CatastrophicFailure

Revelations of the Kraken (Chapter 41: Shadow and Flicker)

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Perfect!

I know you’re not much into splitting chapters up but maybe just this once...?

*hopeful look*

Because that way I could ‘like’ them both.

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9 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

“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. 

THIS IS GENUIS!

I MUST GO FIND MY IDIOT PAPERS NOW

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Visitors will present their passports and forms ID-10T on arrival.

Or...

Identity ---> Idtentity ---> Id10t ---> Idiot.

On a serious note, that was a wonderful chapter. Evocative descriptions of a rather cyberpunk Kermangrad - outwardly down-at-heel with cutting edge technology buried just beneath the surface. Rather like Edgas in fact - unassuming and slightly shabby on the outside but with steel enough to face down the Union's finest on the inside. Then a well done bit of byplay between her and Katya and then the *sniff* big reunion which, in true Kraken style was a rather bittersweet happy ending and all the more powerful for it. 

And finally... :)

“where on STДLIЙS PIMPLҰ, ШЯIЙKLЄD PФSTЄЯIФЯ is that big stupid Dome?!

Welcome back, Val - we've missed you!

 

Edit. And if nobody's made the 'Unter' joke somewhere on a Boring Company Twitter feed, it needs to be done already. :cool:

Edited by KSK

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Just spent about an hour catching up on what I missed, and I've got to say, this has been amazing! The mysterious snow, the futuristic Union- all coming together! And that ending.. Fantastic. And here I was thinking the war against the plague people was going to be the most exciting part about these chapters...

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13 hours ago, KSK said:

Visitors will present their passports and forms ID-10T on arrival.

 

If you don’t use that somewhere I will. :sticktongue:

13 hours ago, KSK said:

Welcome back, Val - we've missed you!

:D

Besides, nothing but italicized she was gonna get really confusing with more she’s around... -_-

8 hours ago, DarkOwl57 said:

And here I was thinking the war against the plague people was going to be the most exciting part about these chapters...

All I can say is, you ain’t seen nothing yet...:cool:

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On 6/13/2018 at 3:00 AM, CatastrophicFailure said:

All I can say is, you ain’t seen nothing yet...:cool:

Speaking of plague people.... they've been missing for a bit.

I guess though that they'll come back?

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4 hours ago, qzgy said:

Speaking of plague people.... they've been missing for a bit.

I guess though that they'll come back?

:sealed:.

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*panic mode*

and right about here I realize that Revs has been going for over a year now, and I’m still not through Act I. :blink::wacko::unsure:

um...

:confused:

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On 6/25/2018 at 3:53 PM, CatastrophicFailure said:

*panic mode*

and right about here I realize that Revs has been going for over a year now, and I’m still not through Act I. :blink::wacko::unsure:

um...

:confused:

.... 

That just means you have a lot to say? Idk. Or it means.... You need to make moar chapters moar quicker. 

Actually i think we'd all prefer high quality chapters over high quantity. Just keep them coming ;)

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On 7/4/2018 at 5:17 PM, qzgy said:

That just means you have a lot to say?

So it would seem. Next chapter is slowly chugging along and has just now crossed the 5,000 word mark again. :confused: Tho I beleive it’s passed the hump, and there’s a slim chance of something by the weekend. Looking into the future, the next few look just as long, but then [REDACTED]! 

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20 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Tho I beleive it’s passed the hump, and there’s a slim chance of something by the weekend

Welllll before it's released.... Guess I'll just be sitting here. Maybe I should reread everything for a refresher. See if I can finish before the next chapter. 

Also - what are your thoughts on me compiling everything (shadows, whispers, and revelations) into a pdf (or three, one per book/work) with proper credits and whatnot, of course. Maybe it's been done before.... But I'd like to anyways :)

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On 7/17/2018 at 7:59 PM, qzgy said:

Welllll before it's released.... Guess I'll just be sitting here. Maybe I should reread everything for a refresher. See if I can finish before the next chapter. 

Also - what are your thoughts on me compiling everything (shadows, whispers, and revelations) into a pdf (or three, one per book/work) with proper credits and whatnot, of course. Maybe it's been done before.... But I'd like to anyways :)

That would be awesome! :D I've got a very half-S'd .RTF around here somewhere of Shadows & Whispers as a backup against forum derps, this reminds me I haven't started one for Revs yet. :unsure: Dunno if it would be useful.

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9 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

That would be awesome! :D I've got a very half-S'd .RTF around here somewhere of Shadows & Whispers as a backup against forum derps, this reminds me I haven't started one for Revs yet. :unsure: Dunno if it would be useful.

Cool! Already started Shadows, decent portion finished (reached the first Interlude). Maybe done with that over the weekend? Idk. 

Backups are always good. Maybe wouldn't be a bad idea to start one for revelations. 

I'm not sure either how useful the RTF would be, since my process so far has been copying stuff from the forum into a word doc then doing some minor formatting (font, font size, asterisk centering, etc.) before conversion into a pdf. 

Anyways, should be fun! Also means I can read the Kraken trilogy offline ;)

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Alright, I'm finally up to date with the story.... :)

Now I'm not sure if I wish I found about it much, much earlier to be there from the beginning, or much, much later to be able to read it all at once :) That aside, thank you again for the ride it has been, and I'm looking forward for more when it comes.

Michal.don

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PDF compilation is now live on the OP, thanks to the hard work of @qzgy (which one day I might be able to type out without looking up to check). :D

Next chapter is, indeed, a monster at nearly 7000 words, but is finally off to editing. Meanwhile, I've gotten down a solid thousand words on the next next chapter thanks in part to a ridiculously long ferry wait tonight. :P Hoping the pace continues.

But for now, (finally,) off to that low, broad, downy-soft item of furniture in the next room with the power to cure fatigue and restore vitality... :confused:

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It's only 4 letters can't be that hard can it? :P

Good to hear more is on the way. You also seem to have developed a habit of more text in each chapter. 7000 words is probably a decently long short story. 

 

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On 7/27/2018 at 9:27 PM, qzgy said:

It's only 4 letters can't be that hard can it? :P

Spelling was never my fourtay. <_<

But at long last, after nearly two months(!), something wickedly long this way comes. ;)
*pokes our newest staff member with a stick* stickpoke.gif@Just Jim 
 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

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Twice and twice he is blinded,
Twice and twice he plays the fool.
Once the fool, for his ignorance,
Twice the fool, for his arrogance. 

 

Chapter 24: Telling Stories

 

Dibella Kermanov blinked. 

Then she did it again. 

And when that didn’t seem to help at all, she turned around and retrieved a bottle from the shelf, the sort all Ussaris had on a shelf somewhere, and poured a splash into her teacup, drinking it in a single long, slow draught. Then she thought a moment, refilled the cup from the bottle, and gulped it all down at once. She replaced the bottle, and went back to rubbing her temples. 

“I know how it sounds...” Edgas offered sheepishly. 

“Do you, now?” came a response as flat as a board. 

“No, it is true,” Valentina protested, “every word of it,” she then turned to Edgas, “how did you ever last three months on the Mün? I do not think I was there three hours, and was sure I had gone mad!”

He shook his head, “looking back, I don’t even know. But... Burdous and I never saw a trace of anyone else when we went back, everything looked untouched except the old Isfjell stage.”

“Er, yes, I may have had something to do with that...”

You broke the solar panel?” Edgas scowled at her. 

“Well I was in a bit of hurry!” she shot back, “trying not to go completely mad, remember?” Then more quietly, “you did not go back inside the base, yes?”

“No, why would—“ he looked at her, “did you go rifling through our stuff??”

“I was looking for, I do not know, clues, or something! And water. I had a bit more on my mind than...”

About this time, the two noticed Dibella staring at them again. 

She sighed, and shook her head, “it’s like you’re both telling books from the same story...”

Edgas and Valentina looked at her, looked at each other... then looked very intently at the wall, and shrugged. 

“What? What are you looking at?” she followed their gaze. 

The two just shook their heads... then when she wasn’t looking, put fingers to their lips and winked at the wall. 

Dibella went back to rubbing her temples, “let me see if I have this straight. Edgas— all those years ago, Layland-Wutani sent you, Edmund, and Billy-Bobrim to the Mün, not to search for minerals but to investigate some sort of artifact of unknown origin—“

“Shadowwell,” Valentina said soberly. 

Dibella just gave her a look, and continued, “and when the other two went to it, they came back... possessed?” she shook her head, “for poor Billy-Bobrim, it did not... take, only drove him mad, but Edmund, he became—“

“Shadowbearer.”

