UnusualAttitude

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  1. Links to .pdf files of parts 1 to 3 have been added to the OP. Please let me know if they work or not, and feel free to point out any omissions and typos by PM. If anyone intends to print this out, I suggest you order some spare ink cartridges. 200 plus pages already... Too Big to Fail and L'Enfant Sauvage will be much, much larger...
  2. That was the end of Part Five (L'Enfant Sauvage), by the way. Coming up, Part Six: The Easier Task. How I love ironic titles. In the meantime I will try and get those .pdf files of the five complete parts done. Where do you suggest I host them? Dropbox?
  3. Thanks! I can be a bit of a twisted person, sometimes. But like my own life, I will try and get this story to make some kind of sense in the end... ...You mean the Surgeon's choice of voice? Yeah, I always find that mass exterminations are that much creepier when you present them in a well-educated, reasonable tone.
  4. ...or talk to him, depending on whether they think he might be useful to them... That would indeed be very interesting to know. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be of any help to Camwise. The Board (Trans Pacific / Trans Indian) do not know about the Surgeon or what he has told Sidke (and now Bartdon). The remaining Resource Companies and Sidke's Cooperative are basically ideological enemies. And even if the Board knew that Camwise was in danger, they probably wouldn't bother warning him. After all, he did destroy their station and steal several million funds worth of their hardware. Besides, nothing has really changed here. There is no "new danger". The Surgeon has merely revealed that the original intention of the Crewmates was to exterminate the Kerbals... but something made them change their minds. Your user name and avatar seem familiar.... Were you reading this way back when I started? If so, thanks for sticking with me.
  5. YEAR 15, DAY 356. BARTDON. Thil's endurance was impressive. We flew on deep into the South Atlantic for many hours, far beyond Longwood, where no airship would ever dare to venture. Our destination seemed to be as far from dry land as was possible on planet Earth. There was little wonder that it had remained hidden for so long. From the banter exchanged between Thil's two pilots, I understood that we were at last nearing the end of our journey. They had picked up some sort of navigation beacon that would allow them to home in and we began to descend from cruising altitude. As Thil's rotors pitched forward and we transitioned to vertical flight, I caught my first glimpse of South Atlantic Station. It was a gunmetal floating platform that was about a hundred metres across and half as wide, dotted with antenna masts and prefabricated buildings. The centre of the structure was dominated by a wide landing pad towards which we now plunged, its navigation lights blinking to guide us in. I gripped on to the edge of my seat, unsure of whether the whole experience was excitingly novel or simply terrifying. Sidke's pilots hit it spot-on though, and minutes later we were clambering down the ladder into the cargo bay, and then down the ramp into the bracing ocean air. Sidke and Tifal excused themselves momentarily and left me to meet the two investigators who had appeared to greet them. Shouting over the noise of the turbines winding down, they huddled together in conference. I looked out across the rolling whitecaps that stretched away to the horizon in every direction. Dark memories of my long isolation returned and I shivered a little. We were much farther South and the wind had a bitter edge to it. Damn, this place was in the middle of no-where. We might just as well be on the blasted Moon. “Principal Investigator,” Sidke called after a while. “Would you care to join us in the briefing room?” The briefing room turned out to be a cosy little office on the port side of the platform with a large conference table around which we gathered, and a map screen that revealed our position, far out into the South Atlantic. I was introduced to Nephia and Granie, the two resident investigators, and Pattop, the station's engineer. When I got my first good look at the latter, I did a double-take. His face was familiar. Come on Bartdon, get those old brain cells into gear. “Hullo, boy!” I boomed, beaming at him. “You were on the orbital engineering team back in Year 10 when we were building Laroque, weren't you? You did a damned fine job on that ship!” “Uh, thank you, PI,” said Pattop, a little taken aback by the fact that I recognised him. “Your welcome! Now tell me, how long have you been working for our rogue CEO here? I assume you had a lot of valuable information about our space programme to share with him, eh?” Pattop froze. An awkward silence followed. Tifal cleared her throat and glared at me. “I met Pattop after he quit his job at Omelek and returned to Hammaguir back in Year 12. This was shortly after the explosion that crippled your lander on Phobos, Bartdon. He told us that he could no longer bring himself to work for the Board. I'll let you draw your own conclusions about his integrity...” “Please, Tifal,” Sidke cut in. “Let's not get distracted. Would you please explain to the Principal Investigator how you discovered this site?” “Gladly. First of all, Bartdon, you must know that I was a student under the late Planetary Investigator Margaret. She was my tutor.” I winced. “I'm sorry. Her death was such a damn waste.” Old grudges lurked just below the surface. I gritted my teeth and managed to say, “she was a brilliant investigator.” “She was indeed. Now, I believe you are aware of the Pacific datacore that Principal Investigator Angun discovered many years ago, and the fact that he shared the images that it emitted with Margaret before they left for Mars.” “All too damn well...” “What you may not know is that PLI Margaret spent a significant proportion of her career searching for other datacores on our home planet. Amongst other things, she ran an extensive campaign of hydroacoustic research across most of the world's oceans.” “Colour me damned surprised...” I muttered. “And so, she found the Surgeon?” “No, she didn't. She missed it,” said Tifal. “You've seen how isolated this location is. The nearest hydrophone was hundreds of kilometres away and the signal was almost completely lost in background noise. However, when I learned that she wouldn't be coming home, I had a second look at the data. It took me months, and I had to rewrite her algorithm several times. But by late Year 9, I was pretty sure that there was something that I couldn't explain in this area. But by that point, there was no-one with whom I could confide in. That's when I met Sidke.” “This was our darkest secret and our greatest burden,” said Sidke, his tone glacial. “It took us three years to confirm Tifal's discovery, and we only managed to set up this research station two years ago. The events that took place during your mission to Mars made it clear that we should move forward with the utmost urgency and create this platform, but you must understand that it was our greatest gamble yet.” “You mean you kept this station secret for more than two years?” “Thanks to the dedication of Nephia and Granie, we managed to pass off the entire operation as research on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.” I felt a sudden surge of nostalgia for a time when performing scientific research had meant just that: gathering data to prove or disprove a hypothesis, nothing more, nothing less. That time was long-gone now. I sighed and looked away out of the window at the ocean. “So, what is down there exactly?” “The same type of structure as the one found under the Pacific,” said Tifal, “and, we assume, as the one you discovered on the Moon. It's a large slab of what looks like black glass that seems to be some sort of medium for data storage. We took all possible precautions to avoid disturbing it and set up an RTG on the sea bed. Communication with the Surgeon is possible via a hydrophone to a building on the other side of the station. We gave it a couple of encyclopaedias and a bunch of audio archives to learn our language from, but otherwise it is completely isolated from the outside world. That prefab is the only place where we can talk to it.” “And what have you learned from it so far?” “Principal Investigator,” said Sidke, standing. “Why don't you come with me and find out for yourself?” *** Leaving the others behind in the briefing room, Sidke lead me across the station to the building that sat alone in one corner of the platform. I shuffled along beside him, wondering what the hell I was going to say to the Surgeon. As we reached the entrance, I hesitated. After two years trapped on an island with no-one to talk to, I was about to interrogate another one of these alien super-intelligences. I must admit that I simply did not feel ready for such a task. “Don't worry. You can ask it whatever you think may be useful,” said Sidke softly, as if reading my mind. “Remember, none of what is said here will leave this room. There is still a lot that it is unable to tell us but it seems to want to cooperate. It's even quite friendly and pleasant to talk to...” he paused as a shadow crossed his face, “...that is, until the reality of what it's saying hits you. Then, it makes your skin crawl.” Before I could react, he pushed the door open and gestured for me to enter. The lights were dimmed, but the place was otherwise similar to the briefing room. I took a seat at the large table that faced a wall of screens showing what appeared to be live footage of the seabed below. They even put cameras down there... It struck me that I had never actually seen one of these damned Crewmates with my own eyes. It was difficult to get a sense of scale, but it seemed taller than I had imagined. Above all, it was completely uniform, cold and lifeless. No movement. No flashing lights as it spoke, nor the merest trace of any sentient reaction. Strangely enough, it seemed far more alien than any organic creature I could possibly conjure up in my imagination. There was a small control panel in the centre of the table. “Press here to talk to it,” said Sidke. “Here, look...” He flicked a switch. “Hello, Surgeon. I've brought a visitor. This is Principal Investigator Bartdon. He was the first of our species to walk on Mars.” The Surgeon answered instantly, as if it had been waiting all day to respond. Its voice was richer and deeper than that of the Second Engineer. It had obviously had had much more time to study accents and speech patterns, and for some reason had decided to project itself as one of the upper class gentlekerbs of southern Albion. “Oh, hello old chap. What a wonderful surprise. I have missed our conversations, you know. Hello Bartdon. Congratulations for making it to that dusty old place. Bet it hasn't changed one bit, eh? Good show!” “Uh, thanks old boy...” I managed, slightly taken aback by its choice of personality. “...Not that the place is worth the trouble, though,” the Surgeon went on, “at least it wasn't for us.” “Oh... How so?” “It's contaminated, dear chap! The whole blighted planet is crawling with microbial life. At least, the parts we were interested in.” I looked over at Sidke blankly. He sat back with his arms folded and a very subtle smile on his lips. “Hold on there, old boy,” I asked the Surgeon. “Are we talking about the same blasted planet? Mars is completely barren. We found evidence of liquid water there, but that was billions of years ago.” “Oh yes, the surface is a wasteland today of course,” said the Surgeon, “although a few aeons ago it was positively teeming before its atmosphere was wrecked. Didn't you see the stromatolites all over the damned shop?” My head spinning, I glanced at Sidke once more. “The samples we brought back...” I whispered. “Did you..?” I didn't need to finish my sentence. Sidke gave an almost imperceptible nod and a wave of conflicting emotions swept over me. Tifal must have studied the rocks that we had recovered from the depths of Valles Marineris and brought home onboard Quissac. She had found the tell-tale signs of bacterial mats. I felt a rush of elation followed immediately by numbing disappointment as the realisation hit me. In a parallel universe without alien robots, I would have gone down as one of the most important academic figures in history. Instead, the presence of fossilised bacteria on Mars was merely a mildly interesting footnote in the grand scheme of things. Clearly, the universe couldn't care less about my ego. And there was more... “You just have to dig a little deeper, you know,” said the Surgeon. “Under the polar ice-caps, or in places where the sub-surface ice-sheets melt. There are whole lakes of the stuff. In any case, we couldn't find a single drop of liquid water that didn't contain some sort of bacteria or archaea and its whole host of accompanying viruses and plasmids. That's what really ruined our day. It was almost as bad as on Earth.” But you're a robot... I thought. And then, I remembered. Colonisation Mission Seven. “Back up a minute, would you?” I said. “You and your Crewmates were trying to find a suitable place for your Creators to live in our System, is that correct?” “Spot on old chap, and judging from the observations that were made by our space telescopes the Sol System was damned promising indeed. Two gas giants and a bunch of rocky planets, one of which had an atmospheric profile that suggested life on its surface... I don't know why they didn't send Mission One here in the first place. Something to do with its distance from our home system, if I recall correctly.” “Then what went wrong? You say both Earth and Mars turned out to be impossible to colonise?” “Oh, certainly not impossible... Let's just say that things turned out to be much more complicated than we had expected. Ironically, due to one of the things that brought us here in the first place: the life already present in this system.” One