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A MYSTERY BEYOND SCIENCE A Kerbal Mystery Thriller Prologue: The Trial Chapter 1: Fallen Student Chapter 2: Initial Hypotheses Chapter 3: Frozen Broken Heart Chapter 4: A God's Destruction Chapter 5: An Odd Confession Chapter 6: Shaken Trust Chapter 7: The Truth Chapter 8: First Victim Chapter 9: Disorder on Dres Chapter 10: Travel Plans Chapter 11: Conspiracy Chapter 12: A Killer Airline Chapter 13: Airfield Antics Chapter 14: Val's Final Verdict Chapter 15: Single Stage to Death Chapter 16: Means, Motive, and Opportunity Chapter 17: Escape Burn Chapter 18: Radio Active Chapter 19: Been There For Me Chapter 20: Potential Motive Chapter 21: Bill's Plan Chapter 22: A Sea God Gets a Drop Pod Chapter 23: A Buried Link Chapter 24: Stalked Chapter 25: Catching On Chapter 26: Bill's Revenge Chapter 27: Base Pursuit Chapter 28: Defiance Chapter 29: Obsession Chapter 30: Inconsistencies Chapter 31: Matt the Second Chapter 32: The Gang Reunited Chapter 33: Taken Chapter 34: Father's Secret Chapter 35: Damaged Family Chapter 36: One Down, One to Go Chapter 37: Second Love Chapter 38: The Next Move Chapter 39: Tank Dust Chapter 40: Returning Home Chapter 41: Still Alive Chapter 42: (STAY TUNED) TO BE CONTINUED PROLOGUE: THE TRIAL As the sun set over the town of Krakopolis, its inhabitants were gathered around the town square. The evening was their favorite time of day; not only were they off work at this point, but the photosynthetic Kerbals could charge their cells’ chloroplasts at their pleasure. Nobody knew exactly how the people of the planet Kerbin became this way, only that it provided an evolutionary advantage as well as turned their skin green. However, they were now more interested in what was going on in the city courthouse. Sitting in the defendant’s chair was Misty Kerman, a scientist in the recently-formed Kerbal Space Program. It had not yet sent anybody into space, but at least it sent small probes – such as the Stayputnik – and some relay antennae into low Kerbin orbit. Aside from government funding – which was really low compared to its massive military and entitlement programs – the program had completed contracts from private citizens and corporations for money. Almost 30 days ago, it had accepted a contract from the Koyota automobile company to research self-charging electric cars – that did not require any fuel cells (or fuel, for that matter). One of its engineers, Debra Kerman, had eagerly hopped on board to accomplish this task. Until she died when the rover collided with the research and development building. Director Werner Von Kerman thought it was just another design flaw in the vehicle, as several other volunteers have died in rover accidents, until further investigation proved that the rover was tampered with before the accident. Besides the seatbelt mechanism missing several crucial components – all of which were included in Debra’s final design report – the brake lines were cut and so were the controls enabling the rover to go in reverse. Believing that this was sabotage intended to kill Debra, the police later found evidence that Debra’s science partner, Misty, was having a heated argument with Debra the day before she died. After finding an oil-stained shirt Misty’s size in the garbage near the vehicle assembly building, they executed a search warrant in Misty’s quarters and found a shrine centered around Debra’s then-boyfriend, a pilot named Dilford. Believing it to be a crime of passion, Misty was arrested and charged with Debra’s murder. “Has the jury reached a verdict?” asked Judge Ruth. “We have, your honor,” said the foreman. “On the sole charge of the indictment, how do you find?” Misty almost looked nervous, as the evidence against her seemed pretty strong. “We find the defendant… not guilty.” Misty and her lawyer, Thurgood, embraced in relief. Misty had also been charged with vehicular sabotage in the first degree, but the judge decided to tie it with the murder charge as the sabotage was intended to be fatal. “Assuming no other holds, Misty Kerman, you are free