Dibella shot her a look again, “...and when you returned, he began orchestrating some grand conspiracy with the corporation, the KSA, the Imperium, and who knows who else, all while spreading this... corruption to others—“

“Shadowstained.”

“Gah!” Dibella shot at Valentina, “enough already with all the shadowy... shadows!”

“Sorry,” Valentina said sheepishly, yet Edgas was sure he could see discomfort in the senior kerbelle’s eyes beyond mere annoyance. 

“And you, Tia,” Dibella’s tone softened, “you got mixed up in it after someone tried to kill you?”

Valentina nodded, “I saw something in orbit I was not supposed to, they came for me when I kept looking...”

“And the Political Officer... saved you...”

Again, she nodded. 

“‘Papers, please!’” Dibella intoned, “‘Glory to Arstotzka,’ that guy?”

Another nod. 

Dibella just shook her head, “and was mortally wounded in the scuffle, but before he passed, he sent you to Kleptogart to find Anastasia Kerman.”

Now, Dibella and Edgas shared a look, yet she continued, “and she finally pointed you to Edmund Kerman, who tried to... do whatever it was, to you...”

Feeling the flash of guilt far too close, Edgas reached over and squeezed Valentina’s hand. 

“He did not know who I am,” she said, looking down, “I did not know, either. I could have saved him, saved everyone, stopped the whole stupid mess right there...” 

Dibella reached over and took her other hand, empathy brushing away her confusion. Now it was Edgas who pressed on, hating himself a little for poking at a wound that, he could feel, was even deeper.

“But before you could, you were conveniently rescued again,” he said cautiously, “by someone called... Igor...”

She nodded, avoiding the other two’s eyes, “...who was working for them all along. He brought me back to the Kommissar, who was not. He sent me to the Mün, to the Shadowwell, which chased me away after showing me... terrible things...”

“And when you returned, the Kommissar then sent you to the Grand Tour ship, already under construction years before anyone knew about it,” Dibella shook her head once more, “and you ended up stranded in deep space, locked in hibernation, for all this time, after you were betrayed by Jerdous Kerman.”

“He was behind the whole thing, everything, from the very start,” Edgas added.

“You eventually found your way to Edmund, too,” Dibella looked at him, “he tried to... corrupt you, and you killed him in self defense.”

A nod, “Chadvey bailed me out of jail, said he could make everything go away if I wanted, make it like it was... I’m still not sure who he was working for, but knowing him probably none of the above. He brought me to the ship, the four of us, Jerdous and Burdous, too, made our way to Bop...”

“And Jerdous betrayed you, too. He killed Chadvey, tried to kill,” Dibella shuddered, rolled her eyes, “Burdous Kerman, then tried to release... the Kraken?”

Yog-Sothoth

“Camazotz.”

"Ba'alzacropth."

Edgas and Valentina stared at each other. 

Dibella stared at them both. 

“It has so many names...” Valentina began. 

“And most of them have too many consonants in a row to really pronounce. ‘Kraken’s’ as good as any...” Edgas finished. 

Dibella pressed fingers to her temples again, “but Edgas, you... stopped it, killed it—“

“No,” he said, “not killed.”

“It cannot die,” Valentina added, “it is not precisely alive, not in any way we can understand.”

Edgas nodded, “but it’s gone, now. Sealed away again,” he smiled, “it can’t threaten the world ever again.”

Dibella gave him a considering look, “and when it was all done, you returned with the cache of documents Jerdous Kerman gave you, and...” she leaned back, taking in a long breath.

At length she began again, “a monster, waiting to be released by a madman, so it can gobble up the world... or... whatever it does... I am struggling to believe that, but everything else...”

She returned a piercing eye to Edgas, “all this time, you were really the Chessmaster. You leaked the information that led to the downfall of the Layland-Wutani executives. You brought down politicians the world over. You legitimized that entire mess with the hidden Ceriman space port and the ship, and instead turned it into the greatest accomplishment Kermankind has ever known, opening up the solar system to exploration, science, industry...”

Edgas shrank back a bit, feeling his cheeks flush.

“...And with all that you could be, you hide away at the North Pole.” Dibella leaned forward, placing a hand on his, “Edgas, why? I have seen more than most, and what I have seen of the information you have is, no doubt, barely a trifle! Why continue to hide it? To manipulate the world’s perception, even if it is for good? Surely in all you have, you have the proof, the truth of what is out there beyond what we can understand, and how close we all came to the brink because of it. For Edmund’s memory, for Chadvey’s... If the Monster is real, then why not drag it out of its hole and into the light?”

He studied the floor for a long time before responding, “people aren’t ready. I don’t know that they ever will be,” he looked up, some trick of the light half-hiding his face in shadow, “reality is a fragile shell over the truth. But people need that shell, they depend on it. I’ve seen only a glimpse of that truth, and it nearly broke me—“

Then he suddenly turned to Valentina, “and somehow, I think you’ve seen even more,” he shook his head, “people need that filter, those shadows on the wall. They aren’t ready to turn around and see the Truth, ‘cuz that would mean looking directly into the Light beyond it... and maybe going blind from it.”

He sighed, “in the wrong hands, the truth is a dangerous thing.”

“Edgas!” Dibella scoffed. 

“You saw what just a small portion did to the Union...”

Valentina perked up, her eyes cascading across the walls and windows, “wait, what? What has happened to the Union?”

“It’s gone,” Edgas said, “the Ussari Union no longer exis—mmrflgrph—“

She slapped a hand over his mouth, eyes still scanning the room, “you must not say such things!”

“It’s true,” Dibella added, “the watchers, the listeners, the Imperium... they’re all gone. This is a free country, now,” then added under her breath, “mostly.”

Valentina stared in disbelief for a long time, oblivious to Edgas’s muffled appeals for air, “that... that is impossible! Union is stonk, like bool, ever Glorious!”

Dibella just raised an eye... bulge at her. 

Finally she whispered, “but... how..?”

Edgas managed to dislodge her hand, “yeah, um... I... may have had something to do with that.”

Valentina’s head snapped to him so fast her neck crackled like a certain rice-based breakfast cereal, “what?! You?!” She gave Dibella a pleading look. 

The other kerbelle cracked the faintest smile, “no, he is right about that too.”

Valentina slumped back in her seat, looking completely bewildered. Dibella fixed her a fresh cup of tea, with an extra splash from the bottle, which she downed just as quickly. 

“Come, now, Tia,” Dibella handed her another cup, “surely you could see the fractures beginning even in your time.” A stern look froze the instinctive protest on before it could form on Valentina’s lips. Dibella added, “I suppose... it could be said you had a hand in it as well...”

“Ididnosuchthing!” Valentina snapped, her eyes wide and rolling, “I am loyal servant of the Imperium!”

Dibella cocked an eye... bulge at her again. 

“No, the fractures were always there, like stress risers in a fan blade just waiting for a little too much heat and tension,” Dibella said thoughtfully, studying her tea, “one... could say the failure... the release began... at your funeral.”

Valentina looked up. 

Dibella kept eyeing her cup, “a lone stranger appeared atop one of the statues in the Square, playing a foreign hymn on bagpipes...”

“...Bagpipes?”

“Yes, bagpipes,” she continued, “there was... some confusion, but before he could be apprehended, one by one the band joined in. And then the choir joined in. And then the crowd joined in, and by then there was no stopping it. 

“There were, of course, consequences,” she shook her head, “and no one said anything. This, we do not speak of. But... something had changed. It was slow, and subtle, but it was there.” She dropped to a hushed tone, “And soon, people began to whisper. And then they began to speak. And then they began to shout in the streets! The Imperium cracked down on each wave, of course, but the more they tightened their grip... the more control seemed to slip through their fingers. And this time, thanks to these things,” she produced a transparent sheet of glass that was somehow also quite pink, “the world was watching.”

Dibella raised an amused eye... bulge, “and about this time, Edgas came along with his little bombshell.”

With a gasp, Valentina’s eyes popped wide. She spun around and seized Edgas’s collar with both hands, “you blew up the Imperium?!”

“Well no, not exactly,” he struggled free from her grasp, taking her hands in his, “I’d found some things in that box, about Anastasia Kerman...” her eyes grew wider, “...including a pair of DNA tests. She was born Tatiana Alexandra Kira Kermanov, the Ussari Empress’s long-lost daughter.”

Valentina slowly raised a hand to her mouth.

“Of course,” Edgas mumbled to himself, “no one could ever explain just how she got lost...”

