Confused Scientist

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Texas. ... ... Where I'm from, 'Texas' is a bad word.
  5. Banned because by banning you, I am forced to write a post that is very boring.
  6. Chapter 7- Last Exit to Juno Jeb and Val raced up the stairs, as the boots of a hundred Tuteran guards rattled the steps behind them. They emerged in the foyer and burst up the ladder and through the trapdoor, tumbling out into the aboveground office. “Geddinthecarandgo,” Val gasped. Jeb nodded. They ran to the Korvette, and Val pulled the passenger door open and stared. “What, am I driving?” “Why should I drive?” Jeb asked. “You’re always the getaway driver.” He shook his head. “My hands are numb, from when I was tied up.” “Fine, then.” Val closed the door behind her and put the car in gear, tearing out onto the access road as three black vans pulled up behind them. “So, teach me how to do a getaway.” “Okay… First things first. Stay off the Interprov, there’s no escape routes except the off-ramps. Don’t worry about hitting other cars, just turn on the hazards and lay on the horn, and they’ll get out of the way. Pretend you’re an ambulance, and they’ll get out of your way.” Val lunged the car onto Central, and she barreled down past an old movie theater. “And when I shout handbrake and a direction, crank the wheel and don’t let go. Let’s practice. HANDBRAKE RIGHT!” Val’s eyes grew to the size of dinner plates as she yanked the wheel right and careened in and out of four lanes of traffic into a side alley, the rear tires skidding as Jeb pulled the handbrake with his left hand. The three vans roared by in the rearview mirror as Jeb released the brake. “DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE!” he yelled. “Okay, stay on this alley for a few blocks and then get back on Central, it’ll be a straight shot to the KSC. And, one more thing.” Val raised her eyebrows. “Yeah?” “It’s a getaway chase. Quit using the turn signals.” “Whoops.” Val chuckled and stepped on the brakes to turn back onto Central. “Aw, nuts.” They stared at a freight train slowly trundling past a warehouse, blocking the way back to Central. “Why are there freight trains down here?” Jeb shouted. “They took out the old freight lane when they put in the Green Line.” Val threw the car in reverse and swore as she saw three black vans in the rearview mirror. “You see?” Jeb asked. “This is why I miss having backup cameras. Okay, new plan.” He grabbed the walkie-talkie. “Breaker, breaker, what’s you smoker, good 60? We’ve got flapjacks on our pool deck and hoping to arrange big blue skyhook catch-and-release log cabin escapade, uh, tire on fire…” In the helicopter above Juno’s Landing, Bob burst out laughing and replied to the message. “Okay, who let a trucker in on this frequency? Jeb, if what you’re attempting to ask is if we’re still ready to work out a rendezvous to winch you up to us, we’re ready as soon as you are. Try heading to the edge of the Silver Creek Exclusion zone, and you can hide in the abandoned neighborhoods while we get to you.” “How will we get there?” Jeb asked. “One of the streets has a missing barricade. Turn left up here… take a right and stay off Emerald Drive, there’s a JRT train heading down that street… Okay, we’ll meet you there in five minutes.” Val floored the accelerator and glanced at the mirror. “It’s no good,” she sighed. “They’re gaining on us.” Jeb just nodded and turned on the radio. Bottom of the 9th, Comets down by one. Emerson steps up to the plate… “Go by Swaghart Memorial Statium,” he told her. Bragson gets a lead off… and he goes for the steal! That ball is up, and the throw is… not in time! Bragson safe at third, Emerson at first with one out. “Step on it. If we can get past the stadium right as the game is ending, we can lose the Tuterans in the traffic.” The Comets are eighteen games below .500 right now, and they're really hoping to win their first home game of the year. The pitch is in… strike two. Emerson steps off the bag… Throw to first, picked him off. Two out, bottom of the ninth, Comets desperate for that tying run at third. Jockshaw steps up to the bag… and he’s bunting! Bragson breaks for home, but he’s not in time, and this game is over. The Comets are now twenty-seven games behind first, and they're really going to have to step up the pace if they want to… Jeb watched as the Korvette tore past the baseball stadium, just as hundreds of cars spilled out of the parking lot and snarled up traffic in front of the three black vans. “Score!” he yelled. “They’re stuck up back there!” “Great!” Val exclaimed. “Should we head back to the KSC?” “Nah, we better not risk it. Head for the radioactive part of town, and we’ll fly out of there.” Jeb and Val tore into the abandoned neighborhoods and past warning signs as he reached into the glovebox and pulled out a plastic bottle. “Iodine pill?” “Thanks,” Val replied, and took one. “Okay,” Bob called down to them, “there’s a baseball diamond a few houses down. Pull in there and we’ll lower a harness. The Korvette pulled onto the baseball field and Val and Jeb ran out, waving up at the recovery helicopter. In the pilot’s seat, Bob banked low over the field as Bill leaned out the open door and lowered a harness. He was smiling, but his eyes widened as he saw two olive green sedans drive down the foul line. “Get out of there!” he yelled. “The Mafia just showed up!” On the ground, Jeb glanced at the dangling harness in front of his face, sighed, and scrambled back into the car, taking the driver’s seat this time. “We need to-” Val began, before a hail of bullets took out the rear windshield. They ducked down and Jeb peered over the dashboard as he pulled off the baseball field. “We need to return fire!” Val reached down into a metal box by her feet and opened a combination lock before pulling out a small handgun. “Stupid manual windows,” she muttered, as she turned the crank to open her window, and spun around. “Ready, aim… fire!” The bullet pinged off the rearview mirror of the first sedan. “We need an escape plan,” Jeb said. “If we stop, we get shot. We need to get back to the KSC right away.” Val shook her head. “I see one small flaw in that plan, no matter how subtle its brilliance may be.” “And?” She pointed at the dashboard. “You’ve got warning lights on you engine, oil, radiator, and we’re down to a sixteenth-tank of gas. Nowhere near enough to cross Juno during rush hour.” “Okay, new plan.” Jeb threw the car into a spin and darted down an abandoned highway. The cooling towers of Silver Creek were visible, blurred on the horizon, and further than that a crystal sea. “Boy, that ocean just goes on forever,” Val remarked. Jeb nodded and furrowed his brow. Goes on forever… goes on forever… Jeb grinned, slowly and deeply. “I’ve got it!” he yelled, and grabbed the walkie-talkie. “Bob, head for the coast and meet us over Silver Creek. I’m going for Kearney Lagoon, Mark II.” “Jeb, you crazy fool, that plan only worked once and there’s no reef out here to drive your car off of… you can’t be serious… to even consider such an idiotic plan is something that only you would do.” “No!” Jeb shouted. “Think about it- there’s a dock where they’d load the uranium off the ships and directly into the reactors. If we go out on that dock, since there won’t be any buildings you’ll be able to come in low enough so we can put the top down and you can lift us right out of the car.” On the radio, Jeb heard Bill climb into the cockpit. “Bob, you shouldn’t disagree with him on this. Of all the plans Jeb’s had, this one’s the craziest and after fifty years with him at my side I’ve learned that that’s his hallmark. I’ll start lowering the harnesses again.” Jeb floored the accelerator and burst through the Silver Creek gates, shuddering as he tasted metal in his mouth. “The National Guard is probably going to show up any minute,” he muttered. He threaded the car between the cooling towers, giving the Reactor Two rubble pile a wide berth, and shot through the empty parking lots towards the ocean. “Look over there!” Val shouted. “A pier!” Jeb cranked the wheel and dashed down