Chapter 16: Loop de Loop
“He fought to the last,” Valentina said. “Most would’ve bailed out well before he did. But that wasn’t Jeb. He tried to save his plane right up to the millisecond where there wasn’t any more that he could do…” her voice wavered. She didn’t like Jeb one bit, but he was a coworker- and a fellow pioneer. The first into space. The first to set foot on the Mun. And now, the first to die on another planet… She tried to say something more but couldn’t.
“You were my best friend,” Bill said somberly, breaking the silence. “I’m going to miss you, buddy. Keep climbing.”
Jeb despised the vonKermans. Ironically, they were the ones who painstakingly combed the crash site and beyond for days on end to finally find his mangled remains. Near as they could tell, he tried to bail out at the last second but to no avail. His body had been savagely thrust into the desert. They carefully recovered his remains and brought them back to base. And now he laid to rest at last. It was time to let go.
Valentina finally spoke again. “Jeb was not one to dwell on the past. So today, we look towards the future. Let it be known to all kerbalkin that from this day forward, Duna Base, now the first permanent settlement on Duna, will be known as the Jebediah Kerman Arcology.”
It was too long between the crash and the funeral, but Jeb was finally at rest. They had closure. With the funeral proceedings concluded, the Duna Expedition One team got back to work. There was always work to do.
“She’s not the Akron, but she’ll do,” James said as he looked at the aircraft. The large cargo plane, dubbed the Starlifter, had four enormous tiltrotors that gave it VTOL capability and combined it with high speed. It had both front and rear cargo ramps for easy loading and unloading. Today it carried a new experimental fusion reactor along with the equipment needed to assemble it at the destination. And given the distance they had to travel, it also carried internal fuel tanks as well.
James wasn’t particularly happy about being a transport pilot, but KSC’s special project was short on pilots and they needed all the help they could get. On the plus side, both he and Kelbin, his copilot for the trip, were finally going to be let in on the big secret.
“We’re headed over the Whoops Too Short Mountain Range,” Kelbin said as he checked the flight plan, “then off to the middle of the Great Desert- I think I know where we’re headed.”
That piqued Jams’ interest. “Oh?”
“Remember that giant pyramid that we discovered during the Kerbin Elcano Exploration Project?”
“The one with the graviolium mining and the murals of those aliens? Is that where we’re headed?”
“It looks like it,” Kelbin answered.
“Well we better get started then,” James said.
An hour- one-sixth of a Kerbin day- was a long time for a kerbal. Kelbin and James took turns flying the new cargo plane and listening to the drone of the tiltrotors. It was a boring flight, but the Starlifter was considerably faster than the Akron. They made the long trek from KSC to the Great Desert without incident.
Following the coordinates, the transport arrived about 30 kilometers short of the Great Mining Pyramid. The two pilots immediately recognized the landmark but were puzzled by all the activity…
“Why would they set up a base next to a movie set,” Kelbin asked. During their exploration project, Kimgee discovered what appeared to be a large stone ring out in the middle of the desert. She thought it was the set for some science fiction movie.
“I’m guessing we’ll find out,” James said simply. “Is that a Castillo facility? Why does the base look... bent?”
“Let’s land this thing and ask someone,” Kelbin answered.
The Starlifter eased its way onto the ground. After shutting the plane down, James and Kelbin disembarked and met with the gathering crowd.
“Gene! Wernher! How are you guys doing,” James asked.
“Just fine, Jim,” Gene said, “I heard about your ‘Magic Boulder’ that you guys found. Is it true about the graviolium?”
“Yup, about 29% by mass.”
“Wow,” Wernher whistled and said. “That’s a lot.”
Kelbin looked at Samalla and Munvan. He also noticed Wernher's new glasses. “Hey you guys, long time no see! Uh, what’s with the glowing arm guards?”
