I'm sorry I haven't updated in like a week, but I am seriously running out of time. I'll have more next week, but expect Chapter 5 to take a while.
Anyway, here it is. It takes place in a different universe, told from a different perspective. They aren't as advanced as the Athena Initiative is, but they have NTRs and have been to Duna a few times.
It was a beautiful day at the KSC, and the sun shone brightly overhead. Near the launchpad, a rover quietly drove on the grass, unaware of anything amiss. In the bed of the rover were twelve kerbals, some of the most powerful names in the communication industry. Elon Kerman, founder of the Nebula corporation, gazed over at the runway, thinking of how great a place it would be to launch a SpaceLiner from. Next to him sat Hudley Kerman, a game designer looking to get rich on a satellite network. In the cab, the drivers gave a tour of the space center and quietly drove ahead, oblivious to the strange device mounted on the roof above them. Suddenly, the strange object erupted in a ball of fire, blowing the rover apart.It was finally here!For the first time in a year an a half, I could finally get some fresh air that wasn't toxic. At least the air at Red House, our Duna base, had smelled better. The Red Flame had just slowed down into an orbit a few hours ago, and the capsule that would take us back to Kerbin was only a hundred meters away.
The Red Flame had been used for four previous Duna missions, and it certainly smelled as such. At least on our mission the four nuclear rockets that propelled the ship hadn't broken like last time. I floated through the docking tunnel to the command module and stared out the window. A stunning panorama of Kerbin floated through the void far below us.The capsule opened its docking port shrouds and approached the ship, little white jets of hydrazine streaming out of its massively oversized RCS thrusters.
A screech echoed through the port. The port's actuators whirred, and soon the hatch slid open. The rest of the crew floated in behind me, and soon we were all sitting in the extremely cramped Draco Orbiter, the Red Flame falling behind us. Once we were a few kilometers away, the cryogenic Hecate engine on the capsule fired to send us back into the atmosphere. The hydrogen tanks detached, and soon we were enveloped in a shell of fire.
Once all the plasma had dissipated, I looked out the window at the scene below me. We were just above the KSC when the parachutes deployed, and after the initial jerk I was able to look around at the space center. Gene and several other Kerbals waved at us from the Astronaut Complex.I glanced at the radar and saw that we were only 400 meters above the ground. Wait... that wasn't the ground! We were going to land on the Administration Building! I yelped in alarm and fired the braking thrusters to move away. Touchdown would be bumpy, but at least it was better than when I had crash-landed on the Mun during the Gray Torch 3 mission. Suddenly, I heard a splash. Milgy, the commander, tried to open the hatch, but the capsule tipped on its side. We had landed in the Administration Building pool!
After the engineers fished us out of the pool, Gene pulled me aside behind the VAB."There's something I need to tell you. Come."We both walked up the stairs to the top of the VAB, and Gene pulled out his tablet. I gaped at what I saw.
A technician has supposedly been walking near the launchpad when a nearby tour rover exploded. All fourteen occupants were injured, and a team was still investigating what happened."Why would anyone do that?" I said."Remember those spacetime anomalies we found near Eve?""Yeah. Didn't one of the scientists say they were mini black holes or something?""Yes, those ones. But they weren't mini black holes. They never were. Now what you're about to hear is not to be shared with anyone.""Okay," I said, waves of apprehension crawling down my throat."You know that probe we launched to Moho? The soil sampler? Well, it wasn't actually designed to sample soil. We just synthesized some fake Moho dirt and put it in a reentry capsule, which has been placed in orbit by a CubeSat launch.""You faked a mission? How could you?" I interrupted."Let me go on. The probe we did launch actually travelled to Eve, carrying a comprehensive set of nuclear measurement instruments. It is currently in an Eve polar orbit, and has been researching the anomalies ever since. It appears that atoms are splitting more easily, and the process is speeding up.""What does this mean?" I asked.
Gene paused in thought, his face contorted with worry. I backed away, nearly tripping on the stairs. Finally, he spoke."We believe that, once the effect reaches high enough levels, the uranium-rich core of Kerbin may go critical."He continued, "We have calculated that, in four years, Eve will explode. Shortly after, Kerbin will as well. But, based on our simulations, Jool and it's moons should be safe for over 800 years."His entire body twitched, and his neck was red from rubbing his shirt. I could still barely comprehend what he had told me."But we have hope," Gene said, but his expression said the opposite."We are planning to set up a self-sufficient colony on Laythe, but first we need to learn more about this instability, and if it can be stopped. That's where you come in. We need you to find out what's happening. All of Kerbin needs you."
