CatastrophicFailure

Revelations of the Kraken (Chapter 44: Falling Down)

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Oh, time crawls by in the yellow and rust.
I'm thinking that this kar is a bust.
The possum in the glove's got a fondness for punk
Don't wanna look in the trunk...

But I'd be riding shotgun underneath the hot sun
If there was a sun to be seen
Yeah, I'll be riding shotgun wishing for the hot sun
Trying my best not to scream.

Edited by KSK

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Whew! I'm still here! OK, special thanks goes out to @KSK who read this 11,500-word monster not just once but thrice apparently. :o The next installment shouldn't be nearly so novella-ish, and is a solid thousand words in so far.

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Posted (edited)
On 1/22/2020 at 1:08 AM, CatastrophicFailure said:

Whew! I'm still here! OK, special thanks goes out to @KSK who read this 11,500-word monster not just once but thrice apparently. :o The next installment shouldn't be nearly so novella-ish, and is a solid thousand words in so far.

just read the entire thing, and I rate it a 0/10, because not enough boosters! :mad:

every 5 meter booster added to the side = +1/10, add ten boosters, then we'll talk.

Spoiler

I was confused on some parts due to it referencing things that I didn't know as if it was expecting me to know them or something, I then realized that they existed to do the reference to the other parts of the trilogy, which I didn't read due to the title:

 REVELATIONS OF THE KRAKEN 

being the biggest of the three in the three, and the one of the three in the three that I clicked first (in your signature). Now i'm not going toread another 200 or so chapters (due to me being a lazy BUM), so could you just tell me the chapter (or chapters) that depict edgars punching the bop kraken in the face, because that sounds BAD-S! :D

 

Edited by Dirkidirk

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You see that's why you need to read all of Shadows of the Kraken (first part of the trilogy). It's got an engine that makes 10 x 5m boosters all firing together look like an RT-5 on a rainy day.

Also, the Kraken punching part is nothing. The real Bad-S part happens in the chapter after that.

Seriously though, Shadows of the Kraken is a lot shorter than Revelations, it's got some awesome characters, bits of it are scary as heck, bits of it will make you laugh out loud, and you'll never look at a spoon in quite the same way ever again. Give it a go.

But if you insist on just reading the Kraken punching part, then here you go. Caution - also spoils a major plot twist.

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Posted (edited)
On 3/18/2020 at 1:22 PM, KSK said:

But if you insist on just reading the Kraken punching part

well I don't. ME IS GONNA REED!

Spoiler
Quote

the last comment by me

WOW, that is a very stupid comment. whoever made that must be-

wait, I made that?

*breaths* OH.

 

Edited by Dirkidirk

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Do svidaniya, byehreg rodnoy, 
Kak nam trudna predstavit’
Shto eto nyeh son’. 
Rodina, dom radnoy, 
Do svidaniya, rodina.

Chapter 43: Stormwinds

 

The bosun’s whistle piped out three shrill notes, only for the wind to tear them away.  

“Admiral on deck!”

Fyodor Kermanivetch returned the executive officer’s salute, “make ready to cast off at once, Commander. I want to be underway within the hour.” 

The junior officer’s eyes widened for just a moment before he snapped another salute, “aye, aye, sir!” and turned on his heel to bark orders at the gathered sailors. 

With a thoughtful nod, Admiral Kermanitov himself turned, and began the the long climb up the exterior ladders towards the bridge. The wind whipped at the collar of his greatcoat, tore at his fur-trimmed ushanka as if personally offended by his presence, yet the hat did not move. The wind and he were old comrades, after all, and had long since come to an... understanding. He swayed this way and that, not for any motion of the moored ship but as busy crewkerbs made way at his passing, striped telnyashka peeking out from their blue jumpers. Salutes were neither offered nor given, for here, too, there was... understanding, and what had moments ago been a mere flurry of activity was now becoming a fury. 

He paused at the next deck, oblivious to the wind that tried to blow him over the railing. His slate-grey eyes gazed out over the harbor, set beneath a sky of the same color. The harbor itself was as white as a wedding-day dress. 

Ice. 

So much ice. 

The harbor of Kerbelsk was surely no stranger to ice, but to be utterly choked with it, before even the Harvest Mün, this was something the Admiral could not recall seeing in all his long years in this place of ice and snow. Towards the center, led by a pair of massive nuclear-powered icebreakers, the rest of his flotilla circled. The cruiser Aurora, two frigates and a handful of destroyers, the only remnants of the once-mighty Yaltik Sea Fleet that could be dragged out of mothballs on such short notice. It was thought, not that long ago, that they were no longer needed. Relics of another time, now an unjustifiable drain of the people’s resources. Even the grand Tethys Sea Fleet had been mostly deemed surplus to requirements, and now all that had not lay at the bottom of that sea... or upon the beaches. 

The Admiral closed his eyes, the barest shake of his head nearly invisible as his coat ruffled in the wind. He, too, was a relic, and that he well knew. And his ship...

One gloved hand clasped the railing before him, softly, almost tenderly. The Admiral Kermanitov was... never a grand ship to begin. Called a pocket battleship, she had been built to comply with some treaty or another when the power of the Ever-Glorious Ussari Union had begun to scare the Foreigners across the sea. Her trio of turrets bore only a pair of 30cm guns each, her flanks were strong but her decks hardly armored at all, as it was thought what she lacked in strength she could compensate with speed. She would need no icebreaker escort from the harbor. Built specifically for these cold waters, her hardened steel hull and sharpened prow could slice through even the thickest ice with sheer brute force. 

The railing began to vibrate, and the Admiral’s eyes drew open. The starboard engine coming to life, hesitant in the cold, the number 15 cylinder sluggish as always. No kerb alive or dead knew these decks better than her current Master. Indeed, it was on these very decks that the now-Admiral had taken his first duty cruise decades ago, following the tutelage of Admiral Kermanitov himself. 

But, he knew, that would not be enough. His other hand tightened on the envelope containing his orders. They were short, and very specific.

Proceed to the designated area. Present a show of strength. Observe, and report. 
Do no not engage under any circumstances, even under fire, without explicit authorization. 

The timbre of the metal railing trembling under his hand changed. It grew in intensity, now coming through his feet as well... and then drawing greater still. The very air seemed to resonate, and soon a sound emerged from the reverberations: a low droning, a thing so loud it was nearly more force than sound. It rose higher and higher, digging into the Admiral’s ears like blades, in time sending even the howling wind to flee. 

The Admiral looked up, as a trident of Kuploev-95D bombers lumbered overhead, their counter-rotating propellers clawing at the air for every scant meter of altitude astride their heavy burdens. He watched them go, taking their sound with them, eventually disappearing into the cloud deck heading southeast. 

His orders, the ones on paper, and recorded on every traceable source in the vast bureaucracy, were clear. But the Secretary had given him very different orders, for his ears only, even as she handed him the envelope. Orders that, even if he was successful— especially if he was successful— would see him and his crews disowned, cast out as rogue agents, denounced as traitors and warmongers. 

Break the blockade at any cost.

Yet if they were not successful, the burdens those bombers carried would come to bear, and he among a scant few people knew exactly what they were. A desperate act, to outmatch the unmatchable: a monstrosity created only to see if such a thing could even be done, a ship whose builders were far more concerned with whether they could than if they should... the most fearsome warship the world had ever known,  crafted without purpose, and the Admiral had seen enough in his long years to know that a weapon made without purpose... eventually found one. It was an ultimatum for which the Ussari Navy, modest even in the best of years, simply had no answer. The Ussari Air Force, perhaps, could answer, but only with a slight which could not be taken back, an offense so grave as to shake nations and shatter worlds... if the Admiral did not succeed.

