Confused Scientist

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    Aleksei Leonov- You Walk Among the Stars

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  1. Chapter 14- Back From the Dead “Juno, do you copy?” The Munar regolith spreads wide and large, more rugged and more desolate than any desert. A kerbal is just a speck on the horizon; a footprint, utterly insignificant. No matter how much of the Mun kerbalkind colonizes, there will always be more wilderness just like this: barren and unrecognizable. “Juno, do you copy?” This landscape, however, is no longer alien. A metal disc, about a foot in diameter, lies on top of the dust. It is welded to the jagged remains of a hinge, and then a little ways away there are larger sheets of metal and copper wiring, shards of solar panels and what seems like miles of pipes and valves, scattered out across the plain with no respect for the way they had once been assembled, looped around engine bells and coiled beneath propellant tanks. “Juno, do you copy? This is Ozymandias, over.” Harbrett shook his head. “Forget it, Bob. The radio’s dead. The only thing left is the power and comms we have in our suits.” “But how could the radio die? It’s self-contained, with its own batteries and temporary power supply separate from the main bus. It’s meant to survive a collision that would destroy the Phoenix and kill us instantly.” Harbrett looked out through the hole in Ozymandias’ hull to the debris scattered across the regolith. “That’s true. But nobody ever said the radio would stay attached to the ship if we crashed.” “All right. Let’s go out and survey the damage.” Bob, Harbrett, and Alice unstrapped themselves and climbed down from their seats to where the new floor was. Looking up, Bob grew dizzy as he took in the sight of the Phoenix’s cabin turned upside down, with the black sky outside betraying the analog displays of the navigation consoles, which had been frozen in gimbal lock since before the crash. The analog clock was also stopped, and everything digital was simply gone. With growing dread in his heart, Bob got down on his hands and knees and crawled through the hatch. Normally, he would make his way down the ladder to the base of the lander, but now he stepped right into the munar dust, which spilled into the cabin as he stood up and surveyed the wreckage. Bob was at the bull’s eye of a sea of metal scraps and shattered plastic. Countless pieces of wrecked spaceship stretched from horizon to horizon, and somewhere a few hundred feet away white smoke rose from a shattered piece of the ascent stage. “It’s on fire,” Harbrett mumbled. “We’re in a vacuum. How could it be on fire?” “That,” Alice replied. “Is two hundred pounds of liquid oxygen boiling off.” “Oh, no,” Bob gasped. “Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no.” “Bob. What’s wrong?” “I… I think I’m g-going to be s-sick. I f-feel dizzy, and I wanna get out of my suit… let me out of my suit.” “Bob,” Alice told him, “listen to me. Breathe. Close your eyes. Turn up your oxygen and your air conditioning, and breathe. Don’t focus on the big problems right now.” “Okay,” he gasped. “Ah, I think I’m supposed to be feeling a burst of adrenaline right now, but I used it all up in the crash. I just feel so empty, and small…” “Don’t worry. Focus on something else. Did you get the flight data recorder before you left the cabin?” Bob squeezed his eyes shut. “No. I was going to put it in my suit’s sample pouch, but I nearly tripped over an extra glove that had fallen out of one of the storage lockers and I brought that with me instead.” “Okay. Why don’t you go get the data recorder?” “Good idea.” As Bob turned back towards the crew cabin, Alice lowered the sunshade in her visor, hiding the worry on her face. “Okay, I’ve got the black box. I’m thinking that the first thing we need to do is repair the radio. If it survived the crash, all it probably needs is to get hooked back up to a power source. Harbrett, you can survey the wreckage for anything useful. Alice and I will handle the radio.” The three astronauts split up, and after a few minutes, the radio had been found among the wreckage. “It’s not a long-range signal,” Bob explained. “It’s a low-power setup, and all we need to do is get a signal to either a Raven or a comms satellite in Munar orbit. That means a small battery will be enough for a few hours of two-way comms.” Alice reached down and opened up the radio casing. “Here’s something even better- the built-in backup battery. Looks like it just got knocked loose during the crash.” “Yes!” Bob shouted. “That’s even better. It’s meant to keep the radio working if everything else dies. Of course, this piece-of-junk casing wasn’t enough to hold it in place.” He crouched down and laughed. “Yep, it’s got the Bloeting logo on it; no wonder it’s such a shoddy piece of equipment. Wait a minute…” “What is it?” “If that’s the Bloeting logo,” Bob muttered, “then I must’ve…” “What?” “No, nevermind,” Bob replied, “it’s all right. I just remembered something important. Wire up that battery and I’ll be back in a minute.” Alice got on her knees and began to work, but she was interrupted by Bob again. “Bingo!” he whooped. “Jackpot! Score! Hole-in-one! Every awesome, epic, incredible thing ever!” “What is it?” Alice asked, breathlessly.” “Remember our cargo manifest? Munbase had three old, worn-out EVA backpacks they needed to get rid of, and decided they’d send them with us. The only thing is, the old backpacks were right by the airlock, right next to that new shipment we’d brought in. I’d forgotten what the Bloeting logo looked like, so I couldn't tell them apart and I took the new backpacks by mistake.” Out in the distance, Harbrett was listening into the conversation. As Bob spoke, his eyes widened. “That means,” he interrupted, “the old backpacks had been stripped clean for supplies, and they didn’t have any oxygen, or water, or batteries, or anything. But since you took the new ones instead, they’d have all those things.” “Exactly!” Bob shouted. “And they’re the new long-endurance model, meant to keep a crew alive all the way back from the Mun even if the Raven depressurizes. That means we have three extra days of air, water, and power! I can see them now… looks like they got torn away from Ozymandias during the crash. They’re underneath the crew module, so I’ve gotta crawl in there…” In the crew module, Alice was almost done connecting the battery terminals. “Yeah,” Bob continued, “crawl in there… just move this boulder out of my way…” Just as he said this, Alice made the final connection, and she felt the crew module tip. In that brief moment, she felt the cabin lurch, falling from the perch it held on top of the boulder Bob had just pushed aside, and then come to rest as a scream filled her helmet. “Bob!” she shouted. “Can you hear me?” No answer came, but only more screams. Alice fell to the floor and gripped her helmet, overwhelmed by the numbers flowing threw her head. The crew cabin by itself, without the ascent stage, weighed just under two tons; even in Munar gravity, that would be enough to kill a kerbal depending on how it fell. And then, at the edge of her hearing, behind the screams and whimpers of her crushed companion, came a fainter voice: “Ozymandias, this is Juno. Do you copy?”
  2. Your wish is granted. The alignment buttons are now arranged diagonally. I wish for a horror/sci-fi movie where the plot is that any time somebody takes your picture, you turn invisible because the camera stole your light.