to go,” said Judge Ruth. “No, you’re making a mistake!” shouted Debra’s father, Dwight. “How much did she pay you?!” “Order in the court!” said Ruth before banging her gavel. “I know you killed her,” continued Dwight. “How much did you bribe the jury?!” “That’s enough, Dwight. One more word, and I’ll have you forcibly removed.” Dwight continued ranting at Misty as she left, but she ignored him. “Thanks for being there for me,” said Misty as Dilford ran into her outside the courtroom. “I know you and Debra were friends,” started Dilford, “but I’m only going to ask you one more time and I want you to be honest with me.” “Okay, shoot,” said Misty, hinting enthusiasm in her voice. “Did you kill Debra?” asked Dilford. “Of course not,” answered Misty, “don’t be ridiculous.” “Even if you did, they cannot touch you anymore,” reminded Dilford. “Remember: double jeopardy is against the Constitution.” “Why would I bother confessing to a crime I didn’t commit?” said Misty. “Maybe someone higher up, or even the cops, were on the oil industry’s payroll when they killed Debra.” “Why would the oil industry want Debra dead?” wondered Dilford. “If Debra succeeded in making an electric car, pretty soon nobody would bother buying gas,” explained Misty. “I… don’t… understand,” stammered Dilford, then Misty put her hand on his shoulder. “The important thing is that the corrupt have failed to put an innocent woman behind bars for a murder she didn’t commit,” she told him. “I’ll be there for you… always.” CHAPTER ONE: FALLEN STUDENT (28 YEARS LATER) Jebediah Kerman had just woken up after a good two hours of sleep in his quarters. He had requested that he sleep next to the base’s ore processor so that he could get warmer off the extra heat generated. Despite Frosty Base’s insulation and immense power generation capacity, Eeloo could get extremely cold – especially in the nights. Not only did the planet have no atmosphere, leaving it exposed to the cold vacuum of space, it was the farthest away from the sun in the Kerbol system. He had a busy day ahead of him. 24 hours ago, an interplanetary transport pod had arrived with 6 elite pilot cadets awaiting the final phase of their training. Jeb had been assigned to train these pilots one-by-one in the Moonjet, an SSTO designed to take people anywhere on a moon and mine and convert its own fuel. Frosty Base’s Commander Gustov had also ordered Jebediah to fly with the female cadets first since Mission Control had informed him that, on average, male pilots aged 18 to 26 Kerbal Years were far more likely to cause fatal vehicle accidents than females. Though Jeb had wanted to choose his student order randomly, Gustov told him that he wanted Jeb to live to teach as many students as possible before one of them possibly killed him. “So, you must be the famous Jebediah Kerman,” said his first student, Agaden. “That’s right… Agaden,” acknowledged Jeb as he checked the roster. “You cleared your medical exam after your arrival, right?” “Yes, Captain,” said Agaden. “Takes a while to get used to reduced gravity when you’ve been floating in a can for who-knows-how-long.” “Yeah, well, better get comfortable,” said Jeb. “From what I hear, the transfer window back home to Kerbin opens once every few years – and it takes years longer to make the trip.” “So… MJ, fire up…,” started Agaden. “Oh no, you don’t,” interrupted Jeb. “We will not be using that sorry excuse of a copycat today, Cadet.” “But, sir, don’t you know that MechJeb has reduced the amount of takeoff and landing accidents since they became standard-issue to all vehicles?” reminded Agaden. “Any half-witted tourist can use MechJeb, but us pilots are trained to do better than that,” argued Jeb. “We use both training and instinct when flying… plus, we can control the ship in case we run out of power. Now fire up the engines and get us up to… let’s say… 10 kilometers altitude. Inclination… oh, 25 degrees.” “Right,” sighed Agaden, then she did her routine pre-flight checks. “Fuel and monopropellant up to the maximum, batteries good, landing gear and brakes on drill and converters off and