peadar1987

Storm Clouds - A KSP Story (Now with a single rocket)

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Hope so! This story is great and I am looking forward to seeing Matrick escape from the evil agent...

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On 28/10/2016 at 2:18 PM, vsully said:

Hope so! This story is great and I am looking forward to seeing Matrick escape from the evil agent...

Thanks! The thing about the agent is he doesn't even know he's evil. He thinks he's doing what he can to help Yeflana stay safe. Of course, he is also guilty of enjoying his job far too much.

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Camp Blerdrom, 15km north of the Tespen-Yeflanan border

Camp Blerdrom was little more than a couple of rows of tents and a few meagre huts standing in a clearing hacked out of the arid scrubland of the southern Tespen Confederation. A dusty road led north towards more fertile land, but most supplies were dropped by air. Today, however, the telltale cloud of dust thrown up by a convoy was nearing the tumbledown watchtower where Jadra was spending most of her waking hours waiting to be assigned to another unit. An inspection, probably. They were rare this far out, but they did happen. Jadra looked on with fairly minimal interest. The Top Brass didn't like to spend much time on the frontier. They were pretty much exclusively from rich, land owning families. Things like dust and outdoor latrines tended to put them off, and it was doubtful they would come anywhere near her tower.

The convoy rolled slowly up to the hut that passed as a command centre and a stout Kerbal with medals covering his jacket strode out of the lead jeep and through the door. He wasn't inside for long before he burst back out again and made a beeline for Jadra's tower. She instantly started to sweat. They wouldn't have sent someone with that much metal on their chest just to arrest someone for what they had said on the radio, would they?

The Kerbal disappeared below the wall of the watchtower and was replaced by the sound of boots clumping up the stairs. Jadra's heart rate rose at the approach of the footsteps, and by the time the trapdoor to her watchpost had opened, she was close to panic.

"Private Jadra, Field Mechanic, second class?" boomed the officer's voice in the cramped confines of the watchtower.

Jadra's training kicked in. Even when you were petrified, there was a way to acknowledge a superior officer. One thing the Tespen army couldn't be faulted on was instilling respect for the chain of command.

"Yes Sir!" she snapped, with the requisite combination of enthusiasm and deference

"My name is General Billgren. You are being redeployed to a special unit under my command, effective immediately. Your personal effects are being packed up as we speak."

"Can I ask where I'm being sent?"

"There will be plenty of time to talk about that on the drive. Come on, I have six other people to pick up."

Slightly dazed, Jadra walked down the stairs and into the waiting jeep, with no idea what she was getting herself into.

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Looking interesting...

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Barely 24 hours after he had left, an Air Force jet carrying the defector Matrick swept over the Yeflanan coast on the way to Nammard, capital of Yeflana, and his likely final resting place. Unlike the assorted diplomats and consular staff sharing the flight, Matrick was handcuffed to the frame of his seat, and under strict orders not to talk to anyone, lest he make things worse for himself. As vague as that threat was, he kept his mouth shut. At least they had given him a window seat, and he looked out over the graceful curve of Nammard Bay. Towering cumulus clouds over the deserts to the north told him there would be a stiff sea breeze blowing over the distinctive pyramids and courtyards of the Old Town, and the jet would have to fly straight over them if it was going to land into the wind. Still second nature to him, even when he probably had less than a day to live.

On its final approach, the aircraft was low enough for Matrick to pick out individual landmarks. The stately pyramids of the diplomatic quarter, the aerobatics stadium on the outskirts where he had competed numerous times, the great bulk of the municipal chillers by the sea, dumping hundreds of megawatts of heat into the water and returning ice cold air along the tunnels of the underground utility system to pipe into the homes of the bustling metropolis. Nammardians lived well, at least compared to their compatriots outside the major urban areas, where temperatures above 40 degrees weren't uncommon and sunburn was a way of life.

From the airport, he was separated from the diplomats and bundled into a PEB car with heavily tinted windows. Probably the same in every detail to the one he had fled the country to avoid. The car sped towards the diplomatic district, neither the driver nor the two stony-faced PEB agents sharing the car with Matrick saying a word. The streets were cramped and winding, but free of traffic. Cars were rare in Yeflana, especially in the cities. The government's official position being that if you wanted to go somewhere that wasn't already on a subway line, you were probably up to no good and did not deserve automobile privileges anyway.

