Begin Kerbal Space Program version 1.4.5
Forgotten Space Program
It's happened again. Those space-mad kerbals ran off and completely forgot about their space program. Maybe they shot a few kerbals out into the void and lost track of them. Maybe there was a bit of space piracy. Perhaps they went out for a jog and lost the keys to the VAB. Or maybe....
Wait... Space Piracy?
Alone on Duna
The lander's window had developed an annoying rattle. Up until now it had been solid, if perhaps a bit on the old and worn side. The atmosphere of Duna had changed that, thin as it was. At least the engine worked, though it too would occasionally sputter violently. Bad fuel? Probably. Given how long this craft had been in orbit it was likely that something had gone wrong. Between the violent objections from the engine and the aerodynamically questionable noises from the cockpit window, the craft seemed to be just barely holding it together.
An alarm sounded and two bright red warning lamps flashed on the lander's display. A black-mittened fist pounded the panel, the quick thump causing the alarm to quiet. It was as though the craft itself had decided it was best to not disturb the pilot. The white-haired kerbal which sat in the seat was calm and collected, but also quick to mete out punishment to the things which crossed him. The racket from the window grew louder, eliciting another thump and an inaudible grunt from the pilot. He checked his helmet seals, the sixteenth he'd done so since leaving orbit, then made a small adjustment to the controls.
The planet-spanning dust storm was thinner where he was landing, but still not thin enough to see his target. Everything had the same ruddy hue, an endless ocean of rust. The only other colors were those of his red and gold-trimmed suit's reflection in the lander window. A small grey speck appeared on the surface briefly through the storm, disappearing again a moment later. His suit radio chimed and he again adjusted the craft's trajectory.
"I see it. Going dark now."
He turned off the radios. All of them.
The engine was still sputtering along as the lander made its final approach. The dust had thinned enough to see the target. A small aircraft, and what appeared to be a large rocket engine nearby. It was impossible to determine how long it had been on the surface, but it was unlikely the craft still had power for its radios. Not that he wanted the pilot to know he was coming. Assuming its pilot had survived, or existed in the first place.
Another violent kick from the engine bucked everything in the lander upwards, dislodging a toolkit and other supplies in the cockpit. It had no parachutes, this worn out rusty tin can. He could have rigged some from spare sheets, or robbed some from one of the other craft in orbit, but chose not to. The extra mass would have only made this operation more difficult. If something went wrong he'd be stuck on the surface no matter what, so using his own personal parachute would be just as good as one on the lander. Not like parachutes would do much for something this heavy in air this thin.
And then he was down. Just a soft bounce. He idled the engine and suspended the computers to save power. It took a few moments for the dust to settle, but once it did he had a clear view of the relic. An air breathing jet, on Duna. Not too surprising, and not the first time he had found a test article on some distant body which made no sense. The large rocket engine was also strange, but well within the usual antics of the agencies of the past. Just fling something to the distant edges of the cosmos and wait to see if it works. If it doesn't? Well, that was data too.
He checked his helmet seals for the seventeenth time and tugged at his mittens. The straps for the crash couch were unfastened with calm and precise motions, and the pilot made his way to the hatch. He slipped into his EVA pack and snared a power drill to his belt. The hatch was almost open when he reached back and pulled a shovel from a cabinet. Best to be prepared, right? He was down the ladder and onto the sands and fines with a single bound.
The wind was wicked, the blown sand fierce. Too thin to have enough energy to knock anything over, but just thick enough to be annoying. Probably thick enough to destroy unsuspecting solar panels. A flag was lying flat in the dust on the far side of the aircraft. Was the blame his or the wind's? Not likely it mattered.
There was no greeting party.
He gave the grip of the drill a quick squeeze. Its low-frequency buzz echoed up through his suit. These were fancy drills, where one could dial in all sorts of settings such as torque, rotation rate, probably even the exact number of electrons one wanted to have pass through the windings of the motor at a time. Supposedly it took years of study to understand how to properly calibrate and tweak these drills for the job at hand. Somehow he'd made it through all the work he'd done without changing any of the settings. And so far nothing had exploded or stripped out on him.
He clipped the drill to his EVA pack and pulled out his shovel, using it to steady himself as he made his way across the dune to the aircraft.
There was not much salvage visible from the outside, but what he could see was something he would not leave without: a radioisotope thermoelectric generator. Power. This far from Kerbol such a power source was almost required. No idea if it was still at a good strength (unlikely), but the only way to find out was to remove it and take it back to his workshop in orbit. The other parts of the ship were either trivial, such as the small batteries, or useless to him. What good would air-breathing engines be in space? They would serve no more good in the void than they would here on Duna.
The cockpit glass was glazed over from the inside. Ice? He couldn't tell if there was a deceased kerbal resting in it or if this had been an unpiloted drone. He brushed some dust off the glass and peered inside, but couldn't make any more sense of it than before. He'd get to that part of the ship in due time.
The rocket engine made no sense. It had a large reaction wheel attached to it, and near as he could tell there was no damage. Looked as though it had been deliberately detached from some part of the aircraft. And there were no fuel lines on it either. Had it been part of some other lander assembly? Or parachuted down to the surface? If that was the case, then where were the parachutes?
