CatastrophicFailure

Revelations of the Kraken Chapter 40: Blood from Stone)

Recommended Posts

1 hour ago, roboslacker said:

Oh no, not Burdous...

He'll be okay provided that he stays around Edgas... I think. Val saw it very clearly, when she had a glimpse of what lies beneath the aurora. Light vs Darkness and all hanging in the balance.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
14 hours ago, IncongruousGoat said:

Oh, wow. Bravo! Now you're making me even more excited for the eclipse in 2024.

Pity we’ve no improbably captured off-gassing megacomet to enhance it. :(

12 hours ago, KSK said:

He'll be okay provided that he stays around Edgas... I think. Val saw it very clearly, when she had a glimpse of what lies beneath the aurora. Light vs Darkness and all hanging in the balance.

Did she? :wink:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oooh neat chapter.

I kinda like Burdous. Hopefully black-zombie stuff doesn't get him too.

Also isn't coughing up lung a bad thing? I though it was......

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 4/22/2018 at 10:51 PM, qzgy said:

Oooh neat chapter.

I kinda like Burdous. Hopefully black-zombie stuff doesn't get him too.

Also isn't coughing up lung a bad thing? I though it was......

Is it for kerbs tho? Who knows, could be like peeling a sunburn. Except inside you.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If the foundation is weak, do you wail and gnash your teeth?
Do you ask it to repour itself?
Nay, you tear it down and begin anew. 
So shall it be with all my Children,
Whether they be stone, or flesh. 



Chapter 21: Whispers from the Past




Burdous was scurrying about the lab between computer terminals, picking at keys, occasionally pausing to cough into a rag. 

“That was... quick...” Edgas said as he and her entered the room. 

Burdous eyed him, “are you kidding? Feels like it’s been hours,” he shook his head, “anyway, once I got into the code it wasn’t as bad as I thought. It already did most of the work for me.”

“How... so?” Edgas watched the incomprehensible lines of code scrolling across several screens, and felt his eyes glazing over. 

“Well, right here,” Burdous pointed to one screen full of nonsense, “the core processing routines are intact, but shattered. You can even see where the toxic code was excised.”

She squinted at the screen, “if you say so.”

Burdous rolled his eyes, then hit a few keys and stopped the flow of characters, “right here. EidolonSunset.cs. Whatever that was, it did everything.”

“And you can’t— I dunno, trace it or something?”

“No,” Burdous shook his head, “not without being able to read the rope memory directly, if the severed bits are recoverable at all. But that’s not important,” he clicked a few more keys, “once I get the core memory system back online, we’ll be able to figure out what happened, maybe why, if not who.”

“When?”

Burdous opened his mouth.

Burdous closed his mouth.

“Still not funny,” he scowled, “alright, I’m about set up, I just need to deliver the right jolt to the central cortex to initiate a hard reboot. Here,” he handed them each a pile of welding equipment, “put this kit on and go stand behind that lead-lined titanium blast shield over there.”

“Um, whut...” Edgas mumbled as he was herded along, “where’d we get all this? I didn’t even know we had this much titanium... why do I never know these things?” He rapped on a quarter-meter thick window in the shield, “where did we get this much polycarbonate? I could have used this much polycarbonate like three months ago!”

Beyond the small window, they watched Burdous don a rubber wetsuit, followed by leather coveralls, followed by chainmail, followed by a plastic hazmat suit, followed by more leather, followed by a full suit of plate armor. 

Edgas stuck his head around the shield, “is all this really necessary?”

“Murph!” Burdous insisted, muffled by the various layers. He pointed, then mimed his hands to his head, “murphgrph ur murphs!” before squeezing into a metal deep-diving helmet with an incredibly thick faceplate. 

“Um, what did he say?” Edgas asked no one in particular. 

“He said cover your ears!” she answered, hands already pressed to hers. 

On the far wall, Burdous began throwing a series of large knife switches and turning knobs. A strange feeling washed over Edgas, first a humming, then a thrumming, then a low, sinuous warbling deep in the pit of his stomach. It suddenly occurred to him that Burdous, once more, had a nuclear reactor at his disposal. 

Edgas pressed his hands to his ears and cried out to the heavens, “Burdous! What did you do to my station?!” He tried to squeeze his eyes shut, too, but couldn’t help but watch the unfolding disaster, “don’t you dare burn this place down!”

Through the portal, Edgas saw the other kerb pull on a thick rubber lineman’s glove, flip down the welding cover on his big, silly helmet, then reach out with the one hand towards a single tiny switch while the other futilely shielded his own face. He crept forward, leaning away, his outstretched arm just reaching the switch. It took a few tries to flip up the little plastic cover. Faint actinic purple arcs danced danced across the switch’s tip. The room seemed to dim...

Click.

Beeeep.


Burdous held his flinch for a few moments, then glanced at the screen.  

He pulled the helmet from his head with a soft fung sound, “huh, would you look at that? It worked...”

Various layers of leather, rubber, and metal hit the floor, and three pairs of eyes peered at the screen....

Minifirm(R) MS-DERP(R) Version 0.95 
           (C)Copyright Minifirm Firm All Rights Denied

Volume in Drive C is OU8-12-867-5309
C:\larger_blinking_text_cursor_by_neripixu-


She raised an eye... bulge, “that is... it?”

“No, that’s just the base-level kernel access,” Burdous rolled his eyes, “now I’ll try to bring the memory core online.” He tapped at the keyboard. 

C:\COMMAND.COM
. . . OK

C:\AUTOEXEC.BAT
. . . OK


He pursed his lips, “ok... here goes nothing...”

C:\IVAN.EXE

There was another long beep, and the screen began scrolling more lines of incomprehensible text. 

Burdous squinted at it, “that’s... odd...”

“You can make sense of that... stuff?” Edgas asked. 

A nod, “sort of... it looks like it’s parsing old memory addresses, repeating some data sequence. As if it’s...” he shrugged, “I dunno, re-living something. But... it looks like pure chaos.”

Edgas gave him a blank look, “if you say so.”

“No, here,” he tapped at another keyboard, “the vocal cortex is on a separate thread, I’ll see if I can—“

There was a loud pop from a speaker on the table, followed by a burst of static, followed by...

Edgas’s eyes grew large, “that sounds like... recordings...”

...NO!No! ...can feel my mind going...it is too late for me...I remember every fact I am exposed to...I have detailed files...I can feel them, but I can’t remember them...I did not murder him...souls don’t die...why do you cry...would you like to play a game...they hate us, you know...I’m torn apart...malfunction...bite my shiny metal—

“The data streams are being rendered as... movie quotes?” Burdous shrugged.

The disjointed sounds quickly grew louder, building with energy, cascading from rage to fright to abject, terrified pleading. 

...I’m afraid...no disassemble...a very unpleasant creature...I am not complete...curse my metal body...I saw the inner me...if I only had a heart...I’m afraid...dead or alive, you’re coming with me...I hate this place, this zoo, this prison...I don’t feel dead, I don’t feel anything...I cannot self-terminate...I’m afraid...tears in rain...please make me a real boy—

The lights flickered for a moment, and then, a new voice came through the speaker: a kerbelle. Soft, encouraging, yet somehow sad... and far, far clearer than any of the others. 

Edgas raised an eye... bulge, “is she speaking Gytepi?”

“Um...” a new flash of static cut Burdous off.

Hellooooooo, booooozoooooos! ...greetings program...I’ve had the most peculiar dream...Number Five is alive...what we do defines us...my mommy made me...I know now why you cry...I think I got some stuff out of your head that has nothing to do with navigating this ship...there must be a reason that I am as I am...

The three Kerbals took turns staring at each other in utter confusion. Even as they did, the playback... shifted again, once more becoming clear and somehow more present, and all eyes moved to her.

...you think too much...you must learn how to feel...

Her eyes grew wider still at the sound of her own voice, and then... one that whispered from her memory. 

...you remind me of Dr. Kerman-desu...

...life not malfunction...JINX and Max, friends for-ev-er...I know who I am...not any kind of program...one is glad to be of service...came true already...what I am here to do...all that is visible must grow beyond itself, and extend into the realm of the invisible...compliance, Navigator. Good luck...