The car pulled out of the sun into a chilly garage beneath the largest pyramid of all. Matrick's movement was once more as silent as it was unceremonious, being frogmarched up stairs, down corridors, and eventually to a lift. A surprisingly nice lift for one he assumed was taking him to a dark basement. He was surprised when the lift began to move upwards, not downwards, and after a torturous forty seconds or so, the doors opened with a slight hiss, and he realised he was right at the point of the pyramid. He recognised the room instantly. He had seen it enough times on the television. The traditional yet functional furnishings, tiled floor and walls in classical Yeflanan patterns, and, standing behind the desk at the far end, a Kerbal he never thought he would see in person. He beckoned to Matrick to come closer, and Matrick dazedly complied. It wasn't every day you came face to face with First Comrade Tarcan, President of Yeflana.

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Posted (edited)

Apologies for the huge delay. I've been in thesis hell! However, I've finally scraped together some time for a bit more writing on this. And sorry for stealing your turn of phrase from earlier @KSK, but I rather liked it

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Nammard, Yeflana

"Comrade Matrick. You are probably feeling slightly confused as to why you are here. First of all, let me reassure you, you are not going to come to any harm." The First Comrade's smile hardened slightly. "At least, no intentional harm"

"I had wondered" replied Matrick. "I was never much of a fan of public executions, but I don't recall you being personally involved in any"

Tarcan chuckled. "Believe me, the fewer Kerbals I need to have executed, the better. As our enterprising cousins to the north would say, it's 'bad for business'. Particularly when those Kerbals are as talented and useful as yourself."

"First Comrade, with the greatest of respect, you can stop being cryptic. I know why you had me flown back here, and I'm not going to kill people. Send me to a work camp, shoot me, do what you want, but I'm not dropping bombs for you."

Again, the First Comrade laughed. "My apologies comrade. A certain level of showmanship is necessary to be elected Head of the Party. And the PEB love it. I'll be frank with you. Firstly, you were not flown back here to fly for the air force. You are a fine pilot by all accounts, but that's hardly worth the effort we went to to get you back from half way across the world."

Matrick listened, partly shocked, partly intrigued, as the First Comrade continued.

"I doubt you will have had a chance to read the newspapers over the last few days, so I will bring you up to date. The Tespens have declared that they are going to land a Kerbal on the Mun, to 'prove their superiority' over their rivals. That means us. Technology is a matter of pride for Yeflana. It was scientific research and cooperation that let us tame the deserts, master 'impossible' refrigeration and fight off invaders from all points of the compass. And we are not being beaten to the Mun by a corrupt and decadent empire"

"And you want me to help design the craft to go there?" said Matrick

"No, comrade Matrick. I want you to fly it." replied Tarcan. "You are a record-breaking pilot, and a capable engineer. And, importantly, you are an icon to anybody who follows competitive sportsflying. What better way to score a propaganda coup than landing a national hero on the Mum?"

"And if I refuse to fly the highly dangerous, experimental craft, I'll be shot for defection"

"And yes, we will have a certain... unique leverage over you in that respect."

"Well... It seems like you're making me an offer I can't refuse. In that case, I won't refuse it"

The First Comrade's face lit up. "Excellent. I know I will be able to count on you! Now, I happen to have a very fine bottle of berry spirit in my desk for... diplomatic purposes. I would hazard a guess that you will not be drinking much over the next while. I insist you join me in a celebratory toast. To the Mun!"

And in spite of everything, Matrick found himself smiling back.

----------------------------------------------------------

A few hundred kilometres to the north-east, Jadra finally stepped down from the jeep inside a walled compound at the corner of Braklau airbase. General Billgren threw her bag after her and reassured her that all would be explained shortly, after everyone had eaten. She walked slowly into the building in front of her, along a broad corridor, and into the canteen. Conversation ground to a halt as she entered, the assembled Kerbals, there must have been thirty of them, all looking at her, sizing her up. Every one of them wore the scarlet of the Combined Tespen Air Force, the trim indicating which of the kingdoms they hailed from. A few from Tokana, one or two from Cirra, even a tall blonde woman from Samish, who looked to be struggling in the southern heat. In her dusty khaki Private's uniform, Jadra could not have felt more out of place. She found an empty table and sat down alone with a meagre tray of food.