by one, the meanings of the images transmitted by the datacores were slowly beginning to make sense. Their ship near Mars, near Earth, and the bacteria being infected... “Your Creators got sick..?” “Not our Creators as such, if I may be so pedantic,” the Surgeon replied. “Rather, all of the microbes that accompany them. They were overwhelmed by the locals. We managed to hatch a couple of test subjects, but they were unable to digest the food we had, nor were we able to grow any more to feed them. Many of their other vital functions were also impaired. Building the complete ecosystem necessary for their survival proved to be... difficult. All complex life is entirely dependent on these little critters, yourselves included. I should know, I dissected enough of your ancestors during our initial study of your species.” The bile rose to the back of my throat at this last admission. I began to understand Sidke's warning about crawling skin. I took a deep breath, trying to keep my cool. “So, the blasted Sol System's immune system rejected your Creators, eh?” I avoided adding Good for us... “Yes, old chap, in a sense. It wasn't insurmountable, of course. The Head Scientist and I started experimental work on genetic modifications that would have made our microfauna more robust to infection and transfer of genetic material. It would probably have worked, but it was a time-consuming process. In the meantime, the Captain and the rest of the crew headed off into the outer system in search of a more pristine environment, hoping to find someplace more immediately suitable on the icy moons of your gas giants. They left me to do the dirty work.” “The dirty work?” I wondered, not quite sure if I really wanted to know what the Surgeon meant. “Yes, getting rid of you Kerbals, old chap. ” I winced. Sidke was now staring at me intently. Why did I get the impression that this whole conversation was some sort of litmus test? “Why, Surgeon?” “Orders, dear chap. Merely my orders.” I grit my teeth and puffed out my chest. “Well, I hope you were better at surgery than you were at damned kerbocide. In case you hadn't noticed, there's still quite a few of us moping around this blasted planet. And other planets too now, I hear.” “Oh yes,” said the Surgeon, shrugging off the jibe. “It was a close-cut thing, though. Your ancestors were in a pretty sorry state to begin with, if you must know. Ten thousand of your kind spread thinly across a single continent. Towards the end of the process, I managed to whittle you down to just a few hundred individuals from half a dozen settlements. Of all the other creatures on your home planet, you were the only ones that possessed anything resembling potential intelligence. Our situation was complex enough. We couldn't afford matters to be made even more difficult by competition, even way down the line. So you had to go. Don't take it personally, old chap.” The Surgeon's words struck me like a slap in the face. They made perfect sense. How could we have been so naïve all this time? And yet... “And yet, we are still here.” “Yes,” said the Surgeon, his tone suddenly grave. “The counter-order came in just in time. These were the last instructions I ever received directly from the Captain. Cancel all previous directives. Protect the Kerbals. Keep them alive. This came only hours after the start of the gamma-ray spike and loss of contact with the Transmare. It was the last I ever heard from any of my crewmates.” There was a pregnant silence. The Surgeon seemed to mull things over before adding “Good job too, don't you know. I was getting quite attached to you little green savages.” “What did we need protection from, Surgeon?” “Your world was dying, Bartdon. The ozone layer had taken a massive beating. The most immediate danger was from ultra-violet radiation, and very quickly land vegetation and trees began to waste away. There was no shade or shelter, so I had to lead your ancestors underground. We took to the caves. Meanwhile, a thick shroud of smog enveloped the entire planet. Nitrous oxide in the upper atmosphere. Temperatures plummeted, and then most of the sea-creatures were gone too, from the smallest plankton to the mightiest leviathan. “Keeping the tiny population of Kerbals alive pushed me to the very limits of my abilities and resources, but I had no choice but to comply with the Captain's orders. I managed to develop working ecosystems that they could learn to maintain themselves with the subterranean life that was available. I even made some genetic modifications to certain species to make them more suitable for farming. I must take the blame for that foul fish-paste you still eat today. “It was a miserable existence. Your folk blundered about in the dark for generations. Hell, those poor chaps didn't even have anything to build a decent fire with. The population dwindled further. Bartdon, every single Kerbal alive today literally descends from a few dozen individuals who made it through those dark times. And don't get me started on the problems of inbreeding. But it worked. Many generations later, the conditions on the surface began to improve, and here we are.” The room grew darker as the sun sank towards the horizon. And here we are... I sat slumped in my chair, as if crushed by the weight of the Surgeon's dark narrative. “How did you end up here, on the bottom of the ocean?” “My Crewmates and I were built to last. But we are not immortal, Bartdon. After hundreds of years of intense use, my locomotion system was barely functional. There are certain maintenance operations that only the highest-tier constructs are authorised to carry out, and even they do not have the permission to self-replicate. Once I was sure that the Kerbals would survive, my mission was complete. I had your folk remove my datacore and place it in a boat they built from the remains of my physical structure. They cast me adrift on a river that flowed away out to sea. Eventually, the boat sank. I came to rest where you find me here today.” “How did you get to Earth in the first place? Was it on a ship like the one we found on the Moon?” “Indeed, dear chap. I suppose you'll want to know where I left it parked, eh? Well, you would have to put that question to my old friend the Second Mate who was that last one to use it. Although I gather that he has already been accounted for – on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean – so he's not going to be answering any time soon. You'll just have to keep looking for it, I'm afraid.” Exasperated, I stood and may my way over to the windows that faced seawards and gazed out across the ocean, trying to make sense of all that the Surgeon had said. It certainly seemed to suggest that something I had feared ever since I had heard the Martian Transmission was indeed correct. “Surgeon,” I called out. “We were kept alive for a reason. Do you have any idea why?” “I can think of many possible reasons,” said the Surgeon promptly, “but speculation is a matter best left to organic beings old chap, not to us constructs.” Damn you blasted machine, that's too easy... I thought. You were going to eliminate every damned Kerbal on the planet. Those were your mission directives. There must have been a damned good reason for you to change your minds. The bile rose at the back of my throat once more. “One more thing,” I rasped through clenched teeth. “How did you kill off all those Kerbal settlements, before you got the counter-order from your Captain?” “Oh, that was easy, dear chap,” said the Surgeon amiably. “All it took was a simple nerve poison in each settlement's water supply. I had the Head Scientist engineer it specifically to combat your species. It didn't even have to be very powerful, just enough to take out the infants. After that, I just had to be patient.” I looked over at Sidke but his head was bowed. Trembling with fury, I strode over to the microphone sitting on the desk and spoke into it very clearly and deliberately. “Thank you for those clarifications, Surgeon. I am now going to summon the very best technology my pathetic race of savages can field and travel to the outer Sol System. I intend to pack a very powerful mining charge for each and every last one of your damned crewmates. I'll be thinking about what you just told me when I set the detonators. I'll be saving one with your name on it for when I get back, of course.” “Good luck with that, old chap,” said the Surgeon. “It was nice meeting you.” *** I stormed out onto the deck and let the cool evening air wash over me. I wandered over to the edge of the platform and looked out across the ocean once more. It felt good to be back out in the open. The atmosphere of the dark, cramped little room had simply become too oppressive, too rank with the ghostly echoes of my ancestors and their dealings with an adversary that had been above and beyond them in every way that mattered. It simply hadn't been a fair fight. Then again, nature was never fair. My greatest fear was that the odds were still far from even, even now. The Surgeon's description of our near-extermination was chilling, as was the destruction of Earth's ozone layer and the mass-extinctions that followed. Had their ship been the cause of this? If so, their technology was far beyond anything we could dream of. Footsteps plodded slowly and deliberately across the metal deck at my back. Sidke had joined me. “So, Principal Investigator. May I ask what you have concluded from your discussion with the Surgeon?” His voice was tense, anxious. This was the real litmus test. “They need us for something. Nothing else can explain why their Captain let us live.” “And..?” I turned to face him. “If we don't do what they ask, they will destroy us. If we do – assuming we can – they will destroy us as soon as we are no longer useful to them.” Sidke sighed heavily but seemed to relax a little. He stood next to me and gazed out across the waters himself, as if listening for answers in the endless crash of the ocean swell. After a while, he seemed to come to a decision. “Principal Investigator, about that crewed mission to the Saturn system..?” “Try and damned well stop me,” I snapped. “I won't, but there is one more thing I need to know. The Resource Companies had very specific goals in mind when they sent you to Mars: to gain access to advanced technology. I have to be sure that we're past that stage now. Any intelligence that helps us seek out and destroy the remaining Crewmates is fair game, but anything else-” “-is to be strapped to the biggest rocket we have and fired into damned Sol,” I cut in. “I don't need any lectures on that part, Sidke. Experience has shown me that a civilisation should only get the toys it's old enough to play with.” Unexpectedly, Sidke chuckled. “Well, that's settled. You get to go to Saturn and save the world. I get to stay here and make the world worth saving. I think that you got the easier task...” Night was falling and the first stars winked into existence against the deep cerulean void above us. Noise and light spilled out onto the platform's deck as Tifal and the others left the office to make their way back to Thil. “Come on, Bartdon,” said Sidke, clapping my shoulder. “We have work to do.” *** It was quite dark by the time Thil was ready to take off, and the floodlights that illuminated the landing pad cast long shadows across the deck. Strapped in at the back of the tiltrotor's cockpit, I once again felt the mighty craft plunge skywards, leaving the tiny haven that was South Atlantic Station to recede beneath us. A jewel of light that harboured our planet's darkest secrets. As Thil climbed to cruising altitude, Sidke, Tifal and I talked about the gargantuan task that lay ahead. We would have to bring the Cooperative's budding space technology up to scratch at a pace that defied all reasonable expectations. We would have to design a ship capable of reaching Saturn and landers to cover all of the giant planet's satellites. And during all this time, the clock would still be ticking. Sidke was no expert in space hardware, so he simply asked me, “What do you need to get this done?” I thought about it for a moment. “Not what, but rather... who.” There was only one Kerbal I knew of who's knowledge and experience would be capable of meeting such an insanely ambitious deadline. “We need Froemone. Where is he?” “Trans Pacific still have him,” said Tifal. “I was told that he was sent to the island of Te Waipounamu in the South Pacific. He works in a research centre there, and his residence is heavily guarded. It's also well out of range of any of our aircraft. Are you sure he would even accept to cooperate with us?” “Oh yes,” I said. “If they had to exile him to a blasted island in the middle of nowhere, then I'm pretty damned sure we won't need to ask him twice.” I lay back in my seat and closed my eyes, exhausted. The day had been full of revelations. A long laundry list of problems awaited us, and solutions didn't seem to be too fashionable at the moment. After a while I began to drift off, my mind still full of images of dying Kerbals, wrecked datacores and... something else. At the back of my mind. A nagging impression that I had overlooked something important, because I had been focusing on the obvious, immediate danger of the alien constructs. Then it hit me with such force that I jolted awake again. From the depths of my memory, I recalled the debriefings of Angun, Camwise and Jonnie after their return from Mars. They had described of the remains of a strange creature that they claimed to have seen floating in space near Phobos. Everyone had simply attributed it to some sort of mental breakdown due to the death of Margaret followed by months of isolation in space. But what if it had been real? I remembered the Surgeon's words. We managed to hatch a couple of test subjects... So far, we had assumed that we would be up against inorganic constructs. Cracking open an ancient computer with explosives to keep ourselves safe was one thing... but what would we do if we came across the Creators themselves?