stowed, radiators and panels off and stowed, docking port stowed… yep, everything seems good to me.” She then punched in the activation code in the control panel. “Clearance code approved,” a female computer voice spoke. “Welcome, Agaden Kerman. Instructor’s voice authorization required.” “Shut up and let’s fly,” replied Jeb. “Processing… accepted.” Agaden then applied some power to the throttle and took off before her navicomputer predicted her apoapsis to be 10 kilometers above “sea level.” “Good,” said Jeb, checking the plane’s orbital inclination. “Now, do you know what to do next?” “Cut off the engines until I reach my apoapsis, then burn prograde until my periapsis reaches 15 kilometers,” answered Agaden. “Excellent,” said Jeb, checking off some items off his kPad as Agaden cut off the throttle. “Initial orbit circularized,” said MJ. “Inclination is…” “Zip it, MJ!” barked Jeb. “It can also give you the specifics of your orbit better than any cockpit navicomputer,” sighed Agaden. “It can also shut up,” said Jeb, then a light started flashing between his and Agaden’s seats. “Just rendezvous with a space station or something.” He pressed a button with a phone on it, and Gustov’s face showed up on a screen. “Oh, Commander Gustov, what a surprise.” “Did you get into low orbit yet?” asked Gustov. “Yes, Commander,” said Agaden. “I was talking to your instructor, but thanks,” sighed Gustov. “Did he let you use MJ?” “No, Commander, and we were all supposed to simulate using it while on our way here,” complained Agaden. “Captain, is this true?” wondered Gustov. “Yes, and so what? What’s the point of going to pilot’s school if you’re gonna leave your fate to some computer?” argued Jeb. “Jeb, do I need to remind you again that pilots are required to demonstrate proficient use of MechJeb as well as their own skills?” said Gustov. “For the record, I did not agree to this,” snapped Jeb. “Your father did,” said Gustov, “and so did your old partner, Admiral Val.” “Fine,” sighed Jeb before hanging up. “MJ…” started Agaden. “Not yet, Cadet,” said Jeb. “You can use MechJeb to rendezvous with a space station and dock if you want, but you have to change your inclination to zero by yourself first.” “Okay,” said Agaden, waiting twenty minutes before she reached the equator to change her inclination. “MJ, rendezvous with Hades Station.” “Okay, adjusting planes in T-minus seven minutes and four seconds,” MJ replied. Jeb reluctantly checked some items off his checklist. “Back before the MJ took my job, we just planned our maneuver nodes and did the rendezvous… ses ourselves,” said Jeb. “Man, Val was the best. She could bring a moon lander to within five meters of an old booster in orbit… and that was before MechJeb was even thought of. Now, people are too chicken to get within twenty meters of anything… or even make maneuver nodes that work the first time. So what, we all make mistakes, and I’m sure MJ does too.” Several minutes passed before MJ automatically adjusted planes to match that of the Hades Station, in orbit 40 kilometers above Eeloo. “Planning Hohmann Transfer to intercept target after 0.27 phasing orbits,” said MJ. “We’ll be there in no time,” cheered Agaden. “If Val was training you, she would have made you done everything on your own,” sighed Jeb in disappointment. “Are you sure?” wondered Agaden. “She’s the greatest pilot in the program, and she uses MechJeb all the time. That’s why it’s a requirement.” “No, it’s a requirement because Dad’s being OVERPROTECTIVE OF ME,” countered Jeb. “The only reason his opinion matters is because he happens to be the CEO of one of our contractors, even though everybody knows I can make my own decisions now. Have I killed anybody yet as a result of bad piloting? Of course not; some vomiting and broken bones, but NOTHING FATAL.” “Can you stop ranting, please?” requested Agaden, then Jeb calmed down. All was silent as the Moonjet eventually got within 20 meters of Hades Station. “Hades Station to Moonjet 314, identify yourself,” a woman’s voice said. “This is Captain Jebediah Kerman, I’m training a student to rendezvous