She was picking at a crossfruit when General Billgren marched back through the door.

"At ease, soldiers"

Jadra noticed at least half of the air force Kerbals stiffen at being called soldiers.

"All of you have been called here because of your unique talents. You have all shown extraordinary skill, courage and ingenuity in your chosen fields. You have pushed the endeavours of Kerbalkind far beyond their previous limits in the defence of these sixteen kingdoms. And I sincerely hope that this will continue, as one of you standing in this room will be the first Kerbal to set foot on the Mun."

 After a second of shocked silence, the Kerbals launched into an impromptu rendition of the Tespen national anthem. Jadra's shocked silence lasted a second or two longer than the others', and she had forgotten many of the words, but she tried her best to keep up. She felt there would be a lot of that over the coming months.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Tombart sat in a cell, deep below the Ijzerberg castle in Amblia. Ice-cold water dripped through a crack in the wall. He had no idea how long he had been down there for when the door was wrenched open with a clatter by the jailer. He was accompanied by none other than the Minister for Science and Education.

"Oh my, Dr. Tombart, your accommodation leaves a lot to be desired. Have you been treated well, at least?"

"I... You see... Well... It's cold."

"Ah, well you won't have to worry about that for too much longer. It appears you are to be sent to Yeflana after all"

Tombart looked up, speechless.

"Second chances are rare in academia, Dr. Tombart, but the Yeflanans were able to offer us something extremely valuable in exchange for your services. It turns out that perhaps your research wasn't so useless after all.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

And in Reman, Emperor Kermor was fuming.

"The Mun?! She can't go to the Mun. She shouldn't even be able to go to Tokana for her stupid summits and conferences. Why wasn't her plane shot down?!"

"Your Sereneness, it was over neutral airsp..." replied the First Air Lord, before being interrupted by a spray of spittle and rage

"I DON'T CARE! SHE FLIES, YOU SHOOT HER DOWN. THEN YOU BRING HER TO ME ALIVE!"

"But Your Legitimacy, I don't..."

"And find a way to get to the Mun before her. Or you'll be the First Latrine Lord by the end of the week."

The First Air Lord slunk out of the room. Dealing with the Emperor definitely was not worth the extra bar on his epaulettes or the admittedly very impressive hat. He couldn't bring his leader the Empress, but he did have a plan for the second demand at least. He picked up the telephone in his office and began to dial a number.

Edited by peadar1987
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22 hours ago, peadar1987 said:

Apologies for the huge delay. I've been in thesis hell! However, I've finally scraped together some time for a bit more writing on this. And sorry for stealing your turn of phrase from earlier @KSK, but I rather liked it

You're very welcome! And thanks for the update - well worth the wait and the stakes are getting higher!

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Three months later

Tombart stood in the cramped confines of a blockhouse several hours journey to the west of Nammard, deep in the central Yeflanan desert. For the past six weeks he had been working flat out, supervising teams of welders, fitters and assorted technicians as they worked feverishly on the mammoth project that he was now watching through a narrow slit in the blockhouse wall. Behind him stood a dense crowd of dignitaries. Local governors, departmental heads, and a certain Kerbal by the name of Matrick, who had been in the news non-stop since he had arrived in the country. In front of him, the brushed metal skin of the first Yeflanan rocket, Arkus-1, stood out in stark contrast to the dull browns and greys of the stony desert surrounding it. The Program Director, a burly Kerbal in what was presumably the uniform of a very high-ranking officer indeed, cleared his throat and a hush fell over the room.

"Our rivals have claimed they have a five year head start on us in our race to the Mun. Today is the day we close that gap. When Arkus 1 breaks free of Kerbin's atmosphere, Yeflana and our friends from the Eslen Alliance will be the clear leaders in yet another field of Kerbal endeavour"

There was a smattering of applause, and the Director initiated the launch sequence with the push of a satisfyingly large red button. A klaxon blared out through the early desert afternoon, sending a lone bird flapping from the gantry holding the rocket upright, before a metallic, prerecorded voice took its place.

Twenty seconds.

The fuelling hoses dropped away from the tanks on the first and second stages, clattering off the sides of the rocket as they went, metallic parts flashing blindingly whenever they caught the sun.

Fifteen seconds.

