CalculusWarrior

[Updated 2016-09-30] A Planet Divided: The Story of Kerbin's Kold War

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Welcome to the Kold War Preservation Thread! Unfortunately, in the Grand Forums migration of 2015, the original Kold War post was lost, so the previous thread is now unable to be used for updates. Hence, I've made a brand-new thread, with tags, no less, for all future updates of the story. For the time being, I'm just going to put the link to the external Kold War site and ebook links here, rather than each of the episodes' text, as there is a lot of content and I'm quite short on time. 

 

READING ONLINE:

Kold War Story Site

KSP Forum Links:

Spoiler
  • PROLOGUE
  • Spoiler

     

     

     

    A PLANET DIVIDED:
    THE STORY OF THE KOLD WAR
    A KSP Story by CalculusWarrior


    ?


    A BRIEF HISTORY OF KERBIN

     

    Kerbin has a long (and quite frankly, mostly rather dull) history. For centuries, its lands
    were split up into many small city-states, where people lived a simple, if poor life.
    However, as technology progressed and kerbal leaders began noticing the vast tracts of
    land owned by their neighbours, more and more cities began carving out empires for
    themselves. Eventually, the entire planet was dominated by empires.
    This imperialistic worldview eventually led to a massive, planet-wide war. Tiny border
    skirmishes snowballed into horrendous conflicts which left vast swaths of land
    uninhabited. The global war culminated in a nuclear strike terrible enough to
    collectively awaken all to the futility of continuing the fighting.
    However, for many, it was too late. Like shattered glass, the world’s great empires
    crumbled. The only governments strong enough to pull together these broken realms
    were the United South Kolus Kerbals (USKK) and the Confederacy of Kolus and
    Firesvar Nations (CFKN). The rest of the planet is made up of tiny, independent, poor
    city-states. These want nothing to do with either of the big nations, as they are
    inherently distrustful of any large nations since the war.
    The following map is a rough layout of the two empires, and their locations on Kerbin.
    The red dots indicate the positions of their rocket test sites, both of which will play a
    major part in the upcoming story. (This game is called Kerbal Space Program, after all,
    not Kerbal World History Lesson)
     
    Each nation does not trust the other to keep Kerbin peaceful and free, so they have each
    built up arsenals of weapons to dissuade one another from trying anything. However,
    this buildup of military forces has led to a ‘cold war’ of sorts (or as the students of
    Kerbin like to spell it, ‘Kold War’, much to the annoyance of teachers).
    Since neither side wishes to enter full-scale open warfare against the other, each side
    instead relies on propaganda to ensure that the people remain faithful to their home
    country. Misinformation is the name of the game, with each side believing that the other
    is an evil dictatorship, bent on world conquest. Neither country allows their citizens to
    communicate with the other nation, perpetrating this belief. However,
    Immediately after the war, millions of kerbals were left without homes or places to go,
    particularly some very prominent scientists. Recognizing an opportunity, the USKK put
    into motion Operation Stapler, a plan to put those scientists to work for the
    government.
    And it is now, some years after the end of the war, that this plan bears fruit. The
    venerable Werhner von Kerman, a master of theoretical physics and rocket design, has
    discovered a new dimension. He realizes it could change the entire course of history,
    and rushes to share it with the world…

     

     


    CHAPTER I:
    FIRST STEPS

     

    Welcome back to the United News Network! Tonight’s top story: Werhner Von Kerman, genius
    scientist, has just discovered conclusive proof of a fourth dimension! This is only another
    example of our great nation’s scientific advancements over the CKFN!
    Join us tonight, as we interview this genius for more details on his incredible discovery!
    * * *
    “And we’re back, I’m Erdan Kerman, interviewing the scientist Werhner von Kerman. So
    Werhner, can you give us an overview of your discovery? Personally, I don’t understand much
    of this trans-dimensional travel and technologies mumbo-jumbo.”
    “It is actually simpler zen you tink. Ve haf seen evidence of zis new dimension for quite some
    time, and it is only now zat ve have developed ze level of technology required to fully comprehend
    its existence.”
    “And what do you mean by that?”
    “Vell, ve’ve learned zat passing an object into zis dimension results in ze object returning to its
    starting position immediately aftervards. A curious example, which has been noticed, but not
    fully understood, throughout history. My discovery explains zis effect very vell.”
    “I see. And you think that this new dimension could allow faster modes of communication and
    travel?”
    “Yes. Travelling in zis fourth dimension will achieve velocities unimaginable to standard
    vehicles. Ve have even begun researching ship designs vhich can explore it. Vhile much of ze
    research is of course, classified, I can say zat the results have been very promising so far.”
    “Remarkable! So how will this new dimension fit into our current three?”
    “As you know, ve have had two space dimensions and a single time dimension before zis. Ze
    dimension I discovered is another space dimension, and will join zhose two. I have consulted
    with my colleagues and come up with suitable directional names. Ze direction pointing towards
    Kerbin’s core will be named ‘down’, and ze direction pointing away from Kerbin will be named
    ‘up’.”
    “Up… It has a nice ring to it.”
    “Zank you, ve’re very proud of it. It is zis direction which is the focus of much of our research
    currently, and shows great promise!”
    “And what say you to the rumours that the Mun exists in this new dimension, and that this
    discovery will allow kerbals to reach it one day?”
    Werhner leaned closer.
    “Vell, I don’t want to raise any false hopes in your audience, but I personally believe zat ze
    chances are very good.”
    “Incredible! Well, that’s all of our time we have left folks. Thanks for joining us on the United
    News Network, I’ve been your host, Erdan Kerman, and this has been Werhner von Kerman, a
    shining example of the calibre of scientists the USKK has to offer!”
    * * *
    The remote clicked, and the monitor turned off. General Geoffnard Kerman, the
    Supreme Commander of the CKFN military, spoke angrily.
    “This is the television feed our spies intercepted from the USKK capital. A new
    dimension? Are these more lies, boasting of their ‘superior technological achievements’?
    Our electronic systems are ten times—”
    “Excuse me sir, but while they may not have our level of electronic technology, their
    knowledge in terms of nuclear power is unsurpassed,” a small, bespectacled kerbal
    interjected.
    “Bilfrod. You’re the official Scientific Advisor. Care to explain why your team hasn’t
    come up with a new dimension yet?”
    “Well, before today, the Werhner Hypothesis was dismissed as ludicrous, but
    experimental evidence does show that surprisingly, he was completely correct. My
    team is investigating further.”
    Bilcas Kerman, the Communications and Economics Advisor (known as the
    Propaganda Officer behind his back) spoke up. “I have to ask, why was Werhner not
    recruited into your team, Bilfrod? He hails from one of the districts inside the
    Confederacy.”
    Rather than the kerbal who the question was directed at, it was the General who
    answered.
    “Because the blasted USKK stole him, and every other notable scientist in the years
    following the War with their ‘Operation Stapler’. I can’t believe the Special Forces
    division at the time allowed such an act. If I was in charge back then, why—”
    “That’s enough, Geoffnard,” the tall kerbal at the head of the table finally spoke up.
    The General immediately stopped. “Yes sir, Mr. President!”
    The President of the CKFN continued. “What happened twenty years ago is no concern
    of ours. What does matter is the events occurring now. Without action on our part, the
    USKK could develop fourth-dimensional technology sufficient to break the uneasy
    truce we’ve established over the past years. This could pose a serious threat to our
    nation. Therefore, we need to build technology of our own, and surpass whatever
    efforts the USKK may attempt. Besides, the people need a new cause to rally behind, or
    so Bilcas tells me.”
    The Propaganda Officer began nodding furiously. Pretending not to notice, the
    President continued.
    “Bilfrod, has your team come up with anything?”
    “Well sir, as General Geoffnard continuously points out, the best scientists were all
    snapped up by the USKK at the end of the War. While we have produced a few
    prodigies like myself (at this, there were several coughs from around the table) in the
    intervening years, the fact remains that the cream of the crop remains in the USKK.
    Fortunately, even back then, it was recognized that we should gather a team of our
    own. So instead of going after the scientists, we focused on gathering the best engineers
    and technical workers available at the time, and we’ve continued recruiting from the
    city-states around us ever since. As such, we have available to us an unrivalled
    manufacturing and design capacity, which will enable us to build the best hardware
    possible to explore this new dimension.”
    “Excellent. I want you to begin research on vehicles which can travel into this fourth
    dimension immediately. Anyone else have any comments? No? Very well. I believe that
    brings today’s meeting to a close. See you gentlemen next week.”

    USKK: UNN Broadcasting Studio
    Six Months Later
    Welcome back to the United News Network! Merely half a year after the discovery of the
    direction known as ‘up’, we have come to understand our place in the universe. Now it is our
    turn to explore what lies above. Kerbals from around our great nation have gathered together to
    begin launching rockets up to learn what it is that comprises this ‘outer space’. To learn more
    about the USKK’s space program, we interview its founder, Jebediah Kerman.
    * * *
    Jebediah followed Erdan Kerman onto the set. He had never really liked the media’s
    aggressive nationalism, but felt it was a necessary evil one had to put up in order to
    inform the public. The only reason he was even here was because of Bob. While
    normally the timid kerbal never spoke up or forced his opinion on anyone without
    prompting, he was quite vocal on matters of national security and passing knowledge
    onto the people. It was Bob’s idea to schedule this interview, and explain the goals and
    intent of the USKK’s space program, to raise awareness of the imminent launch. It’s not
    as if it needs much explaining, Jeb thought to himself, the population is ecstatic about the
    program. Ah well, it should make this interview easier then.
    “All right, we’re on in twenty seconds. Are you ready, Jeb—may I call you Jeb?” Erdan
    asked, settling into his seat.
    “Absolutely, and I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” Jebediah responded, taking a deep breath
    and attempting to project an air of excitement and good cheer. While it had only been
    six months since he’d begun this crazy venture, it felt more like six years.
    “We’re live in five! Four! Three! Two! One!” The cameraman’s countdown reminded Jeb
    of the ground-breaking launch tomorrow, and this served to cheer him up more than
    any number of breathing exercises.
    “Good evening, and welcome to the United News Network! My name is Erdan Kerman,
    and today I have a very special guest on the show, Jebediah Kerman, founder and
    director of the USKK’s space program!”
    Jeb looked towards the camera, and gave a little wave, only to stop when he saw the
    cameraman shaking his head at him. It appeared that there was a specific etiquette to
    follow when appearing on camera. Another reason to dislike this interview, he thought,
    making a mental note to get Bob back for this somehow.
    “So Jeb, what prompted you to found the space program? Why divert our resources
    into space travel, when so much more economic opportunities exist in conventional air
    traffic?”
    Jeb had prepared for this question, but he didn’t expect it to be the first off the bat. This
    was going to be a long interview.
    “Well Erdan, it’s not that the economic opportunities don’t exist, but we simply haven’t
    discovered them yet. No machine nor kerbal has ever even been to outer space, let alone
    explored it for any meaningful amount of time. We’ve looked outwards with telescopes,
    sure, but we still know very little about what lies beyond our atmosphere.”
    “Very well-reasoned, I for one am sure that there are plentiful ways we can learn new
    things from the great beyond. Now, can you give us any more details on how you
    founded the space program? Where is the launch site located?”
    “There’s an interesting story. You see, originally the space program was going to be a
    military project. You know what that means, everything classified, nobody would be
    allowed to see the launches, that sort of thing. However, a very generous grant from the
    private sector allowed us to buy an old research and development base off the
    government and set up shop there. We’ve built rocket construction facilities, crew
    training grounds, and even an aircraft hangar on the premises! I’ve some pictures here,
    actually!”
     
    “Here I am; this was taken by Bob when we first drove out to the space centre”
     
    “Bob took this as I walked towards the main building. We were both so excited to be
    touring the premises, I swear he went through at least three rolls of film!”
     
    Ah, and here’s an image of one of the Tracking Station dishes. I believe I was getting
    acquainted with the facilities and crew around this time, so Bob was free to wander
    around and take pictures.”
     
    “Here’s a shot from the Launchpad. Right now it’s getting all set up for the launch
    tomorrow.”
     
    “Bob was really proud of this one; he managed to get a shot of the Mun next to the
    USKK flag flying at the space centre.”
    * * *
    “My, you have quite the nice place there! And an ocean view too! This sure beats my
    apartment, ha ha ha!”
    Knowing full well that the newscaster possessed a seaside mansion a couple of
    kilometres from the studio, Jeb neglected to comment. After a moment, Erdan
    continued.
    “So you mentioned that the launches will be public, and I hear that the launch site
    already has plenty of kerbals camping out, ready for tomorrow’s launch! What has got
    the public so interested in your vision?”
    “Well, I have learned that if you mention going to the Mun, suddenly you’ve got half
    the nation wanting to tag along!”
    “Speaking of ‘tagging along’. Which kerbals has the space program selected? I certainly
    hope you aren’t just going to grab any old kerbal off the street!”
    “Definitely not. Since we still know so little about the effects of the zone beyond our
    atmosphere, we have elected to send unmanned probes before kerbals. They will allow
    us to gather valuable data about the effects of outer space so that we can plan
    subsequent missions accordingly.”
    “So you aren’t going to be launching a kerbal tomorrow?” Erdan seemed disappointed,
    and Jeb suspected that many of the kerbals watching would be as well. He decided to
    divert their attention, quickly.
    “Unfortunately, no. But kerbals are being trained as we speak for the eventual manned
    mission. It shouldn’t take long before we are ready to launch kerballed craft, we just
    need to analyse the probe data first.”
    “As for these kerbals in training, are you one of them? Actually, are you even allowed
    to share that information with our audience?”
    At this, Jebediah chuckled. Erdan had evidently covered highly-classified stories in the
    past. “Yes, I am allowed to share who these kerbals will be. In fact, I even have pictures
    of them here! Now first of all, as the director of the program, there’s no chance I’ll ever
    get to fly a mission; I simply have too much to do! Fortunately, the kerbals we’ve
    chosen are excellent candidates. Here we have Rondred, Erdrin, Jorfred, and Donnand
    Kerman,” Jeb said, revealing a few remaining photos to the camera.
     

    “My, my, Jeb, these look like excellent candidates to go to space! I was told that you also
    brought along two colleagues to help run the program. Are they not training to become
    astronauts too?”
    “Oh, Bill and Bob? Are you kidding? Bill’s pushing about 60 now, and Bob is too much
    of a scaredy-cat to even approach a rocket, let alone fly one into orbit! As you see in this
    picture, while they’re wearing USKK-certified flight suits, it’s simply for safety, as
    they’re inspecting a fuel storage tank out on the grounds.”
     
    “So to answer your question, Erdan, no, they’re simply good friends of mine who share
    my passion for space, and want to see the USKK become a great, space-faring nation.”
    “Speaking of our great country, what are your thoughts on the rumours that the CFKN
    has stolen our technology and begun a space program of their very own?”
    Jeb’s heart sank, and his smile became a little fixed. He’d hoped to avoid the topic of
    nation vs. nation entirely, but it appeared that Erdan was more persistent than he first
    had assumed. Jeb had managed to sidestep the topic when he answered the first
    question, but it seemed Erdan really wanted to get an opinion out of him.
    “Well, Erdan, I would be cautious when saying that the CFKN stole our technology.
    The rocket engines and fuel tanks are surprisingly simple in design. In fact, we found
    our first set of prototypes lying by the side of the road!”
    Erdan’s eyes widened and he looked like he was going to say something.
    “Though of course, we have manufactured completely new parts for the launch
    tomorrow,” Jeb added quickly, and not entirely truthfully. “But as I was saying, while
    the base technology for space exploration is simple, our plans are anything but. I am
    confident that tomorrow’s launch will be completely successful, and not even the sky is
    the limit after that!”
    “Simply fantastic, Jeb! I can tell you that I will definitely tune in for the launch
    tomorrow! Our glorious USKK is about to enter a glorious new age of exploration and
    development, all under your capable guidance! I do have one last question before you
    go, though. Do you ever feel pressured, with this enormous amount of responsibility
    hanging over your head?”
    “I have to say, Erdan, I’ve dealt with a lot of responsibility over the years, and I feel like
    this is just another small step for me. Besides, I have the excellent Bill and Bob to help
    me along; they take over the tasks I can’t manage.”
    “I see. Well, it has been an honour talking to you, Jeb, and I wish you the best of luck for
    tomorrow’s launch! I’ve been Erdan Kerman interviewing the great Director of our
    space program, Jebediah Kerman, and this is the United News Network!”
    “And we’re clear!” shouted the cameraman. A low buzz began to envelop the
    newsroom as kerbals began to go about their various tasks. Jebediah shook Erdan’s and
    many of the crew’s hands, then took his leave of the newsroom.
    * * *
    Bob was waiting for Jeb outside in his car. “How did the interview go? I wasn’t able to
    catch it on the radio. Thanks again for doing this, I know you don’t like to associate
    much with the media.”
    Jeb sighed. “To tell the truth, it wasn’t that bad. I’m just anxious to get back to the Space
    Center, there are still so many things to be done before the launch.”
    “Don’t you worry; Bill has it all under control. I drove by on my way here, and it looked
    like they were already erecting Aether 7 on the Launchpad.”
    “Already? Wow, I suppose he really is on top of things! You guys have been great,
    thanks for agreeing to this.”
    “You know it’s no problem, we would have joined the program regardless of your
    involvement. Pushing the limits of what’s possible, that’s the USKK way!”
    Jeb chuckled. “Sure it is.” and the two drove off towards the Space Centre.
     
    * * *

    CKFN: Facility for Space Research
    Three months ago
    “Is this it?”
    “What do you mean, ‘is this it’?”
    Gusbin and Matdun Kerman, two newly-selected kerbonauts, were standing on the
    grounds of the CKFN Facility for Space Research.
     
    “I mean exactly what I said, Matt. Is this the result of all that time and money? Two old
    buildings and a launch pad?”
    “Hey, hey, not so loud, Gus!” Matdun said quickly, eying a few construction staff who
    were giving them dirty looks. “Okay, the buildings aren’t really brand-new but these
    guys equipped them with all the rocket construction facilities and tracking hardware
    we could need.”
    “Why couldn’t we have gotten something like the USKK’s entire Space Centre? Maybe
    at least a research and development building? They’ve even got a runway, for devs
    sake!”
     
    “Oh come on, Gus, our plan is to go to space, not to stay in the atmosphere! Besides, all
    the aircraft I’ve seen flying so far seem to crash a lot; I’d rather them stay away from
    me. Besides, this should be all we need.”
    Gusbin sighed. “I guess you’re right. If it lets us get into space, I wouldn’t even mind
    working out of somebody’s garage. I guess this will have to do.”
    “Well, then you’ll pleased to hear where our R&D centre is located; Jenfry was kind
    enough to donate his to the cause!”
    “Oh good grief…”
     
    * * *

    CKFN: Jenfry Kerman’s House
    Present Day
    Danford Kerman, Flight Director for the CKFN’s space program walked up to the front
    door and knocked. Jenfry Kerman was quick to open it.
    “Why good morning, Mr. Danford, sir! How’s the rocket coming along? Have you
    picked a name yet?”
    “Hi, Jenfry. The rocket is actually mostly complete; we’re just lacking a payload for it.
    That’s why I’m here, I need to talk to Bilfrod.”
    “Ah, he’s right this way, down in the garage.”
    Jenfry’s garage had been converted into a small, but surprisingly well-equipped
    research lab. Harried techs rushed around, analyzing spreadsheets and testing
    prototypes. In the centre of it all stood Bilfrod Kerman, who as Chief Scientific Advisor
    of the CKFN had been tasked to help get the space program’s research off the ground.
    “Bilfrod, you’ve got to give me something, the boys at the VAB are getting impatient.
    Where’s our payload?”
    “Well, we hammered out a working prototype, but unfortunately we’re not going to be
    able to launch it,” responded Bilfrod.
    “What? I thought the probe core performed admirably when we tested it on the ground!
    What’s wrong?”
    “It’s quite frustrating, actually. We launched a sounding rocket the other day with a test
    platform, just to check that the systems will work when we launch for real. However,
    we found that when the electronics reach the upper atmosphere, the increased radiation
    cooks their systems. Right now we’ve been focused on hardening our electronic
    systems, but it is taking a while.”
    “Radiation, you say? Can’t you just stick a some shielding onto the probe and call it at
    that?”
    “It’s not as simple as that; with all the countermeasures we have to put in, we’ll either
    have to totally redesign all our hardware, or end up with a box that has so much
    shielding it would be kerbal-rated.”
    “Huh. …Which of these two approaches would take less time?”
    “Normally I would recommend the new tech, but it just so happens that one of my
    interns built a mock-up of a manned rocket, and with minimal effort we could modify it
    so that a kerbal could survive the trip. However, it would be far heavier than the probe
    core we were planning to send up.”
    “Don’t worry about the weight, the boys at the VAB are itching for something to do.
    Building a rocket which can take this capsule into orbit will be just the project they
    need. How long will it take to rad-proof this capsule?”
    “I’d say maybe a week or two. We still need to vacuum-test it, make sure it can survive
    long-term exposure to outer space.”
    “Damn, the USKK is launching tomorrow. And this is compared to how long for the
    redesigned tech?”
    “Oh, that would take months. I’ll get one of the interns on it though, we’ll eventually
    want to send probes up there, won’t we?”
    “Definitely. Okay, thanks Bilfrod. I’ll get back to you soon.”
    Danford exited the garage, dodging a kerbal with his hands full of batteries. I guess
    we’re not going to launch before the USKK after all, he thought to himself. The President
    won’t be happy.
    * * *
    Three hours later, back in the capital, Danford had just finished giving his report to the
    Advisory Council. However, the response he received caught him off guard. “The
    President is doing WHAT?”
    “As I said, administrative duties of the space program will be taken over his advisors,”
    General Geoffnard repeated, somewhat annoyed. “He said your methods just aren’t
    getting results. Managing an entire space program’s policy as well as check up on
    individual teams is far too much for one kerbal to handle.”
    Danford sighed heavily. “He is right about that; I’ve been a nervous wreck ever since
    we started. But let me promote some members of my own staff at the space facility; I
    know some great people who would be perfect for managing the program.”
    “I’m sorry, Dan. I can’t let you do that,” said the General, “The President said you’re
    brilliant at managing the space centre, and commends you for the performance of the
    teams so far. However, even the best-run program will fall apart without a clear goal in
    mind. And besides getting a rocket to space, you don’t seem to have one.”
    “Well, uh, I…”
    “Precisely. He’s not happy that the engineers are scrapping the ship they just built and
    are constructing another rocket, and says you need someone to keep a watch over your
    spending. Bilcas Kerman, the Economics Advisor, is just the kerbal for the job. You’ve
    already got Bilfrod working on research and development, and I,” The General
    thumped his chest proudly. “I will keep an eye on the USKK and shape our program’s
    goals to match and exceed theirs.”
    The President had evidently given this plan a lot of thought, and try as he might,
    Danford couldn’t disagree with the General. The last few months had taken their toll on
    him; having expert kerbals take care of administrative tasks and cut through red tape
    would simplify his life immensely.
    “Fine. I can see his logic behind this decision, and I can’t really think of a better
    solution,”
    “Don’t you worry; this is for the best. You’ll be able to spend more time doing the
    things you are good at, and we’ll be able to get a leg up on the USKK at last! Speaking
    of which, their launch is tomorrow. The President wants to know when our rocket can
    be launched?”
    “I’m afraid not for another three weeks, but we will launch a kerbal when we do.”
    At this, the General gave a double-take. “You’re sending someone up there? My people
    tell me the USKK hasn’t even considered a kerballed launch yet! Are you sure it’s safe?”
    “Absolutely. My engineers have been able to get nearly one hundred percent reliability
    out of their engines, and their designs keep getting better and better. We might not beat
    the USKK into space, but the first kerbal up there will be from the CKFN.”
    “I see… I congratulate you on your ingenuity, but in the future, you should keep the
    President or myself in the loop when deciding on our payloads. That reminds me.
    You’ll need to attend our next staff meeting, Thursday at noon. Now that the Advisory
    Committee is part of the Space Program, we need to be brought up to speed, and
    properly informed about…
    Danford tuned the General out as he began listing protocol and meeting times. Having
    increased government control over the space program wasn’t ideal, but it certainly
    wasn’t the end of the world. Maybe now that he had more of the President’s ear, he
    could push for an increased budget, and maybe expand the Space Program’s facilities.
    Who knows, maybe this could be a good thing after all…
    ?

     


    CHAPTER II:
    TOUCHING THE SKY

    USKK: Space Centre Launchpad
    One week later

     
    “Fuel lines, check. Mooring cables, check. Engine ignitors, check.”
    The sun had not yet risen at the USKK’s space centre, but the work of the ground
    control team had already been going on for hours. Aether 7 was nearly ready for liftoff
    though, and the crowd gathered outside the Space Centre was bustling with excitement,
    despite the early hour.
    Gene Kerman, Flight Director, stood at the centre of the chaos that was Mission Control,
    yelling into his radio headset.
    “No, tell the ground crew not to load the fuel yet. If the welding team drops a torch
    again, there’ll be a fireball large enough to toast our audience. We load half an hour
    before the launch, no sooner. What do you mean, the payload isn’t in the rocket yet?
    Tell the R&D team to quit poking at it and shove it in there! I don’t care if it’s only
    showing an 86% reliability with receiving signals, it isn’t going to have to do anything
    fancy. The main goal of this operation is to launch something into space and please the
    crowd out there. Speaking of which, how many are there? Three thousand? That’s more
    than the turnout to most headball matches! If we screw this one up…”
    “Don’t worry, Gene. You’re not going to screw up,” a calm voice reassured the frantic
    kerbal.
    “Thank the devs you’re here, Bill! Things are insane over here. Half the Mission Control
    techs aren’t even here yet, the rocket is still under construction, and this crowd is
    driving us all crazy! I thought we weren’t supposed to launch until Tuesday!”
    “That was the plan. Unfortunately, Jeb let slip our most optimistic launch schedule
    estimate on live television, so we’ve got an audience earlier than we anticipated. It’s not
    as if we can just tell them to go home, can we?”
    “I suppose not…That doesn’t mean we can’t try, right?” Gene flipped on the exterior
    PA systems and prepared to speak.
    Bill quickly turned it off. “Not so fast. Don’t give up before you’ve even tried! Give the
    crews some credit. They may not be the best in the world, but they definitely won’t
    screw up anything major, yesterday’s incident taught them quite the explosive lesson.”
    “I guess you’re right. Why couldn’t you have taken my position? I’m lousy at it; my
    nerves are shot and we haven’t even launched yet!”
    “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it quickly. I’ve had enough of management for a
    lifetime; I’m here just to support Jebediah, and give you a hand. Besides, you’re doing
    better than I did on my first time. At least nothing’s on fire!”
    “The day’s not over yet, Bill. But it looks like you’re right, I’ve got confirmation that the
    rocket is just about ready for payload installation.”
    “What did I tell you? How’s the payload coming along?”
    “One second…” Gene’s expression widened into one of amazement as he consulted
    with the labs via his headset. “I can’t believe it. R&D actually managed to get the
    payload to work! It’s on its way to Aether now!”
    “In that case, restart the countdown, Gene.”
    “Right-o, Bill!”
    * * *
     
    “You know Donnand, why couldn’t this have been a kerballed launch?” Rondred
    Kerman said to the kerbal sitting next to him. With their daily training suspended due
    to the impending launch, the two kerbonauts found themselves without much to do. At
    the moment, they were wandering around the Space Centre, speculating about the
    future of the space program.
    “You know very well why not; the rocket isn’t big enough to lift your fat butt into
    orbit!”
    “Hey now,” said Rondred, giving a nearby vending machine several practised knocks,
    dispensing a free snack. “The flight controller said I was within acceptable weight
    limits. Besides, couldn’t they have just built a bigger rocket than that tiny thing?”
    “The construction team had enough difficulties with that one; it’s going to take them a
    while before they feel confident enough to build anything bigger. I say let them practice
    on small rockets. Besides, the bigwigs who lead this space program are concerned about
    safety, they say that having a kerbal go up on untested hardware is dangerous.”
    “Danger? Who cares about danger? We’ve all risked our lives before, and we can do it
    again, if it means getting to go into space!”
    “Don’t you worry, Ron. You’ll get to go to space eventually, we just need to find out
    what’s up there first.”
    “Good, I joined this space program for one reason only: I want to see Kerbin from
    above! I wonder what it looks like?”
    “If the launch goes well, the probe will take pictures of the view. I wonder how we’d
    get to take a look? Say, the guys down in Mission Control will probably get to see them
    first, won’t they?”
    “That’s right! Instead of waiting for the pictures to be posted publicly, why don’t we
    just see them ourselves?”
     