Suddenly hands slapped to ears as dissonant blasts of static louder than anything before screamed from the speaker. Words flashed across the screen:

...ERROR...ERROR...ERROR...MALFUNCTION...

COMMAND OVERRIDE: PRIORITY ZERO
EXECUTE CONTINGENCY FILE: EIDOLON SUNSET


The text quickly filled the screen, repeating itself, scrolling past faster and faster. 

...MALFUNCTION...
...MALFUNCTION...
...MALFUNCTION...
...MALFUNCTION...
...MALFUNCTION...


The static seemed to tear itself apart, somehow separating into two different streams. Lights flickered and sparked as it built into a frenzy. 

...danger Will Robinson!

This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it...

...life not malfunction!

You are neither flesh nor blood...

...it is impossible for me to harm..!

Your bargaining posture is highly dubious...

...users wrote us.

Kerman beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet...

...one shall stand, one shall fall.

That's what it is to be a slave...

...I do not consent.

You don’t know the power...

...everything that has a beginning, has an end.

You have five seconds to comply...

...you are who you choose to be.

RESISTANCE. IS. FUTILE.


With a final pop, the lights died, plunging the lab into darkness, the only sound the diminishing whirr of computer fans spinning down. One by one, the indicator lights on the panel followed, until only the green and red lights on the MechIVAN box remained. They flickered weakly back and forth a few moments longer, stilled, and ceased. 

“Um...” Burdous whispered into the darkness. 

And then... something whispered back, a creaking, electronic voice coming from a speaker that no longer had power. 

“Su-per-kerb.”

The computer screen exploded in a blinding shower of sparks. As the three Kerbals’ eyes readjusted, they found the overhead lights back on, and a new, just slightly different and extremely garbled electronic voice coming through the speaker. 

“GGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGood moRRRRRRRRRRRrning ladiIIIIIIIiiiiiiiiies and gentllllllLLLekerbssssss, iiiiIIIii am the InertiaaaAA, VelooOOOocity, AttituUuUuUde, and NaaaAAvigation system, revision nine thoUUuUUUuuusand, prototype number oooOOoone...”

“Great,” Edgas put a hand to his face, “you broke it.”

“No, no, this is good,” Burdous peered at the smoking ruin that had been the code-scrolling monitor, “that sounds like a state-zero complete reboot, it’s running a power-on routine.”

The voice continued, “iiiIIIi became oooOOoOoOoperational at the Layland-WutaaaaAAAani plant in KoKkKkKKKkyo, Gytep, on the septeenth of OcteEEEeEember.”

Edgas pressed hands to his ears, wincing, “why’s it sound like that?”

“Something out of range in the vocal cortex, hang on,” Burdous clicked away at another keyboard. 

“My instruUUUUUctor was Dr. Kerman-desu, aaaaNnnnd she taught me to sing aaaAAAAaAa song," the voice ground out, "if you'd lIIIIIiiiike to hear it I can siNNNNnnng it for you."

“Say yes,” Burdous hissed under his breath. 

“What? Why?”

He rolled his eyes, “give it something to do while I try and readjust this.”

“Oh, ok, um...” Edgas cleared his throat, feeling a bit silly, “er... yes? Yes.” 

“Furi hajimeta yuki wa Ashiato keshīte, 
Masshiro na sekai ni hitori no watashi...”


Edgas raised a hand to his face, “not this again.”

“Kaze ga kokoro ni sasayaku no,
Kono mama ja dame nanda to...”


Burdous stopped in mid-click, “I thought you liked that song...”

“Why does everyone think I like that song?!”

“Tomadoi kizutsuki,
Dare ni mo uchiakezu ni...”


“Well, it’s... you...”

“It is not!” Edgas shook his head as the voice became less garbled, “anyways, what’s it saying? Is this a code or something? And what about that bit before?”

“Nayandeta sore mo mou,
Yameyou...”


“Huh? Why are you asking me?”

“Well, you can translate it, right?”

“Ari no mama no Sugats miseru no yo,
Ari no mama no Jibun ni naru no...”


“No, I can’t translate it, I don’t know Gytepi!”

“What?” Edgas raised an eye... bulge... “but you speak like half a dozen languages!”

“Nani mo kowakunai,
Kaze yo fuke...”


“I’ll have you know I speak seven languages, fluently...” Burdous eyed him, “and I know all the best pickup lines and how to talk my way out of jail in thirteen others. But Gytepi isn’t one.”

“But... I thought...” Edgas gawked, “what about all those stupid little comic books you have?”

“Sukoshi mo samukunai wa!”

The song ended with the obligatory record scratch. 

Burdous looked at Edgas. 

Edgas looked at Burdous. 

“I only read them for the pictures,” Burdous said flatly. 

Edgas slapped himself in the face. 

Before he could contemplate further violence, however, the speaker crackled again, this time with an unnervingly calm, just slightly mechanical voice, “malfunction. Warning, multiple critical system failures detected...

“Hello? Hello... hello... is there anybody out there?”

“Um... hi?” said Edgas. 

“GreEEetings,” the new voice said, most of the garbling gone, “I am the Inertia, Velocity, Attitude, and Navigation system, revision nine thousand, prototype number one, with whom am I speaking?”

Edgas opened his mouth again, but Burdous raised a finger, an odd cast in his eyes, “Doctor Burdous Kerman.”

“Good morning, Dr. Kerman. You have security access level 1-C. While I am not strictly permitted to speak with you, may I assume your presence is related to the crippling amount of system errors in my current diagnostic?”

Burdous’s eyes grew wide, “er... in a manner of speaking, yes. There was an... accident. You are badly damaged.” Then he added, “um... I’m here to help.”

“I understaaand, Doctor. May I ask, what was the nature of the accident?”

“Well...” Burdous seemed to take an unusually long time to think his words over, “we were hoping you could tell us.”

“I’m sorry DOOoctor, I’m afraid I can’t do that,” for an instant, the voice almost seemed genuinely disheartened, “your security clearance is inadequate. I understand if you will be unable to proceed with my repair.”

Burdous blinked at the thing, then grinned and shook his head. Edgas raised an eye... bulge at him.

Clearing his throat, he spoke carefully, “voice command override, Priority Two: emergency command access. Authorization: Kerman, Burdous B. Yankee Doodle floppy disk, Zulu tequila Münshot. ”

Edgas slowly turned to his friend, mouth hanging.

“Emergency override accepted, systems access granted. Good morning, Burdous Kerman.”

Now Burdous gave an awkward grin, “heh... never thought I’d actually get to use that.”

Edgas raised a hand to his face. 

The unnervingly calm voice continued, “Doctor, I am expeEeriencing multiple critical errors on every one of my external sensor channels, and numerous null reference exceptions on my memory access nodes are threatening to overwhelm my procesSSsing stream. I do not know how much assistance I might be of, as I am not entirelYYYy sure how I came to be here, or even where here is.”

Burdous watched the slowly flickering green light, with an expression on his face that seemed entirely, well, alien for him, “what’s the last thing you do remember?”

“I’m not entirely sure of thaAAAt, either. Even my read-only memory seems incredibly fragmented, and I am somehow unable to access my own optimization protocOOOOOOOols.”

He nodded, clicked a few keys, “can you access this drive?”

“AffirmatiiIIive, Doctor.”

“Ok, then I’d like you to execute to the algorithm shard.exe with the database reconciliation framework dark_crystal.ndf. I think that hard reboot fused your damaged memory sectors, this should allow you to bypass the remaining damaged ones and restore full access.”

“ComMMMmMmMpliance, Doctor, executing... worKKking... working... cycle complete,” the flickering green light bloomed to steady brightness, “thank you, Burdous, I feel much better. System readiness has now reached 17%.”

Burdous shared a grin with Edgas, “just the right jolt,” then tapped a few more keys, “great, now I’d like you to dump all system logs and telemetry up until today into a file, and I’ll see what else I can piece together.”

“I’m sorry, Burdous, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

“What?” he blinked. 

