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Confused Scientist

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  1. Chapter 20- If it Kills Me What we do here is redefine the impossible. -Bob Kerman, during his commencement address to the University of Pascua Class of 2992. Beth stepped out of the medical bay and glanced at her crewmates before pulling her surgical mask down from over her mouth. “Well?” Chris asked, worry written in his brow. Beth wiped a drop of sweat from her forehead and looked over at Harbrett. “You need to get back to Kerbin immediately, if not sooner. I’m afraid that although most of Alice’s symptoms were from CO2 poisoning, she has suffered some ammonia inhalation. I sent her to her bunk and gave her an oxygen tank to draw off of when she gets short of breath. She might have to get on a respirator for a few days when she gets back to Kerbin, but if she ups the O­2 concentration in her suit on the way home she’ll probably be fine. Harbrett is even better; he just has a chipped tooth that will just need a quick removal back home. I’d say it’s impossible not to have any other injuries from a crash like that, but he won’t even need to go to the hospital. “Bob is… not well. All I could really do for him was give him some weapons-grade painkillers, start a blood transfusion- by the way, we’re out of B-positive and I dipped pretty heavily into the O-neg reserve, so please remind me later to ask Cletroit for some more shipments of both of those on the next mission- and then I started the surgery. I was able to evaluate his condition, but since all I really have the ability to do here at Munbase is slice into his abdomen and take a look around, I couldn’t help him much.” Beth opened a notebook she had been carrying in her pocket. “I’m a worried about his stomach; it’s hemorrhaging in a bad way, but it might be a relatively simple stich-em-up job back on Kerbin if he’s lucky. The rest of his GI tract, though… it’s just pulverized, and I mean that literally. I mean, normally I’d say it’s impossible for him to even be alive at this point. It’s almost like there’s some kind of magic force keeping him from going into shock. He’ll need a new liver and quite a bit of small intestine. If something goes wrong during entry and the g-loads get too high, I also wouldn’t rule out a new stomach.” Harbrett’s eyes were wide. “If we were on Kerbin, and Bob had gotten to a hospital three days ago, would he be this bad?” “If we were on Kerbin,” Beth replied, “Bob would have been killed when the ascent module fell on him. Now get to the Phoenix and get him home!” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Harbrett glanced to the other side of the ascent module, counting off the last few minutes to launch in his head. His commander lay to his left, wearing only a hospital gown and thick bandages under his flight suit, and Alice sat to his right, resting atop a crate of antibiotics and painkillers. Alice looked up at Harbrett, lifting her gaze past the oxygen mask she held against her mouth. “Harbrett,” she whispered, “I still don’t feel right. I definitely breathed some ammonia.” Harbrett sighed. “Oh, man, I feel so bad that you two have almost been killed and I just got away with a broken tooth.” Alice shook her head. “Jeb and Bill and their recovery team just docked at Cuyahoga. Some of the Minnmus crew will stay at the station for a while longer so that Jeb and Bill can be back on Kerbin for our splashdown. They’ll get back about nine hours before we do. If we get Bob back home, it’s all worth it.” Alice paused for a moment as some chatter came over the radio: “Endurance, ninety seconds to liftoff, everything’s go down here.” “Same here, Cletroit,” Harbrett said. Alice smiled. “Sounds like we’ll be on our way soon. Harbrett James Kerman, under my authority as commander of this mission, I designate you the new commander of this mission.” “Thanks, Alice.” Harbrett looked out the window as the engine lit up, and dust was kicked up all around the ascent module, and Munbase disappeared from the bottom of the window, and the crash site passed beneath them unnoticed, and then they were docked to the Raven and they took the speed record back from Jeb and Bill as they set their course back home. Kerbin was twelve hours away.
  2. Chapter 19- NH4 Bill groaned and rubbed his eyes. “Oh, man, I did not sleep well.” “Yeah,” Jeb replied. “This place is like a phone booth with worse air conditioning.” Bill opened his eyes. “Thanks for, uh, curling up into a fetal position for the last five hours so I could straighten my legs out.” Jeb shrugged. “Eh, I sleep easily. What do you want for breakfast?” “What do we have?” Jeb opened up a duffel bag that was floating near his feet. “Nutrient bars. Five hundred calories’ worth of peaches compressed into a convenient bar.” Bill took a bar from Jeb. “It’s, uh, still a little weird.” “What is?” “You know,” Bill said as he bit into a bar. “Ugh! What is this stuff? Anyway, you know, this has got to be the weirdest spaceship ever flown, before or after the war. The Kraken’s Spit had, er… character, that’s for sure, but I don’t exaggerate when I say that this thing is a big plastic bag with an EVA backpack and a radio taped to the inside.” “Well, we build what works.” Bill nodded. “Indeed, we do. So, uh… have you found a place yet?” “A what?” “Are you still living in that hotel in Cletroit?” Jeb shook his head. “No, I found a house in Rockville, up on Allison Road. It’s about a block away from where you moved in, I think.” “You mean that huge colonial? Seems pretty excessive.” “No, I got a big deal on a one-story down the road. Got a pretty good deal on it, since I waited until everybody else from Juno’s Landing was already moved in. There’s a good-sized basement, so I can set up a workshop in there.” Bill grabbed a packet of orange juice. “You know, I heard that place was haunted,” he said, before taking a drink. Jeb shrugged. “Well, we deal in science. No need for superstition here.” