CatastrophicFailure

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

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I cannot tell a lie - the first paragraph made me smile. The rest was pretty darn good too! :)

 

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Just now, KSK said:

I cannot tell a lie - the first paragraph made me smile. The rest was pretty darn good too! :)

 

Ha same! It's a great little series. Almost as good as mine

Just kidding. Shameless self-PROMOTION! :D 

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23 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Wormwood out.

Yay moar! This seems a bit like why the calculations were needed earlier. 

Also I was curious what Wormwood was and this is what I found.

450px-Artemisia_absinthium_P1210748.jpg

Apparently not that toxic, unlike the sister ship.... 

Edited by qzgy
picture didn't embed from mobile. curse you clunky mobile interface.

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22 hours ago, KSK said:

I cannot tell a lie - the first paragraph made me smile. The rest was pretty darn good too! :)

 

Once again you’ve been blatantly ripped off an inspiration. :D

18 hours ago, qzgy said:

Yay moar! This seems a bit like why the calculations were needed earlier. 

Also I was curious what Wormwood was and this is what I found. 

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Artemisia_absinthium_P1210748.jpg

Apparently not that toxic, unlike the sister ship.... 

Quite so. And it seems like, as usual, I’ve forgotten to properly thank you, @KSK, @Patupi, @0111narwhalz and anyone else who assisted with keeping my brain in my head. :blush:

Wormwood, depending on the variety, contains chemicals that can act as an antiseptic, or drive you temporarily mad and potentially even kill, but traditionally is known for its... bitterness. :wink:

Speaking of which, next chapter is already underway, but I’m expecting another crazy long one here. :confused:

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1 hour ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Wormwood, depending on the variety, contains chemicals that can act as an antiseptic, or drive you temporarily mad and potentially even kill, but traditionally is known for its... bitterness. :wink:

Neat. Didn't know that.

1 hour ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Speaking of which, next chapter is already underway, but I’m expecting another crazy long one here. :confused:

Crazy long chapters seem like a given from this point. Short chapters seem to be the exceptions.

58 minutes ago, 0111narwhalz said:

I'm pretty sure one of the prophetic passages mentioned a star named Wormwood.

Twice, in fact. Prophetic thingies on chapters 22 and 25.

Quote

Behold, I saw a dead 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

Quote

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.

WAIT A SECOND.

I have... theories.

Spoiler

More like one actually.

We have thie great big ship near (presumably) Minmus or so right? Those have those engine Burdous developed in Shadows, or a derivative of it. These were torch ship engines, emphasis on the torch. And those, probably, could look a bit like stars or whatever since their big, bright and give of light when burning. So maybe.... assuming these passages aren't just window dressing and are actually clues to future events in the story, this ship ends up crashing on Kerbin or some other inhabited planet, killing through bitterness because of like radiation or something. Or toxic stuff.

ALSO. Looking up that word portent, its either a Seattle marketing company or an omen. This kinda implies that whatever happens with this ship might be just the start of the rest of this Kraken business. Or maybe it is a marketing firm.

ALSO WAIT. Didn't that plague of whaguggle-itis theoretically kill or was expected to kill about 1/3rd of Kerbin's population? ( all 2 billion of the third, a feat considering it seems Kerbin has the same population as earth.... totally unrelated spoiler ahead about population densities.....) So... is this (this referring to the ship Wormwood from the interlude) another part in the end of all of kerbal kind, or at the very least, a part of it.

Spoiler

The population of humans on earth right now is about 7.6 billion people. This is spread out over about 148,000,000 sq km (source:https://hypertextbook.com/facts/2001/DanielChen.shtml). Not necessarily evenly, but spread out over that. So the average population density is about 51.53 people per square kilometer. Kerbin however, is much smaller. It has a surface area of 4,524,000 square kilometers according to the wiki. Thats about 32 times less or something like that. And that should I think also include water area as well, not just land area. Judging from flat maps, Kerbin has an about 50/50 split of water and land. So lets say is has 2,250,000 square kilometers of land. That means then for 6 billion kerbals, the global population density would be 2,666 and two thirds kerbals per square kilometer. This is less dense than most major cities (I would say comparing to a list of population densities of NY online...), but it is more dense than most countries on Earth (according to wikipedia, the only countries that beat it are Macau, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Singapore, and Monaco, and some of those aren't quite countries). So its pretty dense.

Anyway that was kind of neat to learn. Dunno what to do with this info.

Soo...... I dont know. Its not that fleshed out. Maybe more content will help with that....

That wink too. @CatastrophicFailure this is getting quite interesting......its also 3 in the morning and my brain isn't functioning well maybe I should sleep yeah.... ill go do that.

 

PDF has also been updated. i swear its slowly killing my word program. all 98750 words of it.

Edited by qzgy
i mathed wrong.

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And I see... that I’ve managed to not only unintentionally recycle my intro passages different translations, yeah that’s it! but once again autocorrect has betrayed me. That’s supposed to read dRead portents. Sigh. 

Yes, sleep sounds like a good idea, now. I should try that. 

 

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2 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

And I see... that I’ve managed to not only unintentionally recycle my intro passages different translations, yeah that’s it! but once again autocorrect has betrayed me. That’s supposed to read dRead portents. Sigh. 

Yes, sleep sounds like a good idea, now. I should try that. 

Studded damp autocorrect.

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22 hours ago, qzgy said:

The population of humans on earth right now is about 7.6 billion people. This is spread out over about 148,000,000 sq km (source:https://hypertextbook.com/facts/2001/DanielChen.shtml). Not necessarily evenly, but spread out over that. So the average population density is about 51.53 people per square kilometer. Kerbin however, is much smaller. It has a surface area of 4,524,000 square kilometers according to the wiki. Thats about 32 times less or something like that. And that should I think also include water area as well, not just land area. Judging from flat maps, Kerbin has an about 50/50 split of water and land. So lets say is has 2,250,000 square kilometers of land. That means then for 6 billion kerbals, the global population density would be 2,666 and two thirds kerbals per square kilometer. This is less dense than most major cities (I would say comparing to a list of population densities of NY online...), but it is more dense than most countries on Earth (according to wikipedia, the only countries that beat it are Macau, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Singapore, and Monaco, and some of those aren't quite countries). So its pretty dense.

Anyway that was kind of neat to learn. Dunno what to do with this info.

Curse you for making me do math right before bed. Again:sticktongue:

But anyways, had to run some of my own numbers, here. So yes, the current population of my Kerbin is was around 6 billion. Now, this is in a 6.4-scale system, so that gives a surface area of around 185,300km2. Like you said, figuring a rough 50% landmass, that’s 92 million-ish Square klicks, giving a population density around 65 people per square kilometer. Given that Kerbals are half the size of humans, this probably feels more like 32/km2. Now figure into that the fact that some places are much more densely populated than others (I based Bangkong’s density largely on Kowloon Walled City), and you get some huge tracts of land with nary a soul about. 

Which would probably be a good place to run for about now, as the Black Horse is preparing to ride out.  nailbite.gif

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7 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Curse you for making me do math right before bed. Again:sticktongue:

You know, I was going to go to bed before you posted this too. But uh.. sorry about that? I was bored.or procrastinating.

8 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

But anyways, had to run some of my own numbers, here. So yes, the current population of my Kerbin is was around 6 billion. Now, this is in a 6.4-scale system, so that gives a surface area of around 185,300km2. Like you said, figuring a rough 50% landmass, that’s 92 million-ish Square klicks, giving a population density around 65 people per square kilometer. Given that Kerbals are half the size of humans, this probably feels more like 32/km2. Now figure into that the fact that some places are much more densely populated than others (I based Bangkong’s density largely on Kowloon Walled City), and you get some huge tracts of land with nary a soul about. 

Ahh, I did not remember this was in a 6.4x system. That would make the 6 billion a lot more reasonable from an overcrowding stand point. And as you said, the population isn't evenly distributed across everywhere. Actually seems pretty reasonably earth-like. Also, the walled city is actually kinda neat to learn about. Thanks for showing me that!

12 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Which would probably be a good place to run for about now, as the Black Horse is preparing to ride out.  nailbite.gif

Yay? oh wait that's something to avoid.....

