Chapter 4: A New Riff
With a well timed burst of its maneuvering thrusters the Keonov matched its orbit of Tylo to that of the derelict Diskovery. Inside that hulk was a sleeping computer that had the answers to Dr Heywood Kerman’s many question, foremost being if he had any personal liability in the many lawsuits that had been filed against the KSP in relation to the loss of the ships’ crew. There had been so many in fact that the majority of the organisation’s funding was now being spent on lawyers rather than engineers, hence the need to return to the Diskovery with the help of the KISS.
To get those answers and if possible revive the Diskovery, a small team would be sent aboard to begin the process of resurrecting the ship’s systems. From the KSP, the obvious choice was Wally Kerman, as he had designed the Diskovery, whereas the KISS used their tried and tested technique of drawing straws. So Dasilly and Max got out their notepad and pens and started sketching straws, with the one Captain Valentina liked the best being the winner.
As usual Max, the amateur artist of the crew, who had a fine collection of pencil sketches of his crew-mates while they were sleeping (something which concerned the others on the Keonov), won the competition hands down. As much as he was terrified by the excursion to the Diskovery, his pride in his artwork wouldn’t allow him to fake it and draw like a three year old, like Dasilly and Irena did.
With the excursion team chosen the Keonov’s crew and their guests from the KSP headed to the ship’s main airlock to help the pair to suit up. Well, most helped; Heywood thought the preparation of the suits a little close to manual labour and therefore far beneath the status of the director of the KSP, so he left Wally to prepare his own suit. However as the guy had literally been born in space (as he never tired of telling his co-workers) he had his suit prepared before the Keonov crew had Max’s suit ready. This allowed him to be fully prepared for the journey to the Discovery as well as lay the groundwork for his passion from pranks.
While everyone else was busy checking Max’ environmental system, Wally took a big wad of chewing gum (a key component of his practical joke kit) and jammed bits of it into the maneuvering jets of his victim’s suit. He then suggested that for safety it might be best if the pair of them were tethered together while on their way to the Diskovery.
Minutes later the large airlock door slid open, revealing the awesome sight of Jool in the distance and Tylo below, with the Diskovery spinning slowly above it.
“So ya ready to go” asked Wally of his partner for the trip to the derelict ship.
“Neit… have problem vith…” replied Max before being interrupted by the KSP engineer
“That’s great, ok, let’s get to it” said Wally with a mischievous grin and a short sharp blast of his thrusters out of the airlock. The KSP’s prankster in chief shot away from the Keonov, followed a moment later by Max when the tether that connected them became taught.
The tether, which Wally had sneakily wound around Max’s left leg before exiting the airlock, now gave the engineer complete control of the Keonov crewman’s movement, which was currently flying feet first at high speed towards a derelict spacecraft, over an unexplored world, millions of kilometres from home. To make matters worse he was in rapid roll, with the darkness of space and the moon below, alternately flashing before his visor.
Max had never thrown up in his suit, something the KISS frowned on, especially when anyone from the KSP was around to see it. However he was closer than he had ever been at that moment.
“So how ya doin’ back there buddy” inquired Wally with as much innocence as he could muster, but with Max busy holding down his lunch he was unable to reply. “Well that’s great, hope you don’t have a problem with radiation, ‘cos I hear it’s mighty strong round these parts”.
Great, Max thought, on top of being dragged along by a lunatic and the urge to empty his stomach into his suit, he was getting the microwave oven treatment as well.
With about 100m to go Wally Kerman shouted over the radio to his partner “Heads up, time to hit those brakes and slow down a smidge” and with that he shot a blast on his suit thrusters to slow his forward motion, but not that of Max, who shot towards him. However the engineer was ready for this and grabbed him before he shot past, changing his partner’s attitude as he did so.
For the first time since leaving the airlock Max’ feet were pointed towards Tylo and his face towards the Diskovery, which at first was a relief, but then his sense of distance had time to kick in and the realisation of his height above the moon below hit him. Few kerbals suffer from vertigo, but Max was an exception. He was fine at the controls of a probe, or managing the systems on-board the Keonov, but out here, floating many kilometres above this moon, the guy who got the shakes on a stepladder felt like he was about to pass out.
“Max, Vally… dis is Captain Valentina” crackled the voice of the Keonov’s commander through the radiation being thrown out by Jool “have only three minutes before dangerooos radiation aksposure”.
“We’re almost there ma’am” replied Wally “ok, buddy time to hit the brakes”.
Wally reached for the thruster controls with his right hand to arrest their motion towards the Diskovery, momentarily releasing his hold on Max with his left as he did so. Seconds later, Max was headed towards the hulk, with his head pointed towards it, again in a rapid spin.
“Oops” called Wally over the radio “lost grip of ya there buddy” with a chuckle.
A few seconds later Max’ motion was arrested by the bulk of the discovery, in the form of a helmet to ship collision, that had his ears ringing, over which he could just about hear the laugh of his excursion partner. “Ouch buddy… that musta stung”.
Wally gave himself a last moment blast of his suits’ thrusters to slow his motion to give him a less painful encounter with the Diskovery and grabbed onto a hand hold.