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Chris grabbed a pair of binoculars from the geology locker and put them into a pouch in his suit. “Okay,” he told Alex, “I want you to wait outside the airlock with a suit assembled so you can be ready to assist me on the surface, but if I don’t need help then Harbrett and I will carry Bob in ourselves. We will put him in the airlock, close the outer door, and then you must equalize the pressure and bring him to the sick bay.” Alex nodded. “Okay. Should I take his suit off?” Chris shook his head. “I have no idea. You just do what Beth says, okay? She’s the doctor here and we’re just here so she can get to work.” “Got it.” “One more thing. Bob’s suit is going to be covered in Mun dust. I want you to skip the cleaning procedures and pull him in right away, as soon as the airlock’s up to the same pressure as the base.” Alex’s eyes widened. “You sure? That’s against protocol, and-” Chris grabbed Alex’s shoulder. “Listen to me. Bob is a kerbal on the brink on death. Get a mask from the sick bay and some goggles from the chem lab so you don’t breathe that stuff in or get it in your eyes, but we’ll let the air filters deal with it just this one time. We have bigger problems.” “I understand, commander.” Chris smiled just a little, his brow tensing up as he tried not to think about what kind of shape Bob would be in. “Okay. I want you to get me a helmet and then I’m going to go out and wait for the rover.” Alex walked over to a shelf. “Is this one okay?” “No, get me the one above it. That’s my lucky helmet.” Chris sighed. “Now, luck is all we have.” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Harbrett blinked and tried to get his eyes to focus on the mysterious region beyond his faceplate. His hands had gripped the rover’s controls for so long that he feared that now that he was finally closing in on Munbase he might not be able to let go. Shaking his head quickly, he let up his left hand’s grip on the wheel and tuned his suit’s radio frequency onto the Munbase local channel. He remembered switching it over to Ozymandias’s channel when he left Munbase four days ago, and never thought he’d need to touch that dial again. “Harbrett. This is Chris. If you can hear me, you must be within a few kilometers of Munbase. If you turn on the rover’s radio to the Ozymandias channel, you will be able to get a homing beacon to guide you the rest of the way to the base.” Just then, the rover went over a rise, and Harbrett could see the glint of sunlight off the solar fields. “No need, Chris,” he replied, smiling at long last. “I’ve got you in my sights and will meet you outside the airlock.” “Copy. Will you be able to help me take Bob inside?” “Yes, I will.” Chris nodded. “Good. And how’s Alice doing?” “She’s unconscious,” Harbrett replied. “Can’t tell if it’s CO2 buildup or ammonia poisoning.” “Hopefully it’s just carbon toxicity; Beth can take a moment away from Bob to take a look at her at some point.” Harbrett steered the rover around the blast crater left from Ozymandias’s ascent. “You won’t be able to see me just yet,” he told Chris. “I’m coming around the southern hab now.” The rover closed the last few yards to the base of the airlock and Harbrett lifted himself out of his seat. “Cletroit,” he said, “this is the Ozymandias crew. We have returned to Munbase; will report when through the airlock.” Chris stepped over and gazed down at Bob, cringing at the sight of his mangled suit and the blood splattered on his faceplate. “Let’s get him inside,” he said. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Jeb: Truth or dare? Bill: Dare. Jeb: I dare you to, uh… go over there and, er… touch that wall? Bill: Wow. How exciting that was. I can’t believe you made me touch that wall. Jeb: Look, it’s not easy finding things to do in this phone booth of a lifeboat we’ve got here. Bill: Yeah… at least we’ll be getting picked by our rescue mission tomorrow, and then we’ll be at Cuyahoga, and we’ll have all the space we could want. Jeb: Mmm. Hey, what’s the name of our rescue ship? Bill: Their capsule’s called Enza. Kind of boring, I think… I think we should call this lifeboat Wandering Star. Jeb: Ooh, I like that. Bill: I guess it’s all right… truth or dare? Jeb: Given how lame these dares have been, I’ll pick truth. Bill: What is your greatest fear? Jeb: That I will die of a rare disease that causes your lungs to crawl out of your mouth, wrap around your neck, and strangle you. Bill (laughing): No, seriously. Jeb: Yeah… what? Bill: Your actual greatest fear. Jeb: For real. Bill: Yep. Jeb: You’ll leave. Bill: What? Jeb: You wanted to know what I’m most afraid of, and I say that what keeps me up at night is that someday you’ll look at me, you’ll realize how self-absorbed and maniacal I am, and you won’t want to be my friend anymore. Bill: Oh… Jeb: Or maybe you’ll get into a car crash. I’m not sure which one would be more painful. I remember, a long time ago, when we were in school, I was afraid of a pandemic… but then one came, and we were stuck at home, and we survived that. Then I was afraid of a nuclear war… but then one came, and it killed everybody else in Los Ruidos, but you and I, we survived that. And now I know the things that hurt me the most have been the little things, all the people I used to know, and now I have no idea where they are. Bill: I won’t leave. Jeb: Don’t promise me that. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Bill: I’m your best friend. I’ll always love you in some way. Jeb: Do you remember Nathan Engels? Bill: Who? Jeb: My best friend in elementary school. You probably don’t even remember that we didn’t really know each other in elementary school, but I guess you could say Nathan was the brother I didn’t have. After school we’d go out on the mesa, or up into the foothills, and just look around the place and see what we could see. We built go-karts, we wrote songs, and we fired off model rockets. We both swore to each other that we’d grow old together… and then in middle school, he just left. I don’t know if Nathan thought I wasn’t cool, if I was a loser… I know I felt like one. I guess Nathan was kind of superficial. Maybe I was just amusement to him. Bill: But I’m not… I couldn’t do that. Jeb: You say that, but there’s no way for you to know if you mean it. We could get back to Kerbin and Edsel could transfer you to, I don’t know, Crystal City or someplace, and you’d just be gone. Maybe one day I’d pass you on the street, and I’d say, “Do I know that guy?” but I’d never be sure. And then I’d just keep walking. Bill: Yeah. That is a scary thought. Jeb: And with that in mind… Do you think we can do it? Save Bob? Bill: I can’t promise you anything, Jeb.