  3. Chapter 13- Unlucky Numbers “Is it almost ready?” Sunny asked. “I have to get on a plane in an hour to go to Cletroit and report on this flight and the Bloeting executive meeting.” Sean Kerman glanced up from his flight director’s console. “Yeah, we’ll be ready for liftoff in about thirty minutes. Uhhh… CAPCOM, Flight.” “Go, Flight.” “CAPCOM, tell Bob that our clocks are synched with theirs and we’re go if the Phoenix is go.” “Roger… Bob confirms that the Phoenix is ready for liftoff from Munbase.” Sunny glanced at her clipboard. “You say you’ll be taking off in thirty minutes? That’s too long. Call me in Cletroit if you have anything from this launch that needs to be put in the press conference.” Sean nodded. “All right… just try not to make too big of a deal about the new mission control in Rockville, could you? Lots of people down here are still hurting from the relocation. Other than that, you can tell Gene everything’s good down here and we’re looking forward to having him on shift for the splashdown.” “Got it.” Sunny left the control room and stepped out into the heat and humidity of a Juno’s Landing sunset, baking under the heavy pants and sweaters she had put on in anticipation of the cold rental car that awaited her in Cletroit. Crossing the street, she heard something strange- nothing at all. No jet engines, no motors, no welder’s torch. The KSC was a city nearly abandoned, only coming to life for launches and to continue the occasional odd research program and cargo flight to Cletroit. Unnerved, Sunny picked up her pace down the sidewalk towards the JRT station, ignoring the signs warning of its impending closure. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Heads were turned, ties were straightened, and Edsel stood at the end of a long table. Wrapping around at the fringes of the room, Gene, Wernher, Jeb, Bill, Val, Lucy, and Sam sat with cups of coffee and printouts of graphs. In one corner, an empty seat was reserved for Sunny. Edsel stood up. “Good morning,” he chirped, “and welcome to the Bloeting-Kontinental organization meeting! Right here, we have an open forum to discuss whatever problems we’re having with the merger-” “You mean takeover,” Val interrupted. “Good!” Edsel replied. “Let’s start with that. We’re having some problems taking over R&D operations from the original KSC campus in Juno’s Landing.” “Well,” Wernher suggested, “why don’t we just keep some of them there? The mayor of Juno’s Landing and the governor of Pascua have offered us some insane tax rebates to keep hypersonics and propulsion research at the old space center. Spacecraft systems and booster technology, on the other hand, I see as having a place here in Rockville.” Bill nodded. “Cletroit has a proud history in computing and with lots of heavy industry in the region it would make sense to move our booster production up north here and use the Bloeting 400 jumbo jet to fly subassemblies down to the KSC.” Edsel blinked. “But our headquarters are here in Cletroit.” Jeb sighed and leaned over in his seat. “It’s amazing watching this whole thing fall apart in slow motion,” he whispered to Val. “Edsel,” she replied, “seems like the type of guy who would start a forest fire after detonating a sack of blue gunpowder with a machine gun in a gender reveal party… not that he’ll ever be able to get married.” “Jeb,” Edsel called, “what are you and Val talking about over there?” “Uh... well...” he stammered. “Uh... we want to talk about the Millennium Fleet Project. In the short term, we would replace the Raven with two completely new reusable spaceplanes- a small, six-seater lifting body for flights to a space station that will be assembled with a delta-wing heavy-lift spaceplane. In the long run-” “No, no, no,” Edsel interrupted. “Quit spouting nonsense.” “For the benefit of the engineers in the room,” Jeb continued, raising his voice, “in the long run, we envision an orbital depot assembled by this heavy-lift spaceplane, with a smaller counterpart at the Mun and nuclear ferries running between these two stations. At each end there will be fuel depots and labs, and enough room to support fifteen kerbals on the Kerbin end and six kerbals on the Munar end. Crust research from the current Munbase suggests that at the edge of some of the larger impact craters, we could find ice. A newer, larger munar surface base will be placed there, with four times the lab space and a massive refinery and a fleet of ferries to convert the ice to rocket fuel and ship it up to the orbital station. There will also be a large rover for overland research expeditions along the crater. With this system, we could cut our operating costs thirty percent while boosting our revenue from research contracts. After about thirty years, this infrastructure would be in place and within a decade we would have enough cash reserves on hand to send a mission to Duna. At the same time , we would be using each of these spaceplanes to increase our turnaround on satellite missions; in the next two decades, we expect the overall satellite market to quadruple as more companies rely on high-speed, long-distance telecom for their day-to-day operations.” Jeb took a breath. “Anything else to add?” Val stood and reached into a manila folder. “Edsel, we’ve compiled cost reports, market forecasts, and a three-decade master plan all typed up for you. The only thing you need to do is sign this budget authorization sheet, and commit to some red ink for a few years. We’ve just come out of a recession, so we should be able to run some deficits for a while as the economy grows.” Val held her arm out; a single bead of sweat ran down her brow despite the chill in the drafty conference room. In her hand, she held a choice of futures. If Edsel made the right decision, kerbals would find a new home among the stars. As Val contemplated what would happen if he handed the manila folder back to her, her mind filled with visions of brutal Cletroit winters, repeating thirty or so times until one final nuclear winter descended over the land. Val could still remember surviving it once before, and she would do anything to leave Kerbin before then. “No,” Edsel said, “that won’t do at all. Don’t you have any respect for the shareholders?” He set the folder down in front of him and began walking over to the wall. “Modern business is a simple matter of maximizing short-term profits as much as we can,” he explained, turning off the lights in the room. “I’ve made a slideshow to help you envision some designs I’d like you to get working on. They’re a few simple things that we can build without any budget.” He brought up a slide. “Look at this.” Val gasped. Gene swore. Wernher jumped out of his chair. “Good Kraken!” he shouted. “Look at this thing! What have you done, drawn wings on the Raven service module?” Edsel smiled. “Yep. I figure, if we can keep costs down on boosters and land the service module back at the KSC, then we’ve just saved a ton of money. You know, it’s like those spaceplanes you kept talking about.” “But… but… but…” Val sputtered. “It’s a service module. How will it survive re-entry?” “Coat it with ablative heat shielding,” Edsel suggested. “That won’t work,” Val sighed. “What about the solar panels? What about the RCS ports? With the command module attached, this thing will have a glide ratio of…” Bill looked up. “Assuming we keep the same size engine, some back-of-the-napkin math gives me a glide ratio of… zero point nine to one.” “A glide ratio of less than one?” Val shouted. “That doesn’t even count as flying! It’s going to take a boatload of money to refurbish this thing after flight, we’re going to add a ton of weight with longitudinal braces for the wings and the landing gear, and the engine weighs more than the rest of the ship combined, so no matter how far back we move the wings it’s going to be super unstable… and I don’t see any vertical stabilizers. This thing will go into a hypersonic spin at forty kilometers. It’s a death trap!” “Relax,” Edsel told her. “You’ve been selected to fly the first mission.” “Really? Well, then I guess I’m going to die.” Wernher stared at the diagram. “This looks like something a sixth-grader would draw in the back of his pre-algebra textbook. You, sir, are nothing more than a fancy suit filled with bull-” He fell silent a set of double doors burst open at the end of the room. “Okay, okay, don’t panic,” Sunny shouted into her cell phone. “I’m here. I’ll let him know.” She stared down at the table at Gene. “Your bird’s in trouble,” she told him. “Come save it.”