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The Black Horse

Then I heard the second Living Being saying, 
“Come, and see,” and I saw, and behold: a Black Horse,
And he that sat on it held a pair of scales in his hand.
He spoke unto the mountains, “Fall,” and unto the seas, he said, “Rise up,”
And thus brought forth every manner of calamity upon the world,
And swept one-third of the people from the land.


Chapter 27: Hurt

Valentina sat, in truth nearly collapsed onto the soft-carpeted floor next to the pilot’s column. Her head fell back against the panel with a muted thump, red-rimmed eyes squeezed shut, face drawn and weary. 

“How are they?” Dibella asked softly.

“Asleep, finally. I think.” Valentina didn’t look up, “Burdous is... not hurt. Not physically.” She shook her head, eyes still closed. “His suit probably saved his life. He says... armed kerbs stormed the place, knew exactly what they were doing. He was in the hangar, heard shooting and yelling. He hid in the reactor module, used the suit to get inside the containment vessel. They must have cut the coolant lines at some point, the reactor overheated and began to meltdown— way, way down. He was left clinging to the side of the melt hole when the suit finally broke down.”

“What about Edgas?”

Valentina tugged the hood of his old sweatshirt a little lower, “he is strong. He will...” she sighed, “survive.”

Dibella turned to her, “and what about you?

She laid her head back again, eyes hidden, “I want to be angry, but now... I am just so tired. And you? Are you sure about where we are going?”

Dibella gave a mirthless laugh, “no. It’s... barely even a hunch, on a bad translation. But... I do not know where else to go. We cannot go back to the city,” she tapped the fuel gauge for the umpteenth time, “on way or the other.”

Valentina peeked out from under the hood, looking out through the glazed nose at the terrain drifting slowly past far below. She hated flying this high at all, they were a sitting duck, easily visible for hundreds of kilometers to anyone watching, but Dibella was right. If they tried to fly any lower, they’d never make it... anywhere. Not that here was much better. Rolling hills covered in towering evergreens, here and there spiked with a maple or birch already deep in their fall colors, stretched out in every direction to the horizon. Landing anywhere in this, even vertically, would be a nightmare. And if the land truly was as familiar as it looked, the real nightmares, the hungry ones, would only come along after landing. And if Dibella’s hunch was wrong...”

“Who would do such a thing?” Dibella jolted her wandering mind back, “and why?” Dibella shook her head, “it was just a research station! Nothing much of value there, what could they possibly have been after that would drive them to—“ her throat caught, and she shuddered. 

Then they both jumped, as something fell in the back with a loud thud.

“This.”

They turned. Burdous was upright, lifting a metal box with a hemispheric lump on the back that looked far too much like a skull off the floor. He stared at it a moment before stowing it away in the closet with what remained of his suit. 

“What is... that?” Dibella asked, confused. 

“IVAN.” Valentina squeezed her fingers against her temples, “PЦTIЙ, he is right. Of course they would come looking for that. They would have known it returned to Kerbin, it was only a matter of time.” Her head thunked back against the panel again, “I should have known.” 

“That can’t be right,” Dibella groaned, as if trying to convince herself, “thee are rules, laws! If... if we had some evidence, perhaps I could...”

“Whatever there was was burned back at the base,” Valentina said, “except for the message.” one hand curled into a fist, “and ‘anyone could have done that,’” the other hand followed, “I would not bet against the bullets matching the pistols the Ussari frontier dwellers favor. All conveniently untraceable.” She looked to Dibella, “just a trade dispute gone bad, you see.”

“You are starting to sound like a politician,” Dibella frowned at her, still desperately trying to believe herself, “but... there are satellites, if we maybe had some video—“

“We might,” Burdous said as he approached, stifling a cough. 

Valentina thought he looked like a dead kerb walking, his cheeks sunken in, little blotches turning to sores on his lips. And his eyes looked a thousand times more drained than she knew she felt. She stood, half readying to catch him, one eye... bulge raised. 

“Edgas wasn’t big on cameras,” he explained as he fumbled with something small in his hand, “but he did have some on the outside, and one in the hangar. I had the suit download the feeds before the power went out.” He let out another cough, then looked over the wall, “do you have a monitor or something, Debbie?”

Valentina just heard Dibella give a muffled choke. She set the autopilot, then rose, her own face pinched in a diplomatic smile. With the touch of a leather-covered panel, it slid away, revealing a large screen. 

“Let’s see,” Burdous peered at the console as if struggling to focus, “here...” He plugged in a tiny memory card, and the screen came to life. He then plopped into the nearest seat, rubbing at the wide, flat spot between his eyes. 

“Wait, what?” Edgas seemed to rouse himself from the back, “you actually got that?”

Burdous mumbled vague assent as Edgas worked his way forward. 

Giving them both a concerned look, Dibella tapped at the screen. An image appeared, grainy and just a bit tilted, showing a wing of the polar base below and endless white stretching to the dark horizon. Then, as they watched, little storms seemed to billow up out on the snow. Tiny at first, they began to swell as they rushed towards the base at astonishing speed. The air just above the mini-blizzards appeared to shimmer, almost like a heat haze despite the freezing cold. 

The patches of swirling snow stopped just beyond the base, and before their eyes the air above them seemed to just split open, dozens of white-clad figures nearly invisible against the snow streaming out. Within seconds, one pressed something against a hatchway, and it blew inward, the figures rushing inside behind it. 

Dibella poked at the screen again, changing the picture. Now the view came from inside the hangar on the other side of the base, opposite the airlock, just above head height. A section of the towering main door just beside it exploded inward, white forms flowing through before the smoke had even begun to clear, spraying rifle fire seemingly at random. Someone in the hangar ran for cover, arms trying vainly to shield his head. 

“Those maniacs!” Valentina spat. 

“No,” Dibella said softly, brow pinched in thought, “they are not trying to hit anyone, their aim is to scare them. Drive them.” She looked at Valentina, “they wanted prisoners.”

Before she could comment further, one of the invaders approached the camera, looking right into it and grinning below its mask, and Valentina spat another curse. She could never forget that scarred flesh, those teeth filed to sharp points, or that feral, eyeless leer. 

“Valar Arctûctis.”

“Wait, what?” Burdous popped up, his eyes suddenly clear, “what did you say?! How do you even...?”

“Excuse me,” Dibella broke in, “valar who?”

He looked at her, “the Children of the Kraken.”

“Layland’s personal goon squad,” Valentina said with a sneer. 

Burdous peered at the screen, “it is them... but, what would they be doing so far from Cerima? And why—“

A new figure appeared in the smoking hole in the doorway, black as night, towering, imposing. Fists planted on hips, it seemed to observe the pandemonium with a sense of satisfaction, its features hidden beneath a wide-brimmed hat. Now it, too, approached the camera, raising its face to grin up at it. 

And Valentina screamed, recoiling backwards. 

“No! No, that is not possible, he is dead!” she pleaded, head shaking back and forth though her eyes remained fixed on the screen, “I watched him die!”

“It... it can’t be!” Burdous raised a hand to his mouth, “he’s been dead longer than, well, you,” he nudged Valentina, who didn’t seem to notice. 

Edgas nodded, “he... does look familiar...” 

“Who?!” Dibella shrieked. 

Now Valentina looked at her, “J.R. Kerman.”

“He was a headhunter for Layland Kerman’s inner circle,” Burdous explained, “recruiting for... er,” he glanced at Edgas, “a secret project.”

Dibella crossed her arms, “you mean the Jool ship you and Edgas stole?”

His eyes grew wide, “wait, how do you know about that, Debbie?”

“Will you please stop calling me Debbie?” Dibella said through clenched teeth. 

Burdous didn’t seem to hear, “and how do you seem to know J.R. so well?” he asked Valentina. 

She frowned, “he tried to recruit me, too, and was about to kill me because I would not play his game, when that research lab exploded.”

Burdous looked from Valentina, to Edgas, to Dibella, and back to Valentina, then screwed his eyes shut and rubbed at the wide wide, flat patch between them, “ok, we all need to get on the same page sometime.”

“Wait, look...” Edgas pointed to the screen, where the white-suited thugs were now shoving a line of people out of the blasted door, hands held over their heads, “why... why would they even do that? Why didn’t they just take what they wanted and leave?”

Valentina felt the turmoil flash behind his eyes. She carefully reached over and took his hand. 

“Information,” Dibella said, looking ill, “about you.”

“What? No...” he gave a little shake of his head, “my guys would never tell them that!”