It was... impossible

The last vibrations of the droning finally died away, yet the Admiral stood there, his eyes still cast skyward. Presently they drifted to the mainmast, where the tricolor naval ensign clung stubbornly to it against the raging wind. Once, beneath a very different flag, he had spent what years he did not spend on these icy waters hunting Erakonian partisans hiding in converted fishing trawlers. But now... those same defiant kerbs and kerbelles were allies and neighbors, and that frightful crimson banner had been relegated to its rightful place in a museum of shame. 

He had seen the impossible. 

He had lived through the impossible. 

Perhaps... he could even do the impossible. 

Unbidden, one gloved thumb moved to feel the golden band on his finger. 

Of course, there was always... a price. 

Yet the Admiral set his jaw, and mounted the last few steps to the bridge. As he passed through the half-meter-thick hatch of steel and concrete, his crew snapped to attention. 

“Admiral on deck!”

“Good morning, sir!”

He stood there a moment, one hand clutching his ushanka beneath his arm, and marked every kerb in the room with his eyes before putting on an encouraging smile. 

He said simply, “comrades... we sail into history.“ Then turned to the navigator, “Mister Kerman, set your course for the Strait of Kerfrica.”

 

***

 

Lolli Kerman drifted in downy-soft warmth, her extremities fuzzy and distant. The scent of food wafted through her mind, and a warm body next to her—

Wait, what?

Lolli Kerman woke up screaming. 

Cal looked up from across the small room, “what?”

She frantically looked around and found... blankets. To her left was a rolled up mound of blankets. To her right was a rolled up mound of blankets. In fact, she seemed to be laying on a huge pile of blankets. Bright, fluffy, dreamily soft blankets. She raised a quizzical eye at Cal. 

He shrugged, returning to what he was doing, “fire sale down at the Buy-N-Large. Everything must go.”

Fire...?

She looked around more in the delightful warmness, and found she was in... some sort of oblong, shiny steel tube filled with stuff, and right in the center was a flickering—

“Gah! You can’t have a fire in an enclosed space like this! We’ll suffocate!”

He just blinked at her, unfazed. 

“Oxygen candles,” he shrugged again, “fire sale down at the milsurp store. Everything must go. More worried they’ll burn through the metal.”

Lolli frowned at this, but took another look around their accommodations, “where are we, anyway? A... milk truck, or something?”

Cal didn’t look up, “something like that.”

She frowned at that too, moved to brush her fingers through her hair, and for the first time noticed the thick white bandages covering her hand. 

“I stitched your fingers up. You’ll have scars,” Cal still didn’t raise his head, but held up a little glass vial, “gave you some of this, too. You might feel kind of... fuzzy.” He flashed another vial, “and this, too. Booster shot every day for a week ‘til infection danger’s passed.”

“Was there a fire sale at the pharmacy, too?” she smirked at him. 

One eye flicked her way, and she felt a twinge of red hit her cheeks at the sharpness of it, “something like that.”

“Thanks,” she said more softly, “really, you saved my life.” She flexed her bandaged hand, a dull pain flashed somewhere off in the distance. 

D’mentionit,” Cal mumbled, his eyes back on whatever he was doing. As he was sitting, he spun around in a little half circle to face the far wall, “there’s fresh clothes there. And water. But don’t drink it, it’s not treated.”

“Hm?” Lolli looked around herself, still struggling a bit to focus, and indeed found a little pile of clothing, and a small basin of water that was at least clear. The first pass of a washcloth across her face turned it murky brown. 

“So,” Cal said at length to the steel wall, as if to break the uncomfortable silence, “how did the latest winner of Clog Dancing with the Stars end up being chased through what used to be downtown Kermsburg by a bunch of thugs?”

“Vinewood fire,” she said simply. 

“There was a fire in Vinewood?”

“Vinewood... Cleverly Hills... Hawkthorn... basically the entire greater Los Santos region, maybe even more, for all I know. You didn’t hear?”

“Information has been a bit hard to come by lately.”

She gave a bitter little laugh, “we were all trying to escape, everyone at once I think. My plane crashed.”

Into the fire?” she could almost sense a slight half-turn. 

And nodded, even if he couldn’t see, “it’s ironic... someone should write a song about it... I woke up in the wreckage in a swimming pool. Lots of those in Cleverly Hills. I don’t remember how I got there, but everything around was on fire. Somehow, the oxygen mask I had on still worked.” The rag stained the water darker still as she wrung it out, “I’ve never seen anything like it, how fast it moved. I waited in the water until I was freezing, then just started walking. I don’t know how long, between the clouds and the smoke, you couldn’t tell if it was night or day. Just... walking, by the light of little fires that remained.”

With a frown, she squeezed a few last drops of nearly black liquid from the rag, and gave up on it. At least her skin was something close to green again, “I found some other people, just walking... and I started walking with them. No one said anything, just kinda... stared off into the distance, or at the ground. Eventually, we came across someone who’d gotten an old diesel farm truck running. He was nice, offered to take us all, everyone... somewhere. We decided to head north, toward the army... or whatever was left of it. Maybe try to cross into Nefcarkaland...”

“Oh, you don’t wanna go north,” Cal said, “it’s impassible. Just a line of craters all the way to the sea.”

Silence stretched out. 

“Er... sorry...” he mumbled, “you were saying?”

She picked up a soft flannel shirt that still had the tags on it, “we drove for a long time. I didn’t know we made it as far as Kermsburg. Those jerks must’ve been following us. They blocked the road, and when we stopped, they... they... everyone...” It snagged a little, as she pulled it over her head, or perhaps she just paused to press the soft, dry cloth to her face, “I just ran. I just...” her mouth suddenly felt as dry as the shirt. 

Still facing the wall, Cal rolled a dented metal canteen toward her. Lolli swept it up and pulled the cap off. 

“Gah! Faugh! Are you trying to poison me?! This taste like drain cleaner!”

“Sodium dichloroisocyanurate,” he almost-but-not-quite turned his head to her, “bit of an acquired taste but it’s better than Cryptosporidium, believe me.”

She frowned back at him, but drank anyway until it became an undirected scowl. Finally she set the empty canteen aside and took a moment to regard herself. 

“You can turn around now,” then a quiet sigh, “I look like a lumberjack.”

“Smell like one too,” Cal smirked as he pivoted around. 

“Hey!”

He proffered an unlabeled tin can from beside the fire, “and speaking of acquired tastes...”

“What... is it?” she poked at something roughly brown and mushy.”

“I’ve found it besht not to ashk,” he said around a mouthful from his own can, “or... think about it too hard,” gulp “it’s food. They don’t put not-food in cans like that.”

“Yeah, that’s in the bin under Hull Repair said” mumbled Lolli, a distant memory brushing her still-foggy mind. She scooped out a lump of goop, and tried not to think about it too hard...

...and apparently succeeded, snapping back to something resembling reality to find her can empty, her spoon licked clean of any trace, and Cal staring with wide, bulging eyes. 

More so than usual. 

“I take it you liked it.”

“I... um...” the spoon rattled once more in the empty can. 

He raised an eye, “when’s the last time you ate, anyway?”

“Um... what day is it?”

“No idea,” Cal shrugged, “found it best not to think too hard on that, either.” He returned to fiddling with something in his lap. 

She frowned, leaning over to him, “what’re you doing over there, anyw—GAAAH! MAGGOTS!

“I told you,” he returned an irritated look, “maggots always find a way.”

“You-you-you need to clean that out right now!

“They’re working on it,” he gave another shrug, “sterile medical-grade maggots, Lucilia sericata. More precise than any blade and leave natural healing compounds behind.” His boot came down with a thud beside the fire, and Cal pointed to his calf with a proud smile, “this one’s Chewie, and there’s Squirmy, and Wiggly, and Itchy, and Scratchy, and Bob. And... well I sorta ran out of names.”

Gagh,” Lolli pressed hands to her mouth, “I think I’m gonna be sick...”