  4. Cyclical synchronizer-desynchronizer semirandomized self-repeating assembly array Lettuce
  5. Chapter 12- Say Nice Things About Cletroit -----Dedicated to Aleksei Leonov, 1934-2019----- Physician Name: Robert Alfred Kerman Patient Name: Jebediah Beto Kerman Address 1: 289 Sycamore Ln. City: Rockville Province or territory: Pontchartin Address 2 (use at patient’s request): 100 Booster Bay Rd. (Apt. 7) City: Juno’s Landing Province or territory: Pascua Date Admitted: 09-17-93 Symptoms: Slurred speech, staggering gait, limited awareness Diagnosis: Stroke, partial paralysis Medication: Preptizone blood thinner- 100 mg by mouth with water twice a day Outpatient treatment: Continue Preptizone treatment and rehabilitation at home in Cletroit and at Rockville Clinic Special considerations: Patient suffers degraded emotional state due to loss of mobility and recent death of longtime friend Valentina. Recommend contacting primary physician in Rockville and requesting psychiatric history, with possible grief counseling. Patient’s friends seem caring, but are emotionally absent due to stress at work, particularly recent departure of a beloved boss named Gene. Additional notes: The patient is currently employed for the Bloeting Corporation as an astronaut. Please contact Dr. Sanjay Kerman at Cletroit General Medical Center and forward him Jeb’s treatment and rehabilitation plan. Also contact the Bloeting headquarters in Crystal City and the KSP2 campus in Rockville for further advice on re-qualifying Jebediah for spaceflight. We believe that it would be highly beneficial for the patient’s emotional and mental state if he returned to active duty as soon as possible. The patient expressed his desire to fly a mission to Munbase and his frustration that his boss always assigns him to ‘routine’ flights to the Cuyahoga space station; contact Bloeting CEO Edsel Kerman in Crystal City and advise him to place Jeb up high in the crew rosters for deep-space missions as soon as he is re-certified for flight. I, Jebediah Beto Kerman, have read the attached documents and confirm that I am of suitable mind and body to care for myself outside of this hospital. I will seek additional medical care for any new medical problems and will obey any and all medical advice given to me by the staff of this hospital, my primary physician’s practice, or the staff any other medical facility I am admitted to. Signed, Jebediah Beto Kerman Date of Discharge: 10-28-93 Valentina A. Kerman Memorial Hospital – 1700 Central Avenue, Juno’s Landing, Pascua ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Two years earlier... Val sighed as she lugged her cardboard box down a windowless hallway that still smelled of fresh paint and plaster floating in the air. She shivered in her new winter jacket and looked at the thermostat at the wall. Sixty-three degrees, she read. I bet I can turn that up… “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” she heard a voice call just as she was about to touch the dial. “Haven’t you read your employee policy?” Val turned and groaned as she saw Edsel approach her from the stairwell. “What employee policy?” Val asked. “I already signed everything K.R. gave me.” “Really? You never signed this?” Edsel reached into a folder he was carrying and pulled out a single document. Val noticed that even though it was perforated down the sides, like it had come from a drum printer, the manuscript was actually mimeographed. “Read Section,” Edsel told her, opening the booklet. Thermostat Policy Employees level Deputy-Assistant-Secretary to the Vice President and below are fordibben from touching the thermostat. If any common employee adjusts the thermostat, they shall be punished by having lunch with Edsel. Note: Employees are permitted to make their offices colder in the winter or warmer in the summer. “What is this?” Val asked. “A subsection of our climate control policy,” Edsel replied. “Read this, right here…” Window Policy It is a privilege for employees to have natural lighting and a secondary fire-escape route in their office, not a right. If an employee allows heat to enter the building (in the summer) or to exit the building (in the winter), then their window shall be covered with plywood and immediately ground into bits to use as stuffing in beanbag chairs in Edsel's office. Note: This penalty applies regardless of if you have opened your window or the blinds. Val glanced at Edsel. “Well, Mister Comic Sans, I think thermodynamics has a bone to pick with some of your plans.” “I’d like to see entropy try and unionize,” Edsel scoffed. “Since I took over from my father as CEO, the profitiblity of this company has plummeted, and what I say in this office goes!” Val rolled her eyes and continued the trek to her office. “Well,” Edsel continued, talking to the empty space where Val had been standing, “I hope we had a fruitful and productive inquisition. I’m off now to receive a delivery for a new top-notch product called a Segway. Looks like my days of walking around like a fool are over! Oh, and Val? One last thing?” Val turned around. “Don’t forget your coat when you go home. The high temperature today is negative five degrees Fahrenheit. Or, as we call it, 'Cletroit Summer!' Have a nice first day at Bloeting, Val!” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Jeb: I miss the Bungalow. Bob: You’ve said that four times already. Jeb: I miss Juno’s Landing. Bill: I know. Bob: At least this place is warm. I swear when I got in my car I had to use a towel to soak up some oxygen that had liquified on the driver’s seat. And then I had to walk like five blocks just to get to this bar- Jeb: You did? I found a spot right out front. Bill: Really? Jeb: Yeah. All the snow was cleared out and everything! I just had to move some chair that was in the way, and I was good to go. Bob (sighing): Jeb, people put those chairs out on the street to reserve a spot after they spend hours shoveling all the snow out of the way. The first rule of driving in a northern city is never move the chair. Jeb: Oh, that’s just some myth. My parents used to live in Mayberry and I never heard them say anything about- Bartender: Hey! It’s him! It’s that [CENSORED] who took my spot! Get ‘im, boys! Jeb: Gotta run! [Footsteps are heard sprinting through the bar and out through the door. The howl of a winter wind rushes through the bar as the door squeaks on its hinges, and then dies down.] Bartender: Eh, he ran away. So, what can I get you folks? Bill: What kind of microbrews do you have on tap? Bartender: Micro-whats? Val: Microbrews. Bartender: What-brews? Bob: Okay, scratch that. Do you at least have any dark beers? Bartender: We’ve got Budhauser, Budhauser Lite, and Budhauser Blue Ribbon. Don’t know if that’s what you’re lookin’ for… Bob: I’ll just have a water. Val: Hey, buddy, can I ask you a question? Bartender: Fire away. Val: My friends and I just moved here from the tropics. Can you give us some tips on what to do if the pilot light goes out on our furnace? Bartender: Sure things. Eh, what’s your name? Val: I’m Val. That’s Bill, and Bob, and the guy who just ran out the door is Jeb. Cut him some slack; he’s kind of got his head in the clouds. Bartender: Sure thing, Val. Name’s Bryan. Now, with that pilot light, the first thing you gotta do is take the front panel off your furnace… Bill: Uh-huh. Bartender: Get in there with a match, or maybe a lighter… Bill: Uh-huh. Bartender: And then give up and call a repairman. You’ll never get that pilot light lit again, not unless… well, how old is your heating system? Bob: Our employer paid for our furnaces, so I’m guessing they were manufactured sometime before the Orchidian-Sierran War. Bartender: Yeah, you’re [CENSORED]. That pilot light will go out on you like that. My advice is to stock up on some wood and learn how to build a fire. Don’t forget to open the flue in your fireplace, though. Bill: What’s a flue? Val: It’s a… thing… that does… fireplace stuff. Right? Bartender: Close enough. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Jeb stumbled out of the bar past the angry mob beating his car with a wooden chair and folded his arms tight across his chest, shivering as a cold wind blew down the alley. He looked up at the stars, past layers of dark grey clouds, and tried to remember the city lights of Juno's Landing. As he did, a single snowflake landed in his eyelashes; snow was piled up at the sides of the streets, but this was the first snowstorm to pass through Rockville since Jeb had arrived. He craned his neck higher, and above the bitter wind and the rumble of distant traffic he heard a faint roar. Turning, he saw a jet low on the horizon, climbing through its takeoff from the airport where Jeb had climbed down the steps from a cargo plane just two days ago. Those two days felt like a year, and as Jeb squinted he could see the Alliance Air logo on the tail. He watched the plane as it began a long turn to the southwest and pictured it returning to its hub in Juno's Landing, the crew stepping out into the humid air and coming home to their families in air-conditioned as a full Mun shone above. Jeb tried to look for the Mun, but it was hidden behind a grey cloud. The jet also began to pass through wisps of cloud, but as it disappeared into the cold night, Jeb could just barely make out the details of how the engines were mounted and how the navigation lights were positioned; both were slightly different than how they appeared on the planes rolling off the Kontinental assembly line. It figures, Jeb told himself, and he wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. That jet's a Bloeting.
