“...Really beautiful,” Edgas mumbled. 

“Ah, what was that?” she turned to him. 

He felt color rise in his cheeks, “er, the stars,” he pointed up, “they’re really beautiful tonight. Can’t remember the last time I actually saw them.”

“You... do not remember the last time you saw stars?”

“I live at the North Pole. Or, did,” a squeeze from her hand chased the thought away before it could form, “it’s never really dark up there. Could see Eve... Jool, when it was really bright... but never like this.”

She smiled back, “I grew up in a place like this. Well, not really, it was a shack in the woods and everything was always trying to eat us. But, I would sit on the roof at night with my Deda... and eventually alone... and look up at the stars. I cannot imagine going so long without seeing them.”

“I’ve spent so long living in twilight, avoiding the darkness,” he sighed, shrugged. 

“If you never leave twilight, you will never know the day, either. I would think, with what you have seen, that the darkness would fear you,” she gave him a playful shoulder bump. 

“Well, you seem to exemplify that,” he bumped back, “I don’t think you know how to be afraid.”

She laughed, “of course I do.”

Still grinning, Edgas released her hand and tottered off into a shadow, “hey, look at me! I’m dancing in the dark!” He kept on trotting backwards, skipping a little jig as he did, while she nearly doubled over laughing. 

And then, quite suddenly, Valentina stopped laughing. And looked very afraid. 

“What?” Edgas paused, and slowly turned. 

He found himself eye-to-eye with a massive, scaly face, hung with an even more massive reptilian beak. 

“Um... hi?”

The beak split open with agonizing slowness, the dim light glinting off its razor-sharp edge, revealing an undulating pink maw perfectly sized to dispatch him in two quick bites. 

Edgas was frozen before it, feet rooted to the ground in terror, and then—

Mllleeeeeeeemmm.

Ew! Ew-ew-ew-ew! Oh, it’s got cabbage breath!” he pushed the huge, slimy tongue away. 

Valentina went back to laughing, struggling even to stay upright. Edgas wiped cabbage-goo from his face, while the creature kept looking at him with slow, thoughtful eyes that somehow seemed kind. A nameplate fixed to its shell above the gargantuan head read, MA’TUIN.

Finally, apparently deciding Edgas was neither edible nor all that interesting, the beast turned and thundered off into the night, each slow footfall like a tiny earthquake. 

“Wow,” Valentina said, watching it go, “now that was a turtle of enormous girth.”

“Yeah,” agreed Edgas, trying to dry himself on his hideous jacket, “looked like he had a lot on his mind, though.”

But before he could contemplate this any longer, Valentina gasped, and pointed toward where the turtle had been. 

Edgas followed her gaze, “...whoah...”

They stood there a time in stunned silence, eyes wide, mouths agape, before once more joining hands and stepping forth... into a world of pure imagination. 

Their minds struggled to comprehend what their eyes were sending, visions beyond fantasy or dreams. They walked along across ordinary-seeming grass, feeling as if floating, lost in the spectacle. There was no fear, here, only such beauty that Edgas thought his heart might leap from his chest. 

“Do... do you think she...”

“I...”

Glowing, bioluminescent wonders teemed all around. The place swirled with a billion, billion colors... and octarine. Something that looked like an iridescent jellyfish floated past with gentle undulations. Then a cluster of what looked like shimmering thistle seeds each the size of Edgas’s head, trailing long, wispy strands of light. A large bird with feathers that seemed to ripple with fire just like Valentina’s dress took wing, roosting in a tree that rustled its leaves as they passed, enveloping them with scent of nutmeg and cassia. Here, a multicolored insect like a long, flat ribbon with huge jaws and tiny wings at both ends twirled past, there, a lizard with scales that flashed in impossible shades darted across a rock. And presently, something that looked like an enormous, segmented potato with many tiny legs and dozens of brilliant blue eyes on one end nuzzled at Edgas’s foot, probing him with glowing, string-like feelers. 

Edgas carefully stepped around it, and soon they came upon a fat, fuzzy insect with alternating stripes of azure and black poking about in a flower that rippled and pulsed with light. It turned at their approach, and waved its antennae at them. 

Intrigued, Edgas reached out... only for Valentina to grab his hand away. 

“No,” she cautioned, “it might be a blue bee trap.”