Lights on the control panel in front of the Flight Officer flashed to green as the control systems were switched to remote.

Ten seconds

The roar of the starter motor almost drowned out the countdown as it spun the turbopumps up to speed

Seven seconds

Sparks flew from the pyrotechnic ignition system into the flow of fuel inside the single engine bell. Arkus-1 lurched as the thrust kicked in, before being restrained by the launch clamps.

Five seconds

Four seconds

Three

Two

One

Liftoff!

The launch clamps sprung free, swinging back under the action of their counterweights. Arkus-1 seemed to hang above the blistering concrete of the launchpad for a second, before beginning a slow climb into the air on a column of fire. This time the applause in the blockhouse could not have been more enthusiastic, although much of it was drowned out by the sound of Arkus-1's ascent.

Tombart watched with pride as another blinding flash of sunlight was reflected from the rocket's metallic skin as it cleared the tower.

No... Not sunlight, flame. Tombart's pride quickly turned to horror as hot, incandescent gas erupted from just above the base of the rocket, slewing the tail towards the tower. The main engine fired for less than a second longer and, deprived of thrust, the stricken craft rolled onto its side, fell back to the launchpad and exploded. The blockhouse was shaken to its foundations. Plaster cracked and fell from the ceiling. The lights flickered and died as the power failed. Shrapnel from the tower was later discovered almost three kilometres away.

Even in the darkness, Tombart could feel scores of eyes pointed directly, judgementally, at him. The crackling of secondary fires was the only sound, apart from the ringing in his ears, until the voice of Matrick broke the silence.

"I suppose this means we're still five years behind?"

 

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Many kilometres to the north-east, Jadra sat strapped into a seat in a Tespen Air Force transport, along with most of the rest of the astronaut corps. Any slim hopes she might once have had of acclimatising to the program had been dashed long ago. The Air Force Kerbals seemed leagues ahead of her at every turn. A test in a centrifuge that left most of the unfased had her blacking out and vomiting for half an hour afterwards. She was being given basic flying lessons in a small propeller plane while they tested spacecraft systems on supersonic jets. The only area she felt that she hadn't made a complete fool of herself in was the mechanical side. She could still take apart an reassemble a jet engine hours more quickly than the pilots, who were probably used to having an entire ground crew do it for them.

Spoiler

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Tespen Air Force transport

She glanced to her right at the Kerbal from Samish, who she now knew was called Virenna. Virenna had adjusted to the heat better than Jadra had adjusted to the programme, and was probably the closest thing Jadra had to a friend in the corps. Being from the tundra of Samish might not have made her as much of an outsider as Jadra, but it at least gave them some common ground.

To Jadra's left was the reason they were in the air in the first place. A slender, elegant aircraft flew alongside the transport. Stubby wings protruded from either side, but the most distinguishing feature was the huge maw of the engine bell at the tail. Its official designation was the XS-03b. The pilots called it the Javelin. It was being used for testing high-speed, high altitude performance of air- and spacecraft, under conditions a pure jet could never hope to achieve. The majority of its airframe was given over to the cylindrical solid rocket motor that was about to be fired, hurling the Javelin forwards with five Gs of acceleration.

Both aircraft were struggling to fly at 300 knots, the Javelin with its nose high in the air, scraping all the lift it could from its small wings, right on the edge of stalling, the transport with its twin engines labouring to keep up, fighting the drag.

Spoiler

 

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A Javelin in flight

The final pre-ignition checks buzzed over the radio, the voices of the two pilots in the Javelin rattling off the status of all of the important subsystems.

"All systems green, you are cleared for motor ignition" came the voice of the mission controller from the cockpit of the chase plane.

A shower of sparks flew from the engine bell, quickly followed by the red flame of the initiator and a second after, the white-yellow of the fuel itself igniting. Jadra had seen similar tests on three previous occasions, and still a 5g acceleration seemed so unnatural to her. This time, however, there was no acceleration, instead there was a violent crack, and a fraction of a second later the Javelin was no more, replaced by a rapidly-expanding ball of flame, peppered with debris. The lumbering transport had no chance, it flew straight into the cloud with a sound like a Zeswurg hailstorm, two loud bangs signalling the complete destruction of the engines as they ingested the remains of the Javelin. Jadra's ears stabbed with an instant blinding pain as the cabin depressurised, but even with two ruptured eardrums she could hear the cacophony of sirens and alarms struggling to make themselves heard over the screaming of the wind whipping in through the hundreds of holes in the aircraft. The smell of burning rocket fuel scorched her nostrils, and mingled with kerosene from what must be a ruptured fuel line. The transport was going down. Jadra flashed back to a burning crater in northern Yeflana, mortars landing around her. She'd managed to pull through that one, but had no idea how she was going to get herself out of this.