Dibella didn’t meet his eyes, “I hope for their sake they did, and quickly.”

“No... no they wouldn’t...”

At length, Dibella did look up, somehow managing to look even more miserable than he, “Edgas, I do not know these kerbs... but I know their type. Whatever they wanted to know, they found out. It’s only a matter of time before they find us, as well”

Valentina felt something in Edgas darken, collapsing in on itself like a dying star. She looked at him, then felt something else surge from within, as if, like a star, that very collapse had given it energy to go on.

“Wait... wait!” he looked up, eyes gaining focus, “if... it they tracked us back to Kermangrad, then that will lead them to Katya, she’s in danger!”

“On it,” Dibella said, pulling out her phone, “hmm, having trouble getting a signal, even the satellite is... there, she’s moving.”

Boop-beep.

Valentina bit back a petty surge of anger, “just... just like that?”

Dibella looked at her, “politics in the new Ussari have not always been so... cordial. We all knew a time might come when we would have to disappear quickly, so we set up signals. I have a trusted contact at the Nefcarkalandern embassy, he will get her out of the country to a safe house.”

Boop-beep.

Burdous looked up, “what’s that?”

“What’s what?” Dibella looked at him, confused. 

Boop-beep.

Valentina’s hand let go. 

Somewhere, deep in the back of her mind, a thought clamored for attention. Barely a memory, a memory of a memory, a muffled fragment of another life... dross from a training film, perhaps, an overheard quip in the cadet’s mess... something unsubstantial, long filed away in her pilot’s brain, something a test pilot need never trouble herself with. 

Her blood ran cold. 

Boop-beep... beepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeep!

Hang on to something!” she screamed as she dove at the controls. She vaulted over the seat, kicking her left foot back and cutting the throttles, one hand catching the wheel so her own momentum pirouetted her around the column, throwing her down in front of it where she wrapped her stubby legs around the base and squeezed the wheel forward with all her strength. 

In an instant, the ceiling became the floor, everything and everyone not bolted down slamming upward against it. 

There was a flash and whump. Lights flickered, leather ripped, wood paneling splintered and jagged spiderwebbing holes appeared in the nose plexiglass as the air was torn from Valentina’s lungs. She let it go, that pilot’s brain mentally counting down the seconds she would have until she passed out from hypoxia. Icy, screaming wind blasted her from dozens of ruptures as alarm klaxons rang out. 

Squeezing the wheel in a tight embrace a moment longer, she shoved it back, pushed a rudder pedal from behind to kick the stricken plane into a plummeting spiral. She let her unconscious mind drift off to that place, that void of clarity where pilots’ minds went when thought became irrelevant and only instinct mattered. Her legs and one hand released, allowing the motion of the craft to now swing her back the other way, slowly, dream-like, pivoting around the wheel until she was in the seat. 

“I am going to pull level, get strapped in!” 

She didn’t level out, instead recovering the spin into a wide, spiraling circle that kept down roughly directed at the floor. Checklists ran through her mind in the background while her hands danced across the controls, somehow fastening her own harness in the process. She heard the other clicks, rolled the craft over again, one eye watching the altimeter spin down toward life-sustaining thicker air, but noticed a curious shadow cast high on the wall. 

“Burdous!” she cried out, “get in the seat!”

Burdous Kerman was clinging to the ceiling just above the galley like some sort of bizarre four-armed spider. 

“I got more time in weird gravity than anyone else alive,” he said, skittering over the surface in a most disquieting way, “and you need a flight engineer right now!”

Boop-beep...beepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeep!

Her eyes darted around, “where’s it coming from?!”

Burdous clambered to a window, “nine o’clock high! Turn it into it, keep the power off and dive!”

“What?!” shrieked Dibella.

Valentina spat a curse, but did as he said, making a hard turn until the wings groaned in protest as the altimeter finally dropped through 3000 meters. Somewhere above, there was another whump! and she heard fragments bounce harmlessly off the hull. 

“Heat seekers, older ones,” Burdous began ripping at leather panel, “easy to spoof the sensor if you go towards it.”

“How do you know that?” Dibella scowled.

“Because if they were radar-guided we’d have seen them coming, if they were newer all-aspect numbers we’d be dead already,” he switched to pulling at a different panel, “where the flarp is the warning receiver in this thing?!”

“Over there, behind the painting,” Dibella pointed.

“Why’d you put it there?!”

“That’s how it came!”

“But why—?” he shook his hands at the mass of wood and leather covering it. 

“They said they couldn’t remove it without re-wiring that entire section.”

He blinked, “I think you need a better A&P, Debbie.”

Will you stop calling me Debbie?!” Dibella shrieked. 

“Oh, come on! Do you have any idea what ‘Dibella’ means in Yamaine?”

“It’s not even spelled the same!”

Valentina roared over both of them, “could you two save it ‘til we are not having missiles shot at us?!

“Don’t think we need to worry about that anymore,” Burdous said, peering out the window again.

“Why?”  

He dove to the floor, “because they’re switching to guns!”

A swarm of white-hot tracer shells ripped through the cabin, shredding metal and glass and leather, sending debris ricocheting around in a maelstrom of chaos. Valentina ducked despite the futility, and felt something warm and wet spatter across her neck, leaving red streaks across the consoles. 

“Is anyone hurt?” she yelled, finally pulling out of the dive, “Burdous?”

“I’m good!”

“Dibella?”

“No, I’m ok!”

“Edgas?”

. . .

“Edgas?” she craned around to find looking very pale.

“I don’t feel so good,” he said.

“They hit a hydraulic line!” Burdous called out, “hang on, I’ll try to— incoming!”

Once again the cabin erupted into pandemonium. Valentina banked hard, dove again, saw the trees rushing up. She could feel the controls getting heavier as the Converter’s lifeblood leaked out. Then something screeched past the nose borne on twin pillars of fire. It was so black, it seemed to suck in all the light around, like hole in the very sky, a blurry diamond-shaped patch of nothing.

“That was a MiK-37,” Dibella called, her voice rife with dread, “all carbon fiber, they don’t show up on radar at all! But... no one has those but the Ussari Air Force, why would they be shooting at us?!

Valentina didn’t answer. It took all she had to pull away as they skimmed across the tree tops, the controls getting heavier and heavier. She had to ease in the engine vectors for the last few degrees. Down in the boughs rushing past, she could just see flashes beady little eyes staring back. 

Cannot land, she thought, even if I could get the plane down in that, it looks far too much like the woods back home, in the taiga...

More tracers streaked past, just off the left wing, ripping mighty trees to shreds. 

“Can anyone see how many?” she yelled.

Burdous scuttled back to a panel he’d been ripping at, “I see three, I guess, blips on the warning receiver, they’re still trying to lock on but they’re too close.“

Three.

She knew she couldn’t keep this up much longer. But there would be no escape this time. There was no river, no city to hide in, and no nimble little police VTOL. She couldn’t possibly outfly them, those were high-performance fighter jets, and this

Her eyes popped wide despite the wind blast rushing at her face. 

This... was a Converter.

Now her eyes narrowed, as a wicked grin split her face. She backed down the throttles.  

“Wait, what’re you doing?!” Burdous hopped from one window to another, hung from the ceiling and stuck his head up into the little navigator’s dome on top, “he’s right on our tail, he’s getting closer!”

More tracers shot past. 

“Good.”

“What?! No, nonononononono! You’re not gonna do that ‘hit the brakes, he’ll fly right by’ thing, are you? That only works in movies!

She backed the throttles a little more, “counting on it.”

“Ahhhhh, craaaaap!” Burdous finally took a seat. 

Valentina let her eyes slip closed, reaching out beyond her conscious self... where someone was prattling on about mass and acceleration again... she banked right, jinked left... then flew straight and level for a heartbeat to bait the trap. 

In one perfectly balanced move, her hand jammed the throttles and the vector nozzles all the way forward. 

Groaning like a leviathan, the Converter came to a complete stop in mid air, then began flying backwards.

There was a whump and a brittle crunch, and she opened her eyes to see little flaming bits of carbon fiber airplane sailing past the nose plexiglas. 

“Holey mother of—“ Burdous swore. 

Still traveling backwards, the Converter slowly flipped over onto its back for a moment, before rolling upright and climbing skyward. 

“Is everyone okay?” Valentina called again. 

“I’m good!”

“That was incredible!”

. . .