“Not after the way you wolfed down that can, you’re not.”

She scowled back at him, but... after a very emphatic argument with itself, she found that her stomach was not about to give up what it had finally gained, whatever its better sense said. 

Cal smirked over at her, “see?” He began wrapping fresh bandage around his leg, guests and all. 

Lolli quickly looked away, and, well, tried not to think about it too much, “how are you even here?” memories of a conversation that seemed more like a dream wafted up, “if you were in the city... and those things...”

He returned a quick, sharp look, but gave a long sigh, and stared off at the steel wall, “like I said, we were one of the last units in. Got mobbed by infected. I ran until I couldn’t, fired until I was empty, they were everywhere. Finally cornered me. I thought I was done, then. It took me a while to realize they weren’t trying to hurt me, just kind of... pawing at me, with those awful, pleading eyes. And that I wasn’t becoming one of them. They’re tenacious, but, well, not that bright. I was able to duck down and slip away from the hoard. I was covered in black goo and somewhere I’d cut my leg real bad, but I was still me... Mostly... Whatever brain cells I still had firing figured out there was no way I was getting out of the city through the streets, there were just too many. So they thought I might be able to slip down a manhole cover to the storm drains.”

He let out another very, very long sigh, “nope, it was the sewer. Little too late to change my mind at that point, though. I waded or floated through crap-smelling foulness for, I dunno how long. They gave us really good flashlights, thankfully. They say it always rolls downhill, right? I guess I figured it would take me to the river sooner or later, if I didn’t asphyxiate or turn infected first. I was almost there, could see light at the end of the tunnel...

“Turns out I was just on the edge of passing out and probably hallucinating, but it didn’t much matter after that. Suddenly all that sludge slammed into me hard and just took me along for the ride. Before I could contemplate drowning I was flying through open air and then sure enough, right into the river.”

A shrug, “not that it was much of an improvement. Somehow I got to shore, and... that’s when I saw the cloud...”

Lolli peered at him, “the... bomb?”

He nodded, “protected by dozens of meters of solid ground and concrete only to be ejected a moment before death by a high-pressure jet of raw sewage. Didn’t take long to figure out what had happened, and that no one was gonna come looking for me. So,” he glanced to her, “I just started walking.

“And that was... more of an accomplishment than it sounds,” Cal reached down, wrapping a final bit of white tape over his bandage, “I guess raw sewage is not the best thing to marinade an open wound in. It hurt, everything hurt, but I was pretty much a zombie at that point. No, not that kind. I just kept walking, for lack of anything else to do, still expecting to become a real zombie at any moment. I’m not sure when the red streaks starting working their way up toward my knee, or when the ruined landscape became a fever dream that I couldn’t tell from reality anymore. When I found the truck, I... thought it was just another hallucination.”

Cal shuffled around on his own pile of soft, fluffy blankets, until he could lean back against the steel wall and stare up at his distorted reflection on the ceiling, “or... maybe it was the worse than that. When I saw, I remember thinking, maybe this is the demon waiting to take me down to the next Hell.”

“W... what?” Lolli peered at him. 

“Infection is bad,” he said to shifting specter overhead, “but burns... burns are really bad. I think the windshield stopped some of the thermal, but not all. He must’ve been looking right at it when it went off, and...” Cal suddenly threw his arms up in front of his face, as if warding. Then slowly, his open hands dropped to his lap, his eyes following them, “I... thought he was dead... no person could survive like that... and then he moved, and I thought I might just lose my mind then and there.

“He’d been sitting there the whole time, days... I dunno,” Cal flexed his fingers, “couldn’t even open the door. Couldn’t see even if he could. But he could still talk. Mostly. No, not a demon, that kerb was... an angel. He was a doctor from way down south. Somehow he’d found a way around the roadblocks, had his truck loaded with food and water, medicine, even a portable AutoDoc. Was determined to find a way into the city and help however he could, no matter what the government said. It was all... gone, of course, everything but the medical bag on the seat next to him.” Cal’s eyes drifted to the pack with the white cross at his feet. He drew it nearer. 

“He told me how to fix up my leg, how to reconstitute the maggot eggs, how much Cheeflex to take so I didn’t die of sepsis just standing there.” He produced a little glass vial from the bag, and began turning it over in his fingers, “and a little of this to take the edge off.”

Specters continued to dance above as Cal leaned back again, still twirling the little bottle as he watched them, “yeah, burns are bad. Don’t really hurt much, all the nerve endings are gone. But... the bacteria just naturally on your skin, there’s nothing to keep them out anymore, and they find a microbial paradise. Then once they get into your blood, they get everywhere, eating you from the inside out. Lactic acid builds up in the muscles, turning every movement into agony. Organs shut down one by one. If you’re lucky, your mind is already gone when you start gasping for air. If you’re lucky.” He squeezed his eyes shut, shook his head back and forth, “either way, your last conscious moments are nothing but pain, and... fear.”

Cal’s eyes drew open again, finding the little vial in his fingers, but looking straight through it, “this... incredible stuff. Just a little bit, and you stop hurting. A little more, and you stop caring. A little bit more, and you stop breathing. I, um...” Cal’s throat gave a twitch, “he had a whole crate of the stuff. Wouldn’t let me give him a single drop. Insisted I save it for people it could actually help.” His eyes now turned to Lolli, dark and heavy, “trust me, infection is a really lousy way to die.”

A soft, mournful wind rose up outside, causing the structure to sway just slightly, as the two sat in silence by the ruddy glow of surplus oxygen candles. Cal crumpled back against the wall once more, deflated. 

“I stayed with him a few more days, until... until there was no more point,” he said, “just another pile of rocks in the wasteland. I tried going north, towards the border, but it’s impassible. I dunno what happened there, somehow... it looks even worse. Dozens, maybe hundreds of craters layered on each other stretching all the way to the sea. So I tried going south again, thought I could find whatever was left of the chain of command towards Capitol City.”

“Oh, that’s the last place you want be,” Lolli quickly shook her head, “it’s worse than a war zone. You, um... heard?”

Cal nodded, glanced to a stack of old newspapers in the corner. 

Lolli drew her feet up until she could hug her knees, “I... never thought it would be like that. I never thought it would be at all, it felt like... everything was going so good until this year. I... watched Bangkong tear itself apart on live TV, eating cheese doodles and sipping Chablis with my friends on big leather sectional, scrolling through Twits on my phone and saying ‘how awful!’ before going back to another stupid Mugbook ‘What’s your Omish name?’ quiz. Then the rest of the world started coming apart, and I thought, ‘it’ll all blow over, it’s all over there, not here. The President gave his resignation speech, and all the talking heads on TV could do was yell at each other about it. Things started getting weird, but it was always somewhere else, it felt so far away, y’know? And all the while, the talking heads kept arguing, calling each other awful things all ‘cuz they didn’t agree on how to spend other people’s money and thought their guy needed to be the one in charge, that was all that mattered.”

She didn’t listen for an answer, just shook her head, “and then, one day, just like that, all the stores were out of toilet paper.”

“Wait what?” Cal raised an eye... bulge, “toilet paper?

A nod, “stupid thing, right? The talking heads kept saying awful things, and dire things, and everybody just started hoarding toilet paper.”

Grabbing the stack of newspapers, Cal ruffled through them, but only looked back at her more confused. 

“I laughed about it, Twitted out a bunch of stupid jokes, told people ‘stop buying toilet paper!’ and everyone was saying ‘stop buying toilet paper!’ but people just kept on buying toilet paper. And like...” her hand rose up, just below her throat, “I started getting this weird feeling in my chest, I thought it was just indigestion from too many cheese doodles— plenty of those still around— but... it never went away.

“And then... the stores started running out of rice, and chicken... the Governor tried to shut everything down, implement rationing, went on TV and told everyone ‘the situation is under control!’ But this little... spot, right here, just kept getting heavier... like someone was reaching in and squeezing my heart, all the time. I took a-a couple of Darnitol™️ just to sleep at night. People started fighting over toilet paper, and then... then they started killing over it. 