“The Imperium had been learning, too,” Dibella said, “and now they took a page from the Foreigners’ book. Edgas was showered with attention and national gratitude, became an overnight celebrity here. For his tireless as selfless work to return the memory of little Tatiana to the Motherland,” she gave a little roll of her eyes, “he became the first foreigner ever named as Hero of the Ussari Union.”

“But...” Valentina now raised an eye... bulge, “why?”

“They thought if they dazzled me with boloney I’d go away happy and not look any closer at what I had,” Edgas added his own eye roll. 

“Yes, so unfortunate about the poor girl, murdered in such a dangerous place by a miscreant, and the crime never solved by the simple foreign police. Such things never happen in our glorious Union, after all. But for a time, he did go away,” Dibella gave Edgas a nod, “while this new wave of national pride swept the country, and people forgot all about their silly ideas of reform. And just as that wave started to ebb, a new opportunity presented itself to the Imperium, and once again they borrowed strategy from the Foreigners. 

“A rocket launch, a very important, televised, mandatory-viewing rocket launch, suffered a @CatastrophicFailure. The crew were saved by their abort rockets, but some very expensive hardware for a new Münar orbital station was lost, all due to a defective liquid hydrogen pipe that had been manufactured in Gytep. Upon further inspection, the entire lot was found to have critical flaws. The Imperium used the incident as a pretext to annex the entire country.”

“What?” Valentina scoffed, “just... just like that?”

“They thought they could keep riding that wave of patriotism and distraction, and spur it even further. This, of course, led to some... tense moments with the rest of the world, but the Gytepi themselves were oddly patient about the whole thing,” Dibella gave Edgas a look, “but not even a deluge like that could extinguish the spark.

“Foreign media, smart phones, the global computer network... it was becoming ever more pervasive, ever more impossible for the Imperium to control. When the flames rose again, it was not merely protests in the streets but mass demonstrations. Technology allowed huge numbers of people to gather in an instant, then disappear into the cities just as quickly when the authorities showed up. 

“The Imperium was becoming desperate, so they doubled down on what had worked so well so far. They created some nonsense about Ussari peacekeepers taking fire from South Erakonia across the Demilitarized Zone, and used it as a pretext to launch a full-scale military invasion of the old,” Dibella rolled her eyes, “rebel province.”

Valentina just stared, “why would they do a fool thing like that? Everyone knows what happened the last time...”

Dibella nodded, “the South Erakonians had not forgotten, either. And they had been quite busy the last couple of decades. The Glorious Crimson Army, Ever Victorious!.. advanced quickly, up to a point. And then the attacks would come from the rear, the sides, the middle... everywhere at once, leaving the army nowhere to go but forward, then the attackers would just seem disappear into thin air. This went on for weeks, official media always reporting the vast gains of our glorious forces, while the true toll trickled in in bits and bytes.

“It wasn’t until an entire division was engaged deep within the country that the South Erakonians began to fight for real. The Crimson Army continued to advance, but they paid a dear price for every meter they took, leaving nothing but ruins behind to occupy. They won every skirmish, yet still seemed to be losing the conflict. Then a new rash of attacks began: far behind the front, on the Army’s supply lines back in North Erakonia. 

“The North had finally tired of watching the Imperium’s treatment of their southern cousins. And with their open resistance, the world beyond finally tired of the situation as well. Aid began to pour in to the peninsula, first through third parties and then by flagged vessels: food, medicine, eventually even munitions. It all culminated in a bold maneuver by the same group of nations signed to the KSA treaty. They granted diplomatic recognition to the new Republic of Erakonia. A single, sovereign, unified nation... which the Ussari Union was now occupying in violation of established international law.”

Valentina seemed to be processing several steps behind, but pressed on none the less, “that... could not have gone over well...”

“It didn’t. It made the tension over the Gytep situation seem like a minor trade dispute. For two days, the entire world seemed on the brink of an unprecedented global war,” Dibella smiled, “but in the end, it was the Imperium who blinked first. They granted Erakonia its independence, and agreed to withdraw their troops. Many of whom flatly refused, deserting in the night and pleading asylum from the very same people they had been fighting with days before. The rumors had already started by then, you see, that the returning troops would be deployed across the Union to pacify the spreading unrest.”

She smirked at Edgas, “and then this guy shows up again.”

Edgas jerked as if surprised, “er, yeah... it took me longer, but I’d uncovered something... important, buried in all those files. What the Imperium had been tacitly trying to keep me quiet about in the first place. I knew what really happened to Anastasia all along, but so did they. Jerdous Kerman hadn’t acted alone, they’d given both him and Edmund material and financial support to try to get rid of her, and they’d pressed Edmund especially hard on the matter. They wanted her assassinated.”

He felt the twinge of pain and anger from Valentina across the bond, but in her eyes, he could see the wheels begin to turn. 

“You remember your political history classes, yes?” Dibella asked, “what is the one thing that could invalidate the Agreement, the foundation of the Union and linchpin of the Imperium’s power?”

Valentina stared off at nothing, repeating by rote, “the Royal Family is herewith granted protection from all harm, in perpetuity...”

Leaning in, Dibella said, “the Imperium conspired— with Foreigners, no less- nooffense-nonetaken— to assassinate the heir apparent to the Imperial throne.” She leaned back, “and probably not for the first time, but this time, everyone knew about it.”

“There was a mass march on the Fortress, it dwarfed any demonstration anyone had seen so far,” Edgas added, “and a certain young firebrand apparatchik started making a name for herself about then, too.” He picked up a tablet sitting on the shelf and began tapping. 

“Er... no... Edgas, please do not—“ Dibella protested. 

“C’mon, she’s got to see this,” he said with a mischievous grin, swiping something to a wall that became a screen. 

Dibella raised a hand to her face and blushed furiously. 

Fury continued from the unseen speakers, as a moving image resolved itself: the Imperium sat, godlike as ever, high in their suspended gallery in a vast and ornately trimmed room. All around angry voices cried out, and standing at a podium before the Might of the State, one particular voice was picked up by the microphone. 

Valentina listened... then she gasped. Then she gasped louder. Then she nearly shrieked, eyes wide above a hand pressed to her mouth. 

Then... she squinted, “is... is that a shoe?

“Yes,” Dibella mumbled into her own hand. 

She squinted harder, “but... you do not wear shoes like that, that is a Kerb’s shoe...”

“Not quite sure where I got it,” still talking to the hand, “bit of a spur of the moment thing, lots of emotions running around...”

“Yes,” Valentina agreed, “shoeless, it seems.”

The video tirade continued, the diminutive figure airing a long list of grievances and concerns never responded to, replete with references to Union law and Imperious traditions, before calling the looming masters out one by one, “PЦTIЙ! PЦTIЙ! PЦTIЙ! PЦTIЙ! PЦTIЙ! PЦTIЙ! PЦTIЙ! PЦTIЙ!

Valentina, by this point, was reduced to little more than disjointed syllables once again.

“What... but... how...” she finally managed, “where are the guards?!

“Coming,” Dibella mumbled, now into both hands. 

Edgas added, “just watch.”

And so she did, as armed guards finally did appear... and as her eyes grew ever wider, they shackled the members of the Imperium, and led them away to thunderous applause. And they seemed just as bewildered as her. 

“Just... like that?” she asked. 

Edgas nodded, “not with a bang but a whimper.”

“With the Imperium imprisoned in the very cells that once held her grandfather, and the Agreement invalidated in its entirety, what authority that remained reverted back to the Empress,” Dibella continued, regaining her composure, “in her first public appearance ever, she announced in a nationwide address the official dissolution of the Ussari Union, granting regional governors temporary authority, clemency, and immunity in exchange for their testimony during the trials that were sure to follow. She, herself, added that she would relinquish power as soon as a provisional government could be established and elections scheduled.

“A few days later, the Empress held true to her word. She not only handed authority to an interim council, but in her last official act, abolished the Monarchy in its entirety, ending a dynasty that went back a thousand years to Ivan I, Ivan Grozny. She also ceded all royal property to the State, retiring to a simple manor in the countryside.”

Valentina slumped back in her chair, looking quite drained. 

Edgas raised an eye... bulge, “you don’t believe her.” Not a question. 

Squeezing her eyes shut, Valentina let out a long sigh, “the Union is all I have ever known. Everything is different, here, and for me... is not even overnight.” She looked to Dibella, “and now, you are some sort of bureaucrat, yes?”

The other kerbelle giggled, “well, I suppose that’s one way of putting it.”

“She’s the Speaker of the State Duma,” Edgas added with a smile. 