The bug’s antennae dropped, and against all probability it rolled all five of its eyes at them before bumbling off into the night. 

They turned another corner along the winding path, as all manner of fantastic beasts passed by, and Edgas once again stopped short. He stared at a rock outcrop, out of which seemed to be growing many odd little trees, each arranged in a conical spiral of bright colors. He took another step, and as one they all vanished in the blink of an eye, down into little holes in the rock. Then the rocks scuttled off as well. 

“But... I know those...” he said distantly. 

“You know... rocks with feet?” Valentina raised an eye... bulge at him. 

He shook his head, “no, the other things. Spirobranchus giganteus, but... that’s a kind of marine worm... how did they end up here?

Neither of them had an answer for that. So instead they walked on, shoulders just touching, slowly lulled away by the magic of this place. Stars twinkled above as gossamer strands of lights waved in the gentle breeze. 

“I feel really connected to you,” Edgas said at length, looking at nothing in particular, “is that weird?”

“No,” she said, a smile touching her lips, “I think, perhaps, we have always been connected.”

“I still remember you from the train that night, a lifetime ago. Like a beacon cutting through the darkness, pulling me back from an edge I didn’t even know was there. Drawing me on for just one more day. The day I needed.”

“Yes, and I still remember you from the hall beneath the Research Center at the KSC.”

Edgas tried to convince himself that the redness he felt on his cheeks was just the glowing orb floating by, “I was hoping you’d forgotten that one.”

“How could I?” she held up a hand, “this finger has not grown back.”

He turned, “wait, what?

She giggled, waving the quite un-missing finger at him, doing a little twirl that lit up the path with flames from her dress. Edgas laughed, chasing after her as the way broadened into a larger space. A sign greeted them, apparently printed in several languages. 

Kharm Plaseedo,” Valentina read, squinting at the funny letters. 

“Lake Placid,” Edgas gave a little shrug, and together they walked out onto a sweeping wooden footbridge across an inlet of a large lake. 

WWooooooww...”

They drew near to each other as they reached the middle, staring out in wonder. The display back along the path was a pale reflection compared to what they now beheld. Colors in the infinite dazzled across the shimmering surface from unseen denizens cavorting just below, around and over and back again in swirling, twirling patterns. Overhead the stars danced in their celestial abode, and satellites streaked past in long strings of light, all before the pale green twinkling reflection of Minmus reflecting on the waves, as if all of Creation now exulted before them. 

And yet, their eyes were slowly drawn from the spectacle, and towards each other.

IIffeeeelllliikkee—" they both started, then laughed. 

Edgas tried again, “like...”

Sha-la-la-la-la-la my-oh-my, look like de boy too shy, ain’t gonna—CRUNCH.

“Wait, did... you hear something?”

Valentina shook her head, an innocent little smile on her face. 

Scrape, scrape.

“But... I think I know what you were going to say...” she began. 

Oh, mah achin’ shell!

He eyed her, “oh, so you can read my mind now?”

I not getting paid enough fo’ dis!

“No,” she smiled, “but...”

Somebody call my agent!

“Yes?”

And a chiropractor!

Her again poured into his, “you feel like, is something missing...”

“Missing my whole life...” he drew closer. 

“...have always known it.”

“Never recognized it...”

“Like I have known you my whole life.”

“Like I have known you my whole life.”

“The missing piece...”

“...I have always searched for.”

“Finally found...”

He reached a hand to her cheek, “you... complete... me...”

And she to his, “shhh. You had me at ‘don’t hurt me.’”

They leaned in toward each other, as the lights blazed and the stars shone and all Creation rejoiced, and somewhere, out in the infinite vastness of the cosmos...

The needle scratched across the record of Reality.  

They jumped back. 

“That was... really awkward...”

“And uncomfortable...”

“We shouldn’t do that...”

“Agreed. In fact, we should never speak of this to anyone. Ever. Or I will hurt you.”

“Agreed. We should probably get back...”

“And I am getting out of these... these... these... things!” Valentina shrunk several centimeters, and tossed her shoes out into the lake. 

Ploop.
Bonk!

Ow! Oh, dis is humiliating, I should have just stayed under de sea!
 

Spoiler

 

 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

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Wait, Triti and Jencine? Does Alien Skies take place after the Kraken Trilogy?

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10 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

And she to his, “shhh. You had me at ‘don’t hurt me.’”

LOL, I loved that!

