CatastrophicFailure

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

Recommended Posts

3 hours ago, Ten Key said:

Or, perhaps, a motorcycle. :wink: 

Quite. :wink:

@KSK is amusingly intuitive, tho:

(Actual mostly irrelevant spoilers ahead)

Spoiler

I was just about to give a glimpse at the actual Skeeter... and yes, at some point there will be a mention of a powered exoskeleton. Don't get your hopes up, it'll be pretty underwhelming. :P

 

10 hours ago, Thedrelle said:

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

 

this is your fault. 

Well, someone on another thread challenged me about overly long gags, so... you've likely not seen the end of that one. :D

Sadly, however, any hopes I had of regaining my traditional chapter-a-week frequency are probably off in that land of ultra-mega-high-energy yoctometer-wavelength purely theoretical nonsense, likely having a drink with Edgas's face and ruminating over old times. Next chapter is underway but I've got many months of two useless days a week ahead. :/

Guess I'll have to aim for quality over quantity.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On ‎15‎/‎11‎/‎2017 at 1:25 AM, Ten Key said:

Or, perhaps, a motorcycle. :wink: 

Awww nuts. :)

I had this amusing Wile-E-Coyote image of Doc getting a bit too enthusiastic in his technological seven-league boots, trying to stop on a dime (insert cartoon dust cloud* and whirling of servo-driven limbs here) and finally thumping onto his back, watching in bemusement as a lightly stunned deer sails over his head.

Not to worry.

*Yes I know this takes place in the snow and ice. Nevertheless, tradition and narrative causality will conspire to create a dust cloud. The same factors will conspire to keep the deer intact in a suitably child friendly manner despite this being physically implausible.

Edited by KSK

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 11/13/2017 at 2:18 AM, CatastrophicFailure said:

The cold never bothered me anyway."

Great Quote by Val. Didn't know that Val watched Frozen.......Or the Kerblish equivalent. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 11/26/2017 at 10:47 PM, Alpha 360 said:

Great Quote by Val. Didn't know that Val watched Frozen.......Or the Kerblish equivalent. 

It's a regular thing in this series, I think it was started by Edgas, who has been tolerating cold environments for years.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Might want to make a mental note of that. Temperature might just be an important recurring theme. :ph34r:

Speaking of which, next chapter is still plugging along. Progress has been slow but at least steady. Aiming for something toward this weekend. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Aaaaaand not a single word put down today. :mad:

Flarping flagons of flagellates, I hate Wednesdays! 

No, not really, I just wanted to use "flarping flagons of flagellates" in a sentence. It's tired and I'm late.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Aaaaaand not a single word put down today. :mad:

Flarping flagons of flagellates, I hate Wednesdays! 

No, not really, I just wanted to use "flarping flagons of flagellates" in a sentence. It's tired and I'm late.

No need for self-flagellation - 'Those' Wednesdays happen to us all at some point. :( 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In those days, one shall come unto the world as a Stranger, outcast and forgotten, 
One who has tasted of death, and been reborn.  
And the people shall cry out in a loud voice, “here is the One of prophecy, who is our salvation!
In this One, we shall place our trust.”

 

Chapter 13: Ice and Fire

 

She clumped down the corridor, eyes locked ahead and just slightly out of focus, the corners of her mouth drawn out. She could tell, without looking, that the expression on Edgas’s face matched her own, right down to the embarrassed flush on her cheeks. No, this wasn’t at all like... back there. This was was simple intuition. That final silence had been awkward enough to flush away anything else. 

Probably just imagined it, anyway. A projection of her own feelings, or maybe a manifestation of her irritation, or... something. You couldn’t just... feel what someone else was feeling. That was silly. Even she knew that. 

She tugged the string of her hood a little tighter. His hood. Just borrowing it. She felt ridiculous, of course, hence the flush on her cheeks. The sweatshirt mostly fit all right, but the arms were at least half again too long, she either had to shove them up until they dangled like loose skin or let them flop around beyond her fingertips. She looked silly. Completely silly. Perfectly reasonable thing to be embarrassed about. And that last song, too, that was just horrid, that’s all it was!

It absolutely was not such a powerful blast of emotion from him that now she was feeling it too. That would just be... silly. 

Still, she thought, as she shoved the floppy cuff up her arm for the umpteenth time, it was a thoughtful gesture. Very kind of him. The old sweatshirt was soft as a cloud and delightfully warm, and smelled just faintly of fabric softener and—

She felt her cheeks flush just a touch more, and cinched the drawstring tighter. 

As they came to the end of an incredibly long corridor, Edgas drew back his wide-eyed, thousand-meter stare, and began undogging the thick-looking hatch. 

“Watch your step, it can get a little slick inside,” he said. 

He pulled the hatch open with a loud groan, both from him and the hatch. She took one step forward, and a frigid blast of air took her breath away, turning it into a little roiling cloud before her eyes. 

“It is freezing in here,” she mumbled as she cautiously stepped over the threshold. She pulled her hands into the floppy sweatshirt arms, fumbling not to drop her cane, as she looked around the cavernous space. 

It... really was freezing in here...

Shafts of light from floodlamps high above illuminated twinkling ice crystals that hung in the still air. On every surface, a paper-thin layer of frost sparkled like diamonds. And within it all, rushing in through her lungs with every chilling breath, was a permeating familiarness, like the first welcoming scent of home.

And the unmistakable stink of gear oil. 

“Yeah, just below zero is usually the best we can do,” Edgas said as he followed her in, “this place isn’t as insulated as the rest of the base; even with a nuclear reactor we can’t quite get it above freezing. There’s heated garages on the far side for major work, and...”

She didn’t really hear him. As the shock of the cold wore off, she began to take in what else was in here. A few boxy, tracked vehicles off in one corner she somehow recognized as sno-cats. Off in another was something that looked like a quartet of jet engines mounted on skis. But towering over everything else—

What is that?” she blurted out. 

“That’s the LCC-1,” Edgas beamed up at the enormous machine, “we found it rusting in a field in Ysair, they paid us to remove it.”

It was... a bit difficult to wrap her mind around. The thing towered nearly as high as the hangar ceiling. It looked less like a vehicle and more like a small building, mounted on eight enormous balloon tires three times taller than she was. As she craned her neck ever higher, she saw someone standing on top guiding a huge piece of machinery as it was lowered from above. 

She recognized Lemmy, waving his, er, stumps to someone else, “easy does, lad! Two pips t’the right, take it slow... right... right... now hold there!” A head belonging to Doyle, his young... assistant, poked out from a hatch she couldn’t see. “Mind the lower hoses. Pair of 36-mil spanners, and check the lockout.” Doyle nodded and disappeared again. 

“Hoy, thar!” he called down to the newcomers, “is that the young miss up and aboot, now?” Doyle’s head popped back up through the hatch, and he gave an enthusiastic wave. She managed a more timid one in return. 

Beside her, Edgas opened his mouth to speak, blinked, then seemed to change what he was going to say, “wait, is that number three?” he yelled up.

“Yar. Number one’s blowed its seals again.”

“What about number two?”

“Still in the machine shop fer an overhaul. Waiting on that primary buffer panel, we are.”

Edgas put a hand to his face, mumbling something into it, “ok, ok, I’ll makes sure there’s one in the next supply run,” he called back. 

“That’s what ye said about the last supply run.”

“Fine, I’ll make sure there’s two!” 

Lemmy laughed, and Edgas quickly yet cautiously led her away. 

“What on Kerbin do you use such a machine for?” she tried once more to gawk back at it. 

“Moving stuff up here by air is expensive, and dangerous,” Edgas explained, “most of the modules would have fit in a transport plane, but it actually cost less to restore the LCC and haul them overland a few at a time. We don’t use it as much these days, the sno-cats handle the supply trips, but I’ve always kept it on standby. In a real emergency, we could use it to evacuate, not even a storm like this would stop it. 

“Ah, here we are...” he gave another of his awkward grins, and pointed to... a large pile of junk in the corner. 