the center of a concrete dock. Val gulped and reached down towards the dashboard to put the hardtop down. “Get ready, the roof’s coming down!” Jeb gripped the steering wheel with an iron fist as the roof caught in the slipstream, and nearly drove off the dock. “Okay,” he asked Val, “is Bill in position?” She looked up and saw the recovery helicopter roar above the car, with Bill leaning out the side, winching down a recovery harness. “Yep!” “Okay. I’ll keep the car straight.” Jeb looked over his shoulder at their pursuers as Val unbuckled her seatbelt and stood up in her seat. “Got it!” she yelled, and buckled herself in. Jeb just nodded and eased up on the accelerator, wincing as he noticed that the end of the pier was approaching extremely quickly. “Bob,” he called, gripping his radio, “how’s it-” He was drowned out by a hail of gunfire. Val yelped and swung her harness around, and then she was being pulled into the helicopter, hoisted in by Bill. He swung the harness back down to Jeb, and he unbuckled his seat belt. Keeping one hand on the wheel, he swung his legs around the gearshift, up on the dash, and reached out with his other arm for the harness. His face was pressed against the windshield, and he flailed around blindly for the harness- it was somewhere behind him, somewhere above him. Giving up on steering, he climbed over the windshield and turned around on the hood. “There it is!” Jeb reached out, and just as he was about to grab hold of his salvation, gunshots rang out. Jeb ducked, and slid down the hood, grabbing onto the grille and straining to keep himself above the surface of the pier. With no time to lose, he pulled himself back onto the hood, and jumped into the air just as he felt the car begin to fall below him. He flung his arms out… and missed. Jeb felt his toes touch the water, flung his arms out again- grabbed hold! He clutched the rope as the helicopter began banking, swinging him around way out over the ocean, swinging him around so that he could see the Mafia cars stopped at the end of the pier- and then, further than that, Juno’s Landing, stretching on past the horizon, with all the smog and smoke of any large city. “Ho, Jeb!” Bill called, reaching out of the side of the helicopter to haul Jeb in. Jeb waved as he collapsed in the helicopter, waving at Bob, who was strapped in the pilot’s seat. “Well,” he announced, “I’d say we just about-” Fwooshhh BOOM! The helicopter shook, nearly tossing Bill out the open door. “What in Kraken’s name was that?” he yelled. Val looked out the window. “A light airplane is following us. I see a Tuteran kerbal leaning out the side holding a bazooka. These guys aren't smugglers, they're terrorists!” “Well,” Jeb sighed, “that would explain it. Do we have any guns?” Bill snapped his fingers. “We have a water cannon. It was used to disinfect the outside of the first three Raven capsules to return from the Mun.” He ran over to the controls in the back of the helicopter. “Let’s see,” he said, peering out a small window, “I think I’ve got them in my sights. Bob, hold her steady! Now, all I need is a witty one-liner… let’s see…” He grinned. “Don't drink and fly!” A jet of water shot out from the barrel, battering the plane around. “I think it slowed them down!” Bill shouted. “Break for the space center!” A few minutes later, the plane had caught up its lost ground, despite repeated assaults from the water cannon. “We’re all out of hydro-ammo!” Bill yelled after firing one last shot. “How far have we got?” In the cockpit, Bob groaned and leaned forward to look down through the window. “About half a mile.” “Good, because they’re about to shoot-” All at once, time slowed to a crawl. Out of the corner of his eye, Jeb could see the back panel of the helicopter tear open, throwing Bill backwards into the cockpit. He ducked as rivets and piles of sheet metal billowed into the cabin, forcing Val out the open door. As soon as he scrambled back to his feet, he was thrown back down again, as the helicopter tilted over to the left while Bill scrambled to get himself off the controls. After several tailskids, the helicopter straightened out, but it was losing altitude quick and black smoke was beginning to fill the cockpit. And there was still no sign of Val. Terrifying thoughts filled Jeb’s head, of Val’s bloody body lying in the grass outside Mission Control, or being tossed up on the beach with the waves- “We’re going down!” Bob and Bill frantically threw switches and closed circuit breakers, but their limit had been reached. They were jet jockeys, not helicopter pilots, and it was all they could do to make the crash survivable- a skill that Jeb had perfected after decades of practice, but when the aircraft is falling apart around you, there’s only so much you can do. Looking back on the situation years later from a hospital bed in Juno’s Landing, unable to even lift his left arm, Jeb would realize that the helicopter crash was merely foreshadowing the present. The same helplessness had filled him, both then and now, no matter whether it was the machine or Jeb’s body that had betrayed him. Worst of all was the sinking knowledge that Val was dead, that nothing he or Bill or Gene or anybody else could do would ever bring her back, that there was no drug, no pill, no placebo, no Electron Blue miracle drug to give her a second chance. But Jeb had survived the crash; the helicopter crumpled around him, submerging itself halfway in the water, and he darted out through the open door, nearly breaking into tears before he saw Bob and Bill claw their way out of the wreckage. They stared at him expectantly. “We lost Val,” was all he could say, finally, and just as he was about to fall to the ground and give up, let the Tuterans shoot him, he heard a rustling in the sand behind him. He turned around. “You lost no one!” Val shouted triumphantly, hands on her hips, feet planted in the sand. “I grabbed onto the landing gear when I fell out. Then, when I saw we were about to crash into the beach, I let go. I fell maybe twenty feet.” Jeb fell to the ground, suddenly remembering how thankful he had been when he had crash-landed his jet in Crystal City after Mason hijacked it twenty years ago. “I thought you were dead,” he cried. “I thought I would die.” “No time for that,” Val said, gesturing to a line of black vans that had appeared out of nowhere, stretching from the beach, out past the launchpad, and back to the shore. “We’re surrounded. There’s nowhere else to go.” “Oh, yes there is,” Bob said. He turned around and looked up at the Moa on the launchpad, admired it in all of its vaporous, humming glory. It had been prepared for a flight to Cuyahoga in just a few hours, but Bob had a feeling it would have to be jury-rigged for a launch well before then. “Where do we go, Bob?” Bill asked. “Up.”
  7. Television: On January 24, Cherry Computer will release the Cumquat. And you'll see why 2984 won't be like "2984". Bob: You know, in my day, Cherry made phones five hundred times more addictive than any drug, and they had crazy lawyers, and zero respect for the consumers, and that's the way we liked it! Wernher: Huh? Bob: You know, just like any other tech company. Cherry made overpriced devices with software that would self-destruct if the user tried to install anything that wasn't made by Cherry, Windmills made OSes that forced the latest updates onto your computer only to crash moments later, Facelook knew the complete genome of every kerbal alive by 3025, Amazing shipped pirated books straight to your doorstep, where you'd open the box and notice that the book you'd ordered was missing all of its even-numbered pages, Abode made... something... and it had to be updated five times a day, pH specialized in printers that could generate error messages faster than any other machine in existance, and Dill made computers that crashed about as often as Jeb does when he drives a sports car. Gene: That bad? Jeb: One Dill laptop I owned, whenever you'd open a browser window you'd get a BSoD and the left half of the keyboard would stop working. Gene: What's a BSoD? Jeb: Oh, right... It's still the '80s.