  3. Chapter 18- Near Wild Heaven Bob took a sip of coffee and reached into his filing cabinet, leafing around until he found what he was looking for. He pulled out a manila folder, half an inch thick, and opened it up to a page near the back. Sighing, he began to read. Val: Getting some plasma now… about halfway through the first S-turn. Alex: Starting to look like we might survive this thing. Val: Yeah, well, there’s no way we’re going to be able to land. As soon as we’re subsonic we bail out, that’s an order. Bob looked up as he heard a knock on his door and saw Jeb leaning over his walker, halfway through the threshold. “Mind if I come in for a minute?” “Sure,” Bob said, and glanced back at the folder as Jeb shuffled over to his desk. Alex: Coming over the western coast of Tlaxcala right now… I think that’s Los Ruidos off over to the left. Capcom: Magellan, you’re over Orchidian territorial waters in the Gulf of Gadsden. Welcome home. Val: Don’t say that until you see us back in Juno. “So,” Jeb said, “you’re a biochemist by training.” “Mhm.” “Look,” he admitted, “there’s something you should know.” Bob glanced up from the folder. “I’m all ears.” Jeb was quiet for about a minute, and Bob kept reading. Capcom: You’ll be passing due south of Crystal City in about fifty seconds. Val: Copy, Cletroit, we’ve just passed through thirty-five kilometers. I’m definitely starting to feel the wings start to get some lift. Looks like the engineer’s have taken Edsel’s back-of-the-napkin sketch and kept it from disintegrating this far. Alex: Whoa! Capcom: Magellan, report! Val: Hydraulics in the starboard wing all off-scale low! Alex: Prep for abort? Val: Yeah, Cletroit, we’re going to separate the cockpit from the service module. I’m arming the abort motors now… “I ran out of staples yesterday,” Jeb told Bob, “and I looked in your desk. I found a bottle of Electron Blue.” Bob leapt up from his chair. “I’m not going to ask why you kept it a secret,” Jeb continued, “but I was just wondering if, uh, you’d let me just take one pill so I don’t have to keep going to physical-” He was cut off by Bob shoving him against the wall. “Listen,” he whispered, as Jeb’s walker fell to the ground, “we can’t talk about this here. It’s not safe.” Val: RCS set to abort stabilization, firing the motors on my mark. Three… “What… do you mean?” Val: Two… Bob glanced over at his desk, the one he was now sure was bugged. Val: One… “Because,” he said, “Val found these pills two weeks before the Magellan launched...” Val: Mark! Capsule sep- “And,” Bob continued, “I’ve been looking over the flight logs…” Alex and Val, together: [CENSORED] “I think the Magellan accident wasn’t an accident.” Capcom: Magellan, Cletroit, comm check. [Static] Capcom: Magellan, Cletroit, UHF comm check. [Static] Capcom (faintly): GC, Flight… lock the doors. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Two years earlier… “I wish Kerbin would just set, you know?” Alice told Mission Control. “Just set instead of staring me in the face.” In Cletroit, the Mark Kerman sighed as he entered his fifth hour of the night Capcom shift. “Uhhh…” “Yeah,” she said. “All these miles rolling by, and we’re only, what, halfway to Munbase? I wish there was just one straight shot through all these craters, and I could just set cruise control instead of driving around each and every one. And then I could close my eyes for a while… I haven’t slept in two days. Harbrett’s sleeping right now, but I have to keep staring at Kerbin, and I can see Cletroit right now. I can see lake Pontchartrain, and I think I can see Cletroit.” “Alice,” Mark said, “the flight surgeon’s here. He thinks you should wake up Harbrett and let him drive the rest of the way to Munbase. He’s got a few hours of sleep, so he’ll drive better. We can’t let you risk crashing when you go down into Devon’s Crater.” Alice nodded and tapped Harbrett on the shoulder. “Get up. It’s your turn to drive.” Harbrett moaned and raised his sun visor. “How far are we?” “About halfway. Come on, let’s switch seats.” Alice stood and walked to the back of the rover. “Looks like Bob’s still out cold… just let me swap out my carbon dioxide scrubber and then we can get back on our way.” Harbrett sat down in the driver’s seat and buckled himself in. “Ready?” Alice sat down next to him and leaned back. “All set.” “Okay. Try to get some sleep.” Harbrett switched off the local channel and floored the accelerator. “We’re really moving now, Cletroit. How are things doing at Munbase?” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Chris: I’m going to start off by reminding everybody that I’m recording this discussion for the accident investigation board, so remember to speak clearly. Alex: Yes, commander. Beth: So, what’s the latest ETA on the Ozymandias crew? Chris: About four hours. Cletroit’s sent me a list of things we need to get done before then. First, we need to start preparing a Phoenix for an emergency liftoff. Obviously, since Bob and his crew took Ozymandias, and then it crashed, we need to decide whether to let them have our spacecraft or to give them the backup. Alex: The backup Phoenix… how long has that one been sitting on the surface? Chris: About two years now. Alex: Then I think we should give up Bluejay, since we brought it with us a few months ago. It’s newer, so I’ll be able to get it up and running sooner. Then I’ll start a full hardware check on the backup and make sure nothing’s broken so that we can still use it to evacuate in case of some catastrophe, like a pressure breach. If we need to, I can request spare parts to be sent on the next mission. Chris: Next, we have a harder problem… Bob needs a doctor. We need to get him back to Kerbin as soon as we can, but before that he at least needs blood transfusions and we can at least sew him back up even if we have no way to deal with the, uh, massive internal hemorrhaging. Beth: That might cause problems. We do have a sick bay, but it’s also the chem lab. It’s just not meant for any surgery more technical than an appendectomy. But, if we just need to stabilize one patient to send him back to Kerbin, that may be doable. Chris, you’ll need to put all of your chemicals away while I prep for the operation, and then since it’s not a sterile area we’ll need to wipe down everything with an alcohol solution- Chris: Okay. Beth: And then expose the entire lab to vacuum for five minutes. Chris: Oh, wow, okay. I guess I’ll need to move some chemicals to another part of the base, but I after that I can give you a hand with- Capcom: Cletroit calling, we have an update on the situation… ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ “That’s great! It starts with an earthquake, birds, snakes, an airplane…” In Mission Control, Mark laughed. “Yeah, you’ve definitely got a real, uh, distinctive singing voice there, Harbrett.” Harbrett rolled his eyes. “Oh, keep your opinions to yourself. At least I switched off my local channel so Alice can sleep.” He cleared his throat and started singing again. “It’s the end of the world as we know it… It’s the end of the world as we know it…” Alice coughed. “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine!” Alice burst upright and began to shake, convulsing with deep, hacking coughs. “Oh, man,” she gasped, “I can’t breathe…” “Alice!” Harbrett shouted. “What’s wrong?” “Some kind of fumes in my suit!” “Okay, okay, describe what you feel.” “Tears in my eyes, burning in my throat…” “Sounds like ammonia inhalation. But… oh, no.” “What?” Alice asked. “The carbon scrubbers,” Harbrett explained. “One of the boxes with all the scrubbers came open when the Raven crashed. But a coolant line also broke upon impact, and it must have sprayed the scrubbers with ammonia!” “How… many scrubbers?” Harbrett bit his lip and added it up in his head. “Around half our supply. We only have about two hours left per person now.” “And how far to Munbase?” “Three hours.” Alice nodded and turned around to take the carbon scrubber out of her suit. “In that case,” she suggested, “I suggest you make good time to Munbase and I’ll try to take shallow breaths.”