“Edgas?” she peered around. 

Clinging to the armrests, Edgas’s knuckles were as white as his face had been, which was now decidedly green... er, “really not feeling good...”

She strained at the controls, “Burdous! Can you try and lock down that hydraulic leak?”

“On it!” he sailed across the cabin. 

Another round of shells followed him, pinging and pranging and ripping more holes in the hull. 

Valentina cranked the wheel, the craft shuddered and groaned... and miraculously responded, rolling over several times as it climbed before she pushed it over into a long arc, levitating everything inside. 

“Got it!” said Burdous. 

“Good work!” said Dibella 

Hurk.” said Edgas. 

“Gaaaaaaaaah!” Burdous wailed as he floated, “its everywhere! Dear Kerm, it’s in my ear! I don’t even have ears! Edgas, if you’ve ruined another shirt, so help me—!”

Valentina squeezed her eyes for a bare moment, trying to blink the acrid sting away. If only she could weaponize that...

Her eyes popped open again. 

“Burdous! Do you remember that thing in Klatch?”

“What? Why would you even bring that up now?!” he squealed, “I told you, I had no idea it was illegal to wear a dress there!” 

Then added defensively, “and I was killing it too, until that cop showed up.”

Her face squeezed into a hard wince, “no, no, the conference! The bus ride? From the airport?

“Oh,” he said, then his own eyes widened, “oh yeah! Gotcha!”

One last roll, then Valentina jammed the throttles past their stops to full emergency power, pulling the VTOL vertical.  

“No, what are you doing?!” Dibella cried out, “those jets have a 60 kilometer ceiling, you can’t out-climb them, even in this!”

“Not planning to,” Valentina took a nervous look at the warning lights beginning to blink on the panel, “Burdous?”

He leapt from seatback to seatback like a stubby, green monkey, ending up sprawled on the airstair-hatch at the rear. 

“Ready!” he yanked off an access panel, peered through the porthole, “we’ve got another one coming in, six o’clock! He’s keeping his distance this time.”  

A burst of fire streamed past. 

Valentina kicked the plane into a slow corkscrew, “on your mark, ready?”

“Keep it steady, almost there...”

The altimeter spun higher and higher. 

“How much longer?”

“Aaalmost there...” he wrapped his hand around a lever. 

An oil pressure warning came on. ITT temperature. Chip detector.

“We are running out of sky!”

“Bombs away!” Burdous yelled, and pulled...

***

Ghost 3 held his course, and his distance. He made a slight adjustment to his gunsight, let the tracking radar correct out a little more error. His finger tightened around the trigger. One more burst and this would all be—

The target seemed to disappear into an oddly-colored cloud of mist. 

Before his brain could fully comprehend, thick, foamy liquid splattered all over his canopy, instantly freezing into a thick layer of blue ice in the thin air. He cursed himself, cursed the engineers who designed this thing as he fumbled for the deicing switch and wiper. 

There, it’s clearing, now to—

Oh, PЦTIЙ!

The Converter’s stubby wingtip cleaved through his jet like a pudding. 

***

“Do not need to out-climb, when can out-fall,” Valentina allowed herself the hint of a smirk as she kept the Converter pointed straight down, engines idling, dropping out of the sky like the proverbial stone. 

And likely out-falling that as well.

“Woo-hoo!” hollered Burdous. 

“Hah! And to think Katya is always bugging me to get the tank pumped more often,” said Dibella. 

“Hurk,” said Edgas. 

With feeling.

“Oh for flarp’s sake!” squealed Burdous, “what the heck have you been eating, anyways? Ugh, I think it’s gonna eat through the hull!” 
 
How can you tell, with all the holes already in it? Valentina nudged the controls to at least get it all on the floor, anyway. 

“Let us not forget there’s one more still out there,” fear crept back into Dibella’s voice. She peeked out the window, “Tia... you’ve got smoke from number two..”

Yes, and likely seven and eight as well, and number five is slowly eating itself. She waved a vague assent. They needed to get out of here, but they couldn’t run, not like this, and landing in the forest was still out of the—

Another idea occurred to her, “where is he?”

“Can’t tell, the warning receiver’s shot,” Burdous called, “literally.”

“Back here, seven o’clock,” Dibella answered, “coming around wide, I think you spooked him.”

“Hang on,” she slip-turned the plane around until she could see, dropping ever lower. The hunter was coming in fast. 

If this does not work, we are done for.

Valentina skimmed down to tree-top level, bringing the throttles back up. She dipped the vector nozzles, pitched, slowed, stopped. The shriek from the engines reached new levels, run through with all sorts of barely audible bad things that made her have to fight the unconscious urge to shut down right then and there before anything tore itself self apart. Trees whipped and shuddered all around in the jetblast as she dropped even with the tallest ones. She nudged a wingtip up against a stout, stately pine, and saw beady little eyes staring back at her. A bit of pedal... just a bit more...

The towering tree began to bend. 

“This is your plan?” Dibella screamed, pointing out the nose, “he’s coming right for us!”

White fire spewed toward them.

Burdous dove behind a seat, “crap! CrapcrapcrapCRAPCRAPCRAP!”

The volley went wide, shredding an area of trees just beyond the wing. 

Valentina waited... held... watched black shape rush up at them...

Now!

She mashed the rudder pedal, the tree snapped back upright, sending several tiny, dark lumps hurtling up through the air... just as the jet passed over. 

***

Ghost Leader pulled up hard, gaining distance and sweeping in a wide arc. That pilot was absolutely incredible! How had he known hiding in the trees like that would confuse the MiK-37’s air-to-air tracking radar? Even Ghost Leader hadn’t realized his mistake until after he’d squeezed off that burst. 

But in the end, it didn’t matter. That old heap hovering in the trees still wasn’t moving. He switched the targeting computer to air-to-ground, he would not miss again! Such a pity, though, he would like to have known a pilot like that under better circumstances, but orders were orders. Hesitation had already cost him two squadmates. He leveled off, adjusted his speed, and—

Motion just to the left drew his attention. Down on his console, there was a small, jagged hole in the carbon fiber panel. Peeking out of that hole... was a tiny face. 

It had big, dark, beady eyes, rounded little bulbs of ears, and a stubby nose flanked by long white whiskers that wiggled at him.

“Dad-a-chick?” it said. 

As he watched, it took a few more bites out of the panel, until its furry little body could wriggle through. 

“Ded-a-check?”

Despite himself, he was captivated by the furry little creature. It was, quite frankly, the most endearing thing he had ever seen. Behind his mask, his face stretched into a wide smile. He reached a gloved hand out to its wiggling nose...

...and then it bit his finger off. 

Ghost Leader did not scream, he was far too surprised. He jerked his hand back, sending a spray of blood across his canopy. Then rage replaced shock, and he slammed his fist down on the panel, but the beast was already gone. He looked around, tried to steady himself, refocus on the mission. 

Motion caught his eye again, this time on the right panel. The thing had appeared in a second hole! He carefully reached for the survival knife on his kneeboard...

And then... another creature appeared, just beside his HUD reflector. 

And then another. 

And then another. 

And then another.

“Dad-a-chick?”

“Did-a-check?”

“Ded-a-chock?”

. . .

“Dad-a-chum!

***

Valentina watched the last fighter founder, then tumble into a spin until it slammed into the woods, erupting in a ball of flame. She wasted no time in rising out of the trees and clawing for all the speed and altitude she could gain, hoping they hadn’t picked up any new passengers themselves. 

“What were those things?” asked a breathless Burdous as he sidled up next to her. 

She shrugged, “back in the taiga, we never bothered with names, everything was either ‘lunch’ or ‘argh,’ and often both at once. Those things, they have a taste for charcoal and soot, and... well pretty much anything else. It was always a struggle to keep them out of the chimney.” She looked at him, “you are sure there were only three?”

“That’s all I saw before the receiver died.”

“We need to find somewhere to set down before we just fall out of the sky,” she glanced at the shattered navigation display, then turned again, “Dibella?” 

Dibella shook her head, “there’s nothing around here. That’s rather the point. I’m not even sure where we are anymore, I’m not getting any kind of signal at all.”

“Hey, over there,” Edgas pointed out his window, “um... two o’clock? Looks like a big clearing.”

She peered that way, a sprawling forest meadow surrounded by endless woods, “looks like it will have to do,” then noticed Burdous looking... the other way.