 

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Wait, Lake Placid? Did... someone just mention a place in New York State that isn't in New York City? I... uh... wow. Someone remembered that we exist.

I'm not sure what to say. I wish I had more than one like to give.

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10 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Valentina went back to laughing, struggling even to stay upright. Edgas wiped cabbage-goo from his face, while the creature kept looking at him with slow, thoughtful eyes that somehow seemed kind.

Well of course. His thoughts are always kind. ;)

10 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Intrigued, Edgas reached out... only for Valentina to grab his hand away. 

“No,” she cautioned, “it might be a blue bee trap.”

And this. This we do not speak of. Not without groaning at any rate. :)

Great chapter!

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8 hours ago, roboslacker said:

Wait, Triti and Jencine? Does Alien Skies take place after the Kraken Trilogy?

:ph34r:

3 hours ago, IncongruousGoat said:

Wait, Lake Placid? Did... someone just mention a place in New York State that isn't in New York City? I... uh... wow. Someone remembered that we exist.

Well, they’re certainly not in Kansas anymore.  ^_^

 

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On 12/10/2018 at 2:37 AM, CatastrophicFailure said:

Ow! Oh, dis is humiliating, I should have just stayed under de sea!

yes, then Val may not consider having lobster tomorrow.

Anyways, PDF finally updated. 121124 words or there about for anyone interested.

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On 12/11/2018 at 9:30 PM, qzgy said:

yes, then Val may not consider having lobster tomorrow.

Anyways, PDF finally updated. 121124 words or there about for anyone interested.

Numbers about words always interest me. I’ve already got about 2000 new words, mostly brutalizing Burdous for cheap laughs, now on to the interesting part!

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8 minutes ago, lunardog15 said:

what did Burdous ever do to you :(

Exist?

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Well, some people are just like Slinkies... not very useful but you can’t help but smile when you see one tumble down the stairs. :D Note to self: write in stairs,

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6 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Well, some people are just like Slinkies... not very useful but you can’t help but smile when you see one tumble down the stairs. :D Note to self: write in stairs,

im going to need to add that to my signature (how do you do that btw) 

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3 hours ago, lunardog15 said:

how do you do that btw

It's somewhere under account settings, for some reason.

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4 hours ago, lunardog15 said:

im going to need to add that to my signature (how do you do that btw) 

Yup, like @0111narwhalz said, click your username in the upper right>account settings>signature, over on the left. :)

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12 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

...or... was it? :ph34r:

given your history.... yes. yes it was.

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World-Spirit weeps
Kerm-Mother
(no relation)
Broken children fights
Vengeance specter flies 

Chapter 33: Monster

“...rioting on the grounds of the Capitol Building stretched into a fourth straight day, finally turning deadly as several demonstrators were struck by the blast of an improvised explosive where the two sides clashed. Capitol Police remain unable to quench or even stem the violence in the National Mall, having evacuated all government buildings and abandoned any further attempts at relieving the besieged Beige House. Fires can be seen illuminating clouds of smoke from below, burning more out of control every day as the Capitol Fire Department has refused to cross the Pokumkwat river until their safety can be guaranteed. 

“The two claimants to the Presidency remain no closer to an agreement, and with both houses of Congress fractured and seven of the nine Supreme Court Justices still unaccounted for in the daily chaos, any hope of a peaceful resolution seems to be slipping away with each passing day. Further complicating the matter, the legislatures of five provinces in the north of Kleptogart, including the two most affected by the nuclear blast several weeks ago, today declared independence from the Republic, citing ‘irreconcilable differences’ after regional pleas for aid have gone unanswered. Given the current situation in the Capitol, any response to this new development, diplomatic or otherwise, appears unlikely. 

“In other news, disturbing reports are rapidly pouring in from Dachland about a massive—“

“Buncha no-good, dirty traitors!” Hank Kerman spit across the darkened room into a can, “shoulda nuked the whole lot of ‘em while we was at it!” 

“That’s a horrible thing to say!”

“Can it, Dorothy,” Hank spit again. 

She scowled at him, “we shouldn’t be watching TV anyway, that gennie’s not gonna run forever.”

“Now you just let me worry about that,” Hank moved to the window, peering out as another gust of wind shook the house. 

The disquieting stillness of storms stretched out, the only sounds the ticking of the battery-powered wall clock, the muted rush of the wind, and the low rumble of thunder in the distance. 