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Well at least it was quick. :( 

Aviation - and especially spaceflight is a punishing and unforgiving endeavour whatever nationality you are or philosophy you subscribe to.

Good twofer - thanks for keeping this up!

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On 20/01/2017 at 9:41 PM, KSK said:

Well at least it was quick. :( 

Aviation - and especially spaceflight is a punishing and unforgiving endeavour whatever nationality you are or philosophy you subscribe to.

Good twofer - thanks for keeping this up!

It's been absolutely Baltic in Glasgow recently, and no wind to go sailing. Good excuse to stay indoors and do some writing!

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On 1/22/2017 at 7:07 PM, peadar1987 said:

It's been absolutely Baltic in Glasgow recently, and no wind to go sailing. Good excuse to stay indoors and do some writing!

I'm willing to place a bet that it was also raining. :) Not that the weather is much better here on the east coast.

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Yes, yes it was. With some snow thrown in for good measure. Although at least I'm not in a crashing aeroplane...

12000 metres above the Tespen Sea

The nose of the stricken transport began to slowly pitch down. Two Kerbals fought their way towards the cockpit, calling for help from anyone still conscious. Jadra unbuckled her safety harness and stood up at the same time as Virenna, the blood rushing from her head. She staggered slightly and felt her head begin to spin. Her vision narrowed and she almost fell, before she felt Virenna's hand on her shoulder.

"Jadra? Are you still with me?"

She took a deep breath, filling her lungs with stinging, icy air, with its meagre amount of precious oxygen. The darkness receded slightly from the edge of her vision and she nodded. Supporting themselves on the seats and walls of the aircraft, the two moved towards the cockpit as well. Stars above, it was less than 10 metres, why was it this hard?!

The cockpit itself had been turned into Amblian Cheese. Vicious daggers of smoking metal were embedded in the bulkhead behind the pilot and co-pilot's seats. As for the flight crew themselves... Jadra forced herself to look away. They had joined the two Javelin pilots wherever it was brave Kerbals went after they died. She hadn't known either of them well, but a crushing sadness mingled with her fear.

Only four of the twenty Kerbals on board the aircraft had made it to the cockpit. The rest had presumably been incapacitated, either by the thin air or the multiple impacts. Jadra stood back as the two male air force Kerbals rushed for the controls, unceremoniously pushing their colleagues' remains from the seats. There would be a time for sentiment, but now was not it. The one in the pilot's seat, Lorcan, pulled back on the stick hard to try and arrest the steepening dive. It hit the stops with no resistance and no change in the rate of descent. As the three trained flyers cycled switches, pulled levers, and tried to restore control in the cockpit, Jadra's mind flashed back to the airbase and her conversations with the engineers on the ground. She couldn't fly the plane, but she could help.

The aircraft was of the simple, rugged design favoured by the Tespen Confederation. That was probably the only reason it was still in the air. It was a beast to fly, the mechanical controls needing a lot of strength to operate, even with the reduction gears giving maximum mechanical advantage to the pilots. If the stick was slack, there was no connection between the control surfaces and the cockpit. Jadra rushed back into the cabin, coming close to passing out with the effort. She took a few moments to catch her breath, then started pulling up the floorboards, screaming over the wind and the alarms for Virenna to come and help her.

By the time they found what she was looking for, five minutes had passed. Control cables running under the floor into a robust-looking box, twisted, slack and frayed towards the nose of the plane, bar-tight on the tail side.

"How long do we have before we hit the ground?" Jadra shouted.

"About ten minutes." replied Virenna. "The rate of descent has slowed down now the air is thickening, but we're still not walking away from this unless we can get back some control."