with this thing.” “You may proceed,” said the woman. “Oh, look, an asteroid,” said Jeb, pointing out Agaden’s window. “Asteroid, where?” wondered Agaden. While she was distracted, Jeb aimed the SSTO toward retrograde and snuck his hand on the throttle. “Oh, I’m sure you… psych!” To Agaden’s surprise, he fired up the engines and brought the craft further away from the station. “What are you doing?” “We’ll see you again soon,” said Jeb as he put his hands off the throttle. “Now try that without MJ.” “Warning: T-minus 15 minutes and 39 seconds until catastrophic failure,” said MJ as Jeb taped the manual override switch. “14 minutes… 13 minutes. Adjust orbital trajectory immediately.” Agaden quickly cut the engines and burned in the radial direction until her periapsis reached 7.5 kilometers. “What was that for?!” yelled Agaden. “Motivation, my pupil,” answered Jeb. “If you want proof that you made a rendezvous with Hades Station, take a picture with its crew after you get inside. Now, try and rendezvous with it without using mechanical me.” “You almost got us killed!” “Relax, you pulled through,” assured Jeb. “Look, another asteroid.” “I’m not falling for that again.” “Okay, you got me; changing your orbital plane is the easy part, anyway. Now, for the hard part.” “Fine, I’ll… circularize as soon as I reach periapsis,” sighed Agaden. “I won’t have to wait as long to make my Hohmann transfer if I have a shorter orbit and go at a faster velocity.” As soon as the Moonjet reached her orbit’s periapsis, she aimed toward the retrograde marker and fired up the engines. “Time to do this the wasteful way.” “Warning: T-minus 4 minutes and 39 seconds until catastrophic failure.” “What?!” gasped Jeb. “I thought you wanted to rendezvous with the station, not land.” “This isn’t me,” objected Agaden as the SSTO’s engines continued to burn. “T-minus 2 minutes… 1 minute.” “This is obviously not part of the lesson,” said Jeb. “Hey, why’d you turn on the monoprop?” “I didn’t…,” complained Agaden, then Jeb hit the diagnostics button. “The monoprop engines are being fired!” he shouted. “I’ll switch them off,” said Agaden, hitting one of the buttons. However, a loud crashing sound came from behind the cockpit, followed by a section of the plane’s lower fuselage blinking red on the diagnostics screen. “Structural integrity compromised,” MJ replied, sounding casual. “What do you mean COMPROMISED?” asked Jeb. “Moonjet 314, you’re losing altitude,” a male voice said. “Everything okay.” “No, everything’s not okay, the plane’s going nuts!” yelled Agaden in fear. “We can do this!” shouted Jeb. “Just gotta… get it together.” “Zooming in on your position,” the man acknowledged. “Why is your drill out?” “Drill?” asked Jeb before turning on the lower landing leg camera. To his and Agaden’s shock, he saw that the drill had punctured right through the holding bay doors. “Uh oh.” “Impossible!” gasped Agaden. “You can’t turn on a drill while it’s stowed.” “Tell our drill that,” sighed Jeb sarcastically. “Oxygen at 85 percent capacity.” “WE’RE GONNA DIE!” panicked Agaden. “Hang on, sending help to your estimated landing position,” said the man on the radio. “Is anybody physically hurt?” “Not yet, and nor will there be,” said Jeb confidently. “Time to…” “Oxygen at 70 percent capacity.” “EVA me!” yelled Agaden, and an EVA suit flew out of a closet in the cockpit and landed on Agaden. When it finished with a helmet, Agaden was fully encased in an EVA suit. “Shall I depressurize the airlock?” “Belay that,” ordered Jeb. “I can do this!” He grabbed a hammer from the glove compartment and smashed a piece of glass on the control panel, which revealed a large red button labeled “DO NOT PUSH BUTTON.” “Is that the cut off all power button?” wondered Agaden “Oxygen at 50 percent capacity.” “EVA me!” ordered Jeb before he got an EVA suit. “Good, my suit’s fine. How about yours, Agaden?” “Everything’s operational,” replied Agaden. “Good,” said Jeb before hitting the big red button. “Shutting off power now.” “Is this… part of the lesson?” wondered Agaden. “Absolutely not. I don’t know how that drill