    “You mean break into the Mission Control room? Not even our passes will get us in
    there!”
    “Hmm, you’re right. Security is pretty tight.” At this, Donnand sat back, clearly
    thinking hard. “I’ve got it! We just need to get ourselves a pair of blue polo shirts!”
    “Polos? How would that—ahh, I see what you’re getting at!”
    “All we have to do is sneak into the control room with all the other techs, then just
    stand at the back of the room when the rocket is launched! I heard from one of the techs
    that there are always extras just standing around; we won’t have to do a thing but
    watch!”
    “Don, I don’t know why you became a kerbonaut. I think you’re smarter than Werhner
    von Kerman himself!”
    “Aw shucks, you’re making me blush! Now let’s get moving. The laundry room’s over
    this way…”
     
    * * *
    Thirty minutes later, the two stood in the control room, watching Gene speak loudly to
    all those assembled.
    “Countdown is now at T minus ten minutes. Repeat, ten minutes until liftoff.”
    Rondred and Donnand were standing at the back of Mission Control, clad in the
    characteristic light blue polo shirts that its technicians wore.
    “This is seriously the best idea you’ve ever had, Don. Just look at those giant monitors, I
    can’t believe we’re really here!”
    “Something’s not right though. The room doesn’t look like it’s as packed as I’ve heard it
    normally is.”
    Suddenly, a very harried Gene Kerman stopped before them. Ron and Don exchanged
    worried looks.
    “Oh, thank the devs you’re here! There’s been a pileup on the highway, and the last few
    members of the team aren’t going to make it! You’re the backup control techs, right?”
    Not knowing what the punishment for sneaking into the Mission Control room
    immediately before launch was, but knowing it was nothing good, the two kerbonauts
    nodded carefully.
    “Yes sir, that is, ah, definitely us. Uh, where do you want us to go?” asked Donnand.
    “Alright, you go here, next to Barfnal. He’s the Lead Telemetry Controller. He’ll let you
    know what to do. You, on the other hand, are going to be Range Safety Officer. Activate
    the sequence if—Squad forbid—the command is given.”
    Donnand shuffled over and queried Barfnal as to what his job would be.
    “Great, another newbie. You know, I’ve got a job to do here, I can’t be telling all these
    guys how to watch their consoles! What you’re going to be doing is monitoring the
    temperature and pressure of the payload. You see gauge X7-42b here? If it goes critical,
    make sure to notify me, so I can pass the information onto Gene. However, it may be
    just a fault in the system, so you have to consult the manual here and make sure that the
    fuses haven’t blown. If they have, then you need to…”
    Head spinning, Don prayed that the payload would be fine so that he would not have
    to run through the increasingly-complicated procedure Barfnal was going over.
    Rondred, on the other hand, had a very simple control panel in front of him. A single
    Big Red Button, covered by a plastic safety case, lay in front of him. Now, most other
    kerbals would be able to handle this position. They would await the launch and enjoy
    the show, only pressing the button if they were told. Not Rondred. For his entire life, he
    had been pushing buttons, whether the metaphorical buttons of his parents and
    teachers, or physical buttons in vehicle pits. He loved pushing buttons. As such, when
    confronted with such a Big Red Button that was just begging to be pressed, Rondred
    faced a very difficult decision. Should he press the Button, feel the satisfaction, and deal
    with whatever consequences resulted? Or should he leave the Button be, and forever
    wonder what it did? A difficult choice even at the calmest of moments, and this
    moment was anything but calm. Rondred struggled to recall exactly what the job of the
    Range Safety Officer was, but was unable to remember specifics. Did it have something
    to do with large explosions? Then again, given by how many explosions came from the
    Vehicle Assembly Building these days, it seemed like explosions and rockets went
    hand-in-hand. Still, the Button awaited, in all its infinitely pressable glory.
    * * *
     
    “Alright people, this is it!” Finally, Gene Kerman’s voice rang out throughout the room.
    “We are ready to launch Kerbin’s first satellite! All stations, report in.”
    “Attitude, go!”
    “Power, go”
    “Telemetry, go,” Barfnal stated. Donnand Kerman, worriedly staring at his massive
    control board, certainly did not feel like all systems were go, as he peered at gauge X6-
    48c (or was that X8-49a?).
    “Communications, go”
    And so the list went on, subsystem after subsystem reporting readiness, when
    suddenly, a pause came. Gene spoke up.
    “Range Safety? Range Safety, are you ready?”
    Enamoured by the Button, Rondred Kerman snapped out of his daze when he realized
    Gene was speaking directly to him.
    “Uh, yes! Yes, yes, for sure, everything’s ready here! Um, go?”
    “Excellent. Well, gentlemen, all stations are online and we are go for launch.
    Commencing the final countdown.”
    “Ten”
    “Nine”
    Donnand tried to recall exactly which gauge Barfnal had told him to watch.
    “Eight”
    “Seven”
    The Button remained, stoic as ever. Ron couldn’t take his eyes off it.
    “Six”
    “Five”
    Surely it was gauge XF-47b. Or was that X4-F7b?
    “Four”
    “Three”
    The Button suddenly began to blink. Eyes widening, Rondred started to sweat.
    “Two”
    “One”
    “Liftoff, we have liftoff of the Aether 7 orbital probe!”
     
    * * *
     
    “Say Jorfred, why was the ship called Aether 7?” Erdrin Kerman said to the final
    member of the USKK kerbonaut team, as they watched the rocket lift off.
    “Well, who knows why they chose the name Aether, but I believe that the ‘7’ moniker
    came from the fact that this is the seventh rocket we’ve launched. The first six were just
    sounding rockets built to test the technology.” replied Jorfred.
    “Huh, isn’t that funny,” she mused, watching the rocket streak skywards on a column
    of flame and smoke.
    “Why?”
    “In my favourite board game, Human Space Program, the United States’ story mode’s
    manned rocket launch was called the Freedom 7. I forget why it was called that though.”
    “Huh, maybe one of the higher-ups is a fan of that game? Though it could be just a
    coincidence.”
    “Yeah, you’re probably right,”
     
    * * *
    Aether 7 did not care as to what it was named after. It merely rose towards the heavens
    bearing the collection of electronics which would ultimately orbit the planet. The probe
    was nothing fancy, it would simply receive radio signals transmitted to it and emit a
    response, but as no other object had ever been to orbit before it, this probe was very
    special.
     
    Transmissions originating from the Mission Control station, relayed through the three
    massive dishes of the Tracking Station, found the little rocket and commanded it to
    pitch itself over forty-five degrees relative to the horizon. A few moments later, the first
    stage engine used up the last few drops of fuel and promptly flamed out. In response,
    carefully-placed pyrotechnics (the engineering team found out first-hand what happens
    if one fails to use caution when placing them the preceding day) detonated and the
    second stage engine was exposed to the thin air of Kerbin’s upper atmosphere. With
    only a second’s delay, it fired up, and Aether 7 continued on its journey skyward.
     
    * * *
    Donnand Kerman was not having a good day. Not only had the X8-67 gauge gone red,
    but the X3-DF8 gauge too, and the X7-56a gauge as well! In fact, his entire control panel
    was flashing red. Donnand was on the verge of telling Barfnal this, but realized that no
    one else in the control room seemed to be reacting to alerts on their control panels. In
    fact, the catastrophic failure seemed to be localized to only his panel. Recalling
    something Barfnal had said, he ducked underneath the console, where the acrid smell of
    burnt plastic met him. The main fuse had burnt out, and by the looks (and smell) of it,
    some of the insulation along the wire had been scarred as it did so. Donnand yanked
    out the burnt fuse, grabbed a replacement from its box, then shoved it into place. With
    great relief, he noted that all the gauges had returned to normal. He certainly hoped
    Rondred was having a less stressful time at his console.
    Try as he might, Rondred could not ignore the button. Besides it being his job (or what
    Gene thought was his job), the Button was the most pressable button he had ever
    encountered in his life. Big, flashing, and smack-dab in the middle of the console, this
    Button needed to be pressed. Who would ever find out? he thought to himself. Gene’s
    not looking this way, just go ahead and give it a push! And so push it he did, carefully
    easing back the cover and depressing the large, round Button. He was not disappointed;
    the Button emitted a massively satisfying ka-thunk as he pushed it, activating the
    delicate electronics hidden inside his console.
    Radio waves propagate at the speed of light, a speed far greater than a mind can
    comprehend. As such, the following series of events took place in much less than the
    blink of an eye. As Rondred pushed the Button, a signal was sent through his console,
    off to the tracking station, and off in the general direction of the rocket, via one of the
    radio dishes. Upon arrival, the signal was quickly decoded, the rocket understanding its
    message: SELF DESTRUCT. This information prompted the very rudimentary
    computer on board to send an electronic pulse through a very specific wire, on its way
    to another carefully-placed series of explosives. Unlike the decoupler, these would
    precisely tear the ship apart, leaving nothing but dust in their wake.
    * * *
    “…so then I said to him: ‘How hard can rocket science be, anyway?” said Gregbro
    Kerman, one of the Vehicle Assembly Building’s rocket construction workers, as he was
    working on the fuselage of Aether 7, several hours prior to the ship’s launch.
    “Hahaha, you’re hilarious, Greg!” howled his partner, who was holding Gregbro’s
    welding gear. “You ought to quit your day job and become a professional comedian!”
    “You know, I considered that for a couple of years. That actually reminds me of a
    story…” Greg responded, turning away from the rocket to look at the other kerbal,
    inadvertently letting the welding torch stray towards a sensitive portion of the rocket.
    “Good Squad, Greg! Look out!” yelled his partner.
    Gregbro quickly turned back to the job at hand, and he yanked his torch back from a
    portion of the hull which was endowed with more warning labels than any other.
    “Well…that was close,” he said, quickly turning off the torch.
    “Thank the devs, three centimetres to the right and you might have set off the Range
    Safety explosives!”
    “You don’t need to tell me–the explosion would have been huge! Well, it doesn’t look
    like anything was damaged, so let’s patch up the hull, and go do something else for a
    while! Say, wanna see me juggle decouplers?”
    “You don’t have to ask me twice! Bet you can’t get more than five up at once this time!”
    “Oh, just watch me…”
    Little did Gregbro nor his partner know, as they headed towards an explosive incident
    which would live on in infamy, but the unsupervised welding torch had done more
    than give both kerbals a scare and leave a blackened streak across the hull. The
    insulation of wire upon which the self-destruct signal would travel had been
    completely melted off, exposing the inner wire. This bare copper now touched the outer
    hull of the rocket, which had been connected to the negative terminal of the onboard
    battery. Much like how a lightning strike travels through the charged air to get to
    ground, so would any current meant to trigger the self-destruct, bypassing its intended
    destination.
    * * *
     
    To Rondred in the present day, however, it simply appeared that the Button did
    nothing. No change that he could see occurred, whether on the monitors or on any
    surrounding consoles. Slightly annoyed at the Button’s lack of function, he pressed it
    again. And again. And once more, for good measure.
    Ka-thunk
    Ka-thunk
    Ka-thunk
    Three more times, the signal made its route from the console below Rondred’s fingers,
    to the Tracking Station, and finally to the rocket. And three more times it was redirected
    from the wire to the hull to the ground terminal of the battery, ending its journey
    prematurely.
    Profoundly disappointed, Rondred quickly replaced the plastic cover as Gene walked
    by, then for the first time since noticing the button, glanced up at the large monitor at
    the front of the room. Wow! The rocket sure got high up quickly! he thought.
    Time flies when one is preoccupied with a Button.
    * * *
    Rondred was indeed accurate, the rocket was setting new altitude records, flying
    farther than any kerbal-made object had before.
     
    The previous sounding rockets had only made it to the outer layers of Kerbin’s
    atmosphere; this ship would be the first kerbal-made object to enter outer space. Before
    it reached that boundary though, the fuel reserves in the upper stage’s fuel tank
    depleted, causing the engine’s flames to sputter and die. At this point, the rocket had an
    apoapsis of roughly 200 km, which the flight planners had deemed as an excellent
    target altitude. As such, the rocket jettisoned its fairings to reveal the satellite.
     
    This probe was nothing special, it was simply designed to confirm that it had made
    orbit and take a few pictures. It didn’t even have its own energy generation on board,
    meaning that once the power ran out of the onboard batteries, the probe would simply
    be a silent piece of metal travelling around Kerbin.
     
    The probe did possess a sunshield though, as the scientists on the ground were worried
    of whether the unfiltered light from the Sun would be enough to melt parts of the
    probe. Fortunately, no temperature alarms blared, but Donnand was more concerned
    about the acrid smell emanating from his console.
     
    Despite being neither aerodynamic nor possessing wings, the satellite flew silently
    towards apoapsis. It possessed a tiny orbital operations motor, which it used to
    circularize itself when it reached the highest point in its orbit.
     
    Unceremoniously, the rocket’s motor activated and circularized its orbit, catapulting the
    planet Kerbin into a new era: The Space Age. Despite such a monumental achievement,
    most of the kerbals involved were distracted with other things. Donnand was still
    trying to get his instrument panel to work; he had inserted the wrong fuse and now
    thick black smoke was emerging from all the gauges. Rondred had let his attention slip
    back to the Button; he gave it one last ka-thunk before sadly giving up. Gene was
    viciously chewing on his nails as he stalked around the room, inspecting everyone’s
    consoles. The kerbals out on the lawn of the Space Centre were packing up their things,
    the show was over, and most had already left, minds consumed with more mundane
    things than the flight of Kerbin’s first orbital probe.
    That probe would function perfectly for the remainder of its short life, regardless of
    whether the thoughts of its creators were upon it. Its engine restarted smoothly to place
    the payload in the desired orbit, and all transmissions came through loud and clear,
    eliciting a loud cheer from the Control Room. Ron and Don took the opportunity to slip
    away amidst the chaos, forgetting the reason they had snuck in the first place. Upon
    returning to the other two kerbonauts, they had nothing much to say about the launch
    except ‘it was nice’.
     
    Indeed, while the media switched into overdrive speculating about the next launch,
    what the CKFN would do in response, and even the question of putting a kerbal up
    there eventually, no one paid attention to the fact that Kerbin’s skies had gained a single
    new star. It was the evening after the launch, when a little kerbal was walking home
    with her mother.
    “Look, ma! That star’s moving!”
    This was before the advent of air travel, remember (the kerbals were still figuring out
    exactly how wings worked, they preferred to stick with rocket-propelled vehicles for
    now), so the constant movement of lights across the sky modern day humans have
    come to know did not exist yet. Besides, this star was no plane. Moving across the sky at
    a rate no aircraft could ever hope to match, it indeed looked like one of the stars above
    had come loose and was moving in a perfectly straight line, from west to east.
    The kerbal’s mother, arms full of groceries, didn’t even bother to look up.
    “Don’t be silly, dear. Stars can’t move! Now can you give me a hand with this door?”
    The little kerbal rushed forward to help her mother, but not before glancing back at the
    mysterious star, now nearly at the horizon, chasing the recently-set sun. She made a
    silent promise to herself, to find out what could make a star move like that, and some
    day chase down the tiny point of light in the sky.
     

    * * *
    CKFN: Advisory Council Meeting
    One Day Later
    Danford shifted uneasily in his seat. This meeting had dragged on for hours, yet Bilcas
    still hadn’t reached the topic that was on everyone’s minds: yesterday’s rocket launch
    from the USKK.
    Looking around the table, he saw that his fellow council members were nowhere near
    as agitated as he. Bilfrod was idly doodling on a pad of paper, the President was
    twirling a pen in his fingers, and it even looked like General Geoffnard had nodded off.
    Danford rubbed his eyes, wishing he’d had more than one cup of coffee this morning,
    then leaned back in his seat. Bilcas’ next words made him sit right back up, however.
    “Now that the cabbage legislation is taken care of, it’s time to move on. Danford, I
    believe this will concern you especially: yesterday’s USKK rocket launch.”
    “What about the launch? Do you want details of the launch, specifications of their
    satellite, rocket designs?”
    “I want to know why we were not able to launch before them.”
    Danford sighed before he began his response. Anything but this. “As I have stated
    before, our unmanned technology is severely underpowered in comparison to the
    USKK. As such, they were able to test, and launch their space probe on a much shorter
    timeframe than we were able to.”
    “I know about the probe issues, but earlier this week you were telling us the advantages
    of sending a kerbal into space. Why, may I ask, have you not accomplished that yet?”
    “You are dramatically underestimating the timeframe in which our work is done in. It’s
    not like simply jumping into a car and going on a road trip. Researching the technology,
    designing proper stages, fabricating the ship properly, training crew—these take weeks!
    We only really shifted focus towards a manned mission a few days ago.”
    Bilcas did not respond, his face unreadable. Danford continued.
    “Looking at our most optimistic schedules, I’d say that we’ll be ready to go within two
    weeks at the very most.”
    Upon hearing this, the President halted his twirling pen. “Two weeks? Is there no way
    we can launch sooner?”
    “Not without cutting corners and putting our kerbal’s life at risk. This isn’t like a probe,
    where in a failed launch the only casualty is money. I will not allow a kerbal to be sent
    into a scenario where he or she may die,” Danford responded, a hint of colour rising to
    his cheeks.
    Without opening his eyes, the General spoke: “Well said. For once, I find myself
    agreeing with Danford. I say we let his team take their time, from what I hear, the
    USKK hasn’t scheduled another launch for the next month.”
    “Good to have your opinion, Geoffnard,” the President responded. “What say you,
    Bilfrod?”
    “Hmm? What? Uh…” the bespectacled kerbal said, blinking in confusion as he looked
    up from his doodling, which was starting to resemble a rocket engine. “The payload is
    mostly complete, we just need to finalize the lifter and attach the two. We need the time
    to make sure that all systems are working correctly.”
    “Good to know, thanks Bilfrod. Well Bilcas, looks like that’s everyone. Do you want to
    make a rebuttal?”
    “You know; it would look bad if we managed to get a kerbal killed on our first flight.
    Fine. I agree, give Danford his extra time.”
    Danford rocked back in his seat with surprise. It was truly a rare occasion when Bilcas
    changed his mind so quickly.
    “Good to know everyone is in agreement, then,” the President said. “That appears to be
    everything for today, I’ll let you all go. Have a good night.”
    Danford set off with a determined expression. With a lot of hard work and a little luck,
    they could make history.
    * * *
    “Stand by, lowering the capsule into position now,” the PA blared.
     
    Danford Kerman was pleased. Almost a month after the USKK’s launch, his crew was
    finally ready for a chance at making orbit themselves. Built from the finest materials
    across the CKFN, Latona 1 was nearly ready for liftoff. However, while Bilvin had
    agreed to let Danford go ahead with the launch, he had shrunk the space program’s
    budget in response, leading to delays in the manufacturing and testing process. To
    make a long story short, this extended Danford’s original estimate of two weeks quite
    significantly. Still, the rocket was complete, even though it felt like he’d had to negotiate
    for every last nut and bolt on the thing.
    “How are you doing, Bilvin?” he asked over the radio.
    “About as fine as it can be expected, I’ve been sitting here in this tiny room for three hours
    now,” she replied grumpily, speaking from her location in the rocket’s launch tower.
    “The capsule is being secured onto the rocket as we speak, you’ll be out of there in no
    time,”
    “And there’s nothing in here,” she continued, seemingly oblivious to his words. “I mean,
    you could have put a couple of magazines, or a TV, but it is completely empty. At least I’ve got a
    chair.”
    “Uh, Bilvin? Do you copy?”
    “I read you. Just offering you some suggestions so that the next poor sap who has to wait here
    doesn’t die of boredom,”
    “Roger that. I’m getting the ‘all clear’ now, you’re free to board the rocket. I’m sending
    someone to help you into the capsule; it may be a bit of a tight fit.”
    “I don’t mind how cramped it is, if it’s getting me to space, you can’t keep me away! Besides, I’ll
    take a tight fit over dying of boredom any day.”
    “Just remember, the room is necessary, we can’t have you wandering around the launch
    site and encountering falling debris, you’re a very important kerbal after all!”
    “Oh come on, that was once! And it wasn’t even my fault!”
    * * *
    Twenty minutes later, Danford stood inside the Facility’s small Tracking Station, in
    front of his mission control team.
     
    “Alright. All systems are go. We are ready to finalize the countdown. Bilvin, what’s
    your status?”
    ”Hatch secure, boss”
     
    “Control, how are we looking?”
    “All systems are nominal, stand by for final countdown sequence,” one of the kerbals in
    front of Dan said, eyes on his console readings.
    “Roger. We’re live in ten.”
    “Nine”
    “Eight”
    “Seven”
    Despite his cool exterior, Danford was actually quite nervous. This launch needed to go
    perfectly, otherwise the CKFN risked looking like idiots who couldn’t even get a
    spacecraft off the ground. Besides, a kerbal’s life was in the balance. *No. *He had been
    preparing for this moment for months, it would go off as planned.
    “Six”
    “Five”
    “Four”
    “Three”
    Palms sweating, Danford adjusted his radio’s microphone and glanced over his
    clipboard. This was it.
    “Two”
    “One”
    No turning back now.
    * * *
    “…so I was saying, ‘What do you mean, that was 7 g? I didn’t even feel half of that!’ But
    before you go thinking I’m some sort of iron kerbal, it turns out the centrifuge was
    malfunctioning and giving strange readings. Apparently, the next time they tested it,
    the pod separated from the main body and smashed through the roof! It’s a lucky thing
    I wasn’t in it at the time!”
    Jenfry Kerman was telling another of his stories from his experiences in basic training to
    the other CKFN kerbonauts. Suddenly, a bright glow lit up the window of the viewing
    room.
    “Oh no, did we miss the countdown?” asked Gusbin.
    “Looks like it,” replied Matdun. “Anyway, we can catch the comm chatter of liftoff” She
    flicked on the communicator.
    “And we have liftoff! Liftoff of the Latona 1 rocket, carrying Bilvin Kerman on its flight to
    orbit!” Danford’s voice came over the speaker.
     
    “Woohoo! Go Bilvin!” cheered Jenfry.
    “You know, I always wondered why our rocket has a ‘1’ at the end of its name, rather
    than the USKK’s ‘7’,” Matdun spoke up.
    “I believe it’s because the USKK included their sounding rocket tests in their name,”
    explained Gusbin. “Since we had so many failures with the probes we tried to send up,
    it was decided to just start at 1 for our orbital flights.”
     
    “Hey, that reminds me of when I nearly got hit by one of those sounding rockets, it’s
    quite the story,” began Jenfry.
    Matdun cut him off. “Not now! I want to listen to the commentary!”
    “Latona 1 has now reached seven thousand metres, beginning gravity turn now.”
     
    “Gravity turn successful. We have now reached fifteen thousand metres.”
    “Everything looks good so far, how’s Bilvin doing?” Gusbin asked. As if in response,
    the communicator crackled to life.
    “Control, this is Bilvin, gravity turn was nominal, the rocket handles very well. Fuel is draining
    as expected, preparing to drop first stage.”
    “I read you, Bilvin, we’ve observed the first stage engine burn out. You may fire the second stage
    when ready.”
    “Decoupling now. Control, do you read a clean separation?”
    “Affirmative, you are clear to fire your second stage engine.”
    “Activating engine now, fuel flow nominal.”
     
    “Stand by to jettison escape tower, Latona 1.”
    “Roger, jettisoning tower.”
     
    * * *
    A few minutes later, Bilvin’s voice came over the radio once more. “Control, I’m reading
    a second stage burnout. Can you give me visual confirmation?”
    “That’s a negative, you’ve just disappeared over the horizon. We’re relaying comms through an
    eastern radio dish, so communications may be a little spotty.”
    “Roger, I’m using the rear camera to confirm the separation now. And…confirmed.”
     
    “Firing orbital operations motor.”
    “Latona 1, telemetry has confirmed that your trajectory is on target for a 100 km orbit. Throttle
    down and prepare to coast to apoapsis.”
    “Roger, Control. Engines cut.”
    “Bilvin’s about to be the first kerbal in space! This is ground-breaking history right
    here!” cheered Jenfry.
    “Don’t celebrate prematurely. She still needs to restart the orbital engine. If it doesn’t
    light, the rocket will re-enter on the opposite side of Kerbin!” worried Gusbin.
    “Relax, Gus. I personally know the lead kerbal who worked on the LV-909 engine, and
    he reassured me that his team has tweaked it so that it can restart essentially infinitely,”
    reassured Matdun. “I trust his work.”
    “Yeah, the engineering boys are the best there are at what they do; it’ll work,” chimed
    in Jenfry.
    Just then, the radio squawked into life once more: “This is the CKFN destroyer Admiral
    Dunfry. We’re currently seven hundred kilometres south of your position and just received your
    telemetry, Mission Control. We’ve established communications with Latona 1 and patching you
    through now.”
    “Control? Do you read me? Repeat, Control?”
    “Roger that, Latona, we read you loud and clear.”
    “Excellent. I’m reading about thirty seconds to apoapsis, and am preparing to fire the main
    engine for circularization burn.”
    “You are all clear, everything looks nominal from down here”
    “Firing now”
     
    “Burn complete!”
    “Congratulations Bilvin, you are officially the first kerbal to orbit Kerbin!” The sound of
    cheering could be heard in the background as Danford spoke.
    “Told you it would work!” said Matdun triumphantly.
    “It never hurts to be cautious,” Gusbin responded.
    * * *
    Back in the control room, Danford reopened communications. “How are you doing,
    Bilvin?”
    “Fantastic, the view is amazing! I’ve never seen anything like it!”
     
    “Make sure to get pictures to share with us when you return! Now, your capsule only
    has enough supplies for one orbit, so we’re on a tight schedule here. You will need to
    perform some experiments before re-entering.”
    “Receiving you loud and clear, boss. Activating the experiments now. Bilfrod really wanted data,
    huh?”
     “Apologies about making you do all the hard work, but as you know our probes don’t
    exactly work well outside the atmosphere. Speaking of which, what’s the radiation
    level?”
    “I’m not reading much more than a standard background dose at sea level. The guys who built
    this capsule did good work!”
    “I will pass your thanks onto them. Alright, we’re getting the data back from the
    scientific packages now.”
    “So, what’s next?”
    “We now begin Phase One of the physiological testing. Heartbeat, blood pressure,
    brainwaves, Bilfrod wants it all!”
    “Roger that…”
     
    * * *
    One orbit, thirty minutes, and numerous scientific experiments later, Bilvin finally
    clicked off the instruments. It’s nice to finally have a chance to enjoy the view. For the sights
    to be seen outside the window of the tiny spacecraft were truly breathtaking.
     
    The pensive moment did not last long, for Bilvin had to deorbit, jettison the orbital
    motor and orient herself properly before the heat from re-entry overwhelmed the
    capsule.
    “Control, this is Latona 1. I’m commencing the deorbit burn now.”
     
    The throaty roar which had suffused the ship at liftoff was gone now, all that was left to
    remind Bilvin that an engine was firing was a slight vibration and a small force pushing
    her back into the seat. The burn complete, she throttled down and informed Mission
    Control of this event. Latona would hold onto the deorbit engine until it hit the
    atmosphere, in case an emergency course correction was required. Fortunately, the
    efficient LV-909 engine meant that there was still plenty of fuel left in the tank.
    “Latona, you’ve now entered the outer layer of Kerbin’s atmosphere. Jettison your
    orbital stage and be sure to orient yourself tail-first.”
    “Roger that, Control. See you on the other side.” Hitting the necessary button on the
    control panel, a smooth ka-thunk reverberated through the capsule as the trusty engine
    and attached fuel tank floated away. Firing up the reaction wheels, Bilvin rotated the
    final piece of Latona 1 into position for re-entry.
     
    She hated the pause between jettisoning the engine and feeling the re-entry burn.
    Simulations had prepared her for this, but the feeling of falling towards Kerbin’s
    surface at more than two kilometres per second unnerved her. Strangely enough, when
    the bright flames began enveloping the capsule and the g-forces pushed her back in her
    seat, she felt more at ease. Now at least she was slowing down.
     
    * * *
    “When do you think we’ll be able to see it?” asked Matdun, waving her flashlight
    around. The sun had set during Bilvin’s flight, and the grounded kerbonauts had
    moved outside shortly after Latona 1’s orbital burn completed.
    “Any minute now, she’s just coming over the horizon,” responded Gusbin, with a radio
    headset held up to his ear. “It sounds like the re-entry burn has just begun.”
    “There she is now!” pointed Jenfry, as a bright star-like object rose slowly over the
    horizon. As it climbed higher in the sky, it quickly became apparent that this was no
    celestial body. A tail of fire reached out from the rear of the hypersonic projectile, and it
    was quite the sight for the trio as it streaked overhead.
     
    “She’s on target for a landing,” Gusbin said, with palpable relief. “Wait a second; a
    crosswind is blowing the capsule into the mountains!”
    “Why do you listen to that, Gus? It’s just going to raise your blood pressure! She’ll be
    fine, come watch the capsule!” urged Jenfry.
    Danford did not share Jenfry’s placid attitude.
    “Latona 1, do you copy? Stand by for emergency parachute deployment.”
    “**###**rad***##no***###tact***###”
    “Blast! We’re still getting too much interference! We’d better hope the auto-deployment
    mechanism works.”
     
    “Ground control, do you read me? The re-entry flames appear to have died out and–MOTHER
    OF HARV!”
    “Bilvin? Bilvin? Are you alright?” Danford spoke, with more than a touch of worry.
    “The parachute just deployed!”
    “Apologies, we added the auto-deploy mechanism at the last moment. It registers when the air
    pressure was sufficient to deploy the parachute and deployed it.”
    “I thought the parachute was my job?”
    “It’s mainly for emergencies, like when the capsule gets too close to the ground—like now!”
    “Too close? I thought I was still several kilometres up.”
    “Look out your window.”
     
    “The mountains? I must be really off course!”
    “Just by a few kilometres, don’t worry. The recovery vessels are on their way.”
    “Roger, hope you don’t mind if I get out and stretch my legs while I wait; it was a tight fit.”
    “That’s a negative, pressure levels are too low up there. You’d have to be wearing a full pressure
    suit to be able to breathe.”
    “We’ll have to work on getting me one of those for next time, then.”
    “Copy that Bilvin, see you shortly.”
    Oblivious to the drama unfolding via radio waves, Jenfry and Matdun both saw a tail of
    canvas and string grow to replace the one of fire and smoke and let out a cheer.
     
    “Good chute! Bilvin’s coming home safely!” said Matdun. Even Gusbin cracked a smile,
    as the recovery helicopters thundered overhead, chasing the gently falling capsule.
     
    * * *
    Danford Kerman swallowed. It was several hours after Latona I’s successful landing,
    and he was currently present at yet another Advisory Council meeting, mainly to
    present the news on how that flight went. Unfortunately, the President was too busy to
    attend this time, and without his leadership, the Advisors had a tendency to start
    squabbling and end up wasting hours of the meeting time. (It turned out that the sale of
    cabbage was a particularly sore subject with the General). Fortunately, the news he had
    to share was good, so this meeting ought to go smoothly.
    “So as you can see from my report, we achieved the first kerballed flight in history,
    beating the USKK, and did quite a lot of science along the way!”
    Bilfrod had a massive smile on his face. “The data you’ve provided is exemplary; I have
    plans for experiments for the next ten flights!” General Geoffnard spoke up. “So I see,
    Danford. I must say, I am impressed with what your team was able to accomplish. I
    admit that I was doubtful when I first saw the erm, facilities you were working out of,
    but the results are exemplary!” He leaned back, a gruff smile on his face.
    “Indeed, Danford, this is quite the accomplishment. However, I noted that you
    submitted a request for an increase in your budget. We’ve been over this, the money
    you’ve been allotted is more than sufficient,” Bilcas Kerman, Economics and
    Communications Minister stated, looking up from his papers.
    Danford frowned. “We wouldn’t have to work out of Jenfry’s house, nor utilize a
    decades-old military base if we had some more funding for the program. Based upon
    this mission, is there room within the CKFN’s budget for an expansion of—”
    “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again! The CKFN is undergoing far too many projects
    at the moment for something as trivial as this space program to be economically
    worthwhile!” Bilcas was generally fairly docile, but his temper tended to flare when the
    CKFN’s budget was mentioned. “The money we’ve given you ought to be sufficient.
    Besides, you’ve accomplished this much on the budget so far, just keep doing what you
    have been doing.”
    Danford was momentarily struck dumb, searching madly for a reply that explained that
    they couldn’t just keep sending one-kerbal pods into space forever, that expanding the
    space program was the only logical next step, but unfortunately, Bilcas took his silence
    for agreement. “Very well. That should be enough for today, meeting adjourned.”
    As the other council members filed out, Danford remained in his seat and let out a sigh.
    The launch went perfectly, it gathered important scientific data, as well as proved that
    they could match and exceed the USKK’s achievements. So why was he not happy? It’s
    because of Bilcas, he thought to himself. If we don’t get more money, then the space program
    will stagnate. He resolved to talk to the kerbal and see if he could perhaps persuade him
    to be a little less stingy in the future. Still, now was not the time to brood, it was time to
    celebrate! He jumped out of his chair and left the building.
    * * *
    USKK: Administration Facility
    The next day
    “A kerbal? In space?”
     