“That is... it?” she raised an eye... bulge back at him.

“That’s it. At least, as much as we could recover.”

She stared at the unidentifiable heap, expecting... something. Yet nothing came. It looked like nothing more than so much meaningless scrap. Picking up one frosted panel with her floppy arm-gloves, she turned it this way and that. 

Nothing. 

She tried another. This one had a very strange, slightly scalloped semicircle missing. That, at least, looked somehow familiar. 

“This looks like a bite mark...” she muttered. 

“Um, yeah,” Edgas rubbed at the back of his head, “after we got you out a clutch of whumpers came along. Took some effort to scare them off, so we took what we could and didn’t stick around long.”

“Something... ate this?”

He nodded.

She gave a little shake of her head, “what is a whumper?”

“Well, you’ve heard of the abominable snow-kerb, right?”

This drew a drawn out roll of her eyes, “even I know, is no abominable snow-kerb.”

“Right, because whumpers ate them.”

She blinked, “oh.” But then, “wait, this is North Pole, yes? Is nothing but ice and snow for hundreds of kilometers in every direction, what else could these creatures live on?”

“People who go out to study them?” Edgas shrugged. 

She blinked again, “oh.” 

Then another thought weaseled into her brain, “back... back there in hallway... in window... I thought I saw... something outside, moving just beyond floodlights. Could it have been one of these... these... things?”

“Probably.”

“You do not seem concerned,” she raised an eye... bulge. 

Edgas gave a wan smile, “not really. Sometimes they like to cling to the reactor housing for warmth, but they don’t bother the base. They hate the taste of the insulation on the modules.”

She blinked once more, “oh,” then gave a long sigh and a shake of her head. 

This... wasn’t working. She turned back to the jumbled pile of scrap. She had expected... She didn’t know what she’d expected. She picked through more burnt, icy bits of metal. Nothing. Just... nothing. One bit was a small, smashed box with two broken lights on it. IVAN was stenciled on it in her own language. For an instant... just one instant, she thought there was...

No, more nothing. Another hunk of trash as meaningless as the last. She tossed it back into the pile with a grunt. All she felt looking at it was...

“Hey, it’s all right,” she heard Edgas approach, “it was a long shot, anyway. We’ll try something else another day, we’ll... we’ll figure something out—“

“And what if we do not?" she rounded on him, “you keep expecting me to be this person I do not even know! What if there is no great answer? What if this is all there is... the end.”

He looked wounded, “what are you saying?”

“You told me they—,” she took a calming breath, swallowed, “they had to restart my heart. That I was not breathing when you found me.”

Edgas nodded.

She turned again to the heap, looking at it for a long moment. All she felt was... cold. 

“What if I am dead? What if whoever I was... died in this thing...”

Conflict, confusion, doubt raged across her mind like a tempest. Was it all hers? She couldn’t tell, and at the moment, didn’t really care to. He was infuriating! Always with... something, some pointless, half-finished platitude. She spun back to him now, expecting, fearing... hoping he would have another; yet his face looked as torn as her own mind. She had just opened her mouth to say something, when—

Bzzt bzzt bzzzzzzzzzzt.
Bzzt bzzt bzzzzzzzzzzt.

Standing, frozen, in this life I’ve chosen.
You won’t find me, the past is all behind me,
Buried, in the snow...

Bzzzzt

Edgas began frantically patting at his pockets. Finally, he pulled out another, smaller, slip of plastic. 

She huffed, “how many of those tablets do you need, anyway?!”

“Huh? Oh, cell phone,” he mumbled, tapping away at it with his thumbs. 

Oh, of course. That made—

Wait, what?

“I thought you said your communications were out due to storm?”

“They are,” he kept tapping, seeming distracted, “old system, cobbled together from surplus 6G stuff, only works within the base,” he kept tapping, “sort of like an intercom, but text—“

Then he stopped dead... and an incredible, genuine smile erupted, lighting up his entire face. It was enough to shove aside her own frustration, he was almost... beautiful...

“He got through,” Edgas whispered at his phone, “Doc got through...”

“Um... what?”

Finally he looked at her, and for just a moment, she was caught in his bright, guileless, powerful eyes. Those eyes, she thought, could inspire someone to do anything. She felt the edges of her own mouth creeping up unbidden. 

He put the phone away, and looked at her again, rather more subdued. He raised his hands, hesitated a moment, then laid them on her shoulders. 

“Look, you may be right,” he grinned, “but if this was an end—“ he shook his head, “a beginning, then I want it to be by your choice, not circumstance.”

“I... do not...”

“I’ve got one last lead, had to call in an expert,” he winked, and in that, she saw something very familiar... that blew away just as quickly, “be a couple of days, yet. I had to... pull some strings.”

 

————————————

 

A place exists, that knows fire but not light. The light has forsaken this place, fled from it in terror. Here, smoking towers of brimstone climb above a lake of flames that never diminish, consuming but never consumed, and ash like corrupted snow falls from clouds blacker than the deepest night. Presently, stalking through this curséd realm came a Demon. Oblivious to the choking columns of smoke it passed, its hide was even darker than the clouds above, reflecting none of the unworldly crimson not-glow it bathed in as it proceeded toward the dark tower at the center of this place of torment. It wailed like the shrieking of a thousand condemned souls. 

The VC-19 Demon circled once around the mostly darkened hospital building, a black hole in reality clad in paint that absorbed every wavelength of light, nearly invisible even in infrared. The four pairs of jet engines at the tips of its stubby tandem wings roared with fury as they swung down, now fully bearing its weight. It slowed to a hover, and seams appeared in its seamless flanks to reveal landing gear and a wide loading ramp beneath the tail. With sublime grace, it floated down the last few meters, settling the ramp and rear wheels onto the hospital’s helipad. The flat patch of rooftop was far too small to support the whole beast; the nose wheels hung out over the street below, where the shimmering air revealed tanks spewing forked tongues of fire in every direction. 

No sooner had the wheels touched down than black-clad figures began streaming down the ramp. Flexible armor as dark as the VTOL left not one bit of skin uncovered, capped with bug-like, form-fitting helmets.  They scuttled forth at a crouch, rifles raised, their every motion precise and efficient. Like a liquid they fanned out across the roof, taking up positions covering the wide elevator doors and single stairwell. Those doors binged open.

Heywood appeared, squinting against the inferno beyond the roof and clutching a surgical mask to his face. One of the figures approached him and gave a sharp salute, its bug-like black helmet seeming to fold in on itself to reveal a face. 

“That’s not necessary, Colonel,” Heywood waved it away.

“Old habits die hard, sir,” the other kerb said, then proffered a flight helmet with attached oxygen mask, “General Kerman on a secure line for you, sir.”

“Can it wait?” annoyance was plain in Heywood’s voice, “we don’t have long before the generators give out”

“Says it’s important, sir.”

Heywood nodded, donning the helmet and strapping the mask across his face, the cool flow of bottled oxygen pushing back the parching heat. 

He touched a button on the side, “General Kerman, sir.”

“Heywood,” a voice clicked in his ears, “how are you doing, son?”

“As well as can be expected, sir. What’s our status?”

“Alpha perimeter failed before it was even complete, but beta is holding for the moment. Every resource we can muster is currently en-route or on scene securing gamma. We evacuated what civilians we could early on but the situation went charlie-foxtrot before we could make much progress. Secondary sanitation protocol is currently in effect. The KHS Mercy is two hundred clicks offshore, and waiting to receive you with all facilities at your disposal.”

He looked at rising flames all around, “what about primary protocol?”

“You wrote the book on this, son,” the General clicked in his ear, “you tell me.”

He nodded to himself, “that’s what I’m afraid of, sir.”

The pause stretched out for a moment, “Heywood... is this really necessary?”

“I believe so, sir. It’s our last hope for any kind of cure. I shouldn’t have let it get this far.”

“You did everything you could, son. Not even you could move the bureaucrats without their noses being rubbed in it till they bled. And there are... further complications. Get what you came for and then get the hells out of there.”