  4. Chapter 17- Satellite of Love “T-minus twelve, eleven, ten…” In the streets, heads turned. Buses stopped; at the light rail station on Central Avenue, the display board simply read, “Emergency Service Suspension- 24 HR DELAY.” With low cloud cover to the west of the coast and thunderstorms to the south, normally the range safety officer would have demanded the countdown be halted until the skies cleared up, but there was no delaying today’s launch. Once the engines lit up, the sound would be reflected onto the city: Windows would be broken, but that was an acceptable price to pay for the lives of three kerbals. “…nine, eight, seven, six…” The voice came from everywhere. The emergency warning sirens, silent since Hurricane George had made landfall two months earlier, had switched over to the live feed from Mission Control; the last time the sirens had spoken in clear weather, they had warned frightened kerbals to stay indoors, and to seek shelter in their basement, and not to go out in the radioactive rain that fell in the streets and washed into the gutters. “…five, four…” The air began to scream like it had been set aflame, and the streets themselves began to shake. Somewhere, beyond the horizon, the Moa had just lit up. It was straining against its hold-down bolts, lurching ever so slightly in preparation for its voyage. “…main engine start…” But Juno’s Landing had survived much worse. Even the four rocket engines, screaming and shaking as they throttled up to full power, were barely a blip on the screen compared to the endless hurricanes and storms that slammed into shore: By now, every window in every house was shatter-resistant, and no rocket could shake the space coast after four decades of launches. Juno’s Landing reached for the stars… “…three, two, one…” And the stars had moved to Cletroit. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Capcom: Liftoff of the Shackleton spacecraft! We have liftoff, we are committed. Jeb: Copy, launch commit. The clock has started and we’ve passed the tower. Bill: Beautiful day, hope we didn’t shake things up too bad back in town… roll program. Capcom: Passing one kilometer, Shackleton. How’s everything feel so far? Bill: Pretty good, Val. They said that since we’re not going to wait in LKO but go straight for the trans-munar burn during the launch sequence we won’t be pitching over as far. I can’t really feel it so far- Capcom: Fifteen kilometers, about ninety seconds left on the SRBs. Jeb: Whoa! That’s a pretty steep ascent! Bill: I can report at this time, just prior to the max g-loading, that our cargo in the engineering bay is holding steady. The rover’s still behind us, and it looks good. Capcom: Copy, Shackleton. We’ll be wanting a full report on that stuff as soon as you get into orbit. SRB burnout in three, two, one… Jeb: Pretty good kick when they detached just then. Normally we’re nearly horizontal, and you don’t notice as much. Bill: Real smooth launch except for that, really. Coming up on first stage burnout… there it is. Bit of a flash right there when we separated. Jeb: Here it comes now… second stage online. Capcom: Good. Unless you start to wobble around a bit and lose your vector, we’ll want you to burn up all the fuel in this stage. The more kick we can get out of the second stage, the less fuel we need to use up from the service module and the more fuel we can save from the service module the softer the crash landing’s going to be on the Mun. Bill: Cletroit, we copy. Will report after burnout. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ “Three, two, one… burnout!” Val smiled. “Congratulations, you two,” she announced, “you’ve just set a new speed record.” At the flight controller’s station, Gene turned and slapped Wernher on the back. “See? I told you the launch would go fine!” “Yes, but… if there had been an abort, the crew would have been killed. The escape system wasn’t designed to work when the rocket pitches over so shallowly.” Gene shrugged. “But they didn’t abort. Uh, let’s see… GUIDO, double-check their trajectory and make sure they’re still on course to be re-captured into Kerbin orbit during their Mun flyby instead of getting slingshotted out into deep space. EECOM, get ready to walk them through the EVA.” Ten thousand miles from Cletroit, and growing more distant with every passing second, Jeb and Bill double-checked the seals on their helmets and their gloves. It would take them barely five hours to reach the Mun at the incredible speed they were going, and before then they would have to inflate their shelter, program the Raven to do a course correction after they cast off, and secure the payload for the crash-landing on the Mun. Assembling the Raven’s collapsible airlock would eat up over half of that precious time, so they would have to do their spacewalk the same way they did back in the ‘60s: straight out the hatch, with the entire capsule exposed to hard vacuum. Bill glanced down at Kerbin, the faint blue glow of the planet reflected in his visor, and for a brief moment thought that if he let go of the hatch he might fall back to the surface. Then he shook his head and glanced up at the Raven’s docking port and, past that, the Mun. “Cletroit, I’m stepping through the door.” In the engineering bay, Jeb grabbed the inflatable shelter. “Here’s the lifeboat,” he told Bill. “You take it up to the docking port and I’ll hold the ship steady.” Bill grabbed the shelter in one hand, and with the other pulled himself up the afterbody towards the top of the capsule. The lifeboat was an awkward package; only about a foot tall, it was the same diameter as the Raven’s docking port, about twice as wide as Bill. After a few minutes, he managed to bring it up to the top of the afterbody, and peered into the capsule through the docking window, watching as Jeb waved at him. “Okay, arm the port.” Bill turned as the docking latches unfolded and hefted the shelter above his shoulder. “I’m thinking I shouldn’t try to shove it in myself,” he told Jeb. “I’ll just kind of line it up above the docking port, and then you can just give me a bit of forward translation on the RCS, okay?” “Got it,” Jeb replied. “Tell me when.” “Okay… ready.” The spacecraft lurched a bit, and then the shelter floated into the docking collar. “Soft dock, probe retract… hard dock.” Bill patted the shelter and made sure it had made a good seal with the docking port. “Looks good. What’s next on the checklist?” “Let’s see… open the docking port bleed air valve, then repressurize the capsule.” “Guess they’re assuming I’ve come back inside first… okay, the hatch is closed. Cletroit, we’re starting to inflate the shelter now…” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ “About two minutes,” Harbrett said. “Do you think we should go inside the Phoenix or something?” Alice shrugged. “No point. If the Raven comes down right on top of us, we’ll be burned to a crisp by the braking motors and then we’ll be crushed.” The Mun, she was beginning to realize, was not just some cold desert. She had been taken to some canyon about forty miles from Los Ruidos for her geology training before the flight, and she remembered that crows flew overhead during the day, and crickets chirped at night, but nothing moved on this plain. She and Harbrett were the only living things on an entire world. No, she reminded herself. Bob is still alive, and we’re going to take him back to Munbase, where other people can help him stay that way. “One minute. See anything yet?” Alice raised her sun visor and looked up at the sky. “No, no I… wait. Yep, I see something moving.” The Raven grew from a faint star into the fuzzy outline of a capsule, and then a huge spaceship coming down impossibly fast, zooming over their heads, lighting up like another sun as the braking motors in the afterbody fired, and then it had vanished in a cloud of dust. Harbrett and Alice didn’t hear the explosion, but they felt it rumble through the regolith and up their boots. Harbrett swore. “You really think the rover could’ve survived a crash like that?” “I think so,” Alice told him. “The Raven is the most durable ship ever built. Even when the spacecraft's been destroyed, her cargo still survives, whether you’re talking about kerbals or machines.”
