CatastrophicFailure

Revelations of the Kraken (Chapter 39: The Walking Dead)

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He shall give voice to the mute, and sight to the blind,
He shall gather the outcast unto himself,
He shall lead the Thrice Cursed Clan out from the wilderness,
And draw the leper to his breast. 

 


Chapter 10: The Island of Misfit Toys

"Easy does it, left foot... right foot... left foot... just one at a time... a little more..."

A little rivulet of sweat traced its way down her neck, despite the cool air. The walker clicked forward another smidge. She hurt. Everything hurt. Which was an odd thing to be encouraging when she was supposed to be healing, but Doc was the doc. 

Well, sort of. 

Click.

Trying to force her mind off the pain and exertion, the walker itself did fascinate her. She couldn't tell if it was metal or... plastic? Something else? It fit her small frame perfectly, even had a silly-looking extension that hooked under the shoulder of her bad arm, now finally out of its sling, so she could put some weight on it but not too much. Yet it was all one piece. No seams or adjustments anywhere, just a solid truss of... something. Doc said the machinist had printed it just for her. 

Printed?

That didn't make any sense. 

Yet she had no idea why it didn't make sense. 

Click.

"Come on... just a few more steps... almost there...

As always, the whole time the Gas-man had been right along—

Gas-man. 

Ed-gas.

She knew that. She knew, yet some part of her mind kept reaching for that silly name. It was there in the clouds and mist, somehow shining like a beacon. But was it to draw her towards something... or warn her away?

Still... odd as he was, in trying to get her to walk this far he had been a very good cheer—

What was that word?

Cheer... lion? Cheer... chief? No, definitely something with an L, like those peppy sports—

An image suddenly appeared in her head of Edgas in a colorful pleated skirt that was far too short, instantly sending her into a fit of coughing. 

"Whoah, are you okay?" the fortunately un-skirted kerb in question asked, "do you need to stop for a minute?"

"I fine," she croaked between gasps, trying as hard as she could just to stay upright, "swallow wrong." She still wasn't sure if she was giggling or gagging at the thought. 

Edgas frowned, but didn't press, instead just coaxing her onward. 

Click.

She didn't know why the thought was absurd, only that it was. Her legs and arms burned, but it was a good sort of burn, like after a tough session at the gym. She knew what a gym was, and that she enjoyed working out there, but couldn't recall ever actually being at one. Her hair was in her face. She missed her simple, utilitarian ponytail. But couldn't remember ever having one.

Somewhere... it was all in her head somewhere, but the more she reached for it, the more it seemed to slip away. 

She thought she might really scream, this time... until a scent caught her nose. 

Which seemed odd, she since she didn't have a nose, but this one she didn't bother to question. It was familiar. Familiar in that jogging way only scents are. It pulled her out of that looming dark place and beckoned her onward. 

Click. Click. Click.

"Whoah! Hey! Slow down!"

She didn't. She practically threw herself onto the bench by the little table, her eyes fixated on the source of the incredible scent. 

She barely registered Edgas approach, "um, are you sure about this? Cookie found them in the back of the freezer, must've been there for years, now. Probably all rubbery and freezer burned.  I could get you something better..."

He reached for the plate. 

"OMNOMNOMNOMNOM!"

And snatched his hand back in the bare nick of time.

"Whoah, careful there, boss, good way to lose a finger," Doc chided from a safe distance on the other side of the table.

Edgas nodded... and counted just to be sure. 

Images... visions... but not quite memories exploded through her mind, most far beyond what she could possibly put to words. But her mouth was full anyway. 

"Wow..." Doc breathed, rubbing at the back of his head, "she really likes cheeseburgers."

Then her eye caught the tumbler of root beer, which was, of course, ice cold. 

"NGLUKNGLUKNGLUKNGLUKNGLUKNGLUKNGLUKNGLUKNGLUKNGLUKNGLUKNGLUKNGLUKNGLUKNGLUKNGLUKNGLUKNGLUKNGLUK--"

She set it down slowly, blinked twice, and then--

"BRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAPPP!!!!!"

The entire structure seemed to sway back forth for several moments as the shockwaves dissipated. 

"Excuse me." 

Doc and Edgas just stared. And... about this time... she became aware of several more stares boring into the back of her neck. She looked around the large, vaguely cylindrical room, and saw a table on the other side, at which were seated perhaps a dozen kerbs. At her glance they all looked away, but... she had seen more than a little fear in those eyes, and not, she sensed, from her sudden lack of manners. 

Doc looked at Edgas. Edgas looked at Doc. As if sensing some unspoken cue, Edgas gave a sigh and a wry little smile before heading over to the other table. 

"Hey, guys!" he raised a hand in greeting, "listen, I..."

"Boss!" they replied as one. Edgas took the empty seat before the others, eleven, she now saw, and in a moment the entire table was laughing and joking. 

"Well, that's the crew," Doc said softly, "they've been helping out behind the scenes, though as you might have guessed, they're a little wary of strangers."

"I... see..." she watched Edgas smile, somehow managing eleven different conversations at once. And every so often, one of them would cast a glance her way. Sometimes curious, but mostly... something stirred in her memory, then vanished. "He looks... almost fatherly..."

Doc nodded, "that's one way of putting it, I suppose. Carrying on with his wayward sons."

She looked at him, confused.

"Bad joke," he grinned, "Edgas has always had a tough time of it, but somehow he manages to have a lot of pull with the brass down south, when he wants to."

"Er... brass?"

"The Kerbal Space Administration management. He actually requested this post, a few years after that thing on the Mün, and—"

She grunted, raising a hand to her temple. For... just a moment... her mind seemed to explode with images and faces, more vivid than any dream. Yet as fast as they appeared, they vanished, somehow leaving vague and formless after images on her mind's eye. 

"You ok?" Doc asked with concern. 

"Yes, I... I am fine... just.., headache..."

He looked at her thoughtfully, "hmm. Maybe coming all this way was a bit too fast too soon."

"No, really, am fine," she forced her eyes to focus on him "is gone now."

A roar of laughter drew both their eyes back to the other table for a moment. 

"What were you saying? About the Mün?" visions flared and winked out again. 

"Well, that I don't really know, and he never talks about it. From what the papers said, I don't blame him. But somehow he got himself transferred to command up here. And then... he went out and found them."

"I am not sure I..?"

Doc grinned again, "the KSA's hiring standards have always been notoriously, well, notorious. It's been said they'll take anyone with a pulse. And that much is true, but what happens after..." he shrugged, "even here, people fall through the cracks."

"How do you mean?" Something was trying to work its way into her mind again. She deliberately tried not to look at it, to coax it further. 

"Well, like... you see Lemmy there, in blue? He's an incredible mechanic, real old school. He's been with the Agency since the early days, even helped build the air handlers in the original VAB."

She squinted in that direction, while trying to look like she wasn't, "he... has no hands..?"

Doc nodded, "a few years back, he did something, well, stupid. He didn't need the official inquest to tell him that. He was facing the loss of his Agency pension and few job opportunities until Edgas found him."

"But... how can..?"

"His assistant there, Doyle. Doyle can't talk. No one's sure why, physically he's just fine. But there was an instant connection, he and Lemmy just seem to know what the other's thinking. So Doyle became Lemmy's hands, and Lemmy became Doyle's voice."

She looked again. Indeed, the younger kerb next to the grizzled old mechanic wasn't saying anything, yet the two of them had no trouble keeping up with the raucous group. 

"Then we have Cookie," Doc continued, "he was top of his class at Le Cordon Rouge in Dachland, had a promising career ahead of him. Then he heard they were starting a space program here, and sold everything he had to finance the trip over. Says deep down he always wanted to be a spacekerb. But he couldn't pass the physical exams, and at the time there was just no demand for a five-star professional chef in that part of the world, even in Kerbin City. And after leaving that school, well, he couldn't just go back. Edgas found him in the Administration cafeteria, trying to learn how to burn coffee."

He leaned in, grinning, "you may be seeing the pattern, here. That's Poindexter, our science lead. Not his real name, nobody knows that. He looks the part by choice. He doesn't say much, he's so smart, he has trouble relating to other people on their level, but he does say he embraced the cliché, so no one could use it against him. 