    Jebediah was dumbfounded by the announcement. Bob was too, but over a different
    issue.
    “The CKFN accomplished this before us? How is this possible? I thought they couldn’t
    even get a probe past the upper atmosphere?”
    Bill Kerman, the kerbal who had delivered the news, expanded on it.
    “From what I read, the issues they had with their probes drove them to desperation,
    launching a capsule aboard a beefed-up rocket. They build very nice ships, so I’m not
    surprised it went off well.”
    “We’ve got to match their achievement. Do we have a rocket which could lift a kerbal?”
    responded Jeb, still half in shock.
    “Theoretically, we have a heavy-lift vehicle designed for a large probe, but it would
    take some time to be ready to fly. Besides, we can’t just throw away our plans for the
    probe exploration program. You and I spent weeks hammering out that schedule!” Bill
    responded.
    “Jeb’s right, Bill,” Bob cut in. “We have to beat the CFKN at any cost. If they have the
    capacity to launch payloads as heavy as a kerbal, they can launch weapons and drop
    them on our defenseless nation!”
    “Oh come on, Bob, you’ve been listening to too many ‘Blue Threat’ broadcasts again,
    the CKFN is not a threat!” exclaimed Bill, throwing his hands in the air.
    “You can never be sure,” Bob folded his arms and leaned back in his chair. Jeb, on the
    other hand, jumped out of his seat and began scribbling on a blackboard. “Maybe if we
    lengthen Aether’s body, attach side boosters, we don’t have to design a whole new
    craft…”
    “You’re missing the point, Jeb. We’ve got a warehouse of probe parts and scientific
    instruments designed for them. We had a schedule!” Bill said, annoyed.
    “The schedule be damned! We have a race to win! If they get kerbals to the Mun while
    we’re still messing around with probes in orbit, we might as well not even be trying,”
    shot back Jeb. “It might be challenging, but we’ll discover so much along the way!”
    “I still don’t like it,”
    “Let Jeb decide, Bill, he’s the Director of the Space Program, after all,” Bob pointed out.
    “I don’t like to pull rank on you guys, but we have to do something. We have the
    technology, and the brains behind it. We can do this!” said Jeb, still excitedly scribbling
    away on the chalkboard.
    “Fine. You’re right, we won’t develop much new tech in Low Kerbin Orbit. But I still
    don’t feel right about this. Aether 7 was pushing the limits of the engineers’ capabilities.
    How on Kerbin will they build a bigger version?”
    “Don’t worry about it, Bill. You’re the one who keeps telling Gene how the crews are
    better than he gives them credit for.”
    “Maybe you’re right. We’ll have to keep an eye on them though; we can’t have any
    more incidents like Danbro dropping those decouplers again. This includes during
    launch, too! I don’t like the number of our sounding rockets that exploded mid-flight!”
    “Oh relax, Bill. We’ll sort it out. Besides, it was only the first couple of ships that
    exploded, we fixed that issue for the last batch. Alright, I’ll inform the VAB, let’s start
    building a rocket!”
    * * *
    Bill caught Bob’s arm as he was leaving the room. Jeb had already rushed off to
    Werhner von Kerman’s lab, his arms full of rocket sketches.
    “How did you find out about the CKFN’s difficulty with probes? Last I heard, it was
    still classified, both by our government and theirs. They don’t even release the full
    details of their launches to their citizens, for devs’ sake!”
    “Oh, well gee, I was told about it, because I’m, you know, part of the space program,”
    Outside of Jeb’s presence, Bob became a much timider kerbal.
    “I don’t think you understand exactly how secret this is. The number of hoops I had to
    jump through to discover it was staggering. The USKK government is keeping their
    knowledge of the CKFN space program very, very highly classified. Now, I don’t know
    if you overheard this while Jeb and I were talking or something, but you’ve got to be
    careful. There’s no telling what might happen to you if you’re discovered with
    knowledge beyond your position. I think you’re a good kerbal, and have been a real
    help to the space program so far, so don’t go trying to hear things that aren’t meant for
    you. Got it?
    “Y-y-yes sir.”
    “Great. I’ll talk to you later.” Bill left, leaving Bob standing in the middle of the room.
    However, as Bill turned away, Bob’s expression changed from a look of fear to one of
    smug superiority. After the older kerbal walked out the door, Bob let out a low chuckle,
    a slow smile spreading over his face.
     

     

     

     

     

    CHAPTER III:
    GROWING PAINS

    CKFN: Capital City, Danford Kerman’s favourite supermarket
    Six Months Later
    As Danford Kerman walked out of the supermarket, his thoughts were light and
    carefree, reflected by the casual smile he wore as he carried his bag of groceries. That
    changed to a frown of confusion, quickly to a wide-eyed moment of terror as he spotted
    the large semicircle of reporters and television cameras arrayed around the exit of the
    store. Less than a second passed before he was swarmed with reporters shouting
    questions, cameras flashing, and cameramen sticking their equipment in awkward
    places. As Danford was slowly engulfed by a growing pile of kerbals, a newscaster
    appeared in the foreground, and began speaking.
    “Welcome back to Firesvar News. In the recent turn of events following the declassification of the
    CKFN Space Program, the previously little-known leader of the program, Danford Kerman, has
    been propelled into the spotlight. We have yet to find out what his plans are in response to the
    recent USKK manned missions,”
    At this, the broadcast cut back to the studio, where a well-dressed kerbal began
    narrating.
    “Merely three weeks after the launch of Latona I, the USKK launched a kerbal of their own into
    orbit, presumably aboard a modified version of their Aether 7 launch vehicle. While our space
    program did strike back, launching Jenfry Kerman aboard Latona II, within the past three weeks
    there have been no less than two kerballed launches from the USKK. Not only that, the rival
    space program has expanded their base of operations, renovating their Space Centre, as well as
    constructing additional launch sites across their country. Now, with the declassification of the
    space program, we can finally ask the Director of Operations himself the question which has been
    on everyone’s minds: What does his program plan for a response? When will the CKFN see a
    rocket launch? We now return to our reporter on the street, to see if Danford is available for
    comment.
    However, the chaos on the street had not abated much. The news cameras still showed
    Danford struggling through the raging tide of newscasters. It seemed like every news
    channel in the CKFN was here in this tiny grocery store’s parking lot. Fortunately, the
    Firesvar News reporter was more acrobatic than most in the industry, vaulting over a
    pair of independent studios attempting to get a wide angle of Danford, who were then
    bowled over as the Firesvar cameraman pushed through to follow.
    “Danford! Danford! Can you comment on the USKK’s recent launches? Can you state when
    and how your program will respond? What are your plans for future exploration? Who will be
    the next kerbal in space?”
    Danford managed to shrug off these questions, and as a gap in the wall of newscasters
    opened up in front of him, he made a mad dash to his car, still clutching his battered
    bag of groceries. Reaching his vehicle, he wasted no time in getting in, even as the
    reporters banged on the sides like creatures from a horror film. Even as he drove away,
    several reporters tried to chase him on foot.
    Now that their story had escaped, the reporters began gathering up their equipment,
    and the view switched back to the studio, where the reporter began speculating on
    Danford’s refusal to comment.
    * * *
    Turning off the TV screen, the three present members of the Advisory Council leaned
    back in their chairs and started chatting among themselves, mostly about the newscast
    and this turn of events. However, within a matter of minutes they were interrupted by
    the door to their room being kicked in.
    BAM
    Danford Kerman stood there, his hair a mess, clothing rumpled and torn, and his
    battered bag of groceries still clutched in his left hand. He had eyes for only one kerbal
    in the room, Bilcas Kerman. Without even a pause for breath, he began shouting as he
    stalked over to the Communications Minister.
    “Only one kerbal on Kerbin could possibly declassify the program and have the gall to
    neglect to tell me. Why did you do this, Bilcas? Why? You know I don’t like this sort of
    public attention, in fact half the reason I agreed to take this job was because it was
    classified! I’ve got a job to do, I can’t constantly be giving interviews, or have the media
    following me around all the time! Do you know how hard it was to find a store which
    sold my favourite snacks? THEY WERE ON SALE, BILCAS. ON SALE.”
    Danford continued this rant for an impressively long time without drawing breath (he
    was part of choir in high school), but eventually he needed to pause, otherwise risk
    passing out. Bilcas took full advantage of this momentary respite to respond. “Take it
    easy Danford. Declassifying the entire space program was unexpected, I know, but it
    was costing us a fair amount of money to keep secret, and honestly, your rockets aren’t
    much different than the USKK’s. Besides, they share details of their space program with
    their citizens and its worked out fine for them so far.”
    “But the media…Bilcas, you just painted a target on my head. They’re bloodthirsty;
    they’re all going to want interviews, guest appearances, answering every little question
    they care to ask–I don’t have time for that, I’m trying to run a space program!”
    General Geoffnard, who until now had been sitting in stunned silence at Danford’s
    tirade, spoke up. “Do what I do, just give ‘em a couple of good interviews, then just
    send a subordinate out to answer any further questions they have. They generally are
    pretty happy with that.”
    Bilcas continued. “The General speaks the truth, Danford. And while the increased
    media coverage may not be the easiest thing to live with, it should increase inspire
    kerbals to support their country, increasing national pride, as well as popular opinion
    about the space program, once you show them your lovely pictures!”
    Danford, recognizing that Bilcas was not backing down, sank into a chair, burying his
    head in his hands. “Tell me the truth, Bilcas. Did you do this just to spite me? And
    where’s the President? I’d like to get his take on this.”
    “What an absurd accusation, Danford! Everything I do, is for the good of the people of
    the CKFN!” responded Bilcas haughtily, but his eyes spoke a message much different
    than his words. “The President is away in West Jhazi, apparently there is a bit
    of…concern regarding the recent cabbage legislation. Not to worry, I already spoke
    with him about the declassification and he’s all for it. Anyway, the budget has a
    surplus, since we’re no longer keeping the program under wraps. I might be able to add
    that to your salary—it would make you a very wealthy kerbal.”
    So this is Bilcas’ game, thought Danford. Trying to bribe me into submission. He was having
    none of that. “No Bilcas. Add the surplus to the space program’s budget. The rockets
    need the money a lot more than I do.”
    “Heh. Maybe that will finally be enough for the program to start making progress.”
    Unfortunately for Bilcas, this was exactly the wrong thing to say. Danford erupted in
    rage again. “Progress? You want to see progress?” he shouted, leaping from his chair,
    startling the General and Bilfrod (who had been sitting in terrified silence ever since
    Danford had stormed in). “Schedule a press conference, at the Space Facility. I’m going
    to show you progress, more progress than you’ve ever seen!” Danford stormed out of
    the room, as sudden as he had entered, closing the door violently behind him.
    SLAM
     
    An hour and a half later, Danford watched reporters swarm to the Space Facility like
    children to an ice cream truck. He marvelled at the fact that there appeared to be even
    more than had been at the grocery store. While he most definitely disliked the kerbal,
    Bilcas certainly knew how to get things done.
    As the crowd gathered, Danford led them into the VAB. While small in size compared
    to the USKK’s, it was still larger than most buildings in the CKFN, and more than
    sufficient to build the Aether line of rockets. A pair of technicians’ eyes widened at the
    sheer number of kerbals approaching, and they quickly scuttled away. Danford had
    firmly told the reporters that he would not be answering any questions until they had
    reached their destination, which made the journey mercifully quiet, if a bit awkward. At
    last, they arrived at the main chamber of the building, where all the rockets were
    designed, built, and tested.
    Engineers, scientists, technicians, and ground control staff were everywhere within this
    massive room. Some were building what looked like the lower half of a rocket, others
    were testing responses of aerodynamic fins, still more were assembling a large rocket
    engine, some were cutting away at sheet metal, and at least six kerbals were napping, in
    specifically-chosen noise-free positions. The room almost seemed to characterize chaos
    itself, but as Danford’s group entered, the various hammering, sawing, machining, and
    snoring gradually came to a halt. Silence filled the great room, as the space program’s
    staff stared at the CKFN’s entire news industry.
    Clearing his throat, Danford spoke. “Greetings all. I trust you’ve had plenty of time to
    speculate about the future of the CKFN’s space program, and as to what our response to
    the recent USKK launches will be. I’m here to throw all that speculation away, and
    show you our plan for yourselves.”
    At this, he gestured to the largest knot of staff in the centre of the room. They stood
    back, revealing the project they had been working on, a small capsule, roughly the size
    of a minivan.
     
    The reporters seemed almost taken aback as they all rushed to take pictures and video
    of this spacecraft. Evidently, none of them had expected Danford to actually have
    anything in response to the USKK.
    One reporter asked Danford a question, much less pointed than the ones that he had
    been receiving recently. “Danford, can you tell us exactly what we’re looking at here?
    What is this spacecraft you’ve been working on?”
     
    “This here is the next logical step in space exploration. Our first two flights of Aether
    were certainly productive and yielded a great deal of science and information, but we
    ran into difficulty when communicating with the pilot, and having him or her perform
    the experiments. With this two-kerbal design, we should be able to include a kerbonaut
    with scientific training to do experiments, while the pilot flies the spacecraft.”
    “Incredible! And how long will this stay in space for?” asked another kerbal.
    “We’ve dramatically increased the life support functionality on this version of the
    spacecraft,” responded Danford. “She should be able to remain in space for about a
    week, with both kerbals living comfortably on board. It is unlikely that we’ll ever need
    to perform a mission of that length, but it is good to have the ability to last that long.”
    By now, the reporters had gotten over their initial shock at seeing the spacecraft, and
    were beginning to bombard Danford with questions again. “Will your current rockets
    be able to lift the capsule?” “What is the expected range of the spacecraft?” “What do
    you plan to accomplish with it?”
    “The capsule will be heavier than the Aether spacecraft, this much is certain. However,
    we have extended the body of the rocket used to lift that ship, as well as added more
    power to the engines. This will allow us to easily lift the spacecraft into Kerbin orbit,
    going higher than any spacecraft has ever gone before. It possesses an integrated
    propulsion system, which runs off four smaller engines, rather than the single LV-909
    we were using on the Aether spacecraft. This allows us to retain the engines upon re-
    entry, giving us the ability to prevent the capsule from being blown off-course on
    landing, like the Aether was, on both occasions it flew.”
    “You mentioned advanced life support. What steps have you taken to avoid its systems
    being fried by the same radiation that messes with your probes?”
    At this, Danford grimaced. Evidently, Bilcas had declassified all of the space program’s
    reports. Fortunately, he had an answer.
    “Since kerbals tend to be vulnerable to radiation too, we have thoroughly rad-proofed
    the entire spacecraft. This allowed us to place our most advanced computers onboard,
    which lets us perform even more data collection and analysis while on-orbit.
    Additionally, it helps our pilot out, as attempting to gauge angular velocity by using a
    sextant is apparently quite difficult. (the crowd chuckled at this) We intend to use this
    spacecraft as a stepping stone on the eventual journey to reach the Mun, by researching
    and testing the technology and hardware required to make that journey.”
    The assembly of reporters broke into applause, their questions momentarily forgotten,
    or rendered obsolete by this new announcement of the CKFN Space Program’s target:
    the Mun!
    However, the reporter from Firesvar News had one last query. Stepping forward, they
    asked Danford, “And what is the name of this spacecraft?”
    Danford answered simply. “Caelus.”
     
    * * *
    After this speech, the media dispersed. Their questions were answered, and they all
    wished to return to their respective studios so that they could broadcast the news to the
    entire CKFN.
    Danford sat in his office, utterly exhausted. He had attempted eating one of the apples
    he’d purchased earlier in the day, but found it to be bruised all over. Still, he had
    accomplished something he’d previously thought impossible: sating the media’s desire
    for information.
    Reading a report on the reception of this surprise broadcast from the Space Facility,
    Danford realized that the people of the CKFN supported the space program as much as,
    or even more so than the USKK’s population. He’d already seen interviews of random
    citizens expressing their approval of the Caelus spacecraft, as well as his policy towards
    the exploration of space so far.
    Maybe Bilcas was right, but not in the way he intended. Danford mused, watching the sun
    set. The people do need an ideal to look up to, but that ideal isn’t a faceless government telling
    them what they should believe, but perhaps it needs to be a vision for exploration, a call to
    discover what lies beyond our tiny planet. Maybe this space program can inspire the people of
    Kerbin to do great things.
    * * *
    USKK: Jebediah Kerman’s Personal Retreat
    Twenty Minutes Earlier
    Jebediah jogged towards his plane. Being the Director of an entire Space Program sure
    did have its perks, a private jet was only one of them. This launch facility had been
    constructed as a backup to the main Space Centre while renovations were underway.
    Now that they were complete and main operations had been moved back south, Jeb had
    decided to make this base his own special getaway, where he could plan the future of
    the Space Program, meet with important bigwigs, and most importantly, get some
    flying in once in a while.
    At the moment, he was indeed indulging in the latter, as the launch of the USKK’s
    newest kerballed mission was about to commence and he needed to get down to the
    Space Centre quickly!
     
    Climbing the ladder, Jeb gave a thumbs-up to the ground crew. As the cockpit glass slid
    shut over his head, he powered on the instruments and began the pre-flight checklist.
    As the jet engine spooled up, he pulled on his helmet. This was always his favourite
    part of the launch; the vibration of the plane gently increased in frequency, whispering
    to him of the journey ahead.
    Flight! To think that barely a year ago, kerbals could only stare up at the sky wistfully,
    dreaming of touching the Mun and the stars. He marvelled at the ability of the scientists
    and engineers that had made this all possible, not to mention the others. The entire
    Space Program would have been nothing but a tiny government-run sideshow (much
    like the CKFN’s) if the large corporations of the USKK hadn’t pooled their resources
    and funded his dream.
    A crackle in his earpiece brought him out of his reverie.
    “You ready to fly, Jeb?” asked the ground controller.
    “Roger that, Tower. All systems are green, and engines are spooled up,” he responded.
    Upon receiving clearance to head out, Jeb disengaged the brakes, taxied down the
    runway, and took off into the clear blue skies.
     
    * * *
    “Big J to KSC-1, Big J to KSC-1, do you read me, over?”
     
    “Hi Jeb.” The tired voice of the ever-suffering Gene came over Jeb’s headset.
    “Jeb? Who is this Jeb? On the radio, you have to refer to me as ‘Big J’, remember?”
    replied Jeb, trying to get a rise out of the kerbal.
    “Yeah, sure. ‘Big J’, what’s your status?” Gene responded, somehow pronouncing the
    quotation marks.
    “So glad you asked, KSC-1, I’m flying high and fast, it’s a beautiful day for a launch!
    How’s Jorfred doing?”
     
    “Oh, I can put you through to him personally.” Some static came over the radio, “There you are,
    Fred.”
    “D-director Jebediah! It is a pleasure to speak with y-you, sir!” The kerbonaut sounded quite
    nervous, though whether for the launch or simply the opportunity to talk with the
    space program’s Director, Jeb wasn’t sure.
    “There’s no need to call me ‘sir’, just call me Jeb. How are you feeling?”
    “I’m doing well, sir Jeb! I’m all set to head into space. It’s going to be my first time up there, and
    I’m worried I’m not going to do a good job!”
    “Don’t worry, Jorfred. You’ll do fine. Gene, what’s the status on the rocket?”
    “She’s ready to launch, the countdown stands at ten minutes, and we’re ready to proceed as soon
    as you get here.”
    “Perfect. Keep me updated.”
     
    * * *
    Five minutes out from KSC, Jeb’s earpiece crackled to life again.
     
    “What’s up Gene?”
    “Uh…you’re going to want to see this, boss.”
    “See what? What’s going on? Is Kaether IV still operational?”
    “Yes, the rocket’s fine, but it’s…well…we picked up a CKFN news broadcast.”
    “So? They’re always covering useless stuff. Like cabbage sales! Who cares about
    cabbages anyway?”
    “This time it’s different. They’re covering footage from their space program.”
    “Their space program? But it’s a secret government project. The only way they could be
    covering footage is if…”
    “They declassified the program. Somebody in the CKFN wants attention.”
    “I’ll say. They must be getting desperate for funding. So what’s the subject?”
    “I’m not sure. Right now the Director of their space program is leading the news crews into their
    VAB.”
    “Heh, he’s probably trying to pass off whatever collection of junk they’re working on as
    their next rocket!”
    “Ha-ha, judging by the state of that place, it doesn’t look like you’re too far off! Wait, they’re
    focusing on some sort of capsule…what’s this?”
    “Gene?”
    “It can’t be…oh good SQUAD it is. They’re working on a spacecraft- - -that can carry two
    kerbals!”
    “What? Two kerbals?” Jeb sat back in his seat, letting the full enormity of this piece of
    news wash over him. Having a second kerbal on a mission would enable tremendous
    new opportunities for missions. The second pair of hands could operate experiments,
    take pictures, even pilot the spacecraft while the first kerbonaut was busy. The idea had
    been tossed around by his scientists and engineers, but no one had dared build such a
    design, as the current generation of rockets was barely powerful enough to lift one
    kerbal.
    Gathering his wits, Jeb reactivated the comm. “When are they expecting to launch?”
    “Within the month. What should we do, boss?”
    “Hmmm, give me a minute, Gene.” Jeb pondered his options. On one hand, he could
    launch Jorfred right now, and claim a total of four kerballed missions to space.
    However, launching a single pod right after the CKFN had announced their larger,
    more advanced model smacked of ignorance and failure. On the other hand, he could
    hold off launching until they had developed a two-kerbal capsule of their own, but that
    might take too much time. What to do?
    “Boss, the boys in Mission Control are getting anxious. They want to know how we’ll proceed.”
    As Gene’s voice entered his ear, Jeb dropped below the clouds, seeing the Space Centre
    directly beneath him, with Kaether IV sitting on the launchpad, Jorfred secured away
    inside.
     
    Looking at the rocket, Jeb was struck with an idea. Coming to a decision, Jeb spoke.
    “We’re scrubbing the launch. Get Jorfred out of the ship, but don’t dismantle it just
    yet…I have a plan.”
    * * *
    Two weeks later, things were as hectic as ever in the VAB, as the countdown ticked
    once more towards launch. Gene Kerman strode through a knot of scientists inspecting
    gauges and readouts plugged into the rocket, which had been wheeled back into the
    VAB. Approaching the Lead Engineer, Gene spoke up.
    “Danbro! How are the systems coming along? You said they’d be done by this
    morning!”
    Turning around, Danbro replied. “Not a problem, bro. We’re just having a bit of
    difficulty with the electric systems, the added pod draws too much power. Burmy here
    was suggesting we just add more batteries,” he gestured to the kerbal to his immediate
    right, whose suggestion evidently was popular, by the amount of nodding and thumbs
    up given by the surrounding crowd.
    To tell the truth, Gene neither knew nor cared how the rocket worked. It was his job to
    make sure they got into the sky, nothing more. So it was with feigned knowledge he
    replied: “Sure, sure, that would work well. Attach those batteries and make sure we are
    good to launch before 3. I want this ship in space before dark.”
    “Roger that, bud!” Danbro said with a smile. Turning back to his group of engineers, he
    motioned them into work.
    Gene continued along, looking up at the rocket. Fundamentally, it was not much
    different from its original model, the Kaether IV. While most of the systems hadn’t
    changed, the most striking addition was the welding of an additional pod upside-down
    on top of the original. More changes were the boosters along the bottom of the ship,
    which widened its base significantly. Spotting Bill, along with another couple engineers
    next to one of the boosters, Gene rushed over, checking his clipboard. It was Jebediah’s
    idea to add larger, higher thrust boosters to the original Kaether rocket in order to lift
    the additional pod. These newly-designed ‘Solid Rocket Boosters’ suited his plans very
    nicely.
    “What’s the status on the SRBs, Bill?” Gene asked, feeling proud that he knew the
    acronym for the boosters. Knowing the lingo for parts was very important for if he was
    to appear knowledgeable about rockets.
    “Hi Gene. They’re good to go, but Desdan here wants to add more struts to make sure
    they’re properly secured to the rocket on liftoff. I say that the decouplers are more than
    strong enough, and besides, we’re dumping them about ninety seconds into flight, so
    they won’t have much time to vibrate loose. What’s your opinion?”
    More policy choices! What did people think he was, a rocket scientist? “Uh, how long
    will attaching the struts take?”
    “Anywhere from two to six days. We don’t have the necessary parts on hand, so we’d
    have to order them specially.”
    While Gene did not understand much about rockets, timetables were his forte. “Nope.
    That’s too much of a delay. We’re already behind schedule enough as it is. Bill’s right,
    Desdan.”
    Desdan looked crestfallen, but Bill was thrilled. “Perfect! Once Danbro finishes with the
    electrical systems, we should be ready to roll the rocket out to the launchpad!”
    Even as he spoke, Danbro’s posse advanced towards the rocket, with AAAA batteries
    and what looked suspiciously like duct tape in hand.
    * * *
    Three hours later, Gene wore a satisfied smile. From his usual position in Mission
    Control, he noted that the rocket had been rolled out ahead of schedule, and all systems
    checked out.
     
    “Jorfred, Erdrin, what’s your status?” he asked, toggling the comms.
    “Roger that Control, we’re strapped in and systems are reading good” came the voice of
    Erdrin, the kerbal sitting in the lower pod.
    “Excellent, all systems are go on this end, preparing to restart the countdown.”
    The big countdown timer at the front of the room restarted from its position at 5:00:00,
    and it was at this moment when Jebediah walked into the room, still in his flight suit.
    He had evidently just returned from his private island.
    “So glad you could make the launch,” said Gene, with perhaps more than just a touch
    of sarcasm.
    “Sorry!” Jeb responded, with his usual enthusiasm. “A couple of CEOs from our
    sponsorship group wanted to talk. They were saying something about ‘increasing
    public visibility’ and ‘profit margins’, but it’s not important right now. We’ve got a
    rocket to launch!”
    “That we do,” said Gene, turning back to the staff in Mission Control. “Alright people,
    double and triple-check those systems! We’re now at three minutes to launch!”
    * * *
    Jorfred switched on his internal communicator and radioed his partner.
     
    “Say, Erdrin, how are you doing?”
    “Good, I’m excited to go back to space! How about you? You sound nervous.”
    “Uh…nope, I’m just excited too!”
    Jorfred quickly turned off the comm. To tell the truth, he was nervous, but didn’t want
    to reveal it to his partner, or Harv forbid, the Ground Control team. They might take
    him off this mission! He’d already been denied that chance once before, and he was
    going to space today, yessiree. However, sitting in the upper capsule was not much fun.
    Since Erdrin scored lower than he in the centrifuge, he’d be riding upside-down the
    whole way up, and thus taking more negative g forces.
    He’d asked around, questioning kerbals who had also experienced negative g’s what it
    was like. Unfortunately, the experiences were universally negative. One kerbal had
    explained in excruciating detail the discomfort you felt as you were dragged out of your
    seat, the straps digging into you as if an invisible hand was attempting to pluck you
    from your capsule. And Jorfred would have to endure this for the whole way up!
    Already he was getting sore from sitting upside-down in the 1 g of Kerbin’s gravity. He
    couldn’t imagine what the launch would be like. As the radio informed them that one
    minute remained on the countdown, he began cursing the engineers and scientists who
    had decided to place the pod this way. ‘Increased protection upon re-entry,’ they had
    said. ‘It just looks nicer,’ they said (Indeed, Danbro had commented at length on the
    importance of a good hourglass figure). Jorfred knew that if they’d taken extra time to
    refit the interior so that he was sitting right-side-up, it would have resulted in the CKFN
    launching their twin-kerbal pod first, and that certainly couldn’t be allowed. Though it
    was quite difficult to feel very patriotic when sitting upside-down in a tiny capsule,
    straps digging into one’s chest.
    Then came the crackle of the radio Jorfred dreaded.
    “Twenty seconds until launch”
    Well, at least he was going to space. From the stories the others told, as well as the
    pictures they brought back, it ought to be incredible.
    “Fifteen”
    Still, he wished he was at least facing the right way up, though in zero-g he wouldn’t
    have to worry about that, right?
    “Ten. All systems nominal”
    He was glad that he didn’t have to worry about piloting the ship, Erdrin was taking
    over that job since she’d had more experience flying rockets. She’d actually been in orbit
    twice in the last two months, and was the natural choice for piloting an as-of-yet
    untested rocket. All he had to do was grin and bear it.
    “Five”
    “Four”
    “Three”
    Jorfred squeezed his eyes shut.
    “Two”
    “One”
    His world erupted into one of noise, vibration, and pain. The shaking alone was nearly
    unbearable, it caused his headset to start vibrating its way around his helmet. Not that
    he paid much attention to what was being said over it; the deep bass rumble from the
    rocket engines combined with the endless shaking served to drown out all other noise.
    But this all paled in comparison to the sheer pressure being applied to his back. Forget
    the invisible hand, this felt like a hydraulic ram forcing him forwards in his seat.

     
    Opening his eyes did not improve the situation. The interior of the capsule was a blur;
    the vibrations of the main engine prevented him from focusing on any one point inside
    the ship.
     
    His eyes feeling like they were about to escape his skull certainly did not help his
    vision. More worryingly, though, Jorfred began seeing black spots encroach upon his
    field of view. His vision slowly darkened, as it became more and more difficult to draw
    breath. The straps keeping him in his seats were like twin brands burning across his
    chest, but even that pain began to dull as his vision faded. His last thoughts as he
    drifted away were worries about whether he’d ever get to see Kerbin from space.
     
     
     
    * * *
    Jorfred was floating in the ocean. No wind, no waves, just bobbing along gently, so
    gently. Save for the occasional squawk of an annoying seabird in his ear, that is. As his
    mind slowly began to come back to reality, he realized that he was in fact not doing the
    backfloat on a sunny Kerbin afternoon, but instead in a cramped, dark capsule,
    hovering above his seat. Wait…where were his straps? In a daze, he fumbled around,
    only to find that one was still looped over his shoulder, but the other had snapped
    cleanly away from where it joined with the capsule. Lousy engineers, he grumbled to
    himself. Now that he was more awake, he did a quick once-over of himself. He was still
    clad within his flight suit, rated for only high-altitude flight, not the hard vacuum on
    the other side of his capsule’s walls. While the suit looked fine, his body did not feel
    well at all. He ached all over, and his eyes wouldn’t focus right. He had a killer
    headache, to match the two pains down his front where the straps had been. He
    wouldn’t be surprised if he found himself sporting bruises for a very long time after
    he’d landed.
     
    Looking through the window, he spotted the planet Kerbin. He’d seen the pictures, but
    they always lacked a certain…something. The yellow-spotted dark blue curve outside
    his window was magnificent, made more so by being the only home he, and indeed
    every other kerbal throughout history had ever known. Despite knowing that pictures
    wouldn’t fully capture the sight of the planet, he began searching for his camera…only
    to be met with a stabbing pain in his side. He’d only been given a basic first aid course
    at the Kerbonaut Training Centre, but he knew enough to self-diagnose a broken rib.
    Great. Just great, he thought to himself. But before he could get to patching himself up,
    the calls of his partner reached him over his headset, the ‘annoying seabird’ of earlier.
    “Calling all frequencies, this is Erdrin Kerman aboard the Uranus I. My crewmate is not
    responding, and am out of contact with my ground station. Repeat, this is—”
    “Erdrin, don’t worry! I’m fine!” reassured Jorfred, slightly hoarsely.
    “Thank Squad you’re alright! You’ve only been out for about ten minutes, but I didn’t realize it
    until we had passed out of range of Ground Control. I don’t blame you for passing out though;
    that takeoff was much rougher than usual!”
    “Well, other than a few bruises and a headache, I survived!” Jorfred purposely
    neglected to mention his other injuries, just in case she and Control decided to end the
    mission early. He was going to tough this mission out! Who knew when he’d get
    another shot at this?
    “That’s good to hear. Anyway, we should be about fifteen minutes away from passing back over
    USKK territory, we should be able to get a signal then. Did you receive much of a briefing of
    what we’re supposed to be doing up here? I think somebody stuck a thermometer or something on
    the side.”
    Nursing his side, Jorfred tried to recall. He’d been too excited to pay much attention at
    the time. “Uh…not that I can remember, no. I think this mission was planned just to
    beat the CKFN’s launch. It’s pretty much the Kaether V with an extra capsule thrown on
    top. I’m glad they decided to change the name though.”
    “Really? I liked how they added a ‘k’ to the front of the Aether’s name, it was a clever
    touch; it showed that it’s a kerballed version of the Aether probe!”
    “True, but now it seems people are starting to add ‘k’s to every single word out there. I even saw
    an ad for ‘kerbowling’ the other day!”
    “Hey, if it keeps people interested in the Space Program, I don’t mind. At least we don’t have to
    resort to press conferences like the CKFN did!”
     