He pointed, “what is... that?”

The blood in her veins froze to ice and then beyond as Valentina turned to follow his hand. Her fingers loosened on the wheel, her knees grew weak, her spine seemed to slip down right out of her body. A new terror, beyond any power of adrenaline seized ahold of her at the sight of a distant, rapidly nearing white dot dragging behind it a train of heavy, writhing black smoke. 

“GUNSHIP!!!”

Somehow she willed her numb, rubbery limbs into motion. She turned hard until the structure groaned and screamed in protest, diving back towards the trees, racing for the clearing. 

Must land. Hide in the forest, take our chances there.

The warning lights on the panel grew ever more insistent, buzzers soon ringing. She could feel the engines beginning to choke on their own internals. 

And then a flash. The tracers before had seared at her eyes, leaving lingering spots dancing in her vision, but now the light of a thousand tiny suns ripped at the stricken plane. Valentina felt the controls go slack in her hands, rebound, try and pull her arms from their sockets. The Converter nearly rolled over on its back, and the horrid sound of tearing metal outscreamed the engines. 

“I think we just lost a wing!” Burdous yelled, now finally trying to belt himself in. 

And two engines with it, she strained against the wheel jagging back and forth in her grip like a snared animal, cannot land vertically, have to pancake in, run for the treeline. 

Then the Gunship itself screamed past just in front of the nose, its nuclear engines that somehow belched smoke roaring louder than anything yet, its wings seeming to droop under the weight of their stores even as it turned. She tried to tell herself she couldn’t see the two crew leering back at her from beneath their bubble canopies. 

The meadow lay just ahead. A bit farther, then a hard turn parallel with—

She ducked as more rounds plinked and ricocheted around the cabin from an unseen turret even as the beast circled back on them. The number three engine exploded in its housing, taking the number two with it. 

Come on, come on, just a little farther!

The treeline passed below them, but fire rained down before she could act. She plane snap-rolled right, snap-rolled left. 

“I..!”

Something else let go with a shudder, more wind blasted through the cabin. 

“I..!”

Valentina jammed the wheel as hard as she could as the ground rushed up. 

“I cannot get the nose down!”

SOUND.

Sound.

The world became sound. 

But only for an instant, then world became pain and shock and chaos. A thousand unseen hands beat at her, pulled at her, tried to tear her limb from limb. Light and dark flashed in her vision as all reality became a single, awful ripping noise. 

Then her neck snapped forward, and...

...nothing...

...She drifted in empty grayness, alone, floating. All was emptiness, and emptiness was all, there was no... something here... only a distant sense of... calm, and buoyancy. And tired. She was so tired, had no idea why. It was comfortable, here. Warm. Yes, drift away into the mist, sleep it what she needed. She would just sleep and then—

The acrid sting of smoke in her lungs jolted Valentina up, eyes burning. All was darkness... and silence. She couldn’t cough, she couldn’t even breathe in the choked air. 

“Fire!” came a voice. 

“We’re on fire, we have to get out!”

“Fire!”

“Who’s here?”

“I am.”

“Debbie! Are you hurt?”

“No, I don’t—“ 

“Get out, quick! That way!”

“Ed, is that you?”

“I’m okay.”

“Your face!”

“I’m okay!”

“Val! Where’s Val?”

She tried to answer, but her lungs refused the command. Even in the darkness, she could feel her vision closing in. 

“She’s over here!”

“C’mon!”

“Get the strap!”

“It’s jammed.”

“Here, cut it.”

“We gotta go!”

“Her foot’s caught!”

“Can you reach it?”

“Yeah, pull on that!”

“Almost...”

“I got her, let’s go!”

“Move!”

“Go, go, go!”

Just when she thought she’d never breathe again, a bare squeak of fresh air crept into her chest. She let herself be pulled away, unable to move anyway, reality slowly resolving around her. 

She and Edgas fell into a heap on the grass. He had a long, ragged gash on his forehead, sending a gruesome cascade over his face and eyes. Burdous was doubled over gasping, Dibella knelt nearby, holding her head. Somehow... she’d managed to crash them into the only tree for hundreds of meters. That was now rapidly becoming an inferno, the wreckage of the Converter huddled beneath it. The treeline was... 

No...

They could never make that, even at a run. And they could barely move. Just beyond the edge of the clearing, over the forest, the Gunship was tipped up on a wing pivoting around for one last attack. 

“Well, guys,” Burdous wheezed, “it’s been nice knowing you.”

She watched as the dragon Smaug reared, to burn them to ashes. 

She watched as the fire reached out for them.

She watched as—

Wait, what?

The Gunship tried to pull up, but an instant later it, too, disappeared in a flash. 

But not... entirely. 

Two black-clad figures arced through the air, screaming as they went. One slammed into the tree and fell into the blaze, and abruptly stopped screaming, and the other...

It hit the dirt just in front of them, bounced, rolled to a stop before them. 

And screamed. 

And screamed. 

And screamed.

A piercing, feral sound like a wounded animal. Valentina stared in horror at the thing writhing on the ground. Ragged, scarred lips pulled back from teeth filed to points beneath a bug-like helmet, gloved fingers pulled at flesh that was... melting...  

Smoke or steam or something billowed out from it, trailing away in the soft breeze. It twitched and strained, the body contorting into agonized positions, and all the while it screamed. Oh, how it screamed! Its wails rose ever higher, gaining intensity, moving beyond any natural sound into an alien screech like shearing metal while thick grey mist surged and frothed. 

But quickly as it began, the shrill noise died, smoke drifted away, and only wrinkled flight gear remained on the grass. Somehow rousing herself, Valentina inched forward, gave the helmet a careful nudge. It went rolling away down the gentle hill. 

“There... there is nothing left!” she stared down in shock, “not ash, not even bones!”

And then... Dibella screamed, something in it cutting through everything, piercing into the base of Valentina’s skull and running down her spine.  

All eyes turned to Burdous... and the wet, red stain blooming on his shirt. He gingerly pulled it up, revealing a twisted hunk of metal jutting from his stomach. 

“Well, would you look at that...” he said with stoic calm as the color drained from his face, “I’ve been impaled. Heh.” He took a step and collapsed. 

“No! Burdous!” Edgas scrambled over to him, cradling his head. 

Valentina was right behind, staring in horror at the wound, and the bright trickle that rapidly become a flood. She reached one hand behind him, “it... it has gone right through him, is coming out other side!” she stripped the sweatshirt off, trying to pack it around the jagged metal. It soaked through in an instant. 

She looked to Edgas, trying to form words, but could only shake her head. 

“No! Nononononono!” Edgas pressed his own hand against the shirt, only squeezing more blood out of it.

“Aw, that’s your favorite old sweatshirt, Ed,” Burdous smiled, his voice weak and lilting, “guess this makes us even, huh?”

Edgas shook his head as the horrified realization set in, “what? No! Don’t you talk like that! You’ll be okay, I... I still owe you!”

Burdous seemed to brush it away, his skin growing clammy, “sorry about your plane, Debbie... and... that thing in Kermansk.”

Dibella could only press a hand to her mouth. 

Now Burdous looked on Valentina, his throat twitching, lips moving in dry, soundless fits. He raised one bloody hand to her shoulder. 

“It was... good to... see you again,” each word came more clipped and weighted than the last, “I missed you.” 

His hand fell away. His eyes glazed and lost focus. 

And another light went out of the world. 

 

 

What have I become, 
My sweetest friend?
Everyone I know 
Goes away in the end.
And you could have it all, 
My empire of dirt.
I will let you down,
I will make you hurt.

 

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Yay moar! 

*reads chapter*

YOU MONSTER. you killed burdous. I liked burdous. 

Still a good chapter though. But also like, dead burdous. Unless it's one of those deaths that aren't really deaths. Doubt that though. 

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Feeling kind of sucker punched right now. I guess that’s a good thing (it certainly speaks volumes about the writing) but damn it doesn’t feel like it. :( 

Spoiler

 

I don’t know whether your Kerbals have an afterlife and if they do I don’t know whether they have a Good Place and a Bad Place. But if they do, I do know that Burdous Kerman has talked his way into the Good Place (probably by baffling the relevant authorities in multiple languages) and that said Good Place doesn’t quite know what’s just hit it.

Party in Peace old friend - you will be sadly missed.