"The big guy is Lemcott, our machinist. He printed that walker for you. He's the only one who's got a family down south."

Big was... well, and understatement. He was nearly as big as... Images fired off, then faded away once more. 

Doc continued, "despite his size as that constant frown, he's the most gentle person I've ever met. But his ex-wife is a raging— well, they had a fight. She said the right things to the right people, and they took one look at him, and now he can't go within a hundred meters of his daughter ever again. Edgas literally pulled him off a bridge."

"That is... horrible," she breathed. 

"It is," Doc nodded, "he still writes her letters every week, and learned to knit so he could send her something useful. Though I doubt if his daughter ever sees any of it."

He continued, "MacBree, he's our equipment operator. Had a nice gig going for himself at a mine in Gednalna, until he mouthed off to the wrong person. Now he's blacklisted to the entire industry, even getting a position with the Agency was difficult. Edgas brought him here. Never even seen a glacier before, yet he's got almost a sixth sense for avoiding crevasses and weak points from years of running heavy equipment through the mud.

"And there're Doreyme and Fahso," he gave a subtle little nod.

She blinked, "twins?"

"Triplets," Doc said, "until they lost their brother in a plane crash. They say it was like losing a part of their soul. They can't function in the outside world anymore, not in any real way. Or maybe don't want to. But up here, where it's never truly day and never truly night, it's almost like time stops. Somehow, thanks to Edgas, they're able to manage, here.

"Millo there is the custodian. Found he likes cleaning. It's simple and honest and, well, cleansing. He's been in and out of prisons his whole life, mostly for petty things. Has some anger issues. Up here in the ice and snow, around only people he knows, he says it cools his temper.

"That’s Lumpy. He was born with a rare skin condition. It’s harmless, and not at all contagious, but people are... well, people. Here at the top of the world, no one cares what he looks like.

"Finally, there’s Olaf. He just likes the cold.

"And there you have it, our broken little family," Doc smiled, "it doesn't surprise me that Edgas went out and gathered us all together. He grew up as an orphan, bouncing around between foster homes until someone finally took him in, it's only natural that he would have an affinity for other lost sheep. What surprises me is that, somehow, it just works."

She thought for a moment, "and what about you?"

"Me?"

"You did say 'us.'"

Doc grinned, "nothing gets by you, does it?" then his eyes slowly drifted to the battered metal table, "oh, I had a bright career ahead of me. I was snatched up right out of high school for a new pilot program with the KSA. I graduated magna kum laude from Northern Kleptogart University on their dime, with bachelors degrees in biology and astrophysics. I was to be the vanguard of a new profession, not a doctor trained to be a kerbonaut or a kerbonaut trained to be a doctor, but someone who was inseparably both from the very beginning. 

"And everything was going perfect right up until my first orbital training mission. It was supposed to be a two-week stint on the new Geosynchronous Station with a dozen other cadets, only I never made it that far."

Looking over across the room, he mused, "it used to be that Edgas was something of a legend around the space center for his weak stomach. Everybody barfs their first time in space, but if you miss the bag and get it all over the cabin, or do something else embarrassing, the cadets would say you 'pulled an Edgas.' Well, about an hour into the flight, after we passed through the Van Kerman belts, I did. Only I didn't stop. And when my guts were finally empty I began vomiting blood and going into seizures. 

"They aborted the mission, of course, but you can't just stop and turn around halfway to GSO. By the time we got back I was really in a bad way, and ended up spending a month in the hospital.

"It took them a while to figure out exactly what happened to me, I'd never experienced anything like that before, even on long suborbital training flights. As it turns out, I lack the natural radiation resistance normal people have. Two passes through the radiation belts took their toll."

Here, Doc paused, holding up a hand flat over the table. He let out a deep breath, closed his eyes... and the hand began to tremble. 

"Permanent neurological damage. If I concentrate, I can control it..." the tremoring stopped, then he balled his hand into a fist, "but it gets a little harder every year.  At least informally, they called it— you're gonna laugh— they called it 'Kraken syndrome,' and— wait, are you ok?"

The whole world seemed to go dark for an instant before a bright flash of pain across her mind cast it in negative. Unthinking, her hands gripped the table as if she might fall off. But once again, as quickly as it came, the sensation was gone. 

She rubbed at the wide, flat spot between her eyes, realizing how tired she really was, "yes, am fine... just... another headache. What were you saying?"

Doc frowned at her, putting a hand to the little scar on his chin before shrugging, "well, anyways, silly name, right? But that's what it looked like, when they shot me full of ferrofluid marker and stuck my head in a nano-scale MRI machine. Like... shadows. Little squid-like shadows on all of my nerve cells. 

"That was the end of things," he continued, "you can't be a doctor if your hands shake. And you can't be a kerbonaut if only a few weeks in low orbit would be enough radiation to kill you."

Sighing, he looked toward the other table, "Edgas ran into me as I was clearing my room at the Space Center. Like, literally. Bought me a not-drink at that funny little not-cantina down by the water. He was preparing to take over at the little polar research outpost, and needed a medic and, I guess, advisor. I needed something to do with my life before I went crazy. So, well, here I am. Been here ever since."

She followed Doc's eyes to the other group, and the unassuming fellow at the head of the table. Something... something was whispering to her, telling her she should be very disturbed at the flashes of memory she'd seen, something was wrong, and yet... as she looked on at the laughing bunch, she felt an odd sort of happiness herself, as if he were radiating it... 

No, as if...

Suddenly his eyes moved to her, concern flashing in them and she stifled a gasp. 

Doc didn't seem to notice, "he's probably the most genuine, guileless person I've ever met."

"Indeed," she said, not really hearing. Something, in that moment Gas-man... Edgas looked at her... how he looked at her...

But more importantly, she was supposed to be doing something. Something important. Right now, before any more time passed. 

Something to do with...

She sighed and shuddered at the same time. 

"Er, I... need to go back to the med bay," she rose, feeling subtle tremors in her own hands, "I feel... ill..."

Doc frowned, "hmm, ate too fast, I’ll bet. Do you need a hand..?"

"I can... manage..." she clicked the walker toward the hall, but Doc followed anyway. 

She had to do something... something about a kraken...

Click.

Click.

Click.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

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We get to meet the gang! Nice character sketches - and poor Lemcott and Doc. :( 

Although I'm getting a very Rogue One vibe here...

 

 

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And before I flake out a second time, special thanks to @Ten Key and @Just Jim

‘Ware, O child, Reckoning come,
Beset King call fire on him kin,
Dread star rain-em poison on land,
Tribes strike steel on steel,
And living, they envy the dead. 


Chapter 11: The City that Never Sleeps

Left... left... y'left, right, left...

Left... left... y'left, right, left...

Calford Kerman stepped along to the rhythm, hoping his tired feet would stick to the cadence despite the fact the could barely feel them anymore. True, it wasn't strictly necessary to be marching in step right now, but Sarge said it would keep minds occupied and nerves distracted. And besides, he'd added, it looked good. Sarge was usually right about these things. Not usually. Always. Charlie Platoon had been called up for something special, and it never hurt to look good in front of the brass. 

Even if you really had no idea what you were doing. 

Sarge knew what he was doing, of course. Sarge was a Career. And more over, Sarge had seen Action. That messy business with the peacekeeping force over in Andacania. And Calford knew enough to know that put Sarge ahead of most of the brass in terms of actually, well, knowing things. 

A random stone on the path threatened to make him stumble, but Cal somehow kept his balance. And step. He gave the rifle at his shoulder a subtle shift. That wasn't unusual, he'd done lots of marching with a rifle. Everyone here had. What was unusual was the two dozen magazines crammed into the velcro'd pockets of his tactical vest. And not paintballs or laser training rounds, but real bullets. Nasty ones. Hollowpoints. 

What could they possibly need with 192 rounds... yet not a single plate of body armor?

His eyes darted left as a tank rumbled and squeaked past on the actual road. This was... something special, all right. 

And then, as the platoon came over a rise, he saw it. Despite the rigid formation and instilled discipline, there was a brief wave of murmurs and missteps from the troop. Sarge didn't seem to notice. Or care. 