  6. Here you go! I've broken my "thousand words is worth a picture" rule against images and given you a map. It's ultra-zoomable, which is good, because some of the names of the cities are hard to read. Also, if anybody's wondering, the base layer I used to make this map came from an image @DrLicor posted here.
  7. Chapter 11- Don’t Go Back to Rockville By sunrise, Jeb was wide awake. The red glow of his alarm clock cast pale shadows across the room and mingled with the sunlight meshing through the drapes. Down below the loft, in Jeb’s workshop, all the half-completed projects and inventions had been disassembled, their parts packed away in plastic tubs and crates, and the crates loaded in the back of a truck. The roar of jet engines was constant, and Jeb could picture the jumbo jets taxiing outside, filled with the most delicate and important aerospace tooling ever developed, ready to begin their marathon relay between Crystal City and Juno’s Landing. Beneath the whine of the jets, there was the rumble of semi trucks as they began their cross-country trek, across mountains and through deserts. With a barely audible click, Jeb’s alarm clock flicked over to the top of the hour, but before the radio even came on he punched the snooze button, yanked the plug out of the wall, and dropped the clock in a suitcase. He got out of bed, already dressed, shoved his feet into a pair of tennis shoes, zipped the suitcase, and carried it down from the loft and out into the tropical sunrise. He joined Bill on the porch, closed in on one side by a caravan of trucks, some heading to the port, others to the rail yards and a few beginning the hours-long drive to Crystal City, and on the other by cargo jets lining up on the runway. “Goodbye hurricane-drenched radioactive suburban swampland,” Jeb muttered, “and hello movie stars, endless sunsets, and redwood trees. Think about it, Bill. All through high school, before the war, we wanted to get out of Los Ruidos, out to the big city- Crystal City! Cottonwood! Bel-Pair!” “But Juno’s Landing is our home now, Jeb.” “I know,” Jeb sighed. He got up and Bill followed him to his office- still fully furnished, as he knew he would need to come back to Juno for every launch and to keep quality control up to the old standards. “You grab what you need here,” Bill told Jeb. “I’m going down to the flight line and getting our jet ready for the flight. See you there.” As he walked away, he heard the phone ring for a few seconds before Jeb picked up. The conversation went like this: “Hello, you’ve reached Jebediah Beto Ker… Oh, hey, Lucy. What’s… Are you serious? But we’ve got airplanes and boats and trains and trucks! We can’t just have all of them turn around… It’s not the bill I’m worried about, it’s the logistics of… hello?” Jeb ran to catch up with Bill and swore. “Oh, you are not going to believe this.” “Try me.” “So it turns out Edsel Kerman-” Bill stopped. “Hold it. Edsel? He was like three hundred years old last time we saw him, and that was back in the ‘60s. How can he still be alive?” “No, this is his son. So, Lucy just got a call from Edsel Jr., and he says he’s changed his mind. He wants KSC2 in Rockville.” “Rockville… what’s that, just some suburb of Crystal City? I’m sure we can truck everything over-” Jeb shook his head. “No, no, no, that would just make too much sense. Rockville is three thousand miles from Crystal City, up in the northwest. It’s a suburb of Cletroit.” “We’re going to have to live in Cletroit?” “Yep.” “You mean the city that has lost three million manufacturing jobs in the last eighteen months?” “Yep.” “You mean the city that gets forty feet of snow every winter, the city that has had five mayors in the last seven years, the city with a football team that hasn’t won a single game in this decade, the city where the river caught fire sixteen times?” “Yep, yep, and yep.” Bill frowned. “I think my grandparents used to live there. Well, let’s go.” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ As Val shoved her luggage into the little cargo pod in the belly of the K-37, she closed her eyes and listened to the waves rolling across the distant beach. Jeb and Bill had Los Ruidos, and Bob had Mayberry, but Val had been on the move her whole life and had never really felt like she had any hometown before. Even the station at Gilly just blended in as the latest of endless truckstops and deadbeat towns she’d holed up in for a few months, but Juno’s Landing… she’d fallen in love with the city. Well, she reminded herself, of all the places in Orchidia, Crystal City is the one most like Juno’s Landing. Her radio crackled. “All aircraft at KSC center…,” Bob called, “all aircraft at KSC center… This is tower. We’ve just got word of a change of plans. Immediately after departure, turn right heading 078 and fly north of Juno to waypoint Victor, then turn heading 052 and take that all the way to Cletroit Metropolitan Airport. Apparently, some rich idiot who’s also our boss thinks we should have our new headquarters in some lousy northwestern city. Lousy corporate bigwig thinks he’s so… whaddya mean, this is an official frequency? I have to… ow! Hey! This infringes on my right to- Ouch! Fine, I’ll get off the air. Sheesh, give it a…” Shaking her head, Val climbed up the steps into her jet, closed the canopy, and taxied over to the end of a long line of jets waiting to abandon their tropical home. One by one, they rumbled down the runway and took to the skies reluctantly until finally only Val was left, staring at the exhaust of a cargo jet as it banked left over the ocean. Grasping the throttles in her hand, she took a deep breath and waited as the afterburners shoved her back into her seat. The VAB and the control tower flashed by and then the jet was airborne, with the wheels already pulled up and Juno’s Landing flashing by outside the canopy. Val saw trains and freighter ships unloading their containers at the port and tiny cars like toys lining the highways, the morning sunlight glinting on and off of them as they rounded the curves of the Interprov, merging and shifting like a metal river of lemmings. And then the jet went into a cloud, and Val saw nothing else. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Bob: Flaps twenty. Lucy: Mhm. Bob: Do you think you’ll miss Juno’s Landing? Lucy: I’ll miss working for Mortimer. Edsel Kerman was a lousy boss, and his son’s just plain stupid. You’re gonna be surprised by what you see once we land. Tower: Bloeting Charter 2971, turn right heading 170 and maintain until runway in sight. Lucy: Looks like fog and freezing rain in Cletroit today. That’s what the weather report says, anyway. Bob: I forgot to pack any long-sleeved shirts. Lucy: I don’t own any. Bob: Hey, look… a gap in the clouds. Lucy: Farmland, suburbs, grey office towers, and a giant frozen lake. This is a Northwestern city, all right. I can see the hopelessness from here. Bob: Gear down. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Gene shivered as he stepped out the door of the jumbo jet. “Come on,” he told Wernher. “Let’s get my bag out of the cargo hold so I can get my jacket.” Wernher shook his head as he followed Gene down the staircase. “So this is what winter feels like. I miss the hurricanes already.” Over the whine of the cold winter wind, Gene heard a motor. “Look over there,” he whispered. Wernher followed his gaze. “Now, come on,” he complained. “What kind of jerk needs a double-decker limousine?” The moonroof on the top deck of the limousine rolled open, and a kerbal with unkempt blonde hair shoved his head out. “Hello, onlookers! My name is Edsel Kerman, Jr.!” “Yeah, we’re onlookers, all right,” Gene muttered as the car crept along the tarmac. “Hello, Edsel! Can we catch a lift in your limo? We’re cold.” “Why, yes, I suppose you two could partake in my magnificence,” Edsel replied. “Just give my driver time to stop.” Edsel’s chauffer slammed on the brakes, and the limo came to a dead stop in a little under fifteen seconds. “Welcome aboard my ride,” Edsel said as he opened one of the bottom doors for Gene and Wernher. “Like my limo? I call it the Inertiameister.” Wernher looked around. “Does it have satellite navigation?” “Yeah,” Edsel replied absentmindedly, “it has a satellite, but I think I sold it. Come on over here to the fireplace and we can chat.” “Well,” Gene murmured, “we really should be getting back to our employees, but I suppose we could discuss-” “Hold it.” Edsel looked over his driver’s shoulder. “We’re down to three-quarters of a tank. Start looking for a gas station or we’ll run out of fuel in about five minutes. Then once we’re done doing that we can head over to the KSC2 campus,” he explained to Gene and Wernher. “It’s about ninety minutes from here.” Wernher sat up in his chair. “Ninety?” “Yeah, decentralization is key.” Gene looked around the massive limousine, noticing for the first time the fish tank that wrapped around under the seats and the chandelier dangling next to the grand piano. “Yeah,” he replied. “I guess it is.”