 

 

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If I could start again,
A million miles away,
I would keep myself, 
I would find... a way. 

Chapter 28: The End of the World

SLAP!

Burdous’s eyes fluttered half-open for a moment, distant, unseeing. 

“Do not do it!” Valentina shook him, tears cutting through the blood and filth on her face, “do not dare!” She looked to Edgas for... something, anything, but Edgas could only stare back at her, useless. 

He could feel it again, as fresh and raw as it ever was, that horrible constricting feeling of reality cracking around the edges. This time, there would be no stopping it. He knew the darkness waited, just beyond. Waited, like a hungry predator. Waited, as it always had. 

All my fault...

I brought this upon him...

I brought this upon everyone...

Everyone I know...

I make everyone—

“Now, then, what’s all this?”

Four pairs of eyes turned... to find a wizened, wrinkled face staring at them. 

It was Dibella who broke through the shock, yet her voice still edged on panic, “he’s hurt! We need a doctor!”

“Indeed. Let me see the boy.”

He hobbled forward on a gnarled, twisted cane, grunting softly as he did, with a long white beard that dangled to his belt. 

She blinked at him, “are... are you a doctor?”

“Wow...” Burdous mumbled, his voice distant and dreamy, “you’re really old.”

“Harrumph, well then,” he knelt down, huffing as he did, and from a pocket produced... a small figurine, perhaps carved from jade, of a bald, rather rotund kerb with the most peculiar proportions. He reached out with his other hand, lifting Burdous’s chin and looking at him intently... but seemed to pay no attention to the wound itself. 

Can you help?” Valentina asked, her eyes taking on a suspicious cast, “who are you, anyway?”

“Serious. Serious, indeed,” the old kerb considered Burdous a moment more, then sat back and took his hand instead, “I’m sorry, my boy, I’m afraid there’s no gentle way to put this.”

“No...” Dibella pressed a hand to her mouth. 

“This is really going to hurt.”

“Ye-EEEEEEAAAAAARRRRGH!” Burdous’s entire body arched upward, as if pulled, and Edgas watched in awe as the jagged hunk of metal in his gut ripped itself out with a hideous noise, untouched by anyone, pulling the sweatshirt with it and landing on the ground a few meters away. 

Burdous’s other hand found Edgas’s arm, clamped down on it like iron, every muscle in his body tensing, “gah! Cold! COLD! Coldcoldcoldcold—haaaaahhhhhh...”

He relaxed, letting out a long breath that turned to fog as it left his mouth. A few ragged, misty gasps followed, then his breathing slowed, steadied... and color slowly returned to his face. 

Valentina’s head snapped back and forth between the gore-covered bit of junk lying on the ground, and Burdous’s chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm. She ran a hand over smooth, blood-slicked skin, ran another around his back, lifting him up, her eyes growing wider each moment. 

“It-it-it-it is gone! The wound is gone! I cannot even feel a scar!”

“Um... Val..?” a slightly different color brushed Burdous’s cheeks, “cooouuld you please stop groping me now? It’s kiiiinda creeping me out.”

She gawked at him a moment, then dropped him. 

“Gah!”

And then wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him tight. And then Edgas hugged them both, and then Dibella... well, she was never one to miss out on a good hug, and soon there were popping joints and minor dislocations all around. 

Eventually, Valentina looked back at the old kerb, “how? How did you do that? Who are you?”

“Pish-posh,” he waved it away, “now let me see the rest of you,” and he went from one to the other, touching their chins and looking at them very intently. 

“Bah, that’s nothing! ‘Tis but a scratch! Flesh wound! Here,” he handed Edgas a handkerchief, “tie this tight around your head until it hurts, the seamstress will soon set you to right.”

Edgas looked at it as if he’d never seen one before, “um... thanks, really, but who are—“

He was interrupted by a loud creaking and splintering sound. They all looked and saw the burning tree give up and slowly topple over on the wrecked Converter, sending a pall of smoke and sparks cascading skyward. 

“Oh, back, is it?” the old kerb grunted. Again, he did nothing but just... stared.. and the fire simply... ceased. 

No whoomp, no fwoosh, not even the pinging of cooling aluminum. 

He let out a long, mournful sigh, “that was a Thousand Year Oak. Poor Ferdin’s going to be devastated.”

“Um... who?” someone asked. 

“Ferdin, the gardener,” he gave a distracted wave, then rose with a crackling of joints, “now then, you’re expected. And late, I might add. It’s a bit of a walk to the manor house, I’m afraid, so you’ll have to help your friend, there. That takes a lot out of a person, even when they haven’t lost so much blood.”

The four watched, eyes wide, as the old kerb began to hobble away on his cane, “come along, then, spit-spot, no time to dally...”

Edgas looked at himself, looked at the old kerb, looked at the others. 

And... was somehow getting the distinct impression from Valentina that now, at last, at long last, she had finally gone quite mad. 

***

Plip.

Plip. 

Plip. 

Blood dripped from the tip of Edgas’s middle finger, following a little rivulet up his arm, beneath his armpit, around his neck, and up the side of his face. The armpit part was most unpleasant. The bandage on his head still wasn’t quite enough to staunch the flow, even after he’d tied it so tight his teeth clenched. Valentina had tried, too, she seemed to have an odd knack for such things, but mentioned something about the temporal artery, and exactly what this seamstress would have to do to get to that, and Edgas’s stomach had begun clenching. So it was decided he would just live with the drip for now. 

He was beginning to wonder why he wasn’t feeling woozy yet, it was a solid kilometer’s walk up here, half-carrying Burdous most of the way, and he could tell from the sticky, matted mess on his face he must truly look a fright. But then, he supposed, adrenaline was a remarkable thing. 

Plip.

Plip. 

Plip. 

The blood continued to drip onto polished white marble tiles, beginning to form a gooey little puddle. Edgas had thought about looking down at it, but those tiles seemed polished to a mirror shine, and his own face was probably the last thing he needed to see right now. Those tiles spread out across a Gran Foy-yay, far bigger than any apartment he’d ever lived in. Or apartment building, for that matter. A massive double-winged staircase led up to rooms beyond, he supposed, and between and beneath them was an impressively large set of double doors. Paintings festooned the walls, sculptures and suits of armor guarded the doors, and the whole place practically reeked of old wealth. 

Speaking of which...

Edgas wrinkled his... face.

Looking at himself and the others, he was glad (and oddly enough not for the first time in his life) he did not have a nose. 

“Ugh,” Valentina grunted next to him, “here, your turn again.”  Edgas tried not to roll his eyes, but wrapped Burdous’s arm over his own shoulder and held the other kerb up.

“Hi,” Burdous gave a heavy-lidded, extremely discomforting grin. Then his stomach rumbled. 

Then Edgas’s stomach did... something. Which set him to wondering if he could possibly feel any more uncomfortable, standing here in the halls of luxury covered in blood and soot and foulness. 

And of course, he didn’t have to wonder long. 

The grizzled old kerb from before appeared from a side door somewhere, clicking along with his cane. He took up a position flanking the massive double doors, then straightened as his joints creaked. 

He tapped the cane on the floor...

BOOM!

BOOM!

BOOM!

Edgas blinked. 

And then in a thunderous voice, “She comes! She comes! By the Providence of the Light, the Scion of Ivan, First of Ussari and Nihacima, Lady High Vizier of the City of Kerman, Doge of Erakonia, Her Imperial Majesty Alexandra the Second!”

Untouched, the enormous doors parted with a fitting creak...

Valentina gasped. 

Dibella dropped into a curtsy. 

And Burdous... well...

“Whhhoah,” he breathed in Edgas’s ear, “hubba hubba!

“Stoppit,” Edgas hissed back. Though he... couldn’t entirely fault his friend. He had seen her before of course, but a picture on a screen never quite did justice to reality. And, well, he supposed, being in the same room as royalty had a certain effect on a person. 

The Empress stood before them in the doorway, and she bore a kind of severe, untouchable beauty, like the statues surrounding the room. Her face was serene, flawless, and try as he might Edgas couldn’t quite put an age to her. Her pale hair was done up just so, yet with a single long, thick braid draped down over one shoulder. She wore a velvety, long-sleeved, high-necked dress of light and dark green with a stately purple cape fringed with many colors, and, Edgas noted, she wore no crown. Only a large blue gem on a loose golden chain around her neck. 