turned on, but I’m pretty sure the buttons were clearly labeled. Now strap in, I’m about to make an emergency landing.” Jeb quickly pressed some buttons on the control panel before the cabin lights got back on. “Reboot sequence activated,” replied the onboard computer. “Oxygen level at 30 percent, immediate action required.” “We have EVA suits on,” said Jeb before turning on the reaction control system. “Okay, this should soften our blow.” “Wait, are we crashing?” asked Agaden. “Any landing you can walk away from is a good one,” reminded Jeb. “Now, to retract the drill.” “Ore converter activated,” said the computer. Agaden thought Jeb had pressed the wrong button, until she saw her hand near the switch marked “Drill.” “What the…?” gasped Jeb. “Does that look ANYTHING LIKE an ore converter?” “Warning: radiators not active at the moment. Chances of overheating increased.” “You know what, forget the drill. It’s broken,” cursed Jeb. “Let’s just get this bird on the ground.” “Then how do we fly back, Captain?” wondered Agaden, who began to sweat under her helmet. “We don’t, someone’s coming to pick us up,” said Jeb, using the RCS system to slow down his downward velocity. “I’m sure as heck not getting blamed for this, since you pointed out the drill was not supposed to do that while stowed – and I’m pretty sure ore converters aren’t supposed to activate when you flip the ‘Drill’ switch.” “Captain,” said Agaden, “I feel… kinda dizzy.” “That is to be expected. Now, let’s… come on, come on,” stammered Jeb. “Okay, now to lower my landing gear.” However, as soon as he lowered the lever marked “Legs,” the main engines fired. “Whoa!” “Agreed, something’s definitely wrong with… the ship,” moaned Agaden. “Great,” sighed Jeb. He tried to use RCS to slow himself down, but the main engines’ impulse was too strong; he couldn’t cut the main engines since the throttle was unresponsive. So, he tried to spin the opposite way to gain some altitude, but that resulted in the Moonjet started to spin out of control. “What… now,” “Impact in ten seconds.” “BAIL OUT!” yelled Jeb, and he opened a hatch before dragging Agaden out through it. When he was clear of the Moonjet, which exploded upon smashing into the ground uncontrollably, he turned on his jetpack and safely landed on Eeloo’s surface. “Agaden, you okay?” “I… not okay,” stammered Agaden. “This is Eeloo Mini-bus Five, can anyone hear me?” another man’s voice replied on their suits’ radios. “This is Captain Jebediah Kerman,” he responded. “I’m here with Cadet Agaden Kerman. We just bailed out of a malfunctioning SSTO.” “Jeb…,” moaned Agaden weakly, “t….s n… no…” “Does anybody need medical attention?” said the mini-bus’ driver. “I have a doctor en route to your position right now.” “Not… your… fault…,” Agaden managed to say before her commlink went static. “This is Doctor Marie,” a woman spoke. “I’m accessing your EVA suit’s bio monitors now.” “SOMEBODY HELP AGADEN!” yelled Jeb. “Take it easy, Cap,” the rover driver requested. “ETA to your position is one minute.” “Don’t rush it,” said Dr. Marie. “Jeb’s fine for now, but… Agaden’s dead.” “No… NO!” shouted Jeb before holding Agaden in his arms. “Computer, give me her vitals!” “She’s gone.” “Her suit’s integrity’s intact,” explained Dr. Marie, “but her heartbeat’s at zero and her breathing stopped. I’m sorry, Captain. She’s gone!” Three hours later, Jeb was back in Frosty Base feeling gloomy. When the rover arrived, he took Agaden’s suit-encased corpse to Dr. Marie, who then confirmed that she was dead. The driver, a former racecar driver named David, had alerted Eeloo Command about the wreckage and Agaden’s death and gave their coordinates. Hades Station had dispatched a three-man lander to pick up Jeb, Dr. Marie, and Agaden’s body – which had been kept in her EVA suit to preserve evidence and to maintain sanitation standards (she didn’t bring body bags with her) – and take them back to Frosty Base. Though it was protocol that Eeloo Command notify Mission Control back on Kerbin about any and all deaths that occurred, David felt compelled to supply as much on-the-scene details