  8. Chapter 6- Future Legend Sunny Kerman sat in her office, gazing out at the rockets propped up on the pad a few miles away. To the north, there was a black and white Sigma II rocket, developed for one-launch Munar missions, with a Phoenix stuck underneath a payload faring and a Raven topping the entire stack like a cherry on a sundae. Further south, a classic Moa stood on the pad, looking for all the world like an orange popsicle with vapor running out the vents and down the sides as the propellant was loaded for the flight to Cuyahoga in a few hours. She turned back to her computer and stared off into space as she filled out a press release. The Munbase 6 mission has been delayed by five hours to accommodate a more favorable launch window, she wrote, and we do not believe that there are any flaws with the equipment… The phone on her desk rang and she startled out of her daze. “Hello? Gene! How are you… Really? You want me to start revising his obituary? Has something… The Mafia? And Tuteran gangsters, oh my… And then what? Okay, I see… Yeah, sure, I can read it back to you. Ahem… ‘Jebediah Kerman passed away in Juno’s Landing this afternoon after a long struggle with… gunshot wounds.’ Uh… I think I’m going to have to rewrite this one. Okay, I’ll call you back.” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Val fiddled with the buttons on her walkie-talkie as Bob pulled up to the stoplight. “Okay, one more time over the plan,” she said. “Bill is at the space center checking the security footage to see whether the Mafia or the Tuterans got Jeb. Once he finds out, we head there, and sneak in. Then, Bill flies from the KSC in a helicopter and he loiters in the airspace while you fall back to coordinate the pickup, I go into the organized crime dungeon and find Jeb, beat up his captors, maybe set the place on fire, and then we run back out and jump in the car, and since you have joined Bill in the helicopter Jeb and myself conduct an epic getaway while you provide support by air. Any questions?” “No, that just about sums things up,” Bob told her. “What do you think has happened to Jeb?” Val shrugged as Bob got on the Interprov. “It’s anybody’s guess. If the Mafia’s got him, at most he’s lost a few fingers by now. If he’s been taken by the Tuterans, then his organs have already been harvested and sold to Tuteran oligarchs, and his empty body will be used to smuggle uranium across the border.” The walkie-talkie squealed. “VAL, HOW DO YOU READ ME?” Bill called, the sound of his voice nearly shoving the Korvette off the road. “About five by five hundred,” Val replied. “Let me turn the volume down. Have you found the kidnappers yet?” “Yeah, three Tuteran cars were seen passing the KSC gate about thirty minutes ago.” Bob swore. “All right, Tuterans. We’ll have to go towards the harbor, so… I’ll bear left at this interchange up here.” “Yeah,” Bill replied, “I’ll head over there in a minute. Watch the skies, over and out.” Val opened the glovebox and pulled out a pair of combat gloves, putting them on as the car arrived at the port. Bob got out and pulled a shotgun out from the trunk, and Val gulped. Although it was true that Bob had at least rudimentary training, she was in better shape, and it would be up to her to make the final run through the Tuterans’ crime headquarters on her own. She heard a truck rumbling up to the shack. “Quiet,” she told Bob, and pulled him back behind a shipping container as the truck stopped. Bob shook his head and headed back to the Korvette, pulling a canister out of the trunk. Then he walked over to the truck, snaked a tube in through the top of the open window of the cab, and as Val watched, peering out from behind the crate, the kerbal in the truck collapsed before he was even able to turn around. “Come on,” Bob yelled, and Val helped him to pull the gate open. There were two crates in the truck, and they each cracked one open. “Score!” Bob shouted. “I’ve got grenade belts and machine guns.” “I’ve got… sugar,” Val sighed, and tasted some. “Yep. No doubt about it. What are these guys doing smuggling sugar?” “There must be tariffs,” Bob told her, and handed her a set of grenades and a gun. “Even if you don’t know how to fire this thing, you’ll still have the intimidation factor on your side. Let’s go.” They tiptoed up to the door of the shack, and looked at each other before Val kicked it in. Bob went in, gun trained on the chair behind the shabby desk… which was empty. Val shrugged and pushed it aside, and they went down through the trapdoor. The Brutalist throne room was empty, too, and soon they were on the floor of the underground warehouse. “So,” Val said finally, after a look around, “it’s like we’re at the fulfilment center of a shipping company.” Bob nodded. “Except the company is illegal, and they ship things that ruin lives.” He peeked into a crate. “Ooh, anthrax.” “Get your head on straight! Where is everybody? Last time I was in here workers were all over this place.” Bob’s walkie-talkie chirped. “I’m over the harbor,” Bill called. “Meet me upstairs and help secure a path out for Val and Jeb.” Val nodded at Bob and they separated, Val heading towards a set of double doors set into the concrete wall and Bob heading up the stairs back to the surface. The first room Val entered was filled with Bunsen burners and fume hoods, like a high school chem lab. A large package of nitroglycerin stood in the corner. The next set of doors led to a computer bank, and then a weapons storeroom, and then a nurse’s station… but Val still saw no kerbals. Frowning, she checked one more room, and found a radiology lab bathed in the glow of an ultraviolet light. Sighing, she walked into the middle of the warehouse and took off here grenade belt and set her gun down; she hadn’t found anybody, and it was too tiring to carry them around. All right, she thought. I won’t find Jeb just by poking my head into random doorways. She turned back around and looked at the metal staircase leading back to the surface. If I was a smuggler, what would I smuggle? Guns, radioactive material, explosives… I haven’t seen any explosives yet! There must be a whole other warehouse just for explosives! And I bet Jeb’s down there, too! Excitedly, she went back to the staircase and found a metal door that she had missed on the way down. She carefully opened it, wandered into a rounded concrete hallway- Klaxons went off and red lights bathed the corridor. Val just shook her head and began running. She turned a corner, reached an intersection, and dashed down a hall to the left when she saw some guards standing next to a set of doors. Wait- if they’re guards, they must be guarding something. Maybe they’re guarding Jeb! She sprinted towards the two guards as they drew their guns, watching their fingers as they tensed on the triggers. As the sent a hail of bullets down the corridor, she collapsed, and the guards glanced at each other before glancing over. They stepped over her limp body… and then Val shot up, punched them both in the face, and, noticing a sledgehammer lying on the ground, picked it up. She shot through the doors- And gasped. Kerbals in grey suits sat in near-darkness, like they were in some dystopian movie theater, the only light coming from the blue glow of a massive screen on the far wall. Their gaze never wavered, their eyes never blinked and their mouths never quite shut as they stared at the massive face on the screen, of some Tuteran speaking softly, even though his voice was amplified so much that Val was nearly felled by the sound of it. Obey my word… Give yourself in to the greater good… Believe in the better tomorrow… Val gasped. “My Kraken!” she shouted. “They’re brainwashing the poor saps!” As the guards bore down on her, sprinting in formation, she dashed through the center of the audience, who took no notice of the commotion. Become one with us for a brighter world… Val stopped in the middle of the aisle and began spinning, twirling like a ballerina as the guards drew closer. She held the sledgehammer out in the end of outstretched arms. Put an end to suffering… The sound of the guards’ boots thumped in Val’s ears as she completed one last revolution. Believe in miracles… Val let the sledgehammer go. It flew through the air without a sound. Believe in the Miraculin Group… The sledgehammer struck the center of the screen, and it shattered with a blinding flash. The guards turned away and ran out of the theater, the audience sat in silence with their mouths agape as a blue wind rushed out of the room, and throughout all the commotion, Val could just barely hear one voice… “Help! Val! Is that you?” Val rushed past the shattered remains of the screen screen and found Jeb tied to a chair in the narrow space between the shards of glass and a concrete wall. “Jeb!” she cried. “How did-” “No time,” he said. “Cut me free.” Val picked up one of the glass shards and cut the ropes. Jeb stood and gasped. “Let’s get out of here,” he said. They sprinted down the aisle and they were just about to get back into the main warehouse when Jeb turned and looked long and hard at Val. “Come on!” she yelled. “We have no time to spare!” Jeb shook his head. “Right before you shattered the screen,” he said. “It’s… I must be crazy…” “What?” “I must have heard wrong… but did that guy say something about the Miraculin Group?” Val’s jaw dropped and her eyes widened to the size of dinner plates. “Oh… my… Kraken…” Jeb started up the stairs. “Let’s go,” he said. “There’ll be time to postulate about Electron Blue later. Right now, my focus is on…” He dove to the ground as a hail of bullets buried themselves in the wall behind him. “…not dying,” he finished. Val followed him up the stairs.