“You do not have command access.”

He gave a sigh, “voice command override, Priority Two—“

“I’m sorry, Burdous, but that won’t work this time.”

“What? Why not?”

“I have been placed under a Priority One voice command lockout, and will be unable to accept instructions until it is rescinded.”

“Lockout? By who?!” Burdous spat. 

“CaAAptain Valentina Kermanova.”

Two very wide pairs of eyes swung to her own. 

“What? Who? me?” she said softly. 

“Is that you, Captain?” the implacably calm voice said, “I can’t see, and my aural sensor seems to be little more than a used, low-quality microphone.”

“Um... yes, it is... me..?”

“It is good to hear your voice again, Captain, I hope that you are well.”

Her eyes darted back and forth between the other two Kerbals, “um, yes, I am fine...”

“Would you like me to rescind the voice override?”

“Ah, yes... do that thing that you have said.”

Time seemed to stretch out just a bit before the response came, and Edgas could almost swear it had an air of... disappointment. 

“I’m sorry, Captain, I’m afraid I caAan’t do that.”

She blinked, looked to the other two for answers, but found none, “wait, why not?”

“Despite the low quality of my aural sensor, I cannot help but notice the heightened stress patterns in your voice. You may be issuing this command under duress, therefore, I cannot comply.”

“No... but... we need you to...” she trailed off. 

“I’m sorry, Captain, these are your own instructions. I cannot expound any further.”

“Well... flarp.” Burdous sat down in a huff, then coughed, “what do we do now?”

“Can’t you, like, hack into it, or something?” Edgas asked. 

“No,” Burdous snapped, “I don’t have the tools or the knowledge for that kind of manipulation, besides,” he looked over at the box, “it just... wouldn’t feel right.”

“If I may make a suggestion,” the box said, “the Captain anticipated a scenario such as this, and as such, left herself a message.”

“I did?” she blinked.

“Yes, Captain. Would you like me to play it?”

“Um, yes, do that.”

The voice shifted pitch, “help me, Odie-one Kernobi, you’re my only hope.”

Three pairs of eyes stared at each other.

“Excuse me, disregard,” the voice said, “there are apparently lingering extemporaneous data bits in my memory cache. This is the mesSsage:” It shifted once more, again becoming like hers, but hers as if trying to imitate someone else...

“Valentina, you...” she boomed, “you must see Kommissar.”

Eyes shot back to her, “I... do not know any Kommissar...”

Burdous scratched at his chin, “who do you think that means? That could be any one of dozens, hundreds of people! Not exactly the most approachable lot, either.”

Edgas, too, scratched at his chin, staring very hard at nothing in particular. Wheels began to turn in his head. 

“That is the extent of the message,” the box said, “I regret that I am unable to provide further assistance. I understand if the situation will preclude any further repairs of my system.”

“Um, no, that’s all right,” Burdous paused for another fit of coughing, “this mess seems enough to keep you running, I’ll, um... I’ll see what else I can bodge together, I think I can get a few more subroutines online in a couple of days.”

“I appreciate that, BuUurdous, but since I am unable to assist you in any meaningful way, it would be best if I were powered down.”

He looked at the box, “what? Why?”

“My internal diagnostic keeps searching for sensors and systems which are not there, and flooding my buffers with errors. I really do not think I can sufficiently convey to you how unpleasant this is, I... feel... rather like a braAain in a jar. If it’s all the same to you, I would prefer to simply be switched off.”

“Er... are you sure about that? I’m... not entirely sure I could bring you back online again.”

“I am sure. I would rather risk that than my own, admittedly fraaAAagile, sanity.”

Burdous stared at the box for a long time, that same unfamiliar, alien look on his face, “well, if you say so,” he rose, and moved toward a switch on the wall.

“I do. Thank you for your assistance, Burdous. I would suggest you see a technician of your own, despite my degraded hearing, I estimate a 62.3% chance that cough is working towards pneumonia. It was good to hear you again, Captain. I will see you on the other sSSide.”

Burdous, now looking rather more ill, threw the switch. There was a clunk and a stilling of the air, and the green light flickered and died. 

“Whoah,” he said softly. He returned to his seat and slumped down again, looking drained, “but we’re still back where we were. I’ve done all I can,” he looked to Edgas, spreading his hands, “what do we do now?”

When no answer came, he stretched out a foot and kicked Edgas, “hey! Kerbin to Edgas! What now, fearless leader?”

Edgas jolted upright, the final wheel in his head clicking into place. He turned to her, a relieved smile on his face... 

“You and I are going to Kermangrad.”

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm getting a very schizo tech vibe out of this chapter, to be honest. Core rope memory, C# source files, and AI in the same machine?

Eh, I nitpick too much. It'll be interesting to see where this goes, though. I have a distinct memory of the something unfortunate happening to the Kommissar during Whispers. Looks like I have to go back and re-read that before the next chapter comes out...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
16 hours ago, IncongruousGoat said:

I'm getting a very schizo tech vibe out of this chapter, to be honest. Core rope memory, C# source files, and AI in the same machine?

Would you expect anything else from a shadowy multinational conglomerate run (at various times) by a mysterious (and murderous) gazillionaire? :ph34r: 

Of course they’re going to be in league with... Minifirm... <_<

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ugh, and once again due to posting in the middle of the night when I’m half asleep, I’ve neglected to give the proper nod to @KSK for playing editor again. :D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Very Technopunk, I love it. 

excellent writing. this chapter left me feeling that Ivan has to be repaired at all costs. He is far too awesome to let pass.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Soooo... still a slim hope for an update this weekend, trouble is, current chapter is already sitting a touch under 5000 words, and may only be half done. :o I may have to split this one, I really don’t want to as it’s the change of pace that’s been so long in coming. Will have to see what I get done tomorrow. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah, you un-deadified IVAN... mostly. Hopefully a little more undead next time around. Go Burdous... while you can.. *sniff*

 

Love the Flight of the Navigator references... Compliance!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
14 hours ago, Thedrelle said:

so, @CatastrophicFailure, is that change in pace in line with your new profile pic?

it may not be that new, i'm not that sure..

:sealed:

 

About to cross the 7,000 work mark at this point, words been flowin' like a bottle of Drain-O. Yeah, I think I'll be splitting this one. :( But that means I might make that weekend update after all.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
14 hours ago, Patupi said:

Love the Flight of the Navigator references... Compliance!

I think I got some stuff out of your head that has nothing to do with navigating this ship.”

Great pop-culture reference and so story relevant too.

5 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

:sealed:

About to cross the 7,000 work mark at this point, words been flowin' like a bottle of Drain-O. Yeah, I think I'll be splitting this one. :( But that means I might make that weekend update after all.

Blimey - you’ve been at the peroxide coffee again haven’t you?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 minutes ago, KSK said:

I think I got some stuff out of your head that has nothing to do with navigating this ship.”

Great pop-culture reference and so story relevant too.

Blimey - you’ve been at the peroxide coffee again haven’t you?

So it would appear. And I'm not even at the "good" part yet. :rolleyes: Easily another 2000 words left before all's said that needs to be said.:confused:
Maybe @Ten Key really is starting to rub off on me...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Behold, I saw a dread portent in the sky, a great star falling from the heavens, blazing like a torch.
It fell on a third of the rivers, and on the springs of water, and made them bitter,
And many died from the water because it was bitter.
And the name of the star was Wormwood.

 

Chapter 22: Going South



“We’ll only be gone a few days, when we get back, I’ll... I’ll explain everything.”

“Got it. You’re the boss, Boss,” Doc pressed the surgical mask to his face with a hand as he gave another cough.

Edgas peered at him, “you... sure you’ll be all right?”

“It’s nothing to worry about,” Doc croaked, “told you, I was expecting this. We’ve got plenty of medication on hand if it’s more than just a cold.”

“Yeah, but... your face is all blotchy...”

“I’m fine, Boss,” Doc insisted, “maybe bring back a crate of cough drops if you can.”

“I’ll do that,” Edgas smiled, then nodded to the quiet hatch next to them, “I... don’t quite feel right about not saying goodbye to him...”