“And the talking heads and the pundits and the Twit Lords just egged them on, said it was okay as long as they were the wrong kind of people who thought the wrong things, and I just kept watching from my couch, eating and drinking, saying everything was fine while this lump got heavier and heavier. The fighting moved from the stores to the streets, these huge crowds throwing rocks and bottles at each other, and then sticks and clubs. And the TV kept showing it, and it was always some place away, and then everything started burning. 

“I sent the staff home early, told them everything would be back to normal in the morning, and I just sat there and watched it all. But not here. Can’t happen here. And then... the power went out.”

Lolli stared down into the glow of the oxygen candles, as if trying to burn away the shadows and specters that still danced upon the metal walls, “even then, I tried to convince myself it was just a circuit breaker, a blip in the system... it’ll come back on any minute now... just any minute. I sat there in the darkness, staring at a blank wall, feeling my heart beating faster and faster while something squeezed it tighter. And that was the first time I realized... I was afraid

“Like,” she gagged down a dry lump in her throat, “like I never had been before. Kerbonaut training was scary... the first time I stepped up to the microphone before that chanting crowd... signing my first check with more zeros than my last family reunion,” she shook her head, “but... nothing, ever, like what I felt that night... and still do right now.

“And then the fires came, and I tried to get everyone out, but... I just made it worse. I... shouldn’t have waited but I needed to see, see with my own eyes,” Lolli squeezed those eyes shut, leaned back a bit to drive the heels of her hands into them,  wiped her face on a sleeve.

“Hey, um...” Cal slid over next to her. He reached out a hand, hesitated, then gave her a soft but awkward pat on the back, “you’ll be okay. This isn’t easy, none of it, but you’ll make it though.”

She shook her head, “how can anyone? The whole world has gone mad.”

“I didn’t say anyone,” he gave her a nudge, “I said youYou’re gonna get through this, but We the People are pretty much boned.”

“I didn’t think it would be like this,” she said to the floor, “I didn’t think it would... be at all. And here I am, sitting in a milk truck with a strange kerb eating dog food by candlelight.”

Cal shot up, “wait, you, um, knew?

The barest, most fleeting shadow of a smile crossed her face as she glanced up at him, “I buy the same stuff... I’d know that can anywhere.”

It crept into a smirk, “try not to think about it too hard, right? At least it’s not seafood flavor.”

“That’s what I mean,” Cal chuckled, “you’re a survivor, like me. You’ll do fine. And since you’re not coughing yet I guess I’m not contagious, either.”

“Wait, what?!” Lolli shot back from him, “you mean you weren’t sure?!

“Well I... it was a theory!” his arms went up, “can’t exactly do clinical tests out here, y’know? I might be immune but there was still a small chance I was a regular Typhoid Larry, but no, I wasn’t sure. Thanks for confirming my research, though.” 

He grinned widely at her. 

She threw an empty dog food can at him. 

“You’re a lousy medic, you know?” she glared at him over crossed arms. 

“Oh, I’m not really a medic, I’ve just had some training.”

“What?!?” Lolli’s eyes shot wide, then dropped to her bandaged hand, “but-but... you know suturing... and Cheeflex... and Lucile staccato!”

Lucilia sericata.

“That too!”

She scowled, “I thought you were one of those guys using the reserves to pay your way through med school!”

Cal followed that with a long, bitter laugh, “med school? No, never been. Med schools usually prefer if you’ve been to college first, and colleges usually prefer if you’ve actually, well, graduated high school.”

“You... didn’t?” she said a bit more softly. 

He shook his head, “I... have trouble reading. The letters get all... turned around.”

A chilling thought occurred to her, “but... if you can’t read then how did you know which vial to—“

“Relax,” Cal rolled his eyes, “there’s nothing wrong with my memory. If I see something once it’s locked in my head like I’m a walking filing cabinet, I know which bottle is which. But, that only gets you so far taking a test, or trying to write something.”

Silence stretched out before she spoke again, much more softly, “so, um... what did you do, before?

“Hm?” he started, “oh, I was a janitor. The hours are crap but the pay is... well, pretty crap too. But I got to meet Edmund Kerman.”

“What?!” Lolli shot straight up, “how did you meet Edmund Kerman? I never even met Edmund Kerman! Well, not officially...”

Cal leaned back again and sighed, “well, it was a long time ago. Right after that thing on the Mün but before he got, y’know, sick. I was cleaning a building where he’d leased an office, and one night I found him in there working late. I offered to come back later but he was real personable, invited me right in and we chit-chatted while we worked. He found out I was in the service and called me a crayon-eating blue rocket cornflake, so I called him a primped-up numpty chairforce zoomie.”

Lolli could only blink and stare. 
Or stare and blink. 

Cal laughed, “and then it was like we were old buddies, he whipped out some dusty old highland naln— the good stuff, in the fancy bottle— and we traded stories for a while. You remember Hurricane Bertha, smacked up Zaroeka ‘bout fifteen years ago?”

“Of course, how I could I forget that?” she raised an eye at him. 

“That was my first call-up after basic, though by the time I got there it was... just a recovery operation. But it turns out Edmund and I were deployed to the same airbase, not far from here, actually. He’d been flying rescue missions since the day 1. We’d probably walked past each other dozens of times without realizing it. Even ticked off the same obnoxious Coastie Captain."

He chuckled to himself, found his old flask and turned it over in his hands, "yeah, real class act, that guy. Edmund, not Captain Underpants. We shot the scat a little bit longer before I had to move on, but not before he looked me right in the eye and said he said he knew a guy who knew a guy, and he'd put in a good word for me. And sure enough, he did. Two weeks later I was working the custodial night shift at the Senate Office Building in Capitol City for twice what I was making cleaning a random cube farm."

"Really?" she raised another eye at him, "He arranged all that?"

"Sure as snot," a nod, "with a possible path up the management ladder, maybe even get my own cube some day." His head drifted back once again to the steel hull, his eyes returning to the ghosts on the ceiling, "and then, I blew it all."

She leaned in, "wait, how?"

Cal let out a long, mournful sigh before he spoke, "they, um... caught me on security camera, pilfering documents from some bigshot senator's desk one night."

"What?!?" she shot back, "why on Kerbin would you go and do a stupid thing like that for?"

"I dunno."

"Really? 'I dunno?' That's the best response you have?"

"No, really, I mean, I don't know. I don't know why I did that. I don't even remember doing that, or... being at work that night at all. When I think back now, all my nights working that building seem... fuzzy. Like... trying to remember a dream in a dream. Or maybe a nightmare."

She peered at him, "you really... can't remember?"

A quick head shake, "thought it was some kind of joke, for a minute. Some new-guy initiation, maybe. But sure enough, there I was on the screen, rifling through a desk and shoving something into my pocket before skulking off. They... said they had enough right there to charge me with espionage, send me to prison for the rest of my life, but decided I just wasn't worth the effort, and fired me on the spot instead."

"That's awful," Lolli laid a hesitant but, she hoped, comforting hand on Cal's arm. He recoiled as if struck. She frowned, but pressed on, "you saw yourself, but you really can't remember anything? No, um, you know..." she made a little motion with her thumb and little finger, "before work, maybe?"

He scowled back, "no, never touched the stuff again after that night in his office. Left me with a splitting headache the next morning and first time I'd ever blacked out ever. But, it's like... when I try to remember that night... any of those nights... try to think about it at all, I feel..."

"Feel what?" she leaned in.

