Bob Kerman grumbled as he drove along the rutted, dirty dirt path. The faded red truck he was driving, scarred from a thousand hours of driving, sputtered as the uneven track pushed its suspension to the limit. He pulled up outside a crescent-shaped building, framed by a concrete arch. Outside, three kerbals waited, the leftmost one leaping into the air when he saw Bob. Bob allowed himself the luxury of a small grin, but nothing else. He hadn’t truly smiled in the six years since he had left the Mun, and he wasn’t going to start now. The mention of the Mun stirred old memories in his head. An explosion. Tears. Salty, running down his face, fogging up his helmet…
No, he chided himself, that was before. Now I’m strong. Am I?
Shaking his head to remove the incriminating thoughts, he was distracted by a shout. Jeb, the jumping kerbal, had almost been hit by the truck in Bob’s moment of absentmindedness. He stopped the truck and leapt out, fearing the worst, but Jeb was rolling on the floor laughing.
“You nearly hit me! BWAHAHA….we gotta do that again...I was like “Ahhhh!” and you were like…” He tapered off seeing the stony expression on Bob’s face. Bill reached forward to shake Bob’s hand, an apologetic smile adorning his face. “Sorry about Jeb. He was cooped up in the snack room with only a chocolate biscuit and a lukewarm mug of instant KerbKoffee. He hates the instant sachets. Really, rea-”
“YES. THEY. WERE. DISGUSTING!”
“Vell, Jebediah, you did drink it.” This was Wernher, the crazy rocket scientist who had masterminded the ideas behind the rockets. Bob remembered him as a scatterbrained but serious kerbal, with slight insomnia. (Staying awake for forty-three hours straight- twice- did qualify, apparently.)
Bob cleared the phlegm from his throat and spoke croakily:
Bill replied that he was waiting indoors, and with great gusto, Jebediah shoved the double doors leading to the Astronaut Complex wide open. Inside, five Kerbals sat on chairs talking and drinking instant koffee. A smart-looking Kerbal in a business suit was knocking pool balls around on a table with a female scientist Bob vaguely recognized as Cadina Kerman, Wernher’s secretary and the one who had suggested the efficient flight path for Iris 1, the first Mun probe. Gene, the suited Kerbal, looked up and grinned at them.
“Ah-ha!” he said with a thumbs-up. Bob had a fleeting vision of Gene showing the exact same gesture to a rookie at Mission Control: he just as quickly banished it from his head. Gene walked forward and shook all four kerbals vigorously by the hand. Bob nodded at him politely, and Gene set his jaw and dipped his eyes. Bob was taken aback. They hadn’t gotten on well back in the day, but they both believed different things. Surely Gene hadn’t held the grudge this long?
“Welcome, all, to the Astronaut Complex!” Gene cried, throwing his arms wide. Someone booed, so Gene shot them an evil glance and carried on. “May I introduce Bob, Bill, Jebediah and Wernher Kerman!” Several kerbals clapped, One looked slightly starstruck, dropping the biscuit he had been dipping in his koffee. Gene cleared his throat, and resumed;
“Bill, Bob, Jeb and Wernher, may I introduce you to Tomster Kerman, our booster tester.” A kerbal with scorched pants waved at them- “Rebold Kerman, our experimental technologies designer.” A kerbal in a maroon checkered flannel grinned- “Brendal and Felipe Kerman, our astronauts in training-” A messy-haired kerbal in a white suit smiled, while the other white suited kerbal gaped (he was the starstruck one) “and last but not least, Valentina Kerman, our trainer and tracking station expert.”
Bob knew Valentina from back in the day. She’d failed the kerbonaut test because of a leg disability picked up on a training crash. She smiled warmly back at him, but he remained stony, even though his stomach buzzed with happiness at the sight of seeing her again.
Bob ahemmed. Gene turned to him. “Yes, Bob?” he asked.
Bob cleared his throat again- that phlegm was getting really annoying- then he revealed what had been on his mind ever since the telephone call from Gene six days earlier.
“Why in Kerm’s name are we even here? You’re not thinking about restarting the space program...are you?” His comment was greeted with a profound silence. A mug smashed. The two trainees looked heartbroken, while Bill looked down at his boots. Jeb swore. Gene opened his mouth timidly and started to say something, but Bob cut him off.
“Hey! I don’t know what the KRAKEN you were all thinking, but I don’t want any part of it. I was there on the Mun, I watched Malmy die...he was right THERE! In front of me! I...I…” His rant was cut off by Jeb, looking as mad. “I WAS THERE TOO! I SAW IT! SO DON’T YOU EVEN FU-”
Kertesterone ran high in the room. Bill was sandwiched between Jeb and Bob, forcing them apart. Gene was biting his nails. And Wernher (being Wernher) was drawing something illegible on the whiteboard, which later turned out to be a smiley face. Among all this, Valentina whispered. “Wouldn’t...wouldn’t trying again b-be the best thing? For Malmy’s memory?”