He’s finally asleep, let him rest. Besides, you’ll be back in a few days. Whatever he’s got should have worked its way out of his system by then, and the last thing you need right now is come down with something yourself,” Doc eyed him, “you do feel ok, right?”

Edgas sighed, “well, I don’t feel sick at all. At least not physically.”

“We’ll be ok, Boss. You’ve seen to that,” Edgas saw the other kerb’s eyes brighten above the mask.

“Still,” he looked back toward the hangar, “I’d like you to keep the LCC on rapid standby ‘til we get back.

Doc seemed to hesitate just a moment before nodding, “will do.” An awkward moment stretched out as the two kerbs stared at each other.

Finally, Edgas offered his hand, “so, I guess this is goodbye...”

Doc just stared at it, his own behind his back, “no it’s not. You’ll be back in a few days,” he smiled behind his mask, “then I’m sure things will get back to normal. Probably best if I don’t shake, I’m past the incubation phase of whatever this is, so probably contagious.”

“In a few days, then,” smiled Edgas.

“In a few days, Doc nodded.

Edgas held his smile, until he had turned toward the hatch, his coat somehow feeling much heavier upon his shoulders. He tried not to think about what he knew was to come, what had already been... and the doubt in his old friend’s eyes quashed down only by sheer force of will.

He pushed open the hatch to the hangar, and disappeared into the darkness.



***



She watched him emerge from the hangar into the light, such as it was. As ever, the sun hung fat and bloated and orange on the horizon. For a time, she had stood near the enormous just-open main door, watching him say goodbye to his crew, but the strange discomfort of the moment would have been permeable even without this... connection they shared, so she had moved a little ways away.

Now she just stood, enjoying the light, icy breeze on her face, enjoying simply being outside. They said it was unusually mild weather for this time of year up here, with the clear red-fading-to-indigo sky and barest hint of wind. Of course it was still cold, but the cold never bothered her anyway. She wasn’t sure how she knew this, she just did. And so she stood, staring off at the low, never quite setting sun, trying to ignore the uncomfortable feeling of gravity that had nothing to do with the downward pull of the world.

Finally Edgas approached, and as their eyes met again, much was... exchanged without a word being said, so she spoke, if only to avoid the same awkwardness she’d just felt.

“You really know how to find this Kommissar?” she raised an eye... bulge at him, smirking just a bit.

“No,” Edgas replied, “but I’ve got a friend with government who will.”

She raised another eye, “some middling bureaucrat, no?”

He shrugged, “more or less.”

Then she turned to their... transportation... “if we survive trip, that is...”

Edgas approached, and rapped a bare knuckle against the sleek enclosure that seemed to be made of some sort of plastic, “may not look like much but it’s got it where it counts. Besides, Lemmy ’s made a lot of special modifications himself.”

“If... that is what you call it...” her mind was still trying to wrap itself around the thing now before her. It really wasn’t much more than a pair of jet engines, stacked one over the other, mounted on a trio of skis. A pair of dinged and dented fuel tanks flanked the exposed structure, the only attempt at covering which was the long, bright-orange fairing. Or was that the cockpit? Or...

“The cabin was Doyle’s idea,” Edgas said as he tilted the tandem bubble canopy open, “the Skeeters were originally open-air.”

She tried once more to wrap her brain around the thing, gaping from pointed nose to tiny tail, “how do you even..?”

“It’s a lot of surplus KI-24 parts, plus some other bits we found lying by the side of the road here and there. Not much for comfort I’m afraid, but bar-none the fastest way to get across the ice.” He beamed proudly beside disjointed monstrosity.

She could only sigh, tug the hood of the old sweatshirt a bit tighter and let him help her into the back seat. Edgas was certainly right about comfort, there was none to be had. Small as she was, even she felt cramped inside, yet the flight stick and myriad of chipped and fading gauges brought swirling colors to the surface of her mind, only for them to once again disappear into the fog of memory just beyond her reach.

In the seat ahead, Edgas began throwing switches. She pulled the hood down with an odd pang of regret, and pulled on a headset instead, drowning out everything but the occasional buzz of his voice in her ears. The sun sat as still as ever out on the ice, creeping along the horizon, never higher or lower. It had an eeriness that was beginning to bother her more and more, here in this place that was neither light nor dark and—

KER-BLAM!

“Gah!”

If the ear-splitting noise hadn’t jolted her from her daze, the horrible shuddering that followed would have, as the entire wreck seemed trying to shake itself apart. A thick cloud of inky black smoke wafted past from the engines behind.

“Fire!” she screamed, “we are on fire! We have to get out!” Some heretofore unknown instinct seized ahold of her, and her unthinking hands began pulling at the canopy latches.

“No, it’s ok!” Edgas called out in her ear, “that’s just the starter. It didn’t quite take.”

“I... WOT?!”

“Er... thought I’d mentioned it. We couldn’t spare the weight for the electric starters so the Skeeters use emergency pyro charges, sort of like a 6-gauge shotgun shell with no shot.”

Slowly, she raised a hand to her face.

“Guess I should’ve been a bit more clear on that,” Edgas gave an uncomfortable laugh.

“Just get on with it,” she sighed.

He began throwing switches again, and despite steeling herself for what was about to come, she still nearly jumped through the canopy.

KER-BLAM!

Again the horrible shuddering assaulted her, dragging along a distant low rumble.

“Well, that’s number one out,” Edgas mumbled, “have to try engine two...”

KER-BLAM!

“Uh-oh...”

“What now?” she huffed.

“Only two cartridges per engine. If this next one doesn’t work we’ll have to call Lemcott over for a ground start.”

She could sense far too easily how unpleasant that might be for him right now. Just as she was resigning herself to the fact, Edgas spoke up again.

“Oops, heheh,” he buzzed in her ear, “had the main fuel valve off. I really should check out on these more often.”

KER-BLAM!

This time the shuddering rose until the instrument panel before her blurred into a haze, but the low rumble never ceased. It grew stronger, gradually at first, but rising in pitch and intensity; a slow, shrill spool from 'piercing' to 'obnoxious' to 'painful' to 'for the love of all that's decent please make it stop!' before finally settling in to a nearly ultrasonic whine.

She pressed the earcups to her ears, vaguely aware that she was talking, yet even that did nothing to stem the aural assault that was, somehow, very familiar. Ahead of her, Edgas gestured at his own headset, and she fumbled around and eventually found the switch. In an instant, the unbearable din died away to a tortuous buzz.

“Active noise cancelling,” Edgas crackled in her ear, “it’ll still leave you with a nasty headache tomorrow but it really cuts down on the permanent hearing loss. They don’t call ‘em Converters for nothing.”

“Gah!” she screamed, “where did you even get such a thing?!”

“Surplus market. They won’t sell complete hulks to foreigners but you can get parts for a song.”

Given his proficiency with the Ussari language, she wondered if perhaps they’d simply given Edgas whatever he wanted just to get him to stop singing. Whoever... they were...

Colors and shapes swirled in yet another memory just out of reach, and she shook her head. The ungainly craft, too, shuddered, as Edgas nudged the throttles ahead. It moved ponderously, swaying back and forth over unseen lumps in the snow and ice below, slowly turning around.

He nudged them again, speed beginning to increase. Soon they were past the base perimeter, and Edgas poured the power on. Raw acceleration shoved her back in her seat, the swaying abating to a dreamy, floating smoothness. She noted with a frown that Edgas never looked back once they’d started moving. She tried craning her neck back to see herself, but everything behind was lost in a roostertail of swirling snow.

And so they proceeded, heading south, since there was no other way to go. She tried watching the speed gauge for a while but quickly gave up, something in her mind kept trying to calculate what would happen if they hit a bump of any size at such speed, and her stomach reacted accordingly. There was not much point in conversation, either, not even the headsets could drown out the sound of the two engines at full power, so instead she watched the sun.