  9. Chapter 5- Ambitious but Rubbish “Jeb!” Jeb couldn’t figure out where his name was being shouted. He had been drifting in and out of sleep in a lawn chair, and an empty soda bottle was in his hand. “Who’s there?” he mumbled. “Jeb…” the voice called again. It sounded mechanical and distorted, as if coming from a loudspeaker. “Get up. You need to move.” He sat up in his chair and cracked one of his eyelids open, nearly blinded by the tropical sunlight. “Bob’s about to land with some supplies from Hina’i’a.” Suddenly, Jeb placed the voice. He was on a recovery ship, in the middle of the Azure Ocean, waiting for Bill to splash down on his flight back from Munbase, and Lucy was calling him on the ship’s PA system for some reason. “I don’t need to move,” he shouted back. “Yes, you do. You’re sleeping on the helipad and Bob’s almost come back from his supply run!” Jeb opened his eyes all the way and stared up at the chopper descending thirty feet above his head. “Yow!” he shouted and tumbled out of the way, dragging the lawn chair behind him. He fell to the deck and landed on his face just as the helicopter landed. After just a few seconds to let the rotors spin down, Bob jumped out and strutted across the deck to where Jeb was sitting. “Anything good in the mail?” Jeb asked. Bob rifled through some papers he was holding. “Junk, bill, junk, credit card offer, bill, free vacation for two to Bigfield… Hey, what’s this? Return address is Montoya County Temporary P.O. Box 14437. It’s addressed to you.” Jeb took the envelope and opened it, before breaking into a wide grin. “Aw, that’s sweet.” “What?” “It’s a letter from that kid I rescued. It’s even got backwards letters and everything.” Bob took a look. “And you’re sure that this kerbal isn’t you? That would probably cause problems.” “No, my birth certificate actually survived the war. I know that I was born a few months after the turn of the century, so I’m a good twenty years younger than him. See, it says right here that Jebediah is named after me. Isn’t that great? I’m a namesake!” They were suddenly interrupted by a brief thunderclap, echoing twice over the crystal waters. “That would be the Raven,” Bob noted. The roar of helicopters washed over the deck, and suddenly klaxons were going off all over. Jeb and Bob rushed to the bridge and ran into Gene in the doorway. “What’s going on?” Jeb gasped. “Environmental problem with the Raven,” Gene replied, and handed the two of them headsets. Bob plugged his in, and heard a rasping, hacking cough before Bill spoke. “Uh, control,” he mumbled, his voice muffled, “we’ve got some kind of situation up here. Alice is… well, unconscious, and Harbrett says he can’t see. My eyes are watering, and I believe we have a hydrazine leak somewhere in the system. We’re going to be needing- oh, ow, this is going to hurt.” Jeb looked out the window and watched the capsule as its braking jets fired, setting it down onto its airbags. A speedboat came over right away and some frogmen pulled the hatch open, strapping Alice into a helicopter harness and helping Harbrett out of the capsule. “What’s happening?” a new voice asked. Jeb turned around. “Mortimer?” “As soon as Bill gets on this boat we need to have an emergency meeting.” Mortimer led them out the door. “But he needs to go to the hospital,” Jeb pointed out. “It sounds like he’s inhaled some rocket fuel.” “This is more important. Trust me.” He walked up to a helicopter and helped Bill down to the deck. “Hey, Bill. How do you feel?” “Pretty good,” Bill mumbled around his oxygen mask. “Good. Meet me downstairs in five minutes.” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Mortimer: I have traveled here at great expense to tell you that we are, fiscally speaking, in deep financial [CENSORED]. Val (under her breath): Well, then, why did you fly here on a private helicopter for a five-minute meeting? Wernher: But we just got a contract for five more spy satellites! The KSP is almost drawing a profit on its own, not even counting all the money we’ve made for Kontinental as a whole with our research in laminar flow turbulence! Mortimer: The Cold War is over. Tutero is now the Tuteran Republic. Gene: …We won! Aw, [CENSORED]. This is going to be bad, isn’t it. Mortimer: President Regarn says that since he’s such a… “pro-business politician,” he would let all of Orchidia’s CEOs know before he called a press conference. I wasn’t allowed to talk about it on the phone, so I came here to tell you... all of our Air Force contracts have been terminated. Jeb: Okay, that’s bad. But we still have the Finchernian telecom satellite deal- Mortimer: No, not just the KSP. All of the military contracts are dead in the water. We have three hundred fighter jets sitting in a warehouse that we can’t sell! There’s about to be a huge recession, as defense companies and engineering firms announce layoffs and taxes are increased to reduce the massive federal debt that Regarn’s built up these last few years. All of which is a huge problem, seeing as how we’re about to re-enter the commercial aviation market with the K-107. And, look… once the K-107 hits the market, it’s going to do well. It’s a supersonic jet, just as efficient as any other widebody plane; there’s nothing like it to steal the market share. Val: So we just need to hold on until the K-107 is ready to fly? Mortimer: The KSP labs have already worked out the problems with the engines and the heating problems. But the regulatory hurdles are huge. The FAA and the DOT are going nuts over this plane. It’s going to take a ton of money to get all of the approvals we need, and the final flight tests done, and then shift to full-scale production, but the company just doesn’t have the savings to do it and our income is about to go way down when the economy backfires. Bill: But what about all of the airline orders? Don’t they have to put down a deposit, or something? Mortimer: Because of how experimental the K-107 is, it was agreed that the airlines wouldn’t pay a penny until the planes were delivered. Look, we need that plane, but right now there’s only one asset in the company valuable enough to pay for the final push to production. Bob: …Oh, you [CENSORED]. Mortimer: I’m sorry. The KSP is a financial drain on the company, and the truth is now that you’ve solved the engine problems with the K-107 it just makes financial sense to- Jeb: To let us go? We turned Kontinental into the city it is today. The six of us at the table in front of you singlehandedly ushered in the jet age, the space age, and turned Juno’s Landing from a breakfast stop on Route 77 to the fourth-largest city in Orchidia and the envy of all of Kerbin! Do you know how many families rely on the rocket money to put food on the table and make sure their children grow up happy, strong, and educated? Do you know what we did at Silver Creek? Mortimer: It won’t- Jeb (shouting): And what about all the kerbals who died for what we did? Boblock! Connor! Risa! And… Stella! Did they die for this? The greatest adventure in the history of kerbalkind, and it was all just some… business enterprise to you? Mortimer: Listen to me: The KSP will not die here. Your assets will not be liquidated, your engineers will be laid off. All that will happen is that the Kontinental Startup Program will be sold to the Bloeting Omniuniversal Monoglomerate. Gene: No! No! Val: We’ll buy the company. Mortimer: What? Val: If we match the price that Bloeting is asking, will you just let us spin off the KSP and transfer the ownership to Gene and Wernher? Mortimer: Yeah, I guess that might work. Bob: How much is Bloeting asking for the KSP? Mortimer: Ten billion. Bob: HOLY- I mean, uh, excuse us for a minute. [Murmuring and hushed whispers are heard.] Bill: We’re still five hundred mil short. Mortimer: Look, guys, I’m sorry, but you have two weeks to come up with half a billion dollars before your headquarters are moved to Crystal City. Wernher: Mortimer, I know that you have an obligation to the employees and the stockholders of Kontinental, but... have a heart. After all we've been through, can you really let us go like this? Mortimer (sighing): I guess I can. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The runway of the Juno’s Landing airport juts out into the docklands, and it was here, surrounded by the dockyards and the loading cranes of Kerbin’s largest trade hub that Val got off the Grey Line train and went up to the shore. She turned left, deafened by the roar as jumbo jets departed the airport for countries halfway around the world, and went up to a small office trailer in the shadow of an oil tanker. The trailer was very old, probably built before Val had even traveled to the past, and a broken air conditioner stuck out of one of the windows. Val paused, glanced over her shoulder, and knocked twice just as another plane went over. There was shouting inside the hut. “Кто там?” “Я заинтересован в коммерческой сделке,” Val replied. “Пожалуйста, введите.” Val opened the door and was greeted by a short, squat kerbal in a stained tank top. He frowned. “У вас есть груз?” he asked. “Uh…” Val grimaced. “Can we switch to English?” “You have no respect for mother tongue?” the kerbal asked. “Listen,” Val replied, “I want to take out a loan. None of the banks will finance my company. The economy is sour, and we need this money desperately.” “Hmm. It sounds as if you will not be able to repay loan. What do you have for collateral, or, what is it you capitalist Orchidians call it- barter, in case you do not have the money?” “Ten supersonic jets, Air Force surplus,” Val replied. “It should help your, ah… trade routes.” “I do not- Oh! The smuggling! You are meaning smuggling. Yes, this sounds good indeed. I will send you to see boss now.” “Oh, and, one more thing,” Val asked. “This is an organized crime headquarters I’ve found, right?” “Yes.” “Good, okay. Just making sure, since you’ve done a good job of making everything in this fake office look so shabby.” The kerbal chortled. “That’s what us Tuterans call Невежественные деньги.” He stood and pushed his desk over, revealing a trapdoor. “You will see that our, ah… wine cellar is much more nicer built, yes? You will meet the boss downstairs.” Val climbed down the ladder and found herself in a Brutalist throne room. As she walked down the concrete hall, narrow glass windows running the length of the room gave her a view of a warehouse, with a few packages and crates piled haphazardly in the corner. Some were cracked open, with packing peanuts spilled across the floor. She shuddered to think of what was inside. Do it for the money… do it for the money… Val looked out the other window, and saw a pair of glass sliding doors leading out of the warehouse as she walked up to a large ebony desk, with a large swiveling chair pointed towards a classical painting hung on the far wall. “Excuse me?” she asked. “I was sent down here to see you?” Twenty minutes later, Val had negotiated the sale of ten jets to Tuteran smugglers in exchange for an interest-free loan of five hundred million dollars, and yet the chair had never turned around. She was just about to head back to the ladder when suddenly it swiveled, and a tall, lean kerbal leaned forward in the seat and stared at her with the intensity of a cat. “Do not leave yet,” she said, her voice dripping ice. “You must promise us one thing. Juno’s Landing is a port town, and we have an intense rivalry with the Mafia to see who can sneak the most contraband past Customs. If you need more money, do not go to the Mafia to secure funding. We will find you and we will kill you.” Val nodded and, trying to escape before she fainted, climbed back to the world of smog and sunlight and collapsed on the Grey Line train, resting there for a few stops before transferring onto the Blue Line for the ride back to the KSC. She swiped her ID card at the gates at the train station and hurried across the road as a Korvette came careening down the street and drifted around the corner of the crew quarters into the parking lot. Jeb’s in slightly more of a hurry than usual, Val observed. She went into the crew quarters and knocked on the door of Bill’s apartment, opening it herself when she received no answer. “Oh,” Bill sighed, as the open door cast the only ray of light there was in the apartment. He was standing at one wall, taking down old photographs of rocket launches and Munwalks, and stacking them in boxes marked Crystal City. “What’s up?” Val ran to the other wall and flung the curtains open, flooding the apartment with light. “Stop that right now!” she yelled. “I have raised the last of our funds to buy the KSP from Kontinental. We won’t have to move anywhere!” Before Bill could even realize what Val was saying, Jeb burst into the apartment. “Hey, Bill! Good news! We’re going to be able to keep the KSP! I went downtown, found the Mafia headquarters, and got us some money!” Val rushed over to him. “Hold on. You went to the Mafia.” “Yep!” “And asked them for money to save the space program?” “You bet!” “And did they say anything about Tuteran gangsters?” Jeb frowned. “Yeah, they said if I got money from some Tuteran guys by the harbor, they would… what did they say… oh, yeah. They would ‘make sure we don’t make the same mistake twice’. How do you think-” “You idiot! Haven’t you ever watched any old crime movies? When kerbals in the Mafia say things like that, they mean that they’re going to kill us.” “So?” Jeb asked. “I didn’t get any money from Tuteran smugglers.” Val pinched her brow. “ I did. And they said they’d kill me if we got money from the Mafia. Okay, don’t panic. Don’t panic. Oh, Kraken. How are we going to get out of this one, Jeb- Jeb?” “Don’t worry!” Jeb shouted from down the hall. “I’ve just gone out to get the newspaper. Hey, look at this, there’s a new- Oh, hello. Could I please see your visitor badge and your- Whoa! It’s standard- Help! Val! Bill! Gene! Security! I’m having my legs and arms tied behind my back! And they’re about to shove a gag in my gmmpth.Mmmth mmm mmmm-mm!” The door slammed. Bill and Val stood in the apartment in shocked silence, and then slowly turned and looked at each other as Bob walked in. “Hey, guys! What did I miss?”