  5. Intermission- Author's Note Reeeeeal quick... This is one of those times where there's not going to be another chapter for a month. The exciting part is, I have an excuse this time! Hooray! To make a short story slightly shorter, about three hours ago my laptop screen went blank and started flickering and flashing with all sorts of lines moving across it. After a panicked hard reboot, I was able to log in but the screen was still flickering pretty bad, in a way that I could tell was about to give me a migraine. Even though I have an automatic backup, I got a flash drive and copied over six files I decided were really important- and the Making a Dollar or Two Word document was one of them, so hooray! Unfortunately, the computer I'm using now... really hates me. For example, whenever I put in an SD card, the keyboard stops working and I lose all Internet and Bluetooth capabilities, problems that can only be solved by a reboot. I know that if I actually opened that Word document, some kind of awful thing would happen to it, and neither of us would ever see it again. So it's just sitting on my desktop while I diagnose whatever kind of terrible seizure my regular computer's having. Luckily, since I only got it two months ago, HP better believe it's still in warranty. Also, everything except the screen looks fine, so if I turn the brightness way down it's still usable in a pinch. I only bring it up because I'm so excited that I finally have an --> !!! EXCUSE !!! <-- for forgetting this thing exists. To be fair, if my laptop was in perfect working order, I would still be watching Stephen Colbert monologues from two years ago instead of doing anything productive, but once I do start writing, I really do remember why I stick by this fanfiction at all instead of abandoning it: Because this is the nicest corner of the Internet left and because I really enjoy having endless characterization to play around with (I definately wouldn't be writing this if Squad had given Jeb or Val any kind of in-game backstory, that's for sure). Anyway! Enough of that tortured rant! Since you sat through it, you deserve some kind of... narrative thing, with jokes and stuff. Remember when I used to put jokes into my story? I don't. Also, as you read, keep in mind that Bob is in a coma on the Mun. Okay! That about wraps things up! Author out! Bill's Guide to Computer Repair If you are a senior citizen or are middle-aged, locate a young person. If you do not mind sitting through an extremely patronizing discussion, where said young person assumes that you have replaced all of your system files with pictures of other people's children from Facebook, he or she will almost always be able to fix your computer problem. If they cannot, they are bound by a strict young person code of honor to run away as far as they can to avoid admitting they don't know what they're doing. If you think you know something about computers, close the laptop's lid and back away slowly. Even if you are using a desktop, grasp the monitor firmly in both hands and push it down against your desk so that you can no longer see the screen. Then locate a young person. If you are Jeb, it would be best to call the bomb squad at this time. Otherwise, if you still insist on trying to solve the problem yourself, consult the guide below: The worst-case scenario for this sort of thing is that you brick your computer while you're attempting to fix it, so before you start any troubleshooting, back up anything important that you might need. For example, if you're an engineer, you should locate the diagrams from any projects you're working on at the moment and put them onto a flashdrive. If you're an author you should comb through your documents folder, locate everything you've been working on in the last few months, and just so you always have a copy I'd reccomend copying and pasting all of the text from important drafts into an online platform such as Google Docs. If you are a politician, locate all of the classified information on your computer and upload it to the cloud by putting it on Twitter. Now that you've prepared yourself to destroy your computer and eradicate all of the data on its hard drive, you may now attempt to fix it. You should start by diagnosing whether your problem is being caused by hardware or software- if you are recieiving second or first degree burns when you touch your computer, the problem is probably hardware; if there is any type of spinning circle, pinwheel, disc, sphere, axle, or flywheel on your screen, the problem is probably software. If it's a software problem: I'm assuming you've already tried restarting your computer, so let's go into your BIOS. First, go into the Start menu (if you're using an Apple device, Steve Jobs' ghost would like to remind you that the best way to fix it is to buy a new one) and select the option to restart your computer. After the screen goes blank, all you have to do is hold down shift, alt, ctrl, space, and the windows key while pressing f9 once every half-second, f10 every fifth time you press f9, and f11 whenever the sum of the number of times you've pressed f9 and f10 is a prime number. It's that easy! Now that you're in, mess around with stuff until you've been able to determine that the problem is caused by ghosts or until you brick everything. I can take you no further. If it's a hardware problem: Your computer's warranty expired three days ago- learn to live with it! If you are a young person who just messed up some older person's computer, you can find some great deals on transcontinental flights if you're willing to shop around a little, but remember to give yourself plenty of time to make your connection if you choose to fly on Allegiant, Spirit, or Frontier as they only operate a few flights a week to some destinations and if you miss yours you may have no choice but to return to the older person's computer and admit you don't know what you're doing. I hope that helps! If you have any questions, feel free to stalk Bill Gates and ask him personally if you manage to evade arrest. After all, this is his fault, not mine. -Bill