“Yes, sir. Heywood out,” he touched the button again, and nodded to the Colonel.

“Alright, fall in, ladies,” the Colonel‘s voice was barely above a whisper, yet rung clear over the thundering jet engines in Heywood’s earphone, “this kerb knows what he’s talking about, so listen up.” Most of the squad of what seemed like living shadows gathered in front of Heywood and the yawning elevator doors. 

He eyed them a moment, “this is a high value extraction. The target is two floors down in the isolation ward. What you will see in there is unlike anything you ever have before. These are not monsters, they’re people; but they’re sick and not in full possession of their faculties. So do what you need to. Aim for the head, it’s the only thing that seems to make them stay down.” He nodded back to the Colonel, who handed him a holstered sidearm before turning to the elevator. 

“Blue team, stairwell,” the Colonel pointed as his helmet unfolded over his face again, “red team, with me. Let’s keep this high and tight.”

The figures flowed out across the rooftop, half of them draining down the stairs. Heywood followed the Colonel into the elevator with the other half and disappeared. For a time, nothing moved above save for the embers kicked up by the raging firestorm, and the writhing shadows it cast. 

Then all at once, the rooftop became a fury of motion and martial ballet. Before the elevator doors had even fully opened, two of the black-armored figures charged out, crossing the distance to the transport’s loading ramp in an instant to take positions on either side. More followed, surrounding Heywood as he pushed a large metal cylinder on a gurney out the doors and up the ramp without slowing. The stairwell door flew open with a bang, one figure crouching down to hold it. The rest of the team filed out at a run. The last kerb in the line came out backwards, guided and pulled along by the one ahead of him, unleashing a steady stream of tripleted bursts back into the doorway. 

Rat-tat-tat!

Rat-tat-tat!

Rat-tat-tat!

They, too, disappeared up the ramp. The moment their fusillade ceased, the one holding the door tossed something inside. 

BOOM!

Fire erupted from the tiny structure. But the fire... was not empty. 

Dark, condemned specters now shuffled forth, bathed in flames, tracking more along behind them. 

Rat-tat-tat!

Rat-tat-tat!

Rat-tat-tat!

The guards flanking the ramp resumed the hail of gunfire, pausing just long enough for their comrade scuttling back from the doorway to pass. One by one, the specters fell. But for each that did, two more appeared in its place in an unending stream of burning misery. 

The last two guards turned away from the hideous sight, retreating back up the ramp, and a new sound split the ruinous night. 

Ka-chunk!

Ka-chunk!

Ka-chunk!

The VTOL’s engines roared with new fury as it rose from the rooftop. The autocannon in a turret under the tail first leveled the stairwell housing, sending flaming debris in all directions, then cratered it, then set the whole rooftop aflame. The last building in the forsaken city now burning, the transport turned away, and disappeared into the night. 

 

***

 

The helmet and mask clattered to the floor. Heywood collapsed into one of the canvas jumpseats lining the wall, coughing profusely and wiping the sweat from his face with a corner of his lab coat. The Colonel sat down too, just a distance away. His helmet folded down into itself, becoming little more than a black half-ring at the back of his head.  In the small, round window between them, the orange glow was already receding away. 

Activity in the cargo bay was slowly subsiding. Rifles were made safe and clicked into racks, packs were stowed, and more helmets snicked down to near nothingness, revealing very normal faces. Normal, but cut from stone. Conversation among the cadre of kerbelles was as practiced as their movements: understated, nothing wasted. 

The Colonel nodded and touched his earpiece, “Orpheus has crossed the Styx,” then turned to Heywood, who was still hacking, “you should get checked out, sir.” He nodded to a nearby medic. 

Heywood waved her away as she approached, “I’m fine, just the smoke.”

The Colonel raised an eye... bulge.

“I really am. You’d know it by now if I weren’t,” he glanced around at the other Kerbals, “that was... efficient.”

“It was, sir,” the Colonel nodded, stripping off his gloves, “its an privilege to work with such professionals.”

Now Heywood raised an eye... bulge, “how did you pull command of the Shadowwraiths, anyway?”

“General Kerman put any asset I needed at my disposal. If ever there was a need for such, it’s now, sir.”

Heywood nodded slowly, turning to the look down at the gridded floorboards, “how is it out there?”

“Not good, sir,” the Colonel turned his gaze back to the window, “in fact, it’s bad. Bad as I’ve ever seen it. Makes that business in Andacania a few years back look like a sunny stroll through the park. Good people down there, all of them, but—“

The craft suddenly lurched sideways, banging Heywood’s head against the wall. All around, faces looked up from whatever they were doing.

The Corporal just chuckled, “turbulence. The offshore flow coming down from the mountains tends to pick up all sorts of eddies. Can get pretty rough, sir.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Heywood rubbed at the back of head. With the other hand, he tugged his lab coat tighter against a wash of chills that ran through him. He pulled himself up with a sigh, “do you have a secure data terminal on board?”

The Corporal pointed to a screen mounted in a little cubby in the forward bulkhead. Heywood made his way there, sure to keep a firm handhold on whatever he could as the aircraft swayed and bounced. He retrieved a thumb drive from his pocket, plugged it into the port and began typing. He could feel the Colonel standing behind him, pointedly not looking at the screen.

“Data from the hospital’s lab,” Heywood offered, “we’ve still got one more chance to pull ourselves out of this mess.” He moved to the large metallic cylinder in the center of the bay, stumbling a bit as the floor seemed to drop out from beneath him for a moment. The Colonel followed along, taking the little jolts in stride. Opening a cover panel, Heywood checked over the instruments inside, one of which registered a faint heartbeat. Just above that, the display read: KERMAN, DILFORD.

“Seems like an awful lot of fuss for one person, sir,” the Colonel mused. 

“It is,” Heywood agreed, “he’s our last, best hope. He contracted it from somewhere, and we need to find out where. How. Follow that vector back to its source.” He paused for another round of coughing, scratched at his face, “that’s our only hope for any kind of meaningful treatment. Maybe even—“

He was tossed across the bay, landing hard against the opposite wall by another bout of turbulence. The Colonel seemed bolted to the floor. 

“I’ll go talk to the flight crew, sir,” he said, unbolting himself, “see if they can climb above it. It’s a short flight, but you may want to buckle in anyway.”

Heywood nodded, rubbing at the dark bruise that was already forming on his cheek. He reached around to fiddle with the seat harness. 

“Good thing we’re not on a V-38,” the Colonel said as he started up the short ladder to the flight deck, “those little things really get tossed— what the hells!?”

He pulled his bare hand away from the top rung, trailing long strings of slimy black goo. His face darted back to Heywood, eyes wide with fear and surprise, then to the deck just above him. 

The flight engineer shuffled out of the shadows, oxygen mask dragging behind him, “whuuuuuuhguggle?”

The Demon reared... and there was wailing, and gnashing of teeth. 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

4 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

He pulled his bare hand away from the top rung, trailing long strings of slimy black goo. His face darted back to Heywood, eyes wide with fear and surprise, then to the deck just above him. 

The flight engineer shuffled out of the shadows, oxygen mask dragging behind him, “whuuuuuuhguggle?”

Of course there was a zombie on the plane.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One of your best chapters yet I'd say! Difficult to pinpoint exactly why but the writing was just spot on all the way through. And I did like the subverted briefing bluster - "Okay, listen up, ladies." :) 

Looks like there's more to Heywood than met the eye in earlier chapters too. Looking forward to seeing how that pans out!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Come on Heywood! Show those zombies the old one-two! With gloves on of course. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 12/5/2017 at 5:28 AM, KSK said:

And I did like the subverted briefing bluster - "Okay, listen up, ladies." :) 

Always wanted to do that. :wink:

This was one of those chapters that just kinda plodded along until I stumbled upon the connection. It's been yet another chaotic week,  haven't started it yet but hopefully the next installment won't be quite so long, since some of it will be... recycled:ph34r:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ugh. Freaking glorps. These guys seriously need to learn how to put on gloves. C'mon now.

 

Great chapter though.