  8. Intermission The following audio was taken from a recording held in a meeting at the KSC the morning before Bloeting was scheduled to officially purchase the Kontinental Space Program. Wernher: All right, in twenty-four hours, we will begin to move all of our hardware to the KSC2 campus in Crystal City. We have chartered five jumbo jets from Global United Shipping, and we have two of our own A-200s to transfer smaller cargo like archives and computers. These jets will spend the whole day making coast-to-coast flights between Juno's Landing and Crystal City. The ATC at Juno Intercontinental Airport has assured me that they have restructured their approach paths so that we can use our runway all day long, so we shouldn't have any delays. Gene, how are trucks coming? Gene: About a hundred of our engineers are unmarried or are otherwise scheduled to be making the move alone. We reached out to them, and most said they'd be thrilled to help drive semis down I-70 to Crystal City. Of course, we've also chartered for extra carrying capacity with GUS, and of course we've prearranged for a convoy of all the oversized cargo that we couldn't fit on the airplanes. Wernher: Excellent. Now, moving on to employee transport and housing... How's that going? Mortimer: My HR team tells me they've chartered two jumbo jets from Trans-Orchidian to take our employees to Crystal City. Once they get there, there will be shuttles for those who chose to move into the Bloeting temporary housing and we'll be paying the cab fare for those families who've already found houses. Gene: So, this is it. Thirty-five years of reaching for the stars, doing the impossible... it all ends tonight. I assume we'll see you all at the party in the VAB? Mortimer: Actually, my helicopter's outside, I've got to run. Good luck, all my best, and I hope someday I can make this up to you. Val (muttering): Yeah, right, you lying [CENSORED]. Wernher: Oh, okay... Uh, Sunny, anything to report on your end? Sunny: No, just a ton of reporters from the Juno Herald trying to figure out if this move will destroy the local economy. Bill: And...? Sunny: Yeah, well, it's not going to be pretty. The KSP made Juno into what it is today. Hopefully, enough corporations moved their headquartes here to make everything sustainable without us, but I'm worried they might just move out of all those pretty skyscrapers in Pine Valley and come to Crystal City with us, seeing as how it's about to become the center of the engineering world and all. If that happens, then the city's pretty much living on borrowed time as more and more people move out, the local service economy collapses, and the Port of Juno gets relocated somewhere with more business- again, probably Crystal City. Once that happens, everybody left in the city is doomed. Val: Bob: Jeb: Oh my Kraken. Sunny: But, like, that's just the worst-case scenario. Juno's Landing is already established as a global trade hub, so the corporations will probably stay, especially since with the mayor and Governer Fitz up in arms about JRT funding and Silver Creek repair money, neither of them ever bothered to close the massive tax loopholes that Juno is famous for. In fact, that's why when we asked the mayor and the state for a bailout, to keep us from moving away, they said no: All the money was either going to JRT or to Silver Creek, and there wasn't going to be any more money because we were the only company that actually paid their fair share of taxes. Bob: JRT's really that bad? Sunny: You have no idea. Just last week, half the trains had to be sent back to the factory in Finchernia. Bob: So… that’s it. All the loose ends are tied up, this is the end of the line. The good, the bad, the tragic, it all ends up here. Jeb: I will admit, KSC2 holds promise. The promise of a new start, the promise to have the resources of the world’s largest aerospace firm backing us up, the promise to reform and set the standards of an entire industry. Think of what we can do with Bloeting’s empire! But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little sad. Val: I agree. No matter what happens next, KSC2 is the future, and we’re going to have to shift our focus there, our lives there. KSC2 will take us into the thirty-first century, and hopefully we can pick up some of the old Bloeting projects and build a newer rocket, a sleeker rocket, and finally replace the Moas we’ve been using for thirty years. On the other hand… culturally, we’re going to be giving something up. I’m worried that we’ll get to Crystal City and the game-plan is going to be the same, but the thrill will be gone. Bill: And I’m still not sure if going along with KSC2 is something I really want to do, just a way to try to get back to a misplaced past, or just business savvy. I guess we’ll just have to give it a try… We probably won’t like it as much, because this whole time our standards for our work have been getting higher and higher, but without KSC2 the whole KSP would die. And at the end of the day, we’re still astronauts and engineers, setting our lives around building and flying things that have never been built before. Jeb: I think what you’re trying to say, Bill, is that KSC2 is like a sequel. It might be better, it might be worse, it probably won’t have the same charm or originality that made the KSP great. Unless it's fed purely by corporate greed, it'll still probably be worth checking out, although like any project it's going to have its flaws. But we either have to take it or lose out on the KSP forever- and that’s the easiest choice I’ve ever had to make.