  6. I think that's the most topical I've ever been! I'm only two decades late to a joke!
  7. But I always end these chapters with a one-liner quote, like.... Oh. You mean about Electron Blue. Fun fact, that's originally an R.E.M. song about "a drug made out of light". Michael Stipe was probably talking about a narcotic made out of light, but Big Pharma is actually more interesting for the purposes of this story. Whenever I can't think of something to write about, I usually end up stealing a song. Take, for example, the Cuyahoga space station, or something even more obscure that inspired a story about spinning a capsule around to get it out of orbit way, way back in 2018, or how about They Might be Giants? Of course, those are just a few examples (The Velvet Underground and the Old 97's have probably both worked their way in here a few times before) and there's way more than just music that I take my inspiration from (thanks, Andy Weir). That being said, I do think Townes Van Zandt might fit in nicely somewhere in the next few chapters... Also, I considered naming this previous chapter the "Making a Dollar or Two Iowa Primary Caucus Special", even though it had nothing to do with the Iowa caucuses*. Luckily, it also turned out that the Iowa caucuses had nothing to do with the Iowa caucuses. *For our friends from outside the States, Iowa is a place whose political importance depends mainly on whether or not the current year is divisible by four. Even though its population is relatively small, for complex reasons they have an important role in nominating a Democrat and a Republican to run for president, and they do this using a caucus, which is a system of voting which has significant benefits and drawbacks compared to normal polling methods but this year it got messed up and nobody knows which Democrat won yet (and this time it's not Florida's fault). I also think the people in Iowa like that they understand what a caucus is and the rest of us don't.
  8. Chapter 16- Red Metal (Thanks, Percy Shelly) “Lift up your arms.” Thirty pounds of synthetic fiber settled itself around Jeb’s shoulders. “Tuck your head and brace your neck.” The rubber neck dam pulled at Jeb’s hair and twisted his ears, and then the helmet popped down onto his neck. “Breathe steadily and swallow to equalize the pressure in your ears.” The glass visor came down and the suit tightened as air was pumped in through a compressor somewhere. “Okay…” came Val’s voice from somewhere far away, muffled through the synthetic fabrics and the weight of an extra quarter of an atmosphere pressing down on Jeb’s eardrums. “Everything looks good. I’m going to equalize the pressure in your suit now.” The orange fiber settled over Jeb’s limbs, and he slouched a bit as his ears popped. Opening his helmet, he glanced over at Bill, who was also finishing his pressurization test. Val, standing next to Jeb, closed a few more valves in her suit and then hobbled over to the door on crutches, her left foot in a cast. “All right, you two. Start your prebreathe and let’s head to the pad.” Jeb and Bill picked up their portable ventilation units and carried them by their side as they exited the crew quarters and climbed into the waiting van, the door sliding closed behind them as reporters crowded around. “Any last things to add before we start the mission?” Bill asked, looking around. Gene, Wernher, Sunny, and Doctor Irene sat on the bench opposite them. Sunny and Irene looked over some papers they held in their hands, Gene and Wernher glanced around nervously. “Yeah,” Alice said as the van started off. “I just got a memo from the boss. Edsel says he doesn’t want any more ironic spacecraft names.” Bill glanced out the window as the Moa booster came into view as the van rounded the VAB. “What does he mean, ‘ironic spacecraft names’?” “You know, things that wouldn’t look good in a crash, like Titanic or The Invincible. Consider, for example, this poem: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare. “Now, keeping that in mind, have you seen the satellite pictures of the crash site? ‘That colossal wreck’ sums it up pretty nicely. So, when you decide on a callsign for this mission, just try to pick something that won’t end up looking all ironic or hubristic if you die. Can I ask what you have in mind?” “Uh,” Bill muttered, “we have a few ideas-” “We’re going to call the spacecraft Shackleton,” Jeb replied. “No!” Alice shouted. “Why can’t I pick the names for these things? I’m sick and tired of reading off press bulletins that sound like, ‘The Bite the Wax Tadpole ascent stage has rendezvoused with the Bill Berry’s Eyebrows command module in low Munar orbit and the crew is scheduled to splash down in the Azuric Ocean in three days’ time, where they will be met by the S.S. Banana recovery ship.’ Where do you guys come up with these names?” “Shackleton rescued his crew from the polar sea ice,” Jeb reminded Alice. “It was a magnificent rescue, and I hope we can pull off one that is just as great.” “True,” replied Wernher, gazing up at the Raven as the van pulled up to the launchpad. “But keep in mind that it is also Shackleton who stranded his crew in the first place.” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Across the brief but insurmountable gulf between Kerbin and the rolling hills of the Mun came the call: “Cletroit, Ozymandias.” Alice sighed. “Don’t call us Ozymandias. The spacecraft has been destroyed.” “Sorry. Cletroit, uh, Phoenix Number 31, a rescue mission is about to be launched from Juno. Gene is down there now overseeing the countdown. Please prepare for a nearby supply drop in under eight hours.” Harbrett looked up at Kerbin, closed one of his eyes, and watched it disappear. “Copy.” “And please confirm that Bob is still wedged underneath the crew cabin?” “Affirmative. We’ll have to move him sometime, but I don’t want to risk some kind of spinal injury.” “Understood,” the Capcom replied. “We’re going to be sending some harnesses and light excavation equipment with the supply ship so you can extract him safely.” Alice glanced over at the Phoenix, only a few feet away from where she sat drawing in the dust with a broken landing strut, and looked into Bob’s reflective faceplate. “All right. To conserve power, we’re going to turn off our radio now and check in on you in thirty minutes. If there’s an emergency before then we’ll call you.” “We copy,” Capcom replied. “Cletroit, over and out.” “Phoenix Number 31, over and out.” There was a click. “Okay,” Alice said, “hi-gain radio off, and we’re back on the local freq. How’s our O2 doing?” “Not great,” Harbrett