Edited by vsully

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Now I am become Death...


Chapter 14: Shatterer of Worlds


“General, sir... the SAR team from the Mercy is reporting back from Orpheus’s last known position. Spectral is detecting a diffuse oil slick on the surface, but increasingly rough seas are hampering the search effort. IR is negative, no debris has been spotted. They’ll continue orbiting as long as fuel holds out.”

“Thank you, Captain,” General Kerman nodded to the officer, then turned away from the long banks of screens and technicians to the long table that dominated the room. Around that table sat several people, all of whom looked far too green. Ties hung from unbuttoned collars, and suit jackets lay forgotten in one empty chair. The near wall bore an immense display surrounded by many smaller ones, and on that display was a map. An irregular, boxy, vaguely rectangular shape in the middle represented perhaps a small city, or a large town. Centered on that rectangle, barely containing it, was a broken, incomplete circle. Concentric circles spanned out from that one; the next, complete, but with bulbous, organic blobs crammed in sporadic lumps around its inner edge. Between this circle and the next were many blue icons, each marked with several numbers. The blue icons continued beyond the third circle, where they became mingled with green boxes, each of these marked with a single, large number. 

The final circle surrounded everything on the map by a wide margin. It was very thick, and very red. 

General Kerman approached the table, and leaned on it with both fists, “gentlekerbs... we are running out of options.” The others around the table studied its surface a moment longer. 

“There... there has to be another way...” the Science Advisor said at length. 

“If you have one, Professor,” the General said softly, “now is the time.” The other kerb seemed to shrink in on himself a bit. 

“We spent a fortune modifying those tanks on such short notice," the Chair of the Joint Chiefs began, “what’s changed? Why have they lost effectiveness?”

The General nodded, moving back to the enormous screen. He gestured before it, and images shifted and changed by his hand. The display zoomed in to one of the amorphous blobs pressing against a circle, showing a dozen more blue icons within the mass, each covered with an X. 

“There’s too many of them, sir,” he pointed, “our tanks are being overwhelmed.”

The Intelligence Director scoffed, “how can mindless, barely mobile invalids stop a 1500-horsepower gas turbine pushing a sixty tonne tank wielding the world’s largest flame thrower, General?”

The General eyed him a moment, then waved at the screen. A smaller video image appeared.

“Drone footage from earlier, as we were trying to withdraw our last units behind beta perimeter and got bogged down. Yankee company from the 19th Cavalry Regiment disobeyed a direct order and charged the oncoming hoard, buying the infantry time to get behind the wall.”

The video began to play, a rock-steady view from above as the dozen tanks sprinted forward. As wall of steel and fire, they turned night into day, raging like dragons from the very bowels of the world. This wall slammed against something that looked like mud in the hellish glow, splattering it backwards and setting it aflame. But the mud... kept coming. The tanks slowed, first one and then another, and then ground to a halt. Wave after wave of writhing, inky darkness, like shadow made flesh, washed over them. The fire belching from their turrets dwindled to nothing. For a moment the screen went black, then returned with an eerie green cast, showing something that was definitely not mud squirming and flowing over huge, formless lumps where the tanks had been. The picture winked out. 

“This was the first incident,” the General explained, “more followed. With such a fluid situation, the significance was not immediately clear.”

“But still,” the Director prodded, looking unwell, “how?

General Kerman flicked at the screen, the video returning and zooming in to carnage beyond measure, “dozens, hundreds, clogging the treads... the intakes... the radiators... Like honeybees suffocating a hornet.”

The Director’s eyes grew wide, “that looks like a directed response... do you mean to say they’re showing some sort of collective intelligence?”

I’m not the scientist,” the General looked at the Science Advisor... then cleared his throat loudly. 

“Huh? Oh,” the lab-coated kerb swallowed hard, “we can’t say definitively. According to our research team embedded at the hospital, the infected never showed any outward sign of advanced brain function, although EEG’s did resemble greatly stressed but otherwise normal activity. For all we know, this behavior could be a simple ingrained response to outside stimuli. We never could determine what attracted them to living people, they never—“ he paused to swallow again, “they never actually harmed anyone, not directly, just... pawed at them... with those eyes...” he ended with a shudder. 

“How long can we hold out?” the Directed squeezed his eyes shut, rubbing at the wide space between them.

General Kerman shared a glance with the Chair, then shook his head, “hours. Midday day at most. The infected are pressing against the wall wherever we try to reinforce it, piling on top of each other. We have to pull back and keep moving or risk them overtopping it. The troops are exhausted. Air strikes had only limited effectiveness to begin with, but we can’t even use precision munitions with them pressed against the wall like they are. Once beta perimeter is breached we have plans for a stepped withdrawal behind gamma perimeter, but none of the commanders in the field give that much hope. Gamma won’t last long, we’re stretched thin enough as it is.”

He leaned down on the table again, “gentlekerbs, at this point we can only conclude that secondary sanitation protocol has failed, and the time has come to activate primary protocol.”

“What you’re advocating is unprecedented!” the Director snapped, “we only made those devices because they made them! They only made them because someone else did, and someone else only made them to see if they could! No one ever thought they’d be used...”

“What if it doesn’t work at all?” the Advisor broke in, “the device has never been tested at this yield. If it fizzles—“

“Then we’re back in the same situation we already are,” the Chair answered, “we’ve been over the risks of trying a lower yield detonation. Anything less is unlikely to provide a wide enough thermal radius to neutralize the toxin.”

The Director seemed to think on this a moment, “could we make it worse? Professor, is there any indication the toxin is airborne?”

“No,” the Advisor shook his head, “it can only be spread through direct contact. And any exposure to temperatures above 300C denatures it instantly. That’s about the only thing we’re certain of.”

Nods, and mumbles around the table. More flipping through notes and tapping at tablets. Then the Professor spoke up again.

“What about other civilian exposure?” he asked. 

“Winds are favorable, at the moment,” General Kerman flicked at the map, “blowing southeast. They should carry any residual fallout out to sea. But they could shift at any time.”

“That wasn’t what I meant,” the Advisor cringed, “What about the press, internet...?”

The National Intelligence Director cringed in turn, “we’ve been able to keep a lid on the domestic press, for the most part. Foul and disrupt social media feeds, slow any international exchanges, feed the right information to the wrong sources and vice-versa. Keep it muddled. People know something significant is going on, but they don’t know what,” he tapped his pen irritably on the table, “except across the border in Nefcarkaland. Somehow, word got out through Blabber about a ‘supervirus,’ and—” he winced, “—zombies.”

“But... but that’s not right at all...” the Advisor pleaded. 

The Director waved him off, “we’re getting reports of growing civil unrest in some of their cities near the border, and—“ his expression darkened as the Secretary of State now approached the table, talking into his phone. 

“I know sir, I understand that,” he was saying, “Mister Ambassador, you’re backing us into a corner here and setting a very troubling precedent, if you would only... I understand the difficulty of your position, but you’re not leaving us... that is a matter for our concern and... yes, sir... yes, sir... very well, I will relay that.”

The Secretary sat down with a grunt, and fixed everyone at the table with a hard stare, “we have a new complication.” He took a moment to blot at his head with a handkerchief, tossed his coat on the chair, “the Nefcarkalandern are getting restless. They believe their own situation is already deteriorating, and are no longer willing to sit idly by while we discuss this matter in a committee,” just the slightest roll of his eyes, “they’ve given us an ultimatum: we have until dawn to take decisive and final action... or they will.”

“That’s madness!” the Director snorted, “their stockpile isn’t as advanced as ours, they don’t have anything nearly powerful enough to sanitize the entire—“ He cut off, as his eyes grew wide in realization. 

The Advisor’s head whipped back and forth, “but... we’ve never had any quarrel with Nefcarkaland... they’re signatories to the KSA treaty, they’re... they’re our friends!” his own eyes didn’t seem to find any answers, “that would start a war...”

“No,” the Chair said softly, “it wouldn’t.”

“What?” 

“He’s right,” General Kerman nodded, “a war requires two belligerents.”