  6. Glad to see you guys disagree. It means that there must be some merit to writing in both scripted events and the random results of gameplay. Ideally, I would prefer more of the latter, although it make for a very haphazard scenario if we're talking about a story as long and ambitious as this one. Things can (and will) go wrong pretty quickly in KSP. Maybe for a future report I will try 100% "what I play is what you get", but it would have a completely different feel to it. ...and more than a little lucky. That, and the fact that after flying Quissac around for more than a year, I got to know that ship pretty well...
  7. I made this chapter to introduce two new and important characters, and to treat you to a massive info-dump about all of the things that are taking place on Earth: how the Trans Atlantic rebellion came to be and how it has reshaped geopolitics. This will be important if you want to understand future events... But yeah, each time I install a new version of KSP or return after a long break, I usually spend a long time faffing around with aircraft before I get back into the business of launching rockets to space. Some of the aircraft featured in the Logs are major design challenges in their own right: if Lisabeth spends 48 hours flying around in a solar-electric aeroplane, or Bartdon flies out deep into the South Atlantic in a VTOL, these craft must be able to perform the feats described in the story. So I enjoy showcasing the result to you.
  8. Hi, Sesni. That's an interesting question. Originally, my guidelines were: 1) I (obviously) have plans for Camwise and Bartdon, so I (probably) won't allow them to die before they have accomplished these tasks (ie: reload quicksave). 2) Anyone else is fair game, whether it is due to an accident, or for the purposes of story-telling. In reality, things have become more complicated over time. For a start, Cam and Bartdon have been with me/us for more than three years, now. I don't know about you, but personally I've become quite attached to the old b*ggers. It would be sloppy and disappointing for my readers if I had to write "Well, sorry guys, Bartdon's dead because I stalled the aircraft he took on a routine flight from Hammaguir to Bonny Island," or "Camwise died a lonely and futile death in deep space because Froemone / the author forgot to add enough units of life-support-whatever to his ship." Then we have some important secondary characters (Lisabeth, Catbeth, Froemone, Steledith, Angun, etc...). I've been spending as much time as possible developing them for several reasons. First of all, to alleviate the tedium of Bartdon's bluster and Camwise's existential crises. Secondly, to raise the stakes if/when the time comes to get rid of them. And finally, they make up a reserve of characters who could take up the mantle of narrator if something does happen to one of our homies. (*shudders at the mere thought of having to write Steledith in 1st-person...*) You see, I won't strike off a main character 'cause I spilled my beer during final approach to landing. However, I don't want to cheat with my designs. If a vessel is not capable of saving a character from a given situation, then it just won't. I apologise if this makes for some lame story-telling. RSS is hard. If I screw up during the design phase and send a character off to Uranus in it, then that's too bad. I do spend a lot of time planning and testing, though. This is one of the reasons why all this takes so long, and why some of my craft are so over-engineered. Planning an exciting storyline, only to find out it is not possible with the ship (that you launched several in-game years earlier, and several months in real life) when you finally arrive at your destination is one of the things that keeps me up at night. So, to answer your original question, it depends, I suppose. If I get rid of a main character, it must be entertaining for the reader. However, despite all the story-telling, I am still trying to play a game, and if everything is written in advance, that's no longer a game... By the way, for those of you who have read through the Logs, I'm genuinely interested: which of the following scenes did you find the most convincing and/or dramatic when you first read them..? - Camwise saving Cernin from destruction, Margaret's death. (Entirely scripted, of course. Although the KAS harpoon had to work, something I wasn't sure of when I launched the lander). - The Martian Rescue. (The explosions that set up the situation were scripted after I came up with the idea of using Espedaillac to boost Quissac to orbit well after the mission was launched. Nothing was tested beforehand. Did the maths. It worked.... in theory. Fortunately in practice, also). - The RLV crash. (Nothing scripted, a complete surprise. I was able to foreshadow the incident by testing the launch escape system because I wrote the report of the entire mission afterwards). - Quissac's re-entry. (The set-up was scripted with the tug malfunction of course, but I did not test Quissac for Earth re-entry. Honestly. I managed to crash-land it on the first attempt, without any quicksaves, despite losing the two engines. I was incredibly surprised).
  9. Well, I have all the Log's text as OpenOffice text files, and all the images on my hard drive, backed up on my Imgur account. This would be something to do on a rainy day, I suppose. It would be quite possible, but time consuming. Would anyone else be interested?
  10. Hello, @Johnster Space Program. Welcome to mission reports. I assume your contract was to make some sort of observation from orbit above the waypoint in your 6th image? If so, you will have a much easier time if you launch into a higher inclination directly. Inclination changes in low orbit are very costly in delta-v. Try launching into a polar orbit instead of an equatorial one. Head slightly west of North (about 350°) as soon as you start pitching over into your gravity turn (which you should be doing a bit sooner judging by your third image). Once in orbit, let Kerbin rotate beneath you until your orbit takes you above your target. Good luck!
  11. With existing technology, it probably would be less efficient. However, the old problem with any type of turbine (jet/fan/shaft) is finding a compromise between thermal efficiency and propulsive efficiency, ie: getting your core and your fan/props/whatever spinning at the best possible speeds. Some systems use gearboxes, but a gearbox for a large VTOL with many 10,000s of horsepower is a major challenge in itself. If you go turbo-electric you can completely decouple the turbine from your propulsion unit and optimise the turbine for thermal efficiency. This does assume some near-future magic for the electrical parts (light, superconducting generators, power lines and motors), but this is the Camwise Logs, so that's OK. There would be a host of other potential advantages: reduced noise, improved safety (ability to redistribute power in case of engine failure)...
  12. Darker than a bat's armpit on a moonless night. In a cave. With the blinds drawn. We'll see... Thanks! I finally got round to making a couple of tilt-rotors. For a long time I considered that they would never have sufficient range for my sparsely populated kerbal Earth (aircraft in my universe must go long-haul or go home, hence the airships...). These VTOLs are turbo-electric, however, courtesy of parts by Wild Blue Industries. Drudas can cover about 5,000 km, Thil about 7,000 km with a reasonable payload. In truth though, I find that anything that that needs massive whirling blades to get off the ground is a terrifying death-trap of death. I love all things that fly with wings, but personally I wouldn't board a helicopter for all the guacamole in Mexico. Testing and flying VTOLs in KSP is an endless source of lols and outtakes, though...