He saw the town a few kilometers beyond, nestled next to the ink black Sea. And the dozens of columns of smoke glowing crimson from below. All around it was a ring of white lights, with more long trails of lights leading off to the west. He pulled his eyes away as the cadre reached the staging camp, or at least tried to. There had to be hundreds of people here! Thousands, even. Everyone bustling this way and that, moving equipment, setting up tents, lights... and more tanks. Why did they need so many tanks??

No sooner had the thought entered his head than night was briefly turned to day by a lance of liquid fire spewing forth from one of those tanks out in a field. 

It... it was like nothing Cal had ever seen. 

And he'd seen some bad things, before. He'd been called up and deployed to the relief force on Zaroeka, after a passing storm had virtually leveled the island. The earthquake a few years back, down in the southend. And the landslides near K2. But nothing could have prepared him for this. 

This... this looked a buildup to war.

The troop snaked its way through the camp, three dozen kerbs among legions. They wound through ever larger piles of crates and containers, and long rows of tanker trucks with bold FLAMMABLE placards before approaching a busy group of people around a table outside of an enormous tent. 

"Platoon, halt!" the Sergeant took a moment to regard his squads, then continued in his unusually soft voice, "stand at ease, kerbs. Due due our current staffing issues at the moment, I'm going to receive our orders. Don't get too comfortable." He turned on his heel and made his way over to the busy little table. 

The platoon wasted no time in stretching and working the kinks out of their backs without actually moving their feet. 

Cal turned to the kerb next to him, "psst... hey... you know what's going on?"

"Haven't you heard on Blabber?" he smirked, "we're invading Nefcarkaland, some general's got a hankering for rotten fish!"

Cal frowned, and gave him a fitting salute.

The other kerb's smirk grew into a grin, and he called over to the Corporal, "hey squaddie! You know what's going on?"

"Some kinda outbreak," he said, "a virus making people crazy, like that one show."

"What show?"

"You know, the one about the soulless, dull-eyed ghouls driving the collapse of civilization."

The mouthy kerb thought for a moment, "Keeping Up with the Kerdashians?"

"No, you idiot."

"Real Housekerbs of Beverly Plains?"

"No!"

"The Celebrity Bootlicker?"

The Corporal opened his mouth, the gave up and slapped a hand to his face. 

Cal just rolled his eyes. Over at the table, Sarge and a pair officers were having an extremely animated discussion. Lots of pointing. To a map on the table... a large screen behind it... the city beyond... Without hearing a word, Cal thought the Sergent seemed to be advising the officers in the foolishness of whatever they were about to have him do without sounding like he was, in that peculiar way of senior NCOs. Then salutes were exchanged, and Sarge headed back to the platoon just as a trio of huge, open-bed trucks pulled up. 

"Alright, listen up!" he said, "our orders are to proceed into the hot zone to assist in the evacuation of two dozen civilians still barricaded in an office building before this whole mess is buttoned up. Contact in the area is estimated to be light and sporadic, so HQ is giving this evac one more go. But make no mistake," he eyed them for a moment, "this is the real thing. Use of deadly force is hereby authorized. Now, are there any questions?"

Confused glances shot back and forth before a hand went up. It took Cal a moment to realize it was his own, "um... deadly force against who, Sarge?"

Sarge’s face took on a new and unfamiliar cast in the dwindling light, "you’ll see soon enough."

***

A dozen reserve soldiers in the bed of a truck, bumping along into the night was usually a rowdy, raucous affair, but as the three trucks moved along down the narrow country road, none of their occupants made a sound. They stared out with wide, haunted eyes at the nightmare scenes beyond. For a while, a steady jam of headlights heading the other way but not actually moving had kept company, with an occasional tank creeping in escort. But that had dwindled away, replaced, for a time, by irregular ones and twos of stalled kars in the oncoming lane, deep ruts in the shoulder revealing where the line had gone around. Finally, the line had resumed, only these were dark, silent metallic specters, cast in a disquieting monochrome by the rising Mün above. 

But then... there were the others. 

Cal could just see them, well off the pavement on his side of the road. Twisted hulks still smoldering, glowing from within a dim, hellish crimson. He told himself they were just kar fires, pushed off the path and left to burn. Not at all unexpected in a situation like this. But...

Cal had once spent two weeks training at the Bahamuto Armory down south. He had seen what a tank gun could do to an old kar. Only, none of these looked very old...

The truck went over another bump, jarring him back from the Münlit scape. He joined the Corporal in staring at the floor, but that almost seemed worse. Without the road to distract him, his thoughts wandered back to the mission ahead. What Sarge said, it... it didn’t sound real. 

...and see the quartermaster as you load up. Every sixth kerb keeps his first aid kit, the rest of you swap out for extra magazines, also... 

Cal shuddered.

Then with a lurch and a squeal of brakes, the trucks came to a halt, and Cal finally saw it. To either side, lit by rows of floodlights, a chain link fence ten meters high and topped with rolls of razor wire stretched out. In front of that, crews were busily welding thick steel plates into place, and in front of that, still more crews used rumbling earthmovers to position enormous L-shaped concrete barriers. 

“Look alive, gentlekerbs,” Sarge cried out as he hopped down from the cab. The as trucks shut down, and the constant stink of diesel exhaust died away, a new smell came drifting on the cold night air. It was one that Cal knew far, far too well. It was the same as after the storm... and the earthquake... and the slide... His own stomach threatened to rebel, but he clamped it down by sheer force of will. Several others near him leaned over the railing, their own battles lost. 

While Sarge conferred with a sentry, going over orders and maps on a tablet, sounds followed the smell as the trucks’ turbos spooled down. Noises like firecrackers, off in the distance, irregular and indistinct. Somewhere, sirens still wailed. And the muted whoop-whoop-whoop of helicopters. 

Yet, below it all, so soft he wasn’t even sure he was hearing it, was another sound, something beyond description, that chilled his bones and gave his knees a weakness that had nothing to do with the long march and the heavy gear slung on his back.   

“Alright, gentlekerbs,” Sarge bellowed, pulling himself up onto the hood of one truck to be heard by all, “this is it. We are cleared inside. Remember your training and protect the kerb next to you. Lock and load.

A clatter of rifle bolts sliding home pushed back the other sounds, and the renewed rumble from the big diesels sent them off for good. Nothing could stop the smell, though. Once it was with you, it stayed for days, even weeks. The mind was funny like that. Cal checked his rifle over one last time, cinched the strap on his helmet tight. He leaned over the railing to look ahead, and saw another tank blocking their path. As he watched, it squeaked forward, taking a huge section of the wall with it. He realized the tank was the gate, they had simply welded the steel plates directly to the hull. 

The trucks bumped past, and here two more tanks flanked the portal, both fitted with those flame throwers he’d seen earlier, that seemed to be cobbled together from old rocket parts. Beyond them was nothing, only an empty road and an empty field stretching the last few kilometers to the town. 

No, not empty.

Cal could just see by the pale light of the Mün... shapes. Low, dark lumps scattered out in the field that itself seemed to be too dark, all leading up to the pair of tanks. He tried not to think about what those shapes were, he tried, but his gorge rose and his guts clenched and he wretched over the railing until he thought he might faint. 

Finally, he sat back down hard, wiping at his mouth with back of a gloved hand and groping for his canteen with the other. Someone else handed it to him. He wasn’t sure who. Now, all eyes were fixed on the worn floorboards, and the troop had returned to silence. 

Madness. This was madness. A disease that spread by touch and drove everyone it did to madness. 

No, this was a nightmare. 

The three trucks rumbled into the outskirts of the town, down dark and empty streets. The power was still on, mostly. Yet still they passed through blocks that seemed darker than any night. Fires smoldered in places, and the rigs had to snake around rubble piled like burnt offerings before the skeletal shells of dead buildings. 

Finally the moment came when the trucks squeaked to a halt once again, and Cal found he’d been dreading it far more than he’d realized. An unremarkable glassed-in building a few stories tall lay just ahead. The street lamps still shone but the structure was dark as a tomb, lit from within only by the ruddy glow of yet more fires. Even now, they could all hear the screams. 