"Cold," his eyes fixed on the dwindling glow before them, "afraid... like, there is something there, something I should be able to remember, and I can almost see, but it's shrouded in shadow, and... there's this voice in the back of my mind warning me, pleading with me to just turn away, 'cuz like, if I look hard enough, gaze into that dark abyss long enough, I will see what's really there, see it, and then I’ll go--"

He shivered, then shook, edging on convulsions, wrapping his arms around his own shoulders and seeming to collapse in on himself.

“Cal..?” Lolli inched towards him. His eyes glazed over, then grew hazy. It... was probably just a trick of the ruddy, flickering light, but his eyes seemed to darken, passing through black as if nothing...

She reached a hesitant hand towards his shoulder, still shivering and twitching. 

Just as her fingers brushed against cloth, the shivering intensified, swelled up until the entire structure was rattling and shaking and dull, ear-splitting roar threatened to drive all sense away. 

“What the hells?” Cal jumped up, his voice mostly lost beneath the overwhelming din. But as quickly as it rose, it faded again, dropping the space into thick silence. He looked back at her, his eyes muddy and confused but not... as they were.

Before she could even think to speak, the roar returned, not as grand as before but still shaking the place until her stomach rolled over in her belly. 

“Was... was that a..?”

“Yeah,” Cal’s eyes were fixed on the ceiling once more, “I think so. But why...” he shook his head, “stay there.”

He retrieved his rifle from where it had been propped in the corner, made something go click and then thunk. With barely a stretch he unpinned a metal ladder from above and swung it down before climbing up and fiddling with a hatch. Lolli grunted and threw up a hand against the burst of dazzling light that suddenly appeared, but by the time she could look again, Cal had vanished. She frowned after him, looked down at her bandaged hand, and had just started wondering if she could climb with it when something slammed against the metal wall. She recoiled back from it, and it returned with a ringing staccato toll of steel against steel. Her good hand closed around something solid just as more blinding light met her eyes.

“C’mon, it’s all clear,” Cal said from a new hole at the far end of the room, “and don’t you go throwing my dog food around, that was hard to come by.”

Lolli glanced down at the can in her hand. She gave a little grunt and set it down, shuffling toward the open hatch. 

“This one only opens from the outside, and with a nice big hammer,” he offered as she emerged, blinking, into the outside, “careful here, it’s a fair drop down.”

Offering another grunt, Lolli positioned herself on the ladder, her limbs feeling like gelatin after sitting for so long. Just as her feet touched the ground, she noticed the painted words before her face.

CAUTION: KEEP BACK 100M,” she read, “contains political promises.” Her eyes drifted higher, “Enlie’s Plumbing and—“

She spun around on Cal, “you camped us out inside a septic truck?!?

He proffered a filthy rag, “I wiped it down first!”

“Ugh! Gah!” her knees somehow felt even weaker than a moment ago, “I think I really am gonna be sick!”

Yet it was Cal who doubled over... laughing, “hahah, relax! It’s brand new, never been used. The dealership’s right over there,” he pointed, “or... was.”

A blackened skeleton of a building stood a short way off.

“Oh,” she said softly, “fire sale?”

“Everything must go,” he nodded back. 

Their heads both shot up as the horrendous noise returned, louder than ever with nothing to shield it. From above the treeline off to one side, a trident of VTOLS passed overhead, barely high enough to clear the top branches, and disappeared off into the distance.

“Airplanes? I haven’t seen airplanes in weeks,” Lolli mumbled as she looked off after them. She glanced back to Cal, whose face was drawn with confusion. Before she could ask, the sound once more returned, only far louder and bigger than ever. An ear-splitting mash of roaring and whining and droning that forced her hands to her ears, yet even so burrowed into her skull until it was somehow spinning in circles inside her mind. 

All of that was brushed away in an instant by what now passed over the trees. Sheer awe drove away any thought of pain, or any thought at all, at the sight of something that at first appeared to be little more than an enormous, bulbous wing. Details emerged as she stared, an equally huge fuselage was slung below the wing, barely longer than the wing was wide, sprouting a pair of rudders almost as an afterthought at the rear and lined all along its belly not with wheels but massive tank treads. She turned to watch it go, slack-jawed, its overwhelming sound soon following.

“Was that—“ Lolli felt her mouth suddenly dry, “was that... the Air Force? I... I thought they all fled to Omork after... after things got...”

“Not ours,” Cal frowned off to the southwest, “that was a Nefcarkalandern airship.”

“Nefcarkaland? W—?”

He pressed a finger to his lips, whispering, “keep your head down, there’s an overlook beyond these trees.” Rifle pressed to his shoulder, he slunk off toward the thicket in a crouch, and she followed as best she could. They passed more trucks, some with glinting paint and still clad in their protective wrappings, others burned to unrecognizable hulks. Off across a street jammed with cars yet eerily silent, more skeletal buildings and boarded-up storefronts leered at them. Soon they reached the trees, and Lolli saw it was not a thicket but a once-manicured greenbelt, the overgrown brush already dead and brown. She hugged herself tighter against an icy breeze rising around them. The far edge of the trees followed quickly, and she nearly gasped as they huddled against one. 

From this cliff overlooking the sea, she could see for leagues and leagues off across the slate-grey waters, 

She could see for leagues and leagues across the slate-grey waters from this hill overlooking the sea. Waters which were... far from empty. Dozens of ships large and small sat at anchor, and as she watched, another trio of VTOLs rose from a particularly large one and headed towards them. She hunched down and pressed hands to her ears against the racket until they had passed.

“Maybe...” one hand shifted to rub her temple, “maybe it’s a rescue force?”

“That’s no rescue,” Cal scowled down at the sea, “it’s an invasion.”
 

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...we now return you to your regularly-scheduled apocalypse, also already in progress... 

Seriously, people, stay safe.

Stay home.

Wash yo dang hands.

and don’t say “glorp.”

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Aaaaaaaaaand the power just went out. :o

Its back on but yeesh, plague all around I flarp near died of a lousy heart attack. :P

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This thread is not dead. Special thanks once again to @KSK for putting up with me. 

Behold, he comes!
His footfalls shake the root of Nations,
And before him lay broken crowns!
His price is blood, and his debt is flesh,
He shall strike the hands from their wrists,
And pluck the eyes from their faces. 

Chapter 44: Falling Down

Dibella Kermanov closed the door behind her with a soft click. She carefully picked her way across the polished marble floor in stocking feet, her eyes exhausted yet wide, tinged with red above and dark bags below. With an unsteady sway, she settled onto the couch, reached past the tea to the other bottle, and took a heady swig before trading it for her cup and saucer and nearly collapsing back into the cushions. 

Valentina laid a hand on her arm, “are you... all right?”

The tea disappeared in a single loud gulp, “I have never seen anything like it. And I have seen... terrible things...”

Off in the corner, Edgas pushed a broom across the floor with the blank expression of one engaged in a Sisyphean labor because one simply does not know what else to do. The scattering o broken bits ahead merely shifted from one place to another. 

"And how is... she?" Valentina asked softly.

"Still sleeping," Dibella shook her head, "Burdous is in watching over her now."

"We were," Dibella swallowed hard, "we were just sitting... reading... not saying much, save to compare a line of text here or there. I noticed her start to grow... anxious, not a thing I would ever expect of such a kerbelle. But, perfectly understandable, under the circumstances, I told myself. But then she became agitated pacing back and forth and mumbling to herself. I tried to ask but it was like I wasn't there. And then, all at once..."

Dibella reached again and took another long gulp, "all at once she just started screaming. Wailing. She was inconsolable! I tried to calm her but she shoved me away like nothing. Then... then... things started flying off the walls, and then the walls started flying off the walls, and then this couch came through the wall, and I thought the whole building was going to come down right on top of us! I don't know how long it went on, but somehow I had the presence of mind to get the Darnitol™ from the medicine cabinet, and managed to get her to take a sip of tea after I'd dumped the whole bottle in. It was... barely enough to calm her, and she just sat there on the floor, weeping."