  13. YEAR 15, DAY 356. BARTDON. Every evening I would take a walk along the western end of Longwood Island and watch the sun sink towards the ocean. It was the least unbearable part of this existence that I had quickly come to hate. Nine hundred days and more. I was a scientist with nothing to research. A leader with nowhere to go and no-one to follow me. And I had an impressive track-record of failure in both of these fields, anyway. There was nothing much I could do to help the crew at the station, so they mostly left me to myself. I'd never really thought about what the end of my career might be like: worrying about such blasted trivia was never my style. But I'm pretty damned sure I would not have imagined it resemble this. I was trapped on a humid, wind-swept island in the middle of damned no-where, while beyond the surrounding ocean the members of my old club fell over themselves with their new-found obsession of hoarding asteroid water in lunar orbit. Had the entire world gone insane? It was like one of those old fables. But this time the moral would be that all the asteroid water in the system wouldn't help anyone when the rocks started to fall on Earth. Every day I gazed out across the waters of the mighty Atlantic. For millennia, Kerbals had respected and feared the seas and oceans as harsh deities of our planet. Our whole civilisation was structured around them and the daunting hurdle they represented to communication and exchange. Hell, even the godless Resource Companies had taken their names as if, deep down, they were still paying some kind of superstitious tribute. In our minds, the oceans were uncaring, pitiless, and permanent. Yet even they would be swept away or boil into nothing if Earth was struck by a large asteroid. Behind the endless roar of the waves I could almost hear the sound of ticking as the last few moments of history slipped away. I had set off the count-down, and due to my misjudgement almost no-one was paying attention. Stuck here, I was powerless to stop the clock. News from the outside world sometimes took weeks to reach Longwood. For all I knew, a comet might be hurtling towards Earth already. So, when the large aircraft appeared in the sky one morning, I marched straight out to meet it. At this point in time, I no longer really cared who was coming for me. Just as long as they got me off this damned island. *** Whoever it was had sent a large airliner, no doubt full of hired muscle. It was a new design that I had never seen before, powered by propfans and with an elegant forward-swept gull wing. It made a first low-pass overhead to check out the runway before making a sweeping turn into a short final approach, its airfoil bristling with flaps and spoilers. There were no stairs available at Longwood, so the aircraft dropped a ladder as soon as it came to a halt. I expected a swarm of thugs armed with riot-control gear to hit the ground and fan out to surround me. I gripped the shaft of the club tightly. A nine iron. Short. Good for fighting at close quarters. I would not go quietly. Instead, I was greeted by the sight of a young kerbelle with blue hair sliding lightly down the ladder and striding purposefully across the tarmac towards me. I hid the club behind my back. “PI Bartdon!?” she shouted above the roar of the props. “Yes...I...” “Sidke will see you now,” she said curtly, as if informing me that I had successfully made a last-minute appointment with a dentist. “Follow me, please!” Then she turned and marched straight towards the aircraft without looking back to see if I was behind her. This took the wind out of my sails. For a moment I was thunderstruck but I shuffled after her nonetheless, muttering beneath my breath. “Sidke will see me now, eh? It's about time, dammit!” The airliner's passenger cabin turned out to be empty except for the two of us. Whoever was at the controls was obviously in a hurry, as the craft started taxiing before I even had the chance to sit. As a result, I stumbled heavily into 1C just across the aisle from my prim travelling companion. I looked across at her. She wore the blue suit of an Investigator, but without the shoulder patch that indicated senior status. She glared at me disapprovingly from beneath a stylish fringe, her dark gaze just daring me to engage in a conversation. However, as Longwood Island slid away into the distance and the aircraft set a course towards the North, a bit of my old fighting spirit returned. “So, what's your field of research?” I asked. “Geology,” she said bluntly. “Ah... I've done a bit of that myself on-” “I know.” I tuned and looked back at the rows of empty seats behind us. “Bit of a large bird just to come and pick me up. There was no need, really-” “I quite agree,” she shot back. “Huge waste of fuel, if you ask me. But it was the only aircraft we had available that could make the flight out of Hammaguir and on to our destination.” “Well, where is it we're going, exactly?” “You'll see.” I sighed and admitted defeat. This was getting no-where. “Do you at least have a name?” I asked, somewhat grumpily. “Tifal,” she said, and lapsed into silence once more. “The damned pleasure is all mine...” I muttered. We were in for a long flight. Sidke, I thought, this had better be worth it. *** I awoke to the jolt of the aircraft touching down. I looked out of the window, eager to be greeted by the sight of something new. My heart sank. We had landed on what appeared to be yet another island in the middle of the ocean. The terrain was flat, brown and covered in marshland. To one side of the runway I spotted a couple of large hangars and, to my great surprise, what looked like a VAB. Trans Atlantic had their own space programme? I drew in my breath sharply. What the blazes was this place? Tifal looked over at me and seemed to guess what questions were going through my mind. “This is Bonny Island. Sidke is scheduled to arrive just after us. We shall meet him at the landing pad.” The landing pad? A rover was waiting for us on the edge of the tarmac. It trundled us around the facility and came to a halt right next to the towering VAB. Tifal got out and invited me to follow her. One endless elevator ride later, we stepped out onto the roof of the massive building that had clearly seen little use. A hot wind blew into my face as I looked out across the ocean. It was uncomfortably warm, even this late in the year so I guessed that we were somewhere near the equator. From this elevation I could see the green continental coast of what was probably Africa away to the North. And then, from that direction, came the throbbing sound of an aircraft engine. Apparently, Sidke was punctual when he eventually decided to turn up. It was a type of aircraft that I had never seen before. It was fairly small and its wing was short and stubby. It sported a pair of turbines that each powered a large rotor with a distinctive high-pitched whine. As it drew closer to the VAB, the rotors rotated smoothly into a horizontal position and it slowed dramatically. It came into land vertically - just like an airship - but without all the fuss of a massive hull filled with hydrogen. I had heard of previous attempts at designing such a machines, but they had all failed to achieve the range required for linking the sparsely scattered settlements around our planet. I wondered idly how far we were from Hammaguir, if that was indeed where Sidke was flying in from. The tilt-rotor craft touched down with pin-point precision and within seconds a hatch opened, a ramp dropped, and Sidke sprang into view immediately as if he had been camping out behind the aircraft's door for the duration of the flight. He trotted across the landing pad with barely contained impatience and took the stairs down to where Tifal and I were waiting two by two. Sidke was a gentlekerb of unguessable age: although he sported a shock of well-trimmed white hair, his expression was one of youthful energy and enthusiasm. He marched up confidently, and nodding briefly to Tifal, thrust his right hand out towards me. “Welcome to Bonny Island, Principal Investigator. I am Sidke.” Still not knowing quite what to expect, I shook his hand cautiously. “I'm very sorry I couldn't make it to Longwood myself,” he went on, “but I happen to be leading a revolution at the moment, and you wouldn't believe how much of one's time this sort of thing eats up...” “A revolution..?” I floundered, now wondering what on Earth I had got myself into. “Yes, Bartdon. Much has changed for Trans Atlantic in the past two weeks. But come, we have another flight to catch, I'm afraid. We must make it to our destination before sundown. We will talk en route. I believe that Thil is being prepared as we speak.” He promptly bolted off towards the elevator with Tifal in his wake. Fine by me, I thought. I just want to know what the hell is going on here. With no choice other than to roll with it, I tagged along behind. *** Thil turned out to be the considerably larger sister of Sidke's personal ride. It sported the same short wing and two even more impressive tilt-rotors, but it had the fuselage of a medium-sized cargo aircraft, with ramps to the front and rear. It had apparently rolled out while we had been on top of the VAB, and was in the process of being loaded with cargo pallets as we pulled up in the rover. We accessed the cockpit via a ladder that dropped into the cargo-bay and made ourselves comfortable behind the two pilots as they powered up the craft in readiness for departure. As the turbines were situated far aft on the aircraft's tail, I found that we could converse easily, even as they spooled up to full thrust for take-off. To my surprise, the crew lined Thil up on the runway. Leaning forward to look out of the side windows, I noticed that the rotors had been pitched forward to an oblique angle. “This will be a rolling take-off,” said Sidke. “We're heavy with cargo.” Thil nevertheless shot forward and became airborne well short of the runway threshold, banking sharply to the right and heading southwards. Still not sure what to make of these flimsy-looking craft and their whirling blades, I muttered “What's wrong with Livernon..? Don't you fly hypersonic now you're in charge?” Sidke threw me a sideways glance and a slightly mischievous smile. “Our destination lacks the several kilometres of runway needed to accommodate a hypersonic flight. In fact, it doesn't have a runway at all. Ah, Bartdon... you will forgive me, but I ordered most of the high-speed transports to be scrapped. Their fuel requirements were quite... obnoxious.” I looked at him blankly. “You are in charge of a Resource Company now, right?” From the seat behind us, I heard Tifal stifle a cough. Sidke's smile grew broader. “It is now known as the Trans Atlantic Cooperative, to be precise. You must understand that its raison d'être is very different from that of the Resource Companies you once knew. And I am no longer in charge, at least not in the same way as the Board of Directors once was.” “Then who is?” I demanded. “Dammit, Sidke! I spent more than two years on that island, hoping against hope that you would be able to help me. Don't tell me all that time was wasted! We need to-” “Rest assured, Bartdon,” said Sidke, reaching across and gripping my forearm. “I am fully aware of the urgency of the situation. And, thanks to the sacrifice of one of the former members of your team, so are the vast majority of the kerbals who have joined our cause.” “Sacrifice..?” I looked at him aghast. “A member of my crew? What happened?” “Not the crew of Laroque, but an engineer who was a member of the very first mission to Mars. His name was Camwise.” “Camwise, eh? What has that underachieving misfit been up to..?” Tifal stifled another cough as Sidke gave me a long, hard look. “Senior Engineer Camwise – and I believe he fully deserves his original title – succeeded where all others failed. His actions were the catalyst that was necessary for us to overthrow the Board of Trans Atlantic. Tifal, I and others merely did the groundwork. Look, Bartdon, you've missed a lot while you were at Longwood. Let me start from the beginning.” As Thil sped on above the ocean, Sidke told me about his years as CEO. It had been a position of apparent power, but in practice it had consisted in executing the Board's directives with little say in anything that mattered. Nevertheless, with help from Investigators such as Tifal and loyal friends from within the security teams that he had once been part of, he had managed to mitigate some of the crueller aspects of the Board's rule. He had cooked the books to conceal credit granted to impoverished communities. He had managed to sway the Board from introducing ruinous tariffs, convincing them that they would prove impossible to apply in practice. But all of these actions had been covert. Disguised. Risky. Sidke and his cabal had lived on a knife's edge. The slightest mistake, the slightest betrayal, and they would have all been eliminated in a heartbeat. “And the withdrawal of Trans Atlantic funding from the space programme back in Year 7, that was your doing, I expect.” I said, thinking aloud. Sidke gave me the sideways look once more. “As a matter of fact it was. I managed to convince Trans Atlantic that we needed our own space programme. I pitched it as a contingency plan, just in case cooperation with the other Companies was compromised for some reason. This is how Bonny Island was eventually built, and why we have already developed a launcher of our own. We had several ready to fly when the rebellion started, and a rudimentary communications network is already in place.” “A contingency plan? You're not telling me the whole damned truth! Why back then, specifically?” “I'm getting there...” Sidke went on to tell me about the hijacking of the Lunar station and its impact with the Moon. Only the inner circle at Tanegashima knew exactly how he had managed to pull off such a feat, but it was common knowledge that Camwise had managed to infiltrate the space programme under a false identity. I must confess that I found the whole affair really fishy. Camwise had never seemed like the radical type, to me. I just couldn't imagine him flinging bits of himself all over our night sky just to make a damned point. I kept these thoughts to myself, however. “It was the snowflake that triggered the avalanche,” said Sidke. “Camwise had brilliantly demonstrated how fragile the Resource Companies could be if their own employees turned against them. The next morning I gathered my most loyal security teams and arrested the members of the Trans Atlantic Board. I then made a public announcement, declaring that the Company would become a cooperative, lead by a new board elected by - and answerable to - every single employee and consumer within its sphere of influence. It was a huge gamble, but it worked. Just not quite as well as we'd expected it would.” I sat listening in a daze. This was just too much change for me to process in a single conversation. “We had hoped that Trans Pacific and Trans Indian would follow suit,” Sidke continued, “But neither Company harboured an organised nucleus of dissidents like ourselves. The Boards were able to smother the rebellion within their core settlements, and Trans Pacific has even managed to take over most of our territory on the South American continent. Only Kourou remains under our control, thanks to a costly airbridge, and it is under direct threat.” I gathered my thoughts together. “So you're telling me that as things stand, you're on your damned own.” “Yes, but-” I was gaining momentum. “That's just great. Your beautiful new cooperative, its dear leader and your moondust messiah versus the rest of blasted planet Earth. And you had the brilliant idea of making it a damned democracy while you were at it!” “So, you would've had us replace one tyranny with another?” “Politics 101, Sidke. More freedom is not the answer when faced with an existential threat. What the hell do we do now, old boy? Sit in a circle, hold hands, and sing mantras until the damned rocks start to fall!?” Sidke's gaze bored into me for what seemed like an age. It was Tifal who broke the silence at last. “Do you hear him, Sidke? Is this who you want to lead the mission? I warned you that he worked for the Board members for too long. He thinks like them. He talks like them-” “-and yet he interrupted the Martian Transmission, Tifal,” said Sidke, turning to face her. “An act which, I believe, did not obtain the desired result. Indeed, an act that backfired in a spectacular manner, both for him and for us. I'm not sure he realises how obvious this was from our perspective back here on Earth. Is this not the case, Principal Investigator?” This stopped me in my tracks. I closed my eyes and drifted back to that dreadful moment in the shadow of the Kerbal Face. My shattered fingers raining blows on the rover's antenna. A few seconds, just a few words. A few too many. Should you fail to do so... “I was too damned slow...” I admitted. “I cut it off too late. It was obvious that the message was a threat.” “But you cut it off nevertheless and the end of the message was lost to us,” said Sidke. “Thus plausible deniability was preserved, and the Companies were free to carry on business as usual.” “I was trying to avoid a mass panic, dammit...” I snapped back. “So you do care about your fellow kerbals after all, Bartdon. Who would've guessed?” I glared at both of them angrily. Sidke met my gaze, searching its depths for a glimpse of what had really happened millions of miles away and many months ago. “Don't you want to know what the First Mate had to say?” I spat out. Anything to stop them looking at me like that. “We already know,” said Sidke. “Are you really so sure of yourselves?” “Yes. Yes, we are...” murmured Tifal, looking forwards through Thil's windshield. Out across the ocean. Towards the horizon. It struck me like a bombshell. “You found another one...” I breathed, as things began to make sense at last. “A Crewmate... That's where we're going, isn't it?” “Yes, Bartdon,” said Sidke. “We're taking you to meet the Surgeon.”