Jadra ran to the back of the cabin. Virenna was right, the air was thickening, there was no way she could have run a few minutes previously. She tore the emergency supplies cupboard apart for anything resembling a spare cable. No rope, no wire, the best she could manage was a roll of bandage. Rushing back to the hole in the floor, she tied the end of the bandage to the torn end of wire from the control system. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Five minutes left. The bandages secure, she went back forwards to the cockpit. It took her another precious minute to explain her plan to Lorcan, but when he nodded his assent, she ripped off the cover from the control column, exposing a tail of shredded wire perhaps a metre long. She led the bandage around the pulleys of the control system and attached it to the end of the wire. She had cut her hand somewhere along the way and the blood stained the bandage and made her grip slippery. Three minutes. The ground was now clearly visible from the cockpit. Swamp and marshes on the shore of the Tespen Sea. Flat ground.

Lorcan pulled gently back on the stick. It hit the stops before the improvised control line went taut. Swearing profusely, Jadra cut the bandage. No time to untie. Two minutes. With Lorcan pushing forwards on the stick as hard as he could, Jadra took out all the slack from the bandage she was able to and retied it. Sixty seconds. Lorcan pulled back on the stick and the bandage went taut. The elevators on the tail were pocked and holed by debris from the explosion, but they responded and bit the air. Jadra stood up from the floor of the cockpit and let out a whoop of victory, before a loud bang rang through the confined space, and she was thrown against a bulkhead as the plane lurched. The bandage had given way. Thirty seconds. If Jadra could get a spanner on the reduction gears themselves, she could perhaps slow the descent to a survivable level. She stumbled back to the cabin, pulling an adjustable spanner from her overalls. Twenty seconds. Picking what she though was the right gear, she snapped the tool onto the stubby driveshaft at its hub. Ten seconds.

"Jadra, we're going to hit. Strap in!". Virenna's voice came to her from a very long way away, even as Jadra felt her hand land on her shoulder for the second time in half an hour.

"But I can..."

"Strap in!"

Five seconds

Jadra abandoned the spanner and dove into the nearest seat, snapping the buckle on the harness into place just as the transport hit the marsh, bounced once, then broke apart. Of the eighteen Kerbals left alive on board, seven were killed instantly. Five more would succumb to their injuries before rescue arrived six hours later. Jadra escaped with an arm broken by a flying spanner, probably her own. With the sudden lack of trained personnel, the uninjured Virenna was pushed to the front of the rotation for the next Javelin flight.

News of a disaster in the Tespen Space Program quickly filtered through to Yeflana, where the one junior technician foolish enough to greet it with a cheer was silenced by a look from Matrick that managed to be icy cold in spite of the searing desert heat.

Author's note: I was not expecting it to be that hard to write about the deaths of unnamed Kerbals. In fact I was a bit worried about trivialising the dangers of aviation by writing a bit too gleefully about explosions and crashes. It was also very tempting to let Jadra save the day, but that wouldn't really work for what I've got planned for the next few chapters. Hopefully she'll forgive me!

Edited by peadar1987
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Wow, where did that six weeks go?! I haven't had a spare minute to write, but figured I probably deserve a bit of a break from the thesis, so here goes.

Arbus Military Cemetery, Tokana, the Tespen Confederation.

It was a cliché that it always rained at funerals. Partially because of a string of writers taking dramatic license with the weather, and partly because the Arbus military cemetery was located on a particularly wet promontory adjoining the naval base of the same name. Today, a stiff breeze drove white-capped waves against the base of the cliffs and over the bow of a Tokanan submarine steaming out to probe Yeflanan defences in the Straits of Neb. It churned slate-grey clouds as they rolled overhead, and it bit into the group of mourners assembled for the interment of the nine non-noble victims of what had become known as the Javelin Catastrophe. The noble victims had been flown back to their family estates, to be placed in crypts or mausoleums, underneath elaborate marble headstones with family crests. The rest would be laid to rest under simple wooden memorial plaques on a headland with countless others who had fallen in the line of duty. Less than half of them had any relatives there, time off for agricultural workers during harvest season was nearly impossible to come by, and lords didn't want to set a precedent of allowing Kerbals to stop work just because a loved one had been killed. However, the embryonic space program had captured the public's imagination to such a degree that millions were said to be listening to the broadcast all over the Federation.

After the speeches had concluded, Jadra hurried through the uniformed remnants of the Tespen astronaut corps until she came to General Billgren. He hadn't been on the aircraft when it went down, but he could scarcely have looked worse if he had.