I nearly fell over with shock. Why would Gene set the fate of the world on, of all people, me?Gene looked at me as if he read my mind."I have met with several other astronauts and scientists, and together we have come up with a plan to save Kerbalkind. We have funding for five Jool probes, one for each moon. We swapped them out, and now have a network of Jool relays waiting for the next transfer window. We also have 120 new interplanetary relays set to launch to Duna in about a hundred days, arranged in 10 launches of 12 probes each. But instead of 120 small relays, we have six large Laythe probes and a station module planned to launch. They will simply wait around in orbit for the next transfer window and burn then. And you know our plan for a Duna space station and fuel depot? That's when we'll launch our first colony modules.""What's the deal with all this secrecy? Why can't anyone know?""We will tell people, but not yet. We have to give people hope. Otherwise, the world will collapse into chaos, and that will do us no better than ignoring it."I paused to think about this, and realized he was right. The wind howling past the roof of the VAB made me glance around, scanning for someone trying to ambush us."But someone obviously knows, right? Otherwise, why would they try to kill our clients? And if it needs to stay secret, what do people think about the rest of these rocket launches?""They think it's a new space station, a cooperation between several space agencies.""How do you fake a space station?"I stared at him, awestruck.Gene responded, "You don't. At least not normally. But desperate times call for desperate measures.""But someone will notice, won't they? Satellite watching is now more popular than astronomy, thanks to the Nebulink constellation!""That's easy. You make a giant reflective sphere and call it a station!"We both burst out laughing.
The ground rumbled under our feet. I looked down over the railing, and the VAB doors slowly slid open. A massive rocket mounted on a crawler slowly rolled its way out of the VAB. It looked exactly like the one I had launched on for the Duna mission, a tall Draco vehicle with an Orbiter mounted on top. We stared at it as it was deposited on the pad and technicians connected the launch clamps and fueling hoses."What are they launching now?" I asked."This all has to be kept as secret as possible. We still have no idea who tried to murder those kerbals, but I have a feeling it's someone we trust. While the public knows this as an emergency repair mission to the station, the group putting together all this knows it as the crew launch for the Eve exploration mission.""But how come I'm not on it?""We think that someone will try to sabotage the launch. I set up signal trackers and sensors on the rocket, and the entire control software will be broadcasting everything back to us. I need to go over to the Astronaut Complex to watch. Do you want to come with me?""Sure," I replied, and we climbed down the ladder. We walked over to a room in the Astronaut Complex and sat down, transfixed at a large TV on the wall.
"KSC, we are go for launch!" a controller said through his headset.The room erupted in a cheer."All systems nominal, launch in T minus ten seconds.""Nine!""Eight!""Seven!"The air itself seemed to tense up."Six!""Five!""Four!"Would the launch go as planned? Or would it spiral out of control at the moment it ignited?"Three!""Two!""One!""Ignition!"The base of the rocket erupted in a ball of fire and the great lumbering beast slowly crawled out of its restraints. The building shook.
"All systems nominal. Altitude 200 meters.""Flight, we're getting a bit of a roll!"Sure enough, the rocket was slowly spinning. The guidance software should correct it though.Unfortunately, the guidance software wasn't working as it should. The rocket spun out of control, then started pitching back... towards the VAB.
Mission control fell to complete chaos. The screen showed each and every system and subsystem of the rocket coming offline, some with an alarming bang. The entire room of kerbals stared at it in horror. The communication feed seemed to roar at them before finally tearing the connection to bits. The rocket was still very much under control. The question was whose.
"It's going to hit the administration building!" the flight controller screamed."Range Safety, can you get it?""It's not responding! Nothing is!" said a young controller in the back row."Try the capsule! Can you reach it?""Yes, but it says 'Access Denied!'"The rocket continued on its path. Once it passed the VAB though, it ignited its engine once again. The doomed rocket was barreling straight at the astronaut complex."Run!" I screamed. All around us people were sprinting for the door. An explosion rocked the building and massive barrels of flame leapt across the structure. The glass shattered, and the world seemed to spin around itself like a centrifuge. Massive concrete blocks flew tens of meters above us and the vending machines disintegrated in a volley of fireballs. An RCS thruster nearly hit Gene in the head! We leapt above steel beams littering the floor and dodged flaming bricks from above. At last, we emerged into daylight.
Gene led me back to a small rover parked behind the Administration building."We need to leave. Now!" he yelled grimly.As we drove away in the sunset I wondered, "Who it could possibly be?"
Note: I did not actually land the capsule in the pool. I did that using a crazy rover that managed to break twelve of the large Buffalo MSEV wheels before reaching the admin building.