“Dude,” Munvan responded, “they’re totally awesome! We call them Omni-tools. We can reconfigure them for whatever tool we need. And they’re a personal communicator and a digital assistant! Mine does science instruments, Samalla’s is an engineering tool.”
“That’s seriously advanced tech,” Kelbin said approvingly.”
“It was aliens,” Samalla said. “We built them based on similar alien devices. They’re really handy.”
“Do pilots get one,” James asked.
“Eventually,” Gene lamented.
“So uh, why does the base look so… disjointed,” James asked.
“Let’s get inside, I’ll tell you all about it,” Gene answered.
As the group filed into the base, Samalla got to work unloading the Starlifter’s cargo and setting it up. She setup one of the walkways and then grabbed the packing box for the base’s new experimental A.R.C. fusion reactor. It self-assembled- another miracle of alien tech- using the equipment and konkrete stored in the cargo plane.
After transferring fusion pellets to the reactor and starting up one of the Starlifter’s gas turbines, she was able to jump-start the reactor. She checked out its systems and certified that it was working properly and then went back inside. Finally, the base’s tracking station and observatory had the power that they needed to come to life.
“You’re now officially a part of the Kerbal Gateway Program,” Gene began after everyone got seated. “As of now, you cannot discuss anything about the program with anyone outside of the program.” He let his statement sink in a bit before continuing.
“What we’re about to discuss is highly confidential. For the better part of a year now, we’ve been studying the Pyramid of Tut-Un Jeb-Anh, the pyramid that Jim and his crew found during the Kerbin Elcano Exploration Project, as well as the Great Mining Pyramid, also discovered during K.E.E.P. Our language experts have been slowly piecing together the writings of the ancient kerbals as well as a language that’s much older, that of the aliens themselves. Thanks to Kelbin’s… visions… we’ve cracked the code on some of it. There’s still a lot of missing pieces, but we’ll get to that later.
“We stumbled upon a secret entrance to the Pyramid of Tut-Un Jeb-Ahn, and eventually made our way into the burial chamber. You may recall that Tut Jeb was the gatekeeper to Paradise, according to legend. That word translated into Gaia, among other things… Anyway, inside the burial chamber we found glyphs describing the device next to our base…”
“What is it,” Kelbin interrupted and asked.
“It,” Wernher responded, “is called a ‘stargate’ according to the ancient language. It forms a Harvestr-Mu bridge to…”
“It’s a portal to other worlds,” Gene interrupted and translated. “We think that it can go to many different worlds, though Gaia appears to be the most-often traveled. We don’t know why it was moved from the burial chamber out to here, or who did it, only that it’s been sitting out here for thousands of years...”
“Maybe somebody wanted to use it,” James suggested.
“That’s our speculation as well,” Gene nodded and said. “But this story is just beginning… When we realized that the ‘movie set’ that you guys found was the stargate, we packed up and set up shop out here with the intent of opening the gate. We didn’t get very far, so Samalla and her team went back to the Pyramid to try and find more clues…”
“I was a tomb raider,” Samalla interrupted and joked. “We decided the Moho with it and opened the Tut’s sarcophagus. We found more clues all right…”
“What clues,” James had to ask.
“Jedediah Kerman’s flight suit,” Samalla deadpanned.
James looked dumbfounded. “How…”
Gene held up his hand to silence everyone. “Samalla’s discovery happened three months ago, well before Jeb’s crash on Duna. She also found a diary of sorts from Jeb. He carved stone tablets describing his life in the past- our past- and that he’d had a good life…”
“But they found his body on Duna,” Kelbin interrupted and pointed out.
“True,” Wernher confirmed, “but past Jeb… uh, Jeb-Ahn- is not the same Jeb that died on Duna. Jeb-Ahn traveled into the distant past…”
“This hurts my brain,” James lamented. “The stargate is a time machine? I thought it opened portals go Gaia.”