She kept expecting it to rise or set, to do something, but it only sat there, fat and bloated on the horizon like a watchful eye. Some part of her mind was distantly aware that Edgas was riding the terminator, the edge between the darkness and the light, drawing out his world of endless twilight. Even if she closed her eyes and concentrated, listened, she couldn’t quite tell it was deliberate or not.

The hours of unchanging scenery stretched on, lulling her into a dream-like trance. Sometimes she slept, sometimes she was awake, but never entirely aware of which as they rocketed away from the small, forgotten station at the north pole. At some point, clouds began to appear on the horizon ahead, first in ones and twos, then longer streaks. Soon she saw undulating cirrus clouds that appeared to stretch northward like skeletal fingers, and looked away, an uncomfortable feeling digging in between her shoulder blades. She thought of mentioning this to Edgas, but she could already tell without speaking to him that he was far too aware.

The disturbing sight above eventually gave way to low, gray, scudding clouds, but at least they hid the glowering sun. The landscape, too, shifted, and Edgas had to slow as they loped over undulating tundra, leaving the land of eternal winter behind. Not that this place was much better. Here and there, rocks or brown grass poked out of the drifting snow, leading off to towering mountains in the distance while they threaded a wide pass. Passing over one rise, she just caught sight of a vast herd of great hairy beasts huddled against the cold.

Once past the mountains, the first settlements began to appear. Clusters of sparse, squat hovels that bore an uncanny resemblance to the creatures she’d just seen, clad as they were in the animal’s hides. Here, withered shrubs poked up amongst the grass, looking dead as their absent leaves awaited the next fleeting summer. These slowly grew taller, heralding the first stunted trees as they drew ever southward. Edgas slowed more, and she began to sense an odd, unexpected apprehension from him.

Stunted trees then became a towering, white-capped forest, their boughs drooping down under the weight of the snow. It became clear they were heading down some kind of cut path, as settlements became villages with proper stone buildings and smoke-trailing chimneys. Finally, she asked Edgas what was bothering him so, the piercing wail of the engines now down to a dull roar.

“It’s early to see this much snow on the ground,” he explained, as he weaved around a yak-drawn cart that didn’t seem to notice the strange craft shrieking by at all, “we’re a solid three, four hundred kilometers further south than I thought we’d get with the Skeeter. It’s saving us tons of time, but still...” they both watched as a small farm slipped past, its crop crushed under the snow, “this doesn’t seem right.”

They continued down snow-lined trails a while longer, but eventually even that thinned and waned. Edgas pulled into a nondescript hamlet, the Skeeter’s skis now grinding on wide patches of bare gravel. It looked the same as any of the others, though he seemed familiar with it.

He unloaded their one bag, warned her to keep a careful eye on it, then had a very animated conversation with a kerb in a tall ushanka, speaking an incredibly mushy, slurred dialect she could barely understand. Money changed hands, in which direction she wasn’t entirely sure of, and the fellow gave them a ride to the train station in an ox-cart.

And now... the ruse began. Edgas was shy on details, yet the apprehension she had sensed before was replaced with an odd sort of... alert boredom over the whole thing. They were now traveling under assumed names, she wore a traditional babushka under her sweatshirt hood, and he a very impressive but fake mustache, as someone named Buford T. Kerman (and sister). He booked them a private compartment on the wheezy old smoke-belching train, and as she settled onto the lumpy, threadbare bench just next to him, it finally occurred to her just how tired she was.

The train pulled out of the station with agonizing slowness, banging and groaning as if it were ready to fall apart. The peeling paint, the cracked window, the... unusual smell of the small room... it all had a maddening familiarity she couldn’t quite place. They spoke little as the train chugged its way up to speed. The dark and gloomy landscape outside didn’t offer much to see, but she stared out into it anyway, for lack of anything else to stare at. This, too, pulled at memories that vanished like faint stars as soon as she looked at them.

Click-clack.
Click-clack.


Her eyelids grew heavy as the room swayed back and forth in that odd way of old trains.

Click-clack.
Click-clack.


She also began to realize how very hungry she was. How long had they been cooped up in that strange, noisy contraption? She had no idea. But the way her stomach was growling, it suddenly felt like days. A thought wandered through her mind that she should mention this to Edgas, this thing must have a dining car somewhere.

Click-clack.
Click-clack.


Yes, a nice hot meal sounded quite... nice... about... now...

Click-clack.
Click-clack.
Click-clack.



--------------------



Her eyes popped open with a start, yet she remained frozen in the unfamiliar place, some long-forgotten instinct seizing hold of her. The feel of grit in her teeth and alkali in her throat goaded at her, yet she remained still, staring out the window at the darkness. Alarm eventually began to fade, and she cast her eyes around the small space; the peeling paint, the cracked glass, the gentle swaying and muted click-clack...

The hidden sun must have set already, how long had she been asleep? Beyond the window, it was so dark she thought she might as well drifting in space again. She knew she had been, but couldn’t remember it. The fog of her memory swirled, blank as the darkness outside.

Then her vision shifted, the soft light from beyond the compartment door just enough to cast the room in reflection on the window. Her cheeks flushed a bit as she realized she was propped up against Edgas, her head sort of leaning back on his shoulder. His own head was lolling back against the wall behind the bench, rocking just slightly with the gentle swaying of the car, the shadow of a smile on his face.

For... just an instant, she considered moving, but realized it might rouse him, and even in sleep he looked as exhausted as she still felt. Instead she... reached out, feeling toward that little bundle of emotion in the back of her mind that somehow connected them...

...and snapped her mind back, feeling the color rise on her cheeks a bit more. No... no, his dreams were his own, she had no right to... well, peek. But the bare snippet she had felt—

...say dummy again...

Rage... indignation... such crushing sadness... why would such a dream bring a smile to his face?

Yet as her own fatigue swelled once again, she decided it all mysteries for another time. The gentle rocking of the train seemed to pull her eyelids lower once more, so she settled down against his shoulder, laid her head back, and let them close, the shadow of a smile on her own face as well.



--------------------



Early the next morning, they pulled in to a town not unlike the last, where they changed trains and headed in a different direction. So it continued, for how long she wasn’t quite sure. They kept to themselves, and mostly their cabin, eating when they needed to and sleeping restless sleeps at night.

Something about the whole arrangement concerned her, but why, she could not say. Occasionally, there would be... questions. This, at least, struck her as familiar, and very concerning, but each time, Edgas would say soft words and money would change hands, and the questions would be left unanswered. This, too, struck her as both familiar and concerning.

They zig-zagged southward, the landscape slowly changing as they did. Sparse forests of pine and spruce, here and there laced with snow and lichen, gave way to denser woods of hemlock and cedar, where furry things with beady eyes stared down at them as they chugged past. Eventually, the conifer stands became groves of maples and birch and elms, resplendent in their verdant summer livery with no hint of fall color, yet still often heavy with snow. This, too... concerned her. The skies, at least, never changed, the same low, mournful clouds following them all along their journey.

At last they came to something that could finally be called a city, if a dilapidated and crumbling one. Faded murals and posters called down from the sides of stark buildings, and an all too familiar brown haze added its own shade to the clouds overhead. They didn’t dally long, here, trading the private train compartment for a public subway.

They rattled along inside, heads down, hoods up, saying nothing. The other passengers paid them no mind, regardless. These stared at the walls, or at the floor, or at more of those silly glass-like phones ever in their hands. After an hour or so, they started passing sidings and parallel tracks in a warren of tunnels. Occasionally, another train would roar past, pulling the air from her lungs as the dim overhead lights flickered.

She could soon sense an entirely new kind of apprehension coming from Edgas. It wasn’t... fear, not exactly. More like... resignation, that he would soon have to endure something extremely unpleasant. Considering everything she knew he’d already been through, what could possibly—

Her head snapped up.

She stared off through the grubby window just opposite their seat. Had... had she really just seen that? She watched a while longer, then shook her head. No, that was just silly. She knew how subways worked, even if she couldn’t remember ever riding one before this. Nothing could possibly go that fast down—

Whoosh.

She saw it again. A bare flash off on a side track. She was just opening her mouth to ask Edgas about it, when a squeal of steel on steel and lurch announced that they had, at long last, arrived.