And about this time, Edgas felt Valentina’s eyes boring into the side of his head, and stopped gawking.  

The Empress stepped forward, a proper, just-slightly-disinterested smile on her face, hands folded demurely before her. She eyed each of them in turn before speaking.

“I bid you welcome,” her hands spread just a touch, “be at your ease here, no one who seeks to do harm may pass beyond the forest. We... have been waiting for you.”

She first approached Dibella, who was still crouched in a curtsey, and raised her with a touch, “such protocol is not necessary, Dibella Kermanov, dvoyurodnaya sestra, I no longer hold any title,” she half-turned towards the old kerb, “although Roland does enjoy his formality.”

She moved to Valentina, giving a slight nod, “Valentina Kermanova. It is well to see you again, you have proven time and again... most surprising.”

And then to Burdous, still draped over Edgas’s shoulder, who oddly enough... said nothing improper. He might have been trying to do that... thing with his eye... bulges, but mostly just sort of blinked. 

“Burdous Kerman,” the Empress gave another nod, “it is an honor to receive you. The... effects of your ordeal with pass in time.”

And finally, “Edgas Kerman,” she dipped her head into something that was almost a bow, a hint of a real smile touching her lips, “it is a great pleasure to finally meet you,” and then... the hint of a frown.

She turned again, “Roland, you left him like this?”

Roland bowed deeper than his old frame should have allowed, “I did what I could, Majesty, but his friend there was in dire straits and no mistake, it took all I had just to un-shish-kabob him. Besides, Jencine could use the practice.”

“Roland is right, of course,” she turned back, “but we need not labor in such unpleasantries. I lack his Talent, but I have... some measure of skill.”

Now she reached out, cupping Edgas’s chin, “I am afraid you will have a scar...”

The Empress did nothing else, only stared at him quite intently. This close, he could see her eyes making little twitches, almost as if she were seeing—

“Guh!” Before the thought could complete, every muscle in Edgas’s body seemed to tense at once, and an incredible wave of heat washed over him, like walking outside on a blistering tropical day back at the KSC.

But as quickly as it came, it receded, seeming to drain away all his pain, everywhere, along with it. He reached up, half slipping the bandage off. Just above his right eye, he could feel a long, puffy scar, but there was not a trace of pain. Indeed, it felt slightly numb, in that way of very old scars.

“Um, thanks...” he managed, realizing his mouth was hanging open. 

The Empress gave him a pleased hint of a smile, “you are fortunate that did not catch your eye, some things are not so easily Healed.”

She stepped back, and looked about to speak again when—

“Um... excuse me, um, Your Highness-ness, um, ness?”

She looked back at him with a considering eye.

It took him a moment to dislodge the lump in his throat, “we’ve... um... been through a lot. Would you, uh, mind telling us just what the heck is going on around here?” He heard Valentina stifle a gasp. 

The Empress regarded him for a long moment, her face unreadable, serene and impassive as a painting, “child, you have seen more than most, have you not yet realized?”

Something in her eyes made him want to shrink back and disappear into the increasingly grubby floor, yet Edgas managed to hold her gaze. 

She said simply, “the world is coming to an end.”  

The massive space had been quiet before, but now a leaden silence descended upon it, pressing down on Edgas’s shoulders, and despite feeling much better a moment ago, he now somehow felt... far worse. 

And then...

“Dun-dun-duuuuuuuuhhhhhhhn!”

“Stoppit.” he nudged Burdous again, who still had the same dreamy, half-aware smile. 

The Empress did not seem to have noticed, “you are all no doubt weary after your ordeal. This is my Housekeeper, Mrs. Triti,” a rather homely, yet equally severe-looking Kerbelle appeared next to her, and gave a deep bow, “she will see to your accommodations. My Household is at your disposal. Freshen and rest yourselves, hot tea will be provided. And then tonight you are cordially invited to be the guests of honor at an informal banquet and ball.”

The silence fell again. Four pairs of eyes— well, more like three and a half— stared at each other, at the blood and sweat and filth, and mouthes hung open. 

Again, it was Edgas who spoke, “um... Your... um... Worshipfulness?” he looked around to the others, then back at the Empress, “that is... er... someone just killed most of my friends. They tried to kill us, too. My home country is on the brink of civil war, there’s a plague in the south, millions of people are dead or dying, and now you’ve just told us it’s the end of the world...” He raised one arm in a half-formed gesture, “is... is this really the time to be throwing a party?”

Somehow... the silence grew yet heavier. Edgas felt it crush him down toward the floor, or the Empress seemed to grow... either way, this time he did shy back at her approach, at the piercing eyes behind that ageless face.

“It is, child,” she said simply, her voice growing softer, “the road to come is long and arduous, the day is sweltering, and the night is full of terrors. It will test you, strain every fiber of your being, challenge everything you think you know, beyond everything you have seen, and everything you have done. And make no mistake, it will break you.” She loomed higher, “and it will kill you. All of you.”

She reached out, and pinched his cheek in a vice of iron, “even if this... crude matter finds a dawn beyond the End of Days... you will not be the same person you are now.”

The Empress turned, and began walking away, her heels clicking softly on the tile, “so for tonight, let us eat, drink, and be merry,” she cast a last icy gaze over her shoulder, “for tomorrow we may die.”

She passed through the huge doors, the old kerb following, and they shut behind her. 

“Wowww,” Burdous breathed in Edgas’s ear, “I think I’m in love.”

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2 chapters in barely three days? That was quick.

Also, not dead burdous? Kinda expected him to stay dead, but not having him die is nice.

6 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Mrs. Triti,

Hey that seems like an oddly familiar name.....

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Imma gonna kill him. Gonna reach down his throat, pull out the first purple wobbly thing that I find and club him round the head with it.

You do not do this to me, Writer Man!

The kerbal was dead, impaled like a creva on a spit. I felt him go, heard him leave, saw his light gutter and die...

But to everything there is a season - and a time for every purpose under the heavens. It was not the kerbal’s time...

You do not do this to me, Writer Man!

Edited by KSK

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The thing is, I wholeheartedly believed Burdous to be dead. I thought it completely believable that CatastrophicFailure, of all authors, would let a returning secondary character like Burdous die in a meaningless death like this if the story required it, and I thought it completely plausible that the * of the Kraken series, of all stories, would require such a thing.

Honestly I feel a little disappointed that he came back.

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On the other hand, the plausibility of his death made his survival all the more of an emotional rollercoaster.

Plot-wise, we'd already seen that the Empress and Roland are far more than they seem and that she's been watching over Val for most, if not all, of her life. So I didn't find it too much of a deus ex machina to have her step in now. As for saving Berdous too... I think we're going to find that he's been promoted to the ranks of Main Characters. And I suspect the reason why can be expressed in a single word.

IVAN.

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I agree with what you say there, but it doesnt somehow feel satisfying for such an apparently easy way out of death. Historically, what has been dead stays dead, and its a bit weird now that magically hes alive! For me it was a bit unsatisfying somehow. I think though Burdous will have some more fun, if not at least as some comic relief.....

PDF also updated. 106000 words. over 300 pages..... this is swelling to monstrous sizes and my word precoessor is getting slower....

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And here I thought the rebellion would come from killing him in the first place. :rolleyes:

Its the end of the world, after all, never know who might come back from the dead... <_< 

And as @qzgy just pointed out, the story is (still) just beginning, there are many more revelations to come. :wink:

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And on a more light-hearted note, someone had to do it...

Plane by plane, pilots baffled, trumped, tethered, beaten.
Look at that Converter then
Uh oh, what d’ya know, tree critters, frozen poop.
But it'll do, save yourself, serve yourself.
Darkness serves its own needs, listen to your friend bleed;
Tell me that the Empress and the Servant’s in the right, right?
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam fight, bright light.
Feeling pretty psyched...

It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

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A Great Shadow shall arise in the East, and the land tremble before it.  
Upon wicked and righteous shall it fall, and the place where every good thing grows,
And Paradise shall be scoured away for the transgressions of kerbs. 

Chapter 29: When the Mountains Tremble

An ice axe rose over the edge, hovered a bare breath, then slammed down, sending little white chips into the air that the howling wind quickly stole away. A moment later, a second axe followed, slipping a bit, a brief fight for purchase before holding fast. The first rose again, inching forward, biting into a meager hunk of glacier that was already old when Kerbaldom was yet young. The other followed, and so the pattern repeated, creeping farther up, until at last a leg swung over the edge, the cramp-ons on its boot biting true. 