“Move out, you mugs!” Sarge cried out, and Cal was swept up in the wave of bodies, “move, move, move! Go, go, go! Alpha squad, flank left, beta squad, flank right, guard patterns! Gamma, you’re with me!” 

The sudden, unfamiliar sound of Sarge’s raised voice jolted him from the daze he hadn’t realized he’d been in, and Cal found that his years of one weekend a month, two weeks a year training really did take over. He fanned out with the rest of gamma squad, just behind Sarge and the Corporal, knees bent, rifle up, head down. They scuttled alongside the looming building, stretching out into a line approaching the covered entry way. Cal could see what remained of a hastily constructed barricade just inside the shattered doors. 

Sarge looked back, “Corporal, you’re in first and then—“

Shattering glass high above drew all eyes up. A kerbelle fell from the ruined window, screaming all the way down and landing with noise that made Cal’s stomach twist up into a knot again. For a moment, she was still, then looked up at the soildiers, eyes wide with terror, her face smeared with something black and awful. 

She reached out toward them, “help me... please... help me...”

Instinctively, Cal moved toward her, his rifle drooping, but Sarge grabbed him by his rucksack and pulled him back. Shocked, he looked back toward the senior kerb, and for the first time ever, he saw fear in Sarge’s eyes. A quick shake of the head was all the answer he got. 

“Help me... please help me...” the kerbelle tried to drag herself forward, her legs obviously broken, "please..." 

Great heaving, hacking coughs racked her body. She wretched, her breathing becoming rough and irregular. 

"Help me..."

She reached out, eyes pleading.

"Please... help..."

Raw sores bloomed upon her face. 

"Help... help me... please... help... help.. help... help... hlep... hlep... hlorp... glorp..."

Something... changed in her face. It became slack and languid, but her eyes...

..her eyes...

Slackjawed, wavering, she pushed herself up. Jagged bones splayed from her legs, yet she shuffled forward. Trembling hands reached out...

"Glorp... glorp..."

A fear unlike anything he’d ever known bit down on Cal’s spine.

...her eyes..!

They were wide, and suffering, and far, far too... aware...

"Glorp... whuggle?"

Cal felt a hand on his shoulder, "private..." Sarge whispered.

A thousand thoughts and emotions rampaged through a mind that threatened to break under the strain. Without active thought, Cal found the rifle sights aligning in his vision.

Sarge’s voice was soft, with a calmness that cut through the torrent like a knife, "put her down, son."

At the last, it was fear that finally won out. Cal’s finger slid down and squeezed the trigger.

CRACK!

The shot echoed and reverberated through the empty streets. The young kerbelle staggered for a moment, but kept coming.

"Glorp..."

The fear that a moment ago had been a focused beam erupted into a fusillade of terror.

CRACK!
CRACK!
CRACK!
CRACK!
CRACK!
CRACK!
Click.

His mind barely registered what Cal was seeing. Every shot had found its mark. The other’s chest was a ragged ruin, one arm dangling from a stray tendon, yet still she came, her mouth miming the same voiceless word. 

Glorp...

Help...

Helpless, Cal’s mind began to fracture. 

BLAM!

A single dark, centimeter-wide hole appeared in the kerbelle’s head, just above her pleading eyes. They went glassy, and she collapsed like a sack of rotten fruit. 

Beside Cal, Sarge lowered his revolver. For a long time, no one spoke. No sound dared break the silence, save for the distant, barely-there thrumming of... something. The something that Cal had heard before. Only now it seemed... closer. 

“They—“ Sarge paused to run his tongue over dry lips, “they say no one really believes, until they’ve seen it for themselves.” He glanced at Cal, "reload, soldier."

Cal did so, his hands and fingers moving automatically as he stared at the unmoving lump on the ground. One lifeless hand still reached for him... 

His eyes moved to the building looming over them. The screaming from inside seemed... diminished.

"Alright, listen up!" Sarge suddenly cried out, "muster back and the trucks. There’s nothing we can do here, and I won’t risk—"

Glass shattered again, closer this time. Cal caught something from the corner of his eye, something above, then the world went spinning as Sarge shoved him backwards and screamed. 

He struggled against his heavy pack, regaining his feet to find Sarge struggling beneath something twisted and charred. 

“Glorp! Glorp, hwork—“ 

BLAM!

The shot echoed in the night... but the rumbles didn’t die away. Sarge heaved the mass off. 

“Sarge!” Cal cried out, moving to help but finding himself staring down the barrel of a revolver. 

“Evac,” Sarge said, red splotches already blooming on his face, “fall back to the checkpoint. Get the hells out of here, that’s an order!” He raised his sidearm, and one more shot echoed into the darkness. 

The darkness... that now seemed to be moving. All around, Cal could hear it clearly now. Shuffling... mumbling... creeping... He could see it, he could see...

“We... we gotta go...” he breathed, turning. He took two steps, and froze. 

“Hey, Squaddie! We gotta go!”

They came. Stumbling, gibbering, pouring from doorways, flooding up the street. 

“Corporal?” Cal crept forward, “Corporal!”

His eyes...

The Corporal’s eyes were a mirrored contradiction of the kerbelle who now laid in a heap near his feet. Wide, terrified... but cast over with the glazed stare of madness. 

“Corporal!”

“This... this ain’t happening...” he mumbled, “it’s not real...”

“Corporal, we have to go!

"...it ain’t happening..."

The writhing darkness diverged into lucid shapes. Suits. Skirts. Robes. Even the camouflage and helmets of soldiers, mindlessly dragging their rifles behind. All with the same pleading eyes.

 

"We gotta go now!"

"...not real.."

"Corporal!" Cal gave him a shove, but he might have been made of stone. Looking back to the squads, Cal felt panic hanging in the air like static before a storm, seeking only the briefest of grounds to unleash its fury. 

And then, something grabbed hold of him. 

"LOOK ALIVE, YOU MUGS!", Cal screamed at the top of his lungs. He shoved the Corporal back with one hand, firing blind into the darkness with the other, "beta, gamma, firing line! Cover pattern yankee-three, move! Move! Move! Soldiers, we are leaving!

Muscle memory and training smashed through the uncertainty the air, the tense energy becoming motion as kerbs took their positions. Fusillades of concentrated fire drove the darkness back to the flash of cordite. 

And for one brief, beautiful, terrible moment, it actually looked like it might work. 

“Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhgh!! Get it off me!”

“Where?”

"Behind you!"

"They’re everywhere!"

"Watch your flank!"

"Aaauuuuugh!"

"Fall back!"

"Hold the line!"

"Look out!"

"Grenade!!!"

Something shoved Cal forward, he felt the breath pulled from his lungs and his sinuses shatter. The chaos all around dissolved into a low ringing deep in his head. Reeling, he stumbled in circle. Everywhere... they were everywhere... bodies... people screaming... one of the trucks on fire... 

He saw an opening in the bedlam down a side street, and ran. 

***

Cal's throat felt like it was on fire. His chest heaved, each breath like burning desert sand. His helmet was gone, he didn't know where he lost it. His rifle and gear were several streets back, hurled at the shuffling mob when they served no more purpose. His leg burned too, and somewhere in his mind was a dim awareness that it was bleeding badly. A mind that was slowly shutting down, neuron by neuron. He stood panting in an intersection, swaying, eyes struggling to focus. 

All around. They were all around him, clogging the streets, crawling from windows, stumbling from doorways. Hundreds... thousands... more...

And he was hopelessly surrounded. He unsnapped his holster, drawing his own sidearm. He pointed it, it didn't matter where.

BLAM!
BLAM!
BLAM!
BLAM!
BLAM!
BLAM!

Click.

It made no difference, of course. But the mind does strange things at the bitter end. He swung the revolver back and forth as the hoard enveloped him, mindlessly squeezing the trigger until his mind was gone.

Click.
Click.
Click.

Click.

 

Click.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

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Send lawyers  guns, guns and money bigger guns. Everything just hit the fan.