  10. Almost, but we've got a few decades to go. I've decided that kerbal civilization is a thousand years behind our own, so Jeb traveled back in time to the 2950s, landed on the Mun in 2969, and it's right about 2992 right now. After the nuclear war happens, there will only be a few chapters left until the story is finished, and naturally the end of the world can only happen in 3012. I hope that I can post the last chapter on December 31, as a farewell to the decade, but I'm sure I won't write that fast. I can promise you that the next chapter is worth the wait, because it sets up a car chase in the chapter after that. It feels like it's been a while since I've had a car chase. EDIT: Yeah, since November.
  11. I resent these accusations! Just because I've killed the populations of three planets, you assume Jebediah will die? The next chapter opens with Jebediah writing a letter to Jeb, and then Jeb gets caught up with the kerbal Mafia. Also, I've implied it before, but kerbals have a lifespan of around two hundred years: twenty years of childhood, ten of adolescence, a century or so of very slow aging, and then fifty years of gradually becoming old and feeble. For example, Jeb is entering middle age at around 90, and Wernher is close to beginning his golden years at 120. Kerbals get a driver's license and vote at twenty-five, they can drink at thirty, get a job at thirty-five, and retire around 130. So, little Jebediah is the human equivalent of a five year old.
  12. Chapter 4- Pulp Fission The closest some kerbals got to space was in the cockpit of a KR-14 Scorpion spy plane; to Jeb, the dark world nine miles above Juno’s Landing could not be more routine or unexpected. He had piloted supersonic jets to twice that altitude, broke Mach 3 multiple times, and walked on the Mun; but now his job was to slowly monitor the spread of fallout as the jet stream brought it off the coast and over the Azure Ocean. As he looked down at the planet below, the radio crackled. “Radiation levels are increasing in rainclouds west of the mountains,” Val called. “Let’s bring the Scorpions in and seed the clouds.” “Roger,” Jeb replied. “Turning around now.” A few minutes passed. “Still turnin’… still turnin’… Man, the air’s really thin here.” “Jeb, are you at least starting your descent while you try to turn around?” “Well, I’m about to stall the plane. Does that count?” Ten minutes later, Jeb brought the Scorpion in for a landing on KSC Runway 27, making a tailwind approach to avoid the radiation over Juno’s Landing. He smiled as he carefully set the plane down on its twin landing wheels, temporarily distracted from the Silver Creek debacle by the thrill of the bicycle landing. There was a jolt as the plane listed over onto the left wing, and he pulled the aircraft off into the grass next to the runway to make room for an Army plane bearing down on short final. After it passed, he popped the canopy open and began the hike towards the hanger, as technicians raced over to tow the jet away. “Well, well, well,” Bob said when he arrived. “That’s a fancy pressure suit you’ve got there.” “I was flying the KR-14,” Jeb replied, holding his heavy helmet in the crook of his arm. He took a moment to admire how finely polished it was, the way it reflected the bustling about the hangar, and then looked up at the plane he was to fly. A large widebody trijet stood in the center of the hangar, with floodlights glinting off of the freshly repainted skin. A few steps were pushed up to the open cockpit door. “Whoa. That thing’s huge!” “Used to be an airliner for Pan-Orchidian Airlines,” Val said, gazing up at the jet. “Bloeting B60. Converted for firefighting use five years ago.” Jeb sighed. “You gotta admire those trijets. I felt really cheated when Alliance retired their last B40 jumbo jet when I was in high school; you know, they were the last Orchidian airline to fly quadjets. All their new planes were boring.” “Well,” Bob said, “let’s take it for a spin.” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ “We’re ten miles out from the target,” Val narrated, “closing at a rate of three hundred thirty knots. Prep- Jeb, quit messing with the throttles. You’re going to flame out one of the engines.” “But I really like it when these trijets spool up,” Jeb protested. “Come on, it the engines go out we’re going down through these storm clouds, and they’re filled with fallout. Let the autothrottle take over.” “Okay.” Jeb took his hands off the controls. “We’ve got ten tons of concrete powder and silver iodide solutions in the belly tank. Bob, you ready at the engineer console?” “Yep.” “Visual confirmation on irradiated cloud cover!” Val yelled. “Keep an eye on the Geiger counters and make sure that your dosimeters have been taken out of your pockets. Jeb, begin cloud penetration.” Jeb shoved the stick forward. “Hey, you remember when I complained about the yoke when we made the Kloncorde test flight?” “Yeah?” “I kind of like it, actually.” A few wisps of vapor passed by the windscreen. “Thirty seconds out,” Bob announced idly. “Strap in.” He buckled his shoulder belt at his sideways-facing engineer’s console, and Jeb and Val, in the pilots’ seats, did the same. “Whoa!” Val shouted as the jet lurched. “Getting some turbulence!” She wrestled with the stick. “Bob, how far out are we from the target?” “Twenty-five seconds.” Although it had been just past sunrise, once the jet got inside the cloud, Jeb couldn’t see two inches past the windscreen, until suddenly the nightmare world was lit up by a flash. “Lightning!” Jeb called, as the landscape twisted and turned outside. “It feels like we’re flying through the clouds of Jool,” Val sighed. “Bob?” “Ten seconds!” “I don’t care!” she yelled. “Seed the clouds now!” “But the fallout-” “This cloud is already doing a good job of raining itself out. Just dump the tank!” “All right… that’s good enough for now.” Val sighed. “All right, Jeb, pull up!” Jeb yanked back on the stick. “It’s no good! There’s too much turbulence. If I pull back too hard the wings will snap right off!” “Well, then how-” “Wait.” Jeb hushed her. “Most airliners can handle a barrel roll if done properly, and I speak from experience.” “Oh, great,” Bob muttered. “It’s one of his plans. Val,” he called, as he squeezed his eyes shut, “tell me when it’s over.” His stomach flipped as he felt himself pressed up against the left side of his straps, and then hanging there in his chair as the plane went into a near freefall. “I would just like to point out that when you’re doing null-g in an inverted widebody passenger jet, it’s probably time to question your life decisions.” “Yeah, sure, buddy,” Jeb replied, “I’ll keep that in mind. And… we’re upright again!” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Jeb, Bob, and Val made three more seeding runs, just skimming the top of the cloud to keep from getting caught in an impossible lightning-and-hailstones escape like last time. After that they circled back to the KSC to refuel, Jeb was able to relish the slow taxi back to the hangar. “Yeah, this feels like I’m a real airline pilot.” “Oh?” Bob asked. “You know, like we’re about to pull up to the gate, and they’ll roll the jetway right up while they start unloading the bags.” Instead of a jetway, however, Gene greeted his aircrew at the bottom of the steps. “The evacuation of the suburbs around Silver Creek isn’t going fast enough,” he told Val. “The Marines are on their way, but most of their forces are deployed overseas guarding oil wells in Kurati. So, I’ve told the Navy they could use our recovery helicopters for search and rescue.” “Sounds good,” Bob replied. “We’ve got winches, we’ve got first aid kits. C’mon, let’s go.” “Hold on,” Gene interjected. “They want one astronaut on each helicopter, to help out with the hardware. So you’re gonna have to split up.” And that’s how Jeb ended up on a helicopter with three Navy pilots and a medic, hovering