Former Speaker, Edgas dear, former. I’ve been retired myself for a month now,” she gave her own wistful little sigh, “Grigori Kerman and I do not agree on much, but he is a good kerb, he will serve the Office well. Perhaps he is what the people need in these difficult times, and now I have helped usher my country through the first truly peaceful transition of power in her history.” She looked down at her cup, frowning when she found it empty, then fixed her gaze on Valentina, “we, as a people, are still coming to terms with the more... troubling parts of our history, and we, as a people, can no longer hide behind the Imperium’s skirts.” The muffled gasp drew a wry smile. 

Valentina scowled back for a moment, then nodded out the window, “what happened to that stupid dome?”

“It was torn down a couple of years ago. Torn,” she rolled her eyes, “the fool thing nearly fell down. The iron lattice supporting the apex was so rusted from the clouds that formed inside that the structure almost collapsed. The rubble was ground to down to pebbles, to be used as aggregate in the concrete of public housing being built on the grounds.”

Valentina raised an eye... bulge, “so... the House of the People where the people were never allowed will literally become houses for the people?”

“Oh, the irony was lost on no one,” Dibella smirked, “they also didn’t want any trace of the old ways being part of the foundation of the new. The new Capitol is being built on a campus on the other side of the city. Well, as soon as we can agree on the design,” she shook her head, “fortunately, the Parliament office buildings were less... contentious. My successor has already moved in there, soon this place will be part of a museum.” She added under her breath, “if it ever gets funding.”

“Good,” Edgas said, thumbing at his collar, “maybe they can restore the windows so they open again.”

“Oh, they never could open,” Dibella said, “and the glass is actually shatterproof.”

Edgas looked at her. 

“This place was once filled with Imperium apparatchiks,” she explained, “wouldn’t do to have anyone... clock out early.”

Edgas wasn’t sure whether to sigh or shudder. 

“No, it does not seem real,” Valentina said, as if somewhere far away, “subway graffiti I could get used to, but everything else... it still feels like a dream.”

“I lived through it, Tia, and sometimes I’m not even sure I’m not dreaming,” Dibella said softly, “now that I am again on the outside looking in, it almost feels like waking up from a nightmare, what with everything else going on in the world...”

Something sharp and icy brushed Edgas’s spine, “wait, what? What’s going on?”

Then Dibella turned to him, and it bit down hard, “you mean you... don’t know?”

“Know what?”

“Have... have you been living under a rock?” she said, as if struggling for words. 

“Yes, I’ve been living under a rock!” Edgas cried out, now edging toward panic, “what don’t I know?!”

She went very pale. 

“Dibella... what don’t I know?”

Leaning back, Dibella again pressed hands to her temples, “you’ll want to sit down... you are sitting down...” she shook her head, “I scarcely know where to begin...”

It took another moment to compose herself, “a few weeks ago, in the north of Kleptogart, there was an outbreak. A new disease, unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. Among other things, it attacks the central nervous system, causing confusion, agitation, even violence. There’s no cure, no treatment, and it spreads incredibly quickly, sometimes within moments. For a time it was contained at the local hospital, but that didn’t last. It started to spread again, and the military got involved, quarantining the entire city.”

“That... doesn’t seem so bad,” Edgas said. He almost believed it. 

Dibella looked back at him in agony, “the quarantine didn’t hold. You need to understand, this is... it could...” another head shake, “if the infection escaped containment, it could be a regional catastrophe, unstoppable. The President—“ she paused, taking his hand, “the President needed to stop it. He authorized the use of a nuclear weapon to sterilize the entire area.”

For a long while Edgas just stared at her. He was distantly aware of neurons firing, but any cohesive thought in his brain seemed to just... cease. 

 

***

 

It was Valentina who pressed on, if only to escape the awful moment, “that was not the end.”

Dibella nodded, “no. The... action succeeded, there’s been no further evidence of the pathogen, but no one escaped the fallout—” she gave a hard wince, “...metaphorically. After days of protests and calls from their congress, the President finally resigned. The Vice President was supposed to assume the office, he was away at a trade summit, but his plane never arrived. It went down somewhere over the ocean, there are... rumors that someone on board was infected. The loss might even have been deliberate...”

Valentina raised one hand to her own head, the implications far too clear, and reached over to clasp Edgas’s with the other, “I do not know their rules, but, someone else is in line, yes?”

“My counterpart, the Speaker of the House. But he refused. Resigned his position entirely, fled with his family to a house in the mountains. I think he knew what was to come,” Dibella took another long breath, “under Kleptogarti law, the Secretary of State was next in line. He was officially sworn in as President in a hotel room in the south of the country, where he’d been speaking trying to quell the unrest. Only he never made it back to the Capitol, either. The kar he was in went off a bridge, racing back to the Beige House during a thunderstorm. They didn’t find the body...”

Valentina raised her other hand to her head, “oh, for PЦTIЙS sake...”

Dibella shrugged, “to the Secretary of the Treasury, then. He was actually present at the Capitol, and was quickly sworn in. Lots of speechifying and heady words, but for a few days, the whole mess seemed like it might be stabilizing...

“And then the Secretary of State showed up again,” a long sigh, “in a hospital twenty kilometers downriver from the accident site. Some farmer had pulled him, barely alive, from the water. His clothes were torn away by the rocks, his face so badly swollen that he couldn’t even be identified until he woke up. He is badly injured, may never walk again, but cognizant and claiming that he is the rightful President. And that someone set him up and tried to assassinate him. 

“Now the country is in the midsts of a constitutional crisis, and neither kerb is backing down. Back and forth legal challenges in the courts have brought the federal government to a virtual standstill, everyone is afraid to act. Except local authorities. Kleptogart had an all-volunteer army, well trained but not much more than reservists, and nearly the entire lot was wiped out. With less and less central control, regional governors are beginning to flex their own power behind one claimant or the other, or for no one at all...”

She looked at Valentina, “and lines are being drawn.

But before Valentina could answer, Edgas seemed to drag himself back from somewhere, or nearly so, not quite looking up, “North Kleptogart. Doc... Doc has family up there, I... I need to get in touch with him, no one...”

Frowning, Valentina gave his hand a squeeze, but he didn’t really respond. She could feel the turmoil within him, a curious mirror of her own at the strange turn history seemed to have taken and be taking, and yet... there was something more there. Something real, as physical as the press of his hand against hers. He wasn’t just mourning calamity in his own country, he was... hurting. 

She winced, as more wheels in her head slipped into place, “it gets worse.”

Dibella couldn’t quite meet her eyes either, “there was another outbreak of the illness. In Bangkong...”

She could barely stifle a gasp. The most densely populated city in the world, head of the most densely populated country in the world. Just based on what Dibella had already said of the sickness, Valentina didn’t need the details. Whatever they were, it was, most definitely, worse.

Dibella continued, as if needing to simply get it out herself, “the infection swept down the peninsula in... hours, a day at best. The King and his government never had a chance to mount any real response, by some reports they were among the first to contract it. And once the panic started, there was nothing anyone could...”

“Someone else dropped the bombs this time.”

“Yes. Gednalna. From their protectorate, Rim Island.”

“What?” Somehow, this seemed the most shocking revelation yet, “but they do not... why?!”

“The Gednalnans have always been protective of their outlying territories,” Dibella said with a sigh, “one of the infected washed up on a beach on Anampa, just off the Ponpín coast. It touched off a far more subtle panic in Edinkurgh.” She gave a vague wave at the map on the wall behind her, “we counted some twenty-six detonations, high yield, all up and down the peninsula.”

Valentina spat a curse, “did... did no one try to stop them? Talk to them? Do something?” Beside her, Edgas seemed to collapse in on himself a little more. 

“I can tell you better than most,” Dibella looked at her, “no one saw this coming.”

Valentina threw her hands up, “how do two dozen bombers fly hundreds of kilometers with no one noticing?”

“There were no bombers. All our information says the devices were delivered with small sub-orbital rockets.”

Edgas’s head snapped up, “nuclear... missiles??”

“What sort of madman would put a nuclear weapon on top of a rocket?” Valentina scoffed. 

Dibella only shrugged, “King MacVey does not have his father’s patience, or his brother’s cunning. The project was likely going on in the shadows for years, passed along from father to son to brother. Gednalna was one of the founding members of the KSA, there was no limit to the rocket technology flowing through it.

“But nevertheless, it didn’t work. Too many people, too much land... the infected who survived have gathered into a massive hoard moving down the peninsula and west into Autmalaga. But the summer has not been kind in the south, either, only instead of snow they’ve had torrential rains. That isthmus is a swamp even in the dry season, now it is an impassable quagmire. It’s greatly slowed the infected’s progress, they are nearly indestructible but can down, given enough time submerged. 