 

Edited by KSK

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On 10/11/2017 at 8:01 AM, CatastrophicFailure said:

Eventuallypatent pending

I started a new shift at work recently and I’m basically useless Tuesday & Wednesday, now. But my “little” add-on has just crossed the 3000 word mark on its own and not quite finished, so the whole mess will likely end up somewhere north of 6000 words when all’s said. 

And this stuff is good:cool: 

Yes. Yes it was.

Totally see why you broke it down into two chapters though - it would have been a real brute otherwise. Plus having that 'click...click...click' motif appear in consecutive (and very different) chapters worked really well.

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OMG..... wow!

I just got up a little while ago, and I planned on writing up a chapter of my own today... and after reading this I am now SO MOTIVATED!!!  :D

That, my friend, was epic!!!  Thank you!!!

Edited by Just Jim

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Sigh. Stupid kerbs. Just nuke the dang glorps :P

...though that would end that threat way too quickly!

Great two chapters!

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3 hours ago, vsully said:

Sigh. Stupid kerbs. Just nuke the dang glorps :P

...though that would end that threat way too quickly!

Great two chapters!

Careful - it depends if @CatastrophicFailure is planning to go all Andromeda Strain on us... 

We've seen that those poor tortured souls can be laid to rest with a well-aimed shot. But what is this contagion? Is it biological - some twisted vector of insanity?

Or is it far, far worse?

If the glorps are being animated by something, then consider this. The nuke might well release that something whilst also giving it the fire of a thousand suns to feed on. Not to mention the irradiated-out-of-existence souls of everything caught in the blast.

And that may not be prudent.

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23 hours ago, KSK said:

Careful - it depends if @CatastrophicFailure is planning to go all Andromeda Strain on us... 

We've seen that those poor tortured souls can be laid to rest with a well-aimed shot. But what is this contagion? Is it biological - some twisted vector of insanity?

Or is it far, far worse?

If the glorps are being animated by something, then consider this. The nuke might well release that something whilst also giving it the fire of a thousand suns to feed on. Not to mention the irradiated-out-of-existence souls of everything caught in the blast.

And that may not be prudent.

Hmmmmmm. I thought it was just sort of feeding on the souls of whatever it touches, which would explain the misery of the glorps if their bodies are being controlled by something else while what's left of the real them is being tortured deep inside.

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On 10/22/2017 at 5:18 AM, Just Jim said:

OMG..... wow!

I just got up a little while ago, and I planned on writing up a chapter of my own today... and after reading this I am now SO MOTIVATED!!!  :D

That, my friend, was epic!!!  Thank you!!!

Funny how these things tend to feed off each other, eh? :wink:

 

Anything else I probably should neither confirm nor deny. I’m a solid 500 words into the next round and I’m aiming for a Halloween release. Because reasons. But probably not good ones. 

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4 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Anything else I probably should neither confirm nor deny. I’m a solid 500 words into the next round and I’m aiming for a Halloween release. Because reasons. But probably not good ones. 

Trick or treat?

Sinister machinations, (more) horrors walking Kerbin, or pumpkin and candy related culture shock for Val? Because bobbing for apples is tough when the apples are frozen solid and embedded in ice...

Maybe all, more likely none, of the above. Either way I can't wait!

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Ready for the most creepy chapter in the series (obviously since it is Halloween). I'm willing to bet that this chapter will be the stuff the worst nightmares are made of. 

I know you won't disappoint us,  you are too good a writer.

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Well, Halloween obviously didn't happen. I'm sure a couple parts here will be terrifying... for those old enough to remember them. :o
And a very special thank you to @Ten Key, I think I broke him this time. :D

And whosoever shall be found
Without the soul for getting down
Must stand and face the hounds of Hell
And rot... inside a corpse’s shell.

 

Chapter 12: Questionable Tastes

 

Snow swirled in a perpetual twilight of velvety indigo. Shapes... figures... seemed to coalesce and writhe, before breaking up and reforming in an unending dance. She... she could almost see... something... stalking out there among the ever-changing drifts. But just like her memories, every time she tried to look at it, it shattered and blew away. The hallway groaned as a blast of wind shook it, and she turned from the small, round window. 

"Does it ever stop snowing here?"

"Well, it’s probably not actually snowing," Edgas peeked out the window, "rarely snows at all, here. But it never goes above freezing, either, so what’s already here just piles up and when the wind gets to blowing—"

She frowned at him.

"Er, well, yeah, this storm is unusually long," she saw a hint of color touch his cheeks, "never seen anything like it, myself." As if in answer, another gust of wind shook the structure. 

Should... should she tell him about the shapes she probably didn’t see, out there in the snow? Her eyes wandered to the low, curved ceiling in thought. No, probably just her mind playing tricks... although...

"Why... why does this place look like space station?" she didn’t know how she knew that, and yet...

"Well, 'cause it is. Sort of."

"What?"

He gave an awkward grin, "we don’t get much of a budget. Nearly all of the base is leftovers from the actual space program. Structural test articles, functional mockups, some spare modules that just never flew... Took some wrangling to get it all together, had to pull a few strings, but it actually works well. The modules are already well insulated and easy to transport, and the coolant loops work just as good for keeping things warm.”

“I... see...” That would explain all the tiny round windows at awkward heights even for her, but... how did she know that? She looked out the window one more time, and could almost swear she saw something moving beyond a floodlight. 

She opened her mouth to speak, but—

“The equipment hangar is the only part of the base that was built on-site, but even that was leftovers from an orbital drydock that got cancelled. Always cold in there, though. You’ll need more than just, well...” he glanced at her, and the color flared in his cheeks again. 

She felt her own flush a bit, too. Now she was clad in a bright red onesie. More of Lemcott’s handiwork. She felt quite ridiculous, but at least it wasn’t pink, and it was deliciously warm. If just a bit itchy. But... his cheeks... she could almost... no, that's ridiculous.

“Erm,” Edgas coughed, “I think you’d just swim in a parka, that would be overkill anyways. In the cold, not sweating is just as important as staying warm, and—“

“Yes, this I know,” she offered helpfully, right before that train of thought came to a screeching halt. How... did she know that?

"Well, I think I’ve got something that might fit you," he finally said, "I just have to dig through my closet."

"If you insist. Is awful lot of trouble, the cold never bothered me anyway."

A little one-sided grin flashed on his face for just an instant, “trust me.” 

She took a breath, and adjusted the cane in her hand. Like the walker, it was printed, and just the perfect height. Far easier to get around with, too. She still felt... unsteady, had to think about what she did before she did it. The boots helped. Oddly enough, they fit her perfectly. Made of tough suede and lined with fur, they seemed so familiar, but like with everything else she couldn’t explain why. Edgas said they were from some Ussari trading post, just at the edge of the ice cap.

She followed beside him, softly thumping along, minding her feet more than anything. At the end of the short corridor, Edgas turned left and opened a large square hatch to another module. 

“Come in, if you want,” he said, “though I’m a bit short on seating.”

She cautiously stepped over a high threshold into a space not much bigger than a closet. A large closet, though. It was tidy and organized, with a shelf here, a small sink over there, and all sorts of space memorabilia plastering the walls. A big, comfy chair took one corner, with one of those little padded stools people called Turks before it. Or was that an Ottoman?

“This’ll just take a sec,” he mumbled from an actual closet. 

She leaned on the cane and shifted her weight, looking over the small space. She... seemed to feel the strangest sensation washing over her. It was as if... the pain in her joints, the aches deep in her bones the medications could never quite touch... as if all of it were somehow muted, like shadows on a grey day. She wondered if, perhaps, it was simply this bit of mild exercise doing her good, working the kinks out and what not. But... it seemed... just a bit brighter in here... a bit warmer...

She blinked the thought away. It was Edgas’s, the Commander's, personal quarters, he probably just had the heat turned up. 

"Hey, here it— nope, that’s not it..." he mumbled. 

Her eyes wandered around the room again. On one wall, there was a large display filled with official-looking photos of Kerbonauts. A small brass plaque over it read, AD ASTRA PER—

She quickly tore her eyes away. Warm fuzzy feeling or not, something deep in her mind was screaming that she did not want to look at that. Not... not yet.

Just above that, high on the wall, was a picture of...

Wait, what?

"Er... Mister G— Edgas..?"