The two former kerbonauts quietened. Then Rebold leapt onto his chair and cried “I don’t care! I’m doing it, even if you won’t!” A chorus of Yeahs and Mm-hms followed suit. Bill stepped forward, fist in the air. “FOR MALMY!” he cried. Jeb cheered. Wernher and Gene exchanged a glance and nodded. Then every kerbal in the room swiveled and looked expectantly at Bob. “I...uh...fine. For Malmy. Only for Malmy.” Whoops filled the room as a honk sounded outside. The snack kerb had arrived! He stepped through the foyer door and read off a list.
“One large Kerbretti pizza, one large koobish and onion pizza, three garlic krunchies, eleven bottles of Ker-wizz-fizz, an Extra-Extra large plate of djans with a jumbo chegg dip bucket and a sniggleberry sorbet for the special lady... He winked suggestively. Val stood up and went over to him. Bob was aghast… until she booted him in the sensitive parts. He staggered backwards and in a much higher voice pitch whined something about krakens and insane female kerbonauts before closing the door behind him. Wernher turned to Bob.
“So, do you vant to see ze ship?”
20 minutes later they were all assembled in the Vehicle Assembly Building. Bob glanced around, deducing that the old VAB had seen better days. A nest of kerbinai pigeons sat on a girder, raining poop down on any unfortunate kerbal below. A smattering of craters lined the dusty, scratched concrete floor. In the middle supported by struts was a hulking monstrosity; Bob winced instinctively and wondered what’d he’d agreed to. Jeb and Bill were already sizing it up, Bill giving an engineer’s once-over, while Jeb was gleefully knocking on the fuel tanks and engine. Wernher looked slightly concerned. As he should be, thought Bob, one of the solid rocket boosters is on a slightly different angle to the rest of the ship. Bill turned to Wernher and asked him how he’d slipped a battered LVT-30 engine, two FLT-400 fuel tanks and two Hammer SRBs (not to mention a parachute, decouplers, science experiments and even an old but familiar-looking pod through the ‘forced’ recycling ceremony after the Space Program’s shutdown. Wernher simply grinned.
The rocket had one strange feature- that old pod.
“Vee went to ze old island launch site, ja? In a leetle boat. But on zee way back, I found zee buried hangar, and in it was zee old Mark 1 pod from zee first launch twelve years ago. Zere was also a leaky fuel tank and a burned-out engine. Kool, ja?”
The pod was slightly larger than the 1.25m parts and was anchored to the tank by 4 struts on the underside. Gene nodded at it, half in fear, half in wonder.
“How much did it cost, Wernher?” Gene asked.
“Zis thing? I had some parts left over, others I engineered from zee normal stuff you find in a zupermarket. All in all, it cost just over one thouzand Kredits.” Wernher replied flippantly. It was then that Bob noticed one of the FLT-400 tanks wasn’t a tank at all, but two bathtubs bolted together with pipes sticking out. Wernher stood back with his arms crossed and grinned.
“Can we fly it now, pleeeease?” Jeb pleaded. Wernher nodded, and got five of the mech kerbs to lift the rocket onto the crawler.
Gene cleared his throat and told the kerbonauts to climb the ladder to the pod, in his favorite authoritative tone. Just before they jumped in, Bill turned back and asked him what the ship was called, so that he could say the name on the radio. Gene looked at Wernher, and the two shared a grin.
“Zee ship? Vell, ze first ever one vas ze Kerbal 1, so zis one representing a new start? Zis one is ze Malmy 1.”
Then Jeb screeched from inside.
“WHY IS THERE BRAIN FLUID ON MY SEAT?’
Three hours later
Launchpad, Kerbal Space Center
34th of Kerebedi, 3328: 07:38:14
The ride on the crawler was so insanely boring Bob thought he would fall asleep. In fact, Jeb said he had. Several times. But now here they were, all prepped, each in a torn old suit that Brendal had wrangled out of a storage closet. Speaking of closets, the space in the pod was miniscule- his feet were rammed against the windowsill. Suddenly, there was a hiss and the Malmy 1 jolted on its clamps. Then Gene’s voice crackled over the suit earpiece. “Mission Control to Malmy 1, you are lowered in clamps. Prepare for release and for ascent in T-minus sixty, over.”
Jeb replied “Roger that, Mission Control. Vessel prepared for launch.”
The former kerbonauts remained silent. Bill knew his comrades were thinking of Malmy, and he too remembered the young, eager scientist fondly. Another harsh crack interrupted his thoughts.
“Mission Control to Malmy 1, prepare for LVT-30 ignition at one-eighth thrust. T-minus thirteen seconds to launch.