“West of the swampland, a coalition of southern nations is building an incredible wall out of dirt, rubble, kars, whatever can be found. Ahead of that wall, they are flooding the marshes with crude propelluim to be set alight at a moment’s notice, and behind it, every rifle for a thousand kilometers is pointed east. Waiting.”
 
Valentina looked at her friend, “but you do not think it will hold.”

Dibella didn’t quite meet her eyes, “drone footage shows the bodies of the infected piling up in the mud and shallow pools, forming a grotesque bridge for the others. They are slowed, not stopped,” her eyes flicked up, “the wall will not hold either. Maybe a few days, maybe a few weeks, but there are just too many, and all it takes is one getting behind the line to leapfrog it. No one will use nuclear weapons on another’s soil anymore. They are being held for... other purposes.”

Valentina gave Edgas’s hand on last squeeze, then rose and walked to the window. How many people could she see from this one, small vantage, in the naked light of the slate-grey skies? Ten thousand? Maybe more? Every one of them with one of those things in their hand, walking around as if any other day. 

“Why do they do nothing? They go about their business as if nothing is wrong...” she turned to find Edgas turning a small, grey, sparkly rock over in his hands. 

Dibella frowned at him for a moment, sighing, “perhaps Edgas is right. People do not want to acknowledge the truth, to see it. We as Ussaris are... especially good at that.”

“How many?” Edgas said suddenly. 

“What do you mean?” Dibella raised an eye... bulge. 

He looked up, one hand squeezing the little rock, “how many?”

Dibella tried to force a smile, spoke with diplomatic calm, “no one’s really sure, it’s a very chaotic situation, and there’s no telling how many survivors may yet—“

Dibella.”

She let out a long breath, seeming to collapse with it like Edgas himself had, “Ponpín has been completely depopulated, the entire civilization just wiped off the map. Ripples of that are being felt all across the south, and that’s before the environmental and economic damage is considered: crops failing, fishing grounds ruined, people’s livelihoods destroyed. Conservative estimates say—“ she choked, cleared her throat, “say the death toll could eventually reach... two billion people.”

Edgas crumpled a bit more.

Valentina spat a curse, “that is a third of all the people in the world!” She spun back to the window, “how are they not...”

“It... may not be so bad,” Dibella said with that same half-cheerful diplomat’s tone, “if the nations of the world can work together, present a unified front as the southerners are doing...”

“But they aren’t, are they?” Valentina stared at her. 

Dibella dropped her eyes, “no. We... we are in a better position than most to weather whatever comes. The Ussari-speaking nations of the former Union. We have good cropland along the southern coasts, minerals and fuels in the west, the  technology corridors radiating from Gytep in the east. Plans are being accelerated to form a trade federation to ease the transit of goods...” she shook her head, “but the borders beyond are already closed, and nothing is being exported. The other nations of the world are taking similar... and sometimes more... drastic measures.”

Valentina stared off at the throngs of people, for a moment longing for the blissful ignorance she had so recently enjoyed. Then, she didn’t know what she didn’t know, but now, as memories fought one another for attention in her mind, she didn’t even know what she did know. And a single dark, shadowy vision beyond everything else waited like a predator, here and there showing flashes of its powerful, deadly maw. 

“He knew...” she muttered to the window.

“What?” Dibella said.

“Somehow... even then... he knew... he did everything to—“ she whipped around, “I must see Kommissar. Kermanskiovitch, who used to oversee the space program. Do you have any idea where he might be now?”

“Well of course,” Dibella blinked, “he’s in a state prison not far from here. Let me just check...” she picked up a tablet and began tapping, “yes, he— oh...”

“Is he not there?”

“He is,” she said solemnly, “in the infirmary. The terminal ward.”

Valentina felt her lips tighten. Then she felt a—

“Burdous...” Edgas mumbled.

Oh, PЦTIЙ...

“Burdous!” she could feel panic rising within him, “he... he was in Bangkong..!”

“Burdous? Burdous Kerman?” Dibella gave a little shudder, then looked nervously towards the door, “he is with you?”

“No, he’s... he’s back at the polar station,” Edgas pulled fingers through his hair, “he... he was sick! He’d just come from there and he was sick, I... I’ve got to contact them... but I told Doc to keep the receivers off... I need to get back, I... but it’ll take days and... and...”

Valentina watched as something dark and icy and entirely too familiar seemed to wash over her old friend’s face for a moment, “Burdous came to your station from Bangkong, and he was was sick, you say?”

Edgas nodded at her, “he was coughing, getting worse, and then everyone else started getting sick...”

Dibella sat back, her brow furrowed in thought. “I don’t think he has the infection,” she said at length.  

Edgas raised an eye at her, “are you sure? How do you know?”

Frowning, Valentina, too, laid a careful eye on the other kerbelle, silently cursing herself even as she did. 

“Edgas,” Dibella reached and took his hand, “if he got out of the city at all, and didn’t even have stories of... anything unusual, he probably left before it hit. A lucky few did. When it happened, it went bad very... quickly.”

“Um... but... everyone back home is getting sick...”

“From what you’ve told me, it’s a very isolated place. Burdous has just brought alien germs into it, of course there will be some sickness, but it should be fine. Burdous himself probably just has a cold or some such, there are plenty of bugs to pick up in a place like Bangkong,” and added under her breath, “and he probably gave them some entirely new ones.”

Edgas blinked at her, “what?"

She just shook her head, “look, I’m sure everything is fine. You came all this way for a reason, and you should see it through. I still have a few connections, and I’ll see that you get a direct flight back to the Pole, how is that?” She gave an encouraging smile. 

Edgas looked down at the little sparkly rock in his hand, and seemed to draw himself up a bit, “yeah... yeah, you’re probably right... thanks...”

“Your friends know what they are about,” Dibella grinned, “right now the North Pole is... probably the safest place in the world, yes?

“Now, if we’re to reach the prison before noon, we should get going,” she began to gather her things, “it is a bit of a drive.”

“What?” Valentina’s eyes popped wide, “you are... coming with us?”

“Well of course,” Dibella said with a real smile, then took Valentina’s face in both hands and looked at her with eyes that seemed to slice right through the gathering darkness, “Tia, you have just come back to me from the dead, perhaps... anything is possible. But I am never letting you out of my sight again.”

Then she added with a wink, “besides, it’s still a maximum security federal prison... whom do you think is going to get you in?” 

 

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13 hours ago, Thedrelle said:

Another Great Chapter. a good recap. excited to hear what happens next.

 

You won’t have to wait long. :D Next chapter is done, but I am waaaay too pooped tonight to edit/post, so watch out for something tomorrow. :ph34r:

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Behold, a great Star fell from Heaven, blazing like a torch,
It fell upon a third of the rivers and the springs, and made them bitter,
The crops in the fields wilted, and the sea gave forth no bounty,
And the name of the Star was Wormwood.

 

Chapter 25: Relics

 

Valentina tried once more to force a rather large lump down her throat. She looked away from the window, to Edgas, seated next to her with a pleasant, attentive smile on his face. He, at least, seemed to be handling the situation well. Then she looked to Dibella, seated in front of her. Facing her. Talking about... something, but she had no idea what, because behind Dibella...

Unbidden, the steering wheel went through a series of gentle turns as their kar silently and effortlessly slipped around another. 

“How—” Valentina squeaked, took a moment to clear her throat, “how fast are we going again?”

Dibella glanced at a display on the window, “200kph,” she said, as if the most unremarkable thing in the world. 

“Oh. Okay,” Valentina nodded, and tried again to dislodge the lump from her throat. The rational part of her said she shouldn’t be concerned, she was an experienced test pilot, after all, and no stranger to high speeds. Even at low altitude and controlled by an autopilot. But the less rational part of her was simply running around in a big circle, waving its hands over its head and screaming. 

And for the moment it seemed to be making the more convincing argument. 

So she turned, and stared out the other window, which didn’t really seem to help. Something else shot past them in a blur, but all that she could say for sure about it was that it was RED!. Whether that was paint or just compression heating she couldn’t say. 

But somehow what was beyond that was even more troubling. Apart from the freeway they were on, separated from it by a very stout-looking wall of metal lattice that was also whipping past at incredible speed, was another ribbon of concrete. Here there were... her mind struggled to construct the thought... double-high shipping containers mounted on little more than what appeared to be low-slung wheeled dollies. That much didn’t seem to be that unusual, but there were dozens, even hundreds of them, all rushing along in an unbroken line, and there seemed to be no accommodation for a driver at all. Anywhere. And worse, each dolly was bare centimeters from the one ahead, almost like a train only closer, but then... one unit broke out of formation, the others moving up seamlessly to assume the space it left, and took a long, sweeping, highly banked off-ramp toward a collection of low buildings in the distance. 