"Mmmph?" something in the closet went thud"Ow."

"Why... do you have photo on wall of... big rock wearing bowtie?"

A head appeared, "huh?"

She pointed. 

"Oh, that’s the President."

Oh, of course. It was just the—

"Wait, what?"

The face appeared again, "the President of Kleptogart. Well, the last one."

For a moment, she could only stare. 

She opened her mouth... no.

Then she tried again... no, not right either. 

She opened her mouth one last time, then gave up trying to find the words and rubbed her temples, "forgive me, Kerblish has always been a bit... fuzzy, to me..."

He raised an eye... bulge at that.

"...Perhaps I am mistranslating... do you really mean to tell me the President of Kleptogart is a big rock in a bowtie?"

"Giant Meteor, actually. That picture doesn’t really show the scale."

Ah yes, that made perfect—

Wait, what??

She pointed at him. Pointed at the wall. Pointed at him. Pointed at the wall. 

Tried unsuccessfully to form syllables into words, "eeeh aaah, ooh ah-ah?"

An awkward little smile bloomed on Edgas’s face, "yeah, um... that whole election went a bit... fluffy. All the candidates were so bad they just called the whole thing off and swore in a giant meteor for six years instead. Was never much of a public speaker but it really conveyed the weight of the office, y’know?” He forced a helpful grin. 

The edge of one lip curled up just slightly, while the opposite eyelid began to twitch. She had the strange, and oddly familiar sensation, that now she had finally gone quite mad. 

She reached a hand to her head again, “you people are so strange...” then winced, “ow, my head...”

Edgas frowned, “maybe we should put this off another day. I don’t want to overtax you.”

“No, I need to see it,” she squeezed her eyes shut against the noise of her mental gears grinding, “I need to see this thing you found me in.”

“Well, ok,” he turned, “I think I just saw what I was looking for.”

“I will be fine, really...”

“Trust me, it’s freezing in the hangar.”

She rolled her eyes and gave a huff, trying awkwardly to cross her arms while holding a cane. But... Well, it was a nice gesture that he—

Her mind jumped at least three gears at once, not bothering with the clutch, "where did you get this?!" a trembling finger stuck out toward a display case hanging on the other wall, "you... you cannot have this! You... you cannot! Do you have any idea what they would do to you if they caught you with this?!" 

She clumped over to him and grabbed a fistful of shirt, "you must get rid of it right away!"

Edgas blinked at her. Another couple of gears rattled and cranked as not fear, or even confusion spread across his face, but... embarrassment?

"Yeah, um..." his face squeezed into a wince, "that’s... mine."

Her jaw fell open with a shudder as her mind kicked itself out of gear so hard it probably stripped a few teeth. 

“Um... see for yourself...” he offered another helpful, hapless grin. 

Shifting around in her head trying desperately to find a gear that still worked, she settled on ‘Reverse’ for lack of options, and backed up to the case. 

She read, “FOR HIS CONTINUING ACTIONS RENDERED IN SERVICE OF THE GLORIOUS IMPERIOUS UNION OF USSARI STATES, THE GRAND HIGH IMPERIUM, ON BEHALF OF HER IMPERIAL MAJESTY ALEXANDRA II, AND OF A GRATEFUL NATION, DOES HEREBY BESTOW UPON ONE EDGAS J KERMAN THE TITLE OF HERO OF THE USSARI UNION, AND ALL THE PRIVILEGE THAT—“

With a dying groan, her mental transmission puked its ruined internals out in a sulfurous hail of shattered gears, broken bearings, chunky 80w-90, and one mangled snap ring that danced around in a circle on the floor before finally coming to rest. 

Metaphorically speaking. 

She gaped at Edgas, mouth agog, the corner of one eye twitching just slightly. 

"Um... er..," he raised a finger, "hey, you remembered something!"

And just like that her brain was back in gear, but firmly stuck in ‘Frustration,’ "but I... I... I do not! I do not even know what this is!" she waved a hand at the medal, "I do not know what an Imperium is, only that it is something you should be very, very afraid of." Her hand went to her temples again.

"Well," he took a step toward her, "that’s still something." He thought for a minute, "that seems like a powerful memory. Maybe that’s the key to unlocking all the others."

"I do not... for a moment it was... ugh!" she turned away, scowling. Something... had been there, but... As her mind wandered, back in Neutral again, she saw a clear sheet of plastic draped over the arm of the comfy chair before her. She picked it up, not quite thinking. It seemed to go... taught in her hand, an opaque screen appearing covered in rows of stylized little pictures. 

"What is this thing, anyway?" she mumbled to herself.

"Um, it’s just a tablet..."

Why do I not know what this is?" she brandished the illuminated plastic sheet "that is chair... that is window... closet, book, floor and ceiling. Why do I not know what this is?"

"Because it was invented after you left."

She felt her teeth grind, “yes, I know this. I have been missing for twelve years. So you keep saying. As if that should make me feel...” her eyes squeezed shut to match. 

“Look, we’ll—“ 

With a grunt, she waved a hand at him. As her eyes opened again, they found a little picture on the device that looked like a musical note. Seeking anything to focus on, she touched it... and gasped as a soulful piano melody seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere all at once. 

Some say love, it is a river
That drowns the tender reed.
Some say love, it is a razor
That leaves your soul to bleed.

Frustration momentarily forgotten, her lip rose in that little twitching curl that seemed so popular today as she gaped back at Edgas.  

Some say love, it is a hunger
An endless aching need.
I say, love, it is a flower
And you its only seed.

“A-henh... a-henh-henh...” a dizzying array of looks washed over Edgas’s face, “gee, um... how’d that get there? Thought I’d deleted it years ago! Must be some stray bytes, just some unparsed extemporaneous data. Might’ve been a bad torrent, I’ve really got to watch my IP’s better. Probably should run a virus scan...” He cautiously reached out, eyes fixed on the tablet

She stepped back, “I know what all of those words mean yet I have absolutely no idea what you just said.” On this day of strange sensations, now she felt... fear. No, not fear... more like... when she had found herself wearing the ridiculous pink unicorn thing in the medbay...

But... I am not embarrassed...

She saw the color bloom in Edgas’s cheeks. Curiosity piqued her, and she tapped again...

I can see a new horizon underneath the blazing sky,
I'll be where the eagle's flying higher and higher! 
Gonna be your man in motion,
All I need is a pair of wheels.
Take me where the future's lying St. Elmo's fire.

She looked at him. 

He looked at her. 

"Um... um... must be some ad-ware! Maybe you’ve hit a pop-under... or one of those annoying auto-plays..!"

"What are you talking about?" That curiosity pulled at her... and something deeper, and just a bit... impish. She could feel the edge of her mouth draw into the shadow of a smirk.

She tapped. 

Somewhere out there, 
Beneath the pale moonlight,
Someone’s thinking of me,
And loving me tonight.

He gave her a flat look, despite the drop of sweat that rolled down his temple, "um... that’s not mine. I was just holding it for a friend."

Fear notched upward toward panic.

Him. It's coming from him...

And yet... something in her wanted to poke at that fear, not from malice but...

Tap.

Here I go again on my own,
Goin' down the only road I've ever known.
Like a drifter, I was born to walk alone,
And I've made up my mind,
I ain't wasting no more time.

Edgas’s eyes darted about. The edges of his mouth curled up in a double sneer. He started to lunge—

Whoosh.

Without looking, she swung the cane up, which just touched his chest, keeping him out of reach. He gawked down at it as if not quite knowing where it came from. 

Tap.

I want to know what love is, I want you to show me.
I want to feel what love is, I know you can show me.

"Um... um... um... I... I’ve been hacked!" he squealed, "it must’ve been the Ussaris!"

Her face whipped around, then twisted up into a scowl. Somewhere in her mind, curiosity and... prankishness chased each other. 

Two... two different currents... two streams... I am not about to panic, it is—

The scowl softened... yet the catharsis that was pushing her frustration away drove her on. 

Tap.

And I ran,
I ran so far away.
I just ran,
I ran all night and day,
I couldn't get away.

Tap.