“I... I don’t...”

The General turned to the map, “a Nefcarkalandern strike would only succeed in demolishing the perimeter, disabling or destroying nearly all of our available forces, and making all the land around physically impassable. Thousands of infected would survive, maybe more. Hemmed in from the north, by the mountains to the west, and the sea to the east, they’d have only one way to go. 

“South. Right into the heartland of Kleptogart, and we would have nothing left to respond with.”

“But...” the Advisor’s lip began to quiver, “why would they do such a thing?”

“They’re scared, Professor,” the General said, “people do foolish things when they’re scared.”

“And they have reason to be,” the Director broke in, giving his own wave to the screen, “five of their largest cities, stretched out up the valley like so, the first less than a day’s walk from the border. That’s upwards of fifty million people who just got wind that a horde of movie monsters is coming for them. Riots have broken out here in Spløtsbørgen and Trøndhølm already, demanding that their government do something. What doesn’t really matter at this point.”

“Excuse me, General, sirs,” the watch officer returned, one hand covering his headset mic, “AWACS is reporting sixteen contacts taking off from Spløtsbørgen Air Base. Profiles match Bjørk-19 high-speed bombers.”

“Thank you, Captain,” the General nodded, “I want to know the minute they approach the border.”

“Yes, sir.”

“But... but...” the Advisor still foundered, “what about Omork? They have a much longer border with Nefcarkaland, they’d get dragged into it too!”

“I’m afraid the General is correct, Professor,” said a new voice, “a war requires two belligerents.” A tall, well-dressed figure stepped from the shadow of a support column near the rows of technicians, leaning heavily on a walking stick, “Her Majesty has directed me to inform you of her gratitude for including a representative of her interests as an observer in these discussions. She wishes me to convey that the United Federal People’s Democratic Kingdom of Omork, as ever, stands by its oldest and most trusted ally, the Republic of Kleptogart, and that she will spare no effort in assisting the Kleptogarti people in any way it is required. However, Her Majesty can see no benefit to the Kleptogarti people in pressing their interests against a sovereign power in their stead, should they suddenly find themselves unable to do so. She gives her assurance that my counterpart in Nefcarkaland continues to press for a level-headed and civil resolution to this matter, and instead suggests that her assistance will be most effective in a more... kermanitarian role.

“General, Her Majesty wishes me to inform you that, given the circumstances, she believes that discretion will be most conducive to our continued ability to provide whatever aid you require, and therefore has withdrawn all of her resources from the Tripartite Border region to more defensible positions in the mountains to the west. Her Majesty understands that, due to the nature of the situation, collateral injury to her assets may be unavoidable, and has directed me to give you her assurance that any such injury shall, for the time being, not be held in contempt.”

“Excuse me, General, sirs,” the watch officer didn’t bother with his mic, “a second flight of sixteen aircraft just launched from Trøndhølm.”

The General gave him a curt nod and turned back to the table, “gentlekerbs... time is running out.”

Leaning over, the Secretary of State rubbed at his temples with both hands, “General, how soon can you pull your troops back to a safe distance?” When no answer came, he looked up to find the General staring at him.

“Every asset I have is committed to holding the perimeters right now. If they stand down even for a moment, we risk a complete collapse.”

“There’s fifty thousand people out there!” the Secretary gaped at him, “our people!” 

“Fifty-seven thousand, two hundred and twenty, representing eighty-seven percent of our deployable ground forces. And every single one of them made a choice, and took an oath; to support and defend, to the gravest extreme, so that others might live. 

“But I will tell you who did not take an oath. The twenty-three thousand uncleared civilians still in quarantine camps within the red zone. Or the fifteen hundred police, firefighters, doctors and nurses who heard the situation breaking, jumped in their own kars, and drove toward it. Or the untold survivors still within the city. And their loss, their sacrifice, will mean nothing, if we do not end this thing here and now.

“Make no mistake, Mister Secretary, this toxin, whatever it is, is a planet killer. A shatterer of worlds. And we have one chance to stop it.”

“Excuse me, General, sirs,” the watch officer had begun to sweat, “both flights have taken up holding patterns ten kilometers from the border,” he swallowed hard, “and we have thirty two more contacts inbound at high speed from deeper in-country.”

General Kerman turned to the head of the table, where a lone figure had been sitting quietly, only listening, his fingers steepled before him, “Mister President, sir... we need an answer.”

The President of Kleptogart rose, the lines on his face somehow deeper, the last shocks of brown in his hair now faded to white, as if he had aged twenty years in twenty minutes. He stood with his back straight, shoulders up, taking a moment to straighten a tie that did not need straightening. He fixed every kerb at the table with a long stare before speaking. 

“May whatever good is left in this world have mercy on us all,” he said with a voice full of power and regret, “General Kerman, I order you to deploy with all haste.”

***

A short time later, over what had once been a quiet, unremarkable town at the edge of anyone’s concern, dawn broke twice.

——————————

The dawn has moved on, leaning only dusk. 

A harsh wind roars across a cracked, crumbling expanse of nothing, dried and dead, every last trace of moisture gone. It kicks up gritty, alkaline dust, scouring the surface, shrouding the land in a sickly, yellow haze. Through this haze walks a figure, clad all in black, hunched over against the relentless wind. 

Its hands are bandaged, its legs wrapped in rags, leaving nothing exposed to the abrasive torrent around it. What might once have been a gas mask covers its eyes, the rubber cracked, the dark lenses scratched to near opacity. With one hand the figure holds its ragged cloak across the rest of its face. Its head is always bowed, studying the tortured ground as it lurches onward, never looking up. No, to look up is to know madness. 

I want to cry... but I can't...

As the dark figure trudges along, a great form looms out of the roiling sepia cloud. The figure approaches, unperturbed, and pauses before the enormous bulk rising out of the ruined land. Here, someone has cut a hole in the hull of the ancient fishing trawler. A torn square of cloth whips in the wind, half covering it. A pathetic patch of ground nearby has been scraped up, a few dried brown stalks of some stringy plant still stand, slowly being eroded by the unceasing gale. For a long time, the figure only stares, clutching its cloak against the maelstrom. It moves to brush the scrap of cloth aside, but the wind tears it from its mounts, and it disappears off into the torrent. 

Inside, the howl is left a muted wail. Shafts of dim light from rusted holes illuminate the dust hanging in the air. All around are the cast off detritus of a waning world. The figure bends, reaching for an object on the ground. It is a tiny doll, cobbled together from whatever was to be found. The moment the figure lifts it, it crumbles away. 

I want to cry... but I can't...

The figure moves on into the next room, and there he sees. Two skeletons huddle on the floor, cradling another, much smaller, its features twisted and deformed. Even here, in this dying place, some had clung to hope until the last bitter breath. The figure looks on a moment longer before turning away. 

Outside, the wind rages louder than ever before. The figure trembles and slowly falls to its knees. Above, there is no sky. The sky has been gone since the day it receded, rolled up like a scroll; when the sun became as dark as sackcloth, the Mün became as blood, and the stars fell like rain. Above, there are only roiling clouds, red and angry. Snaking through them, twisting and churning, dominating what had once been the sky... 

It is formless, yet it has form. Soundless, yet it has sound. Arm-claw-tentacle-appendage-things jut from its not-flanks randomly, always shifting, changing. Its not-skin is the agony of a thousand faces, and hideous visions torn from the nightmares of a trillion slumbering beings.

My fault... all my fault...

The wind finally catches the figure's cloak, tearing it from its bandaged hand. Below the tattered remains of what might once have been a gas mask, there is only the weathered, desiccated jaw of a skull. 

I want to cry... but I can't...
I want to die... but I can't...

I thought I was doing the right thing...


Edgas jerked upright, a scream on his lips, cracking his head on the shelf above his cot. He pawed at his face as his breath came in ragged gasps.

A dream... just a dream...

Panting, he shoved himself around to the cot’s edge. He could almost feel the dry grit of sand still between his teeth. His breath puffed out into billowing clouds of mist, lit by a sunbeam in the dark room.