Her cup empty, Dibella looked between it and the bottle, but in the end just poured herself more tea, "it was... agonizing to watch, I cannot imagine what it must have been like to..." she grabbed her own elbows, and just shuddered.

Off in his corner, Edgas apparently decided his pile was as large as it could be, and began gathering another with the long broom.

"It is true, then," she said, not looking up, "Roland... Roland is..."

Valentina shuffled around, wrapping an arm around her old friend's shoulder, "Roland has... moved on, as I think he would have wanted. He stood and was true, but... I was not fast enough to see what was coming."

Peering up from her arms, Dibella offered a wan smile, "you cannot blame yourself, not at all. Even with what little I have known of that kerb, any other who could best him is dangerous indeed," she regarded her friend for a moment, "yes, I think you are the entire reason anyone made it back at all, and our adversaries were denied their prize, and that is what matters most.”

Her eyes wandered to the wobbly end-table, "is... is that it?"

Edgas made an annoyed grunt from across the room. He trundled over, took the gilded scepter from its resting place and handed it to Dibella.

She stared at it a long while before speaking, “so much trouble... so many lives... for this...”

A soft click drew their attention, and the three turned to find the Empress coming forth, Burdous supporting her by her elbow, looking worried. Her face was calm and assured, as unreadable as stone. The gold and diamond tiara on her head was set just so, and the thick, pale braid upon her shoulder was neat and even, but the rest her hair and makeup gave subtle tells of being hastily put back in order, the red around her eyes not quite hidden. She approached the group, pausing a moment to smooth her voluminous skirts, before fixing each one in turn with her eyes, finally landing on Dibella.

“I must beg your pardon,” the slightest bow of her head, “the emotional flow of the Bond is very strong. When it is severed, the results are unpredictable, but always... severe.”

Valentina’s ears pricked up, “Bond?”

The slightest wave of a hand, “another time. But you have retrieved the scepter?”

“Er, yes, Majesty,” Dibella took it up, and with a far more severe bow, proffered it with both hands. The Empress took it with a nod, her eyes casting over the shining gold, gleaming jewels, and impossibly intricate engravings and filigrees adorning every centimeter. 

And then, casually tossed it onto the floor.

A few more jewels went clattering off across the marble to join various piles of debris. Four mouths fell open in unison. But then, as the eyes above those mouths watched, the little island of space on the floor debris surrounding the scepter suddenly grew wider. 

“Stand back,” the Empress cautioned, her eyes fixed upon the golden shaft, “I am not strong in Earth, this will... take some effort.”

She produced an unremarkable, dull-colored ring, slipping it on the first finger of her left hand and then touching it to the blue münstone around her neck. For a time... a long, uncomfortable time... nothing at all seemed to happen. The Empress stared down at the scepter, her brow creased in concentration, her eyes making subtle little motions as if she were seeing something no one else could. Edgas had just cleared his throat and looked about to speak, when a tiny jewel pinged from its setting and skittered off across the floor. Another followed, and then another, and more simply fell down onto the marble. The delicate gold filigrees softened and grew indistinct, and then the entire scepter wilted to the tile. It began to take on a dim, ruddy hue... and all at once kilograms and kilograms of solid gold simply became liquid, and spread out in a gleaming, shimmering puddle of wealth. The marble beneath let out a loud crack in protest. 

Almost unnoticed, the Empress gasped and stumbled, and for a moment Valentina thought she might collapse, but then her eyes grew wide and alert, fixated on what now lay in the golden pool. Her face edging on something like awe, the Empress reached out a hand, only to snatch it right back.

“No,” she said softly, “I should not even touch it. One of you, perhaps...”

“Us?!” Edgas snapped, “that thing must be burning hot still!”

The icy edge returned to her face, “I assure you, it is not.”

Valentina grunted and rolled her eyes, “ugh, here...” She reached down, her own hand hesitant, but the puddle already dull and still. She tapped the object once... tapped it again, then picked it up with the smallest effort and a faint click.

She... expected... something.

After everything, she thought there might be... a brilliant sunbeam shining from a break in the clouds? Subtle, otherworldly music as the entire world paused in awe? Or just some chubby wingéd creatures playing horns?

Yet, she felt nothing unusual, except perhaps the faint taste of blue in her ears. 

It... wasn’t really much to look at, either, though there was a certain beauty to its simplicity. The Staff in her hand was maybe half a meter long, utterly featureless, and of such pure white Valentina could not tell if it was just that white or maybe glowing slightly. One end was a couple of centimeters wide, tapering along its entire length to a sharp point, so that it was more a very long cone than a rod. She flipped it around to gaze at that point. For a moment she thought of testing it with a gentle finger, and then thought again. 

“Whoah,” Burdous breathed next to her, his eyes wide, “why do I get the funny feeling that if you looked at that thing under an electron microscope, the tip would be only a single atom wide?”

“Far less than that,” the Empress intoned, “the Power can manipulate the physical in ways you have not yet glimpsed.”

“Whooooah...”

Edgas peered closer, “hm... Looks dangerous. You could put someone’s eye out with that thing.”

“Good point, here—“ Burdous grabbed the Staff with one hand, an apple from the obligatory fruit bowl on an end table in the other, and—

Schluck.

The already still room dropped into dead silence. Dust motes hung in a sunbeam through the window. Dibella’s hand rose slowly to her mouth. Burdous’s expression didn’t change much, the same squiggly little smile, his wide eyes perhaps a bit wider, and...  not quite looking in the same direction. 

More so than usual.

Slightly. 

The silence was soon broken by a shrill keening from deep in the back of his throat. It rose in urgency, dropped, settled into a lilting melody that was quite undecipherable as cry or laugh. One foot began to stamp at the floor. And still, his expression never changed. 

Much. 

Valentina raised a tired hand to her face, “PЦҬЇИS ДGЭD ԠЏԠ ДИD ДLL ЊԐЯ ЩДҪԞҰ ИЄPӉԐШS, hold still.”

Schlorch.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!”

“Quit squirming, you are getting it all over—here, hold this.

“Ew...”

“Guh, you missed bones but hit artery, bleeding like stuck pig now. I will have have to sew this, but first, come over to fireplace, need red-hot poker.”

Whine.

The Empress clicked her tongue and seized Burdous’s chin with a hand, “you ignorant, fool of a kerb!” A moment later Burdous’s entire body went rigid, his face snapping up to the ceiling and sweat breaking out on his brow. As quickly as it came on, it passed. 

“Whoah. That’s hot,” he muttered as he stood there, wobbling just slightly. His eyes popped wider as he brought his hand up and flexed it before them. Then he looked around, wiped it on the couch, and looked at it some more. 

“Cool, I’ve got a scar!” he held his open palm up to Edgas, “check it out, we’ve got matching scars! We’re scar-bros!” He thought a moment, “we should go to the fair.” 

Edgas just looked at him. 

Burdous frowned back, hand still raised, “don’t leave me hanging, bro.”

Edgas raised a hand... to his face. 

Instead, the Empress snatched Burdous’s hand down, chiding him, “you must be more careful with yourself, the Staff is no mere toy,” she began mounting the stairs and half-turned to the others, “now, let us retire to the library, Lady Dibella has had some unexpected insights on the location of the Genesis Stone—“

Burdous’s head snapped around, “Lady?!”

Dibella actually blushed. 

The Empress waved it away, “her... unique experience grants her a much different perspective than I. Now come, we must arrange passage to the Mün—“

“The Mün?! The Mün?!?” Edgas set down the Staff and bounded after her, “have you lost your tiara’d mind?”

“Edgas!” snapped Dibella. 

He didn’t seem to notice, “we barely got away from the museum, someone died back there!”

“I am aware,” the Empress said, and the room seemed to grow cold. 

“The whole world’s going down in a handbasket, and you wanna go jaunting off to the Mün?!?”