  9. Chapter 10- Jeb Lived to See the Day So, this is it. Jeb looked out at the Mun as the capsule floated around to the dark side of Kerbin and focused on the edge of the crater where Munbase had been set up. For nearly two years now, constant flights back and forth between Kerbin and the Munar surface had helped to develop a permanently habituated settlement on the satellite that, Jeb knew, would continue up until it was abandoned during the recession and nuclear wars that would be arriving in barely a quarter-century. Because of Minnmus’s highly inclined orbit, the bases there were more scientific curiosities and military outposts than the great, sprawling city that Munbase Two would become. And Jeb would inadvertently help destroy it. “Everything I do,” he moaned, “it ends up going all wrong sooner or later.” The radio crackled. “Jeb,” a faint voice called, “are you there?” “Who is this?” “It’s Gene and Wernher. We think we’ve got you a deal to get you back home without getting arrested.” “All right. Lay it… hold on. Isn’t it the middle of the night in Juno?” “Yep. We’ve been up all evening talking to President Regarn. Air Force One is parked outside. Anyway, Regarn said that if you help the CIA and the FBI with information about the Tuteran smugglers, you’ll get his pardon.” Jeb frowned. “Doesn’t it have to be a federal crime to get a presidential pardon?” “You did commit a federal crime, first by conspiring to sell military jets you didn’t own and then trespassing on the Silver Creek exclusion zone.” “Yeah, well, that’s how I roll. I’ll see ya back-” “Stop.” Jeb could tell that Wernher was talking now. “Jeb, we want you to… cool down. No more car chases, no more daredevil piloting, no more living on the edge.” Jeb laughed. “You guys, I’m an astronaut. I’m supposed to be able to stare down anything that comes my way and laugh in the face of danger.” “Jeb.” Gene was talking now. “Do you know how hard it is for me, whenever you fly, to keep you grounded in reality even though you’re weightless and to keep your head out of the clouds even though you’re miles above them? Whenever Bill, or Bob, or Val steps in the capsule, they are astronauts and I am a mission controller. Whenever you fly, I spend the entire shift trying to keep you from killing everybody else.” “But… I’m a great pilot. I’m a greatest pilot that ever lived.” Wernher sighed. “That attitude is what we’re talking about. You may have survived some impossible stuff, but all you really do is turn fatal crashes into something you can walk away from. You have crashed more planes than any other test pilot in the world and it could be that you and you alone are the whole reason for Kontinental’s budget problems. It’s time to stop having fun and time to get to work, like a real adult.” “Now, hold on. You’re trying to take away what makes me… me… and I never thought you two would betray me like this. Frankly, it hurts.” “Frankly, Jeb, you’ve brought this upon yourself. Sure, Val may have conspired with terrorists, but I personally think that it was just her desperate attempt to save the company she loves so much. Meanwhile, you have done so much harm to the KSC, with your shenanigans, your bulletproof attitude… we’re starting to get tired of cleaning up after you.” “Well,” Jeb said softly, “that’s just who I am.” “I know,” Gene replied, “but you, you’ve done tens of thousands of dollars of damage to the launchpad and ruined an entire mission to the Cuyahoga.” “Yeah; that’s how I operate.” “Well, it’s not how we operate. We run this space program, not you. We’ve sacrificed so much, we’ve done the paperwork, and you stuck the flag in the Mun and called it a day. Just think about that for a while. Raven, Juno, LOS in three, two, one…” Jeb turned the radio off as Bill stirred behind him. “What time is it?” “Early,” Jeb replied. “Who was that on the radio?” “Gene and Wernher. They say we’ve got a presidential pardon. Listen, can I ask you something?” Bill raised an eyebrow. “Fire away.” “We’ve been best friends for close to a hundred years, since fourth grade. You were my only friend through high school, and you were like a brother to me, the brother I never had. Can you tell me who I am?” Bill smiled. “You’re a fine pilot, a fun person to be around and you look out for yourself and your friends. Your overwhelming priority is enjoying life to its fullest.” “But, like… go deeper. Am I a good person? Why am I so focused on looking out for me and you and treating life like a big game?” Bill looked Jeb in the eyes. “I don’t know, Jeb. You never talked to me about things like that. Mostly we just talked about whatever was happening that day: A baseball game, a nuclear war, whatever.” “So, mostly, we just enjoy each other’s company?” Bill frowned. “Yeah, I guess so. But we’ve been through so much together, I think there’s some things that just go unsaid.” Jeb sighed. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m hiding myself from me. Maybe I should settle down, look at life like something that should be pondered, not enjoyed.” Bill glanced at Jeb. “Whoa, there. Be careful, now. Don’t mistake what makes you you and what’s just part of the image that everybody else sees. Like, I know that you have an unmistakable drive to explore, to find something that’s too impossible to exist, and you’ll feel happy because it’s like a secret you have, that you saw it. Maybe you can stop looking at flying as an excuse to gamble with your life for fun and instead something that you can look back at when you’re old and you can say, ‘This is what I did, and I did it better than anybody else’.” Jeb nodded. “Yeah. I think you… wow. It’s taken me nine decades to figure that out, and you just got it in a few minutes.” He looked out at Kerbin. “Come on, let’s go home.” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ [A telephone rings.] Lucy: Hello, you have reached Lucy Kerman’s office. What can I do for you? [Unintelligible.] Lucy: Glad to hear it. Air Force One landed at Los Ruidos about an hour ago and Regarn’s motorcade is about to get to the reservation… right, sorry, I meant Pueblo. Hold on, let me put you on speaker. Bill: Chief Una took us back to his house at Teneh’lo and he’s spent a while setting up a big fancy desk for the President to sign our pardon, or plea deal, or whatever. Also, he’s got some of that ceremonial piñon tea brewing in the back room, but I’m not sure he’s planning on giving any to Regarn. I take it he’s not really a fan of the President. Nothing personal, I don’t think, he just doesn’t really like any kerbal who- Lucy: Bill, focus. Do you need any recovery helicopters? Bill: No, we’ll hitch a ride when they come to pick up the Raven. It’s about two miles northeast of here, by an old windmill. You can probably… Hang on a minute. Yeah? Are you sure it’s him? All right, I’ll get off the phone. Uh, I have to go now, Stella. Lucy: Why? Bill: Because, President Regarn is here. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ A pen was uncapped, flashbulbs popped, and like that, the President was on his way back to Mayberry. Jeb watched the motorcade as it meandered down the dirt road back to the Los Ruidos airport, shaking his head as it went. “He may have saved my back a few times,” Jeb announced, “but he’s the first step down a long road that leads to nuclear war.” “You tend to be somewhat pessimistic in that regard,” Chief Una said, coming up behind him. “But I agree with you. All Regarn’s ever done is call us ‘Native Orchidians’ and act like he’s some big hero just for stealing some lame phrase like ‘trust and verify’ from the Tuterans. I say, if he’s such a great person, why doesn’t he stop talking about the ‘Native Orchidians’ and start using our ancient name?” Val walked up. “What is that name?” she asked timidly. “Teneh’macate. It means ‘kerbals of the turquoise’.” “Hey,” Val said suddenly, “I’ve just noticed you’re one of the youngest kerbals we’ve seen since we got here. Last time there were children all over. What’s up with that?” Chief Una sighed. “The younger generation has decided that this is not the life for them. They wish to get out into the world, to see it, and to live in it. They have decided to sacrifice their heritage and strike out a new path, to create a life not of natural harmony but of accomplishment and pride, of fulfilment and contentment. To sum up, the younger kerbals have moved to the cities, went to college, started partying, got jobs, and forgot about life here in Teneh’lo.” “But,” Jeb replied, “why can’t you do anything? Your heritage is sacred and beautiful. You can’t let tribal life die.” “Can’t I?” Chief Una strode over to a nearby ledge and watched a pair of eagles soaring on updrafts over a river valley. “The fact of the matter is,” he began, facing away from Jeb and Val, “tribal life has always been in flux, changing and shifting with the land, the weather, and now the cultural omniverse of the United Territories of Orchidia. It just so happens that this last change is almost a terminal one. Even if I wanted to do anything to prevent it, I cannot change fate any more than the minds of kerbals; I will die and they will carry on in the same way as they have been.” “But…” Val asked, “you do feel a little sad, don’t you?” Chief Una beckoned for her and Jeb to come where she was standing on the edge of the cliff. “Look out there,” he gestured at the valley. “Tell me what you see.” “Cottonwood trees. I see cottonwood trees, and grasses, and…” Jeb gasped. “I even see a few aspens.” Val frowned. “What’s up with you? Bob told me that you were awful at identifying different types of wood.” “Wood, Val. He said wood, not trees. I can do trees just fine, and what I see are lots of water-thirsty trees and grasses growing right in the middle of Orchidia’s largest desert.” Chief Una nodded. “I’m afraid so. The last time you were here, you nearly drowned when the Mogollon Canal was built. Now, with a new river straight from Crystal City to the sea, the desert is turning into a prairie and even that is being polluted by the tanker ships heading between the sea and Crystal City. So, I think that perhaps it is a good thing that the younger generation has no idea what we’re losing, because when I think about it…” Chief Una stopped, and looked out across the hills like he was seeing them for the first time. “The Painted Desert has been the home of my people for a hundred generations. Now, the most sacred place on Kerbin has disappeared.” He turned around. “You might take a lesson from this. Just like this pueblo will soon cease to exist, you must accept that you have lost your fight to keep Bloeting from buying the KSP. Accept this as a bad turn of fate, pack up, and move to their headquarters in Crystal City. Don’t struggle, because you have just seen how that wound up.”