    “I agree, that looked like a madhouse.” Jorfred realized they were passing over that
    very nation right now. Despite being over one hundred kilometres away, he still felt
    uncomfortable talking about it, fearing those newskerbals may be listening in. “I
    wonder if–ow!”
    In Jorfred’s efforts to look for his first aid kit, he had inadvertently and very painfully
    discovered that he had also damaged his left knee in some way.
    “What’s wrong, Fred?”
    “Err…nothing. Just banged my head on the side of the capsule.”
    “Wow, you’re out of your straps already? I didn’t even unbuckle until my second mission–I was
    too scared.”
    “Heh…it was sort of a spur of the moment thing, y’know?”
    “Totally, being out of your seat is amazing. You can’t manoeuvre much in these capsules, but it
    feels like flying!”
    “…It—it sure does,” Jorfred certainly did not feel like he was flying. He’d braced
    himself in his seat to prevent any aggravation of his injuries. Fortunately, the rest of him
    was undamaged, his vision had improved, and even his headache was starting to fade.
    He did see the truth in Erdrin’s words, though. Up here, far above the clouds, above the
    petty squabbling of nations, one felt truly free. He gazed at the lights of cities below,
    trying to imagine each individual kerbal going about his or her daily life. Did they even
    pay attention to the skies above? Did they see the stars through the clouds, or even dare
    to dream of visiting them one day? Based on his past experiences, he estimated that the
    majority did not, but there were a certain few who put all logic aside and looked up
    with a passion.
     
    Jorfred had always been one of those few kerbals, and look where he was now! The
    journey had certainly been hard, long, and painful (most especially so recently), but it
    had most certainly been worth it. As the Space Centre came back into range of their
    antenna and communication began in earnest again, he gazed out the window one more
    time and stared at the endless vista of stars.
     
    * * *

    CKFN: Facility for Space Research
    Five hours later
     
    Danford Kerman wandered through the halls of the space facility. He was still in shock
    at the speed at which the USKK managed to get a two kerballed spacecraft launched.
    The Caelus was still at least a couple of weeks away from launching! By C7’s beard, how
    did they get a ship together that quickly? He would have to push the engineers extra
    hard to get their capsule ready for launch. Maybe they could cut a few corners on
    production, or reduce the number of unmanned tests. After all, the rockets launched so
    far were very well-built, and maybe the extensive testing was just slowing the program
    down? He’d have to talk to his engineers.
    As luck would have it, as he walked by the break room, Danford saw a bunch of
    engineers sitting around, watching TV and drinking coffee. He was about to speak up
    and let them know of his decision, then he saw what they were watching. He’d seen the
    launch of the USKK’s rocket earlier, and realized he was now looking at the landing.
    Uranus I had evidently orbited for a few hours before re-entering.
     
    Coming closer, he overheard what the engineers were saying to one another.
    “Me? I’m surprised the ship even got up there in the first place. Using SRBs on a
    kerballed launch? It’s insane! Unless you’re really clever, your thrust to weight ratio is
    going to be all wonky.”
    “Yep, TWR leads straight to the g-forces on the pilots. Judging by how fast that thing
    went up, I’d say they experienced about ten at max Q.”
    “Ten gees? No way, they couldn’t have pulled more than seven.”
    “I recorded the footage then measured the rocket’s acceleration. It definitely hit over
    one hundred metres per second per second.”
    “Dilbrett, only you would record our rival’s rocket takeoff footage, then measure the
    screen to figure out its acceleration profile.”
    “Hey, I was curious! Besides, you know what they say about ‘knowing thine enemy’
    and all that”
    “Quiet you two! The capsule just landed.”
     
    “Pff, they didn’t even position the parachutes correctly. Look, the whole thing just fell
    over!”
    “And look at that weld! It looks like they just strapped another capsule and SRBs to
    their original ‘Kaether’ design. Amateurs.”
    “Explains how they managed to launch so quickly.”
    “I’m more concerned for the kerbal inside. I mean, surely they didn’t just weld a stock
    capsule on, upside-down, to their original design?”
    The camera zoomed in on the spacecraft, and one could very clearly see that the kerbal
    inside was inverted.
    “Well, I’ll be…” said the engineer who had just spoke, in astonishment. The other
    engineers began talking quickly among themselves.
    “Has anyone even thought of doing an upside-down launch?”
    “Never, the negative gee forces would be too much, and that’s with a standard launch
    vehicle.”
    “Minus ten gees…ouch.”
    “Yeah, that kerbal’s never going to fly again.”
    While the screen showed that both hatches had opened on the capsule, only one of the
    two kerbals had emerged. The upper kerbonaut still remained inside the capsule. The
    recovery team’s expressions shifted from smiles at the safe return of the spacecraft to
    concern, as they swarmed around the kerbal, lifting him out of the capsule and onto a
    stretcher. The news camera appeared to be too far from the landed capsule to see much
    more of their actions. A hush fell over the CKFN engineers as they watched.
     
    The lead engineer, Dilbrett Kerman, spotted Danford, and made his way over to him.
    “Danford! It’s good to see you! I was actually going to head on over to your office with
    my opinions on the Uranus! To make a long story short, the USKK’s rocket quality is
    certainly not improving.”
    Danford was shocked. “What? They’ve launched nearly double the amount of missions
    we’ve managed to! And in case you didn’t notice, they just beat us at our own game!”
    “Ah ah ah, I said quality, not quantity, and that makes all the difference. To be frank,
    the USKK builds terrible rockets, and this one is no exception.”
    “It looks pretty capable to me”
    “Fine. Relatively terrible is a better way to describe it. Basically, while their rockets do
    work, they just don’t have the engineering skill to get them working well. To be fair,
    this hasn’t mattered so far; the current rockets are pretty much glorified fireworks. But
    as the rockets edge into Project Jupiter-sized vessels, I guarantee to you that things like
    today are going to go wrong.”
    “I told you, the Advisory Council will never approve Project Jupiter. It’s best to just
    forget about it for now.” Despite his dismissive words, Danford was interested what
    Dilbrett was saying.
    “Yes, yes, but my point still stands. We can’t keep launching these small ships into
    orbit. Besides, the USKK is still having issues. You may not have bothered to check, but
    I listened to the communications from the capsule, and there were a number of other
    things going wrong with the spacecraft.”
    “Like wha—wait a minute. Only the USKK ground control can listen to those
    broadcasts. How in Harv’s name did you manage that?”
    “If the ship’s passing overhead and you know what frequency band to listen at, it’s
    trivial. But that’s not important right now. The kerbonauts on board reported flickering
    lights, fuses repeatedly blowing, that sort of thing. While it may seem like a minor issue,
    and was dismissed as such by USKK ground control, there is actually a more insidious
    explanation.”
    At this, Dilbrett held up a black-and-white photo, showing the interior of the USKK’s
    VAB, where a team of engineers was installing a pair of batteries. Danford wasn’t even
    going to ask where his Head Engineer had obtained this.
    “As you can see, they’re just sticking these batteries inside without any real care to
    where they go. I know you’re not an electrical engineer, but let me just say that doing
    that is bad. Really bad.”
    “So their problem is that they stick batteries in places randomly?”
    “Their problem is that they have no idea what they’re doing. One can very clearly see
    from their very first rockets, that they build something, launch it, see what went wrong,
    then fix that problem.”
    Danford was confused. “How is that a problem? It seems like it’s a perfectly valid
    approach.”
    “Indeed, for small, inexpensive prototypes, like their initial sounding rockets. It’s fast,
    cheap, and gives concrete results. However, for larger ships, if you rely on your main
    design to do your testing for you, let’s just say you’re going to have a bad time.”
    “I’m sorry Dilbrett. I see where you’re coming from, but I don’t understand how this
    relates to the CKFN. From what you’re saying, the USKK is just going to have more
    problems like today. I can’t do anything about that. Likewise, you seem to have all this
    figured out. Just keep doing what you’ve been doing, it’s been working well so far!”
    “You have more power than you realize, Danford. You’ve got the President’s ear, and
    have made a major mark on this nation so far. But you have to realize that we are forced
    to go where he tells us to. Rumour has it that the President wants to move up the first
    launch of the Caelus because of what happened today. We’re still two weeks off from
    our first unmanned test; please do all you can to give us that time. If we’re forced to
    launch earlier, kerbals will die.”
    If his head engineer’s earlier words hadn’t convinced Danford, it was this frank
    statement, combined with the silent plea within Dilbrett’s eyes, which won the kerbal
    over.
    “I’ll do my best, Brett. But you’ve got to give me results.”
    At this, Dilbrett’s sombre expression changed to a broad smile.
    “Oh, don’t you worry sir. I’ll give you the show of a lifetime.”
    * * *
    USKK: Kolus City General Hospital
    Several Days Later
    The large brick walls of the hospital loomed large over Bill. A nurse gave him directions
    and he eventually found himself at room 426C. Opening the door, he felt a pang of
    sympathy for the kerbal lying on the bed, bandages over his eyes. He spoke up.
    “Hi Jorfred, it’s Bill here, from the Space Program.”
    As Jorfred turned around in excitement, Bill was relieved to see that the kerbal turned
    easily, and excitedly. Seeing the kerbal’s smile told him far more than a thousand
    medical files could.
    “Bill Kerman? Thank you so much for coming, sir; it’s an honour to meet you!”
    “It’s no trouble at all, I wanted to make sure you were alright. Jeb would have been here
    too, but he’s dealing with matters back at the Space Centre.”
    “I only wish I could stand up and shake your hand, but the nurse says I shouldn’t get
    out of bed. I’m still healing.”
    “About that…how are your eyes? I’d heard that you were…” Bill trailed off.
    “Don’t worry! I can still see. The doctors did good work; I’ve just got these bandages on
    my eyes so I don’t strain them. Nurse’s orders.”
    “I’m glad your optimism has survived intact. Listen, I’m so sorry about the accident. An
    investigation is underway at the Space Centre right now, and I can assure you that no
    more kerbals will be hurt like you. My only regret is that this had to happen to open
    everyone’s eyes to the danger of space travel.”
    “Don’t be sorry; this whole thing was my fault.”
    Bill was momentarily speechless. “What?”
    “I’m so sorry about all this. I shouldn’t have gone on the mission…I…I was scared, and
    thought I would be removed if I’d admitted it. I really wanted to go to space…a-and see
    Kerbin.”
    “Listen, Fred…”
    Jorfred continued. “And you know what? That view…to see the curve of our planet…it
    was worth it, Bill. It was so, so worth it.”
    Bill reached over and touched Jorfred’s shoulder, words failing him. Then, the invalid
    kerbal caught him by surprise.
    “Bill, will I still be able to fly? I mean, my kneecap’s busted, I punctured a lung, and my
    vision will never really be the same.”
    Bill swallowed. This was the part he’d been dreading. Having to tell this young, bright-
    eyed kerbal the news. (Well, Bill assumed he was bright-eyed at least, as the bandages
    obscured that region of his face). In a small voice, Bill responded. “No. You’d be
    ineligible on the knee alone.”
    “Thanks Bill. I-I guess I just wanted to hear it from you, rather than reading it on a
    letter, or from some faceless government agent.”
    Again, Bill said nothing. What could he say?
    Ron and Don were overlooking the Space Centre grounds, discussing recent events.
    “So, how about that investigation that’s been making the rounds? I hear they already
    got to you. How was it? Any advice?” asked Ron.
    “Oh, that. What a pain. It’s sort of like a TV interview. They’ve got a camera and an
    interviewer asking me all these questions about our training and the rockets. Just
    answer all their questions and they should be satisfied. I hear they’re more interested in
    the engineers, anyway.”
    “Who’s running this show, again? Seems like a lot of trouble to go through for a few
    questions. Don’t they already know what the problem was, anyway?”
    “I think it’s Director Jeb. Apparently he wants to make sure that there are no more
    problems, though I hear Bill was pretty instrumental in getting that pushed through.
    He’s really serious about making sure this space program is safe.”
    “After poor Jorfred, who’d blame him? How is Fred, by the way?”
    “Apparently he’s doing really well! He should be out of the hospital by the end of the
    week.”
    “That’s great news! Is he going to fly the next mission?” Ron asked excitedly; he’d been
    worried about
    “No. I talked to Bill, and he’s unfit to fly. I think it’s his leg, or maybe his vision. I don’t
    know.”
    “What? But what about the Space Program? How will we keep up with only three
    kerbonauts?
    “Apparently Jeb wants to hire more kerbals. We’ve been needing more, with the two
    seats in the Uranus. Gotta fill out those backup crews!”
    “I guess you’re right. Still, it’s going to be weird with all of those new faces; I don’t
    think I’ll be able to keep track of them all!” Ron was terrible with names.
    “Don’t worry, there won’t be more than three or four newbies that’ll make it through
    the selection process. You’ll make do.”
    * * *
    “So, what can you tell us about the Uranus I mission, Mr. Danbro?”
    The investigation team sat in a small room with the USKK Lead Engineer.
    “Well, not all that much, really. It was a normal build, launch, etc. I guess the only
    difference is that we added some more batteries to the main capsule…oh, and those
    SRBs we attached at the last minute.”
    The head investigator leaned forward, removing his glasses as he did so.
    “Those SRBs… Can you tell me why they were attached so late in development?”
    “Well, we were thinking that the extra pod on top would be too heavy for the liquid
    engines to lift. So we strapped on a couple of SRBs and she took off like a charm!”
    “I’m looking at the flight data here, and apparently the rocket sustained accelerations of
    more than 10 g on ascent.”
    Danbro let out a low whistle. “Gotta love SRBs.”
    “That kerbal in the hospital would beg to differ. Now, I’m certainly no rocket scientist,
    but I’d think that adding more engines would be something one would do with plenty
    of notice, correct?”
    “Well, I talked about it with the crew, they said ‘sure’, so we stuck them on. No
    paperwork necessary!”
    “Wait…Are you telling me you don’t fill out the required requisition forms?”
    “Ha ha, no way! I usually get an intern to do ‘em. Or I just don’t complete ‘em at all!
    Nobody minds, as long as the rockets get up there!”
    At this, the interviewer paused, speechless.
    “Ah…Well…I see. You may go, Danbro.”
    “Are you sure? Don’t you have more questions? I can tell you more about the rocket!”
    “No, no. That’s quite alright, thank you.”
    With a slightly confused look, Danbro left the room.
    * * *
    “Fire Danbro.”
    The head investigator had only one recommendation for Jeb. Sighing, the Director
    looked up.
    “And why would I do that?”
    “The kerbal’s interview itself is nothing. I interviewed countless engineers and staff, all
    whom report his behaviour as reckless, dangerous, and more often than not, plain
    stupid!”
    “You can’t deny that he gets results. He’s made all sorts of things fly!”
    “Exactly. He’s made things fly which shouldn’t fly, and when they decide not to fly
    again, the kerbals riding in them are going to have a very bad day.”
    “He’s my Lead Engineer! Who will replace him?”
    “I don’t know, pick any engineer. Even an intern could do a better job than he’s been
    doing.”
    “And if I decide to ignore your recommendation?”
    “Then the Board of Directors will revoke your funding. In their words: ‘Dead kerbals
    aren’t profitable.’”
    Jeb sat back. “What if I appointed an assistant to Danbro? Promoted an intern, or
    someone who knew what they were doing, to add a voice of reason to his work? Would
    the Board be satisfied?” The investigator paused. “I’ll discuss it with them. Why are you
    so insistent on keeping this kerbal, Jeb?”
    “Let’s just say that I learned a long time ago that you can’t always do things by the
    book, and having someone who’s not afraid to think outside the box on your side is
    invaluable.”
    A low chuckle came from the investigator’s throat. “And we don’t have enough of that
    with you?” He sighed. “Very well. I’ll talk to the Board, and see what we can do.
    Goodnight Jeb.” And he was gone, leaving Jeb alone in his office.
    * * *
    A day later, Jebediah was speaking to the media, who had been anxious for news ever
    since hearing of the investigation.
    “…so ultimately due to a variety of factors, the regrettable Uranus I incident was
    allowed to happen. Fortunately, we have identified the issues, and are working to
    rectify them. Unfortunately, the head of our engineering department was responsible
    for several of these errors.”
    At this, Danbro stood up and walked over to the microphone.
    “What can I say? I’m only kerbal!”
    This prompted quite the chuckle from the assembled media. Jeb continued.
    “As he has proven to be a substantial asset to the Space Program thus far, I am
    appointing an assistant to Danbro to assist him with the complicated decisions he must
    face every day, as well as provide an additional error checking step in the process our
    rockets undergo before launch. Doodbro, would you please stand up?”
    The kerbal sitting next to Danbro rose.
    “‘sup?” he said, joining Jeb at the microphone.
    “Ahem…yes, as you can see, Doodbro is a prime example of the knowledgeable and
    professional staff we at the USKK Space Centre employ on a daily basis.”
    “Ah, dude, is this gonna last much longer? I gotta split in about ten.” Doodbro asked
    Jeb, seemingly forgetting that the microphone was still on.
    “As I said, knowledgeable and professional,” Jeb said, his smile becoming a bit fixed.
    Fortunately, Danbro was there to break the awkward moment. A joke, and describing
    the USKK’s next few missions sated the media’s appetite soon enough, and the crowd
    shortly dispersed.
    But which none of the three kerbals realized was that something had been born that
    day. Kerbals, like humans, are brought together by shared experiences, and nearly
    everyone in the USKK had been watching that broadcast. As such, everyone had seen
    Danbro respond with: ‘I’m only kerbal,’ and slowly that quote turned itself into a new
    catchphrase. Whenever a kerbal screwed up, they’d utter those words, and all around
    them would share a laugh. As time went on, the phrase shortened itself (as these things
    do), until it became only one word: kerbal. Used as an adjective, one would call
    something ‘kerbal’ if it worked, but not as originally intended, and more times than not,
    unsafely. Did your tailpipe come off your car? Why bother with a mechanic, just duct
    tape it back on! That’s such a kerbal solution! Even the space program got caught up in
    the craze; their solutions (like just strapping more boosters to a rocket) were
    popularized as being ‘kerbal’ by the general public, bringing even more attention to the
    program.
    * * *
    CKFN: Facility for Space Research
    Launch Day, One Week Later
    The massive door of the VAB slowly ground open. Despite not having been used in
    several months, it rose without complaint, and the fading daylight shone onto Caelus I,
    completed at last. There had been some renovations since then; the Space Facility was
    starting to become a major transport hub. No longer were trucks sufficient to carry the
    rocket parts and fuel from where they were manufactured, but rather newly-built
    aircraft had been pressed into service; some designs could carry ten times as much and
    travel twenty times as fast when compared to their wheeled rivals. As such, the Space
    Facility looked more like an Air Facility, with all the runways and service equipment.
    However, even with the fancy new additions, the VAB remained untouched, which the
    engineers grumbled about daily. The rockets they we rebuilding were starting to reach
    the facility’s size constraints, and the fabrication equipment on hand was beginning to
    become inadequate for the task. Simply adding onto the existing buildings wouldn’t
    solve all Danford’s problems though; as the mission planners whined about how far
    north they were. The USKK’s Space Centre was located directly on the equator,
    meaning landing back at the Centre was a breeze, and missions to locations beyond
    LKO required no extra delta-v expenditure, unlike the CKFN’s situation. Danford put
    all that out of his mind though, and focused more upon the issues facing him today.
     
    Much to the media’s disappointment, Danford had made the decision to launch this
    rocket without kerbals on board. The engineers had said that more work was needed to
    be certain that the life support systems were stable. Caelus was sporadically exhibiting a
    glitch which had resulted in the premature retirement of half a dozen crash test
    dummies during testing. Since fixing that issue would take at least an additional week,
    Danford had elected to launch this vessel unkerballed. The engineers still struggled to
    build probes which lasted long outside the atmosphere, however. While probe
    shielding had progressed far enough to not fizzle out as soon as it left the atmosphere,
    the engineers had now hit a power supply issue. The multiple redundant systems and
    fail safes made the probe stable, but chewed through power at a disturbing rate. Since
    the spacecraft had no way of recharging its onboard batteries once it had left the
    launchpad, it would promptly shut down approximately two hours after launch.
     
    Due to this, Caelus I’s mission was simple: launch into a highly eccentric orbit, gather
    data on the deep space environment, then re-enter at high speeds. Ground control
    would stay in contact with the spacecraft for most of the way until apoapsis, at which
    time the onboard batteries would run dry, cutting off contact. While some other
    managers would declare the mission over at this point, Danford’s crazy idea was to
    place the spacecraft on a specific trajectory, then properly orient it so that the ship
    wouldn’t burn up in the atmosphere and survive to a soft landing somewhere in the
    CKFN. This would provide a lot of excellent extra data about the hazards and
    phenomena of deep space, and whether the heat shield was sufficiently tough enough
    to survive a high-speed re-entry. If the CKFN ever hoped to reach the Mun, the
    engineers needed a lot more data on both of these hazards.
    Danford spoke into his headset. “Alright people, we’re at tee minus one hour to launch.
    Get Caelus onto the pad and fueled up!”
    * * *
     
    The ground crew performed their duties flawlessly, and one hour later, Caelus I blasted
    off right on schedule.
     
    “We’re getting good readings from the rocket, everything is nominal,” one of the
    Ground Control techs said.
    Really, with the amount of test-fires and simulations, this rocket was incredibly reliable.
    Danford would have bet good money on it reaching orbit without a single mishap (and
    apparently some engineers had been trolling the local bars, doing exactly that)
     
    This was the CKFN’s first rocket with more than one engine on the lower stage. As
    Caelus was found to be too heavy for a single LV-T30 to lift, the decision was made to
    launch the capsule with two engines, rather than follow the USKK’s SRB path. While
    this extra engine took a bit more work to engineer into the design, its performance more
    than made up for it. Caelus I flew easily.
     
    However, that extra engine did use up more fuel, and the rocket found itself dropping
    its lower stage earlier than ships with lighter payloads. There was talk about extending
    this lower stage, but the rocket’s TWR was perfect with this amount of weight, and
    nobody wanted to screw that up.
     
    The decision had been made to hold off on extending the tank until this mission had
    flown. So far, the results were promising, as the upper stage easily carried Caelus above
    the clouds.
     
     
    Finally, that stage burned out as well, and the time came for Caelus to separate from its
    lifter. The Ground Control team waited with baited breath as they sent the command;
    while Caelus had performed well on the ground, its engines had never before been used
    on an actual rocket. Anything could happen.
     
    Fortunately, that ‘anything’ was that the engines fired a short burst to move it away
    from the upper stage, then shut down to coast to apoapsis, exactly as planned. The sigh
    of relief which ran through the control room was quite audible.
     
    Based on the telemetry data, Caelus had left the atmosphere and arrived at apoapsis.
     
    While conventional kerballed missions only require a short burst from the spacecraft’s
    engines to put it into a stable orbit, this mission was neither conventional nor kerballed,
    so the throttle was increased to full, and the spacecraft raised its orbit to roughly 1 000
    kilometres above the surface of Kerbin.
    After the spacecraft had confirmed that the burn was complete, the job of Ground
    Control was to settle in and wait for the ship to arrive.
    * * *
     
    When Caelus reached apoapsis three hours later, Danford wasn’t even in the control
    room, as another matter had come up. His presence wasn’t required though; the job he
    had given the technicians was simple: gather the data Caelus collected, make sure it
    wouldn’t hit the ocean nor the USKK when it came down, then orient it retrograde.
    Hardly even rocket science.
    And so the spacecraft responded to their commands, first transmitting the data from the
    scientific instruments its capsules were filled with, then pointing along a specific vector,
    and using the last of its fuel in a course correction which would put it in the middle of
    the CKFN. Finally, it rotated so that the heat shield would impact the atmosphere
    before the comparatively more fragile command pods.
     
    Finally, the techs sat back and watched as the onboard battery, taxed by the
    transmissions and commands, finally gave up the ghost and died. All contact with
    Caelus had been lost. Now, all they could do was wait.
     
     
     
     
     
    * * *
     
    Ten minutes later, a recovery helicopter flew through the night. Danford was aboard,
    along with a full team of technicians. According to telemetry data, Caelus had re-entered
    the atmosphere not long ago.
    “Pilot! Do you have the capsule on your radar?”
    “Y-yes sir Mr. Danford, we’re heading right towards it!”
    “Are you sure? We just ended up chasing a flock of pigeons for longer than I care to
    admit.”
    “N—no sir, I’m sure it’s the capsule…I’ve locked onto its transponder signal.” He
    pointed at the screen, showing a steadily falling dot. Just as Danford looked over at the
    display, the dot chose that moment to disappear.
     
     
    “Mother of Harv… We have to get there. Now.”
    “Roger that, Director, sir. We’re not more than two kilometres out.”
     
    * * *
    The helicopter came to a gentle landing, perching on the on the ground like a large,
    oddly-shaped bird. Danford immediately leaped out, fearing the worst. Climbing
    towards the capsule, he let out a gasp. Caelus sat in the middle of a blackened crater in
    the ground. The capsule itself had been breached; it’s internal components lay
    everywhere. Taking a closer look, Danford wasn’t surprised that they’d lost contact;
    most of the instruments had been wrecked by the impact.
    “It’s a pity,” one of the technicians remarked, drawing level with Danford. “We could
    have pulled so much more data if the thing actually landed in one piece.”
    “Don’t give up yet, the instruments have already transmitted their data, so you can
    access that, plus I’m sure you want to see how the materials of the spacecraft reacted to
    the deep space environment,” Danford reassured him.
    “That’s true. But why did it crash like that? I thought the plan was to soft-land it.”
    “A very good question. See if you can find the other two parachutes. I only see one that
    opened, but *Caelus *had three.”
    “Three? The ship that launched only had one.”
    “What? How did we expect to soft-land it then?” Danford exclaimed.
    “Somebody said that we’d get more delta-v out of the thing if we left off the side-
    mounted parachutes, and instead just slowed the capsule at the last second with the
    engines.”
    “Didn’t they realize that the ship would be uncontrollable by then? Why didn’t anyone
    tell me?”
    “I don’t know sir; all I know was that’s how it happened.”
    Danford sighed. “I suppose we can’t do anything about that problem now. Though I’ll
    have a very serious talk to the engineers when we get back. Let’s work on salvaging
    what we can of the ship.”
    And indeed, after gathering the parts together and analysing the data, the mission was
    declared to be a success. Improvements were immediately made to Caelus to take into
    account the deep-space environment and the extra parachutes were reattached, as extra
    insurance when landing. On top of all that, the engineers got an excellent lesson on
    communication, via a three-hour rant delivered by Danford describing the many
    horrible things that would happen if they deviated from the design specifications again
    without letting him know. All in all, the CKFN space program was in good shape.
    Now they just had to do it all over again, this time with kerbals on-board.
    * * *
    USKK: Administration Facility
    Two Days Later
    Bill walked into Jebediah’s plush, wood-trimmed office and sat down with Bob in front
    of Jeb’s desk. Once again, they were to discuss the state of the USKK space program.
    Recalling the intel given to him by the USKK government, he started the meeting off.
    “So, it finally happened. The CKFN launched Caelus.”
    Of course, this was hardly top-secret information. Anyone with a halfway decent
    antenna could pickup the television signals coming from across the water. Really, the
    declassification of the CKFN’s space program had accomplished more for the covert
    operations department of the USKK than ten years’ worth of surveillance could have.
    “Who did they send up?” asked Jebediah, who, like always, had not read the intel
    ahead of time. As such, he wasted everyone’s time asking questions they ought to have
    known from the start. Bill sighed.
    “As the report stated, this mission was an unkerballed launch. Apparently due to the
    untested nature of the capsule and new launcher, the risk was considered too high to
    launch a kerbal.”
    Bob spoke up. “It’s a good thing they waited; it gives us more time to launch more
    ships. We had a mission planned for next week, right?”
    “Absolutely,” Jeb stated. “The rocket is built, and the capsule is nearly ready! I’d say
    another three or four days of hard work, and we can launch Uranus II.”
    “Are you sure that we’re ready to launch so soon after Uranus I?” Bill cautioned,
    always the voice of reason. Somebody had to be.
    “Of course! Danbro decided to scale back the SRB thrust, we’ve flipped the capsule
    interior around, provided extra cushions for the pilots, what else is needed?”
    “I just feel like we aren’t giving the engineers enough time to perfect their designs.
    They’re already overworked as it is; we demand new rockets every few weeks.”
    At this, Bob jumped in. “Nonsense, I was just down in the VAB and they’re really
    starting to hit their stride. Since we always ask for the same rocket, they simply build a
    bunch of copies of the Uranus launcher, then tweak the SRB thrust for the desired
    payload,”
    “Interesting. Whose idea was this?” Bill asked.
    “Doodbro’s. Apparently he’s quite the talented engineer. Excellent selection, Jeb.”
    For his credit, Jebediah did not display any external signs of uncertainty. However, Bill
    had known the kerbal for nearly twenty years now, and by watching Jeb’s face
    carefully, he understood that Jeb was just as surprised as Bill was about Doodbro’s
    competence. As Bill had correctly assumed when first watching the footage of
    Doodbro’s promotion, Jeb had just used the ‘engineering assistant’ story to confuse the
    Board, and make sure that the VAB would continue building rockets unabated, unlike
    the ghost town it would become if Danbro were to be fired.
    “That’s why I chose him,” Jeb said with a smile.
    Bob, who hadn’t been with Jeb for as long, appeared satisfied with that explanation.
    Turning his attention away from Jeb, Bob continued.
    “Now, the CFKN launched their unmanned version of Caelus (or simply Caelus I)
    exactly forty-six hours ago. While the USKK still leads in terms of total launches, our
    first next-gen spacecraft was a high-profile failure. While the mission itself completed
    successfully, we had an injured kerbal, an internal investigation slowing things down,
    and the media reporting every story to come out of here that they can find!”
    At this, he pulled out a newspaper clipping from his pocket and slid it across the table.
    Bill unfolded it. “‘Space Centre Cafeteria Serves Subpar Snacks’? Really?”
    “Really. All of these factors combined means that the public is no longer quite as
    enthusiastic about the space program as before. Reduced public enthusiasm then means
    that the Board is unwilling to provide as many funds for the program in the future. As
    such, we need to build public approval for the program again, and show the CKFN that
    we are better.”
    “And how are we going to do that?” asked Bill. This nationalistic space race satisfied
    the media, but he found that constantly trying to one-up your neighbour often
    distracted one’s self from focusing on the project at hand and why you were even trying
    to accomplish it in the first place.
    “I may have a couple ideas,” said Jeb slowly. He picked up his desk phone. “Werhner,
    can you meet us in my office? What? No, you’re— Yes, I— Okay, thanks. Yes. I said,
    yes! … Just come on over here,”
    A couple minutes later, Werhner Von Kerman walked through the door. “Hellooo!”
    “Ah Werhner, you’ve arrived! Excellent. Now, can you tell Bill and Bob about the new
    technology you’re developing?”
    “Ah, of course! Vell, you see, eet all started back vhen I first vatched ze CKFN
    broadcast. Zey discussed ze issue of power management in ze spacecraft. Zheir ships
    use batteries to stay acteeve. Now, batteries are very heavy, so I vas thinking ve could
    generate our power in space, rather zan having to worry about carrying enough to last
    all ze way through our mission.”
    “Generate power in space? You don’t mean lugging a coal plant (or bac9 forbid, an
    atomic plant) up there?” Bill was incredulous. “You realize that you’d have to bring a
    supply of oxygen for the coal to even burn, right?”
    “Yes, yes, I know. Ze standart methods of generation do not work vell in space. Besides,
    our rockets aren’t powerful eenough yet!”
    “…yet?”
    “Err…I’ve been vorking on some ozzer designs; I can show—”
    “Let’s keep on track Werhner,” Jeb interrupted.
    “Right, sorry! Vell, as I vas saying, ve don’t have ze capacity to generate a lot of power
    een space. Fortunately, ve don’t need a lot of energy; ve just need to sustain eet for long
    periods of time. So I thought to myself, vhat on Kerbeen generates a good amount of
    power, ees reliable, yet light, and vould vork in space?”
    Bill wasn’t quite sure if it was a rhetorical question or not; Werhner’s accent made it
    difficult to fully understand the kerbal’s meaning. Fortunately, Werhner answered it
    himself, saving Bill from having to think up an entirely new method of power
    generation.
    “Solar power! Ze sun alvays shines in space, and zhere is no clouds to block zem! Eet
    ees ein perfect system!”
    Now that Bill thought about it, solar power would be a very useful method of
    generating power while in orbit. Panels were relatively light, cheap, yet could still
    provide enough power to control a probe core, or even a spacecraft’s attitude control
    systems. Bob didn’t seem completely convinced though.
    “Do you have a model we can attach to a spacecraft? All the solar panels I’ve seen in my
    time are much too large to fit on Uranus.”
    “Ah yes! I do, een fact! I’ve been vorking on a folding panel vhich vould easily fit on ze
    side of ze spacecraft. And Bill, your idea of atomic energy ees close to vhat I have
    planned for my next deesign!”
    “Good Squad, you’re not actually going to launch a reactor?”
    “Noo, nooo, I vill use ze radioacteeve decay of certain elements to run a heat engine,
    generating steady power even vhen the sun ees behind ze planet!”
    Well. That certainly was a much better idea. Bill was impressed; he knew the stories of
    how smart Werhner was (he’d single-handedly launched Kerbin into this rush for
    space), but seeing his ideas firsthand was incredible. The kerbal certainly knew his stuff.
    “So what do you guys think?” asked Jeb, who had clearly heard these ideas before.
    “I can’t think of anything wrong with having power generation capabilities onboard
    our next spacecraft; go ahead and install them on Uranus II,” said Bob, who looked
    impressed with Werhner as well.
    Finally, all three kerbals looked at Bill, waiting for him to speak. He still wasn’t
    completely satisfied with the pace at which they were proceeding, but this new
    technology heartened him. Perhaps the ships could stay in space for longer, and do
    more research on the effects of space travel on a kerbal.
    Bill smiled. “Let’s do this.”
    * * *
    CFKN: Facility for Space Research
    Six Weeks Later
     