“I’m worried about mom and da’,” Dorothy finally blurted out, “they been gone a long time.”

“They’re fine, sis, urp” Jimmy slapped her on the back, a little too hard, “this ain’t their first rodeo. They know how to drive in a storm. BURP!”

She turned her scowl on him, “you shouldn’t be drinkin’ that.”

“Uncle Hank says I can, right Hank?”

“Might as well while it’s still cold,” Hank kept staring out the window, “but mind your blood sugar.” It was noontime, or thereabouts, yet beyond the window was barely twilight. Didn’t help that all the streetlights were out, too. Transformer must’ve blown. “Your folks are fine, hun,” he said a little softer, “they know how to handle themselves. Storm will blow over soon.” Another gust shook the house, something gave a loud creak.

“We have angered the Kerm-Mother (no relation), she sends her chastisement.”

“Yeah, thanks Grandpa,” Jimmy rolled his eyes. 

“You watch your tone!” Hank turned and waved a finger at him. He walked back to the senior kerb, adjusted his wheelchair even though there was no reason, “almost time for your meds again, Dad.”

Jimmy frowned at them both, then moved to take Hank’s place at the window. 

“You shouldn’t stand so close to the glass like that,” Dorothy didn’t look at him, just pulled her legs up and hugged her knees. 

“We have disobeyed,” the wizened old kerb in the wizened old wheelchair said to no one in particular, “the whole world is bleeding. The time of judgement is at hand.”

Hank suppressed a grunt, but wiped at the old fellow’s mouth, “Dad, please, no more old stories. You’re scaring the kids,” he said gently. 

“Hey, um, Hank?” Jimmy said from the window, something in his voice shifting. But before he could say more, all the wind and thunder died away, leaving nothing but the slow ticking of the clock. 

The old kerb raised his head, his sightless eyes growing wide, “quiet, all of you!”

And then a bare whisper, “a monster is coming.”

“Hank?” Jimmy’s voice creaked like the house. 

They heard it, rising in the silence. A sound like a legion of banshees sweeping across the plain. Low, at first, but rising higher and higher. Drawing closer. 

Hank moved to the window, pulling down the blinds with a finger. An uncomprehending, barely-controlled fear worked up his spine and bored into his neck, “we gotta go.”

“We shouldn’t go anywhere in this!” Dorothy’s head shot up. 

“We gotta go now!” Hank roared, spitting a curse, grabbing things from the shelf in a panic. Jimmy was turning in slow circles, gibbering, hands pressed to his mouth below his wide eyes. 

“Dorothy, help your brother,” Hank tried to force calm into his voice. He shoved the few things into a backpack, throwing it over one shoulder before kneeling down next to his father, “c’mon, Dad, we need to get out of here.” He flipped off the wheelchair’s brakes and shoved it ahead, “get the door!”

Dorothy shoved her brother along, pulling open the front door and stepping out into air that seemed heavy and thick. She helped nudge the wheelchair over the threshold, then down the ramp to the driveway. 

The noise rose and rose, a shrieking torrent as if all the condemned souls of all the Nine Hells were cast out among the living at once. She turned toward it, all the strength in her body fleeing before what her eyes beheld, her knees growing weak and unsteady. Jimmy turned to follow her gaze, and began screaming as if he, too, were already among the damned. 

“Quiet!” a hand clamped across his mouth. Speaking in a hoarse whisper, Hank handed him off to his sister like a ticking bomb, “get him in the truck!” He shoved the youth’s legs into the back seat, then hauled his father out of the chair with a single motion and deposited him in the passenger seat as gentle as a mother with a baby. The wind began to rise again, tugging at his clothing, pulling him towards...

Hank spat another curse, flew around into the driver’s seat, and turned the key. 

Click.

Click-click.

“I told you you should have plugged it in last night!” Dorothy hissed at him. 

“Hush,” Hank hissed back slamming a hand against the dash. He looked back in his mirror, scanned the road ahead. With another curse fouler than before, he jumped back out, but not before slipping the transmission into neutral. He made his way to the tailgate, squinting at the dust in the wind, trying not to look back. His shoulder met the cold steel, and he shoved forward with all the strength his old runner’s legs could muster. Just as the scream of agony and defeat rose in his own throat, five tonnes of metal and rubber lurched forward. He kept pushing, not daring to breathe, veins popping out on his face from the strain. 