  10. Chapter 9 From Outer Space Jeb sullenly stared, eyes sunken, mind retreating, at the two bars stretching out in front of him- only a few feet long, but it may as well have been miles. Come on, you can do it. Jeb looked around and realized that there was no way out of here, no way out of the basement of the Montoya County Hospital Neurology Ward except the elevator past the end of the bars. He lifted his right arm onto the bar, shifted all of his weight out of the wheelchair onto his good leg, and tried to nudge his left arm onto the other bar. No luck. You’ve walked on the Mun three times. You can do it. He stumbled around on his right side, inching along with his right arm and leg. Ten more feet… six more feet… You can’t not do it. Jeb’s right foot missed its mark, and he fell, swinging around onto his right side until he let go of the bar. “Ow.” The nurse came over. “That’s all right, hon. We can try again later, mm-kay?” She helped him into a wheelchair and shoved it into the elevator. “They’ll pick you back up on level three, hon,” she told Jeb as the door slammed closed. Jeb groaned and turned to the other passenger in the elevator, a middle-aged kerbal with a cane in his hand. “I swear, she says things like ‘hon’ just to make sure I really wanna get out of here. What are you in for?” “Name’s Will,” the passenger said. “I had an aneurysm and they had to operate right away. I’m getting released tomorrow.” Jeb whistled. “Lucky you. I just had a stroke when my friend Bob was picking me up from the airport after a business trip for Bloeting. We’re both astronauts, you see. I’m… Jeb Kerman.” “Really? No fooling?” Will held out a slip of paper. “Can I get an autograph?” Jeb nodded at his bad arm. “Sorry; I’m a lefty. So, what do you do?” “Oh, I’m a drummer in a rock band. In fact, I was on stage when I collapsed… Now I’m not sure if I even want to stay in my band. I’ve really been trying to figure out if I’m in it for the music, or if I just can’t figure out what to do if I’m not some rock star trying to escape reality by distracting myself with the fame and fortune,” Will sighed. “Well, things could be a lot worse, I guess. I could be locked up in the psychology wing, strapped to the bed with some kind of disease with a name like Hannibal Lecter Syndrome.” The elevator dinged and the door opened. “Yeah, well, things could be a lot better,” Jeb replied. “This is my floor.” “What do you mean, things could be a lot bet-” Will yelled as the door closed. Jeb shook his head as another nurse rolled his wheelchair down the hall. “Well, things could be a lot more interesting, Will. Oh, you have no idea.” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Five years earlier…. Gene: All stations, flight director is now Gene S. Kerman with White Team. Timer? Timer: Go, Flight. Gene: That clock can’t be right, can it? Aren’t we supposed to launch in three hours? Timer: We’ve started using the Bloeting countdown system. There’s an extra launch hold at two and a half hours. Gene: Another proud KSP tradition down the tubes. All right, let’s get this over with. CAPCOM, please see if the closeout crew has… hold on, I’m getting a phone call from the pad. Hello? What? What? What? How the [CENSORED] did… Oh, Jeb is always… You mean Val did this? But she’s not an idiot like Jeb, isn’t that the[CENSORED] point? All right, I’ll bail you out this time. Pad leader, Flight? Wernher: Go, flight. Gene: Jeb just called from the base of the tower. He is being chased by… uh, gangsters and terrorists, and he needs to use the Moa to make a getaway. Wernher: Ah, good old Jeb. Gene: So, we were thinking you should get your crew out of the tower right away. Wernher: Sure thing. We’ll head to the baskets. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Val looked up as she pressed the call button on the pad elevator, distracted by a screech that filled the air as a yellow cable car rocketed down on a wire from the top of the launch tower and slammed into a net a few hundred feet away. Shaken, the engineers inside climbed out and began filing into a few trucks parked nearby, to begin the long drive back to Mission Control to watch the launch ahead of schedule. Jeb walked over. “I just got off the phone with Gene. He says the pad workers have just gone down the baskets.” Val nodded. “I saw them. They’ll be safe.” “Also, Gene says that the tanks are only eighty percent full.” “So?” Bob shrugged. “It’s a Munar rocket. More than enough fuel to take us somewhere far away from here.” Bill shook his head. “I’m worried about balance. There’s no telling how responsive or how stable the rocket will be in-atmosphere if the propellants are sloshing around or if the staging go off on time. We might have to fly the whole thing by hand, and the last time that happened we ended up in the middle of the Painted Desert.” The elevator dinged and Bob tensed as he heard sets of combat boots running up to the door at the end of the hallway. “Hurry!” he yelled, and shoved Val into the elevator before piling in himself. Bill darted in, but Jeb hung back and grabbed a wrench from a tool rack. “What are you doing?” “Don’t worry about it,” he said, and smashed a valve on the wall. Val grabbed Jeb and pulled him into the elevator just as she heard the distant roar of water pouring into the flame bucket, the crack of the pad access door being ripped from its hinges, and the shouts of Tuteran smugglers spilling into the hallway. Bill looked around nervously. “I think I hear the sound suppression system starting up. Is the Moa about to start up?” “No,” Jeb replied. “I smashed the valve. It’s so that-” The elevator doors dinged. “C’mon!” They ran out onto the top of the tower, shying away from the gaping holes in the wall where the slide-wire baskets used to be and picked up another phone. “Gene, how’s it going?” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Gene set the phone down. “All stations, get me a tiger team. Get me Lucy, Sam, and some software guys. Unfortunately, our best engineers are currently up on the tower. It’s our job to save their skins this one time and chew them out when they get back.” He spun his chair around as his first assistant, Sam, ran up. “Sam. You’re our best engineer behind only Wernher and I’m still sad that we thought you were our mole back in the ‘60s. We need to figure out a way to get all of the access arms retracted and all of the stack systems running on internals when the countdown clock is still at two hours. Give me what you’ve got.” Sam took a deep breath. “Well, the service arms can be retracted manually, in case the pad computers malfunctioned. Getting the stack ready for launch… that’s harder. Internal guidance, internal power, both of these are things that require a specific sequence of countdown checkpoints and feedback signals that we’re going to have to bypass.” Lucy came running up. “You may not have heard anything Sam said,” Gene told her. “I want you to tell me how to solve those problems anyway.” “Alllll right.” Lucy closed her eyes. “Once the astronauts are in the capsule, they can start the hydraulics and begin preparing the turbopumps themselves while we take things like fuel tank pressure sensors offline so the flight computer doesn’t order an abort because the tanks aren’t full all the way. Once everything on the rocket is ready for launch, we can cut power to the countdown clock and then reset it to twelve seconds. You and the range safety officer can issue the launch command, start the clock, and everything proceeds sort of normally from there.” Gene nodded and picked up a phone. “Get the range safety officer in here right away. I need… Are you certain?” Sam’s face went white. “Two hours?” Gene continued. “All right.” He set the phone down. “The range safety officer was supposed to fly here from Mayberry but his flight was cancelled. He is in the Cletroit airport right now, just about to get on his connecting flight to Juno’s