"General Billgren, can I have a word?"

"Of course, Private Jadra" said the general, pulling his jacket tight against the wind.

"General, I've been thinking a lot since the crash. About what happened, and what I could have done. Virenna and Lorcan tried to guide the plane down. Dunfrey spent the entire descent stabilising the injured. What did I do? I got scared, pulled up some floorboards and lost my spanner. I'm not cut out for this. I'd like to offer my resignation from the astronaut corps."

"Resignation not accepted" replied the general.

"With resp..."

"Private Jadra, can you guess why I selected you, above any of the thousands of other candidates, to take part in this programme?"

"Because I was the Kerbal of the moment in the media? Because I am about as common as you can get, and it would look good to send up a peasant? Because I'm expendable?!"

"No. That's why I was allowed to pick you. And you have repaid my faith in you. You might think all you did was get scared and lose your spanner. Do you know what I have heard about the accident? I heard two pilots tried for ten minutes to fly an aircraft with obviously severed control lines because they couldn't think of anything else to do. I heard about a medic who treated burst eardrums and minor lacerations on Kerbals who were about to hit the ground at 300 knots. And I heard about a combat mechanic who, in spite of being terrified, did not for one second stop thinking of creative solutions, and who nearly saved the aircraft and everyone on board. Our Kerbals are going further, higher and faster than any Kerbal has ever gone before. Things are going to go wrong. Unexpected events are going to happen. Things we can't train for, could never train for. And the only Kerbal on this entire program I've seen show a hint of being able to swallow their fear and fix a problem like that is you."

Jadra stood with her mouth open, unable to think of anything to say. The general continued.

"I'm being replaced as head of the space program. Heads have to roll after a foul-up like this, and apparently mine is one of them. But before I go, I'm arranging for you be put to the front of the rotation for the first Kerballed spaceflight"

With that, he turned on his heel and walked, solitary, through the dwindling crowd and out of the cemetery. Jadra stayed rooted to the spot, a thousand emotions competing for space in her head.

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Nammard, Yeflana

Tombart and Matrick sat at a café at the side of a small courtyard in one of the oldest districts of Nammard, sheltered from the sun by a dense carpet of shadevines creeping along a network of wires strung across the courtyard for that very purpose. The vines needed minimal water, produced delicious berries, and could grow in the thinnest of soils, and seemingly every street in the city was protected by a canopy of their waxy leaves. Their five-pointed, star-shaped flowers had become the symbol of Yeflana, stylised to the star on the hats of the PEB agents sitting at the table next to Tombart and Matrick. Tombart couldn't tell if they were being monitored specifically, or if the PEB were simply everywhere in Yeflana to make sure nobody misbehaved or read the wrong sort of newspapers.

"So the accident enquiry could have gone worse" said Tombart, trying to make conversation.

"Main engine turbopump casing failure, leading to combustion chamber damage. Escaping gas causing a torque on the vehicle for which the control system was unable to compensate", rattled off Matrick from memory. The enquiry had lasted several days, and a seemingly endless series of twisted and blackened metal had passed across the desk of the committee of which Matrick and Tombart were both a part. Indeed, they had spent more time explaining to the PEB appointee how rocket engines worked than they had trying to decipher why this particular one had failed. "So now how do we stop it from happening again?"

"It's hard to say. The problem is the scaling. I've only ever worked on lab-scale rocket engines before. I can get them working with 99% reliability, and good specific impulse, but you just can't get something capable of lifting a Kerbal into orbit into a lab and fire it. This is all virgin territory, and every time we try one of the bigger turbopumps the entire thing flies apart."

"So we don't scale them" suggested Matrick. "You said we've got the specific impulse to make orbit, just not the thrust. How about we use your smaller designs, and just cluster them together? Ten or fifteen of them should be able to get our first stage off the ground, no?"

"Good idea, and we already looked into it" said Tombart, sipping a shadeberry cordial. It was punishingly hot, even under the shadevines. "the problem is vibration. One turbopump running at a time, we can predict what that's going to do and damp things properly. Fifteen turbopumps? The test rig and half the engines shook themselves to pieces within half a minute. The vibrational modes interact with each other in ways we can't even begin to predict. It will make a nice PhD thesis in ten years time, but we're not going to the Mun any time soon with any more than five clustered engines."