And they were all moving faster than the kar. 

Right on cue, it once more slid out and around some slowpoke who was only doing 180 or so. 

Valentina pulled her eyes away from the window, squeezing them shut and finally managing to swallow that lump in her throat. Dibella had tried to explain it all, something about ‘why-fie’ and a ‘star-link’ and... well, there might have been yak in there somewhere... or was it a musk ox? It was all very confusing, and about that time that little part of herself had gone from keening to groaning, working its way toward screaming, and everything else got just a bit... fuzzy. 

Right about now, that part of her had curled itself up in a ball in the corner, and was running a finger over its lips making little ‘bibble-bibble-bibble’ sounds, and she desperately wanted to just curl up next to it and have a good bibble herself.

Suppressing a groan, she shifted in her seat, and her seat seemed to shift right along with her. Somehow, it felt like it had been custom-made for her particular posterior, and any time she moved, it moved right along with her, as if it had been made that way all along. 

Valentina forced her eyes open, letting them run over the interior, trying to find a distraction. Anything that wasn’t buttery-soft leather was wood polished to a mirror shine, here and there touched with accents of gold and brushed steel. The lighting seemed to come from nowhere in particular, just sort of... leaking out from behind various panels in an oddly pleasing way. The entire roof looked like a single sheet of curved glass, which grew just a hair darker any time the  sun threatened to come out. 

And the whole thing was so quiet. Silent, even. She couldn’t hear a thing from outside, no rushing wind, no roaring engine, there wasn’t even a hint of vibration in the palatial interior. Another vehicle slipped behind them, the kar riding as if on a cloud. She was actually starting to wonder if it even had wheels. 

Speaking of such...

Valentina’s hand groped out along the rich Corinthian leather, “is... there really no seatbelt?” 

Dibella stopped whatever she had been saying and blinked at her, “oh, no, of course not, they haven’t put seatbelts in kars for years, now.”

She groaned a little louder, “but... what if there is accident?”

“Oh, that never happens on the AutoWay,” Dibella waved a hand, “not since they added bigger barricades after some Luddite with an ICE dinosaur tried to force his way in.”

Valentina raised a hand to her head, “wait, now there are giant frozen lizards too?”

Dibella looked at her, “er, what?”

“What?”

“What?”

Edgas just laughed, “turn of phrase. Besides, if anything does go wrong, there’s SecureFoam™️.”

“And what is that?” Valentina groaned, still rubbing her temple. 

“It’s a two-part organic polymorphic gluten-free exothermic long-chain monosaccharide prophelitic pseudoprotein.”

Valentina opened her mouth. 

Valentina closed her mouth. 

“Er... it sort of turns the inside into a giant cannoli.”

“The pastry?

“More or less, but sort of mushy,” Edgas said with a bright grin, “it’s even flavored. Which did you order, Dibella?” 

“Kavarian creme,” she beamed, “I guess I am a traditional girl at heart.”

Valentina just looked at her. 

Then looked at Edgas. 

Then looked at her again.

Then put one hand to her face and sent the other vainly groping around for a seatbelt again. Instead, it found Edgas’s hand. After one horrible, drawn out moment when she thought her head might finally explode, they both quickly jerked their hands back. 

“Er, um...” Edgas stammered to fill the awkward moment, “so, does Katya still have that slick little roadster?”

And, just like that, Valentina went from bewildered incomprehension to good ol’ dependable burning rage. 

“Oh yes,” Dibella said, not seeming to notice, “you’d have to pry that from her cold dead manicured fingers,” she added with a laugh. 

“Has she broken down and upgraded the software yet?”

Dibella shook her head, “no, no AutoWay for her, still driving herself everywhere, and good luck to the fool who gets in her way!”

The kar slipped around another once again. 

“Young blonde in fast car,” Valentina said through clenched teeth, “let me guess, is cherry red, no?”

Edgas blinked at her, “huh? Oh, no way. It’s pearl white with blue racing stripes to hide the solar panels. She put the top down once and took me for a ride, it was awesome!” He smiled a big, guileless smile. 

Valentina had to ball her fists up until her knuckles ached to resist the urge to strangle him, “is not proper! You should not be driving around in fast cars with strange kerbelles,” she glanced around at her current circumstances and winced, “she is too young for you!”

Dibella blinked at her, “but they are nearly the same age, why would you..?” Her eyes clicked back and forth between Valentina and Edgas, then understanding dawned across her face, and she launched into a long moment of hysterical laughter.

“Oh, my goodness!” she managed to squeak out, “Tia, you’re jealous!

Valentina gasped. She took a breath to steady herself, and then, in a calm, measured, and absolutely serene voice, said...

“IIIIIIII AAAAM NOOOOOOOT JEAAAAAALOUS!!!!!1!1!1!11!”

The soundproof windows went on wobbling for some time afterword. 

Dibella took a moment to replace her dislodged hair with a little smirk on her face, “well, then...”

“Huh?” Edgas wiggled a finger in his ear, “wait, why would you be jealous of Katya?

Behind folded arms, Valentina just glared at him, “hmph!”

This drew another giggle from Dibella, “you know, Edgas, dear, sometimes for a scientist you can be incredibly obtuse.”

“Wha?”

“Yes, rather like that,” she snickered, “Katya’s quite smitten with you, always has been.”

Edgas made an uncomprehending noise that sounded something like, “duuuuuhhhhheeeeewhuuuuhh??

Valentina made a low rumbling. 

His eyes snapped back and forth between the two kerbelles, “but why... I mean... I never... she never... why would... but I... but she... we never... but... but...”

Dibella let out a long, whistful sigh, “I know, that may be my fault. I advised her against... pursuing anything. With everything that was going on at the time, and your own situation, it just...” she trailed off with a resigned shrug, “...wouldn’t have worked out.”

“There, you see?” Valentina poked him in the ribs, “would not have worked. Is too young for you.”

Edgas shot her a look. 

“So then,” Dibella said brightly, “you two are...”

NNOO!!

“Ah,” she cracked a knowing grin, “so that is how it is, is it?”

Hmph,” Valentina crossed her arms again. 

“Well, at least it is good to see palling around with the likes of Burdous Kerman hasn’t rubbed off on you,” said Dibella with a bitter little laugh. 

Edgas frowned at her, “you really don’t like him, do you?”

“They have a history,” Valentina rolled her eyes. 

“We do not have a history.”

“You should ask her sometime about Kermansk brushing incident.”

“Gah! There was no incident! There was no Kermansk! There was no brushing!” Dibella snapped, then added under her breath, “that oaf wouldn’t know a toothbrush if it bit him. Such a horrid little Kerb!”

“He is four centimeters taller than you.”

“Phaw. In heels, maybe!”

She thought a moment, “then he was even taller.”

Edgas began to open his mouth, but Dibella waved a finger at him, “ЙҰЄT, this, we do not speak of.”

Valentina gave a gruff laugh, “well, it seems some things around here have not changed. 

Dibella opened her mouth. 

Dibella closed her mouth. 

Finally, she just groaned, burying her face in her hands, “are we there yet?”

As it turns out, they were. 

Bing-bong.

“You are now approaching your destination, self-drive will be required in five kilometers,” came a voice so cheery Valentina immediately wanted to do it incredible violence. 

Dibella let out a long sigh before reaching into her purse and handing the other two pairs of dark sunglasses, “ok, fun’s over for now. Like we discussed, hoods up, faces down, until we get inside. There are cameras everywhere around here and I do mean everywhere, and for good reason, too. You are not specifically breaking any rules by being here with me, but best if no one knows all the same. ДЙD ЯЄMЄMЬЄЯ, SPЗДK ФЙLҰ ЦSSДЯI.”

She glanced at Edgas, “wait, does he still sound like he has marbles in his mouth?”

“Rocks, yes,” Valentina giggled. Edgas scowled at them both. 

“Hmm, rocks... yes,” Dibella mused with a hand to her chin, “all right, on second thought, say nothing. Let me do all the talking. Alexa, limo tint please.”

“Limo tint applied,” the cheery voice said, as the windows darkened until they were nearly opaque. Dibella pressed a button, and her seat shifted and revolved until it was finally facing the right way. “Confirm self-drive.”

“I have the wheel,” said Dibella, and there was the slightest little shuffle as she began to steer. The kar slipped down a long, deserted road flanked by open fields where nothing seemed to be growing at all, gradually slowing to a more reasonable speed. In fact, there seemed to be nothing anywhere, in any direction. 