At last the burden lightened, as the driveway began to drop away down the gentle hill. Hank raced back for the door, his legs feeling hollow and frail, as if the slightest misstep might cause them to shatter. That misstep came an instant later, his left knee seeming to fold in on itself just as he reached the door. A cry tore from his lungs. Somehow his hand caught the edge of the window channel, the sharp metal biting into his skin seemed vague and distant. His other hand found the handle he’d bolted to the body, he strained upward, muscles screaming as loud as his lungs, pulling his foot away from the hungry rear tire and instant before it bit down and dragged him under. 

Hank pulled himself up into the driver’s seat, ignoring the pain that licked at his mind. He turned the key on, watched the gauges twitch and sputter at the bare twitch of voltage they received. And then... he waited. Waited, while the truck slowly built up speed down the gentle driveway. 

“Hank...” Dorothy leaned in.

He stuck up a finger, “not yet.”

She looked back, “Hank...”

“Not yet!”

“It’s coming this way!”

He looked in the mirror... and instantly wished he had not. His head whipped around, sticking out the open window, raw fear coursing through every nerve in his body. 

He saw... It.

Silhouetted by lightning from the clouds above, reaching down to the world like a perverse, inverted sunbeam, it stretched out along the ground, long tentacles like shadow made form reaching... gathering... feeding... He felt his bladder release, a far off and unimportant thing. 

And then... just as the fear threatened to clench about his heart and squeeze it to stillness, he caught a glimpse of his brother’s children’s terrified faces in the glass, and some tiny, futile bit of light flashed through the darkness. Moving slowly, deliberately, Hank pushed the clutch in, slid the gearshift to second... and again he waited. He watched the needle of the speedometer rise with grating apathy while the fear scratched at his mind. A dark form swelled in the mirrors. 

“HANK!”

Now!

He let his foot slip off the clutch pedal. The truck lurched forward, tires skittered on gravel, and Hank knew his haste had just killed them all. 

Ker-BLAM!

Fire and brimstone exploded from the dual stacks just behind the cab as 800 angry horses roared to life, and Hank slammed his foot down on the gas pedal. The truck lurched the other way, acceleration shoving everyone backwards. It tore away down the path spitting a rooster tail of rocks and dirt back at the monstrosity that pursued it. 

“Way to go dude!” Jimmy cried out. 

“Woohoo!” Dorothy squealed. 

Hank pounded a fist on the wheel in jubilation, then jammed the gearshift into third and flew around the corner as the tires shuddered in protest. They rocketed down the empty street, dodging abandoned cars, heading for safety. 

“We cannot escape,” his father said softly. 

Before Hank could answer, Jimmy screamed again. 

Dorothy spun around, “it... it’s coming after us!” 

“That’s impossible!” Hank yelled back, even as he saw the truth in he mirror. 

Dorothy pointed ahead, “Third! Take Third Street! Lose it in town!”

Hank didn’t argue. He spun them around another corner, shuffling gears, feeling the inside tires lose contact with the road for an instant. The truck slammed back down with a thud, wobbling back and forth. He corrected just in time to see—

“Crap!” Dorothy cried. 

“Just hang on!” Hank braced against the wheel, held the gas pedal to the floor. 

He squeezed his eyes shut against the explosion of glass and composite that came, as the other, lesser kar went pirouetting away up onto the sidewalk, trailing sparks and flames from its batteries as if bleeding. 

“Hah!” Hank slammed a fist on the wheel again, “newfangled tinfoil junk!” He didn’t mention the shimmy he now felt beneath his own hands. 

Jimmy screamed again, “it’s still after us!” 

A new sound began to rise above the roar of the engines. The wailing of lost souls, screeching of demons, the howling of wind. Long, black tendrils stretched out to their right and left, ripping up dark street lamps, tearing apart buildings, drawing everything within reach into a maw of chaos that knew no satiety. 

“Faster!” Dorothy squealed, “must go faster!”

“I’m tryin’, I’m tryin’!” Hank cut the wheel back and forth in long arcs, dodging what he could, simply going through what he could not. 

“We gotta get to the freeway!” Dorothy pointed off to the right, “we can outrun it there!”

“Yeah!” They cut through a park, drove over a planted median, smashed through the plate glass storefront of a building without slowing, leaving their own trail of destruction. 