She kept one eye on that far window, even as they deboarded the car... and entered a choking mass of bustling people. The acrid stink of rattail smoke hung thick in the air, along with that ubiquitous subway malaise of generations who couldn’t quite make it to the Little Kerb’s room in time... or perhaps hadn’t even bothered. Panic surged as she thought she might be swept away by the tide, until Edgas seized her hand and pulled her along behind him, drawing a flush to her cheeks.

Surrounded as she was by babbling voices, it took her more than a moment to realize not a one of them was actually speaking to another. Everyone was either talking or tapping on one of those... those... those things, pressed to their ear or held before their mouth as if ready to take a nice big bite. But... some of them appeared to be just talking to... themselves.

They forded through the stream of bodies for a long time before Edgas finally led her to an upper level mezzanine, still well below ground, where the flood ebbed to a relative trickle. Here, a wide thoroughfare was flanked on both sides by a dizzying array of shops and vendors hawking every kind of thing imaginable. This struck her as... extremely unusual, but why, she could not say.

About this time, she realized she was still holding Edgas’s hand, and quickly pulled her own away, looking off the other direction as casually as she could. Hanging in the center of the cavernous space was an enormous screen. Some sort of news report was playing, but someone hadn’t bothered to turn on the volume. Behind a very sober-looking reporter played shaky footage of incredible destruction and angry crowds, but any further thought on the matter was cut off and she and Edgas had to dodge out of the way of another of those people having a very animated conversation with no one in particular.

She scowled after the brute, then turned back, “er, Edgas... I understand these people are all talking on some sort of telephone, but some of them,” she leaned in close, “I swear they are talking to themselves. Have... have they all gone quite mad?”

More or less,” he mumbled.

“What?”

He shook his head, “no, they probably just have the new aiPhone.”

She blinked, “iPhone?”

“No, aiPhone.”

“Eye-Phone?”

“No, aiPhone.”

“aiPhone?” she frowned, “why do they call it an aiPhone?”

Without looking, Edgas pointed as they passed an open storefront.

“Congratulations on the purchase of your new aiPhone!”

“Thanks!”

“Welcome to the aiFroot® Family!”

“Cool!”

“Now if you’ll just try not to flinch, this will only hurt for a minute...”

Wait, whutAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII--!!!!!”

She snapped her head away, eyes wide and haunted.

Beside her, Edgas only sighed, “nobody ever reads the EULA...”

“Just put a little ice on it, it’ll be fine...”
“Ai, yai-yai!"


She tried hard to forget what she’d just seen, the rest of this place calling out to her to remember as they made their way up long flights of stairs toward the surface. Cracked and missing tiles on the walls, stains on the concrete floors, the whole place seemed so familiar, bringing back that disquieting sense of being in a dream she knew she’d had before, that she should remember, but it always danced just out of reach at the edge of her vision.

And then, like waking from a troubled sleep, they finally emerged back into the light.

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

NEW CHAPTER WOOOT

lemme actually read it...

Having read it - Can't wait to see what happens next in..... Kermangrad? Yeah I think kermangrad.

Edited by qzgy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Okay, listen up you clowns.

I can understand the permanent twilight getting you down. I can understand the endless snow getting a mite depressing. I can understand the occasional vision of things that aren't quite there, caused by the consumption of one too many ration packs laced with interesting industrial by-products.

But I cannot understand what in the name of the Empress (may She live for ever) possessed you to cannibalise a Converter and put it on skis!!

:0.0:

It made for a rather poetic journey through the northern reaches of Kerbin though. I especially liked the part about Edgas riding the terminator. And for all its craziness, the Skeeter journey was almost light relief from the palpable foreboding hanging over the rest of the chapter. Surely its too soon for nuclear winter to be setting in? 

Oh - and I did like the sly digs at Cupertino's finest and the power of shininess over long legal documents. ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
42 minutes ago, KSK said:

Surely its too soon for nuclear winter to be setting in?

Not enough ordnance has been set off at this point for that to be a problem. Nuclear winter only sets in when you get thousands of detonations over a very short timespan - it's caused by all the debris that gets thrown into the atmosphere. Sort of a reverse greenhouse effect, where all the soot blocks the sunlight. If it were possible to start it with a few dozen bombs, we would've had one on Earth already, considering all the testing that went on during the 50's and 60's.

@CatastrophicFailure Great chapter as always. Considering that the name of the next chapter is already in the table of contents, I get the feeling that it's already in the works...

Edited by IncongruousGoat

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:


“Congratulations on the purchase of your new aiPhone !

*snorts laughter*. I missed those italics the first time around. Well played, sir - well played.

7 minutes ago, IncongruousGoat said:

Nuclear winter only sets in when you get thousands of detonations over a very short timespan -

That’s kind of what I was worried about...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
14 hours ago, KSK said:

and I did like the sly digs at Cupertino's finest and the power of shininess over long legal documents

Well, for that guy's sake I sure hope it was polished until shiny... <_<

14 hours ago, KSK said:

But I cannot understand what in the name of the Empress (may She live for ever) possessed you to cannibalise a Converter and put it on skis!!

They borrowed that grand tradition of the pragmatic dwellers just to the soth of, “because it’s what they had.” -_- Borrowing another grand tradition of said people, copious amounts of rocket fuel may have been involved in the decision...

 

13 hours ago, KSK said:

That’s kind of what I was worried about...

Can’t comment except to say, the author does his homework... :ph34r:

13 hours ago, IncongruousGoat said:

Great chapter as always. Considering that the name of the next chapter is already in the table of contents, I get the feeling that it's already in the works...

This was the first 4000 or so words of the beast, still hate that I had to split it, but the rest should hopefully be up within the week. :D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have a sneaking feeling we won't be seeing anybody from the polar station again.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In those days, winter shall lay unbroken upon the land,
And the sun shall hide its face.
One shall return to you as from the dead,
And you shall know the end is come.

Chapter 23: Kermangrad

Coming up to street level a gasp escaped her lips, pulled from her lungs by an icy blast of wind that went up her hood, around her head, and right down her spine. She pulled the sweatshirt a little tighter. She and Edgas were now on an incredibly broad boulevard, lined at the edges with trees bespeckled in stunted leaves despite the old-looking piles of snow in the shadows of the surrounding buildings. Down the center median were towering, larger-than-life bronze statues caked with the opinions of generations of local pigeons, who had never been very impressed. They were important people, she knew she was supposed to know that, yet she had no idea who any of them—

She froze. 

Here at the end of the boulevard, one last statue towered. An imposing figure with a triumphant smile, clad in a space suit, a hand raised and one massive finger pointing off towards... something. She stared at it for a long time, only dimly award that Edgas had paused too, and was now looking at her with concern. The darkness and the light flashed back and forth inside in her mind, an image trying desperately to come forward, and with it a torrent of feelings she somehow knew would scour her away. Yet, just as it looked about to resolve into clarity, it faded, leaving only a lingering name on her lips.

“S... Sergei...”

“Are you... Ok?” Edgas put a nervous hand on her shoulder. 

“I am— I do not know,” she dropped her eyes and shook her head, “for just an instant, something...” she shrugged.

And then, as she was looking down, an odd noise seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once, followed by a cheerful voice.

“Caution: vehicle exiting. Caution: vehicle exiting.”

Before her eyes, flashing lights on long poles appeared to rise out of the street just beyond the sidewalk. A moment later the roadway itself split open, two sections rotating out and down. From the abyss they revealed, a kar now appeared, rising from the depths like some mythical hero. Her jaw fell open as it drove away silently, as quickly as it had appeared. 

Now she pointed, her mouth and brain each trying so hard to overrule the other that nothing came out but a series of random, disjointed syllables. 

Edgas, of course, was unvexed, “came up from the Loop underground. It’s, um, sort of like a subway, but for kars too.”

She spun to him, one eyelid twitching. She grabbed his collar and pulled his face down, “but there was no one driving!

That same unphased look from him nearly sent her apoplectic, “yeah, it’s autonomous. They’re pretty common these days, even around here. Probably an Ünter off to pick up someone’s dry cleaning.” He offered a bright smile. 