Once upon a time I was falling in love,
But now I'm only falling apart.
And there's nothing I can do,
A total eclipse of the heart.

Tap.

Don't you, forget about me,
Don't, don't, don't, don't!
Don't you, forget about me.

Tap.

Islands in the stream, that is what we are...

Tap.

Oh, I wanna dance with somebody!

Tap.

All night long (all night)...

Tap.

Who’s gonna drive you home...

The bizarre mix of sensations in her had slammed together at once, I am... feeling what he is feeling... his emotions...

Edgas’s voice rose to a screech, "hey Siri, stop the music!"

"Okay, I’ll stop the music," came a pleasant female voice. 

The cane clattered to the floor. Her own epiphany was washed away by a foggy but powerful tide of fractured memory, "it talks..." she gripped the slim plastic tablet with both hands and screamed at it, her mischievousness forgotten, “you, thing! Machine! What did he call it? Siri! Hey Siri! I must speak to Ivan!”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know Yvonne.”

“No, not Yvonne, Ivan!”

“There is no Yvonne in your contact list.”

“No, you stupid thing!” all the frustration from a moment ago came crashing back into her, bringing with it a new sense of fear that was, most certainly, hers, ”Ivan, with an ‘I!’

“Here’s What I found on the web for ‘even with an eye...’”

“No, Ivan, I...” she curled over into a ball as her voice broke, “I must speak to Ivan... I need Ivan...” The tablet dropped back to the chair. 

A soft, calm voice came from behind her, “who’s Ivan?”

“I do not know!” sobs not quite allowed to form racked her shoulders in muted waves. She felt like a prisoner in her own mind, peering out through the keyhole and catching confused glimpses of someone who was once her. Or who she once was. Yet she remained trapped inside, hopeless, helpless, and utterly—

A strong hand gripped her quaking shoulder, "you’re not alone." 

Her eyes drew slowly open.

It seemed to steady her, draw her back, "I... don’t claim to have the answers. But I’m not giving up, and I won’t let you, either. We’ll figure this out, chase it as far as it takes. We can start in the hangar."

And then, much to her own surprise, she felt her own hand rising unbidden, and just for a moment squeezing back the hand that steadied her shoulder. 

“C’mon,” Edgas half-pulled her up, “let’s go take a look at that capsule.” He handed her something soft and grey. 

“What is..?” She held the thing up. It was... an old hooded sweatshirt. Worn letters faded to near illegibility proclaimed it the PROPERTY OF KERBAL SPACE ADMINISTRATION XXL. She raised an eye... bulge at him.

That familiar hint of red bloomed on his face, “um... that old thing’s been in the closet forever. Hasn’t fit me in years but I think it’ll be just right for you.”

She flashed a fragile smile, then turned and picked up the tablet, “you, er, have most interesting taste in music...” As she handed it to him, her thumb brushed the screen...

I like big butts and I cannot lie!
You otha brothas can’t deny,
When a girl walks in wit a itty-bitty waist
And a round thing in your face, you get—

Edgas’s face didn’t just go red, it barreled straight past red, shoved aside infrared, sent microwaves sprawling, smashed the old Kerborola with foil on the antenna playing easy listening in rural Loneankopa to bits, then turned around and ran back the way it had just come, trampling microwaves while it was still down, slapping infrared upside the head, giving visible light a swift punch in the nose, kicking the ultraviolet square in the fork, squashing soft X-rays, shattering hard X-rays, and rocketing past an absolutely flabbergasted gamma rays, still accelerating, whilst waving its arms over its head and screaming “I’m an Oscar Meyer Wiener!” before disappearing off into the land of ultra-mega-high-energy yoctometer-wavelength purely theoretical nonsense, where it was never heard from again. 

 

Metaphorically speaking, of course. 

 

————————————

 

 

“Ugh, I hate that song,” Megselle Kerman reached up and switched off the music, “well, at least traffic is moving again.” She paused, “that means you can pull up.”

“Huh? What? Oh,” P. Kerman stopped fiddling with his coat pocket, and glided forward another karlength. 

Meg squinted ahead, “I wonder why traffic’s been so bad...”

“Eh, it’s a busy border. I guess coming through in the middle of the night wasn’t such a good idea after all," now he squinted ahead, "maybe we should turn on our phones. Or check the actual radio—"

"Oh, no!" she rounded on him, "this was your idea, remember? No phones, no distractions. No EgoBook, no Blabber, no Boaster, no OgleMe, no SlapChat, no InstaPrattle, no Imjrr, no iEats, no Feed. Just you and me for once, right?" A hint of pleading crept into her voice.

"Of course, Fluffernutter!" he gave a big, bright smile, "just you and me."

She eyed him suspiciously for a moment longer, then squealed with joy and slapped her knees, rat-tat-tat, “oh, I can’t believe we’re finally going!

“I told you I’d make it up to you,” he smiled.

She smirked back, “only took you a dozen years.”

“But Lovechunks, I really don’t remember anything!” he pleaded. 

“You showed up on our doorstep in a crate,” her arms crossed her chest, “again,” then more softly, “I had to sell my kar to pay the freight charge before they repossessed you.”

“But... but I bought you a new kar...”

“Which you wrecked.”

“But... I bought you a new new kar...”

“Which you also wrecked.”

“But... but I bought you a new new new kar. Just like you always wanted, with the Electro-Glide-Drive™ and the Mün roof and the heated posterior butt warmers! You love the heated posterior butt warmers...”

She shifted in her seat, “and which you’re now driving. Again. Because you wrecked your kar. Again.”

"I swear, Cheese-Dibbles, I never saw that bus!"

"It was three meters wide, four meters high, painted reflective white and covered in flashing lights."

"Yeah... But... there was a guy on the side of the road selling kittens... fluffy kittens..."

Meg reached out, and not-quite-touched a bandage on his face, "which scratched the ever-living crap out of you, and I had to take you to the clinic in the middle of the night to get a shot." She playfully booped his... not-quite-nose.

Then she leaned back, still looking nonplussed, but the edges of her lips curling up into that disarming smile that always made him feel as if he were about to break into song, or vomit, or occasionally both at once, “although... it was nice getting to relax and just enjoy the scenery. It was such a pretty drive, down through the mountains from the east. Though... it’s strange that the leaves were changing, it’s not even fall yet.”

"I think it’s one of those off weather cycles this year, il bambino or something. It’s been cool like that all summer,” he offered a helpful grin. 

An irate horn sounded behind them, “you can pull up again, P.”

“Huh? What? Oh,” once again, he patted at his coat pocket before doing so. A border guard dressed in simple fatigues approached the vehicle ahead of them, giving it a cursory check with his flashlight before talking to the driver. P. looked over, “Hey, um—“

Another excited squeal cut him off, “we’re next! Oh, I can’t believe this is really happening, we’ve been talking about it for years. I can’t wait to see the Børknflügel!"

"And the Junkenjård!" he added happily.

"And Flürgen Domkyrka!"

"And... and... the ABBAmuseet!"

"Oh, and we have to go feed the ducks at the Kvakenvaddle!"

"And see the statue of Hans-Kristoff-Anna-Svengoolie at Isfjell square!"

"And get lutefisk onna stick at the Jørkenbørk!"

"Oh, then we have to eat at Nom-a, I hear the chef is incredible!"

Meg giggled, then sighed, "we should go see the Küngliga Operanbørk, too. Too bad it’s impossible to get tickets but maybe they give tours of the building or something during off hours."

At this P. Kerman’s eyes popped wide, before slinking down into a sly, roguish leer. He fiddled about in his pocket again and eventually produced an envelope. She took it with hesitation, as if afraid it might bite. Or worse. 

Then her own eyes swelled until they practically bulged from their sockets.

Well, more so than usual. 

"Front row tickets to opening night of Baroness Hilde von Keepsemfromfloppen in Der Flederkrake at the Küngliga Operanbørk?!?" Meg shrieked, "how did youget these?!" her wide eyes darted around, "what did you do?" then flatly, "who did you kill?"

Grinning from ear to ear, P. Kerman opened his mouth... only to have Meg reach over and shut it for him.

"On second thought," she said, "I don’t want to know. I’m sure whoever it was had it coming."