    “Well, at least they added magazines,” commented Matdun dryly. Bilvin looked up.
    Along with the other kerbal, she was sitting in the small white room again, one step
    removed from finally entering her spacecraft after weeks of preparing for this mission.
    Unfortunately, Matdun’s words did not satisfy her. “They’re all fifteen-year-old
    technical manuals on the finer points of spacecraft orientation! We didn’t even have
    spacecraft back then! Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of rocket science as much as
    the next kerbal, but seven hundred pages of spin rates and matrix transformations is not
    my idea of light reading material. When I get my hands on Danford…”
    “You had better wait until after the launch. I don’t think he’s been sleeping these last
    few days. He really wants this mission to go well.”
    “Well, it can’t go any worse than the Uranus I, eh?”
    Matdun’s unamused glare reminded Bilvin that there were indeed some lines that one
    Should Not Cross.
    “At least the kerbal was alright, but apparently he’s left the USKK’s space program.”
    “He’s left? That leaves them with only three kerbals. Are they going to hire more?”
    “Apparently they already have. Just before Uranus III launched, they brought four new
    recruits into the program. It was glossed over at the time, given what happened during
    that flight, but I managed to find an article.” Matdun pulled a newspaper from a pocket
    in her flight suit and unfolded it. (Bilvin made a mental note to remember to pack a
    novel or something for next time) “Let’s see…blah blah, fast-paced training, recruitment
    from several civilian rocketry clubs, oh! They’ve got pictures.”
    Desperate for some form of reading material that didn’t involve endless lines of text,
    Bilvin leapt from her chair.
     
    “Hmm, they look pretty competent. But I can’t imagine that they have the same
    experience as us veteran kerbonauts, eh?”
    “I wouldn’t call us veterans yet. This is only your second mission. The USKK definitely
    has the advantage in their rapid launch cycles.”
    “Well, we make up for it for all our simulations. I’m so used to that simulator now, I
    even found a place to store my snacks!”
    Matdun stared. “That was you?! Do you know how many simulations I’ve had to abort
    because wrappers kept falling out of the overhead compartments?”
    “Uh, two?”
    “Eleven! How many snacks did you stuff in there? I told Danford to confiscate them
    all.”
    “Oh come on, don’t be a narc; don’t you ever get hungry during a long simulator
    session?”
    Matdun’s angry retort was cut short by Danford’s disembodied voice. “How’s it going in
    there, you two? The rocket’s nearly ready.”
    “Uh, we had a slight disagreement, but uh… everything’s perfectly all right now. We’re
    fine. We’re all fine here now, thank you. How are you?”
    “I hope Dilbrett came through with the reading material; I told him to put his favourite
    magazines in there.”
    “Yep…they’re, ah, they’re real page turners…” Bilvin responded while eying the
    massive books laying on the table.
    “Anyways, what’s the status on the rocket? ETA until boarding?” Matdun asked,
    matter-of-factly.
    “We’re just fueling it up now, so you should be able to board in about ten minutes.”
    “Roger that. We’ll be ready.” She turned off her microphone, then glared at Bilvin.
    * * *
     
    “Alright people, sound off. We’ve got a tight launch window. There’s a storm moving
    in from the northwest, and I don’t want to test the structural integrity of Caelus that
    rigorously just yet.” Danford strode through Mission Control, or at least what passed
    for it. There were a bunch of employee stations set up underneath the little antenna at
    the Space Facility.
    “Communications, go”
    “CAPCOM, go”
    “Spacecraft systems, go”
    And so on, until the moment they’d all been waiting for.
    “Five seconds until liftoff!”
    “Four”
    “Three”
    “Two, main engine start!”
    “One”
    A low rumble engulfed the small room. Even though they’d been doing this for a
    couple of years now, some techs still didn’t make sure their coffee mugs were secure,
    and some fell over the edges of tables, soaking laps with lukewarm caffeinated
    beverage.
    Even though they had a perfect view of the rocket on the monitors, Danford preferred
    to look out of the window. He’d found that if he stood in a certain spot, he had an
    excellent view of the launchpad, and it made him look like he was standing where he
    could see all the techs and monitor their progress. Caelus II stood upon a column of
    smoke and steam as it reached for the heavens, a bright orange tongue of flame
    underneath. The sight always gave him pause. The fact that his group built that
    magnificent machine to travel beyond the clutches of Kerbin itself was remarkable. He
    was shortly brought back to reality by the chatter of ground control.
     
    “Rocket has cleared the tower; we’re reading perfect separation.”
    “Attitude holding steady, engines are performing nominally.”
    “Gee levels holding steady at 1.5”
     
    “We’re hitting max Q in twenty seconds, be advised.”
    “Begin rollover program”
    “I’m getting an anomalous reading from one of the thermometers. Capsule, please
    confirm.”
    “That’s a negative, Thermo Sensor 2-1-b is reading normally. I will keep an eye on it, though.”
    Matdun responded.
    “We’ve reached 10 km, begin gravity turn. Pitch over by 35 degrees, acknowledge.”
     
    Bilvin’s cheery voice came through. “Roger that, boss!”
    “Thrust curves looking nominal. Throttle down a touch to avoid losing too much delta-
    v to the atmosphere.”
    “15 km altitude, pitch down another 20 degrees.”
    “First stage nearing burnout, prep decoupler.”
    “Decoupler primed.” Matdun was as businesslike as ever.
    “I’m reading a loss of thrust caused by burnout. Fire second stage.”
    “First stage away, and second stage engine ignited on schedule”
    “Ignition confirmed. Throttle main engine up, you’ve cleared the worst of the
    atmosphere.”
     
    Danford leaned back, satisfied. Another flawless launch. While plenty could still go
    wrong, he felt a little better knowing that the rocket had made it to orbit. Now, the main
    mission could begin.
    * * *
     
    “Hey, Matdun,” came the chirpy voice over the intercom. Matdun did not respond right
    away, knowing what was coming.
    “Matdun”
    “Maaaatdun”
    She could take it no longer. “WHAT?”
    “Got any snacks?”
    “Yes, I somehow managed to visit a store on Kerbin, buy some snacks, haul them all the
    way up here, and not tell you about it in the five minutes since you last asked!”
    “So you do have snacks!”
    In disgust, Matdun turned off the internal intercom. She normally tolerated Bilvin and
    her antics, but today’s mission was eating into her stores of patience. This capsule
    would be farther from Kerbin than any kerbal from the CKFN had ever been. Of course,
    they weren’t breaking any records here. The USKK’s Uranus II mission had already
    achieved an apoapsis of 3000 kilometres, something Caelus couldn’t even dare attempt
    to match. Rather, the goal for this mission was to maintain a stable orbit at this altitude
    and test the shielding and equipment outside the safety of Low Kerbin Orbit.
    She was glad that the kerbals had separate capsules, a holdover from the spacecraft
    Caelus was a derived from. Otherwise Bilvin may have found herself undergoing an
    Extra-Vehicular Activity, sans spacesuit.
    Otherwise, things had been going well, but the mission was not over yet, and they still
    had to return. Re-entry from these heights was no joke, while certainly less intense than
    a Munar return would be, it still could mean certain doom for those in the capsule if
    they didn’t manage it correctly. Still, the view was nice. Matdun snapped a couple of
    pictures of the disk of Kerbin. Those Flat-Kerbin Society nitwits should be up here; the
    evidence against their case was pretty damning.
     
     
    The radio crackled into life. “Matdun, we’re coming back into radio communication. How are
    the readings looking?”
    “They’re all looking nominal; the engineers did good work when building the capsule.
    We’re getting excellent data from the scientific experiments as well.”
    “Fantastic. If we continue getting results as good as this, we should be able to bring you back
    down after a couple more orbits.”
    “Excellent. Any further orders?”
    “Actually, there was. Bilvin was asking if you could inspect the upper right-side compartment.”
    “For the last time! There are no snacks on my side of the spacecraft!”
    She slammed her fist down on the ‘off’ button violently, accidently jarring open the
    compartment mentioned.
    Matdun sighed as a contingent of snacks floated by her face, ejected from their hidden
    home in the compartment.
     
    *  * *
     
    “Hey Matdun”
    “What now?” She replied through gritted teeth. The fires of re-entry were increasing, a
    dull roar reverberating through the capsule. Bilvin had been mostly silent up to the
    deorbit burn, but then she had begun pestering Matdun once again. It was Matdun’s job
    to guide the capsule into a safe landing on the Space Facility’s grounds, and she didn’t
    want to screw it up. This was the first time any capsule had attempted such a pin-point
    landing,
    “Remember how the first Caelus capsule landed? Don’t do that.”
    “Shut…up…” The capsule hit a pocket of turbulence, starting to spin. Matdun hit the
    SAS override and corrected this spin. Only 30 000 metres to go…
    The spin was back, Matdun’s efforts weren’t enough to arrest it entirely. Bilvin’s voice
    chirped through the internal intercom.
    “Hey, I can see my house from here!”
    How the kerbal remained so calm was a mystery to Matdun, who would have been
    screaming in terror if not for the concentration required to keep the rapidly descending
    craft on target. The plan was to make a soft landing on the rocket engines back at the
    Space Facility, and this high in the atmosphere, even small changes to their attitude
    would result in missing the landing site by many kilometres. She didn’t want a repeat
    of Latona I, which Bilvin nearly smashed open on a mountainside.
    “Bilvin, tell me our current trajectory.”
    Incredibly, the other kerbal sounded almost bored while reading back the numbers.
    Matdun made a mental note to ask Danford to send Bilvin on the next long-duration
    science mission. Preferably past Minmus. Maybe to another planet. Perhaps the Sun?
    This thought cheered her.
    WHUMP
    That was a big shock. Re-entry was tricky, the smallest pockets of turbulence became
    huge problems when travelling at twice the speed of sound. She checked the readouts,
    trying to discern if any damage had been done to the spacecraft. She couldn’t see
    anything, and by the sounds of it, the ship was beginning to enter the lower
    atmosphere.
     
    Bilvin’s voice, finally sounding a bit perturbed, came through the intercom. “Uh, I’ve got
    a bit of a problem here.”
    “What’s wrong?”
    “I’m getting a ‘system failure’ warning light. It looks like one of our thrusters is acting up.”
    “Roger, prepping parachutes for deployment.”
    “Ah, that’s a negative, the auxiliary parachutes have been put out of commission as well. We’ve
    only got the ventral chute remaining.”
    “Oh.”
    “Remember what I was saying about the first Caelus?”
    “Yes, we all know how that turned out.” Though her voice projected annoyance,
    Matdun was actually terrified. Nobody had anticipated both a parachute and engine
    failure. She’d trained for hours in landing on rockets and landing on parachutes (the
    latter was infinitely easier, by the way), but had never even considered having to land
    without either. She wondered if they could bail out of the spacecraft right before impact
    and hope the shockwave would slow them down.
    “Can you transfer full attitude control to me? I have an idea.” Bilvin’s voice sounded more
    determined than ever.
    “What? There’s no way you can operate both systems at once!”
    “Trust me.”
    Under most circumstances, Matdun would certainly have not trusted the young kerbal,
    and just done the landing herself. However, in this case she didn’t feel confident
    enough to trust herself not to botch the landing. Besides, what’s the worst that could
    happen? They were dead anyway.
    “Transferring control. Don’t screw this up, Bilvin”
    Matdun could just picture the cocky grin the kerbal gave her in response. “What, me?
    Never.”
     
    With the controls in Bilvin’s pod, Matdun now had nothing to do. She now understood
    the other kerbal’s restlessness earlier. With no control of this falling metal pod, one did
    tend to want to make sure everything went well. A sort of ‘backseat piloting’ if you will.
    The only thing left to do was watch the altimeter.
    At 700 metres above the ground, Bilvin deployed the parachute. Matdun watched it
    trail out behind the capsule, flutter in the wind, then finally deploy fully. This slowed
    the capsule down to about 15 metres per second, still too fast for a safe landing. Matdun
    suspected that the core command pods would survive such an impact, but she certainly
    did not want to put that suspicion to the test.
    250 metres up, the engines fired up. Three of them at least. The fourth, as predicted,
    sputtered once and with a sad ka-putt, died. What is Bilvin doing? She’s obviously
    trying to use both the parachutes and the engines? What is Bilvin’s plan?
    Then, a horrible screech met Matdun’s ears. She realized it was the reaction wheels.
    They were spinning at grossly overclocked speeds, providing just enough torque to
    compensate for the missing engine. Obviously, one couldn’t run the wheels at such
    speeds forever, and you’d need to replace them after attempting such a maneuver, but
    for this landing, they could be spun up much faster than the manufacturer’s
    recommended speed.
     
    Miraculously, the plan worked. Despite only having access to three asymmetrically-
    placed engines, Bilvin managed to navigate the ship into a landing, only skidding
    slightly upon touchdown as a reaction wheel failed at the last second.
     
    Matdun let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding, then peered through the
    small window on the capsule. The first sight she saw was Director Danford, wide-eyed
    and covered in feathers.
    She immediately opened the intercom channel to Bilvin. “Just to be clear, we did land at
    the Space Facility, and not some sort of alternate dimension, correct?”
    “…Yes, why do you—oh. Hi Director!”
    Matdun got to work on opening her capsule door, and exited the vehicle. It appeared
    that Bilvin’s skidding maneuver during the last few seconds of flight had put the
    capsule much closer to the Facility’s staff than originally planned. Hence, Danford’s
    closeness to the spacecraft, and surprise. That didn’t explain the feathers though.
    However, closer inspection of Caelus certainly did. Judging by the remains, the capsule
    had struck a very unlucky bird during its rapid descent through the atmosphere. That
    would certainly explain the WHAM they’d heard earlier. Feathers were all over the
    capsule, and the impact point was right next to the failed engine, as well as the radial
    parachute control system. Upon closer inspection, its species appeared to be some type
    of balding eagle.
    “Talk about a fowl landing!” Jenfry punned, which elicited an icy glare from everyone
    within earshot.
    This moment did not last long though, as the team of technicians immediately swarmed
    the spacecraft, taking pictures, examining impact points, and chattering among
    themselves. They barely left enough room for Bilvin and Matdun to get clear.
    When the two kerbals had exited, Matdun turned to Bilvin. “Thanks for saving us.
    And…here.”
    She handed Bilvin the snacks which she’d discovered inside her side of the spacecraft.
    Bilvin took them without comment. “No worries, it was the least I could do.” Her eyes
    twinkled. “I look forward to flying with you again!”
    Danford (now mostly feather-free) walked up. “Excellent mission, you two! I’m told
    that we got excellent data from this flight, despite the few quirks which developed. Get
    back to the simulators, because we’ve got more missions coming up!”
    “Sorry boss, but I’ve got to take a shower and a nap first,” Bilvin said. “But I’ll be ready
    for launch in a couple of hours, don’t you worry!”
    Matdun estimated that her own nap would last a good deal longer than that, but
    nevertheless greeted Danford with a smile before heading back to her quarters. It had
    been a very long day.
     
    * * *
    Danford had never seen the weekly engineers’ meeting so busy. His lead engineer,
    Dilbrett had ‘accidentally’ let slip what today’s topic would be, and as such it seemed
    that every engineer in the space program was here. In fact, he didn’t recognize many
    faces; did they even work for the space program?
    Nevertheless, he took his seat at the head of the large conference table, Dilbrett on his
    right.
    “Good morning all. Now, as I’m sure you’ve all heard, today’s meeting is going to be a
    very special one.”
    The gathered kerbals all hung onto every word of his, some barely daring to breathe.
    “We’ve launched test rockets, we’ve launched kerbals, we’ve seen what the conditions
    outside our atmosphere are like. These have all been steps towards our ultimate goal:
    The Mun.”
    At this word, the unkerbinly silence vanished, filled with a dull roar as every kerbal
    began talking with their neighbors about this news. Danford waited for the commotion
    to die down, but after a couple minutes the volume had actually increased. So he gently
    cleared his throat.
    No one heard him.
    “Ah-hem.” He cleared it a little louder.
    Again, no response, except perhaps the room got even noisier.
    “Okay everyone, settle down, let’s get this meeting started.”
    The room was beginning to descend into chaos, as it seemed that every kerbal there had
    their own opinion on how the mission should be carried out; some had even begun
    scribbling out trajectories and delta-v charts on chalkboards.
    He was wondering if shouting at them would even make a dent in the noise, when
    Danford felt a tap on his arm. The words Dilbrett was speaking were inaudible against
    the din, but the megaphone he held in his hand was very clear. Danford had grabbed it
    and raised it to his mouth before even wondering why Dilbrett had brought one to the
    meeting.
    “THAT’S ENOUGH. ALL OF YOU, SIT DOWN.”
    You could hear a pin drop. That’s better.
    “ALRIGHT, NOW THAT—whoops.” He was still speaking through the megaphone.
    “Alright, now that we’ve discussed the target at length, let’s start coming up with ideas
    for missions. I want to hear all of them–but please. One at a time.”
    * * *
    Three hours later, Danford couldn’t believe how many ideas had been submitted,
    ranging from extensively-researched missions with every metre per second of delta-v
    catalogued along the way, to one kerbal’s suggestion of getting a ‘really, really big SRB’.
    “So, I think we’ve narrowed it down to three mission ideas. There’s the Direct Ascent
    route, the Kerbin Orbit Rendezvous, and the Munar Orbit Rendezvous. Let’s hear the
    pros and cons of each, again.”
    A heavyset kerbal stood up, about halfway down the table. “For simplicity, you can’t go
    wrong with Direct Ascent. Just one ship flies to the Mun, lands, then returns to Kerbin.
    No complicated ‘docking’ required! I don’t even think rendezvousing two ships in
    space is even possible, for Harv’s sake.”
    Dilbrett spoke up. “Have you seen the size of the rocket which would have to lift that?
    It would be more than double the height of the VAB! Testing the first stage alone would
    take years.”
    “Alright then, how about your pet project? Let’s hear it.”
    “As I mentioned, the Kerbin Orbit Rendezvous is a very flexible mission plan, which
    can retain most, if not all of the simplicity of the Direct Ascent method, yet still be
    launched aboard smaller, more reasonable rockets. We launch our Munar lander aboard
    one rocket, then launch the transfer stage immediately afterwards. These two ships link
    up in orbit, fly to the Mun, the lander flies down, does its stuff, then returns to Kerbin
    using the transfer stage!”
    “We still haven’t considered the Munar Orbit Rendezvous yet!” A bespectacled kerbal
    spoke up from the far end of the table. “We only have to launch one rocket, but the
    lander and command module are separate ships, allowing us to use a far lighter lander
    than your other versions! In fact, I’ve done the math and it comes out to use less fuel in
    total than either of those two mission plans.”
    “What about the size of that single rocket? While certainly not a Direct Ascent
    monstrosity, it’s still larger than anything we have the capacity to build,” Dilbrett
    countered.
    “Keep It Simple, Stupid!” The first kerbal shot back rudely. “Direct Ascent needs only
    one ship, and only one set of components too! Why on Kerbin would you need
    duplicate life-support systems on the lander?”
    This went on for another two hours, and by the time they had decided on a result,
    Danford was exhausted.
    “Is everyone done?”
    A host of sullen glares from two-thirds of the those present was his answer.
    “I think everyone’s admitted it; Kerbin Orbit Rendezvous is the best option we have,
    based on the lifting technology available to us. Now, we need to figure out how to
    accomplish such a mission.”
    As the table burst into discussion once more, Danford smiled. They had just taken the
    first step into a larger world. They were going to the Mun, at long last.
    * * *
    USKK: UNN News Van
    Six Months Later
     
    Erdan Kerman, the finest newscaster in the USKK (at least in his studio’s mind, but
    that’s really all that matters), eyed a small, unkempt house.
    “Are you sure this is the right place?” his camerakerbal, who was doubling as his
    driver, asked.
    “This is it,” Erdan looked at the piece of paper upon which the address of that tiny
    abode was scrawled. “Get the gear, we’re going in.”
    * * *
    “First of all, I’d like to thank you for this interview, Desdin.” Erdan said, as he settled
    into the chair he’d been provided. Most of his interviews were conducted in the comfort
    of Erdan’s own studio, but Desdin Kerman had insisted on holding this one in his
    personal home. By the looks of the drawn blinds, clutter, and general dustiness, the
    former kerbonaut didn’t look like he got many visitors. “With the upcoming launch of
    Uranus X, it will be excellent to get your perspective on the space program. Not many
    kerbals have seen the inside of the program like yourself!”
    “Yes,” Desdin replied, staring downwards at his hands. “I think it’s finally time to get
    this off my chest.”
    Erdan pressed on. “You’ve certainly been through a lot in the past few months, haven’t
    you? What with being selected as one of the USKK’s newest kerbonauts, launching on
    the ill-fated *Uranus VIII *mission, and that daring feat of courage you pulled off! I
    guess my first question is, why aren’t you still with the space program?”
    Desdin laughed ruefully, a faraway look in his eyes. Erdan was not exactly sure how to
    respond, so he took advantage of this awkward moment to make sure the camerakerbal
    had the two framed correctly. Eventually, Desdin did speak.
    “‘Feat of courage’. Really? Is that what they’re calling it?”
    Now Erdan was doubly confused. “Are you implying that actual events went
    differently?”
    “I’m sure you are aware of the space program’s… ‘kerbal’ policy.” Desdin positively
    spat the word.
    “Policy? That’s just a word the public uses to describe missions which undergo minor
    mishaps. I don’t see how—”
    Still avoiding direct eye contact, Desdin cut him off. “It may not be official, but what if I
    told you that the failures are deliberately encouraged, just to make missions more
    exciting?” “I’d have to say I’d have trouble believing you. Does this really happen in the
    program?”
    “Oh, Mr. Erdon, it doesn’t just happen, but is encouraged by the highest levels of the
    program themselves.”
    “It’s Erdan,” the reporter corrected, “and really? Jebediah himself signed off on
    deliberately sabotaging the missions?”
    “Sabotage? Oh no. The rockets are never deliberately tampered with, but checks for
    mistakes made during construction are lacklustre, leading to the errors we’re
    accustomed to seeing during the missions.”
    Erdan sat back. This certainly didn’t sound like the space program he’d been reporting
    on for the past couple of years. He was tempted to dismiss Desdin’s claims as mere fear
    mongering. But could the kerbal really be telling the truth? He was a former kerbonaut
    after all. Besides, this sounded like the beginnings of a fantastic story.
    “Okay,” he said. “So how does this ‘policy’ work? Is this connected to your departure
    from the space program?”
    “In time, Erdin, in time. First, let me share with you its very beginning. I’m sure you’re
    familiar with Uranus III…”
    * * *
    Five months ago, and 400 kilometres above the surface of Kerbin, Uranus III orbited.
    “Approaching MECO, all systems nominal.”
     
    “Roger that Control, shutting down engine.” Donnand Kerman spoke, as he pressed a
    button on the lower left side of his control panel.
    Uranus III’s orbital operations motor slowly throttled down, leaving the spacecraft in a
    comfortable medium Kerbin orbit. While certainly not approaching the height the
    CKFN had achieved with their unkerballed Caelus I, it still was impressive. You could
    definitely see a lot more of Kerbin from up here.
    “Oooh, we’re passing over the USKK! Let me get the camera out!” Rondred’s voice
    floated up from below Don. The Uranus program had improved upon its first iteration,
    and now both kerbals were pointed ‘up’, to avoid injuries like poor Jorfred. Uranus II
    had been the first flight to fly with the updated design, and based on feedback from that
    mission, the engineers had placed a hole in between the capsules to allow the pilots to
    talk to each other without requiring an intercom.
    Another new feature of this mission was a television camera, which Ron was currently
    trying to focus on Kerbin. The news stations back on the ground wanted live footage
    from orbit, so they lobbied to get a camera onto the spacecraft. The space program,
    eager to increase its public image in the wake of the Uranus I incident, happily
    complied.
     
    “Hey, get some shots of me too!” Don called down to the other kerbal, though he didn’t
    really mind if all the footage taken during the flight were just of Kerbin. The kerbals
    back on the ground absolutely loved getting shots of the planet, and being this far up,
    one could very easily see the curvature of the planet. It was just so pretty…
    The harsh crackle of the radio awoke Don from his reverie. “Uranus III, this is Mission
    Control. Do you copy?”
    “Roger that, Control. What are things looking like from down there, Gene?”
    “Just fine, Don. All systems are looking nominal. Speaking of which, it’s time to activate the
    reason you’re up there. Prepare to deploy the solar panels!”
    This was the moment Donnand had been waiting for. Previous missions had been
    limited by the amount of power they could carry into orbit, bringing them back too
    quickly to do extended scientific studies or detailed analyses of how the spacecraft
    responded to being in orbit. These new solar panels would mean that the life support
    and heaters could stay on for longer, extending their time in space to many hours, and
    theoretically many days. Though Don would prefer to perhaps get a larger capsule, if
    they were planning to stay up here for that long.
    “Stow the camera, Ron. It’s time for the big show!” The other kerbal knew just as well
    how big of a moment this was, and forgot to put away the camera in his excitement,
    leaving it floating around the capsule, still broadcasting. “Yep, the panels are ready to
    go!”
    “Control, keep an eye on those power readings, we are ready to deploy the panels.”
    “Roger that, you are clear to begin.”
    “You hear that, Ron? Activate!”
    Ron pushed the deployment button (which sadly was neither Big nor Red), and Don
    watched the readings. Ten seconds went by, then thirty, and then a full minute, while
    the battery banks were still showing the same passive draw in energy that was
    characteristic of the default power setup of Uranus. After two minutes had passed, Don
    radioed Control.
    “Gene, I’m not seeing an increase in power. Are you guys receiving any data?”
    “Strange, we registered the ‘deploy panels’ command, but the batteries aren’t charging. Can you
    get visual confirmation?”
    Don peeked out the window, but spotted nothing but stars.
     