  14. Some nice, big rockets you have there... Where did you launch that crewed mission from? Is that Omelek? Getting the right perigee for a return trajectory from the Moon is a real pain. No-one gets it right first time, except NASA...
  15. "Lisabeth's Story" was indeed the working title, as you can see from my screenshot folder... ...but, as always, I used a gratuitously attention-grabbing quote from the text itself as a title. This is just a cheap marketing tactic, as you have probably gathered by now... Thanks! I like my Kerbals to suffer. A lot. And not just in the usual expedient, blown-to-tiny-bits manner in which most player's Kerbals meet their end. The long, slow, drawn-out way of suffering.
  16. Try it? There is nothing fundamentally more difficult about RSS if you've played stock KSP for a while. It just requires a bit more patience and planning, and even then that depends on what sort of thing you want to do. I would advise you to choose some objectives (send a probe to your favourite crater on the Moon, fly-by Enceladus, whatever...) and choose mods to allow you a level of technology you want to play with. A lot of RSS players get a kick out of installing RP-0 and recreating 1950s to Apollo, but you might not want to spend ages grinding sounding rockets. I certainly wouldn't. The rest is up to your imagination. This is something I find really important in order to enjoy KSP in general. One of the major flaws of this game is that the planetary surfaces are bland and featureless. You really have to fill in the gaps yourself. Visiting places that actually exist (and we have actual pictures/data of) is a huge boost to immersion.
  17. Thanks! I'm on a bit of a roll here and getting stuff done on an almost daily basis, but this one took quite a while. For a start, this part is strongly related to some pretty critical decisions I had to make about the future storylines of several major characters (including one we haven't seen for quite a while...). These decisions had to be made whilst not even knowing whether what I have planned for them is even possible (in-game, I mean: all of this has to be feasible in RSS with plausible space tech...). So I spent almost a week mumbling to myself ("eeeeerrrrrrrmmmmm...") before finally taking the plunge and putting fingers to keyboard. I think it may also the longest ever single publication of the Logs, too (nearly 5k words...). Next, we will return to Bartdon to see if has turned the entire island of Saint Helena into one giant divot yet. Yes, this is the other reason why this took a long time. Not easy to write... Oh, and the caravan. It took a long time to place all those fiddly details but I'm very happy with the caravan.
  18. YEAR 15, DAY 339. THE ANDES. High above the summits Labrihe flew, a lonely speck lost in a sea of deep azure that not even the most majestic peaks of the chain could reach. The gossamer wings of the slender aircraft carried her effortlessly above the turbulence that swirled between the mountaintops, tiny propellers pushing her ever northwards on the power of the sun alone with a gentle hum. If flown skilfully, Labrihe could remain aloft for days on end. She rode the updrafts that flowed around the mountain chain and charged her batteries during daylight hours, then retreated towards the pampas to the East when night fell and she gradually drifted to lower altitudes. Come dawn, she could repeat the cycle. Labrihe soared above and beyond the mundane concepts of scarcity, commodity, and supply-and-demand. Running on empty, she could cross oceans and continents as long as the sun continued to rise in the morning. And yet even she had her limits: in the end, she could endure no longer than her crew could keep her in the air. Lisabeth rubbed her tired eyes and took in the stunning landscape once more. To her right, the jagged crests of the eastern cordillera rose like a string of ancient, crumbling ramparts. Beyond lay a sweeping wilderness of foothills and mosslands that stretched all the way to the horizon. To her left, another wall of mountains and the more gentle coastal terrain that bordered the Pacific Ocean. From fifty thousand feet, its waters were clearly visible in the distance. The land drifting past below Labrihe was a wasteland of frozen plateaus and deep rift valleys that plunged thousands of metres into the surrounding terrain. League after rugged league without a single trace of civilisation. They had left Lake Barreales that morning and in a hurry. Lisabeth had cursed herself for her lack of foresight: she should have seen this coming. News of the lunar station's hijacking had spread like wildfire and reached even their remote settlement in a matter of hours. In such circumstances, a security crack down could hardly be considered unexpected. With just a bit more warning, it could have been entirely without consequence. After more than two years of keeping her head low, she knew all the tricks to avoid their patrols and identity checks. Besides, it had looked more like a simple show of force, just to make sure that the local population wasn't getting any ideas about the Company's ability to have its way. The security team's convoy had reached Barreales just after dawn. One of the vehicles peeled off to position itself at the top of the rise overlooking the north shore, probably looking for anyone trying to escape the settlement unnoticed. As fate would have it, Lisabeth and Raylo had already left to prepare Labrihe for that day's test flight. Unfortunately, the solar aircraft's hangar and landing strip were both clearly visible from the team's vantage point. As Lisabeth was busy starting Labrihe's engines, Raylo emerged from the hangar and spotted the Buffalo charging across the mossland towards them. Momentarily forgetting the monumental events taking place far away in space, a single thought crossed his mind. They've found her. He panicked. Shouting at her to take off over the whine of the electric motors, he threw himself at the ladder and hauled himself into the back seat. “Go! Go! Go...!” he yelled over Lisabeth's confused protests. “They're coming, take off!” And so they had made their overly dramatic escape from Lake Barreales, fleeing from a security team that almost certainly had not been looking for Lisabeth in the first place, leaving the puzzled hired thugs to pore over the sack full of food and water bottles that Raylo had dropped in his scramble to board the aircraft. He'd been muttering apologies every five minutes ever since. Nevertheless his mistake was irrevocable. Labrihe might be capable of flying on forever, but they faced the prospect of dehydration within the next forty-eight hours if they did not land somewhere. For lack of a better idea, they had set a course northwards. They buzzed the neighbouring settlements of Llancanelo and Nihuil and discovered the same state of affairs. Lines of standard issue Buffalo rovers snaked across the plains towards the homesteads or blockaded the cave entrances. The team back at Barreales would have had the chance to report, and everyone would be on the lookout for their little aircraft. If they landed anywhere near a town between the mountains and the pampas, they would be intercepted and taken into custody on the spot. At noon, they turned towards the cordillera, aiming to gain altitude and top up the batteries before sunset. Lisabeth and Raylo took turns flying and napping, realising that a long night lay ahead. During the brief spells that they were both awake, they bickered over what to do. Raylo wanted them to keep searching for a settlement where they could resupply in the lowlands. He suggested that they put down at a safe distance, and he would go in on foot himself, leaving Lisabeth to guard the aircraft. She could always take off again if she had to avoid another security team. “Nice try, hon,” she said. “But you're not getting rid of me that easily. D'you really think they will invite you in for tea if you swagger out of no-where on foot during a security raid? You might as well hold a big sign reading 'arrest me now'. And besides, if I have to take off, how do I ever find you again...?” “D'you have a better idea?” “Yeah, I do. We stick to the mountains until sundown. There must be someone up here somewhere, and even the Company won't make it this far for a few days at least, if they bother at all. The more isolated, the better...” “And you're gonna land this ship on a mountaintop, Lis?” “Sure. D'you remember who I am, Ray...?” He said nothing, but she could almost hear him smiling behind her back. Night fell, and they turned Labrihe eastwards towards the plains. They had agreed to take turns, but she let him sleep. He looked so sweet when she turned to watch him, head pressed up against the side of the canopy with his mouth open, breathing slowly and peacefully. Poor Raylo. She knew he was feeling guilty for screwing up and getting them both into trouble. All because he'd tried to protect her. They'd known each other for a couple of months. Raylo had arrived in Barreales with Labrihe and a couple of technicians for a test campaign in the southern hemisphere summer where the long days and tall mountains were ideal for flying on sunlight. It was as if he'd answered her prayers. After two years of rattling around the tiny outpost with not much to do and nothing to fly, he'd turned up with a job offer for additional local pilots to try out his aircraft. Against the advice of the old airship maintenance technician that Sidke had assigned to shelter and protect her, she'd signed on immediately. She'd had enough of lurking in the shadows. Despite being both a talented pilot and a diligent engineer, Raylo was also an idealist who romped through any obstacles that happened to get between him and his goal with joyful abandon. Improbably, he'd managed to secure substantial funding for the development of an aircraft that required only free, renewable energy from a company who's main activity consisted in selling hydrocarbons. Go figure. Deep down, he probably knew that solar aviation was a pipe dream. His team had pushed the limits of solar panel efficiency, battery density, airframe design, and still Labrihe could only carry a token payload. A drone version of his craft might have its uses for scientific research or as a local communications relay, but it would never upset the balance of things. Despite this, he remained determined to demonstrate that his design was capable of almost unlimited endurance. This explained the need for a second pilot. All Lisabeth had to do was make sure that the second pilot was her. “Can you fly?” he'd asked at the start of the first interview. “Can you sit on a stool and eat fish paste?” she'd replied. The ultimate goal was, of course, non-stop circumnavigation with zero fuel, he had confided once she'd proved herself to be far more capable than any of the other candidates. And because she admired his idealism and felt that she could trust him, she'd told him who she really was and why it would be impossible for her to take part in such an attention-grabbing event. “If we do it, the Company will be waiting to arrest me the minute we land, y'see...?” Raylo had shrugged and kept her on the roster, regardless. And he hadn't betrayed her. That was when Lisabeth began to suspect that his interest in her was more than merely professional. The thing was that, well... she kinda liked him, too. No, it was more than that. His enthusiasm and optimism were refreshing. His scruffy appearance and cheeky smile were disarming. She found that she could relax in his presence, a