He blinked. 

Meg leaned back, regarding him in an oddly thoughtful way, “ok, I’ve gotta hand it to you this time, P., you’ve really pulled this one off.”

“I told you I would, Pumpkin Spice,” he grinned.

“Indeed,” she continued watching him a bit longer with that considering look, “oh, this is us! You’ve got the passports, right?” a hint of panic crept into her voice. 

It spread over P. Kerman’s face for an instant too, as he frantically searched his pockets before finding the proper documents. 

Meg nodded, “I just hope there’s no trouble getting across.”

“Don’t worry, Squooshyface, I’ve double-checked all the papers,” he grinned, “besides, the Nefcarkalandern are universally hailed as a warm and welcoming people.”

P. Kerman lowered the window as the car softly whrrrred up to the lone border guard. Who stared with a face that looked like it had never ever laughed before. Probably because it never leaned how. Off in the distance, a radio was playing, something about seeing the sign. Of which there were many around the gated crossing. A long stream of oncoming headlights stretched away beyond the border fence, and they seemed... to be moving rather quickly. 

“Passpørts pljease, børkbørk,” the guard monotoned, holding a gloved hand out. 

“Hi!” P. Kerman gave his winningest smile as he handed them over, “lovely evening, isn’t it?”

The guard stared at him until he sort of melted down into his seat, before flicking open Meg’s passport. Across from the page with an actual photograph, a sheet of clear plastic came to life. Personal details streamed past as a 3-D image of her looked left, looked right, up and down. 

“Megselle M. Kjerman?” The guard raised an eye... bulge. Meg leaned over in her seat flashing a pretty smile... which quickly vanished into confused blinking as the guard shined his flashlight in her eyes. He nodded, and switched to the other passport... then his eyes shot open. 

He looked at P., looked at the page. Looked at P., looked at the page. Turned the document this way and that. Finally he unfolded another page from inside... and then another.

“Ådbåld-Kerthøny-JøhnGerbøNeilert-Hergun-Gilvin-Jerrighørdred-MerlenRøddin-Cørwin-Sønert-HånyPhilvånFredbålRøner-Chådåld-DølåsHålnie-Thømped-Newski-Desley-Mitsen-Billy-Bøbvey-Bårgel-MålbårtHådethMåtlån-ShergunTømrim P. Kjerman?”

“That’s me!”

The guard stared at him. Then rolled his eyes, and just as he was about to hand the passports back, someone who was quite obviously an officer stalked up to him. Salutes were exchanged, followed by a heated, and mostly one-way, conversation in Nefcarkalandish. Lots of ø’s and j’s and ü’s. Then the officer handed him a rifle, and a combat helmet with a huge pair of horns jutting up. More salutes followed. 

He turned back to the car and handed over the passports, “ja, før shøre, yøu be makings de Ü-turn nøw.”

WW-ww-wwhhaatt??!!

“De børder’s cløsed, børk.”

As they watched, another guard in a silly helmet slid a rattling chainlink gate across the threshold. Followed one of wrought-iron that squeaked and squealed. Followed by a lumbering plate steel wall that groaned as if it hadn’t been moved in decades. Through the chainlink to either side, however, they could see the line of oncoming headlights become a parade of trucks of every shape and size rumbling down the frontage road: troop carriers, rocket launchers, and flatbed after flatbed carrying enormous tanks... each with its own set of horns. 

P. Kerman turned his attention back to the stony-faced guard, stammering for words, “but... but... but... we’ve got reservations! We’ve got tickets!” 

The guard stared. 

“We’ve got papers! Look! Red papers! Blue papers! Papers with very official stamps on them!” he waved the papers out the window. 

The guard didn’t blink, “ja, før shøre, yøu be makings de Ü-turn now, or I be makings de bången-bången.” The rifle’s bolt slid home. 

P. Kerman only gaped at it a moment, “we’re going. We’re going.” He ground the transmission into gear, an impressive feat considering the electric kar had no transmission, “we’re going!”

To a jerky cacophony of bangs and chirping tires, the vehicle pirouetted around and headed off south down an empty road. 

“What just happened?” Meg said to no one in particular, “I mean, what the flarp just happened?!?”

“Uh... Meg..?”

“Don’t scold me about my language now!” she snapped, jumping up and looking back over the seats, “they... they can’t do this! Our vacation! Baroness von Keepsemfromfloppen!”

“Meg..?”

She fiddled her phone out, “I know, I’ll call our lawyer!”

“Meg...”

“No, I’ll call the consulate!”

Meg...”

“No, I’ll call the flarping President!

“Meg!”

“What?!?”

P. Kerman pointed ahead, his face ashen, “why is the sky all red?”

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

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8 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

P. Kerman pointed ahead, his face ashen, “why is the sky all red?”

Oh. Oh! I know this one!

Now I aint no electrician so I can't tell whether that 'lil electric jalopy o' theirs runs on alternating current or direct current. But one thing's fer sure...

They've been turned around
No way to town
Hope their friends aint gonna be there too

They're on a highhhhhhway to....

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And on a more serious note - great chapter. I'm liking all the little near-future touches running through this story - personal exoskeletons, 3D printing as a thing, everyday uses of flexscreens for tablets and ID documents, that sort of stuff. Also fluffy kittens. Can't blame a 'kerb for getting distracted by fluffy kittens. Even if they do turn out to be small furry balls of unleashed viciousness.

Although after that opening paragraph I'm not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed that we never got to see the thing with 40 eyes. Unless that was the kitten. :)

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Ohhh - nice one @Just Jim. For sure, this ain't no technological breakdown...

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On 11/12/2017 at 11:30 PM, KSK said:

They're on a highhhhhhway to.... Bellevue!

...right?

@Just Jim yoink.  added to my list of awesome stuff I totally have to use but promptly forgot. 

 

19 hours ago, KSK said:

personal exoskeletons

Wait, what? Where’d I mention the personal exoskeletons? I didn’t think I’d got to the personal exoskeletons yet? :confused:

19 hours ago, KSK said:

Although after that opening paragraph I'm not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed that we never got to see the thing with 40 eyes. Unless that was the kitten. :)

Well they are doing fascinating things with genetics these days...

Just need a dance number to the funk of 40,000 years. and now to forget that song for another 11 months...

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1 hour ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Wait, what? Where’d I mention the personal exoskeletons? I didn't think I'd got to the personal exoskeletons yet? :confused:

Skeeters?

"Told you you were going too fast," the corner of Edgas's mouth twitched.
"Everyone goes too fast in Skeeter training!"
"Everyone doesn't drop kick a deer while doing so."

Drop-kicking a deer sounds like an accident that could only happen in some kind of exoskeleton. Maybe that's just me.

Oh - and thanks @Just Jimfor this morning's drive-time music choice. :) Speaking of which:

On your journey across the wilderness
From the desert to the wells
You have strayed upon...the motorway to hell.

Is it just me, or does that sound entirely too much like the prologue to this fine tale?

Edited by KSK

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On 11/12/2017 at 6:18 PM, CatastrophicFailure said:

Edgas’s face didn’t just go red, it barreled straight past red, shoved aside infrared, sent microwaves sprawling, smashed the old Kerborola with foil on the antenna playing easy listening in rural Loneankopa to bits, then turned around and ran back the way it had just come, trampling microwaves while it was still down, slapping infrared upside the head, giving visible light a swift punch in the nose, kicking the ultraviolet square in the fork, squashing soft X-rays, shattering hard X-rays, and rocketing past an absolutely flabbergasted gamma rays, still accelerating, whilst waving its arms over its head and screaming “I’m an Oscar Meyer Wiener!” before disappearing off into the land of ultra-mega-high-energy yoctometer-wavelength purely theoretical nonsense, where it was never heard from again. 

ok, you broke me. i'm broken. forever. 

 

this is your fault. 

 

Edit: also, I finally caught up! only took me a few munths reading every weekday for half an hour during lunch. 

Edited by Thedrelle
caught up!

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16 hours ago, KSK said:

Drop-kicking a deer sounds like an accident that could only happen in some kind of exoskeleton.

Or, perhaps, a motorcycle. :wink: 

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