Landing. Without his approval, we can’t launch the Moa.” “So?” Lucy shrugged. “Break the rules. Bloeting will suffer for it after the merger.” Gene shook his head and lit a cigarette. “It’s actually a two-key system, like in missile silos. He has a key, I have a key. We both need to turn them to allow the launch sequence to proceed past man engine start. Without main engine start, SRB ignition is inhibited, and we do not go to space today.” Sam’s eyes went wide. “Okay. So, here’s what you do: After everything is prepped for flight, you tell the system you want to order a plugs-out engine test. As long as all systems are go on the rocket and the pad, there is nothing stopping you from doing that. As soon as the engines light up, the astronauts in the capsule enter Program 42 on the computer. If Program 42 is entered from inside the spacecraft, then it does not require permission from Mission Control to launch; it assumes that permission has already been received as long as the main engines are running. So, the rocket interprets the engine test as part of a normal launch sequence and ignites the SRBs, tearing the rocket free from the hold-down bolts on the pad and initiating navigation into orbit-” “Perfect.” “-assuming that the SRB nozzles have not been destroyed because the hold-down bolts never released. Nobody’s quite sure how they’ll shear. If they’re weak enough, the rocket breaks free. If they’re too strong, the SRBs are torn in half, destroying the rocket and possibly killing the crew.” Gene took the cigarette out from between his teeth, held it between the ring and middle fingers in his right hand, and looked through the smoke at Sam. “I don’t care about what may or may not kill the crew,” he said. “Those Tuterans, they will kill the crew. Do whatever you need to do and do it quick. We launch in ten minutes.” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ A strong breeze rocked the crew access arm back and forth, back and forth, as Bill struggled with his load of two flight suits stacked in his arms. He wobbled through the white room and towards the Raven’s hatch, dumping the orange pile into the capsule, wincing as he heard a yelp from inside. “Sorry!” he called. Bob swore and dug himself out from the pile of flight suits that had landed on him. “That’s the last load. Get in.” Bill swung himself through the hatch and climbed down into the equipment bay to help Bob store the last few necessities for flight as Jeb and Val started up the computers in the pilots’ seats. “Should we run an equipment checklist?” “No time,” Bill replied as he shoved the last few freeze-dried packets of rations into a locker. Strap in.” He climbed up to the hatch and pulled it closed, taking one last deep breath of the ocean air. “All right, hatch is closed,” he told Jeb. “Start the pressure tests.” Jeb reached out and turned a dial, swallowing to help his ears pop in the increased cabin atmosphere pressure when he heard a thud. “What was that?” “Probably just the pressure checks,” Val muttered. “Let’s see, Program 42, keyed in on primary computer and backup-” Thud. “There it is again,” Bob announced. He frowned and climbed up out of his chair, stepping up to the hatch. “Whoa! There’s somebody out there!” Bill keyed his radio as a distant explosion thundered somewhere on the Cape. “CAPCOM, how’s Gene doing on the access arm retraction?” “Almost there, Raven. There’s all sorts of overrides to prevent this sort of thing… all right, the folks in the trench have restarted their mainframes. Stand by…” Kachunk! “The arm’s swinging back!” Bob called out. “There’s three Tuterans standing there, running back into the tower.” He climbed back into his seat. “Two minutes to go,” Jeb announced. “Strap in.” The four kerbals sat in silence for a few seconds, a silence that was only punctuated by the irregular whirs of service arm retractions, conducted out of order. Jeb closed his eyes and inhaled, trying to forget that this launch just didn’t feel right, that this vehicle just didn’t seem right. “Raven,” the CAPCOM called, “an unidentified speedboat has been spotted two miles offshore, closing fast. One minute to launch.” “Thank you,” Val replied, and looked around. In the quarter-century since its first flight, the Raven had evolved from an inefficient way of taking three kerbals to the Mun without killing them to a finely-polished vehicle; thanks to ever-shrinking computers and lighter, more compact construction materials, space had been made for an extra seat that could be replaced with an extra cargo area on missions to Munbase, and there was an extra space in the adapter between the Moa and the Raven service module for a much larger cache of cargo. Val racked her brain, trying to remember the cargo manifest, and dimly recalled that an extra solar panel was scheduled for delivery to the Cuyahoga, to finally fix the one that she and Stella had repaired so many years ago. Along with these improvements in cargo capacity, an expandable airlock had been built into the hatch. I sure wish we had an airlock for the Raven back in the day… Val was startled from her reflections by an alarm echoing through the cabin. She and Jeb looked around but they couldn’t find any indication of a problem with the spacecraft. “Control,” Bill called, “what’s going on?” “Fire on the pad,” CAPCOM replied. “Just a small thing, the sprinklers should put it out in a few seconds. But… we think that it got set off by somebody shooting at the rocket from that speedboat.” As Bill replied, Gene paced at his post in Mission Control, fighting the urge to light another cigarette and crumbling almost instantly. I’ll quit tomorrow, he told himself. Today I need my mind in perfect working order. As he dug the lighter out of his shirt pocket, he spun around as Wernher came up behind him. “How’re things going?” “Thirty seconds to go. The hold-down bolts might not go off, there’s a fire on the pad, and there’s guys in a boat shooting at the booster.” Wernher nodded. “Is the flight termination system armed?” “No.” “Huh… we’re testing a new SAM launcher in the north firing range. I’ll call General Boedecker and ask him if we can use it to shoot down the Moa if it goes off course.” A hush went over Mission Control. “T-minus ten, nine, eight, seven six…” A hundred feet below the Moa, the turbopumps started up. Fuel shuddered through the feedlines and flashed into ignition, coursing into the flame bucket. In the ten minutes since Jeb had broken the sound suppression system flood valve, the flame bucket had become flooded, and the water vaporized on contact with the rocket exhaust. From Mission Control, Gene watched in wonder as a massive steam cloud enveloped the launch pad. “Would you look at that… good old Jeb’s made a fog machine! The sharpshooters have no idea where to aim!” “Five, four, three, two, one… liftoff.” The SRBs lit up in a flash, pulsing a brief flash of light through the vapor cloud and breaking through the hold-down bolts in an instant. Up in the capsule, Jeb, Bill, Bob, and Val were tossed to the sides of their straps as the rocket tilted over precariously, before correcting and realigning as alarms penetrated the thundering of the engines in the cockpit. Jeb just closed his eyes and waited as the Moa burst through the steam cloud and the sky outside slowly turned black and he was back floating through space, the only refuge he’d ever known.
  11. 2/10 Like you said, you haven't been here in a while. Of course, I'm one to talk; my member title could very well read "Thomas Pynchon-esque Recluse of the Forum". ...In fact, I think I'll make it say that.
  12. After the ecliptic passes through the moon's fourth house, Jupiter's seventh apartment, and Mercury's eighteenth McMansion. Or possibly the other way around. In two hundred words or less, how can I make everybody on the internet be nice to each other? You have ten minutes, starting... now.
  13. Texas. ... ... Where I'm from, 'Texas' is a bad word.