“Mission Control, this is Jebediah. Kerbin was our cradle, but we are leaving. We ain’t babies anymore.” The profoundness of this statement shocked Bob. Jeb had never been the poetic type.
“Zank you, Jeb...launch SRBs. May ze Great Kerm be with you.
And the Malmy 1, powered by an LVT-30 running at one-third thrust and two SRBs thundering along at the bottom of the ship, slowly flew from the pad. Bob grinned, his first smile in six years, then winced again as the G-Force shoved him back in his seat.
“Malmy 1, Gene here. You’ve cleared the launch tower. I repeat, you have cleared the launch tower, over.”
Their slow crawl sped up as the boosters pushed. Their speed rose to 60, then 80 meters per second. Bob wasn’t a pilot, but he distinctly felt the craft tilting. Jeb grunted something about unbalanced solid boosters, while Bill spoke to Gene- presumably on a private channel. An echoing groan shook the ship to its core. The Malmy 1 was pointing five degrees east, and tipping further by the second. Jeb swore, and told Gene he was blasting the solid boosters away. Gene said something along the lines of wasting fuel, and Jeb screamed back to Gene just where he could shove that ‘wasted fuel’. Bill pulled a lever, and the boosters shot upward. Bob saw one whiz past his window and up into the sky. Wernher’s voice suddenly filled the pod, making them all jump.
“Jeb, zat vas a very stupid thing to do. But, you made it vork, so vell played. You are dropping speed, so please increase thrust.”
“Roger that, Wernher. Thrust to 80%.”
The rocket shot ever upward. Now it was well over eight kilometers into the atmosphere, and still climbing. Bill whooped out loud, while Jeb laughed maniacally. Fire began to streak past the cockpit, prompting another message from Mission Control.
“Malmy 1, advise on your speed and altitude, over.”
“Mission Control, this is Malmy 1. Altitude 14 kilometers, speed 650 m/s and climbing.”
“OK. Malmy 1, begin steep gravity turn.”
Bob watched Jeb fiddle with the controls. The pilot’s hands, while not as fast as their faded youthful versions, still whizzed across the control panel faster than he or Bill would ever manage (plus, he actually knew what the buttons did) proving that he was still the great pilot they all remembered. They were about 40 klicks up and pointed nearly horizontal. Jeb radioed Mission Control.
“Malmy 1 to Mission Control. Come in, Mission Control.”
A silence maybe twenty seconds long followed, then this:
“Sorry, Malmy 1, Tomster spilt chegg dip on the backup radio controller. What did you need?”
“Uh, we need information on apoapsis. Fuel is nearly spent.”
“Malmy 1, your apoapsis is currently 73,000 meters. You’ll be in space in forty-two seconds; for now, sit back and enjoy the view.”
Then, just like that, the engine cut out.
Forty seconds later
Space, 70 kilometers above Kerbin.
34th of Kerebedi, 3328: 07:43:02
There was no indication of space being reached by the time they were there, apart from some faint whale noises. (Bill later swore that he’d heard the music from beyond the stars, but as this was not a scientific fact, Bob was disinclined to believe him.) Then, the comms link exploded with noise.
“Malmy 1, congratulations, you are in space!” The next bit was drowned out by an excited Rebold shouting “AAAAAAAAAAA YEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSS!” into the comms link. Excited chattering and popping of champagne sounded in the background, then they re-entered the atmosphere, causing the comms antenna to snap and fall to the ground. Jeb expertly twisted the craft retrograde and decoupled the engine stack, while Bob punched some delta-V numbers into his console. The fire was crackling as they shot downwards. In fact, Bob would reference this exact moment when he, along with six other kerbals, aerobraked in Jool’s atmosphere to slow their interplanetary approach...but that is a story for another day.
Nothing much could be said about the descent, since Bob passed out during it. When he awoke, he saw Jeb swimming in the water outside. He pulled himself out of his spacesuit and fell through the hatch into the warm, tropical water. He looked around for Bill, and found him standing on top of the top waving at an incoming recovery boat. Bob clambered over the hatch and joined him. The recovery boat blasted its horn, and they swam across to it, where an old, toothless kerbal in a floral shirt, yanked them on board. As they busied themselves with collecting blankets and hot water bottles to wrap around their soaking selves, the crane on the recovery boat grabbed the pod and lifted it onto the deck, causing the boat to wobble thanks to the unbalanced weight. Bob was thrown flat on his back, with a great view of the Mun in the darkening sky. He gazed up, and made a silent promise to the grave that he knew contained a kerbal with a smashed EVA visor and rips in the suit leg.
We’re coming back, Malmy. When or wherever I am, I’ll drop everything to get to you.
Thanks, guys that was my first story here. I will post more if you like it. Thanks!