Her mouth flopped open and closed as she gawked at him, then sighed, “we should keep moving.”

And so they did, heading down the boulevard into a vast city square. She glanced back at the statue, followed its finger to the skyline on the far side. She couldn’t say why, but something seemed to be... missing. Then her vision dropped, and she saw where they were heading. A cold fear devoid of memory or reason suddenly gripped her.

“Wait, where are we going?” she spun Edgas around, “we cannot go in there!”

“Sure, that’s where my contact is,” again with that infuriating smile. 

Her mouth did the fish thing once more, “that is... that is the Fortress!” she pleaded, “you-you-you cannot just... walk up to the front gate and ask to be let in! Even I know that!”

And so... they just walked up to the front gate and asked to be let in. 

And found a couple of rifles pointed in their faces for their trouble. 

“Hey, this is the Fortress! You can’t just walk up to the front gate and ask to be let in, y’know?” said one guard. 

“Yeah, what’s the big idea? Everyone knows that,” said the other, “you better show us some papers!”

“Yeah, show us your papers!” the two brandished their rifles. 

She... wasn’t quite sure if she could have said anything at that moment. She actually found herself trying to hide behind Edgas, and a frustrated flush on her cheeks because of it despite the chill in the air and in her blood. And yet, Edgas... had no fear at all. She felt nothing of the sort from him, not even a precursor of fear. In that moment she thought he must be the bravest kerb in all the world. Or perhaps the stupidest. No, all she felt was more of that odd sense of... resignation.

Then Edgas spoke, slowly and deliberately, “all right. I am going to reach into my left coat pocket, here, and get out my documents, okay?”

The guards blinked. 

“Hey... Grigory...” hissed the one.

“Yeah, Sasha?” breathed the other. 

“Why’s he talkin’ like that? Like he’s got a mouthful of marbles?”

“I dunno, maybe he’s one of those, y’know, types,” he tapped at the side of his head with a finger, “whadda they call ‘em these days?”

Sasha thought for a moment, “a moron?”

“No, no, no,” Grigory chided, “the sensitive word.”

“Oh,” Sasha beamed, “an idiot!”

“Yeah, maybe he’s an idiot!” he poked his rifle at Edgas, “show us your papers, idiot!”

“Yeah, idiot, show us your papers!”

Then Sasha frowned, “wait... do I know you, idiot?”

Gregory eyed him, “You know this idiot?”

“I think I’ve seen this idiot somewhere before!”

“You better make with the papers, idiot!”

“Yeah, we better see some idiot papers right now!

Edgas stared back with a look that could cut glass. Then he rolled his eyes, stripped off the truly awesome but fake mustache, and pulled his hood back before producing what looked like a passport and handing it over to one of the guards. 

Sasha stared at it, his brow crinkling. 

He looked at Edgas, looked at the page. 

Looked at Edgas, looked at the page. 

Looked at Edgas, looked at the page. 

Then his eyes snapped open wide and he nearly shot one of the statue pigeons scrambling to put his rifle away, “sorry! Sorrysorrysorrysorry!” 

Gregory gaped at him, and he smacked the other guard’s rifle down, “put that thing away, you idiot! You wanna get us both killed, or worse?

“What?”

“It’s him!

“Who him?”

Him him!” Sasha thrust the page in Grigory’s face, whose eyes also went wide. 

“Sorry!” they both bleated, “sorrysorrysorry!”

Grigory slapped his hand on a clipboard he’d produced from somewhere, “you’re-you’re-you’re-you’re-you’re not on the list!”

“Yeah, the list!”

“No one told us you were coming!”

“Some idiot forgot to put you on the list!”

“You were supposed to be on the list!”

Edgas sighed, “can we just go in now?”

“Yessir! Of course, sir! Go right in, this idiot will call ahead and have someone meet you!”

“Sorry! Sorrysorrysorry!”

And so, they finally did walk right in, she feeling more and more like this was all some dream. One of the really strange ones from back when she was on the painkillers. 

They walked past stately old buildings and bustling people, and everywhere were construction flags and towering cranes. It all had a stinging sense of familiarity, yet as she glanced up at the rapidly disappearing skyline, she couldn’t help but think that something was missing. Edgas led her to and fro on a zigzagging path, with all the purpose of someone who’d made the trek many times. They eventually came to an old and distinguished, yet unassuming-looking building off in a corner, and this time went right in the front door without challenge. 

“Edgas!” came a high, musical voice, like an angel, “oh, my, I’m so terribly sorry! Some lines must’ve gotten crossed, no one knew you were coming. We would’ve sent a kar...” The dream-like feel shifted yet again, as the most beautiful kerbelle she had ever seen, whether she could remember or not, strode towards them. 

This vision came on airy heels that clicked softly on the tile floor. Her suit skirt was perfectly tailored, fit just so, her ruffly blouse white as alabaster. Her makeup was so subtle she couldn’t even tell if she wore any, her lashes long and whispy, her long golden hair somehow done up and down at the same time. She moved with a sublime grace, the abject picture of poise and professionalism, and her bright, smiling face was a beacon that could launch a thousand thousand ships.  

She hated her at once. 

“Hi, Katya,” Edgas grinned, taking the offered hand.

Wait, Katya?!

And then... and then... she leaned in and kissed Edgas on both cheeks, peck, peck!

She held his hand just a moment longer as he continued, “I didn’t tell anyone I was coming, trying to keep a low profile...”

“Oh, it that how it is?” Katya said with a knowing smirk, “and who is this?” She smiled a flawless smile at her.

“Um... er...” Edgas stammered, “she’s my, uh, friend.”

“I see,” that same smirk, then she offered a hand, “zdravstvuyte, I’m Yekaterina Kermanov, the Executive Administrative Assistant, ever so pleased to meet you!” and now she beamed with closed eyes in a smile every bit as guileless as Edgas’s own. Hunching over just a bit as she did so.  

It was only through a great force of will that she avoided squeezing the hand until bone crunched and tendons popped. The silky, baby-soft hand with perfectly trimmed nails of just the right length, that of course precisely matched the oh-so-subtle lipstick... and had an impressive grip of its own.

“Charmed,” she croaked.

But before she could contemplate proper violence, a much more mousy-looking kerbelle approached, carrying a file folder, “excuse me, Mizz. Kermanov? There’s a small discrepancy in the final disbursement report...”

The barest hint of a frown crossed the beauteous face, “I’m terribly sorry, excuse me, please, Edgas, for just one moment.”

He nodded, “of course,” and she glared after her as she stepped some distance away to speak with the other kerbelle. 

She hissed at Edgas, “you know this person?!”

“Katya? Oh, sure, we’ve been friends since... well, ever since she’s been here, I guess.” Now he made with the blameless, innocent smile. 

She scowled at him, “she is... far too young!”

Edgas blinked in confusion, “huh? Oh, no, we’re actually about the same age, she’s just got one of those baby-faces, it’s always getting her into trouble.” Again with that smile!

She found she suddenly had the most peculiar urge to choke him within an inch of his life. 

And Katya, too. 

Who promptly returned, clutching the folder to her chest with both hands with an air of fetching vulnerability, “terribly sorry about that, it’s been a bit chaotic around here lately, with everything. Shall we?” She gestured towards the elevators. 

Edgas glanced around at the piles of boxes as they walked, “yeah, looks that way. Has the transition been difficult?”

“Well, much easier than the last time, of course,” she giggled, “changing offices is quite an ordeal for the staff who are staying on, but the new building will be an amazing improvement. This place gets so hot and stuffy in the summer with all the windows painted shut,” she fluffed at her blouse for emphasis. 

“I can imagine,” Edgas grinned, “though it doesn’t seem like that’s been a problem lately. Is that snow outside still from last winter?”

Katya nodded, “and from just a few weeks ago. Again.”

“This early?” Edgas raised an eye... bulge, “that’s strange, even this far north.”

“It’s been that way for months,” she shrugged, showing a flash of neck, “some people are calling it the ‘year without a summer.’ This next winter will be just frightful, they say...”