Yet no bit of flotsam they ripped loose ever touched the ground. All, all was swept into the gullet of the abomination bearing down on them. 

“HUUUURRRY!” Jimmy pressed himself up against the front seats, his wide eyes slowly giving over to madness. 

“On-ramp’s just around this bend!” another shuddering turn, and then another.  Hank could feel the shaking in his hands growing worse, clung to the hope it was him and not the truck. One more turn and then—

No...

Dorothy spat the worst oath yet, “we can’t get through that!”

“You watch your mouth!” Hank slowed.  Ahead of them, across another park, a row of parked kars faced them down. He only hesitated a moment.

His foot jammed down again, hurling them forward. 

“We can’t just ram through all that! Are you crazy?!“

“Probably.”

The yawning hoods of the kars ahead seemed to rush at them, charging cables looped like sneers. Hank ran his fingers over the shifter, counted the seconds, once again waited for just the right time...

Both feet came down on the clutch and brake pedals. The truck skittered, fighting to keep straight, bodies slamming into seatbacks. Then Hank’s feet and hands did an odd sort of dance, and one finger found the little button up under the dash for special occasions.

KER-BLAM!

Both exhaust stacks simply exploded. Fire bloomed from the undercarriage, bits of metal bounced away across the grass and knobby tires tore into it harder than ever before. The front end lurched up... then just kept rising and rising as they fell upon the row of kars. 

Now rubber tore at plastic and composite, glass shattered, and an instant later everyone inside felt their backsides leave the seat cushions with the peculiar sensation of weightlessness, while a certain 12-note tune rang from the horns. 

It lasted only a moment before the tires slammed back to the pavement. Something went prang! Yet the truck fishtailed up the on-ramp, leaving its courser behind to screech in rage. Whoops and hollers erupted from everyone inside with the open, unobstructed freeway ahead beckoning them onward. The speedometer climbed ever higher, the landscape outside all became a blur. 

But still... still... that awful, mind-rending wail built again over the roar of the engines. Hank saw in his mirror blackness beyond the deepest night stretching out to either horizon, ever larger, ever stronger. Now the lightning began to race ahead of them, tearing at the ground, sending eruptions of fire and debris into the air only be sucked backward. He saw, in those actinic blue silhouettes, the tendrils reaching out. 

“How can it still be after us?!” screamed Dorothy . 

Hank didn’t answer, only crouched over the jittering steering wheel, trying to will his foot through the floor. And yet he saw the speedo start winding down.

“It’s got us!” Jimmy wailed. 

Rocks, trees, bits of junk along the road, all of it began racing and tumbling towards them, past them, back to the devourer. The truck ground to a halt. 

“All have fallen short and will be judged,” the old kerb said softly, “we are doomed.”

“Like hells!” Hank reached down, found another knob, jammed the gearbox into six-wheel. Now the front tires, too, chewed into the roadway, ripped at the concrete, pulled the rig inexorably forward inch by inch. Smoke and fire spewed from the exhausts, the paint on the hood began to burn away, a dull red glow blooming beneath it. With stubbornness and sheer will they crept forward, gaining distance, denying the shadow to the very last. 

But... the last came, as the road itself crumbled at shattered, broke into a thousand pieces beneath them, all drawn back into the darkness. 

And the monster fed. 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

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Just now, CatastrophicFailure said:

Chapter 32: Monster

i thought we already did chapter 32....

but also yay new chapter

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2 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Y'arn't. :P
Dang, you're quick.

.. Sure!

also uhhh... finished reading so yes... I am. Chilling the exact opposite of the warm fuzzy feeling from [generic winter holiday here].

Cannot wait to see everything mesh up nicely.

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17 hours ago, qzgy said:

.. Sure!

also uhhh... finished reading so yes... I am. Chilling the exact opposite of the warm fuzzy feeling from [generic winter holiday here].

Cannot wait to see everything mesh up nicely.

Well, so I’m a couple of holidays behind, here, but at least I got some kind of holiday release. :D

 But you can be sure, one way or the other... winter is coming. :ph34r:

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Just now, CatastrophicFailure said:

Well, so I’m a couple of holidays behind, here, but at least I got some kind of holiday release. :D

 But you can be sure, one way or the other... winter is coming. :ph34r:

A nuclear winter?

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