as possible to Kerbin. Besides refueling the lander, he stayed behind to monitor the wreckage for when another Moonjet arrived to investigate. “Not my fault,” he said to himself over and over again, repeating his student’s final words. “Uh… Captain?” said a male cadet. “Is there a problem?” “Well… let’s just say… you guys will be getting more simulation time before you get behind the wheel,” answered Jeb. “But we wanna fly now.” “Look, kid, Eeloo’s on total lockdown,” explained Jeb. “Nobody gets on, off, in, or out.” “But I hear that a pod from Duna’s arriving some time,” the cadet’s friend complained. “You can’t just brake before you get in Eeloo’s gravitational pull.” “Hopefully, by then, the SOI lockdown will be lifted,” said Jeb, turning on his kPad. “I should know, I have a buddy in that pod.” “Hang on… I hear that a Moonjet crashed,” a pilot named Hadgan announced. “Why would that warrant a lockdown?” “I didn’t make the call,” sighed Jeb, “but I can name two reasons why. One: a student died. Two: the plane was acting up after a while.” “Wait… Agaden’s dead?” gasped the cadet. “Oh, God!” He ran off, about to cry. “Well, well, finally Jeb’s crazy flying killed somebody,” sighed Hadgan. “I didn’t kill her… wait, when was the last time the Moonjet’s software was updated?” “Why ask?” “Because, for some reason, the drill punctured THROUGH THE CARGO DOORS,” explained Jeb, surprising Hadgan. “And when I hit the retraction switch, the ore converter activated – without the decency to turn on the radiators, too. What’s worse, the plane couldn’t tell a landing leg from a main engine.” “Are you sure you hit the right buttons?” “Duh, they’re labeled,” said Jeb. “I did not kill Agaden.” “Last time I went flying with you, I lost a leg,” reminded Hadgan, showing his left metal leg. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you DID kill her.” “Are you calling me a liar?!” “They should have thrown you out,” snapped Hadgan. “Take away your rich dad, what are you?” “Perfect,” said Jeb, “since all Dad did was HOLD ME BACK!” “You two, that’s enough!” shouted Commander Gustov. “Hadgan, get back to working the ore delivery robot.” “Yes, sir,” acknowledged Hadgan before leaving the room. “Cadets, GET,” ordered Gustov, then all the cadets left, giving Gustov and Jeb some privacy. “Wow… first time a fatality happened while you were flying.” “Commander, you can’t blame me for this,” protested Jeb. “The plane’s controls were acting crazy, and Agaden’s last words…” “Easy, Captain,” said Gustov, “but first, what were Agaden’s final words?” “She said that the crash was NOT MY FAULT!” answered Jeb. “Please, sir, honor her dying…” “And we will,” said Gustov, “and I’m sure you’d like to hear why.” “If you so much as even… wait, what?” “The recovery team got the black box and the probe core from the wreckage,” started Gustov, reading his kPad. “The black box corroborated your statement that the SSTO was, indeed, acting funny. It went as far as to note the ‘Structural integrity compromise in the drill bay,’ and ‘Sudden reduction in oxygen levels,’ not to mention the sudden spike in temperature when the ore converter was turned on. Hades Station also sent a telescopic photograph of the Moonjet with its drill sticking out mid-flight. “The probe core, however, was the biggest clue. When the recovery team plugged it in to find out what the heck’s going on with the plane, it just… shut off. We have reason to believe that your SSTO was infected with a virus.” “VIRUS?” gasped Jeb. “AM I GONNA DIE?” “Not that kind of virus, Captain,” assured Gustov. “The worst part is that they don’t just happen, they’re artificially created.” “Oh… so, how is that worse?” “It means some wacko TRIED TO KILL YOU,” sighed Gustov. “Additionally, Doctor Marie mentioned that Agaden’s body showed no signs of crash-related injuries when she arrived at the scene. The full-body autopsy hasn’t been completed yet, but we have a preliminary tox screen report.” “Tox screen?” wondered Jeb. “What’s a tox screen.” Gustov then showed Jeb the preliminary data, which surprised him. “Agaden Kerman was poisoned.”