Matrick stared down into his empty coffee cup and debated ordering another. The coffee at the space centre was terrible, and he didn't know when he would next pass through Nammard. Although if they couldn't solve the thrust problem, it wouldn't be long before the next enquiry.

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And meanwhile, deep underneath a mountain towards the northern reaches of West Atlavand, the First Air Lord inspected a welding crew putting the finishing touches to the steel wall of a wide vertical tube that ran all the way to the surface, almost 10km above. Even if the blast doors at the mouth of the shaft had been open, there was no way any light from outside could have filtered down to here. 

He smiled to himself. West Atlavand weren't going to the Mun just yet, but at least with what they had developed down here in a disused copper mine, they could spring a few nasty surprises on the upstarts to the west.

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"This thread is quite old. Please consider starting a new thread rather than reviving this one"

Oops, looks like I've neglected the fic again :( On the plus side I do have 45,000 words of thesis on paper now!

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The headquarters of Yeflanan Strategic Air Command in Nammard was an unassuming, squat building on the outskirts of the city, close to the international airport. Most of it was taken up with offices in which earnest Kerbals pored over reports and data on proposed new aircraft designs, industrial output, and Tespen incursions. The centrepiece, however, was the Situation Room, a giant, windowless chamber, filled with rows of desks, and dominated by an enormous screen which took up most of one wall. In front of the desk was a table adorned with a map of Yeflana, covered in small models representing Yeflanan and enemy forces.

Most of the time, this room was quiet. It was designed for full-scale war, not single intruders or spy planes. Even Jadra's foray across the border three years previously had only caused a minor flurry. Therefore, Yaffie, a young mathematician in only her first year at the Command, was bored. On that particular summer's morning, she was flicking through the latest issue of Truth, the government-run newspaper. The lead story was, as almost always these days, space-related, reporting another successful test firing of the LV-7 engine. Inside, more of the usual. Vague rumours of a superweapon of unimaginable power being developed by the Tespens, urging Yeflanans to stay patriotic in the face of this threat. A popular and flamboyant party official who had been sent to a labour camp after a shock corruption scandal. A dry business story about a new tungsten mine, which was expected to alleviate the shortage that had existed since West Atlavand stopped their exports... It wasn't even sportsflying season, so she couldn't read about the exploits of her favourite pilots.

Her reading was interrupted by a low-key alarm. She barely even looked up. She knew the drill, single intruder, it would fly into Yeflanan airspace, provoke a response, then turn back before it could be attacked. She was ready to start reading a story about increased agricultural output on the Kibbin peninsula when the pitch of the alarm changed and the room broke into nervous chatter.

"How is it doing that?"

"It's going so quickly!"

"Is it still climbing?"

Yaffie looked up at the screen, and it was immediately clear that this was no normal intrusion. The bogey was climbing fast, and accelerating, and its heat signature was enormous. It would cross the Yeflanan border in almost no time.

"Scramble fighters! Alert the gunnery battalions! I want that craft taken down!"

"Gunnery commanders reporting the aircraft is too high to target, and still climbing"

"What is this thing?!"

"Fighters have lost contact, altitude is 40,000 metres and climbing"

Yaffie looked on helplessly at the screen as the dots representing the most advanced SAMs in the Yeflanan arsenal fell behind the intruder and ran out of fuel.

"Heat signature has shut off, but we still have it on radar. Looks like it's on a ballistic trajectory. I want someone crunching the numbers on this now!"

Yaffie grabbed her slide rule and notepad. Ballistic trajectories were easy compared to calculating the flight path of a SAM. It was immediately obvious that this intruder was going to loop straight over the Yeflanan defences, almost touching the edge of space before touching down in...

"Nammard. Commander, it's going to hit here"

 

 

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Loving it so far, but I was wondering how you made the map?

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18 hours ago, Skylon said:

Loving it so far, but I was wondering how you made the map?

Thanks, glad you're enjoying it!

I made the map using Paint.net. Used the map of Kerbin off Kerbal Maps, set it as a background, and traced over it in a separate layer. Kerbal maps appears to be dead now though, which is sad, the best I could find today was the archived version: http://web.archive.org/web/20160430022558/http://www.kerbalmaps.com/

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