His eyes shot open.

Not right... that’s not right...

Panic began to rise again as he spun to his small window. There, he caught a last glimpse of the sun... as it disappeared below the rim of the crater, condemning the land once more to the long Münar night. 

In an instant, the air was ripped from his aching lungs. He tumbled from the cot in slow motion, hands at his throat. Even as he fell, he felt irresistible pressure in his mind, piercing into it, cutting like knives. 

THAT IS NOT DEAD WHICH ETERNAL LIE.

His mouth curled into a breathless scream. He could feel the moisture on his tongue begin to boil. 

I AM A PART OF YOU. I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A PART OF YOU.

Edgas flailed, helpless, tightness closing in around his face.

YOU SAW, BUT YOU HAVE NOT SEEN.

His heartbeat thundered in his ears. His eyes burned with icy dryness. 

DESTINY. 

YOU CANNOT. DESTROY. MY DESINY. 

The darkness swarmed in. 

AND YOU CANNOT ESCAPE YOUR OWN. 

The darkness retreated with a flash, leaving only the familiar dim light of Edgas’s room, where several nightlights glowed on the walls. His chest clenched and his throat spasmed, his lungs unsure whether to gasp or gag. He lurched from his bed, stumbling across the small space, flicking on every light he could in near madness. Finally he came to his little sink and heaved, producing only few bitter drops, sure he could feel the alkaline grit in them. 

He clung there, panting, waiting for the tremors to work their way from his arms. In his reflection, his eyes were wide with terror yet still drooping from exhaustion. His lips felt parched as desert sand, his throat dry as Münar soil.

“Dream...” he croaked, as if trying to convince himself, “just... dream...” 

You know this is what happens when you don’t sleep, the Scientist in him chided.

Yes, the Practical Kerbal agreed, and you know why you must not ignore it.

Even as Edgas stared, gasping, the rest of the nightmare fading, the last words seemed carved into his brain.

You cannot destroy my destiny.
You cannot escape your own.

 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Six months to the day since I started this latest bit of madness, I see.  :D 14 chapters in six months... ok, I can live with that. 

And a very special thanks to @Ten Key & @KSK on this latest one for helping me get my head on straight.  :cool:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've always been of the opinion that a zombie apocalypse could be managed through use of nuclear ordnance.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Now this is an accurate representation of what a zombie apocalypse would be like. I am loving this story right now. It is so awesome! Can't wait for the next chapter.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

*huff. Huff. Huff. Pantpantpant*

Almost. There. 10... 10 chapters to go... *WHEW!*

I'm working on reading the entire series, and I must say, Whispers has been one amazing ride! Can't wait to see how it ends :)

 

*WHEW!!*

WHY ARE THESE STAIRS SO LONG?!

Edited by DarkOwl57

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Zombies condemning entire lands... billowing ash and dust... no sun, only darkness...

This is all becoming very Dark Souls.

Edited by IncongruousGoat

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 12/19/2017 at 9:52 AM, CatastrophicFailure said:

Two skeletons huddle on the floor, cradling another, much smaller, its features twisted and deformed.

You evil sadist tortureminded devil! You kraken! This bit felt so sad it almost physically hurt me. I hope you're pleased now! ;.;

Personal sensitivities aside some top class wordcraft there, again. Well written!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 12/19/2017 at 2:52 AM, CatastrophicFailure said:

You cannot destroy my destiny.
You cannot escape your own.

First thing that came to mind!!!

 

Unbelievable chapter!!!  :D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The One Who Goes Before shall be rejected, 
And cast into the sea. 
Yet the powerful will bow down to the throne,
And before it, they will cast their golden crowns. 



Chapter 15: Acts of Contrition



“Mister Edgas? Are you all right? You look rather... ill...”

For the umpteenth time this morning, Edgas rubbed at his eyes and dragged them into focus out of sheer will, “didn’t sleep well. Bad dreams.”

For... just a moment, there was the slightest little tick of... And then it was gone. 

She crossed her arms with a huff, “you are not still sleeping in chair outside infirmary, are you?”

He tried to laugh, but it came out more of a grunt, “no. Honestly, I think I slept better then.” 

For a moment longer she glared at him, then her face softened, “you should... maybe take day off. You really do not look well.”

“I’ll be fine,” he waved it away, “just need some coffee.” Yes, nice crunchy coffee. Maybe he should just skip the pretext of water altogether, though. Edgas absently wondered if there was any yogurt in the galley. 

But, he stifled another yawn, no time for that, either, “are you sure you want to be here for this? It’s cold in there...”

“Bah,” now she waved him off, “I want to meet this specialist of yours.”

“As you wish,” though it came out more like ‘wash’ as another yawn tried to sneak out while his mouth wasn’t looking. He gestured down the hall, and followed. 

Beyond the window, the twilight seemed just a bit less purple, the swirling snow less angry. Edgas would have to check the latest wind report, but perhaps the storm was easing. He wasn’t sure if that relieved or terrified him. Sure, it would make some things easier, but the others... 

He brushed the thought away. She was looking a bit more spry, too. Not leaning so much on the cane as she walked, but it did seem to help her balance. Perhaps if—

He noticed her glaring again. 

“Were you just looking at my—?”

“No! Nononono!” Edgas threw his hands up, “I-I-I was just... well that is... hey! You’re getting around much better today! Um... little more spring in your step, be ready to run a marathon soon at this rate! Please don’t hurt me.”

She looked at him. 

He looked at her.

“I was going to say ‘cane,’” the slightest little twitch of the corners of her mouth, then she turned and clopped on.

Edgas raised a hand to his face. He thought she might be giggling. Or perhaps choking. He followed once more, keeping his eyes on the ceiling. It was quite dirty. He should really get on that. 

Doc was waiting at the hatch to the hangar bay, with an uneasy smile. That evaporated as soon as they approached. 

“Whoah. Boss. You look like crap.”

Edgas rolled his eyes, “Doc, never let it be said that you’re a kerb to mince words. I’m fine, didn’t sleep well.”

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

Beside him, she began coughing. 

He eyed the two of them, “what?”

“Nevermind,” Edgas shook his head, “is the, um, package en route?”

Doc leaned in, cupping a hand to his mouth and looking about suspiciously, “the chair is against the wall. The horn blows at midnight. The chicken is in the bread pan.”

Edgas blinked at him, “what?”

“I’m just not cut out for this cloak-&-dagger stuff,” Doc sighed, “there’s an inbound radar contact on bravo array about to turn on final, profile matches a four-engine transport plane. No radio contact, no transponder beacon. 

“Oh, and there’s fresh chicken bread in the galley.”

“Good, I— wait, what? Chicken bread?”

“We’re staring to run low on fresh food, and of course no one wants to dig into the stores, so Cookie’s having to get... creative with what’s left,” Doc shrugged, “it’s actually pretty good.”

Edgas opened his mouth. 

Edgas closed his mouth. 

“Also, here are the morning science reports for your approval,” Doc proffered a tablet. 

Edgas glanced over it, “sustained winds are down by 10m/s, gusts even more. That’s good.”

“Storm might be starting to blow itself out,” Doc nodded, “also, check page three. I think the seismic arrays might need calibrating.”

“Huh?” Edgas tapped at the glass, “yeah, that can’t be right.”

“That part of Kleptogart has never seen an earthquake, especially one that big. Must be something off with the hardware, but I can’t verify with other sources till the storm clears.”

“Has to be an error. Take Poindexter out to check them as soon as the weather allows.”

“Gotcha,” Doc let out a long sigh, “ugh, I hope it’s not whumpers using the boxes for toilets again.”

Edgas winced, “ok I did not need that mental image back in my head, thanks.”

“Some things just can’t be unseen,” Doc grinned, “so... you sure you want to take this arrival alone?”

“Yeah, not quite sure how this is gonna go. Better keep everyone scarce for a little while.”

Doc gave a beleaguered shake of his head as he took the tablet back, “whatever you say, Boss.” He nodded to her, “ma’am,” then headed off down the corridor. 