    “That’s a negative, Control. The panels are not deployed. Repeat, we have a negative on
    that deployment.”
    “…Okay. This is a problem. You only have enough power for one more orbit at that altitude;
    we’ll have to bring you back down soon if we don’t get those panels fixed.”
    Before Don could reply, he noticed a screw floating past his face. Maneuvering in the
    tight confines of his capsule, he looked downward. Rondred had disassembled his
    control panel, and was busily inspecting various bits of wiring.
    “Uh, Roger that Control, let me just…ah…get back to you in a second,” he said, turning
    off the radio. “Ron, uh…what are you doing?”
    “I’m trying to fix these blasted panels! There’s got to be a reason they won’t deploy!”
    “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the engineers wouldn’t even let you look at that
    panel when you visited the VAB last week.”
    “Hey, I’ve been looking at it for the last two hours, and nothing bad has happened!”
    The navball came loose, and began orbiting Ron like a small moon. Don made a mental
    note to pocket it at some point. Ron continued.
    “Besides, what’s the worst that can happen? You’ve got all the controls in your pod, and
    Ground Control has access to all the data on this panel anyways.”
    “Ah well, you’ve already taken it apart. What’s your plan to fix these panels?”
    “Well, I was thinking that maybe a wire came loose or something, but the button feeds
    into the computer just fine… Hmm, do you think it’s a computer problem?”
    “Why?”
    “Well, where else could it be located?”
    “I don’t know, Don. There’s a lot of wire between the computer and the panels, the
    panels could have got stuck, or maybe the motors are burnt out? There’s a bunch of
    places where something could go wrong!”
    “But there are two solar panels, and it’s gotta be said, the chances of them both failing
    in the exact same way are pretty low.”
    “Hmm. You know what, there are two copies of all components after the computer,
    from motors to wiring. Unless the engineers somehow installed two defective panels,
    the computer has to be it!”
    “Can you debug the thing?” Ron looked at his controls. “My panel is not…uh…set up
    for that right now.” Indeed, the console now looked like some sort of wild animal had
    taken large bites out of it.
    “Sure, just don’t break anything—,” Don replied, watching the throttle control float past
    him. “—else.”
    He quickly brought up the debug commands by pressing a pair of keys simultaneously
    on the top and bottom on his panel, and looked for anything strange in the output. He
    found it immediately.
    “Hey Ron, it looks like we’ve got a bunch of Null Reference Exceptions. They’re filling
    the output log, and stopping the computer from responding to the solar panel
    subroutine!”
    “Log? Subroutine? Dammit Don, I’m a kerbonaut, not a computer scientist!”
    “Basically, the computer’s clogged up because it’s receiving a lot of errors from another
    system, so it can’t execute our command to deploy the solar panels.”
    “I knew it wasn’t the panels!”
    “Alright, how to do this… Hmm, it looks like our atmospheric trajectory computation
    module is outputting the errors. I think it has something to do with the atmospheric
    sensors reading zero, but it’s trying to calculate our trajectory anyway. I’m going to try
    and rewire the system, but it could take a while.”
    Donnand was no technical whiz, but after his and Ron’s misadventure in Mission
    Control a year ago, he had been more interested in the technical aspects of the capsules.
    He was able to navigate the system without too much difficulty, and found the
    trajectories module, a small black box sitting underneath his control panel.
    “Ron, I’ve found the module! Can you pass me the needle nose pliers? I should be able
    to rewire it from here.”
    At this moment, the lights in the capsule flickered, punctuated by a yell from below.
    “Ron? Are you alright?”
    “Ugh…yep, just touched a couple of wires I shouldn’t have.”
    “What the–! Our power levels just dropped three hundred percent! Romfarer’s eye,
    what happened?”
    “I, err, may have shorted one of the batteries… Well, former battery; it’s more of a
    battery-shaped piece of plastic now.”
    “We don’t even have enough power to deorbit ourselves now; we need to get those
    panels fixed fast! Tell you what, I’ll just take the module out entirely. It’ll mean we’re a
    few kilometres off with our landing, but that’s no problem. We’d better hope that the
    panels aren’t damaged…”
    Don gritted his teeth and cut the wires from the trajectories box leading into the main
    flight computer. Suddenly, a couple of red lights on his console turned green, signifying
    the computer was no longer overloaded. Don’s worried face broke into a wide grin. It
    worked!
    “Okay Ron, press the button, we’re running out of power fast here!”
    “Here goes!”
    Two simultaneous clunk-whirrs reverberated through the hull, and a few seconds later,
    the power levels began rapidly rising.
     
    “Yes! We did it! Power’s back online!”
    The two kerbals shared a zero-gravity high-four through the small hole between the
    capsules.
     
    * * *
    “You didn’t have to recap the entire mission.” Erdan told Desdin, annoyed. “I did report
    on it after all.”
    “So you know how popular the footage from Rondred’s camera feed was with
    audiences back on Kerbin.”
    “Of course,” Erdan replied, thinking back to the story he’d done on the incident.
    “Audiences love that sort of dramatic tension. Two kerbals stranded in a dying
    spacecraft with time running out. It’s like a movie! The fact that it was actually
    happening in real time only heightened the drama.”
    “So you understand why the space program wouldn’t be opposed to having that sort of
    thing happen more often.”
    “So you’re saying they just cut out safety entirely?”
    “No, not quite. But it became common practice to skip final checks, and cut corners
    during manufacturing.”
    “Wait a minute. Wasn’t that new engineer Jebediah brought into the program supposed
    to fix those problems? Are you saying that this didn’t happen?”
    “Are you kidding? If anything the rockets are getting worse now that Doodbro is part
    of the program. Having another manager didn’t fix anything, it just kept the program
    mired in bureaucracy and red tape. Different departments don’t talk to each other, parts
    don’t work together, it’s chaos.”
    Erdan didn’t know what to say.
    “Of course,” Desdin continued. “This all came to a head during Uranus V.”
    * * *
     
    Three months after III, Uranus V floated in the dark. Its pilot, Sean Kerman, lay back
    and let out a sigh of relief. The rocket booster had just decoupled, and he was safely in
    orbit. Despite intensive training, nothing could have prepared himself for the ferocity of
    a rocket launch. He looked out the window nervously. Not only was he the only kerbal
    on this mission, this was his very first time in space. He couldn’t get over how big
    everything was, as well as that instant death lay literally seventeen millimetres away.
    To avoid dwelling on such unpleasant images, he turned his thoughts towards the
    mission. As a former reactor technician, he was the most qualified of all USKK
    kerbonauts for the task at hand. Werhner Von Kerman’s prototype Radioisotope
    Thermal Generator was supposed to provide a steady trickle of power through
    harnessing the heat a sample of radioactive material gave off. Naturally, the technology
    had been thoroughly tested on the ground, but this was its first demonstration test in
    orbit.
    Sean was merely there to monitor the RTG and make sure nothing went wrong. So
    simple, even a probe could do it! He suspected that the only reason he was along for the
    ride was to boost the prestige of the space program, in ways an unkerballed spacecraft
    could not.
    Click
    Click
    The radiation counter mounted above his head made a bit of noise, then was silent.
    While there was more radiation up here than on the ground, the shielding of the
    capsule eliminated most of the nastier particles. Some still got through, but Sean had
    seen much worse.
    The radio crackled. “How’s the RTG looking, Sean?”
    “Current is nominal, Control. All systems are green.”
    “Roger that. Werhner will be happy.” The ground controller stopped talking, but failed to
    sign off, presumably speaking to other members of Mission Control in the background.
    Sean waited for him to continue. “The ballistics guys want you to fire your engine for a few
    seconds at periapsis; this will adjust your orbit to pass through Kerbin’s radiation belts. They
    want to get a reading of the number of ionizing particles you can pick up, for a better idea of how
    the capsule shielding is holding up.”
    “Roger that Control, let me know when and where to burn.” As he turned off the radio,
    Sean grumbled to himself, “For Nova’s sake, I am just a probe.”
    Still, it was a damn sight better than being stuck in an office down on Kerbin, the view
    was fantastic up here.
     
    As the time came to make the burn, Sean gripped the controls, and began to turn the
    spacecraft, hearing the gentle thrummmm of the reaction wheels spinning up. Just like
    the simulations, he thought to himself.
    Click click click
    The counter started making more noise. Sean looked up in confusion. He hadn’t even
    made the burn; there’s no way he could be in the radiation belts yet. Perhaps this was
    simply a more energetic region of space? He put the counter’s increased activity out of
    his mind.
    He gingerly throttled up the main engine, feeling the ship vibrate around him, and the
    gentle roar of propellant leaving the spacecraft. The burn went off without a hitch, and
    he shut down the engine.
     
    ClickclickcliCkClickClickclickcLIckclickClicKclickclickclick
    With the roar of the engine gone, the radiation counter’s frantic complaining could be
    plainly heard. Eyes wide, Sean looked around the capsule in panic. The counter was
    registering more and more radiation by the second, and he had no idea what was
    causing it.
    This hazard was accompanied by another, more insidious problem. The lights in the
    capsule began to flicker, signifying a drop in power generation.
    In a flash, Sean realized the cause of these problems: the RTG. He quickly radioed the
    ground.
    “Control, I have an emergency here. The RTG is leaking material, repeat, the RTG is
    breached. Please advise.”
    “Roger that Sean, we’re reading a power decrease in your ship, as well as increased radiation
    levels. Hang on, I need to advise with the Power team.”
    A yellow light began pulsing, signifying a ‘High Radiation’ alert.
    “Control, I know what the problems are! I’m asking you, what should I do?”
    No response. Fuming, Sean thanked Nova that he’d trained well for this mission, then
    slid out a tray which contained a red button marked ‘Abort’. Slamming his fist down on
    the button produced a small jolt which ran through the spacecraft.
     
    Clickclickclick click click…click…click……………click…
    Sean sighed in relief as the RTG floated away from him, its linkages to the spacecraft
    severed. Then his radio crackled again.
    “Yes, Control?”
    “Uranus V, this is Gene. We want you to…wait. What’s your status? Our radiation sensors are
    back to normal.”
    “Affirmative, Gene. I jettisoned the RTG module.”
    “What? V, that means we’ve now got a piece of radioactive space debris floating around! Why
    did you do that?”
    “I stand by my actions; the radiation would have reached critical levels in less than a
    minute had I not decoupled the module.”
    For a long moment, Gene did not reply. Then he sighed heavily. “Fine. Well, we got some
    good data, so begin the deorbit burn and return home.”
    “Roger that Control.” Sean said stiffly.
    “And Sean? I’m  glad you’re alright.”
    The kerbonaut’s icy mood abated somewhat. “Thanks, Gene.” At least one member of
    Mission Control cared.
     
    * * *
    “That damaged RTG is still floating around Kerbin,” Desdin explained. “It was later
    found that the vibrations from launch had shook apart the containment unit, and
    allowed the radioactive material to escape. Sean’s maneuvers had The RTG was then
    considered too dangerous for rocketry, and shelved for the time being.”
    Erdan paused before responding. “I’m not sure how this mission relates. Sure,
    audiences enjoyed Sean’s reactions, but the entire incident was over in less than two
    minutes. Most kerbals missed it entirely.”
    “That’s not why I told you about it. My point was that Mission Control was increasingly
    distant and unconcerned by the kerbals’ sacrifices and problems.”
    “From what you told me about the lax safety standards, I imagine the increased number
    of incidents would wear on them after a while.”
    “Exactly, Erdin. Eventually, the little problems became part of the mission, just like any
    old maneuver or systems check. Because it’s not as if any error ever caused a mission
    failure now, did it?” Erdan noticed that Desdin’s right hand clenched into a fist as he
    spoke this last sentence.
    “But one did, didn’t it?” he said carefully, knowing this would be a sensitive area for
    the former kerbonaut. “Uranus VIII.”
    Desdin said nothing. Erdan wondered if he’d pushed the kerbal too far. In fact, the
    entire reason he’d decided to do this interview was in order to get more details about
    that mysterious mission.
    After a full two minutes, Desdin finally looked into Erdan’s eyes for the first time.
    Despite himself, the reporter shivered. Those eyes were like cold steel, hard and intense.
    Desdin spoke. “Uranus VIII. Yes. This is where my tale has been leading.”
    “What happened?”
    “Hell. Erdun, it was hell.”
    * * *
    Beep…
    Beep…
    Beep…
    Hand on the control stick, Desdin Kerman deftly guided his spacecraft towards his
    target, two months after Uranus V, and two prior to his conversation with Erdin.
     
    “Beginning final approach now,” he spoke into his headset.
    Beep…beep…beep…
    The tracking monitor started to make more noise as his spacecraft got closer to the
    other. Desdin’s mission was to rendezvous with a sister craft, the Uranus VII. This
    contained a functional Reaction Control System, which would be used to dock with
    Desdin’s vessel. Concerned about weight, Uranus VIII contained no such system, but
    rather had more fuel and enhanced reaction wheels, to assist with the approach
    maneuver.
    At the moment, he was following the directions of his tracking monitor and
    rangefinder. Each spacecraft had a small beacon constantly outputting a tiny radio
    signal, and by judging the strength of the other signal, a spacecraft could determine its
    distance to the other ship.
    This was conveyed to the pilot via an audio system, which beeped faster the closer you
    were to the other spacecraft. Right now, Desdin estimated Uranus VII was about 300
    metres away and rapidly closing.
    BeepBeepBeepBeep—
    Flicking off the rangefinder, he began firing the engine, killing his ship’s relative
    velocity with respect to Uranus VII. He expertly adjusted the throttle to bring the two
    spacecraft motionless relative to one another.
     
    “This is *Uranus VIII *reporting successful approach maneuver. My velocity with
    respect to *Uranus VII *is now trivial,” he spoke proudly into the radio. Let’s see
    Doodbert try to beat that!
    “Uranus VII here, impressive maneuver, I’ll admit. Though just watch as my docking breaks
    your speed record back on Kerbin!”
    Desdin and Doodbert had arrived from different branches of the USKK military, and as
    such had a natural rivalry from the start. Each tried to outdo the other in performance
    and speed during training and in the simulators. The competition certainly did not stop
    once they were put in charge of actual spacecraft. As it stood, Desdin held the record for
    fastest docking from the close approach position the two craft were presently in.
    Unfortunately, it looked like Doodbert was about to challenge that record now.
     
    “VII, this is Control. We advise you to take caution while approaching, reality may not work the
    same way as the simulator did.”
    “Relax, Control. I’ve got this. Zero-gee just adds a bit of an extra challenge, that’s all!”
    The hourglass-shaped Uranus VII spun itself to be perpendicular with VIII, and began
    moving in.
     
    “Bert, don’t you think you’re forgetting something?”
    “What? I followed procedure to the…oh. Opening docking cover now.”
    Unfortunately, as Uranus VII continued to grow larger in Desdin’s window, he could
    see that the docking port was still firmly covered.
    “Doodbert, open your port now!”
    “I just did!”
    “Well, it’s definitely not opened, so you need to—”
    THUNK
     
    “Dammit!”
    The two spacecraft spun around, Desdin bringing VIII swiftly under control.
    “Control, we’ve got a problem.”
    It was a sign of how often these sorts of things happened when Control responded with
    annoyance, rather than concern.
    “Copy that, VIII. Just fix it as quick as you can, everyone here is tired and wants to go home.”
    “Roger, Control.”
    As he unbuckled from his chair, Desdin imagined millions of kerbals eagerly watching
    their television screens at this mention of a problem. Ever since the illustrious fix of
    Uranus III, all USKK spacecraft carried television cameras to broadcast the kerbonauts’
    exploits to the entire country. The failures and subsequent solutions always boosted the
    public appeal of the space program, to the point where many vendors sold ‘highlight
    reels’ of the mishaps. Those kerbals who fixed the problems were always lauded as
    great heroes, so he looked forward to getting his hands on the problem.
    “Control, I am going EVA for a closer look at the problem.”
    “Hey! I can fix it from in here, there’s no need to get outside!”
    Doodbert knew this fact as well, and evidently hoped that he could be the hero this
    mission, rather than Doodbert Kerman, idiot kerbonaut who jammed his docking port
    doors shut. But Desdin had the spacesuit, so Desdin would fix the problem.
    The spacesuits were a relatively old idea, but a new invention, brought on by necessity.
    The increasing rate of failures brought home the necessity of allowing a kerbal to
    inspect the exterior of his spacecraft and potentially make repairs.
    The first-generation suits flew aboard Uranus VI, and that vessel’s crew had tested them
    during that mission.
    Based on their feedback, tweaks had been made to its design, and this suit was fully
    reinforced, provided an excellent amount of breathable air, and best of all, included a
    jetpack. Werhner Von Kerman was rather vague about the specifics, but he had
    mentioned that the suit ionized a small portion of the air inside and forced it out into
    space to provide propulsion. This provided exceptional exhaust velocities, though it did
    slowly use up the kerbal’s supply of air over time. Also, the battery in the backpack
    could hold only so much charge to run the thing, so he would have to return to the
    spacecraft and recharge periodically. The power would definitely last long enough to
    take him the short distance to Uranus VII, though.
    “Sorry Doodbert. You got the RCS, I got the spacesuit. See you outside!”
    Opening the hatch door, Desdin floated out into space. Activating the jetpack (officially
    it was known as the Kerballed Maneuvering Unit, or KMU, but everyone referred to it
    as a jetpack), he sped towards Uranus VII. While this technology was certainly fantastic,
    it didn’t scale up very well, keeping spacecraft with extraordinary amounts of delta-v
    still out of reach. The thrust given by the thrusters was far too small to move much
    more than a kerbal around.
    As Uranus VII fell away behind him, Desdin suddenly felt very small. The entire planet
    of Kerbin sat right below him, its clouds and cities merely two hundred kilometres
    away. Elsewhere, there was only darkness. The light from Kerbin and the sun
    completely washed out the faint stars, leaving Desdin alone in the cosmic darkness.
    Still, he had a jetpack. Touching the controls, he zipped towards Uranus VIII.
    “Hey Bert,” Desdin knocked on the capsule’s window. Visibly startled, Doodbert
    looked towards him in annoyance (and most likely jealousy).
     
    “…Just let me know what’s wrong.”
    Desdin flew up to the front of the spacecraft, and took a close look at the docking
    adaptor. It didn’t take long before he located the source of the problem.
    “Oooh, it looks like you’ve got a blown actuator.”
    “That’s not so bad, just open the port manually, and I’ll finish the docking.”
    “Not the ‘blown’ I meant. Something actually exploded, totally trashing the docking
    mechanisms.” With a cold chill, Desdin noticed that had the explosion been a little
    larger, the hatch seal would have been compromised, killing Doodbert instantly. He
    elected not to tell the other kerbal this.
     
    “Blast. Control, what’s your take on this?”
    “It looks like docking is certainly possible and accurate in zero-gee, given by your attempt.”
    Indeed, the dent from Doodbert’s unsuccessful maneuver was perfectly centred on
    Uranus VIII’s docking port. Control continued. “However, we don’t want to risk any more
    damage to the spacecraft by docking with a non-functional port. You’re coming back home early,
    boys.”
    “Aww…”
    Desdin was saddened too. He had wanted to be able to fix the capsule and save the
    mission. Ah well, at least he had a jetpack. To console himself, he did a couple of loop-
    de-loops around *Uranus VII *(much to the annoyance of Doodbert). Upon returning to
    his spacecraft and repressurizing the cockpit, he opened up communications to the
    ground again.
    “It looks like we’re coming up on the deorbit burn now, Control. Am I clear to begin the
    maneuver?”
    “That’s a negative, Uranus VIII. We need you on station in the event anything else goes wrong
    with VII.”
    “Roger. Though we’ve already had our failure this mission, what could possibly go
    wrong?”
     
    “Wait, wait, wait. You actually said that? For real?” Erdan interrupted.
    The other kerbal was staring at the floor. It was a few seconds before he responded.
    Evidently, talking about the mission he was involved had brought up a lot of
    unpleasant memories.
    “In hindsight, it does look like I tempted fate. You must understand, it certainly didn’t
    feel that way at the time.”
     
    Desdin glanced out the window. Uranus VII’s retroburn completed successfully, and the
    other spacecraft flew away from his own. The radio crackled with Bert’s voice.
    “Maneuver completed, I’m on target for splashdown east of the space centre. See you
    planetside!”
     
    “Bye, Bert. Control, I’m in position for my burn.”
    “Roger that, you may fire your engine when ready.”
    Confidently, Desdin shoved the throttle forward.
    CHOOM
     
    The capsule began spinning as if kicked by an invisible giant. The stars outside his
    window formed blurs as they spun by.
    “Uh…Control, I’ve…ugh…had a problem.”
    The centrifugal force from the spinning capsule made it difficult to speak into his
    headset.
    “What now? We’re less than fifteen minutes until the end of the mission, for Harv’s sake.”
    “I…I don’t know. I’m currently…ugh…spinning very rapidly.”
    “Roger that, can your SAS not take care of the spin?”
    “That’s a negative, it’s telling me it’s…” Desdin struggled to read his panel clearly.
    “…KP overloaded?”
    “Not good. We’re going to have to boost your horizontal torque to compensate. Can you reroute
    power to the reaction wheels?”
    Desdin hadn’t paid as much attention as he probably should have to the spacecraft
    orientation briefing, but he did remember how to do that.
    “Affirmative. Rerouting…now.”
    After flicking the safety switch off, and dialing up the amount of power available to the
    reaction wheels, his spacecraft slowed its spin, and eventually stopped. Grateful for the
    relief, Desdin sat back for a second. Then he grabbed his control stick. Now he could
    figure out what had gone wrong.
    A cursory scan of the sky showed a strange piece of debris approximately 100 metres
    away from his ship. Upon closer inspection, Desdin opened a channel back to the
    ground.
    “Control, it appears that the decoupler triggered prematurely; the capsule is now the
    only remaining piece of the ship.”
    “What? By Nova, how did that happen?”
    “I don’t know. I’m trying to figure that out now.”
    “Okay VIII, we’re going to help you out but for now we need to coordinate Doodbert’s recovery.
    We’ll re-establish contact in about twenty minutes. Until then, try to figure out exactly what
    went wrong.”
    “…Roger.”
    The radio went quiet, leaving Desdin in silence, save the tiny hiss of the life-support
    systems. All that remained between him and an icy death just centimetres beyond the
    capsule walls. In spite of himself, he shivered. He was utterly alone.
    After several minutes of fruitlessly checking gauges and readouts, Desdin faced the
    inevitable: he’d have to go outside. While functionally it was exactly identical to the
    EVA he had performed half an hour ago, this one felt much riskier. While he’d still be
    forever lost in space if his pack failed, having contact with Control and Uranus VII had
    given him more of a sense of comfort. Now there was no one.
    As he exited his capsule, he nervously looked around for the second part of the
    spacecraft. He eventually found it, floating some 200 metres away from his capsule and
    getting further away. Pushing off from Uranus VIII, he felt like he was leaving it behind
    forever. The arcjets ignited, and he sped towards the debris.
    All of a sudden, everything went black. Panicking, Desdin looked around, fearing that
    he’d suddenly gone blind, until he saw Kerbin’s night side. The many cities down on
    the planet shone their lights into space, confirming that he had in fact not lost his sight,
    the sun had simply set, as evidenced by the rapidly fading glow on the horizon.
    Grimacing, Desdin fumbled around for the button to toggle his helmet lights on.
    Upon reaching the debris, Desdin grabbed hold and investigated it more closely.
    Everything appeared intact, with no obvious shorted cabling or exploded propellant
    tanks. Then, he noticed the decoupler. Several explosive bolts had triggered, decoupling
    the capsule from the rest of the spacecraft, exactly as it was designed to do. There must
    have been some sort of fault which had prematurely triggered them. Searching the
    wiring for problems proved fruitless, as most of the control systems were contained
    within the capsule.
    The capsule! Desdin had lost track of it against the darkness of the night sky. He
    frantically searched for a dark patch among the stars, anything to tell him where it was.
    His light was too diffuse to illuminate anything at more than 100 metres or so.
    Desdin floated alone in the dark, resigned to wait until the sun came up.
     
    Then, in a flash of insight, he remembered the transponder tracking system. The signal
    which his ship gave off could be heard by his suit’s radio! Hardly daring to breathe, he
    pointed his suits’ antenna at various spots in the sky while listening carefully for the
    signal.
    At first, he heard nothing but the faint hiss of static. Heart hammering in his ears, he
    twisted around, trying to hear something.
    All of a sudden, a faint beeeeeeeeeeeeep came from his upper left. Back on Kerbin, he
    found that sound exceptionally annoying, but at the moment it was more welcome than
    if someone offered him free snacks. Excitedly, he fired his thrusters and shot off in that
    direction, the signal growing stronger by the second. Finally, he got close enough for his
    light to illuminate the dark outline of his ship.
     
    Wrenching open the capsule door, cramming himself in, and repressurizing in record
    time, Desdin yanked off his helmet. The air levels hadn’t fully normalized yet, so he felt
    light-headed for a few seconds. After strapping himself into his seat, he leaned back. He
    was a wreck. His heart was hammering, and his breaths came in short, rapid bursts. His
    hands were shaking so much that he had trouble grasping the controls. For now, he just
    rested them in his lap.
    Then he noticed a red light on his control panel. It had stayed dark through most of the
    mission, but now it had activated, it signified the capsule had less than ten percent of its
    power remaining. Desdin smacked himself on the forehead. Of course, the solar panels
    were back on the jettisoned part of his spacecraft, and the high power levels he had
    been drawing to run the reaction wheels were draining the batteries dry.
    Acting quickly, Desdin switched off all systems, reaction wheels, the radio, even the
    flight computer. With no engines or any sort of maneuvering system, it was uselessly
    drawing power. The only thing he left on were the life support system, and even then
    he dialed back the heaters to their lowest setting. It would keep him from freezing to
    death, but the capsule would get cold.
    Desdin leaned back. He realized that he couldn’t contact Mission Control without
    draining the battery further. With the comm on, he’d only have about an hour of life
    support left. Besides, he doubted that Control would have much to contribute; they’d
    probably just tell him to deorbit himself with his jetpack, and catch him with a
    helicopter or something if he survived re-entry, based on their ‘solutions’ they’d come
    up with for the past few missions.
    * * *
    “So what did you do?” Erdan asked, with bated breath. Desdin had stopped talking.
    The kerbal was now staring down into his hands, studying them intently.
    “Desdin? We’ve got to continue the—”
    “I know.” This short response was enough to make Erdan stop. He glanced at the
    camerakerbal, who was likely feeling much like how Erdan was; intrigued about
    Desdin’s story, but put off by his mannerisms.
    After about thirty seconds, Desdin continued, still without looking up.
    “I…mentioned how terrifying it is to…exit your spacecraft on the night side. That
    darkness, the cities of Kerbin your only light, it’s…it’s horrible.”
    “But why did you go outside? What was your plan?”
    “Thinking about how Control would have reacted gave me the solution: I had my
    jetpack. I could use it to deorbit the entire capsule, heatshield, parachute and all.”
    “But you mentioned that the jetpack didn’t produce much thrust. Deorbiting an entire
    capsule must have taken hours.”
    “Six. It took…six. Six hours of utter silence, six hours of pushing that capsule. At the
    end I wasn’t sure if I’d…if I’d even make it to the ground alive.”
    * * *
    Gene sat at one of the tech’s stations at Mission Control, head in his hands. It had been a
    total of six hours since Uranus VIII had gone dark. Miraculously, a piece of debris
    matching the capsule’s size had just been detected entering the atmosphere, and Gene
    had sent a recon plane out to get a visual on the object. The entire room was waiting for
    the plane’s report with bated breath: was it really Uranus VIII?
     
    “This is RC-107 calling Control; we have a visual on the capsule.”
    “Roger that, RC. What’s its status?” Gene jumped to his feet.
    “Currently floating in the ocean, off the coast of Espinias. Are we clear to enter their territory?
    Don’t want to spark another international incident.”
    “They’re currently CKFN-leaning, it might not be the best idea to provoke them.
    They’ve been known to shoot at any unfriendly aircraft they see, including large birds.”
    “Copy, this large bird is staying well away. Do you know if the kerbal’s still alive in there?”
    “We, ah, lost all contact with the spacecraft about a day ago. He must have turned off
    his radio to save power. Unfortunately, it never came back online, so we have no idea.
    However, his life support couldn’t have lasted this long, even with all nonessential
    systems shut down.” Gene paused, then continued in a hoarse voice. “He’s…he’s
    probably gone.”
    The comm was silent for a moment.
    “Roger that.”
    “I’ll work on getting official clearance to retrieve the capsule. It shouldn’t take more
    than a day or so, divert to the nearest friendly runway and remain on standby.”
    “Affirmative, we’ll stay in touch.”
    Gene sat down heavily, head in hands. How did this mission go so wrong?
     
     
     
    * * *
    “So how did you get back to the USKK?”
    Desdin was staring sideways, seemingly ignoring Erdan. Before the newscaster could
    repeat his question though, the former kerbonaut responded.
    “Does it matter?”
    Erdan stopped short. “You describe the whole mission vividly, except your rescue?”
    “You call that a rescue?” All of a sudden, Desdin was filled with rage, again staring at
    Erdan with those terribly intense eyes. “They abandoned me. I was floating in that
    capsule for longer than I was in space, and they were shocked to realize that I was still
    alive when they pulled it out of the sea!”
    “I…ah—,”
    “Why didn’t they save me? Why didn’t they bring me back from space sooner? Why
    didn’t they pull me out of my capsule as soon as I landed? I could see the rescue plane! I
    could see it!”
    At this, Desdin began sobbing, taking Erdan by surprise. He moved over, and patted
    the former kerbonaut’s shoulder awkwardly.
    “There, there. I’m sure they did everything they could. From what I heard, they saved
    you from being captured by the CKFN.”
    Desdin looked up. “Saved me? I wasn’t saved. They opened my eyes to the true nature
    of the space program. Corruption, lies, and incompetence, it goes all the way to the
    core, same as the whole USKK!”
    Shocked, Erdan had no response for this. Desdin looked directly into his eyes.
    “Mark my words, Erdan. You’ll get plenty more of these stories in the future. The space
    program is heading towards doom.”
    * * *
    For the first fifteen minutes after they left Desdin’s house, neither reporter nor
    camerakerbal spoke.
    Finally, Erdan broke the silence. “So… What did you think of the interview?”
    “Honestly sir? I don’t think he’s really all there. The poor guy went through a lot, I’m
    pretty sure he’s not remembering everything correctly. And that rant at the end… I
    mean, come on!”
    “Really? I thought he had a couple of valid points.”
    “I don’t know. I think he’s just steamed at the program for not rescuing him right away.
    The guy’s got a point about being left floating off of some city-state’s borders for well
    over a day, but seriously? He was completely making things up about those lax safety
    checks. By Harv, you just had an interview with Jeb where he reassured you that
    they’re doing all they can, safety-wise.”
    “That’s true. You can’t excuse me from being skeptical of the official story though. I’ve
    got to be skeptical of everything, you know.”
    “So be skeptical of this kerbal! Didn’t you see his house? He’s a recluse, hiding away
    from society. He’s spouting off conspiracy theories and more. I don’t think ‘his side’
    even deserves to be aired.”
    “You may have a point,” Erdan responded, looking off into the distance as the van
    drove along.
    * * *
    His camerakerbal’s words haunted Erdan for the next few days. As he looked over the
    footage, he debated with himself whether or not he should publish it. Sure, it was an
    example of free speech, but it was true, a lot of the kerbal’s accusations seemed
    unfounded at best, and occasionally, conspiratorial and downright paranoid. As he
    went to bed, he placed the tapes on his bedside table, resolving to decide what to do
    with them in time for work tomorrow.
    He was still in turmoil after waking up. As he went through his morning routine, no
    answer came easily. Then, as he was about to leave for the studio, his eyes fell on his
    very first journalism award, lovingly maintained in a display case by the front door. He
    had won that back in high school, for his excellent reporting on the final hours and
    ceasefire of the Great War. He had a duty to the citizens of this nation, to keep them
    informed on worldwide events and uphold the truth. If that meant he’d have to show
    the other side of the story now and again, so be it. He grabbed the tapes, and put them
    in his bag.
    When he arrived at the studio, he gave the lead tech the tapes and told him to work
    them into the afternoon broadcast. His conscience satisfied, he began working through
    his interview schedule for the day. Shortly after lunch, however, he received a phone
    call from the tech.
    “I’m terribly sorry sir, we can’t find the tapes. One of the interns must have misplaced
    them. I’m so sorry!”
    “Don’t worry about it. Keep looking for it, but it’s not the end of the world if you can’t
    find them. Just air a rerun of ‘Story Time with Xactar’ if they don’t turn up.”
    “Will do.”
    Erdan paused for a minute. How curious. Ah well, he had more important things to do
    today, the tapes would probably turn up eventually.
    They never did.
    * * *
    CKFN: Space Facility Meeting Room Delta
    Four Months before Uranus VII & VIII docking attempt
     
    “So it’s decided. We’ll use the RV-105 thruster ports for the docking maneuver.”
    “Hey, hold on a sec! We never came to a final decision on that! I still think the PA-7
    linear thrusters offer more control over the spacecraft’s translation.”
    “But the 105s give more control directions, for a cheaper price to boot! Not to mention
    the increase of mass when you have to account for those extra PA-7s onboard.”
    “They’re RCS thrusters. Their mass is negligible! Besides, Reaction Systems Ltd. will
    sponsor us if we use their models. That offsets the increased cost!”
    “And how would STEADLER react? You think reaction wheels just grow on trees?”
    Danford sighed. He felt like this argument had been going on for weeks. In a way, it
    had. When the initial Munar design session proved to be utter chaos, he’d held many
    smaller meetings in the weeks since then. The hope was that they could be more
    productive and finalize all the details of the CFKN’s Munar mission without too many
    arguments.
    He was half-successful, at least. While they did accomplish more, the meetings were
    anything but focused; the fewer kerbals meant more arguments between engineers.
    Even the timider ones had surprisingly strong opinions on certain mission components.
    Dilbrett, a major voice in these meetings, addressed the entire room.
    “Regardless of the make of thruster, we can’t just ignore the fact that the RCS and
    docking systems are completely unproven. A mission aiming for the Mun which
    depends on those components working perfectly is extraordinarily reckless, worthy of
    those fools in the USKK!”
    Heads nodded around the table, as the Uranus III solar panel mishap was fresh in the
    minds of all those present.
    Scratching his chin, Danford addressed his Chief Engineer. “So Brett, what do you
    propose we do about it?”
     