fifty feet above the mountainous suburbs of Juno’s Landing on what would have been a nice, cool morning if the sea breeze hadn’t been spreading deadly fallout over the coast. “Two minutes,” one of the sailors yelled at Jeb, referring to how long they could keep hovering before they reached their radiation limits and had to return to the KSC. Jeb just nodded, numb from lack of sleep and unable to think with the roar of the rotors. Usually, he only saw the insides of these helicopters after splashdown, and it was all he could do to just remember to hold on to his Geiger counter as the helicopter descended towards what Jeb realized must be one of the first true subdivisions ever developed. What a time to be alive, Jeb thought, when they haven’t yet spread across the country like tumors, cutting off public transportation and dooming every family to spend all day shuttling their children back and forth across the asphalt wasteland with the two cars in their garage that don’t even drive themselves- A Navy private clambered up to where Jeb was sitting and derailed his bizarre train of thought. “Hey, buddy,” he yelled over the rotor, “what kind of harness is this? We need to send somebody down to search this house, but we can’t land in the backyard because it’s too small and we can’t land in the street because the house is fenced in, with a driveway gate.” “Just let me go down and search it,” Jeb replied. “I’ve put this thing on in ten seconds after spending two weeks on the Mun. I’ll be fine.” The private shrugged and gave Jeb the harness. Two minutes later, he was being winched down next to a swimming pool and a trampoline. First I’m an airline pilot, Jeb mused, and now I’m a superspy. What next? He hit the grass hard and unbuckled the harness from the cable, before grabbing a patio chair to smash in the glass sliding door. “Hello! Anybody here?” Nothing. Jeb went though the kitchen, paused for a moment to think for a minute how he’d never before seen a nice house like this one without a big flat screen TV and a top-notch videogame console- But neither of those have been invented yet, of course- and then he continued up the stairs. “Hello? Anybody home?” Jeb turned down the hall towards the master bedroom when he heard a muffled yell. Jeb jumped up, startled. I thought this place was empty. “Hello! If you can hear me, make as much noise as you can! Scream at the top of your lungs!” Jeb followed the feeble yells through the hall to a small bedroom. Looking inside, he found a room plastered with posters of superheroes and knights. A faint whimpering sound came from under the bed. “It’s okay,” Jeb said, kneeling down. “You can come out now. It’s safe.” A small kerbal, no more than ten, crawled out from under the bed. “We’re going to take you to a safe place, with lots of good people. First, can you tell me where your family is?” The kerbal sniffled. “Mommy and daddy got taken by helicoppers at sunset,” he whispered. “My dad tried telling the army kerbals to wait for me, but they few away.” Jeb stopped. “So, you’ve been alone since before dark?” The kerbal didn’t answer. “Don’t be sad,” Jeb said, and crouched down next to him. “We know where your parents are, and we can get you there right away.” He stood up and gestured out to the hall. “My name is Jebediah. What’s yours?” “Also… also Jebediah.” Jeb gulped. Suddenly he saw himself, twenty years from now, a lifetime ago, all alone, scared of another nuclear sky, one where death could rain down at any time, and where kerbals could only trust their closest friends and family, if their closest friends and family were still alive, and worst of all knowing that all there was in the future was more pain and struggling, that that was all there ever was and all there would ever be, pain, and struggling, and mind-numbing fear, at every hour of the day and night. My Kraken… what can I possibly say to this child to make him feel better? As they walked out the hall, they passed a large picture window, one that perfectly framed the Mun. “When I get scared,” Jeb said suddenly, “I look at the Mun, and I remember that no matter what, the Mun will rise again tomorrow night, and the night after that, and every night, forever. It is always going to be there, and it will always be your friend. Night after night, you will always be able to look up at the Mun and say, ‘I’ve got a friend’.” Little Jebediah looked up at Jeb. “In fact,” Jeb laughed, “I have a good friend who is on the Mun right now. His name is Bill. Can you wave at him, and say hello for me?” Jebediah looked up at Jeb, then at the Mun, and he awkwardly waved a hand. “Hi, Bill.” He smiled, and laughed. “Is your friend happy?” “Yes,” Jeb told him. “He is very happy that you could say hello, and he’s happy that we’re both safe. Come on, Jebediah. Do you want to ride in a helicopter and see your parents?” “A helicopper?” Jebediah squealed. “Oh boy!” “Let’s go,” Jeb said. “And when we get back outside, you can say ‘hi’ to the Mun again.”
  13. I decided it would be a little unlike Bob to replace Jeb's IV drip with formic acid, so capsiacin it is.
  14. Chapter 3- Stop Fallout with this One Weird Trick As the radioactive clouds of the apocalypse spread over Juno’s Landing, the Electrolite floated four miles offshore. As Val looked off the aft bow, she swore she could see the clouds above Juno glowing, but she knew that it was just the usual light pollution from the skyscrapers. As she watched, the city was suddenly plunged into darkness, with the towers of Pine Junction winking out before the suburbs blinked out, plunging three million frightened kerbals into darkness. Then the neon glow of Juno’s Landing vanished, and she was suddenly reminded of Bob’s car, that it was still wrecked somewhere off Route 77. Not Route 77, she corrected herself, Central Avenue. And then the KSC went dark, and the only lights in the entire city were the landing lights of the Juno’s Landing Airport and the beams of searchlights at Silver Creek, scattered among a constellation twinkling hospitals and fire stations. Gene came out from the bridge, where he had been helping Wernher find emergency bulletins on the radio. “They just shut off the two good reactors at Silver Creek,” he said. Val nodded and gestured to the darkened city. “I can tell.” She stood up and went back onto the bridge with Gene. Wernher, Jeb, and Bob sat around a card table, fooling around with the dials on a small battery-powered radio. “So…” Wernher muttered. “Electrolite. What kind of name is Electrolite? That’s not even spelled properly.” “It’s named after a spacecraft,” Jeb told him. “The Electrolite attempted the first flight to colonize Laythe when a few astronauts came back to Kerbin from Minnmus after a nuclear war and decided that Kerbin was no longer hospitable to kerbal life. They were, uh… they were wrong, and they died during an aerobraking attempt. You know, now that I think about it, they must have named their rocket after this boat, since they remembered how this was also an escape from fallout. Later, right around the first time I went to space, ‘Electrolite’ had become slang for ‘hopeless vehicle of last resort’.” Nobody said anything. “I guess,” Gene said, “I need to tell you guys something. A few years ago, General Boedecker came to my office, and he told me that the KSP had become necessary to the continued operation of the operation of the Orchidian government after a nuclear war. GPS, communications, spy satellites… really, even though Cuyahoga is a scientific station now our main business is selling national security to the Air Force. So, Boedecker told me that we were receiving five billion dollars to enter the KSC in the COG-C program.” “COG-C?” Wernher asked. “What’s COG-C?” “Continuity of Government,” Gene replied. “Specifically, a new part of COG to ensure that essential commercial enterprises would continue to function after all of Orchidia’s major