“Um, guys...”

“I think you are letting your own experience cloud your judgement.”

“Guys...”

“You’re damn right I am! Going there cost me two friends already!”

Guys...”

“We cannot allow fear or circumstance to jeopardize our mission, you of all people should understand what is—“

“What good is our mission if it gets us all killed?!”

“GUYS!”

“What?!” Edgas spun to Burdous.

He pointed to the wall-screen, “look!”

[...sure there is no radiation threat to the environment?

No, we are still investigating that, what I am saying is that we have not, to this point, detected any traces of radioactive fission products, which points us to some sort of pure fusion device. 

So then it was a... hydrogen bomb?

No, not hydrogen. This was something new, something even our top minds have never seen before, something that was thought technologically impossible. Instead of hydrogen, this device used nitrogen and oxygen as fuel sources. 

Could such technology be scaled up, then, to create even more powerful weapons than the one used in Kleptogart several weeks ago?

That is possible, but I think the bigger concern here is that this device was able to be transported by a single individual, or a small team, in an ordinary kar, and completely undetectable due to its lack of a fission primary. More of these devices proliferating unchecked is, I think, far more terrifying. 

Mr. Commissioner!
Mr. Commissioner!

Yes, you there?

Grimbal Kermanev, KMRD-TV, are you then saying this incident was some kind of act of... terror?

I think the choice of target could only have been meant to send a message, but I stress the investigation remains ongoing. 

Mr. Commissioner!
Mr. Commissioner!

Yes, you?

Chadwick Kerman, Newsday.com, Mr. Commissioner, do you have any response to the growing number of posts on social media calling the bombers, quote, “heroes and patriots?”

I’ll have to refer you to the politicians on that, I’m just a cop. 

What about rumors that they may have been sponsored by Omorkian intelligence?

Once again, that kind of question is above my pay grade. Ladies and gentlekerbs, I’m going to have to bring this to a close, you all now know almost as much as we do, but I will reiterate the most important part: we are seeking any information on these three kerbals: an Omorkian national, his Kleptogarti accomplice, and an unknown kerbelle. A fourth conspirator may have been killed in the blast, but these three suspects remain at large. They are to be considered armed and extremely dangerous, if you encounter them do not confront them, call the FSB immediately. 

This was the scene just moments ago outside Kernobyl where Chief Commissioner Dmitri Kerman of the Federal Security Bureau wrapped up the day’s press briefing following the horrific incident at the Imperial History Museum. We are now returning you to the developing situation in Kermangrad, where a few protesters this morning have swelled into an angry crowd completely surrounding the Omorkian Embassy, but we’re going to leave those pictures up in the corner of your screen. If you have any information on these suspects, please call or text...]

Edgas spun around, “well that’s just great, now we’re wanted fugitives!”

“Edgas!” Dibella snapped back at him. 

The Empress’s face remained calm as stone, “our time is even shorter than I feared. Come, we must make arrangements.” She hurried up the stairs. 

“Arrangements? Really?!” Edgas followed, “we might’ve just started a war! Not like we can just click over to Münshots.com for some first-class tickets now!

“Edgas!” Dibella grabbed his shoulder, “control yourself!”

“No, he has a point,” Valentina broke in, “whatever that is, we cannot travel openly now.”

“Um, guys...”

“Just the idea is crazy! We can’t go back to the Mün, someone’ll die up there, or worse!” 

“Our research is not yet complete,” the Empress eyed him, “but we must begin moving now.”

“Um... guys...”

“It... does seem a bit extreme, Majesty,” Dibella offered hesitantly, “traveling in deep space is not exactly... routine, even if it is accessible.”

“It’s insanity!” Edgas kept screaming, “something stinks about this whole mess.”

“Guys...”

“Our options are rapidly closing,” the Empress shot back, “we must find the Stone before the door is shut.”

“At least, we cannot stay here,” plead Valentina, “before we can think of the Mün we must regroup.”

Edgas roared at her, “whose side are you on, anyway?!”

“We are on same side,” she clapped her hands to his cheeks, “what is with you?”

“Guys!”

He slapped them away, “and then what? Where do we have to go for this other thing, the sun?!.”

“Calm yourself, Edgas Kerman.”

“Wait, I know, next you’ll tell us it’ll be fine as long as we go at night!”

“GUYS!”

WWWHHHAAATTT???????

Burdous pointed out the window, “is... is that a tank?”

In answer, there was a flash, and the roof overhead exploded.

Glass and metal and heavy wooden beams crashed down to the floor far below, smashing the far staircase to splinters. Flaming bits of debris fell all around the group and they, too hit the carpeted floor of the landing. Valentina forced herself to her knees, squinting in the dust, trying to pick some useful sound from the ringing in her ears. An instant later, the front door exploded too. 

Now a thick black mass flooded in from outside, screaming and wailing, firing guns as they came. The Children of the Kraken. 

Run,” Valentina gagged, tried to draw air into her lungs, “RUN!” She grabbed whoever was beside her and shoved them ahead of her down the hallway... only to snatch them back again at the last moment when the hall disintegrated into splinters and fire. She pulled them back down to the floor with her beneath flaming tendrils that spread out across the ceiling as if hunting. 

“Back, the other way!” she barely managed to croak. But when she stumbled back to the head of the stairs, she found only the teeming black hoard surging up towards her. 

There was no thought, only motion, as if her body moved unbidden. She leapt and scrambled up a high statue, wedged herself between it and the wall, and shoved back with all the force her small frame could muster. The statue toppled and she went with it, landing smoothly on the carpet while it slammed into the stairs and began rolling down them. Heavy bronze met flesh and bone below with predicable results. 

Valentina seized the Empress, who seemed on the edge of panic beneath her serene face, “where we go? Is there another way out? Another exit?”

The Empress’s eyes darted back and forth, unseeing. She squeezed them shut, shook her head, “the Grail Room.

Then with more strength, “the Grail Room!”

Valentina nodded, glanced around to make sure everyone was now standing. She had taken a single step toward the far hall when the ringing in her ears was chased away by a new noise. The entire building began to shake, weakened by fire and explosions, but now also from the pounding exhaust of the massive black VTOL that slewed into position above the gaping hole in the roof. At once, a dozen lines dropped from its belly, and more Children slid down into the chaos. One took notice of the group, pirouetted on its rope and flung itself sideways, making a hard 3-point landing directly in front of them, blocking the far hall. 

Slowly, ever so slowly, it raised its head. It fixed them with an eyeless gaze beneath a bulbous helmet. Only its mouth exposed, lips so scarred and ragged they could not fully close pulled back from jagged shark-teeth. It opened its mouth and hissed, a bare stump of a tongue just visible, and raised a submachine gun. 

Once again, there was no thought, only motion. Valentina took two quick steps, hopped up to a suit of armor, grabbed the axe from its gauntlet, spun around and—

Whoosh-whoosh-whoosh-THWOCK!

Ack.

Thud.

“Holey—“ Burdous gaped at the now-unmoving shape on the floor, “when did you take a level in Bad-S?”

“Probably about when I died, come on!” Valentina half dragged, half shoved the group forward while the slithering, screeching mass crested the stairs. 

The Empress hesitated, “wait... the Staff!”

Valentina spared a quick glance below, and found the spot where it had been an undulating black mass, “too late!” Bullets whizzed just over her head, all around them the walls began to splinter and crack. As they fled down the hall, every room they passed to their left exploded into fire and carnage, and every one to their right was overwhelmed by a teeming mass of dark-cladded bodies pouring in through shattered windows. 

“In here!” she skidded around a corner, threw someone stumbling across the room. As soon as they were in, the Empress waved a hand at the towering doors. They crashed shut with an ear-splitting noise that didn’t quite mask the crunch of one Child caught between them. An instant later, four massive oaken beams, each as thick as a Kerbal, slammed down into place.