    * * *
    Spirits high, Danford entered the Advisory Council meeting chamber, three weeks after
    that meeting. As was custom, all Council members ignored him; they were debating
    some issue or another among themselves.
    It appeared that today was a special day; the President himself was there too. The
    leader of the CKFN rarely bothered with these meetings (and the inevitable
    disagreements which resulted), instead preferring to read the summaries drawn up by
    each council member. However, with elections coming up, he evidently wanted to keep
    his ear close to the ground when it came to the various programs of the CKFN.
    Clearing his throat, the Director of the Space Programme stood in front of the council
    members.
    “Ah Danford, you’re here. You had mentioned you had some sort of presentation for
    us?” Bilcas commented, looking up from his papers.
    “I do. Corely, if you’d please?”
    His companion—a young intern working at the Space Programme—struggled through
    the door, arms full of slides. These detailed the various technical specifications of the
    entire Munar roadmap, from launchpad maintenance specifications to which brand of
    snacks the kerbals should carry with them on their journey.
    “Set the projector up in the back,” Danford instructed, as the kerbal dragged a large
    suitcase full of audiovisual equipment into the room.
    When he had managed to get everything set up and the Council members had turned
    toward the projection screen, Danford began.
    “As you all know, in recent months the USKK has been exceeding our space program in
    nearly every conceivable manner, from number of launches to new technologies
    developed. Fortunately, we are ready to counter these accomplishments with one of our
    own, one which will exceed anything the USKK plans to put into space. Corely?”
    The intern turned on the projector, which displayed a full page of flux integrals, capable
    of instilling fear in anyone who had not undergone at least three years of vector
    calculus. This was decidedly not what Danford intended to show the Advisors, and he
    glanced at the intern in the back, clearing his throat pointedly.
    The kerbal in the back fumbled with slides, inserting another into the projector. An
    image of Danford on his last vacation appeared on the screen. This was the one where
    he had ill-advisedly gone hula dancing and was as such dressed in a short grass skirt,
    promoting a fair number of chuckles from the audience.
    Cheeks flushing—where had Corely even found that picture—Danford cleared his
    throat once more.
    Finally, the correct image appeared, that of the full Mun, as imaged through the
    CKFN’s finest telescope.
    “Our goal is simple: The Mun,” Danford announced, hoping the previous two slide
    mix-ups did not detract from the gravity of this announcement. The four kerbals of his
    audience froze in shock, not sure how to respond to this ambitious announcement.
    Bilcas was the first to react. “Land on the Mun? How much will that cost?”
    “I thought the space program was aiming for only near-Kerbin missions? Why are you
    shooting for the Mun?” General Geoffnard commented.
    Even Bilfrod had something to say. “A Munar mission certainly is possible, but I have
    doubts about your hardware. If you’re currently taking months to build a rocket just to
    reach low orbit, how long will an entire Munar landing take to complete?”
    Danford sighed. He’d expected this criticism, certainly, but surely one of the council
    members could show a little support? Bilfrod was the Science Advisor, by Mu! Surely
    he’d appreciate a Munar mission.
    “If you’ll turn to Page Seven of the report—thank you Corely—you’ll see our estimates
    for the missions’ cost, timescales, and feasibility.” The intern distributed thick booklets
    to each Council Member.
    Danford’s eyes turned to the President. That important CKFN official’s expression was
    neutral as he parsed the words of Danford and the Council members.
    Finally, he spoke. “As you mentioned, the USKK has been launching a great deal of
    ships, achieving greater and greater feats every mission. Their launch capabilities
    obviously greatly exceed our own. It may be in our best interests to invest the time and
    resources that would be spent on such a Munar mission on improving our
    infrastructure and increasing the number of kerbals we put into orbit.”
    “With all due respect sir, if our eyes are turned anywhere but skyward, we will most
    definitely fall behind the USKK. All funds are currently put towards constructing and
    improving the rockets we have now; we have none to spare for upgrading our facilities.
    That being said, I believe our current facilities are good enough to allow a Munar
    Landing.”
    Apparently satisfied by this, the President sat back in his chair.
    “So unless there are further questions, I will continue with our series of missions,”
    Danford addressed all members of the Council.
    “Our initial proposal is a test of the Reaction Control and docking systems, which will
    occur in Low Kerbin Orbit. This hardware is the most crucial for our chosen Munar
    mission configuration, and we must be completely confident in its ability to keep our
    crew alive on a mission to the Mun.”
    “We will launch two ships, a modified Caelus capsule with integrated docking port, as
    well as an unkerballed refueling vessel based off of the Caelus design. These two vessels
    will rendezvous in orbit, then dock together. We will test several methods which will be
    critical for the Munar mission, including fuel transfer and a long-duration stay in orbit.
    Fortunately for us, the USKK has proven that long-term missions are indeed possible,
    so we will pack the refueling ship with supplies to maintain our crew on-orbit for at
    least a week, the longest a Munar mission could reasonably take to complete.”
    “Our next mission will then follow up on this framework, and send a Caelus and its
    refueler on a Munar flyby trajectory, the first of its kind. This will both gather
    information for further Munar testing as well as serve to boost our standing as a leader
    of space exploration”
    “During all of this, the plan is to design and build a separate spacecraft which is capable
    of landing on the Mun. With the knowledge we will have gained, it will then be trivial
    to attach it to a final Caelus–refueler, and put kerbal boots on the ground!”
    Corely changed the slide to an artist’s impression of a spacesuited kerbal standing on
    the Mun, a flag flying bravely as he gazed towards Kerbin, depicted as a small blue
    marble on the horizon.
    “Now if you’ll all follow along with me in the report, I go over exactly how these
    missions will be carried out…”
    * * *
    After the meeting, Danford was supervising Corely’s efforts to put away the projector,
    making sure that he didn’t drop another expensive piece of equipment. Then he noticed
    that General Geoffnard remained in the room. “Something I can do for you, General?”
    “Why yes, Danford. By your estimate, would the refueling vessel exceed 5 tonnes?”
    “Uhh…We haven’t compiled a detailed mass budget yet, but it shouldn’t. What, ah,
    why do you ask?” answered Danford, somewhat confused by this request.
    “I am overseeing a division of the Military which has been experimenting with our own
    rocket designs, and we’ve come up with a vehicle capable of launching approximately
    that weight to orbit. It promises to be much cheaper and faster to build than the ships
    you’re currently working on at your Facility.”
    “Interesting,” mused Danford.
    “We should be able to lend a hand in your situation. Naturally, we don’t have the same
    calibre of engineering talent that you’ve acquired, so some…assistance from your staff
    would be most welcome.”
    Caught off-guard by this offer, Danford had to take a minute before replying. “This is—
    this is really generous of you, General!” Then the Director’s eyes narrowed. “What’s the
    catch?”
    “No catch, don’t you worry. It’s to both our advantages if we combine forces. We’re
    fighting on the same side, after all.” The General’s eyes twinkled, and he exited the
    meeting room.
    * * *

     
    “Director?”
    A timid kerbal peeked into Danford’s office.
    It had been four months since Danford presented to the Advisory Council, and Caelus
    III had run into yet more delays, mere weeks from launch. This left Danford in a
    particularly irritable mood as he tried to resolve them in a timely manner. “What is it?”
    he snapped, without even looking up from his desk.
    “Y-you may want to see this. The USKK, well, they…they’ve launched another
    mission.”
    “Already?” Now he did glance up from his paperwork, snorting in annoyance. “They’re
    really pumping those rockets out. What does this make, the seventh?”
    “Actually, t-there are two rockets. We’re…not getting much, but it looks like they’re
    attempting some sort of…docking procedure.”
    Danford sighed, rubbing his face with his hands. “Let me see this.”
    He strode out to the main assembly chamber, where a small television sat, perched atop
    an engine bell. Sure enough, there was footage of a USKK spacecraft lining up for a
    docking maneuver with another ship, which was already in orbit.
    Danford arrived just in time to see that spacecraft bump into the other one, shaking the
    camera mercilessly. The image had no sound accompanying it, but Danford could easily
    imagine the loud THUD such an impact would generate. Several engineers winced.
    “Well, it doesn’t look like they’ve quite managed to figure out docking yet,” Danford
    remarked to the assembled crowd, his dark mood lightening a touch.
    “Nah, his approach was fine, it’s just that the port doors didn’t open, see?” replied
    Dilbrett. The lead engineer was present as always, keen eyes picking out minute details
    on the two spacecraft.
    “Hmm, why so they didn’t. I wonder what the cause was?”
    “It looks like we’re about to find out, one of the kerbals is going EVA!” one of the
    gathered engineers remarked excitedly.
    Danford hated to admit it, but the USKK certainly did advance its technology quickly. It
    was only a few months ago that the EVA suits were merely an idea. In fact, many
    academics had had doubts that it was even possible to sustain a kerbal outside of their
    spacecraft. But despite the naysayers, the USKK had built a functional suit and a jetpack
    system, which the onscreen kerbal was now using to fly towards the stricken vessel.
    Several engineers chuckled as the kerbonaut on EVA tapped on Uranus VII’s window
    and waved to the kerbal inside. However, from his reaction to the damage, it appeared
    that the port had sustained irreparable damage, and so he began the trip back to his
    own spacecraft.
    Now that the excitement had passed, the assemblage of kerbals dispersed back to their
    assigned jobs throughout the VAB, leaving Danford and Dilbrett watching the capsule
    commence its deorbit burn.
    “You know Brett, what I’d like to know is how on Kerbin they always manage to beat
    us to whatever we’re planning. I know the media constantly reports on our mission
    plans, so they’re far from secret, but surely we have at least some sort of head start!”
    Dilbrett responded. “Simple. It’s their quantity over our quality.” Switching off the TV,
    he faced Danford. “Since our ships are so much more robust than theirs, we can head
    straight for the Mun, while the USKK are dealing with faulty RTGs and malfunctioning
    components in low orbit!”
    Danford sighed. “You have a point. Though I would have expected us to launch at least
    something during these last four months. The USKK’s just launched their eighth Uranus,
    for crying out loud! Surely we can launch a probe or something, just to stop grass from
    growing on the launchpad?”
    “Everyone’s working as hard as they can on Caelus, I can assure you, with little
    resources to spend on anything else. However, the fact that we have to build a refueling
    ship at the same time certainly didn’t speed matters up though. At the moment we’re
    spending most of our time there just integrating it with General Geoffnard’s launch
    vehicle. Now, if you’d give Project Jupiter another look, it would provide a common
    format of attachment and—”
    “Dilbrett, if we don’t have enough workers and money to work on one little probe, we
    certainly don’t have enough to build a whole new lifter system. Just…” Danford
    massaged his temples. “Just keep working with the staff and resources you have on
    Caelus. I’ll see what I can do about getting some more.”
    Danford walked back to his office. This was all Bilcas’ fault: that cantankerous old
    kerbal kept on slashing his budget, despite the importance of his mission. He’d have to
    bring this up at the next Advisory Council meeting…
    * * *
     
    The icy wind nipped at Dilbrett’s face, prompting the engineer to wrap his scarf a little
    tighter. Why he of all kerbals was required to be present for this launch was far beyond
    him; it would have gone off just as well had he been back at the space facility, rather
    than at this secret military base uncomfortably close to Kerbin’s North Pole. He
    imagined himself sitting in a nice, comfortable, climate-controlled room in the VAB,
    enjoying a nice hot beverage. Sure, Danford had told him to make sure the launch of the
    docking target went off perfectly, and he did catch that frozen O-ring on one of the
    SRBs, but the weather here was absolutely unbearable.
    Even the rocket itself made him uncomfortable. General Geoffnard’s ‘engineering
    talent’ were basically model rocket jockeys who had never even heard of a liquid-fuelled
    engine. All they had on hand were SRBs, and had built their launcher entirely from
    those. He still got a nasty taste in his mouth whenever he looked at the thing. SRBs!
    With them on board, you might as well just not even bother with a guidance system at
    all.
    Still, his team had done good work for this rocket. They had stripped a Caelus spacecraft
    down to its structural frame, attached a probe core, expanded fuel system, and a whole
    load of batteries, all along with an integrated docking port on top. It was some of their
    finest work, well worth the time it had taken to complete.
    All except for the batteries, that is. Dilbrett was itching to get his hands on a proper
    solar panel, but the teams in the labs were having trouble making them work in
    vacuum. Thus, the giant array of batteries would have to do.
     
    A shout from the launchpad distracted him from his musings.
    “Rocket secured, we’re clear for launch!”
    The crews had completed their final inspection of the rocket and its payload. The ship
    had evidently passed all tests with flying colours. It didn’t even need fuelling; the
    propellants were storable and preloaded. Of course, it made for some tense construction
    scenarios, requiring strict procedures for booster handling to prevent accidents. How
    the imbeciles in the USKK’s program managed to attach SRBs to every rocket of theirs
    without blowing themselves up was beyond Dilbrett.
     
    As the countdown reached zero, the docking target began its climb into the heavens.
    Officially, this ship had no name, as it was a singular event, this launch. Future
    refueling vessels would launch aboard Caelus lifters for increased payload capacity.
    However, this did not stop the engineers who built the vessel from christening her the
    Janus.
     
    Janus streaked towards space, slowly arcing over in a rough approximation of a gravity
    turn. Rather than the easterly launch profile all ships from either USKK or CFKN had
    followed up to this point, Janus was launching nearly due south, in a trajectory
    specifically calculated to pass directly over the main Space Facility, where Caelus III sat
    ready on the launchpad.
     
    As the rocket faded from view, Dilbrett went to an intercom, punched in a code, then
    spoke into the microphone. “Payload launched as expected and is en route. We are go
    for Caelus III. Repeat, we are go.”
    * * *
     
     
    Matdun carefully guided Caelus III through the air. The liftoff had been smooth, timed
    to coincide exactly with the launch of Janus, but the most difficult part of this ascent still
    lay ahead. Danford had decided that they must rendezvous with the refueling craft
    immediately, as even Dilbrett’s huge battery array was not guaranteed to last an entire
    orbit without a recharge. Once the spacecraft went dead, there was no way to find it in
    the sky, let alone give it commands. Thus, it was crucial that Matdun rendezvous with
    the target on her first try.
    “Jenfry, get me a reading on our relative velocity,” she barked.
    Her crewmate punched a few keys on his console, bringing up the necessary number. A
    cursory glance showed her uncomfortably large numbers. Their pitch over maneuver
    had come too late, the consequence of a thunderstorm occurring several hundred
    kilometres downrange. As a consequence, too much of their velocity was vertical, and
    Janus was blazing along at well over two kilometres per second towards them.
    I wasn’t trained for this, dammit! She had seconds to figure out how to solve this,
    otherwise Janus would blow right by them, and would be dead by the time she could
    get Caelus III into a proper orbit.
    “Jenfry, I’m pitching us down to five degrees above the horizontal. Please advise the
    ground of this.”
    “Roger tha—wait, five degrees? We shouldn’t pitch over to less than thirty until at least
    forty klicks!”
    “Jenfry, there’s a time for procedure, and there’s a time for flying by the seat of your
    pants. I learned that from Bilvin a long time ago.”
     
    Indeed, it was that other kerbonaut’s last-second maneuver on Caelus II which had
    prompted Matdun to try and learn some unconventional skills so that she could prepare
    would for any situations like this.
    “Well, Roger that I guess. Control, we’re pitching down to a criminally low attitude at
    this altitude so we can catch Janus, please confirm.”
    Standard procedure dictated that a rocket should not pitch over too far in a dense
    airflow for good reason. Deviating more than ten degrees from one’s prograde marker
    would result in an drag distributing itself unevenly on the vessel, causing an
    improperly-controlled rocket to tumble out of control.
    Fortunately, this spacecraft was in the best hands on Kerbin.
    “How’s that relative speed looking like now, Jenfry?” she yelled over the engine noise.
    “It’s decreasing quickly! Very quickly! Wait…now it’s stopped decreasing. Uh, is this a
    problem?
    CHOOM
     
    “Negative, the second stage ran out of fuel; I just decoupled it. What’s our velocity
    now?”
    A gentle vibration began as the four engines of Caelus throttled up as the ship continue
    to burn towards its target.
    “Relative velocity has dropped below one hundred metres per second! You’ve
    circularized our orbit and we’re on a direct rendezvous course with Janus, five-point-
    three klicks away. You did it, Matt!”
    The pilot relaxed her tight grip on the controls. Despite the odds, she’d pulled this off.
    The sound of cheering came through her earpiece, and a smile spread across her face.
    * * *
     
    Matdun spoke into her headset. “We are sitting two hundred metres off Janus’ starboard
    side. Requesting permission for final approach, over.”
    “Permission granted, Caelus III, you are clear to begin the docking maneuver. Best of luck.”
    “Roger that, Danford!” Jenfry said brightly into the radio. “Activating RCS now.”
    Despite his goofy attitude and lack of professionalism, Jenfry certainly knew how to
    dock a spacecraft. It didn’t matter if it was spinning, re-entering an atmosphere, or
    completely out of RCS fuel, he would hit that target. And he had done so, in the
    simulator, multiple times.
    So it didn’t surprise Matdun when the two spacecraft connected smoothly, with a faint
    clink. “Docking successful,” she reported. “Linking spacecraft subsystems now.”
     
    The interior lights dimmed for a second as the spacecraft’s electrical systems coupled,
    but quickly increased back to their normal levels.
    Now that the two spacecraft had successfully connected, things could proceed at a more
    leisurely pace. Their task was now to confirm that fuel transfer was indeed possible
    between spacecraft. Flicking several overhead switches, Matdun configured the tanks
    onboard the Janus to begin pumping fuel into Caelus’ half-full ones.
    With a low whine, fuel pumps began moving mass from the other spacecraft to Caelus
    III.
    “This looks like it could take a while,” Jenfry commented, as he stared at the tank gauge
    levels, which were increasing at a snail’s pace.
    “Then let’s take the chance to admire the view,” responded Matdun, looking out her
    window. The sun had just risen, illuminating the planet below. Despite being a relative
    veteran of the Space Programme, she never tired of the sights one saw from orbit.
     
    * * *
    “I think I can speak for everyone when I congratulate you on achieving your objective,
    Danford!” General Geoffnard exclaimed. “At this pace, we will make it to the Mun years
    before the USKK even leaves Kerbin orbit.” As he so often did, Danford was presenting
    his report on the Space Programme’s most recent launch to the Advisory Council.
    Bilfrod, on the other hand, found value in the technical achievements attained.
    “Demonstrating that fuel pumps function as expected in orbit opens up so many new
    opportunities! Just think, we can have vast refuelling stations in Kerbin orbit, ready to
    top off and send vessels to the Mun and beyond at a moment’s notice! A true spaceport!”
    “Yes, yes, well done Danford.” Bilcas, as always, remained unaffected by the report.
    “However, I couldn’t help but notice the reaction of our population. Public opinion of
    the Space Programme is rather…lacklustre. Need I remind you about the USKK public’s
    response to their missions? Why, I hear their spacecraft and kerbonauts are near-
    household names, and it’s not hard to see why! Their docking mission was far more
    exciting: the tension when those two spacecraft slammed together, the light-hearted
    EVA which followed, the heartbreak which gripped their nation at the presumed death
    of one of the kerbals, and then the sheer joy at his discovery days later. It was almost
    like something out of a movie!”
    “But—but it shouldn’t be out of a movie,” Danford protested, “A properly-executed
    space mission should achieve all its objectives without incident. The USKK is
    dangerously flippant with their kerbals’ safety, and nearly all our engineers agree that
    it’s just a matter of time until something goes horribly wrong!”
    “Be that as it may, their space program certainly has captured their public’s admiration
    and support.” The Finance Minister leaned forward. “Perhaps it is time to emulate their
    ‘kerbal’ policy, and loosen safety regulations slightly. I am certain the public would
    greatly enjoy the—”
    Danford interrupted, horrified. “I can’t believe I’m hearing this. How can you just
    casually suggest we put our crew at risk like that? This meeting is over. Goodnight!”
    As he stormed out of the meeting room, it occurred to Danford that Bilcas would likely
    take this disagreement as reason to slash the Space Programme’s budget yet again.
    Dilbrett would not be pleased…
    * * *
     USKK: Jebediah Kerman’s Office
    Three hours after Caelus III docking
     
    “This is bad. This is bad. This is very, very bad.”
    Jeb paced around the room, unable to keep still. Bill worriedly looked on, concerned for
    his colleague.
    “Relax, Jeb. Caelus III was just one docking maneuver, nothing really more technically
    challenging than our own.”
    “Yes, but it succeeded!” The Director of the USKK Space Program sat down behind his
    desk, rubbing his temples. Bill had known Jeb a very long time, and had rarely seen him
    this worked up. Most of the time, Jeb projected utter confidence in his goals and vision
    for the Program. Suppressing a smile, Bill realized that his friend was behaving very
    much like his counterpart, the anxious Director of the CKFN’s Space Programme—what
    was his name, Dinfrid?
    “Jeb, listen to me. The engineers have triple-checked the docking ports on Uranus IX,
    and we have a launch date all set up for two weeks from now. Plus, we’ve flown nearly
    three times as many missions as the CKFN!”
    Though we’re about even in terms of successful ones, he added to himself. Nevertheless, his
    words did have a positive effect on the Director, who even cracked a small grin.
    “That is true. We’ll show the CKFN that their docking maneuver’s no big deal; we can
    put far bigger and better hardware into orbit!”
    Bob burst into the room, breathing heavily, evidently having run a great distance. “Jeb,
    I’ve–huff huff–I’ve got an important bit of info for you, but you’re–phew–not going to like
    it.”
    “Hit me.”
    Taking a second to catch his breath, Bob continued. “The CKFN is going for the Mun.
    Caelus IV will be a Munar flyby, and they’re pushing towards an actual landing as soon
    as possible.”
    Bill frowned. “How do you figure that? Isn’t the CKFN focused on beating our orbital
    duration record? That’s practically the whole point of their docking in the first place.
    Wasn’t Janus built to carry supplies up to a long-duration Caelus capsule?”
    “Bob makes sense, Bill,” Jeb cut in. “If our estimates are right, Janus carries far more fuel
    than supplies. If they refueled Caelus in orbit, it should be possible to make it to the Mun
    with the capsule itself.”
    Bill scratched his chin. “So that was basically a Munar dry run. The CKFN has the
    capability for a Munshot.”
    “And I’m willing to bet they’re going to make it there the next time they launch.” Bob
    broke in, much recovered from earlier. “But for some reason they decided not to pull
    the trigger, instead just undocking and returning to Kerbin. Perhaps they had some sort
    of malfunction they’re keeping under wraps?”
    Bill rolled his eyes. “You’re forgetting this is the CKFN. I bet their engineers don’t even
    eat dinner before constructing and testing at least ten prototype sets of cutlery. They’re
    probably going to launch the real mission sometime in the next couple of months.”
    “Though we mustn’t get too complacent,” Jeb pointed out. “The fact that they’ve done
    all those tests means that they should be able to build another rocket straight away. I
    wouldn’t bet on their launch date being more than four to six weeks away.”
    “Yeah, they could be trying to lull us into a false sense of security, make us think that
    there’s no way they’ll make it to the Mun before them, then blindside us, and beat us to
    it!” exclaimed Bob, punctuating his words with a series of rapid hand jabs.
    Even Bill started to worry, his earlier good mood gone. What would happen if the
    CKFN managed to make it to the Mun first? The current wildly positive public opinion
    of the Space Program may vanish if the USKK didn’t paint itself as a leader in space
    exploration. And once the public left their side, so would the backing of their
    (somewhat shady, Bill had to admit) corporate friends. Without money, they couldn’t
    launch missions, and without those, why, it just devolved into a negative feedback loop
    which could end in a hundred different ways, none of them good.
    “You’re the Director, Jeb,” Bill said. “What should we do?”
    Considering his options silently for a minute, Jeb then spoke. “First of all, modify
    Uranus IX. It’s a perfectly usable spacecraft, but it just doesn’t have what it takes to get
    to the Mun. Keep the crew capsule, but beef up the fuel supplies, and get Danbro
    cracking on making a rocket which can take it to the Mun. Finally, schedule a press
    conference. I want to let everyone know that we’re going to beat the CKFN one more
    time!”
    * * *
     CKFN: Vehicle Assembly Building
    Two hours after Jebediah Kerman’s press conference
     
     “So the USKK’s going to the Mun too.” Danford mused.
    “It was only a matter of time; we haven’t exactly been subtle about our Munar plans,”
    responded Dilbrett, as he eased a long-handled screwdriver into an odd-looking engine
    component.
    Danford turned towards his Chief Engineer. “I have to confess; I’m worried we won’t
    be able to launch before the USKK does. They have consistently proven that they can
    build, test, and launch ships much, much faster than we can. What if that Jebediah is
    right? What if they beat us there?”
    “Then they beat us there. That won’t exactly change much; we’ll still launch our mission
    as planned.” Dilbrett began twisting the screwdriver with increasing efforts, a screw of
    some sort was evidently stuck.
    “Brett, it could change everything. If the Advisory Council heard that the USKK beat us
    yet again, I think–I think they might just shut down this program.”
    “Oh come on.” Distracted for a moment by the stuck screw suddenly coming loose,
    Dilbrett paused before continuing, wiping sweat from his brow. “Scale back our
    funding, yes. Refuse us access to more suitable facilities, certainly. They’ve done that
    before. But they’d never go all the way to shut down the Programme. We’ve achieved
    too much, shown that there exists an entire universe out there just waiting to be
    explored.”
    Danford’s face broke into a faint smile at his old friend’s words. “So we have,” he
    whispered, staring wistfully into the distance.
    Then he collected his thoughts and addressed Dilbrett once more. “There I go thinking
    about the future. This is now, and I need to hear how Caelus IV is coming. The Advisory
    Council certainly can’t revoke our funding if we do launch first, now can it?”
    Flashing a wry grin and withdrawing the screwdriver from the engine module, Dilbrett
    began listing the mission’s components. “The Caelus capsule is nearly complete, final
    vacuum checks are being done as we speak. Its launcher appears to have developed a
    small problem with the starboard fuel flow; fortunately, that should be an easily solvable
    problem, the turbopumps just need readjustment. I estimate we’ll be able to launch on
    schedule.”
    “Good, good. Have you solved the power issues? I recall the first Janus needed several
    kilowatt-hours of batteries. That won’t last the whole trip to the Mun. Did you get the
    solar panels to work in a vacuum yet?”
    Dilbrett’s brow furrowed, as he unconsciously turned the screwdriver over in his
    hands. “Unfortunately, no. We are still dealing with outgassing in hard vacuum. The
    R&D wing is researching alternate sealants but they’re coming along slowly.
    Fortunately, they’ve got a prototype fuel cell which should fit our needs well enough. It
    doesn’t output much power, but it should be able to sustain Caelus on its way to the
    Mun.”
    “Excellent, and how about Janus? How’s its construction proceeding?”
    “Janus itself is complete. In fact, it’s proven so easy to build, we’re thinking of
    constructing a whole bunch to put into orbit. There’s talk about linking them all
    together and using their shared fuel supplies to move massive payloads.”
    Thinking about the size a Munar lander would have to be, Danford was glad his
    Engineering team was looking that far ahead. “What’s your ETA on the launch? Same
    as Caelus?”
    “Absolutely. We’re using the same lifter design for both this time, so no more polar
    launch sites nor SRBs. It’s such a well-used design, the chances of anything happening
    are really quite negligible. In fact, this has really shown off how standardized lifter
    designs really speed up the process of launching, not to mention the safety benefits. If
    we began Project Jupiter, we could have a whole family of lifters, not just the one!”
    “Easy there. We’ve still got to get to the Mun!” Danford chuckled. “Though you do
    raise an excellent point. Perhaps when Caelus IV has returned it might be worthwhile to
    look into building some larger rockets. We will have to send an entire lander to the
    Mun, after all.”
    “Very true. Alright then, I’d best get back to check on the engineers. Like I said, we will
    launch within six weeks.”
    Danford put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Let’s go to the Mun.”
    * * *
     USKK: Rocket Testing Grounds
    Three Weeks Later, five Weeks after Caelus III docking
     
    The LV-T45 sputtered once, and died in a billow of black smoke.
    “Well, shoot,” said one of the engineers gathered around the test stand. Danbro thought
    that to be an very apt observation. He stepped forward and addressed the crowd.
    “Given that enriching the oxidizer flow didn’t work, anyone else have any bright ideas
    on how to increase a T45’s thrust? That doesn’t involve nitric acid, thank you very much,
    Gilberry.”
    A mustachioed kerbal slowly lowered his hand, crestfallen.
    “C’mon guys, we’ve got to figure something out by the end of the month, otherwise
    Uranus IX won’t be able to take off, let alone make it to the Mun!”
    There was much discussion among the crowd, but no new ideas. Most suggestions had
    already been tried, to varying degrees of success, most of which made today’s test look
    promising in comparison.
    “What if we went bigger?” a voice rang out.
    The Chief Engineer looked up. Slouching against a concrete retaining wall was
    Doodbro. After his appointment by Jebediah, the kerbal hadn’t really done much; he’d
    hung around with the engineers but never really offered solutions. This now appeared
    to have changed.
    “Bigger how? We could widen the fuel tanks, sure, but what would lift them? There’s
    no way we could build engines big enough in the time we have!”
    “Nah, just cluster a bunch of T45’s together. You’ll have much more space on the
    bottom of a two-meter tank; plenty of room to fit at least six engines.”
    “You know, that could work! Doodbro, you’re a genius!” Danbro began giving orders
    to the assembled engineers, who quickly scattered to work on the tasks he assigned.
    * * *
    Two weeks later, Donnand Kerman walked into the spacesuit fitting room at the
    Training Centre, where his friend Rondred was currently locked in battle with a very
    harried-looking technician. He leaned against the wall, watching the ongoing dialogue
    with amusement.
    “Now see here, if you’d just stop moving, I can get this on you.”
    “Nhhgh, I can’t help it! The straps on my legs are too tight; I can’t feel my feet!”
    “Just try to stand still? I need to get this glove on you, but I can’t when you’re flailing all
    over the place!”
    “I don’t see why I need another spacesuit! Can’t I just use my old one?”
    “I’ve told you, you are going to the Mun. If something goes wrong, you need a suit which
    can survive for longer than half an hour or so. It takes about a day to get to the Mun and
    back, it would not do to have you asphyxiate on your way out there.”
    “But–but I’ll have a capsule filled with air!” At this, Ron actually fell over, looking
    somewhat like a turtle on his back, as he waved his arms and legs helplessly.
    “But if something goes wrong—You know what? Forget it. You’re worse than my two-
    year-old. Just… Let’s try again in an hour or so, okay? I need a coffee…”
    The tech passed by Don, grumbling under his breath about adding something stronger
    to his coffee, and the other kerbonaut approached his friend, helping him to his feet.
    “Hey fearless explorer! Has the dreaded Leg Strap finally beaten you?”
    “Ha ha, Don,” the other responded, with more than a touch of sarcasm. “They were on
    really tight! I think I’m lucky that I didn’t lose any toes!” With the straps unbuckled, he
    began rubbing feeling back into his foot.
    “So in all seriousness, how are you feeling? I mean you’re going to the Mun. You’ll be
    the furthest kerbal from Kerbin in history!”
    “Don’t forget that other kerbal who’s going with me! What’s his name? Dodfrey?
    Dunfrod?”
    “Heh, you’d better learn it before you climb into the capsule with him, otherwise you’ll
    be in for a very awkward flight!” Don ribbed, but truthfully he had no better idea of
    what the kerbal’s name was. Something starting with B, maybe?
    “Hey, I’ve got a whole week before we lift off, that’s plenty of time to learn his name!”
    * * *
     CKFN: Mission Control
    Three Weeks Later, Launch Day
    “Final checks complete, we are clear for launch. Good luck you two.”
    “Fuel systems pressurized, final countdown commencing.”
    “Liftoff in ten, nine, eight…”
    “Spacecraft umbilical disconnected, tower retracted successfully.”
    “…four, three, two, one, liftoff! We have liftoff of Caelus IV on this beautiful summer day!”
     