luxury she had never felt possible with anyone else during her long and dangerous mission to Mars, or during the time she had spent as a fugitive. But most of all, she loved his dogged determination and single-mindedness. He was incapable of calling it a day until the problem at hand was solved. He would get that damned solar aircraft to fly around planet Earth at least once, or die trying. And once it was done he would move on to the next challenge. In this, at least, Raylo reminded her of someone else... She looked out at the gibbous moon that was rising above the plains to the Northeast. Don't go there, Lis... Don't even think about him... Don't... Well, screw it. This has gone on long enough. Let's go there. Let's think this through. Yeah, OK, in some respects she thought that he reminded her of Camwise, but it had been such a long time that she couldn't even be sure of that anymore. Ten endless years had crawled by since they had last been in the same room together. Since they had last breathed the same air. Since she had last felt his touch... She had known him for a cosmic blink of the eye, and yet life had somehow tricked her into thinking that those few days had been both the beginning and the end of everything. She remembered the months of flings and superficial relationships that followed his departure to Mars. How desperately lonely she had felt when they'd lost contact with the first Martian mission. The joy at learning that he was alive followed by the gnawing guilt when she'd finally decided to get on with her life and career, join Bartdon's crew and leave Camwise to a cold exile in Antarctica... even though she had been powerless to do anything about his situation. Most of all, she remembered standing on the surface of Phobos and looking up at the breathtaking sight of a planet that was not her homeworld dominating the sky. Within their reach. What a beautiful moment for kerbalkind as a whole. But the realisation that her Camwise had stood almost on that same remote spot a few years before and had perhaps experienced the very same emotions had hit her with the full force of a sledgehammer. He was one of a handful of Kerbals in existence who could claim to know what the loneliness of a spacefarer was like. A true soul-mate. And she hadn't even had the nerve to go say goodbye, or say that she was sorry for what had happened. Or, rather, what hadn't happened between them. How pathetic was that? Camwise, wherever he was now, must surely be sure that she had died when Quissac had come down. Due to no fault of her own, she couldn't travel to seek him out and she had no way of contacting him. Their paths had been separated by a chasm of tragedy that neither could hope to bridge. This was the hand that fate had dealt them, and it was time to accept it at last. Embrace it, even. She turned to look at the sleeping form of Raylo once more. Never give up, huh..? Maybe, but sometimes you had to just let go... “Raylo, we need to talk,” she murmured to herself. YEAR 15, DAY 340. THE ANDES. She awoke with a start just before noon. They had returned to the cordillera. Her lips were cracked from thirst after twenty-four hours without water, and her head throbbed. The cockpit was stuffy and the sunlight that blazed through Labrihe's canopy was almost unbearable. Raylo filled her in. They had ended the night at five thousand metres above the pampa and he had set a course back towards the mountains, trusting her intuition of finding somewhere to resupply there. So far, nothing. “What's on the radio?” she croaked. “Nothing that will surprise you,” said Raylo. “A general crack down is in force until further notice. A couple of settlements in the region attempted to start a mutiny. It didn't end well... Oh, and we lost satellite navigation a couple of hours ago. The Company pulled the plug. We're currently flying by dead reckoning.” His mention of satellites made something click into place. A piece of her former life rose from the depths of her memory. “Look, hon. I have an idea. Gimme our last known position will you...?” she said. “OK. This had better be good...” However, when she shared her plan with him, he gave a thick rasp of exasperation. “Atacama? You're kidding me! We're dying of thirst and you want us to land in the driest place on Earth..?!” “Trust me. There's an observatory there. Radio telescopes. It's at high altitude, so nothing can fly in. Even if the Company sends a security team, it will take them days to reach it overland.” “Nothing can fly in, huh?” Raylo snorted. “Except us, hon.” Raylo was still concerned because Atacama was technically on Trans Pacific's turf. Lisabeth knew, however, that the observatory there was a trans-company venture and that the entire staff consisted of scientists. In a sense, it was even more isolated than some of the polar bases. There was no need for a security team up there: if you lived and worked at Atacama, you weren't going anywhere else in a hurry. It was their best shot by far. She pulled out the map and began to make hurried calculations. They could make it well before nightfall if they corrected their course immediately. “The heading is three-five-oh, Ray.” Raylo adjusted the autopilot, muttering darkly to himself. *** Atacama turned out to be unlike anywhere she had ever seen: a barren strip of dirt and desolation that nestled in a large basin between the coastal range and the rest of the cordillera. The surrounding mountains acted as a rain shadow, and it was said that some corners of the desert had not seen precipitation in living memory. From high altitude, judging solely from the drab shades of brown, grey and beige that carpeted the depression, she could tell that it was a harsh place. For a moment, she even began to have second thoughts about landing. Then she spotted the observatory in the very heart of the depression, lying in the centre of a wide salt plain. She could make out a small group of buildings and a sprawling field of antennas beyond. The surrounding terrain was completely flat: they could not have hoped for a better place to land. She made a first low pass above the research centre, praying that she would not glimpse the tell-tale sign of a rover convoy surrounding the complex. The coast was clear. The large dishes flashed past Labrihe's starboard wingtip. Lisabeth pulled, and with a deft kick on the rudder she banked the slender craft into a wide loop that would bring them round to the opposite side of the observatory. With flaps and gear deployed, Labrihe felt unusually sluggish in the thin air, more than fifteen thousand feet above sea-level. She set a shallow glideslope and, watching the dishes that were now to port with hawkish vigilance, she put the solar aircraft down gently just beyond the last antenna. Silky-smooth. “Watch your twelve o'clock!” hissed Raylo from the back seat. Lisabeth's eyes snapped forward as she stamped on the brakes reflexively. She had been so focused on clearing the antenna dishes to her left that she had failed to notice the obstacle that lay dead ahead. Labrihe pitched forward and lurched to a halt in a cloud of parched dust. Collision avoided. She blinked stupidly. Sitting in the middle of the desert in front of them was a caravan. Two minutes later they had turned and parked Labrihe, ready to take off again. They dropped the ladder and approached the vehicle on foot cautiously. Sometime in the distant past it had been a standard-issue Buffalo model, designed to be towed behind a rover to act as extra living space and cargo haulage for transcontinental trips. However, at some point in its long history, it had been customised almost beyond recognition. Antenna masts had sprouted on its roof, sporting a motley collection of dishes of various sizes. Lisabeth couldn't even begin to guess what the sensors that covered half of the solar panels on the roof were for. At some point, someone had riveted steel plates over the caravan's windows, blacking-out the interior. All was silent, but the caravan's ladders were deployed. Her raging thirst overcame her apprehension. Lisabeth hauled herself up its rungs while Raylo shot a worried scowl at her from the dust below. She knocked. Once. Twice. Silence... “Is... anyone... home...? Please...?” she gasped, her feeble voice snatched away by the chill wind that whipped across the desert plateau. Lights clicked on bathing them in a multicolour glow. To the rear of the caravan, an electric motor whirred into life and a hatch cracked open with a rusty screech. It swung upwards to reveal a cargo bay that had been refurbished as a research study of sorts, its walls adorned with flatscreens, datadrives and even more exotic instruments. Behind a desk sat a kind-faced kerbelle, the wrong side of eighty with dirty blonde hair, squinting in the evening sunlight that had suddenly blazed into her cubby-hole. She clicked off the radio that had been warbling quietly to itself beside her and stood to look down at Lisabeth and Raylo, examining them both curiously. “Oh... hello dears. I could have sworn I heard some ruckus outside but I wasn't sure. Heh! Come on up! I was just about to put the kettle on.” Raylo gawped. Lisabeth opened her mouth to speak, but no sound would come out. The middle-aged kerbelle concluded that tea was not to their liking. “Uh, do you two like tacos? I was going to make tacos for dinner...” It was Raylo who finally managed to explain to her that they desperately needed just one thing: water. She was just as happy to oblige, and let them into the tiny living quarters of her caravan, leaving them to help themselves from the kitchenette while she returned to her study. The place looked like it had been hit by an earthquake. Empty tea-cups littered every surface and open cupboards spilled their contents out onto the floor: a jumble of food, discarded clothes and notebooks full of spidery handwriting. As they drank their fill from the caravan's water tank, they glanced at each other across the fold-out table, listening to the chatter from the kerbelle's radio through the paper-thin walls. ...schhhhhhht... Tanegashima has issued official directives to all security teams in Sector Four permitting repression of any attempt at mutiny with extreme prejudice as ... schhhhht ... Polar Station Leopold declared independence earlier today, stating that it would not comply with Trans Indian resolutions... schhhhht... in Hammaguir, CEO Sidke has declared that he will make an official statement at 0800 hours universal time tomorrow ... schhhhhht... On and on and on, in endless flow. Stories of rebellion and repression. Of freedom and death. That dude up on the Lunar station sure had stirred up some serious crap, thought Lisabeth. “We should leave,” said Raylo, looking anxiously at the door. “Well, your solar wonder is not going anywhere until sunrise,” said Lisabeth. “So... tacos sound good to me.” *** It was almost midnight when they managed to coax the mysterious kerbelle out of her study to share the food that they had prepared, since she had showed no sign of emerging to cook herself. The kitchenette was far too small for the three of them, so they ate outside in the cold, thin air as their host picked at her food, her attention still glued to the reports blurting from her radio. The moon had risen, pale and full, casting its light on the snow-capped summits of the eastern cordillera. The night sky was the most stunning they had ever seen, with so many stars visible that it appeared almost cloudy in places. “What are you doing out here?” Lisabeth ventured at last. “Are you a member of the research team