Eventually they came to an unremarkable-looking fence, chain link topped with razor wire. Sturdy, but not unusual. There was no guard post that Valentina could see, only a lonely gate across the road. They slowed as they approached, the gate rattled open on its own, and that was that. 

It had just slipped out of view behind them, when the next fence appeared on the horizon. This one was... far more significant. A good ten meters tall, at least, with rows of steel I-beams jutting up from the ground at an angle all along the base, and more coils of razor wire above. As they neared, she could see there were actually two fences, one just beyond the other. They approached the first, another, much heavier gate sliding open, and stopped in the space between. That gate slid closed, and the far one opened, like some kind of highly inefficient airlock. Quite imposing, but still... where were the guards?

For that matter, where was the prison? Surely such a thing was not easily—

The ground ahead suddenly dropped away, and there it was. The entire facility had been built in a deep circular depression in the land, almost like a crater on the Mün, hiding it from view until nearly inside. There was one more fence, this one more a wall, made from a lattice of centimeter-thick metal wire. From the color, it almost looked like titanium. All along the base here was a structure that looked a bit like the cow catcher on the front of a train, stretched to ridiculous proportions. And here, too, were there finally guards, looking down from high watchtowers. As they approached, Valentina couldn’t help but think the whole mess could even stop a tank.

A thought likely not lost on whoever built the place. 

A small squad of guards patrolled before a pair of solid, towering gates, festooned with signs extolling all the reasons why one should not want to be here. The guards themselves looked more like soldiers, clad in thick helmets and heavy flak vests. 

Edgas peered up at the doors, and the little lightning-bolt emblems there and on the fence, “what’re they keeping in there, King Kong?”

Old images flashed from her memory, trying to form a thought in Valentina’s head, something about a tyrant lizard king, “worse. The Imperium.” 

“Hush,” Dibella said, rolling down her window. The guard who approached had eyes every bit as hard and cold as stone, eyes that had seen, and the casual, almost disinterested way he slung his rifle declared this was no bumbling sentry from the decommissioned Fortress wall. He eyed Dibella, eyed the kar, then presented her a tablet. She waved her phone over it, looked at it intently, then pressed her hand to the screen for a moment. The only acknowledgement the guard gave was a curt nod, and with a bare flick of his eyes, others opened the massive gates. 

Once inside them, there didn’t seem to be anywhere to actually go, only the edge of the cavity looming ahead. Dibella pulled the nose of the car up to a railing straight ahead, then just as Valentina and Edgas were sharing a confused look, she felt her stomach drop. 

No, the whole thing was dropping. They were parked on a broad elevator platform descending at at a surprising speed for something so large. Valentina had wondered if the depression was an actual crater, but now it was clear that was not the case. Sheer walls of dull grey concrete rose all around the periphery. 

“The Imperium... is in there?” She gawked at the spotlights and menacing buildings beyond. Tyrant kings, indeed. 

“No,” Dibella said, “they were to be tried in an international court for crimes against Kermanity, and would likely have faced execution. But not a one of them made it that far,” she met Valentina’s eyes in the mirror, “accidents, you see. Here, are the underlings. The cogs that made the brutal machine work. Them, and worse.”

“How...” Valentina still struggled to wrap her mind around what she was seeing, “how did they build such a thing so quickly?”

“They didn’t, it’s been here for over twenty years.”

“What?” She slumped back into her seat, “but... we are not far from the Space Center, I... I lived here, I must have flown over this place many times a month, there was no...”

“You know how good they were at keeping secrets,” Dibella said, “this was a place for people they wanted forgotten, and now, I suppose, it is not so different.”

The platform landed with a thud, the railings continuing to sink into the ground. The kar hummed off, passing rows of buildings like dark sentinels. Each one was built at an eye-watering angle, seeming to loom outward. Grids of deeper shadows speckling the downcast facades indicated windows, and Valentina realized, that between that and the outer walls, whoever designed this place sought to deny those condemned within even a glimpse of open sky. 

At length they came to a more normal-looking building, if the austere and uninspired Imperious architecture could ever be considered normal, separated by its own set of fences and gates. Just across from it was an ancient-looking, overgrown graveyard. The kar glided into a space, and Valentina took to blankly staring at the door, wondering how in STДLIЙS STДCҢЄ one actually opened it. 

“Um, er... here, let me...” Edgas leaned across her, what little she could of see of his face going quite red, and touched an unremarkable-looking patch of remarkably finished wood. Then with a muffled clunk and soft whir of motors, the door slid upward, folding in on itself in a very remarkable feat of mechanical origami. She stepped out...

...And immediately cinched the hood of her sweatshirt a bit tighter. An icy breeze pulled at her as it marauded its way around a wall, despite the entire place’s sheltered location. She looked over at Edgas, tugging on his own coat. Yes, he seemed to be handling things quite well, considering...

But perhaps, only seemed... While the back of her own mind flip-flopped over itself trying to make sense of the last few hours, cut off from and only distantly watched by her conscious mind in that unique way of pilots, Edgas didn’t seem to be... processing at all. She could feel the weight pressing down on him, but—

A flash above caught her eye. Trying to look up without actually looking up, she thought for a moment a large building was falling out of the sky with one end on fire. Her eyes tracked it down the concrete canyon as it slipped in and out of the clouds above, before disappearing beyond the edge of the crater. 

That much, at least, she had understood, if she scarcely believed it. Dibella had explained the new economy rapidly taking shape across the wold... and far beyond it. The very craft she had once been sent to destroy had been repurposed to become the vanguard of a different sort of revolution. The same engine, copied, refined, evolved, had opened the gates to the solar system, and to coin a silly Foreigner phrase, there was gold in them thar hills. 

And not merely gold. Platinum, titanium, and iridium. Iron and nickel and copper. Wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, and all the materials to build new worlds. While scientists had salivated over access to the planets, entrepreneurs had made straight for very different sirens.  

Now, enormous tugs were constructed entirely in orbit. They were then pulled to the Mün, where their impossibly powerful nuclear reactors could be built and installed over less... sensitive environs. Finally, they made their way to Minmus to be fueled and provisioned from refined ice before heading out into deep space, where a dragon’s hoard of treasure awaited. 

The odd Kerbin-crosser at first, then the main belt where legend told of a place called Dres, and eventually even ancient Joolian Trojans became fair game, plucked from the heavens like the very Fruit of Life and returned to Kerbin and her moons to be smelted into the raw materials that drove the engines of this new industry. 

Today, asteroids made the world go round, and all the minutiae of tankers, colonies, crew shuttles, bureaucrats, and everything else such an endeavor demanded. 

Even industry itself was—

“Tia?” Dibella touched her arm, “are you alright? You look a bit, well, spacey...”

Valentina shook herself, looking around. Perhaps her mind wasn’t... quite as well controlled as she thought. 

“We should get inside,” said Dibella, motioning toward the doors, this is no place to linger.”

Inside seemed like no place to linger, either. As soon as she walked in, Valentina was hit by the stench of decades of rattail smoke, so thick and heavy that for a moment she thought she had simply walked into a wall. The actual walls were no more inviting, covered in peeling paint and set with deep gouges that left piles of grit on the floor, as if the walls themselves were slowly trying to escape one pocketful at a time. The ailing fluorescent overhead buzzed at its own misery, and the Head Nurse who came to greet them had all the charm and bedside manner of a colicky wolverine. She led them through a creaking set of doors to a flight of rusty wrought-iron stairs. 

“Have you come to dangle a pardon in front of his face, now that he’s on his deathbed?” she huffed as they went, pausing often just to breathe, “the Warden sometimes does that with the others, is good fun.” She followed with a long, raspy cackle. Or perhaps she was just choking on her own tongue. 

“Er... no,” Dibella kept her voice diplomatically... diplomatic, “I am here as a... favor to an old colleague. State business, you understand.”

“Oh, of coarse!” she probably meant course, but everything about this kerbelle seemed... coarse, “no shortage of that around here.”

At length they reached the top, Valentina growing concerned someone was going to have to carry the Head Nurse if the climb continued much longer. Down this hall, either the paint had entirely peeled away or no one had ever bothered to paint it in the first place. The floors were covered in an assortment of grunge a scientist like Edgas would probably find fascinating, while the concrete walls appeared to have been scrubbed exactly once in their sad existence. 

The nurse pushed through a door that positively screamed, into a long gallery lined with surprisingly high windows. Before each one was a bed or cot, some with machines beeping away, the occasional raspy cough the only other sound breaking the sepulchral stillness. Valentina tugged her sweatshirt closer against the chill in the air. 