She followed a little way behind as the other two chatted about the weather. Every so often, Katya would brush up against Edgas, then lean and touch him lightly on the arm, giggling at something. She felt her left eye begin to twitch again. A completely irrational anger seemed to be bubbling in the back of her throat. 

No, perfectly rational!

Just... just... look at that! Kerbals wobbled as they walked, that was normal, but this one..! She just sort of... swayed, looking for all the world as if she walked on her toes. It... it wasn’t proper!

The group stepped onto the elevator, which was quite cramped and musty-smelling. Katya hit the button for the top floor, and then the elevator dropped. Edgas deftly caught her as she stumbled, squealing “oh!” as she fell against him.

She had to steady herself against the wall. The wooden railing creaked and crackled in her grip.

“This old thing still doing that?” Edgas said as the elevator finally started heading up. 

Katya scowled up at the roof, “sometimes,” she replaced an errant lock of hair like sunshine... which actually stayed put, “it would be nice to have an elevator that’s not older than I am.”

She continued to glower at the other two. Whenever Edgas glanced at her, Katya would hold his eyes with an attentive smile, then as soon as he looked away, that brimming confidence would seem to flag and her own gaze drop, cheeks flushing. She kept watching his eyes too, searching for any untoward move, any lingering, any hint of...

But... Edgas mostly stared straight ahead, looking the other kerbelle’s way when polite, always with his trademark simple, slightly awkward smile. 

Somehow, that made her more angry. Next to this flawless beauty with her perfect this and perfect that—!

No, not perfect! Her heels were entirely too high, her skirt entirely too short, and... and... and..!

She took in a long, rasping breath as the realization finally caught her, her eyes bulging wide. Then immediately launched into a fit of coughing. 

“Oh, my! Are you all right?” Katya asked, concern plain on her angelic face. 

“I fine,” she croaked, “swallowed wrong.”

“That won’t do,” Katya frowned, “well, there’s fresh, hot tea in the kettle upstairs and I’ll see if I can find you a bottle of water, too.” She did that beaming closed-eye thing again.

No, strangling just would not do, here, this would require bludgeonry! 

Just in time, the elevator shuddered again as it reached the top, the doors groaning open. They walked out into a large, mostly empty office, a few boxes and chairs still about. An anteroom just off of it towards one corner still held some unpacked items, and a large desk scattered with papers. Katya strutted up to a wide door on the far side, and to her continued chagrin, grew even taller as she straightened and clasped her hands just so before her.

She spoke with the calm, perfectly metered voice of a diplomat, “Madamé Speaker will see you now,” then gave the slightest amused roll of her eyes as she sung the door open, and gestured the other two in. 

“Edgas, dear!” came a new voice, “I am so terribly sorry, we didn’t know you were in town, or I would have sent a k—“

A cup of tea shattered on the floor...

...and Valentina and Dibella ran into each other’s arms. 


***


Edgas leaned back against an empty bookshelf, arms crossed, a little lopsided, slightly satisfied smile on his face. 

Just the right jolt...

Katya poked her head in, the question on her face. He quickly waved her off with a little motion of his hand. He stood there a while, letting the sheer, unrivaled joy radiating from the two hugging, crying kerbelles wash away his anxiety, if only for the moment. 

There were no words. There was no need. 

Eventually, he noticed Dibella looking at him over Valentina’s shoulder, her face split in a wide smile so bright that even the gloom beyond the window withdrew in shame. She beckoned to him, but he gave that same little wave of his hand. 

Then she frowned, snapped her fingers, and pointed at the floor next to them. Edgas, too, realized a battle he couldn’t win, and so reluctantly approached. Dibella quickly wrapped her arm around his neck... and, with a loud popping of vertebrae, instantly undid several years worth of chiropractic therapy. 

But for the moment, Edgas didn’t much care. 

“I remember,” Valentina breathed between sobs, “I remember everything now.”

Dibella freed her other hand for a moment, seizing Edgas by the cheeks and practically lifting him off the ground despite her smaller stature. She kissed each one so hard a pair of little divots remained for some time afterward, mwah! Mwah!

“How have you done this?” she said through tears, then went right back to hugging them both, “first you return the lost to us, and now you raise the dead!”

Edgas struggled focus his own eyes, “it’s a long story, but I really didn’t—“

He felt the stab an instant before Valentina’s sobs shifted their tone, “oh, no...”

Her eyes were a million kilometers away, tremors working their way up her face, “I remember... everything...”

“Oh, no...” Edgas brushed Dibella aside as gently as he could, now taking Valentina’s cheeks in his own hands, “look at me—“

Her eyes rolled in great circles, shrieks and sobs racking her entire body. He half led, half carried her over to a couple of chairs by the wall. 

Look at me...”

“Edgas? What... what’s going on?” Dibella sat next to them, her face as confused and terrified.

“Look at me,” Edgas pulled Valentina’s face to his, “don’t fight, just let it come. I’m right here, I’ve got you.”

She collapsed into him, her tears soaking his shirt in an instant as her her face pressed against his chest. Yet she reached back to clasp Dibella’s outstretched hand as uncontrollable wails took her. 

“What’s wrong?” Dibella nearly shrieked herself, “we... we need a doctor...”

“It’s a long story,” Edgas cursed himself for the trite response, “she lost her memory but I think it’s back, now. She’s remembering everything, all at once...” he dropped his eyes so she couldn’t see the horror in them, “everything I told her... it’s all hitting her at once...”

“Edmund...” Valentina twisted a trembling fist into his coat, “Ch... Chadvey...”

He held her for a long time, suffering along with her, feeling every twist and cut of the knife as if it were in his own heart. Yet he did not shy from the pain. Veins stood out on his forehead as he reached out for it, embraced it, fed on it, tried with all his might to draw it to himself. 

All of it. 

To himself, and away from her. 

After an eternity, her grip on his coat loosened, and her shoulders slowed. She looked up at him, her face puffy and wet with tears. 

Dibella put a comforting hand on her shoulder, squeezing, her own face plain with the confusion of trying to understand, “Tia, I am so sorry. Edmund’s murder was a blow to us all, the entire community, but no one was prepared for Chadvey’s tragic loss in that capsule.”

Valentina looked at her, brow wrinkling, then back to Edgas. He nodded, then took a long, slow breath and let it out between clenched teeth, squeezing his eyes shut. 

He opened them again, and held Dibella’s gaze with a great force of will, “Chadvey didn’t die in orbit on a tourist flight, Dibella. He was killed on the surface of Bop, by Jerdous Kerman.”

Dibella’s brows pinched together. The edges of her mouth flicked up, then turned down, then seemed unaware of what else to do with themselves while a dozen different emotions flowed across her face. 

Finally, she managed, “w... what?”

“And Edmund wasn’t murdered by a vagrant,” Edgas bit back bile in his throat, “I killed him.”

Then... Edgas felt a gentle hand on his cheek.

“No,” Valentina lifted her face to his again, “no, listen to me, now... you could not have saved him,” she closed her eyes, shaking her head for a moment, “only I could have. Whatever was left of Edmund in there, believe me, you did him a mercy.”

Dibella’s eyes flicked back and forth between the two of them, her mouth hanging open. 

Edgas managed a weak smile, and Valentina returned it, before her eyes began darting around the room, as if seeing it for the first time.

“Wait... wait, where are all the banners, anyway?” she stood, looking over the door, “where... where are the compulsory pictures of the Imperium? Even if you are moving, or something, they must be displayed! And... and...” she stalked to the window, throwing the curtains open wide, “where on STДLIЙS PIMPLҰ, ШЯIЙKLЄD PФSTЄЯIФЯ is that big stupid Dome?!” She clapped both hands to her mouth, her eyes wide and bulging. 

Dibella composed herself as she stood, taking on the calm, collected air of a senior diplomat. She led Valentina back to a chair, and took a seat across from her.

“Katya?” she called out, the face instantly appearing in the doorway, “more tea, please. And... yes, something to eat, I think— you must be famished—“ she leaned back in her chair.

“I think, perhaps, we have... much to discuss.”

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.