And there was no way he could salvage it. Or even move it. The engine itself was far too heavy, and he knew better than to attempt to roll it. Maybe the turbopump assembly could be useful? Maybe. He'd look at stripping it for parts later.
Best to start with the most important loot: The RTG. He secured his shovel and stepped on the aircraft's wing, scrambling quickly onto the useless starboard jet engine. The drill was back in his hand and he was considering how best to acquire his loot when a buzzing noise started in his ears. He slapped at the side of his helmet once, and shortly after an ancient sounding heavily accented voice scratched across the suit's radio.
"Hey! What'cha ya think yer doin' up there!? Git down! Who in the dusty sands of tarntion are ya?"
He turned to find another white-haired kerbal glaring up at him. Was it his own reflection? No. Didn't sound right. Different suit. Did kind of look like his old suit. Was this his own ghost? Unlikely. He blinked and the kerbal was still there, looking angrily up at him. OK, not his reflection. Maybe still a ghost. Or do reflections not go away when you blink? He shook his head and returned to sanity.
"Apologies. I was merely looking about, trying to decide how best to dismantle your ship. I don't suppose you have any suggestions?"
"Yeah. How about not?"
"Not an option." A smile should quiet him. And it did. A few seconds of confused looks were exchanged before the exasperated ghostly resident of Duna continued.
"You the rescue crew, then? Took ya right long 'nough to git here."
"What do ya mean how so? Are you the rescue or ain't ya? Here to take old Ludke back for dissection?"
Dissection? Had he heard it right? What a weird ghost. He wasn't even sure kerbals could be dissected, given their tendency to explode into a cloud of spores when punctured. To deflect from the question he motioned towards the flag, lying flat in the dust.
"You're flag has fallen."
"Yeah? It happens. I meander on out and put it right back up ev'ry now and then. But it's my flag. So I'll ya ask again, who are ya?"
"Me? I'm just an old farmer." He twisted his shovel and spun it by its tip on the aircraft's skin. He smiled, imagining the pleasing sound it would make were it not for the thin air and the heavy suit. "Or I was, until the First Kerbal himself visited. Twenty-six years I spent on the Mün, tending my farm and growing the crescent münfruit. I was the last kerbal...."
"The what now?"
"The Mün. It's Kerbin's largest satellite."
"Not that, ya daft clown. I know what yer Mün is. What this here croissant fruity stuff yer goin' on about?"
"Ah. It's a hybrid between bananas and the cacti that grow in the desert. As I was saying, I believed I was the last living kerbal anywhere in the universe, that everyone else had died in some great calamity. There I was, abandoned on the Mün, much like you" he waved his shovel towards him, "abandoned here in the dust. No contact, no hope of rescue. In time I grew frail, feeble. Bad diet, bad exercise. It's hard to stay in shape with münfruit and recycled water and nowhere to get a decent jog.
"And I continued to believe I was the last even after the First Kerbal and his ilk drifted into my base. Ghosts. They had to be. The First Kerbal been dead for almost a hundred years. Ghosts come to haunt and to rob. All of you. Ghosts. Ghosts." He stared down at the strange new ghost for a spell, but it didn't run when confronted. Curious.
"Except those other kerbals weren't ghosts. Not exactly. But they hadn't come to rescue me either. They really had come to rob me. To take my radialogicals. My power. Except I got the jump on them. I stole their shuttle and I stole their ship and I left them to rot on the Mün. As had been done to me.
"Much like I'm here to rob you. To strip your plane of parts, particularly that nice, juicy radiological device that gives you warmth. And whatever fuel you have left, of course. I'd take the whole plane if I could, it's a nice-looking wreck. Such is the life of a pirate. Take what you can, give nothing back." He paused, grinning wildly at the stunned old ghost. He let his grin slip to a smile before he continued.
"'Cept I've changed. I've more of a heart now. I was space crazy, you see, stuck on that grey lump. The time that I've spent in space has improved my health, improved my attitude, improved my mind. It was wrong for me to abandon those kerbals on the Mün, just as it was wrong for the OSD to leave you here, forgotten. It was the OSD, was it not?"
"I won't repeat those mistakes. Neither mine, nor those of some corrupt and forgotten old organization. Going forward, no kerbal will be left behind. So maybe we didn't get off on the right foot. Please, allow me to correct that." The old kerbal wedged his shovel into a gap in the aircraft before extending his old, very old mittened hand to wave at this very, very old ghost.
"I'm Hallock Kerman, Captain of the Memory of Tomorrow. And I'm here to free you from this desolate wasteland, from your forgotten space program, and to lead you into a new life. There's room for you in my crew if you care to join. Otherwise..." He raised his arms towards the all-encompassing deserts of Duna. "Otherwise you'll be free to make your own way in this heartless universe.
"So what say you? Plata?" Hallock motioned down towards the jet and then over towards his lander.... "O pala?" And then raised his shovel.
Silver, or Shovel. Play along and join the crew, or start digging your own grave. It really was a simple choice, and quite clever at that. He grinned at Ludke and laughed.
If only every choice in life were so simple.