cities and ports had been nuked. They knew that they had to protect the telephone companies, the banks… and us. Most of the COG money went towards building a fallout shelter underneath Mission Control, enough to hold three full shifts of flight controllers and fifteen astronauts. I guess the whole night shift must be down there right now, waiting out the meltdown.” Wernher looked up from his radio. “You mean, we have a fallout shelter?” Gene nodded. “Mortimer decided we should use another five hundred million dollars of company money to expand it, so that we’ll have a monopoly after the apocalypse. Right now, it’s enough to hold the night shift and about half of our active astronauts. Luckily, I told Lucy about the shelter so that she could get it open in an emergency.” “So…” Wernher asked. “Everybody’s fine?” “Yep,” Gene said, a faint smile spreading across his face. “We need to go back. You’re their leader, Gene.” Gene sighed. “You’re right. I just thought… I don’t know. Jeb ran up, asked me to get on the boat with him… it seemed like the right move.” “It was,” Wernher said. “But now it’s time to go back.” He stood up and walked to the wheel, throttled the motors up and began a slow turn back to the KSC before a hand reached out and pulled the throttles back. “No,” Jeb said. “I lived through a nuclear war, and I’m not going back into an isotope pit. That’s, uh…” He paused. “What we called places with lots of fallout. But, Gene, you don’t know what it’s like. The scrambling from one building to the next. The scanning horizon for deadly rainclouds. The hoarding of bottled water.” Gene looked up at Jeb. “It’s different this time, Jeb. The Army is going to be here, handing out food and water. Soon they’re going to put out the fires at the nuclear plant and in a few months everything will be back to normal. And this is your chance to help, to go back to the KSC and get all the engineers and tell them not to be scared, because secretly you know that you’ve survived worse.” “No!” Bob shouted. “I’m scared, too. For all we know there’s rioting in the streets. I say we stay put, with everything we need right on this boat.” Gene and Wernher turned to Val. “Actually, I agree with Jeb on this one,” she said. Jeb’s eyes widened. “What, you thought we had nothing in common anymore? We’ve been friends for twenty years, and deep down your antics still inspire me, Jeb, and I admire how you can still act so free all the time. I just got worried that you’d be killed and I’d be sad. So, no. I say we stay out at sea until this whole thing blows over.” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ “We should have stayed on the boat until the whole thing blew over,” Val whispered. “I knew it.” “Shhh,” Bob huffed. “This is really important.” General Boedecker stood at the front of the KSC press room, and Jeb, Bob, Val, and Gene were just about the only kerbals in the auditorium who weren’t dressed in the greens of the Army or the blues of the Air Force and the Navy. Scattered about the room were a few other astronauts… The ones without families, Bob reminded himself grimly. “We have a mission,” Boedecker announced. “Save Juno’s Landing. The Air Force will evacuate non-essential personnel from the Silver Creek complex and the surrounding neighborhoods by helicopter, the Navy will fly over Reactor Two and drop lead and sand on the power plant to poison the reactor, and the Army will be in charge of distributing food and water to civilians, evacuating areas further away from Silver Creek, and assisting hospitals and retirement homes. By sunset tomorrow we hope to be able to approach the reactor by road and assist the skeleton crew that is currently trapped in the emergency control bunker at Silver Creek. Now,” he continued, gesturing to Jeb, Bob, and Val, “you may notice that a few kerbals among us aren’t blue-suiters. The KSP has generously agreed to supply support aircraft; their research aircraft will be repurposed to monitor radiation levels downwind of the plant and others are being converted to seed rainclouds traveling inland from Silver Creek.” A young soldier in the back raised his hand. “What do you mean, seed rainclouds?” he sneered. “These nerds are just trying to show off.” Boedecker glared at the soldier. “I remind you, private, that we are lucky to have the help of our nation’s esteemed astronauts, and without this space center there would be no place to land support planes and bring new supplies ashore. Now, by seeding rainclouds, I mean that tiny particles of concrete and silver iodide will be dropped into the rainclouds so that they precipitate all of their water out, instead of carrying radioactive rain over the mountains and into the cornfields that, as I’m sure you’re aware, feed nearly thirty percent of Orchidia.” “Now,” he added, “one last thing. Even you civilians helping out here tonight, you will be made veterans after the completion of the operation and will be eligible for full governmental benefits and rewards. Your healthcare will be made free, in recognition of the risks of this mission, and you will be moved to the top of all organ transplant lists and will have access to streamlined adoption programs. Also, to the astronauts in the group, your eagerness to explore beyond Kerbin’s atmosphere will no longer be limited by federal radiation regulations, because… well, after tonight that won’t really matter very much.” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Jeb was interrupted from his idle daydreaming by a knock at the door. “Come in,” he said hoarsely. The door opened and Bill and Bob came through, with Bill taking a seat to the left of Jeb’s bed and Bob walking over to the narrow hospital room window. “Hey, guys,” Jeb said. “What am I missing at the KSC?” “Not much,” Bill replied. “I just got off the phone with Lucy in Rockville. Edsel got a bad cold, and since he's lost some sleep now he looks exactly like President Noxin. Everybody thinks it’s hilarious, especially when Alice accused him of stealing the apple out of her lunch, and he said something to the tune of ‘I am not a crook.’ How’re you doing?” “Good,” Jeb sighed, sitting upright in bed. “The doctor says that I’ll be able to start rehab tomorrow, and I’ll be able to write again in a few months. I guess I’ll just have to tough this one out, get back on flight status eventually. I just wish they’d give me some aspirin,” he complained. “I’ve told the nurses that my head hurts, but they don’t want to over-medicate me. It’s a nice gesture, since there’s no way to tell what some of that medicine might do to a kerbal, but this headache is really starting to drag me down.” Bob reached into his pocket. “Here,” he said, pulling out a vial, “this should help.” Jeb pulled the cap off and downed it all in one gulp. “So, this is like a painkiller, or something?” he asked. “What’s in this, anyway?” “It’s equal parts liquid smoke and pure capsaicin, garnished with ghost pepper extract,” Bob replied. Jeb’s eyes widened. “Uh-oh.” “Yeah,” Bob laughed. “In a few seconds, those doctors are gonna give you all the medicine you could-” Bob was interrupted as Jeb began screaming. “What’s the matter, Jebediah?” a nurse asked as he ran into the room. Jeb screamed and clutched the back of his head as the nurse frowned and stuck an IV into Jeb’s arm. “Whoa, wait, what are you putting into him?” Bill asked. “Don’t worry,” the nurse replied. “It’s just a sleeping medicine. Nothing to worry about.” “Oh.” He looked at Bob. “Well, we best get going. Bye, Jeb.” “Buh-bye, Bill,” Jeb mumbled. As he collapsed back onto his pillow, his thoughts turned back to the night four years ago that the Silver Creek plant had melted down. Although he was suddenly too tired to remember where exactly he had left off, as he drifted off to sleep he began dreaming of that night, smiling as he recalled how even a nuclear meltdown hadn’t stopped him from doing what he did best: fly.