“He’s over there in number three, it’s the drafty one,” the nurse smiled, or at least bared her stained teeth. 

“Yes, thank you,” Dibella eyed her, “er, a bit if privacy, if you please? State business and all...”

“Oh, yes, of course,” another hacking cackle, “not like any of these other PЦTIЙSKIS are going to go telling secrets.” She fished a rattail out of her blouse then leaned up against the wall beside the door and proceeded to puff away. 

Valentina frowned at her, but made her way towards the designated bed. Which... appeared to be unoccupied. Had they perhaps moved him? There were no machines, and the bed was empty save for some rumpled—

A hand drew slowly to her mouth. The Kommissar was a mountain of a kerb, hewn from the very rock itself, awesome and terrifying with piercing eyes that bored into one’s soul. 

The creature lying here was hardly recognizable as even a Kerbal. Little more than a skull devoid of any trace of hair, with skin like thin parchment stretched across the bone. Breath came in thin, rattly gasps, barely moving the filthy sheet above its hollow chest. She approached with a fear unlike any she had felt before, as if the mere disturbance of the air by her movement might cause this pitiful thing, little more than a corpse, to crumble into dust. 

And then... its eyes flicked open, drilling into her and removing all doubt. 

“Comrade Kommissar...”

To her further surprise, his dry, cracked lips split into a wide, humorless smile. 

“You live. I knew you lived,” came a voice dry and ragged like a tomb, “you are not one so easily cast aside.”

“Comrade Kommissar,” she scarcely knew where to begin, “what... what has happened to you?!”

“They tell me, ‘do not smoke the rattails,’ give you an abnormal brain,” he raised one skeletal hand from a fold of sheet, and weakly tapped at his head, leaving a bruise, “brain is strong. The lungs... not so much.”

Beside her, Dibella gasped, spun around, “why is this kerb not on oxygen?! Where are the monitors?”

The Head Nurse shrugged, taking a long drag before calling out from across the room, “I would not waste the resources on such as he. Besides, he refuses any further care.” She went back to smoking and digging at something unpleasant under her fingernail. 

Valentina threw a scowl her way that might of have frozen her solid, had she been looking, but quickly turned back to the Kommissar, “Comrade, I... I failed, I could not stop what was to happen... but this kerb,” she grabbed Edgas by the arm and pulled him over, “he is the hero. He has looked into the darkness and driven it back.”

The Kommissar stared at him for a long time, breath rattling and gurgling, but those cold, considering eyes bored into him. 

Finally, he said, “and so we meet again... Krakensbane.”

The other three traded confused glances, Edgas speaking after a nudge from Valentina, “er, um... well, I’m pretty sure we’ve never met before, uh, sir...” his eyes wandered around the delirious patients, and the inattentive nurse, “but, um, yeah... the Kraken’s gone, it can’t threaten anyone again.”

“So it is true, then,” the Kommissar nodded, head barely moving, “you poor fool.”

“Um, excuse me?” Edgas blinked. He turned to the others, “did... did I mispronounce something?” 

A bony hand seized his arm with such strength he yelped, spinning back to face those coldly burning eyes.

“Now, Kerberos sleeps,” the Kommissar gurgled, “and the gates of All-Hell lay unguarded.”

“Er...” Edgas tried to free his arm, to no avail, “well I’m pretty sure no one would want to go in there, anyway... right?” He offered an awkward smile. 

“It is not what lies without, but what lies within...” the Kommissar’s hand fell away, the fire draining from his eyes. 

Valentina frowned at Edgas, “Comrade... what must we do?”

“Is so much left to say...” each breath seemed to come harder than the last. And then, to her great shock, he began speaking Kerblish, “fly, you fools. You will find shelter with the root of evil, the false hero points the way.”

Once again, three pairs of eyes stared at one another in confusion. 

“What does that mean?” Valentina asked as gently as she could, “we... do not understand.”

The Kommissar’s eyes remained fixed on the ceiling, or perhaps somewhere far beyond it, the rattle in his narrow chest growing ever louder, “strange... that I came into this world with nothing... and I leave with this stupendous caravan of sin... and I am afraid...” his eyes drifted closed.

“One... more... breath...” his eyes shot open, his chest surging one last time.

“Glory to Arstotzka.”

Valentina and Dibella gasped, the withered form beneath the sheets crumpled to nothing, and the final trace of ice melted from eyes now blank and empty. 

For a long time, the room stood still and silent, until Dibella came forward, closing the Kommissar’s unseeing eyes and pulling the stained sheet up over his face. 

Only for it to be yanked away again, “oh good, is he dead then?” the Head Nurse was practically beaming, “these sheets are needed elsewhere.”

“Have a little respect for the dead,” Dibella said dryly. 

The nurse chortled as if she’d just told the funniest joke in the world, “nonsense, I’ll have the janitors throw this out with the rest of the garbage, to be burned.”

“You will do such thing!” Dibella snapped, rounding on her, “you will see that he has a proper burial in the prison graveyard, in an unmarked plot.”

The nurse finally seemed to realize no one else was laughing, “what? Why? You would give that favor to one such as he?”

“Yes. Because we must be better.”

“That kerb was a butcher! He and his masters were responsible for millions of deaths!”

“Are we so different?” Dibella eyed her up and down, “you are old enough. You knew. I knew. We all knew. And we did nothing. So do not put yourself so high above him, your hands are as dirty as anyone else’s.”

The nurse recoiled as if struck, “we were ruled with an iron fist, what could we have done?”

Dibella leaned in, “we could have tried. And now, we have been given a second chance. Where they were inequitable, we must be just. Where they were cruel, we must be humane. Where they condemned, we must give pardon. We must do all this and more, or we are no better, and will come to no better end.” 

She held the other kerbelle’s shocked gaze, “will will not move beyond our past by becoming what we hate.”

The nurse could only gape at her, her mouth flopping open and closed, rattail forgotten in her fingers. Finally, she rallied.

“You... you cannot give me orders! You are no longer in office, you have no authority here!” she crossed her arms, a smug grin settling on her face, and took another drag from  the butt.

Dibella’s eyes narrowed, and she drew herself up to her full, diminutive height. Something cold and powerful seemed to wash across her features, as if drawing upon the faded essence of the figure on the cot, until the nurse shrank back from her towering form.

“Perhaps not,” she said, barely more than a whisper, “but what I do have is a little black book of phone numbers of those who still owe me favors. It would be a shame if the Ministry of Health stopped by for a surprise inspection...”

The nurse drew further back, yet the distance between the two seemed to shrink.

“...a shame, if all the many violations somehow traced back to your department...

The nurse’s backside hit the wall, she ran one hand across it trying to disappear into it.

“...a shame... if you wound up in here yourself,” Dibella plucked the smoldering rattail from the other kerbelle’s lips, crushing it out between her fingers until it sizzled.

“Y-y-yes ma’am, yes ma’am!” the nurse’s head bobbed up and down at a frightening pace, “right away!” She oozed out from Dibella’s shadow and clopped off down the hall. 

Whatever had come over Dibella drained away as she watched the other kerbelle depart, leaving her looking somehow defeated.

"Whoah..." breathed Edgas.

She knelt down, retrieving the sheet and draping it back over the Kommissar's body.

"Could... could you really do that?" Valentina approached, "have her thrown in prison for this?"

Dibella stared off down the hall for a time, her face unreadable.

"No," she said at length, "at worst there would be a reprimand in her record." She turned to Valentina, offering a wan smile, "but we are still Ussari after all, and some fears die very hard."

She gave the Kommissar a final look, "come, this is not a good place. We should not linger."

 

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1 hour ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

"Whoah..." breathed Edgas. KSK

Yeah, that was spot on. Loved the AutoWay sequence - I've said it before but I'll say it again - you do near-future technology so well.  Little bit of relationship comedy to lighten the mood and then rounding off with a distinctly less-than-comic look at the relics of the past... and portents of things to come.

Whoahh.

But Burdous Kerman in... No, this we do not speak of. :) 

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Well I should really finish Whispers already so I can move to this masterpiece.

PS: How long should Revelations be?

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As always, a very enjoyable read. I feel the romantic comedy is going to be interesting when that is resolved. Jealous Val is also... very calm. Also Burdous's exploits could make for some intersting stories, given the small snippets given here and there.

I feel spoiled though, two chapters in about as many days? This is.... Not normal! usually its a good month. or more. I'm not complaining though about the increased rate.

PDF has also been updated.

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