“It does both, dude,” Munvan explained. “like, the portal goes through space and time. But like, I think Jeb... Jeb-Ahn, connected the gate from his present day to itself- it’s past self. Which totally blows my mind, dude. Like, I don’t know how Jeb or whoever figured that one out, but, like, it worked…”
“What was Jeb doing in the past,” Kelbin asked.
“According to Jeb-Ahn,” Gene continued, “Kerbin, uh, his Kerbin, was dying. There was an ecological catastrophe that began long ago. Something called the Green Goo was spreading across their world. Their space program discovered that the Green Goo originated from the ancient aliens. It was used to ‘grow’ devices from a supply of resources. The Goo ran amok after our ancestors tampered with it. Jeb somehow dialed the gate in the distant past, stepped through, and stopped the disaster from happening, which subsequently altered the timeline…”
“Wait,” Captain James interrupted, “is mystery goo the same stuff as the ‘Green Goo’ that took over the planet?”
“We believe so,” Wernher answered. “We think that Jeb altered it to be mostly inert though. Mystery goo can make more of itself, just not very quickly. And unlike Green Goo, mystery goo is easily contained...”
Gene again continued. “After averting disaster, Jeb began experimenting with the stargate by dialing addresses left by the ancient aliens. Most didn’t pan out. Towards the end of his life though, one of them did…”
“Gaia,” Kelbin blurted out.
“Exactly,” Gene confirmed. “Jeb-Ahn had the Pyramid of Tut-Un Jeb-Ahn built as a sort of time capsule for us to discover. Presumably, he also included the Gaia address, but as we mentioned, someone removed the stargate from Jeb-Ahn’s tomb and apparently took the gate address with them.”
“And kraken-strike on Duna,” James asked. “Was that you?”
“No,” Gene said and shook his head. “But it happened at the precise date and time that Jeb-Ahn said that he stepped through his stargate. The kraken-strike happened here as well. It warped and distorted our base. A section of it, including our atomic reactor, was just… gone… along with some good kerbals…”
“Because he altered the past, our past,” Wernher added, picking up where Gene trailed off, “the result was a… clash… in space-time…”
“Like, dude, a kraken-strike,” Munvan chimed in. “I’m, like starting to think that, like, kraken-strikes, are totally points in space-time where divergent timelines grind up against each other like tectonic plates and cause quakes.”
“You’re not going to use the gate for time travel, are you,” Kellbin had to ask.
“Oh no,” Gene put up his hands and explained. “Now that we have the new fusion reactor, we’re going to try and open a gate to Gaia though. No time travel, thank you.”
“With your help, Kelbin, ja,” Wernher added.
“That’s where you come in, Kelbin,” Gene took over the conversation. “We need to you have more of your visions. Munvan says you triggered one when you touched a green monolith on Duna. I recall that you guys found one on Kerbin that I want you and a team to travel to. See what you can discover. It could be the key to unlocking the alien language- and the Gaia address.”
“I’ll do what I can, Sir,” Kelbin agreed. “You said that some of my visions were already helpful?”
“Oh yes,” Wernher said, beaming. “We know the name of the aliens. We confirmed that they called themselves the Annunaki…”
“That’s a name that Giorgio used,” Kelbin recalled aloud.
“And one of the reasons he’s here,” Gene responded. “his knowledge of ancient kerbalkin helped fill in some of the gaps.”
“What happened to the Annunaki,” Kelbin asked.
“That part is still vague,” Gene admitted. “But we know from ancient kerbal writings that the Annunaki had a war and then came here, but little else. But with luck, your visions will help us unlock their language, and we can translate their writings…
The Arcology’s new storage depot was nearly ready, and the factory was coming along nicely as well. Future researchers would also like the upcoming observatory. There were other components to build, but once the bare minimum could be constructed, the team would be free to pack up several Pathfinder base components and ship them to The Face. Getting them there would be another challenge.
After the latest accident, KSC designers began to rethink the problem. They suggested building a Munbus and filling it with the needed equipment and sending it unkermanned to The Face. After completion and loading, Valentina took remote control of the craft and powered up its systems.