She raised an eye... bulge, “what was that all about?”

“It’s... complicated,” Edgas sighed.

“Am I... becoming a problem?”

“Of course not! It’s just... well, things went on the same way around here for years, and change... disruption... some people just find it stressful.” He reached for the hatch, “are you sure you don’t want a parka or anything?”

She shook her head quickly, pulling on the drawstrings of her hood. For... just a moment, before the sweatshirt’s hood hid them, he could have sworn he saw red flash on her cheeks. Edgas shrugged and pulled the hatch open. 

The hangar was, of course, cold. But the reverent stillness was broken by the growing drone of approaching turboprop engines.

“Is that an... air lock?” she seemed to test the words as she spoke them, pointing to what looked like a small room built into the corner.

“Good eye,” Edgas nodded, “slightly overkill but it came with the structure. Plus, it keeps us from having to open the main doors in bad weather like this.”

Even as he spoke, the drone outside grew louder and louder until it was a great, rumbling shriek. The walls themselves began to rattle and groan, the ice particles floating in the air to dance. Then... just as quickly as it rose, the sound flared for a moment before rapidly fading. 

Stillness returned to the hangar, the only sound now the distant howling of the wind. Yet it only lasted a few moments. One by one, the lights on the airlock began to blink on and off in sequence. There was an empty rushing, and the doors slid open spilling out fog and snow. 

For... just a moment, Edgas was certain he could hear the bassy opening notes of an imperious march, and then...

Kawwwwwwwwww... pahhhhhhh...

Kawwwwwwwwww... pahhhhhhh...

Kawwwwwwwwww... pahhhhhhh...

A towering, dark figure materialized out of the roiling cloud, its breathing labored and mechanical. It wore a cloak, black as night, over a suit of steel and plastic that seemed to draw in and capture the very light of the dim space. On its head, a great helm that glinted in the darkness covered a mask with huge, condemning eyes and a perpetual scowl. 

Kawwwwwwwwww... pahhhhhhh...

Kawwwwwwwwww... pahhhhhhh...

Kawwwwwwwwww... pahhhhhhh...

Edgas’s nervous smile faded as the figure stalked up to him in a stiff, almost robotic gait. Its synthesized voice rumbled with an incredibly, almost impossibly deep tone. 

Kawwwww... “do you have any idea... how cold it is out there?” Pahhhhhh...

Edgas glanced at the display on the wall, “forty below.” He offered another nervous smile. 

“Forty.” Kawwwww... “Below.” Pahhhhh...

He thought for a moment, “seventy, with the windchill?”

“Seventy.” Kawwwww... Pahhhhhh...

The dark figure raised an open hand as if to choke him, and for just a moment, Edgas could swear he felt his throat clench.

“If you were any other kerb,” kaww... pah... “I would kill you where you stand.”

Edgas stood... just a bit farther back. 

The menacing newcomer didn’t seem to notice, instead looking up at something... far away, stretching its upraised hand out as if seeing it all over again.

“I was on a beach in Ponpín,” kawwww... “flawless black sand, crystal turquoise water as far as the eye could see,” pahhhhh.... 

It then stared at both hands, its face somehow drawn with regret despite the mask. 

“I had a drink in one hand...” kawwww... “a barmaid in the other...” pahhhhh... “it was... paradise.”

It thrust a gloved finger in Edgas’s face, “this... had better... be worth it.” Kawww... pahhhh...

The figure stepped back, reaching for its helm. Latches released with a hiss of escaping air. It raised the helm up, then with a clatter of clicks and clunks, the suit seemed to fold in upon itself, peeling back to reveal... someone very different. 

He stepped down out of it, offering a hand, “its good to see you again, Edgas,” the handshake quickly became a hug with lots of back-slapping, “but wow, you look like crap.”

“You haven’t changed a bit, Burdous,” Edgas grinned, “how long has it been?”

“Too long,” Burdous Kerman grinned back. 

“So, um...” Edgas pointed at the empty suit that now seemed to be standing there all on its own, pulling its own head off, “what’s with that?”

“Prototype environmental exposure suit for the next Laythe polar expedition. Radiation-proof, thermally isolated, and servomechanically-enhanced strength and agility. Figured this would be a great place to give it a dry run.” He beamed like a proud father. 

“Ah hah,” Edgas grunted, “but you were careful, right?”

“Of course! Don’t forget who you’re talking to, I know how to cover my tracks. Brilliant electromagnetic sleight of hand, by the way, hiding our signal in that old cubesat relay. Almost didn’t detect it,” he winked, “almost.”

“Um... what about the flight crew?” Edgas waved a hand in the vague direction the transport plane had departed in. 

“What crew? It was a drone, I hacked the controls.”

Edgas looked at him flatly, “you mean you stole it.”

“I did not steal it!” Burdous threw his arms up, “I leased it. Without the owner’s knowledge. Or, well, consent.”

Edgas’s hand rose to his face, “Burdous...”

“Hey, it’ll show up tomorrow at an airfield in Sysaria with the flight data recorders wiped and scrambled, and an anonymous deposit will suddenly appear in the owner’s bank account covering wear and tear, fuel... and what I pilfered from the glove box,” he crossed his arms with a defensive air, “besides, it’s not like I can just fly coach up here, y’know?”

“I suppose you’re right,” Edgas sighed. 

“So,” Burdous glanced past him, “who’s the babe? I thought they didn’t allow chicks up here.”

Edgas could practically feel her bristle, “may I hurt him? I want to hurt him...”

“Oooh, she’s feisty, I like her! Dig the accent, too,” Burdous leaned past Edgas and did that... thing with his eye... bulges, taking on a smoldery smirk, “Hi.”

“Burdous, no,” Edgas huffed.  

The other kerb looked at him, then at her, then at him again, “wait, are you two, like...”

NNOO!!

“Oh, cool,” Burdous returned to smoldering at her, “how you doin?”

Edgas’s face found his palm again. 

“May I please hurt him?” she grunted. 

Burdous’s smolder flickered, “wait... do I know you?”

“Burdous...” Edgas turned the other kerb till they were facing each other. Well, here goes nothing... “that’s Valentina Kermanova.”

In a flash, the smolder flicked out. His face pinched with confusion, wave after wave of conflicting emotions seeming to break against it as on rocks in a storm. His lower lip began to quiver. And then, it all went purple.

“NOT! COOL!” Burdous roared, thrusting a trembling finger in Edgas’s face, “you think that’s funny, huh?! That your idea of a joke?!”

“Burdous,” Edgas’s hands went up, “just calm down, let me—“

“That ain’t funny, kerb! That is so not funny!” He continued to rant and scream, storm around in a circle, “I can’t believe I came all this way for this!

“...If you’ll just lis—“

“What the hells, kerb?! I mean, this is low, this is really low!”

Edgas fought to bite back his own frustration, “Burdous, just look, it’s her.”

Seeming to catch the cue, she pulled the hood back, fully exposing her face for the first time. 

Burdous stopped in mid storm. For just an instant, conflict spread across his face. But it was, sadly, just for an instant. 

“Oh that’s great, that’s just flarping great!” he raged ten times louder, “what’d you do, go down to the local outpost lockup and bail out some poor beat-up street urchin as a look-alike?! You got the hair totally wrong, by the way!”

“It’s her,” Edgas said through clenched teeth, “just let me—“

In a flash, Burdous seized him by his collar, almost knocking him down, eyes burning with rage... and something else. 

“VALENTINA KERMANOVA IS DEAD!” he roared, “SHE IS DEAD!” he shoved Edgas back, tears streaming down his cheeks as his voice softened, “I should know, I was at her funeral.”