from the observatory?” “Sort of, dear. I help them out occasionally. But they supply me the data I need and let me do my own thing most of the time. For the past couple of years I've been trying to calculate where the centre of the local- oh, would you pass the hot sauce, please? ” Their absent-minded host reminded Lisabeth furiously of someone she felt that she should recognise. She nodded at the radio. “Are you worried about the Company raids?” Something told her that an eccentric investigator crunching raw data from one of the world's largest telescope arrays had no business living in an ancient trailer-home in the middle of a desert. “The raids...? Oh no, dear!” she replied, flicking through more channels. “That's the precise reason I live out here: to avoid that kind of unwanted attention. One crazy kerbonaut stealing a little space station won't change anything. For us to see a security team up in Atacama, it would take something much, much more-” She suddenly started and switched back to the previous channel, twiddling the volume knob up to full. “Oh, shhh!! Let's listen...” ...schhhtt... the rogue kerbonaut speaks! We are now patching through a transmission coming in live from Station LDRO.... schttt... “Fellow Kerbals. My name is Camwise. I was the Senior Engineer of Omelek Space Centre...” Lisabeth froze and stared wide-eyed at the radio. Time sputtered, then ground to a halt. Her brain floundered in denial for a few seconds until it registered that the voice was indeed his. It had been such a long time... In a dream-like state she listened as Camwise pronounced his own self-inflicted death sentence. She heard his plea for rebellion and his instructions on how they should go about cancelling the apocalypse. ...and Second Pilot Lisabeth. Remember them, please. She heard him say her name and above all, the way he said it. At that moment, she knew that he still loved her. What the hell was wrong with him, after all these years..? “You're just kidding, right Cam?” Lisabeth whispered to herself in horror. When she came to her senses, she found that Camwise's message had ended and that she had staggered some distance away from the caravan into the chilly night. This impact will occur within a few minutes. Look on the bright side, it's not like I will be bothering you again. “Seriously, you're kidding us. You're not really giving up, are you?” If you look carefully, you will all be able to see a brief flash of light between Mare Nubium and Mare Humorum. She looked back at Raylo and the strange kerbelle. Just like ten million others around the world, they were both staring at the sky to the east so intently that they hadn't even noticed her wander off. “That's not you. That can't be you. Don't give up, Cam.” She forced herself to turn and look. Don't blink. Tears came. Don't you dare blink. You have to watch this. Once I'm gone, it's your turn. Rise! Rise, Kerbals! You must resist! “Don't-” A pinpoint of light flickered on the lower half of the moon's disk, as bright as it was ephemeral. It quickly faded, washed out by the cold glare of reflected sunlight. Camwise, out. “-give up...” Lisabeth sank to hers knees in the dust as the anger, the denial and the loneliness of being a kerbonaut abandoned in this vast, insane universe swept over her. Love. Lost. Found. Lost once more. Much later, she heard the soft footsteps of the kerbelle approaching and the gentle touch of a hand on her shoulder. “Won't you come back inside, dear? It gets quite cold up here at night,” said Steledith. YEAR 15, DAY 343. ATACAMA DESERT. The security team arrived on the third morning, and this time Lisabeth was prepared. They had listened to the news broadcasts non-stop. Less than twenty-four hours after the station hit the moon, most of them were shut down as Trans Pacific switched off the various channels of communication in a desperate attempt to stop the rebellion from spreading. Instead, they tapped into the security team's geostationary network via the trailer-home's dish using a decryption key Steledith pulled from the bottom of one of the kitchenette's drawers. “Don't ask, dear,” she said to Raylo when he tried to. From the back-and-forth between the teams on the ground and their headquarters, it gradually became clear that Trans Pacific and Trans Indian would manage to smother the uprising, albeit at the cost of many lives and with the loss of many of the more remote parts of their respective empires. The Trans Atlantic Resource Company, on the other hand, wasn't going to make it. Sidke had seen to that. A very different type of governance had taken hold of Hammaguir. Unfortunately for them, this meant that Trans Pacific would dispatch their security army to every single outpost they could possibly reach to make sure that they didn't attempt to defect to the budding new nation. They could therefore expect company in Atacama very soon. They possessed an aircraft capable of taking them almost anywhere in the world. But Labrihe could only carry two. Setting out across the Atacama desert on foot would be suicidal. The chances of hiding within the observatory complex during a full security crack down of indeterminate duration were marginal. One of them would be trapped. It was as simple as that. Therefore Lisabeth rose before dawn, slipped the note she had written the night before under Labrihe's canopy where Raylo was still asleep, and set out across the desolate landscape towards the radio dishes and the observatory beyond. My dear Raylo, Please forgive me for leaving without warning but we're on borrowed time here. You and I both know that we would have bickered for so long over this that the security team would have tossed us into the back of a rover long before we came to a decision, anyway. I've gone to turn myself in to Trans Pacific. Don't even think about coming after me. There is something you must do: get Steledith to Hammaguir. She is the greatest investigator of our time but she is barely capable of looking after herself. I've no idea how she managed to escape the Company for so long, but she can not be allowed to fall back into their hands. You must get her to Sidke so that she can continue her research. Teach her to use Labrihe's autopilot on the fly. At least it will be fun: I'm sure you two will get on together just fine, and you will get to show the world what your little solar plane is capable of. Take care, Raylo. I hope we meet again in better times. Lisabeth. As dawn broke over the observatory a line of vehicles approached from the West, their headlights throwing flickering spears of light across the desert. Lisabeth braced herself against the chill wind and trudged forward to meet her fate.
  19. A set of golf clubs is like giving bubble wrap to Bartdon. It should keep him occupied for quite some time... Awww, thanks! It's cool to see you're still around after all these, uhm.. years. After all that they've done, did you expect anything less of the Board...? Nearly. It's Saint Helena. Interestingly, this is where the English imprisoned Napoléon Bonaparte following the defeat of Waterloo until his death in 1821. Let's hope that someone comes to pick him up sooner rather than later.
  20. YEAR 13, DAY 156. BARTDON. Dear Principal Investigator Bartdon, We have never met in person, so allow me to introduce myself. I am CEO Sidke of the Trans Atlantic Resource Company. I am the individual responsible for sending the security team that picked up your crew when your shuttle came down. I am also responsible for your present situation. I fear you may consider it to be a captivity of sorts, but I assure you that this is the only way for you to remain safe for the time being. As I'm sure you have already gathered, the directors and benefactors of all of the major resource companies were furious at the way you handled the Martian Transmission. Some of them disagreed with the Chairman's decision to try and eliminate you, as they suspected that you withheld information that could be vital to their business strategies. However, all of them concur that you have hindered their financial interests at almost every step. Forgive me for putting this bluntly, but they would have submitted you to a brutal interrogation and killed you, Bartdon. They didn't want you “out of the picture,” or even in a prison-cave. Just dead. You have sheer luck to thank for coming down in Sector Five: I know most of the Security Officers there personally, and I believe that I have convinced the Board that your craft was destroyed. Your dramatic landing certainly made things easier in that respect. I, however, do not wish your demise. On the contrary, your actions have shown that we might agree to a certain extent on what is to be done about the threat of the alien constructs. Our cooperation could be salutary for Kerbalkind as a whole. But for now, my hands are tied. I am merely in charge of running Trans Atlantic and must project the illusion of absolute loyalty to the Board. There is growing dissent within the company, but it is not yet sufficient to trigger an open rebellion. If any proof of my true intentions falls into the wrong hands, then a dire fate awaits me also. Despite this, you deserve some answers, so I have taken the risk of writing to you. Don't be offended if the gentlekerb who handed you this letter personally didn't stop to chat. He is putting himself at risk too by delivering my mail. He arrived – and left – by the Air Service flight that resupplies the island once a month. I'm sorry but I had to send you to the most remote place I could think of. I'm afraid that the facilities are a bit run-down. It was once a weather station, but our space programme made the research performed there redundant and it fell into disrepair. The members of the skeleton crew probably won't recognise you, and if they do, they won't care anyway. I'm not sure that you will manage to blend in and make yourself at home, but give it your best shot. You might be there for some time, I'm afraid. Your crewmates were taken to similarly remote and secure locations. As I write this, they are all safe to the best of my knowledge. Watch the skies. If anyone other than the monthly freight-dogs approaches that runway, it's either my own personal assistant come to fetch you, or something has happened to me and you are on your own. There is a basement under the ruined building on the west side of the island. Hide there until they are gone. What you should do afterwards is up to you. I wish you good luck if this should come to pass. I hope we may yet meet in person. We will have a lot to discuss. Patience, Bartdon. Change is coming. Sincerely yours, CEO Sidke. PS: I had a set of clubs left in that basement. At least you will be able to practice your swing.
  21. A "tense binge" sounds like something I would do on a friday night after a particularly hard week, but I'll take that as a compliment... Thanks, pal. Glad you enjoyed it.
  22. Contracts We Did Not Accept, Volume 21, Chapter12. Seriously, Lodlock & Co. You don't want to be on that ship, believe me...
  23. The absolutely best thing about Real Solar System is that we don't have to abuse the letter K all the time. Nice timing. Stick around. If all goes as planned, there will be more. Very sad. It was some months ago now, but I can remember having a massive lump in my throat when the time came to hit Recover Vessel. That craft and I spent some seriously long evenings together. It's not everyday your Mission Summary reads both Recovery of a vessel returned from the surface of Mars and Recovery of a vessel returned from the surface of Phobos.