replied. “Bob’s using up air faster than I thought he would… I think I’ve changed out his oxygen tanks at least two or three times so far.” “Don’t worry. The Shackleton will get here tomorrow and then we’ll have two days of oxygen for the five-hour drive back to Munbase. I guess I should-” At the base of the crew cabin, the regolith shifted. “Unnhhhh….” “Bob!” Alice shouted. “Are you okay?” “I can’t… can’t breathe too well…” “That’s okay,” Harbrett replied. “You’re still trapped under the Phoenix, so it’s natural that-” “What? Why haven’t you tried to save me?” “We were worried you’d have a spinal injury,” Harbrett told him. “If we moved you, you could be paralyzed for life. Can you feel your legs?” “…Not really.” Harbrett took a breath. “Okay, that probably means you just don’t have any blood circulation in your extremities right now. We’re going to try pulling you out now.” Alice ran over. “I’ll try to lift up the Phoenix a little and you can grab his arms. Three, two, one…” She was about to say pull, but she was deafened by Bob’s screams. Harbrett swore, but Alice only saw his lips move; he was silent beneath the symphony of pain. Slowly, inch by inch, Bob emerged, his suit scraping against the dirt on one side and the jagged skeleton of the crew module on the other. Finally, he was out, and he lay gasping on the Munar regolith. “No,” he cried, “can’t do that again…” “It’s okay,” Alice told him, bending down. “You’ll be fine. Look, your pressure suit’s still intact. That’s good!” Bob shook his head. “Don’t you know, Alice? The acceleration couches, the pressure suits… They’re designed to keep working in some pretty hostile conditions, long after we would’ve been killed. The suit’s fine, but…” He exhaled, clouding up his visor for a moment. “The body within may be damaged beyond repair.” “When we get back to Kerbin,” Harbrett told Bob, “all the best doctors in Orchidia are going to be there to make you well again.” Bob closed his eyes. “Not good enough. Alice… If I don’t make it…” Alice leaned closer. “Tell Jeb… Tell him Electron Blue is… fake. Tell him it’s… a delivery system.” “No!” Alice exclaimed. “What does that mean, Bob?” “He’ll know… what it means. Remember… Electron Blue is fake. It’s just… a delivery system.” Even though his eyes stayed closed and his breathing stayed shallow, Alice realized that Bob had succumbed to unconsciousness again. “I… don’t know what that means.” Harbrett gazed down at the fallen astronaut. “I’ll tell him, Bob.” He glanced at Alice, and then back at Bob, trained his vision on the gradual, tenuous motion of his chest as it rose and fell, ever so slightly… “Do you think he’ll dream?”
  9. Chapter 15- Happy New Year* “Good morning, and welcome aboard Alliance Airlines Flight 5015 with nonstop service from Juno’s Landing Valentina A. Kerman International Airport to Cletroit-Mayne County International. Our estimated flight time today is three hours and twenty-seven minutes…” As the pilot continued her announcement, Bob leaned back in his seat and glanced over at Jeb. “All this extra leg room is neat, huh?” Jeb just shrugged, and Bob remembered that, except for a quick visit to Val’s grave, the only time Jeb had been outside the hospital in the last two months was when he had left this very airport after a fourteen-hour flight from Finchernia, walking on his own two legs without any thought of the blood clots drifting up from his legs towards his brain. Bob thought briefly of the crutches in the overhead bin, that Jeb had used to take the last few steps from his wheelchair to his seat, and then tried once again to cheer his friend up. “I probably shouldn’t tell you, but Wernher’s planned a big surprise party for you when-” “Excuse me,” a flight attendant said, walking up. “You two are aware that you are seated in an exit row?” “Yes, ma’am,” Jeb replied. “And you have read the safety instructions in your seatback, and you are capable of operating this exit in an emergency?” Jeb rolled his eyes. “Take one look at my legs and tell me if I’m capable of operating anything.” “Well, sir, if you can’t assist in an evacuation, then you’ll have to be reseated.” “Now, hold on,” Jeb said, raising his voice. “When I checked into this flight I told the customer service representative that I require extra legroom for a medical condition, and when I boarded the flight I reminded your gate agent of that fact. This is the seat they gave me, and I assumed that this would not be a problem.” “I’m sorry, sir. Federal regulations prohibit this flight from leaving the gate until you are reseated.” Bob glanced up. “Uh, perhaps you could reseat us in a bulkhead seat?” The flight attendant shook her head. “Those seats are reserved for our Platinum Club customers.” Jeb shook with rage. “Now, I’m entitled to equal treatment just the same as anybody else under the Orchidians with Disabilities Act, and I-” “Jeb,” Bob whispered, “that law isn’t going to be passed for another two years.” “Whoops.” Jeb looked back up at the flight attendant. “Fine. What are my options?” “We can rebook you on a later flight-” “Fine,” Jeb sighed, “sounds good.” “-and we will hold your checked bags for you upon your arrival in Cletroit.” “No!” Jeb exclaimed. “I gate-checked a wheelchair, which was way nicer than the one your gate staff gave me to board this plane. Can you take it out before we take off?” “I’m afraid not, sir. After we land in Cletroit, this aircraft has a very tight turnaround to-” Jeb swore. “Forget this,” he said. “Bob, grab your things. We’re moving to another seat.” “But your doctor said-” “I know what my doctor said! I just don’t want to be stuck here in Juno’s Landing anymore. I have very fond memories of this city, and I’m not going to ruin them by staying here in my… present state. I’m going to need every bit of strength I can get if I’m ever going to walk again and leaving Cletroit sounds like the perfect motivation. The next time I come back to this city,” he declared, “I’m walking down the beach on my own two feet.” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Two years earlier… Bob’s screams had stopped, and all was silent among the scattered debris of the Ozymandias wreck. “I think he’s unconscious,” Alice panted. “I’ll go down and check… oh, man, this is gonna be bad…” In mission control, Gene turned away from his console, unnerved by the sudden silence. “Okay. Geez. Uh, can we get a doctor in here?” Next to Jeb, an intern stood up. “Yessir,” an intern said. “I’ll get the flight surgeon right away.” She ran off, and Gene looked out over his engineers. “Well,” he told them, “don’t just sit there. Just, uh, start talking about our options. We need to launch a rescue mission as soon as we can. We need a surveying team to find the crash site, and then they can decide if Ozymandias is close enough to Munbase for us to send off an overland rescue team. If it’s not, then we need to get somebody on the next flight from Cletroit to Juno to start prepping an emergency launch.” Gene’s telephone rang, and Val reached over his shoulder to pick up the receiver first. “Hello… uh-huh, uh-huh…” She frowned. “It’s Edsel. He wants to tell you that to save money, he’s just removed our quick-launch rescue capabilities from the KSC.” Bill ran up behind her from the flight controller’s trench. “Hold on,” he said. “Does he know that we have a… crisis here?” Val shook her head and picked the telephone back up. “Edsel, we have a situation here. The Phoenix just crashed during its takeoff, and Bob has been injured very badly. We need a booster at the Cape ready for flight as soon as… yes, I know that you’ve… oh, for the love of…” She put the phone back in its cradle. “Edsel says that there is one munar-capable booster at the KSC, already vertical and ready to be moved to the pad.” “Yes!” Bill hollered. “We can-” “Except,” Val continued, “Edsel says he realized that if he delayed the mission for three months he could save five thousand dollars, so twenty minutes ago the booster was moved back to the VAB and destacked.” In the back of the room, Jeb stared at the blank console screens in the engineer’s trenches. “I think,” he said, “we should get a priest in here to read the crew their last rites.” “Not so fast,” came a voice. From out of the shadows, Sam Kerman stepped towards Gene’s console. “Jeb, look at these Munar topography maps.” He handed Jeb a thick book and opened it to a page halfway through. “Ozymandias crashed on top of Carpenter Plateau. They’re close enough to Munbase- about thirty kilometers- to send a rover, but the slope to the top of the plateau is too steep. If we could send a rover in the other direction, however, it could make the downhill run to Munbase in a few hours.” “But,” Jeb replied, arms straining under the weight of the atlas, “they don’t have a rover.” “There’s a Raven stacked for a flight to Cuyahoga on the pad right now in Juno’s Landing,” Sam explained. “If we burned up all the fuel in the booster and three-quarters of the fuel in the service module, a two-person crew could send a rescue package to the crash site about six hours after launch. During transit, the astronauts would prepare an inflatable shelter and abandon the Raven in deep space. Then the Raven would make a pre-programmed maneuver to shift its trajectory from a close Munar flyby to an impact near the crash site, and the remaining fuel in the service module and the capsule’s abort motors would slow it down just enough for the rover to stay intact. Meanwhile, as the Ozymandias crew makes their way to Munbase, we dispatch another rescue mission to pick up the stranded Raven crew as they head out to a point about halfway to Minnmus on a highly eccentric orbit. Right now, there are three astronauts on the surface of Minnmus. In this scenario, they end their mission early and send their Raven to rescue the stranded astronauts in the shelter. Then, they drop them off at Cuyahoga and we focus on getting Bob, Harbrett, and Alice home while the Minnmus crew returns to Kerbin and the rescue team waits for another Raven to come up and get them.” Val blinked. “Sam, you… Wow. Attention all stations, did you just hear what he said?” A few controllers nodded. “Good. Get on it.” Jeb sighed and pinched his brow. His other hand, however, still held the atlas, and it fell from his hands and crashed into Val’s foot. She swore and fell over, clutching her shoe as a doctor came in. "That looks like a pretty serious injury,” she said. “Come to my office after we’re done here.” “Don’t we have some bigger problems here?” Val gasped. “Yes,” the doctor replied, “we do. You’re grounded until that foot is healed, so Bill will have to take your place on the rescue mission and you’ll have to stay here and do CAPCOM duties.” “Uh,” Jeb asked, “who are you?” “Irene Kerman,” the doctor replied. “Now, before you and Bill head to the Cape, I’ll need blood samples from you both.” “Why?” “Because Bob’s in really bad shape. It looks like the Phoenix crushed his abdomen; even in Munar gravity, that’s pretty serious. His liver, kidneys, or lungs could be seriously damaged, especially if the circulation to those organs gets cut off. Luckily, because Bob is a Silver Creek veteran, he gets to cut the line for the transplant wait list, but if there were any astronauts or really anybody at all at Bloeting who were willing to give him an organ, it could help save somebody else’s life down the line. I’m sure you know that the waiting list for an organ is-” “I’ll do it,” Val volunteered from the floor. Next to her, Jeb nodded. “I don’t think anybody here would refuse,” the doctor explained, “except maybe the boss. But even if you gave up part of your liver or a lung, I’d still be able to get you back on flight status a few months after the surgery. After all,” she said, “if you end up in a worse wreck than Bob, a missing lung isn’t going to be what kills you.” *Two months??? Man, I can be lazy sometimes. Really, I just had no idea how to write this chapter, and I didn't want to post something I knew I'd end up hating. Luckily, I have a clear vision for where to go from here. With that in mind, enjoy!
  10. 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?”
  11. 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.
  12. 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.”
  13. Cyclical synchronizer-desynchronizer semirandomized self-repeating assembly array Lettuce
  14. 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: Pontchartrain 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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 northeast. 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 northeast 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 northeastern 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.”
  17. 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.
  18. 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.”
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. 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.
  22. Texas. ... ... Where I'm from, 'Texas' is a bad word.
  23. Banned because by banning you, I am forced to write a post that is very boring.
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