“Burdous,” Edgas laid a hand on his trembling shoulder, “she’s alive. She fell out of the sky in that” he pointed to the debris pile off in the corner, “we were hoping maybe you could tells us—“

“Oh, in this? Really, in this?” the tempest flared brighter than ever, Burdous stalked over to the pile, “oh, right here! This is the answer right here!” he waved around a piece of debris, “it’s junk!” he threw it clanging off across the floor, “garbage!” he kicked something else, “trash!” another bit went flying, “I’m such an idiot, how’d I fall for this?” clank-bang-crunch, “of all the stupid— wham! Selfish— crash! Thoughtless— bam! Low down, dirty, son of a—“

He froze, a smashed metallic box with two broken lights held over his head. 

All the anger, the pain, seemed to drain from his features like the receding tide. He brought the box down, staring at it with wide eyes. He turned it this way, that, rubbed the wires jutting from one end between his finger. 

It can’t be, his lips silently mimed. He looked up to Edgas, looked over to her, dropped the box and grabbed something else. Again he turned it, rubbed it, held it up to the light. 

“It... can’t be...” Burdous went from piece to piece, sorting through the pile with growing fervor... this one... then that one... then back to this again... until finally he slid down and collapsed into a heap next to it.  

“Burdous!” Edgas cried out. He couldn’t tell if the other was laughing or crying. 

“I should have known!” his shoulders quaked in an unsteady syncopated rhythm, “I shoulda checked for a carrier beacon, pinged the low gain through the DSN, something!” His eyes squeezed shut as his head thunked back against a bit of junk.

“B... Burdous...?”

Burdous looked over at him, thumping a fist against his own chest, “I should have known! I... I didn’t know, how could I have known? I should have known...”

“C’mon,” Edgas offered a hand, “let me explain and—“

“It all makes perfect sense, now!” suddenly he jumped up and ran at her with open arms, “Val!”

“No, Burdous, wait—!”

The cane came up.

Whoosh!

Crunch!

Thud!


"Ow."

Edgas winced.

“Oh yeah, that’s her. Without a doubt.” Burdous proclaimed to the floor... slightly more soprano than usual... “oh, my spoon...”

“Are... you all right?”

“Awww,” he groaned, “she bent my spoon...”

Edgas rolled his eyes, “are you still carrying that old thing around?”

Burdous brandished a spoon at him that was, indeed, quite bent, “hey, you never know when I might need to stab someone with this!” He hopped back up again, good as new, grinning from ear to ear, “Val!”

“Next time I hit you harder,” she stepped back, brandishing the cane at him.

The grin faltered, “Val? It... it’s me...”

She stepped back again.

His face fell, “it... it’s me, it’s Burdous! It’s B! I’m... I’m your buddy, I’m your pal, I’m your homeboy! You... you gave me the shirt—” he shot a death glare at Edgas, “the one he ruined.”

She raised the cane at him.

“...don’t you recognize me?”

“She doesn’t,” Edgas stepped between them, keeping his voice calm and even, “Burdous... she’s lost her memory. This is how we found her. I was hoping maybe you could make some sense of all this and tell us why.”

“Um... yeah, um...” Burdous ran a hand through sodden hair, turning in a vague circle, “yeah. Ok. That makes sense, that’s one of the things they were worried about, but the tests showed improvement, I thought, I mean... that’s why the prototype went ahead, but... but they were never supposed to try a full... but...”

Edgas laid a hand on his shoulder again, “look, why don’t you take a few minutes to collect your thoughts, hm? Let’s all go down to the galley, sit down, have some coffee and talk this out, ok?”

“Yeah... talk... yeah, that sounds good,” then his eyes popped open wide before narrowing down to slits, “but I’m making the coffee!”

—————————–

“Ten seconds, Mr. President... roll-in playing... good. And we’re live in five... four... three...”

“Good evening, my fellow Kleptogartis. This is the 37th time I have spoken to you from this office, where so many decisions have been made that shaped the history of this Republic. The events that have transpired these last few weeks will, no doubt, be remembered as such that have shaped not only our own history but the very course of Kerbal events. The last few days, especially, have been a time of division and anger here in our great Republic. This Administration was elected on a promise of transparency, and with that promise in mind, as one of my predecessors so famously said, the buck stops here. 

“These are the facts as they stand, as of this livestream. Several weeks ago, a single individual contracted a previously unencountered pathogen through a still unknown vector. In seeking medical attention, the pathogen was spread to several others at the local health clinic. The illness was contained, for a time, at the County General Hospital, at which point research into a treatment began. It was here that the unprecedented virulence of the pathogen was finally grasped, that it could be spread person to person from the slightest physical contact, with the newly infected victim succumbing to dementia and incapacitation within only moments. Due to an error in containment protocols at the hospital, the pathogen escaped quarantine, and the infection began to spread into the city at large. 

“At this point, upon my orders, a plan was put into action that had been crafted some time ago by Doctor Heywood Kerman. A former Army Colonel, infectious disease specialist at the Kleptogarti Center for Disease Control, and epidemiologist with the biomedical division of the Layland-Wutani Corporation, Dr. Kerman had spent his entire career analyzing the spread of disease and designing a multi-tiered response that could halt even the threat of a global pandemic, an extinction-level event. It was his determination early on that the F9H1 pathogen represented just such a threat, but due to a chain of events that this Administration now takes full responsibility for, his plan was not implemented until far later than it should have been. Possibly as a result of this delayed response, the infection escaped the initial quarantine zone, and threatened to break out beyond any hope of containment. 

“With the global threat potential of this contagion now clear, it is at this time that I authorized the deployment of a 50 megaton nuclear weapon.

“The resulting blast sterilized the area within 50 kilometers, neutralizing the toxin and eliminating the threat to our people and the world. Initial reports from the red zone confirm that no trace of the F9H1 pathogen has survived, but we must continue to remain vigilant. As such, I have ordered the evacuation and indefinite quarantine of all territory north of the 9th Parallel and east of the Kohio River.  

“We have been granted a reprieve, but as we all know, it has not come without great loss. These are the facts, as of this stream: 173,000 souls were known to be in the immediate vicinity of the blast, and are presumed deceased.    31,612 have succumbed to injuries sustained, or are otherwise confirmed dead. Seventeen thousand, two hundred and thirty are currently listed as injured, and are receiving treatment at facilities across the region. These numbers are not yet complete, and are expected to rise as new information continues to filter in. And... this does not include the dozens killed, and hundreds injured in the waves of demonstrations that have already threatened to tear our great Republic apart. 

“I wish to set the record straight on one matter in particular, one that has given much of the fuel to these disastrous gatherings. Throughout this difficult time, such as they have been made aware, our neighbors and friends, the United Federal People’s Democratic Kingdom of Omork, and the Commonwealth of Nefcarkaland, have stood by us with unwavering support. There is absolutely no truth to the rumors that either nation was considering preemptive military action. The decisions that were made that have brought us to this crossroad remain mine, and mine alone. 

“My friends, we as a nation and people are indeed at a crossroad, yet there is only one way that leads forward. The road ahead will be long and arduous, and it is a journey we cannot endure as a house divided. Centuries ago, our forefathers pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. This is a pledge I now ask each of you to renew, for we must all lean on one another if we are to weather what is to come. But first, we must have healing. We must mend the rifts that have threatened to drive us apart in this, our time of trial. Another of my predecessors once wisely counseled, ‘ask what you can do for your country.’ This is a question I have asked myself every morning since before my political career began. 

“With that in mind, my own path down this road is clear. It is with a heavy, yet hopeful heart, that I announce that I shall resign the office of President of the Republic of Kleptogart, effective at noon tomorrow. At that time, Vice President Kerman will take the oath of office on board the Executive Transport in Bhangkong, where he has been attending a trade summit in my stead.

“It is my sincere hope that this action shall be the catalyst that will begin the process of healing and reconciliation in this, our great Republic. It is my sincere hope, that we can move forward together, as one people, and one nation, together with our friends beyond our borders, so that no one else in this world shall again have to suffer what we have suffered these past weeks. It is my sincere hope, with the threat to that world’s very existence now quelled, that everyone within the sound of my voice may sleep soundly tonight, knowing that the situation is, at last, under control.”
 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

"[…]the situation is, at last, under control."

Of all the things you could've said…

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

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

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

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

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

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