Back on the Keonov a certain KSP director was in a ball on the floor laughing. He’d seen Wally do this stunt half a dozen times before to engineering recruits on their first EVA, but it still cracked him up, the crew of the Keonov looking on, once again wondering why they're government had agreed to these idiots setting foot on their ship.
Meanwhile Max and Wally started the long walk along the spine of the spinning shipwreck, heading towards the crew section at the front of the ship. As Max was having some difficulty walking along the vessel, Wally reached out to him and said “here, lemme’ give ya a hand there”.
Wally grabbed hold of the outstretched hand and instantly started shaking violently, while the lights on his suit cut out as did the radio, all of which was a bit too much for Max who collapsed onto the hull of the ship. Moments later his he came to and his radio crackled to life, only to find Wally clutching at his stomach and waving his hand in front of Max’ visor. “ya can’t beat the classics” laughed the engineer “zappo ring 3000… 3000 volts at yer finger tips. Well come on, can’t sit aroun’ all day now can we” and headed towards the front of the ship.
Eventually Max caught up with his tormentor just as he reached the edge of the crew section, but the exertion in catching him had him out of breath.
“Can’t… can’t breathe” squeaked the now very out of breath Max.
The concerned voice of the Keonov’s medical officer came over the pair’s headsets, offering advise “make mixture thin, increase CO2”.
Wally reached around the back of Max’ suit and made an adjustment before asking “How’s that buddy”.
For a moment Max relaxed and his breathing returned to something like normal. “Thank you Vally, dat vos close one… er… vat” said Max, sounding like a demented chipmunk played at fast forward.
“Max” exclaimed Captain Valentina “are you ok, you soundink strange”.
There followed a stream of expletives in Max’ mother tongue that would make a warship of sailors blush, as again Wally was laughing and pointing to something in his hand, this something being a small canister labelled, helium, which he’d connected for a moment to the auxiliary air supply connector on Max’s suit.
After a moment to recover and to consider how he would get his revenge, Max and Wally made their way to the emergence hatch to the Diskovery’s pod bay and ventured inside.
Now that they were separated from the dangerous radiation of the space around Jool by the ship’s thick hull, the pair could relax about that danger at least, and focus on all the others, such as a homicidal computer and vanishing crewmen, while starting their inspection of the condition of the vessel.
“How’s ARL?” inquired Heywood, referring to aformentioned homicidal computer that had been deactivated by Jeb Kerman, before he’d vanished from the ship.
“Still taking a time-out” replied Wally
“Is there power” continued Heywood.
The KSP engineer took a look at a large Battman module attached to the wall, saw nothing on the gauge, so gave it good thump, but this failed to change the reading. “Nothing” he replied.
“How about the atmosphere” asked Heywood.
“Well a bit tense I guess, especially after that gag with the helium” responded Wally.
“Not dat kind… you kspudnik, is der air to breathe” clarified an annoyed Captain Valentina.
“Weeell the power’s out, so the gauge doesn’t work” informed the engineer before looking at Max. “You wanna give the air in here a try buddy. I’d do it, but I’m on strict instructions from my doctor not to breathe any unknown atmospheres, ain’t that right Doctor Kerman” giving a chuckle and a big wink.
Realising that it was going to be left to him to try the air inside the derelict ship, Max took a big gulp and said “is pretty cold captain, you sur dis ok?” hoping that his captain might have a way out of this for him.
“No colder dan our vinter’s” answered his captain. This wasn’t entirely true as the home of the KISS was actually just as balmy as that of the KSP, as they were both at the same latitude on Kerbin, but their government had a longstanding propaganda campaign, presenting them as being tough survivors of a freezing climate.
“Ah… da captain” responded Max realising that he was going to have to be the guinea pig that tested if the air was breathable or not.
The Keonov’s medical officer came on the air offering advice once more. “Ven Max opens helmet, make sure he not turn pink… dat vould be bad Vally”.
“Gotcha… pink’s bad” Wally replied.
“Ok… you can do this, just be strong” thought Max before taking some deep breaths, finally exhaling then pressing the Insta-Helmet button on his suit, the remarkable piece of technology that allowed the entire helmet of a kerbal’s spacesuit to fold up and tuck away in a little pouch on the back, in the blink of an eye.
Pop went the helmet, as if it had never existed and Max carefully took a breath “is cold… brrrr… really cold” and thought about hitting the Insta-Helmet button again, before realising that his captain would be far from pleased.
“Air is breathable… but smelly… like spacesuit after eatink much pickled cabbage” Max continued.
The Keonov’s engineer took another sniff of the air “ewww… smells really bad here, rotten, like somethink di…” and with that a terrified look appeared on his face, he hit his Insta-Helmet button popping it back on his head and started madly gesturing towards the wall behind Wally.
“G.g.g.g.g… ghost spaceman” screamed Max “is Jeb ghost” only to realise that his KSP partner was once again laughing, most likely at his expense.
Wally Kerman pulled his right hand from behind his back, revealing that he’d taped a picture of Jeb Kerman to the end of his handheld light and had been waving it about behind him, projecting a picture of the vanished hero onto the bulkhead.
“Woooooooo… hehehe” chuckled Wally as he walked away from the still shaking Max. “Just too easy… come on we got work to do, this ship ain’t gonna fix itself.”