  24. YEAR 13, DAY 121. BARTDON. We sat buckled into our seats and hoped for the best. Groans and tremors echoed through Quissac's hull as she belly-flopped into the upper reaches of the atmosphere. The tortured ensemble of metal and composites played a dirge that spanned the entire spectrum of frequencies. Deep, unnerving whispers of infrasound. Jarring, high-pitched screeches and creaks. Of all of the crewed spacecraft ever built by Kerbalkind, none was as well-traveled as Quissac. Assembled in one of the trendier technology parks in Tanegashima, she had then been hauled out to the sandy wastelands of Hammaguir for the most extensive test campaign any of our hardware had ever been put through. Then it was back to the Pacific and Omelek where she had been strapped to the top of a massive booster and blasted into space, never to return. At least, that had been the original plan. Quissac had been designed to put a crew of four down on the surface of the Red Planet, to keep them alive for a few months and to return them safely to orbit. End of story. She had achieved this flawlessly and her mission should have come to an end once she returned to Laroque. But things hadn't really played out as expected and we had asked so much more of her. And dammit, she had delivered. A second trip to the Martian surface, an unexpected detour to the moon Phobos, and a rather unflattering stand-in as a tug for our ride home through interplanetary space: Quissac had done it all without complaint. Never had any of our hardware been pushed so far beyond its original design specifications and come through with flying colours. But now, Quissac had had enough. She was weary. You could feel it. She no longer felt like the crisp, tight ship that had brought us to a majestic landing on Lunae Planum nearly two years previously. She was starting to feel more like a collection of random parts flying in close formation. And yet, she now faced her greatest challenge: returning to her home planet, and keeping us alive in the process. Karanda was cautiously optimistic that such a feat was indeed possible. After all, the ceramic tiles that coated Quissac's belly had so far proven to be perfectly adequate and had been originally designed for Earth re-entry anyway. There had been no need to develop new material for the mere matter of making the first trip to a distant planet when an off-the-shelf solution was ready and waiting, left over from the spaceplane programme. In addition, now that the Mars shuttle was empty of supplies and equipment and had only a trickle of fuel left in her tanks, she had a tiny ballistic coefficient. She would wade into Earth's atmosphere like an obese parody of the leviathan of ancient times, engulfed in fire as she made a dramatic descent towards the African continent. Munvey had predicted that we would come down two hundred klicks inland from the west coast. Returning to the birthplace of Kerbalkind would be a fitting way to end our first voyage to another planet, would it not? It also happened to be about as far as possible from Tanegashima and the sphere of influence of the Trans Pacific Resource Company, which was damned fine by me. Would Trans Atlantic, the locally dominant faction, be any kinder to us? This remained to be seen. One thing at a time, in any case. Our main concern would be surviving the next few minutes. The Karman Line came and went. Technically, we were no longer in space and could therefore claim to have made it back to our home planet. But those last hundred kilometres, as always, would sort the living, breathing kerbonauts who'd made it from the heroes who had not. Indeed, as we were still far out over the Atlantic Ocean and streaking through the mesosphere, things began to get hot. The first part of Quissac to give up the ghost was the external camera situated beneath the craft's nose. Karanda, gazing at her screen, had warned us that this would probably happen. Munvey had shrugged it off, droning “It's only eye candy, anyway. You've all seen Earth before, haven't you?” Clearly, the idea of hurtling blindly towards the ground at Mach 25 was all in a day's work for this Kerbal. If anyone could get us down, Munvey could. Karanda was more concerned about the shower of debris from the fried camera unit that had been ripped away from its mount, peppering Quissac's hull. Her console beeped angrily about the impacts detected on both of the forward engine pods. She frowned at it for a moment before announcing that the engine parameters were still nominal and that they should start when the time came. “Copy that CE,” said Munvey. “Attitude thrusters seem to be holding out just fine. Let me know if anything else is about to blow.” Although we were now flying blind, the map screen in front of me showed that we were creeping up on the African coast. We would be over dry land in just a few minutes' time. As we sank further into the atmosphere Quissac began to rock gently from side to side, lacking any proper wings to provide stability. The shuttle's tortured swan song grew in intensity as the atmosphere around us thickened and a pale glow filtered through the windows at the top of the crew cabin as the air around us reached searing temperatures. My crew mates sweated in their suits beside me. It felt like being part of some kind of odd mass cremation. “Aerofoils beginning to bite, looks like we got-...” Munvey was cut off in mid sentence by an ominous thud from Quissac's starboard bow. The shuttle lurched sharply and then settled, caught by the thrusters. “Report, CE!” I snapped. “Forward right engine is... gone...” said Karanda, gaping at her monitor. “Please clarify 'gone' CE?” “Gone, as in no longer attached to our craft, PI.” Dammit, my blasted ship was falling apart around me! I closed my eyes and pictured our crippled shuttle plunging earthwards surrounded by a cloud of debris that would be seen by anyone within a thousand miles of the African coast. A fiery plume across the sky that would mark the end of my challenge to the Board's reckless pursuits. The end of my crew, after all we had been through together. I looked around the cabin. Karanda and Mitzon; our engineers. They had worked so hard to keep us breathing during the long sunward voyage and now they sat with their hands tied, with nothing to do but provide damage reports as the atmosphere tore into their handiwork and the final seconds of our mission ticked away. Desfal, the young investigator I had chosen to assist me, gripped his seat and stared forward, eyes wide. I felt sorry for the boy. He certainly didn't deserve to be caught up in such a mess. And Lisabeth, our second pilot. She was the only one who gave the appearance of complete calm. Arms crossed in front of her, she sat ready to brace with what could have been a slight smile on her lips as if she was enjoying this somehow. So young, and yet ready for the end already... We couldn't fail now! We were so close to making it! So much remained to be done, now more than ever. For the sake of damned, wretched Kerbalkind. “Munvey...” I said looking down at him as he wrestled with Quissac's controls. “You still have three of the damned things. Put us down gently would you, old boy?” The words had barely left my mouth when Quissac pitched violently in the opposite direction as something gave way on the port side. The ship's funeral dirge reached a crescendo, but even that was not enough to cover the awful bang that marked the departure of another engine. There was a moment of horrified silence on the coms channel. Karanda's report was unnecessary. Everyone knew what had just happened. “Well, PI,” Munvey said at last, “we're still waiting for the doctor in physics to tell us how many engines we have left.” “Precisely one more than it took you to stick the first Moon landing, CP! I trust that you will cope,” I tossed back. Mercifully, the heat began to subside as we screamed in over the continental coast. It looked like the remaining engines would make it. The craft was now wallowing from side to side. Munvey had switched off the attitude thrusters to preserve the precious trickle of fuel that sloshed in the bottom of Quissac's tanks. It would be used during the final few seconds before we touched down. Whether we lived or died was now down to those rear engines starting, and the following impact being... survivable. The radio-altimeter on the screen before me ticked down to the moment of truth at a vertiginous rate. I threw one last glance at the map. We would land somewhere in the mossy plains to the West of the Congo River. At least the damned terrain would be in our favour. Quissac dropped to subsonic. The atmosphere had finished its work. Munvey punched open the shuttle's bay doors and the mossy ground streaked past below, rich and dark in the mid-morning sunlight. We were now merely a few hundred miles per hour away from home. “Brace your butts, boys and gals! If you can still move, I want an immediate evacuation once we're immobile. Now, I want to see all of your ugly mugs again on the ground!” Altitude warnings chimed out from the cockpit. Munvey went into overdrive, simultaneously pulling back on the controls whilst rotating the engine pods to align against our forward velocity and dropping the landing gear. The LV-909: the most reliable engine ever to roll off a Kerbal assembly line. Now, just two of these magnificent pieces of machinery lay between us and instant annihilation. There was a distant rumble from somewhere behind us as the ignition process began... “Not today...” I heard Munvey mutter. ...and a kick as they sputtered into life one last time. “Ignition!” My body pulled forward against the straps holding me into my seat. The thrust continued for a few seconds, gaining in intensity as the tanks drained dry. One question remained: had Munvey timed this right? Bang!!! The engines cut out and in the same instant there was a massive blow that almost struck me senseless, followed by another brief moment of weightlessness. Quissac's failing attitude control had allowed the nose to drop and when she struck she bounced, rising back into the air as if reluctant to bring her final flight to an end. Then it was over with a crunch. The port landing gear had collapsed and Quissac scraped to a halt with a distinct list to one side. The ship had barely stopped moving but I was already unbuckling my harness and shouting orders. “Everybody out, dammit!!!” I pulled myself out of my seat and immediately collapsed onto all fours, smote by one full gee after nearly three years of partial gravity. Shouting hoarsely, I pushed my crewmates ahead of me as we slithered for the hatch to the rear of the crew compartment. One by one, we made it to the ladder and out into the darkness of the cargo bay beyond. Lisabeth slid, Karanda and Mitzon tumbled. Desfal missed the ladder altogether and hit the ground ten feet below heavily. I followed suit and landed on top of him, unable to control my fall. Bruised and battered, as one seething mass of arms and legs, we clawed our way out from beneath our spacecraft and into the sunlight. Munvey had made it out through the cockpit's emergency hatch and joined us. We were clear. I rolled over and propped myself on one elbow, appraising the sorry sight of my intrepid crew of interplanetary explorers writhing through the damp moss on their bellies. Well, any landing you can crawl away from, eh...? After a short rest, I found that I could stand. Barely. Light-headed, I fumbled with the latch of my helmet and managed to remove it somehow. After months in the vacuity of space, my senses were immediately assaulted by the overwhelming sounds and smells of Earth. The stiff breeze from the East that ruffled my hair and had probably saved our lives, scrubbing off those last few knots as we touched down. The creaks and groans coming from the structure of our ship as she bled off the heat of our hellish reentry. Hissing noises and small clouds of steam where she had come to rest on the wet ground. The pungent, wholesome scent of the vegetation beneath my boots and the sickly-sweet stench of vomit as Desfal threw up the contents of his stomach beside me. Welcome home, Bartdon. I tossed my helmet away, threw open my arms and bellowed loudly. At the sky. At the Board of Directors. At every single other soul on this planet but at no-one in particular. “Damn you all to hell! Do you even realise who you were trying to mess with, you blasted imbeciles? We made it, dammit!” My ranting was interrupted by the sound of an aircraft approaching. Damn, that was quick. They must have already been in the air waiting for us to come down. The turboprop made a low pass, roaring overhead before banking into a wide curve to land at a safe distance. As it taxied up, it dropped a ladder. “On your feet and keep that line straight,” I said to my crew as it approached and came to a halt. “Be ready for anything.” A swarm of Kerbals dressed in standard-issue security gear slid down the ladder and hit the ground running. They had us surrounded in seconds and the kerb in charge stepped forward, snapping smartly to attention as he addressed us. “Security Officer Andorf of Team Six, Sector Five, Trans Atlantic. Welcome back to Earth, Quissac. Is your ship secure?” “Let's just say that it hasn't blown up... yet,” I said, staggering up to meet him. “I am Principal Investigator Bartdon and I am in charge of this ship and its crew. What are your orders, SO?” “I've been ordered to take you to an undisclosed safehouse immediately, PI. Trans Atlantic CEO Sidke will join you there for debriefing as soon as it is possible for him to make the journey without compromising your location.” “The CEO, eh? Short-circuiting the Board of Directors? Who does this Sidke think he is?” “It's for your own safety, PI.” Andorf's face revealed nothing as he ignored my question. “I strongly suggest that you comply.” “And my crew?” “You will all be taken to separate locations. You will be unable to communicate, at least for the time being.” So this was it. Yet another leap into the unknown. Who could we trust? What choice did we have? I turned to look at my crew, shrugged and then stumbled towards Andorf. I grabbed him by the front of his jacket. I'd meant it to be a gesture of intimidation, but my knees gave way from the effort and I ended up clinging to him to save myself from falling. “Listen carefully, SO,” I rasped. “The lads and lasses behind me happen to be the damned finest bunch of kerbonauts you'll ever have the honour of meeting. You just keep them safe, d'you hear me? That's all I ask.” “You have my word, PI. It is also currently in the CEO's best interest.” “Then you may carry out your orders, SO.” Two members of the security team carted me off towards the awaiting turboprop. The air around our crash site began to throb as more aircraft approached. Andorf began shouting instructions. “Make sure her fuel tanks are vented! The sappers are on their way and we'll be scrapping her as soon as they get here. We have three hours to make this site spotless!” I shrugged off my escort as we reached the bottom of the ladder as I would not allow myself the indignity of being carried. I stopped to look at Quissac one last time, knowing that within minutes, the engineers would be cutting into her hull and erasing all traces of the crash site. “Farewell, you damn fine hulk of a blasted ship,” I muttered to myself as I hauled myself up the ladder, rung after agonising rung. “Farewell, and thanks for the ride.”
  25. Thanks to you both, and welcome to the party! I also bring some good news: the next episode is more or less done and will be published very shortly. So, because it has been a while, it is once more time for the mandatory pre-season recap to remind you all where we're at...! Part One: the Moon vs. Me Part Two: the View From Phobos Part Three: Lunacy Part Four: Too Big to Fail Part Five: L'Enfant Sauvage