The craft lifted off and went through its ballistic arc briefly losing communication during atmospheric re-entry.
Valentina held her breath until she regained control. She landed it a good 4 kilometers away and taxied the remaining distance, with a scant 57 meters per second remaining in the tanks. It worked, but it was a little too close for comfort. KSC’s engineers went back to the drawing board.
Several days later, they completely redesigned the Duna Flyer. Since the thin Duna atmosphere required dangerously high landing speeds, the engineers went around the problem by inventing new tilt-fans that provided both horizontal and vertical thrust along with a new larger atomic reactor to power them.
Extensive testing on Kerbin along with simulations using an updated Duna atmospheric model proved that the new Flyer designs would work. Still, Valentina insisted upon several unpiloted test flights before risking any more crew.
After completing the new storage depot and packing up several of the Pathfinder components, Bill loaded them into the new cargo flyer. In addition to hauling the base to the Face, the cargo flyer gave Valentina another opportunity to verify the new design. It proved to be safer to fly and landed near the Munbus.
Three weeks later, the investigation team, consisting of Bob, Ernst, Alzer, and Bill as the team lead, boarded the new crewed Duna Flyer IV and made the trek. Valentina really wanted to go but she knew that if anything happened, she still had to make sure that the rest made it back home. She found herself biting her lower lip for their entire flight. But like the cargo flyer, Bill and his team reached The Face successfully. Before long, they set up shop.
“It’s good to see you guys again,” Kelbin said as the Starlifter floated into the air. They were headed back to KSC to pick up fuel and cargo for their flight up to the arctic. Raphia and Mosa, the team’s engineer and scientist, had been Kelbin’s instructors during the initial phases of K.E.E.P. They’d met Giorgio, Kelbin’s copilot and the resident expert on ancient aliens, during one of their investigations.
“Likewise,” Giorgio said, “It’s nice to get the band back together, so to speak. Plus, I’m excited to be helping you with your visions!”
Kelbin looked embarrassed about that last part. He didn’t like the attention drawn to his “superpowers” as he put it. He shrugged it off; he had a mission to fly.
It took an hour to launch another Starlifter after stupidly recovering it fly back to KSC to refuel and pick up their science outpost, then another hour to reach the field refueling point- the player didn’t give the thing enough fuel Starlifter lacked the range to travel non-stop in its current configuration, and there were no airports to refuel at.
The team waited a good ten minutes before another Starlifter arrived from the North Pole Research Station and gave them some gas.
After the tanker headed back to base, Kelbin powered up his Starlifter and continued onto their destination. The crossed over to the Northern Ice Shelf and flew on for a half hour, passing 26km near the World Court UFO Research Base.
They could go no closer; an international coalition fiercely guarded the alien spacecraft against anyone who tried to approach the site. The lawyers were still arguing over how research should be conducted, who would pay for it, and how its secrets would be distributed. If they only knew about the crashed saucer on the Mun, Kelbin mused…
Still they flew on. Kelbin recognized the mountain range they passed over as the same area where the Akron discovered the atomic-powered alien “V-GER” probe. He thought about paying a visit, but their destination was less than 100km away, and the crew was tired. If there was time, perhaps they would stop on the way back. Then he remembered that the site was contaminated.
At long last, after half a day of flying, they spotted their destination. Kelbin set the big cargo plane down gently onto the grassy plain and taxied back around to the green monolith. With the sun setting, Raphia wasted no time getting the outpost set up while Mosa checked her omni tool.
“The radiation is far lower than expected,” she noted. “It’s like it’s dormant. Will that be a factor?”
Kelbin shrugged. “I don’t know,” he answered. “Are we safe here or do we need to back off further?”
“We’re fine,” Mosa answered, double checking her omni tool. “We can stay here for days.”
Not long after, Raphia put the team to work setting up all the buildings.