Then a face appeared, mouth wide and gasping for breath, his cheeks bright red with windbite against his otherwise pale skin. Finally the body came, with one last surge of effort rolling over and onto he little plateau of ice. The climber lay there a time, looking half-dead, chest heaving for breath in the thin mountain air. Yet he set his jaw, rolled over once more to the little outcrop of bare rock nearby, and shoved an anchor into it. With strain on his face, he gave it half a dozen solid, if slightly wobbly strikes with the back of an axe. He just managed to clip the carabiner on before he collapsed again. 

Almost at once the line went taught, testing at first before bearing weight. A new set of axes worked their way over the edge, confidently, moving with purpose. The face that followed was split in a wide grin, though haggard and no less wind bitten. This one seemed to flow onto the plateau, jumping up right away and pumping his fists in the air. 

“Wooooooo-hoooooo!” Kyle Kerman cried out, and the mountains answered...

“Wooooooo-hoooooo!”

“Wooooooo-hoooooo!”

“Wooooooo-hoooooo!”

“Wooooooo-hoooooo!”

He gazed back at them a moment, shoulders barely heaving, then looked down, “rock out, little bro! You did it! You climbed the Blabberhorn!”

Sam Kerman said nothing, just tried to convince his lungs they were actually breathing. 

Kyle grinned down at him, stripping off his goggles and unclipping his line, “c’mon, lil’ bro, revel in thine accomplishment, O young and studly one!”

Sam raised a trembling thumb. “Woo hoo,” he managed between gasps. 

He was promptly pulled upward by that hand, his brother half-hugging, half simply holding him up, “check out that view, my dude, told ya it’s worth the price of admission.”

Doffing his own goggles, Sam willed his eyes into focus... and what meager breath the mountain had left him, the view took away. 

“Wowwww...”

He turned his head from one horizon to the other, squinting as it passed the late-afternoon sun in the west. Sheer, nearly vertical cliffs stretched out along either side, towering over the pale blue of the ocean nearly a dozen kilometers below. From this height, he could just see the curve of the massive bowl they created. Sam was weak, his entire body felt like a liquid, his lungs burned, and everything hurt... and this wasn’t even the highest peak in the mighty Rim Range. 

Yet he felt like he could see forever. The air was so clear at this altitude, the snow along the distant ridgelines looked close enough to reach out and touch, he could see individual boulders on the naked mountain flanks too steep for snow, and from above even the clouds seemed crisp and solid. His brother Kyle was right... as he, well, usually was. This was worth the climb. 

“Check it out, lil’ bro,” Kyle pointed out across the sea, “you can see Mont Bonc rising out of the water shrouded in mist there, and just beyond the horizon— Rim Island. A regular tropical paradise, my dude!”

He released his wobbly brother, then clapped him on the shoulder— which nearly drove him straight down into the snow, “I figure we’ll head out there to reee-cuperate after we get down. Port-au-Rincewind, maybe Kokomo Bay, the wahines in their lil’ grass skirts will be lining up around the block to hula with a real mountaineer like you, O mi broski!”

Sam finally felt some feeling return to his cheeks, “they... they will?” he huffed. 

“Tooootally, bro!”

Then an icy breeze pulled at his snow pants, and brought with it a chilling thought, “but... that’s part of Gednalna, won’t we have to wear grass skirts too?”

Kyle laughed, “only the kerbliest kerbs in Gednalna wear skirts, lil’ bro.”

Sam found this confusing, but chalked it up to the thin mountain air.

“Now here, check this out, my dude!” Kyle rotated him a quarter turn, “that little thing is over a hundred meters tall!”

“Wowww...” Nestled in the valley between two peaks, which seemed a strange place for such a thing, Sam could just make out the dish antenna of a satellite tracking station. From here it looked like a model, something seen in a diorama at a museum. As he watched, a four-engined VTOL transport that was little more than a toy lifted off from a nearby pad and headed out toward the open sea. 

“And finally, lil’ bro,” Kyle gave him another turn, “the pièce de résistance!”

“Wo—“ the half-formed word froze in Sam’s mouth. 

“There she is, mon frère: Garish, the City of Light. It’s hidden by the ridgeline until you make the summit. Looks a bit different from up here, eh? If you look real close, you can just about make out the Eye-full Tower.”

Sam’s lower lip trembled, perhaps seeking a word. Any coherent thought had ceased altogether. The shadow of the mountains reached out to the east as afternoon rapidly moved toward evening, and nestled there in the deepest part of that shadow was a web of light in every hue imaginable. It seemed to stretch out, like an explosion of beauty frozen in time, gossamer strands of red and yellow radiating from a core of rainbow shades that throbbed and pulsed like a heartbeat. 

And indeed, there in the center, he could see it. A dark tower silhouetted and bathed in the city’s glow, the strands of the web radiating from it like beams of light. An impossible pillar of pure white shot skyward from its apex, as if in that moment it was the axis upon which the whole world turned. Sam was a simple kerb, not taken to such grandiose ideas, yet he thought his heart might break from the beauty of it. 

But as he watched, the brilliant pillar flickered and winked out. 

Then a sector of the web went dark. Another followed, and another, as if the shadow were swallowing the light. The darkness stretched out, raced along the gossamer strands leading out from the city, erasing them from existence, streaming in all directions, including—

Sam felt his already weak knees begin to quiver. It took him a moment to realize everything was quivering, just before the vibrations knocked him to the ground. 

“Earthquake!” he screamed. 

“Be chilled, lil’ bro,” Kyle dropped down to one knee and a hand, “just ride it out. We’re on top of a mountain, that’s the safest place to be in an earthquake. Nothing to fall on us!”

Sam crawled forward and embraced the little rock outcrop, clinging to it like a buoy in a stormy sea. He worked his eyes open and shut, trying to focus, trying to convince himself he couldn’t feel the mountain rising and falling in waves. He turned, saw the tracking station. It was thrashing about like a wounded animal, twisting metal squealing in death throws. It seemed to melt and slide down the mountain face. 

The shaking went on and on. Minutes. Hours. Days. He couldn’t tell anymore. Then a new sound came to him above the rumbling.  He looked along the ridgeline, to the farthest edge of the curving rim. Darkness itself was spewing up as if from the very bowels of all the Nine Hells, reaching skyward higher and higher. And coming closer. 

It took his addled, panicked mind some time to realize what he was seeing. A jet of dust and rock bursting forth from the crest of the mountains, rending the very rock like cloth, and rapidly racing towards him. Sam tried to look away, back to the north, only to see the same dark eruption bearing down the other way. 

He squeezed tighter to the outcrop as the two rising walls of chaos finally slammed together in the center of the towering peak just to the east, and then—

Sound. 

SOUND!

The world became sound, blasting over him like a solid thing, driving burning spikes into his ears—

And then all sound ceased. Sam could see the pandemonium rising all around, boulders tossed like pebbles, but the world had gone silent as a dream. He was distantly aware that he was screaming, but couldn’t even hear that. Slowly he turned, and found his brother. Kyle was barely clinging to the edge of the glacier, and for the first time in his life, Sam saw fear in his bother’s eyes. 

There came a jolt, and the scrap of ice that had clung to the mountain for eons finally surrendered, taking Kyle with it as it descended into the frothing black maelstrom far below. Sam felt another jolt as his harness snapped taught, felt a rib crack, but that seemed faint and unimportant. More out of dumb instinct than anything else, he tried to crawl back up the precipice that his harness was still clipped to, until the entire mountain fell away beneath him, and the shadow swallowed him. 

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20 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

There came a jolt, and the scrap of ice that had clung to the mountain for eons finally surrendered, taking Kyle with it as it descended into the frothing black maelstrom far below. Sam felt another jolt as his harness snapped taught, felt a rib crack, but that seemed faint and unimportant. More out of dumb instinct than anything else, he tried to crawl back up the precipice that his harness was still clipped to, until the entire mountain fell away beneath him, and the shadow swallowed him. 

 

* MOMMY

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1 hour ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

And indeed, there in the center, he could see it. A dark tower silhouetted and bathed in the city’s glow, the strands of the web radiating from it like beams of light.

I see what you did there. ;)

Nice interlude though - and only on your particular Kerbin would you find mountaineer-dudes! 

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