Wham!

Wham!

Wham!

WHAM!

The four stood there, panting, collapsed or doubled over and staring at the doors. 

“Is... is everyone here?” Valentina managed, “is everyone all right?” Mumbles and vague assents answered her. But before she could shift her mind to whatever came next, a new sound arose from the far side of the door. A sound that, somehow, gave her images of a thousand ravenous hammers.

“You’ve got to be kidding me...” Edgas huffed, “they’re going to shoot through the door!”

“The window!” Valentina sprang up, but dove for cover a moment later as the high stained glass window also exploded, bullets tearing into the ceiling and far wall. “Cannot go that way,” she gasped. Her eyes shot around the room, every wall covered in shelves full of who-knows-what, but... “no way out.” She charged to one wall, snatched the Dagger That Never Dulls, and began stabbing it against the surface as madness threatened to overtake her. A moment, a year later, Edgas came and gently took it away. 

She shook her head at the small chips in the plaster, “solid stone.” Exhaustion chased away the madness as she stepped to the Empress, “is there another way out? Anything at all?”

The Empress only shook her head. 

The cracking of wood and showers of splinters drew their attention. At first very small, but growing ever wider before their eyes a hole began to open up in one massive door. More shells tore through it, sending the group scrambling once again, and effectively cutting the room in two with a lead curtain. The hole grew wider.

“Do something!” Edgas seized the Empress’s shoulders, “do something!

“Hey!”

“And what would you have me do?” her cool eyes fixed him. 

“I don’t know, you’re the sourceress! Throw fireballs, summon ice shards!”

“I can’t.”

“Why??”

She looked at him, something edging in her voice, “because I don’t know how!”

The gunfire abruptly ceased, leaving weak beams of sunlight from the shattered window hanging in the dust. A helmeted head squeezed through the ragged hole in the door, scanning around the room until it found them. It let loose an ear-splitting shriek that grew and grew in intensity as it struggled unsuccessfully to squeeze its shoulders through. In rage and frustration, it bit down hard on the wood, whipping around and tearing loose splinters and teeth. Then it disappeared, and the gunfire resumed. 

“That will not hold them much longer,” Valentina stepped in front of the others, taking the Dagger from Edgas, “find something to defend yourselves.” 

Even this, she looked at the gleaming blade in her hand, will be little use against that.

Then Valentina heard Burdous cry out, “no!” and turned to see the Empress charge into the hail of bullets. A crimson spray erupted from one shoulder, staining the far wall, and with a ping loud enough to hear over the din her tiara flew from her head in prices. Yet as if feeling nothing, she grabbed something from the far shelf and dove back through the maelstrom to the others. 

Pausing only to wipe the blood from her eye, the Empress concentrated very hard on an empty patch of space in the middle of room, cradling something in her other hand Valentina could not quite see. Then before her eyes, light burst forth from empty space. The single brilliant point hung there for only a moment before stretching out into a glowing shaft. It seemed to rotate about its own axis, gaining width, and sort of... shimmered, into a bright hole in the air itself. 

“Jump through!” the Empress cried out, gathering up her voluminous skirts, “and whatever you do, don’t touch the edge!” She jumped, and as if in demonstration, anywhere those bits of fabric touched that rippling edge, they were shorn off with the most peculiar noise, falling to the floor while she... disappeared. 

Screaming rising above the staccato ring of gunshots jarred the others from their stunned stares. 

Dibella glanced back toward the doors, “can’t be any worse than here.” She slapped Burdous upside the head, “into the garbage shoot, flyboy!” and jumped. 

“Hey, that’s my line!” he followed. 

Edgas gawked a moment more before shaking his head, “more like into the fire.” He jumped. 

Valentina tensed... then, not quite knowing why, she charged into the torrent of bullets. She heard them whizz by her head, felt them flick her hair, but reached the shelf, snatched the Holey Grail, spun around and threw it back through hole in the door. Almost at once, the screaming on the far side became... much more frantic. 

She wasted no more time, and dove through the other hole. 

It slammed into her like a sledgehammer. Air so thick and muggy that for an moment she thought she was suffocating. Sweat instantly broke out on her forehead from tropical heat, and she stumbled forward on something soft and yielding. Her brain struggled to comprehend the bizarre mix of signals her senses poured into it. The look of terror on Edgas’s face barely cut through it. 

“Behind you!”

Again she turned, to find a bloodied Child loping through the void they’d just come through. It snarled and raised its rifle. Once more motion simply came, and to her own horror she found herself reaching for the rifle barrel. There was a sound, she felt like she’d been punched, yet she somehow managed to use the leverage of her smaller stature to twist and push, catching the Child off balance and making him stumble backwards. He fell, there was an awful wet noise that turned her stomach, and the snarling abruptly ceased. 

“Close it!” Valentina spun to the Empress, “whatever you did, un-do it!”

The Empress nodded, did... something, and the glowing hole in the air reversed as it had grown, then winked out to nothing. Valentina stood there, panting, staring at where it had been. She raised the rifle still in her hand, which somehow felt lighter. It just sort of... stopped, about halfway along its length. Where it was not, she could clearly see the inner workings— those which hadn’t fallen out onto the ground— even the cordite powder trickling out from cartridges in the magazine. Everywhere the metal ended, it gleamed in the peculiar light, as if polished to a mirror shine. She threw the rifle down, tried not to look at what was there next to it, and hoped that was the source of the growing feeling of wrongness sweeping over her.

Valentina turned to the others, her breathing growing shallow but not slowing. They stared back from three masks of horror. 

“Your arm...”

She raised her arms... but only one hand appeared before her eyes. Somewhere, there was an awful grating sensation, and pain, but it belonged to someone else, a thousand lightyears away. The sweat on her brow grew icy, and the vague awareness came that she was going into shock. 

I will pass out now...

As shadows began to dance around her vision, the Empress came forward, and clapped hands to her cheeks. 

“The bone is shattered... but, the pieces are there... mostly,” she said softly, her eyes making little motions, “I can Heal this...”

An instant later every muscle in Valentina’s body seemed to snap taught at once, as white-hot fire coursed along her nerves. She cried out in a loud voice, but as quickly as it came, it ended. The two kerbelles stood there, staring at each other, panting in the humid night air. Then Valentina sat down hard, and the Empress collapsed. 

“No!” Burdous rushed over to her, while Edgas knelt by Valentina. 

“You... alright?”

She held up her other hand before her face, flexed it a few times. It felt weak and tingly, as if she’d been sleeping on it, but it seemed to follow her command. She nodded a vague assent. 

Edgas turned, “how is she?”

“It’s... not that bad... I think,” Burdous answered, “she’s just fainted.”

“Good... good...” Edgas plopped down himself, a familiar and, somehow comforting, look of overwhelmed-ness washing over his face, “which leaves the bigger question...”

His eyes turned skyward, where an enormous planet, cast in red and blue, green and white, hung before angry, roiling crimson clouds in an alien sky. 

“Where the hells are we?”

 

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Something is wrong with my internet, it seems to have run out of story.

Blitzed the entire trilogy in the last week, and already I’m planning to blatantly steal tastefully reference this magnificent work in my own little KSP story; though between this and KSK’s literary behemoth, it’s got a lot to live up to. Keep it coming! (or else I’ll send you to see Kommissar :wink:)

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On 5/23/2020 at 6:06 AM, CatastrophicFailure said:

“I don’t know, you’re the sourceress! Throw fireballs, summon ice shards!”

“I can’t.”

“Why??”

She looked at him, something edging in her voice, “because I don’t know how!”

A rolling wave of earth and fire? 

Not sure why but it felt like the gloves finally came off in that last chapter. Which is weird given the global situation on Kerbin and all the trials and tribulations that Edgas et al. had faced up till then but there you go. I think it was the Travelling at the end and the Empress going full Chelyaad...

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