    The rocket leaped into the air, in the same way as all its brethren before it. Danford
    watched the readouts; strings of numbers flew by almost faster than he could see. Based
    upon these numbers, the rocket was performing well. At the very limit of its weight
    carrying capacity, but it was flying well. Perhaps Project Jupiter was more necessary
    than he’d originally thought.
    Despite himself, Danford grinned. This was it! They were finally on their way to the
    Mun, and before the USKK, to boot! He looked around the control room, filled with
    kerbals whose hard work had all led up to this moment. He turned to one of the lead
    controllers.
    “How’s Janus doing? Ready for launch?”
    “Yes sir, she finished final structural checks hours ago and is ready to be rolled out onto
    the launchpad as soon as Caelus is away.”
    “What’s the ETA on that, an hour?”
    “Four, to be precise. We need to make certain that the launchpad is undamaged from
    Caelus’ liftoff.”
    Half of Danford wanted to just order the crews to roll out and take off straight away,
    regardless of launchpad condition, but he knew that it would take much more than a
    few hours to build a new launcher if it toppled over or blew up because the launchpad
    failed.
    “Alright. Go oversee the procedure personally.”
    “Yes sir!”
    Danford stayed in Mission Control, keeping an eye on Caelus as it continued its burn
    towards orbit.
     
    * * *
     USKK: Kerbonaut Training Centre
    Three hours after Caelus III docking
    “We have confirmation of the CKFN’s Caelus launch. Repeat, Caelus has launched.”
    The loudspeaker blared overhead at the Space Centre. All over the complex, kerbals ran
    hurriedly to their destinations. Uranus IX stood proudly on top of the launchpad. Like
    ants, technicians swarmed around it, finalizing tests, taking measurements, and making
    sure the fuel pumps were operating at peak efficiency.
     
    “‘We have over a week,’ eh?” Don said playfully, as Ron and he jogged towards the
    Launchpad. Due to the CKFN’s launch, pace had been stepped up, and Uranus IX was
    ordered to be launched immediately. Ron, not knowing of this fact, missed the bus
    which normally carried kerbals to the rockets, and had to run the distance himself. Like
    a good friend, Don was accompanying his Munar-bound comrade. Fortunately, it
    wasn’t too far.
    Ron was still struggling with his helmet. While the technician from earlier had
    succeeded and the suit fit well, whoever had designed it certainly did not consider
    scenarios in which a kerbonaut would have to put it on while sprinting. As the two
    made it to the pad, Ron finally locked the helmet in place.
     
    “Alright bud, you’d best get up into that rocket! That other kerbal is probably already
    up there!”
    “Right…His name’s D—no. B—oh dear. Do you remember?”
    Don shook his head. “Guess you’ll just have to call him ‘you’, like you did for Gene the
    first six months we were here.”
    “You know, that didn’t turn out too badly!”
    Don grinned, as their respective definitions for ‘too badly’ evidently differed by a large
    margin.
    “See ya, buddy.”
    As Ron turned towards the elevator, and began pushing the elevator button repeatedly–
    as if it would make the car arrive faster–Don spoke one more time.
    “Hey Ron?”
    His friend turned towards him, mirrored faceplate obscuring his features.
     
    “Fly safe,” Don said. Without needing to see his features, he knew Ron was smiling.
    With a jaunty wave, the soon-to-be extraplanetary kerbal made his way into the
    elevator and began moving upwards.
     
    * * *
    Half an hour later, Jebediah sat back in his chair in Mission Control, taking a sip of
    coffee. It was going to be a long day, but this was it! They were going to the Mun!
    “Alright people,” he spoke up. “Based upon the CKFN’s trajectory, it looks like they
    stuck with a standard zero-degree inclination launch. They’re definitely going to the
    Mun today. But we’ve still got a shot at this. Caelus can’t make it to the Mun alone, so
    their Janus spacecraft needs to link up with it. Our radar hasn’t picked up any other
    launches yet, so they’re going to have to loiter in Kerbin orbit for at least several hours
    while they get the other craft ready for launch.”
    One of the technicians spoke up. “That is unless the CKFN has invested in multiple
    launch pads. If they’ve done so, they’ll be able to launch immediately.”
    “Impossible.” Jeb countered. “The latest intel from the CKFN shows that their Space
    Programme is suffering from severe budgetary problems. That’s half the reason they
    launch as few ships as they do. Their initial launch site for Janus was only temporary, a
    base on loan from their military. Besides, it’s hardly optimal to launch from such a high
    inclination for a Munar trajectory.”
    Apparently satisfied, the tech turned back to his console and continued monitoring its
    data.
    Jeb continued. “If we play our cards right, we should be able to launch and be on our
    way to the Mun before the CKFN can even dock their ships together! What’s the
    estimated time till launch now?”
    “Thirty-two minutes until liftoff, sir,” Gene called out from his position in the front.
    “Let’s go to the Mun,” Jebediah Kerman said, a wide grin on his face.
    * * *
     CKFN: VAB Break Room
    Fifteen Minutes Later
     
    Danford whistled. “That’s a big rocket.”
    Dilbrett had to concur. “I’m always ripping on the USKK engineers, but if they
    managed to figure out two metre tankage in less than a month, they must have some
    serious skill over there.”
    “Are larger rockets really that complicated?”
    “For sure! It’s not just a matter of scaling up your tanks, you need to design a
    completely new class of engines to stick below them–though it looks like they’ve solved
    that problem by clustering them, very clever–plus the issue of fuel flow, pogo
    oscillations, along with a higher mass in total so you have to design thicker walls, but
    not too thick, otherwise you’ll be too heavy to take off—”
    Danford sighed. Apparently he’d hit a sensitive subject with Dilbrett. He turned his
    attention back to the television as his Chief Engineer continued with his rant.
    * * *
    USKK: One Kilometer from Launch Pad
    Seventeen Minutes Later
    Don stood on the grassy knoll between the Centre and the ocean. After saying goodbye
    to Ron, he’d made his way out here, which offered a better view than the limited
    visibility inside the Space Centre. However, he wasn’t the only one who had thought
    this. Several thousand other spectators also shared this field. When news reached the
    media that the USKK was shooting for the Mun, they went into a frenzy. Already he
    had counted at least thirty-eight reporters interviewing various spectators as to what
    they thought of the impending liftoff, and he’d only just arrived!
    The energy of the crowd was intense, a thick buzzing was the result of each kerbal
    talking excitedly to his or her neighbor about how they thought the launch would go,
    how the kerbals inside feel right now, or what they had for lunch that day. Seriously, an
    older gentleman was talking about his sandwich to whoever would listen. Don edged
    away from that fellow, before he could be subjected to tales of corned beef.
    He managed to find a break in the crowd, and miraculously a clear view of the rocket.
    He checked his watch. Any minute now…
    * * *
     
     “We have liftoff! Uranus IX is on its way to the Mun!” Jebediah cried, the joy he felt
    clearly audible in his voice, and visible in the form of a wide grin from ear to ear, as he
    stood at the back of Mission Control.
    It was a joyful sight, all seven LV-T45s burned skywards, in a display of pyrotechnics
    that was a sight to be seen by the several thousand spectators gathered around the
    Space Centre.
    Gene was smiling as he turned toward a technician’s terminal, but that quickly faded as
    he noted how many gauges were in the red zone. Already.
    “Why are the engines running so hot?” he demanded of the tech, who appeared just as
    bewildered as himself, stammering out a jumbled response. Unsatisfied, Gene barked to
    another tech, “Get me on the line with Engineering. Now!”
    It took a minute for the Space Centre’s internal intercom system to patch him through,
    and an even longer minute for the lead engineer to answer.
    “H’lo?”
    “Danbro, we’re launching Uranus IX and—”
    “What, already? Isn’t that in another three hours?”
    “No, we’re launching now, and its first stage engines are running hot. I need to know
    why and what we can do to fix them.”
    “Oh it’s, I dunno, probably something to do with the heat conduction of the engines.
    We had a couple of issues with them during half-power tests.”
    “Okay, how did they behave at full?”
    “Oh… Right, we–ah–never got around to those tests.”
    Surely Gene had misheard the Chief Engineer. “What?”
    “Well, we were going to run the engines at full power, but the test stand wasn’t strong
    enough, so I told somebody to let the guys in Maintenance know, and so—”
    Gene never heard the rest of the kerbal’s response, as he dropped the receiver, leaving it
    dangling on its cord. He rushed back to the rest of Mission Control, turning various
    abort scenarios over in his mind. Uranus couldn’t fire up its orbital manoeuvring
    engines like the CKFN could with their Caelus, as the main engine was hidden inside
    the main structure and couldn’t be deployed until the second stage engine had burnt
    out. Perhaps if they shut down all engines when the ship was above the ocean, then
    detach Uranus’ capsule once it was in free fall?
    Before he could reach Director Jebediah and let him know of the options available, one
    of the techs grabbed his arm.
    “S—sir? I have anomalous readings from the engines and I—I’m not quite sure what to
    do.”
    Gene looked, and immediately wished he hadn’t. The monitor showed that at least
    three engines had failed to respond to throttle inputs, and two more had ceased
    providing thrust. Judging by the numbers, they had probably exploded, which
    explained the loss of throttle control in the others.
     
    Damn. There went his abort plan. Maybe they could still ride it out until the first stage
    burnt out?
    “Sir?” The call came from Trajectory Management and he somehow knew what the
    kerbal would say before he spoke. “It appears the rocket is suffering from a lack of
    control; it is beginning to experience a small-scale tumble.”
    This was apparently the understatement of the decade, as a wide assortment of
    warnings began appearing on monitors around the room. Alarms blared overhead,
    producing a tremendous din, which was not helped by kerbal after kerbal attempting to
    get his attention, each seeming to not comprehend that yes he was aware that the rocket
    would smash itself to bits in less than two minutes.
    Finally reaching the Director, Gene spoke quickly. “Sir, as you can tell, we have suffered
    a loss of at least two first-stage engines. This will lead to Uranus IX impacting the
    ground in less than one minute, thirty seconds. Our abort scenarios are all but useless,
    as they were designed for the previous eight Uranus lifters. What are your orders?”
    Jeb for once in his life seemed to not know what to say. “I—ah—well—”
    “Sir. We are under an extreme time pressure. What are your orders?”
    “What–are there any ab–abort scenarios left?” Jeb croaked, the wide grin but a distant
    memory.
    “There is one. We may be able to jettison the crew capsule and deploy parachutes, in the
    hopes that they would yank the capsule away from the rocket. But—”
    “That sounds good!” Jeb brightened somewhat. Then he realized Gene hadn’t finished
    speaking. “But what?”
    “There are approximately seven thousand spectators on the ground outside the launch
    site. If a rapidly-spinning rocket impacted their group with enough fuel inside to make
    it to the Mun—” He swallowed, not having to finish the sentence. “Then what do we
    do?”
    Gene’s mouth suddenly went dry. He barely managed to get two words out. “Range
    Safety.”
    Jebediah’s eyes widened. “No.”
    “Jeb, we have thirty seconds. It’s either the crew or the spectators.”
     
    While Gene had phrased it in the form of a choice, it was really no choice at all. The
    kerbonauts knew death was a part of the many risks space exploration carried, the
    ordinary civilians were just there for a rocket launch. Jeb knew this too, and his eyes
    hardened.
    “Fine. But I’ll–I’ll do it myself. I owe the crew that much. Have we–have we managed to
    establish contact with them?”
    Gene shook his head as he led the Director over to the Range Safety console. Hopefully
    they’ve blacked out due to g forces by now, he thought to himself.
    Flipping back its protective plastic cover, Jebediah manoeuvred his hand over the Big
    Red Button. “Forgive me, Harv,” he whispered, before slamming his fist down.
    Ka-thunk.
    * * *
    As had happened a year ago during Aether I’s first flight, a series of electronic pulses
    travelled from the Button, through Mission Control, to the rocket itself. This time, no
    welding accidents had severed the control lines leading to the explosives. This time, the
    command executed successfully.
    For but a single instant, Uranus IX shone as bright as a star.
     
    * * *
     CKFN: VAB Break Room
    Immediately Afterward
    “—and that’s not even taking into account vibration effects, I mean the larger tank
    means at least four times the surface area so you need to do a whole new set of scale
    model tests in order to—”
    Danford watched the television as Dilbrett prattled away in the background, unsure of
    what he was seeing. Did the picture glitch out? Where a rocket flew a minute ago, he
    could see nothing but white. Then the picture refocused on what was a smear of smoke
    across the sky.
     
    Dimly Danford noticed Dilbrett’s voice trail away in the background. When he glanced
    over, he saw that the other’s eyes had become cold and steely, his earlier extension of
    respect towards the USKK’s engineers instantly revoked.
    Danford raised a trembling hand to his mouth, not sure what to say.
    * * *
    USKK: One Kilometer from Launch Pad
    Immediately Afterward
    Donnand Kerman stared at the sky. Where once flew his best friend was now a mere
    puff of smoke. The shock wave hit him next, mussing his hair and imparting a ringing
    in his ears.
    “NO!” he screamed at the sky. “No, no, nonononononono.”
    He broke down, falling to his knees in the grass, as the first bits of debris began raining
    down around him, lighting small fires in the grass.
    The crowd had now realized fully what had happened, and screams came from those
    assembled as they attempted to get out of the way of the bits and pieces of flaming
    rocket which came raining down like the world’s worst hailstorm.
     
    Dully, Don reflected that Range Safety explosives—as there was no doubt to what type
    of explosion that was—attempted to vaporize as much rocket as they could, but were of
    course unable to annihilate every part of a spacecraft. No type of explosive was nearly
    powerful enough. Most big pieces–those larger than a kerbal–had been torn apart
    enough to not pose too much of a threat, but even a fist-sized chunk of metal could still
    do a fair amount of damage, especially if it’s on fire and travelling at half the speed of
    sound.
    Most of the crowd around him had begun to hurriedly gather their things and depart
    before more rocket could fall on their heads, but Don cared little about his surroundings
    at the moment.
    “Ron…” he whispered. “Ron, why?”
    * * *
     CKFN: Caelus IV, Low Kerbin Orbit
    Twenty Minutes Later
    “Romfarer’s eye, where are those snacks?” Bilvin searched vainly through various nooks
    and crannies in her compartment of the spacecraft.
    “Hee hee hee!” her co-pilot’s voice rang out through the intercom sounding suspiciously
    like his mouth was full.
    “Dammit Jenfry, you’d better not have taken them all! Can’t you spare me just one?”
    Before Jenfry could respond, Danford’s voice came through her earpiece.
    “Jenfry, Bilvin, are you there?”
    “Roger that, boss, we’re here. Dealing with a bit of a missing inventory at the moment,
    but nothing too major.” She could hear Jenfry munching happily on his pilfered stash,
    and resolved to get her snacks back somehow. She continued. “We’re still a good
    twenty minutes out from our plane-change maneuver though, why are you checking in
    so early?”
    “The USKK tried to launch a mission to the Mun as well, less than half an hour ago.”
    “Hah, let’s see them try! We’ve got a good head start alread–wait, what do you mean
    ‘tried’?” Danford’s somber tone and use of the past tense suddenly hit home.
    “Uranus IX exploded twenty minutes ago, with all crew aboard lost. The USKK is still reeling
    from the incident.”
    “I—oh—d’you want us to abort?” asked Jenfry.
    “No, no, that’s not necessary. Just–just keep that on your minds during the mission.”
    “Ah, rog–roger that,” Bilvin said, and clicked off the comm. “Gee…” she remarked to
    Jenfry, all snack-related escapades forgotten.
    “Should we say something?” her companion asked.
    “I wouldn’t know what to say. By Mu, what do you say in this case?”
    “I took Ancient Languages in university, I have something in mind.”
    “Go ahead then.”
    Jenfry cleared his throat, then began speaking another language. Bilvin knew little of it
    beyond the fact that the CKFN named their rockets in it.
    “Requiescent inter sidera, respicit in caelo,” the kerbal spoke slowly over the intercom.
    “What does that mean?” Bilvin inquired, her curiosity piqued.
    “They will rest among the stars, remembered forever,” Jenfry responded. “I thought it was
    fitting.”
    “Fitting indeed,” Bilvin said, as she stared out her capsule window at the planet Kerbin,
    far below.
    * * *
    USKK: United News Network Broadcasting Station, Parking Lot
    Two Hours Later
    Erdan Kerman leaped out of his car and towards the station. It figured that the biggest
    news story to hit the USKK since the end of the War would happen on his day off! If he
    could maybe get an eyewitness interview, or bribe a reporter who had been on the
    scene for pictures of the explosion–this day might just be salvageable after all.
    As he burst through the front doors, an intern stopped him.
    “Sir, I have some news for you.”
    “What is it?” He dimly recalled that this kerbal worked in the main broadcasting centre,
    or something. It was hard to keep track of all the interns.
    “Do you remember that kerbal you interviewed? About a month or two ago?”
    “I interview a lot of kerbals, you’re going to have to be more specific.”
    “That kerbonaut, you know, the one who left the Program?”
    “Right, Desdin. I never forget a face; did you know that? Wait. Did he contact us to ask
    for a second interview?” The gears of Erdan’s mind turned. If he could score an
    interview with this kerbal commenting on the Space Program now, why that would be a
    completely new angle on the story!
    “Er…no sir. Anyways, he seems to have gone missing, sir.”
    Erdan’s mood shifted nearly as quickly as that rocket had exploded. “And you’re telling
    me this…why?”
    The intern now appeared to be realizing that interrupting Erdan today, at this time, for
    what appeared to be pointless nonsense was a Very Bad Idea. “I just thought…you
    should…know.”
    “Unless he wants another interview, don’t talk to me again. Got it? I’m very busy.”
    Erdan didn’t even wait for a response from the now-whimpering kerbal. He stormed by
    and began turning story ideas over in his mind again. Maybe he could find someone
    with singed hair, that would really add a personal touch to the story…
    * * *
    “I–I don’t think I can do this anymore, Erdrin,” Don said, shakily. It was an hour after
    the explosion, and the two veteran kerbonauts of the Space Program sat together in the
    Kerbonaut Training Centre.
    “What do you mean? We all saw what happened, but the two of us have got to stay
    strong. With Ron…gone, we’re the most senior members of the program’s kerbonauts.
    If you leave, who knows how many will follow suit? Without kerbals, this Space
    Program’s going nowhere.”
    “He—he was my best friend, Erdrin. I need some time…some space to just deal with
    that.”
    “And I respect that. We can properly mourn Rondred ourselves. But at the moment the
    other kerbonauts just saw two of their own die out there. We’ve got to reassure them,
    keep them in the program.”
    “He was my friend,” Don repeated, in a very small voice.
    “I know.” Erdrin said sympathetically as she patted her fellow kerbonaut’s shoulder.
    * * *
    “We are gathered here today to remember the loss of two of our own.”
    It was a beautiful day at the Space Centre, with birds singing and not a cloud in the sky,
    three days after the accident. Rationally, Don knew it was unreasonable for the sky to
    be dark and pouring with rain just because a rocket blew up, but that didn’t change the
    way he felt.
    He sat quietly among those gathered, as Jebediah Kerman led the memorial service. He
    mainly talked of the two kerbals, and their contributions to the space program. Don
    couldn’t bear to keep listening, so he looked around at the assembled audience. His
    gaze fell on a sobbing older female kerbal, dressed in black. Ron’s mother? he thought.
    But he told me his parents were—oh. He realized that another kerbal was lost in the
    explosion, and mentally kicked himself. Of course the other kerbonaut also had a life, a
    family, and people who would miss him. It wasn’t all about Ron, was it? This added a
    spike of guilt to the grief he had been feeling constantly for the last few days. Another
    wave of guilt washed over him as he realized he still couldn’t recall that other kerbal’s
    name.
    Jebediah did not forget though, and proclaimed that Rondred and Bobfrey Kerman
    would be forever immortalized on the grounds of the Space Centre by two kerbal-sized
    flags. Designed originally for a USKK kerbal to plant on the Mun once they got there,
    the first production unit would stand as a memorial for the two lost kerbals.
    The flag itself was merely black fabric, broken up by a pair of stars shining brightly into
    the night, marking the two kerbals who had left this world forever.
    * * *
    Three hours after the funeral service, Bob and Bill argued away in one of the Centre’s
    meeting rooms.
    “We can’t let this stop us from pressing onwards. We must try again.” Bob spoke in a
    clear voice, his stutter when talking to other kerbals than Jeb mysteriously gone.
    Stressful events can do a lot to a kerbal, Bill thought sarcastically.
    “Try again? Bob, we lost two kerbals!”
    “And that’s a tragedy, but we mustn’t let this set us back.”
    “I can’t believe you’re willing to just write off this as a setback!”
    “That’s what it is! Those kerbals knew what they were signing up for! We can do more
    intensive tests next time.”
    “There won’t be a next time. We need to stop all launches, review all personnel, and
    make sure it never happens again! Like the CKFN, you don’t see their rockets blowing
    up!”
    “They have nothing they can teach us. By Harv, we’re the USKK, we should lead
    aerospace design!”
    “We are, but we can’t just go shooting off rockets blindly, we need to have some sort of
    idea of where we’re going!”
    “The Mun, or have you not been paying attention for the past year?” Bob said nastily.
    Before Bill could come up with a suitably venomous retort, he caught sight of Jeb
    walking by the door, a large box in his arms.
    “Director! Can we speak with you?”
    Hesitantly, Jeb walked into the room. “Hey Bill, Bob.” His face, once filled with joy at
    sharing his visions during these meetings, was blank. Bill and Bob immediately began
    bombarding Jeb with questions.
    “Jeb, what are we going to do?”
    “Where do we go?”
    “Should we continue the Uranus rockets?
    “Do we start anew?”
    “What about the engineering staff?”
    The Director held up a hand.
    “I—I don’t know. And it’s not my job to know, not anymore.”
    “What are you saying, Jeb?” Bill asked, cautiously, noticing that the box Jeb was
    carrying was filled with the contents of his Director’s office.
    “As of twenty minutes ago, I have resigned from the post of Space Program Director.
    Bill, you’re my successor, and Bob, you will assist him. I’ve decided I’m no longer fit to
    lead the Program. Those kerbals died because of me.”
    “Jeb, you can’t leave! The CKFN just made it to the Mun, and they’ll surely land a kerbal
    there first! We need you now more than ever!”
    “I’m sorry, Bob, but this decision is final. Goodbye you two, and–ah–good luck.”
    With this, the former Director turned around and walked out of the room, deaf to any
    more of their pleas.
    Bill and Bob glanced at each other worriedly.
    “This… This isn’t good,” commented Bob, wide-eyed.
    It was not often the two agreed on something.
    ?

     

     

    CHAPTER IV:
    COMEBACK

     CKFN: Tracking Station
    Five hours after Uranus IX disaster
     
    “What is your current rotational velocity, Caelus IV?”
    “We’ve reached ‘bout…four degrees per second. What are the techs calling this again? The
    ‘barbecue’ manoeuvre? It’s starting to feel a lot like a barbecue in here!” Jenfry’s voice came
    through the radio.
    Lizby Kerman did not approve of this attempt at a joke, the situation was a little too
    tense for her liking. Caelus III had steadily risen in temperature on its journey to and
    from the Mun, and this manoeuvre was the best chance at the spacecraft and its
    occupants surviving the trip home. The manoeuvre simply consisted of spinning Caelus
    along its main axis, to prevent any one side from getting too hot. Whether this had
    worked or not was her primary concern at the moment. She pursed her lips. “Right.
    What is the change in the capsule’s thermal readings following the manoeuvre?”
    There was a significant pause. “Ah, they’ve definitely gone down. The heat looks like its
    increasing by ‘bout…point two degrees every minute? Maybe every two?”
    Lizby let out a breath. At least this had some effect on Caelus’ heating problems. “All
    right, I will check with the technicians to see if they’ve come up with anything more.
    You should still have a significant margin before critical spacecraft systems begin to
    overheat.”
    “What ‘bout us kerbals in here? I grew up in the northern CKFN, I’m just not used to this sorta
    heat!”
    “The capsule will return to Kerbin in less than two hours. You will be fine.”
     
    Lizby shut off the radio before Jenfry could respond. She did not have the time nor
    desire to listen to the kerbal whine any further about how hot it was getting inside the
    capsule. He’d been at it for a few hours now, and Lizby had been at several points
    sorely tempted to point out that perhaps some of the hot air inside the capsule was
    originating inside Jenfry’s mouth. Of course, while that would not be the proper thing
    for a Capsule Communicator to tell the kerbonauts, it certainly did not stop her from
    thinking it to herself.
    She reached the conference room and opened the door. Within, a committee of
    technicians and engineers were set up, all discussing among themselves the best way to
    reduce Caelus’ heating problems. Upon spying Lizby’s entrance, a bunch of kerbals
    rushed up to her.
    “Delta-t? Delta-t?” they asked, over and over.
    Lizby’s brow furrowed. Delta-t? She’d heard engineers using the phrase ‘delta-v’ to
    refer to a spacecraft’s velocity change before, but this was new. Then it hit her. Of course.
    They were asking about the new change in temperature in the capsule. Engineers.
    Sometimes she thought it best if they just stuck to their job of building rockets, and left
    the communication aspect of it to others. That was her job, after all.
    Still, she was stuck with them for the time being, and had to live with it. “The capsule
    has executed the— ‘barbecue manoeuvre’ as planned, and the temperature increase has
    gone down to nought-point-two degrees per minute.”
    There was much cheering and back-slapping among those assembled. Danford Kerman,
    seated at the far end of the table, even perked up some; he had been downtrodden ever
    since first learning of Caelus IV’s thermal issues.
    “Excellent!” The Director said. He even stood up from his chair. “This gives them
    enough of a safety margin to make it back to Kerbin!” Then his brow furrowed. “Do we
    have a cause for the overheating problem in the first place, and how we’re going to fix
    it?”
    Dilbrett Kerman, scribbling furiously, looked up from his stack of papers. “Yes—and
    no. We do know what is overheating the capsule: that’s the Sun.” There were a few
    chuckles from around the room, but Danford merely raised an eyebrow.
    “Unfortunately, it looks like Caelus just can’t handle this sort of heat. We’ve got a
    mishmash of differently thermal conductive interior components, meaning that it’s next
    to impossible to model what the heat’s going to do, let alone dissipate it! With low orbit
    missions, we didn’t run into this problem because Kerbin blocked out the sun half the
    time, but with a multi-hour Munar transit time, the heat is just not leaving the capsule.”
    Danford stroked his chin thoughtfully. “So how do we fix that? Just reconfigure Caelus a
    bit?”
    “‘A bit’ would be, unfortunately, an understatement. The amount of work necessary to
    bring Caelus up to snuff would be on par to just building a whole new capsule
    altogether!”
    Lizby noticed that many engineers, including Dilbrett, were now looking at Danford
    expectantly. Danford noticed this as well, after a moment.
    “What, you guys seriously expect us to build another capsule? Don’t you remember
    how long Caelus took to finish?”
    “If Caelus can’t safely make it past LKO, then a reconfiguration wouldn’t exactly—”
    Lizby sniffed. More of those engineers’ terms and acronyms. She could tell that this
    would very quickly devolve into an argument quite full of them, and besides, she had
    far more important work to do back in the Tracking Station, rather than watching these
    clowns debating spaceship designs for hours.
    As she returned to her post, she could hear the rising argument three corridors away.
     
    * * *
     
    Days after Caelus III returned from the Mun, Calbin Kerman lounged in the chair atop
    his guard tower. Guard duty here was a tremendously boring occupation; nothing of
    note ever happened on the border, least of all at night. At least he could look at the sky.
    The stars were visible above the trees surrounding him, and away from the bright lights
    and bustle of major CKFN cities, they shone especially bright. His attention was
    currently skywards, wondering about what might lay beyond.
    Suddenly, he heard a noise from the woods, a strange crackling and rustling.
    Immediately springing to attention, he gazed out into the darkness beyond his post’s
    spotlights. Seeing nothing, he leaned back in his chair, but remaining mindful of his
    surroundings.
    The noise returned. It sounded almost like an animal dragging itself through the
    underbrush. Sitting bolt upright, he reached for a pair of binoculars and twisted a dial
    on the side. This supposedly enhanced their image at night, but all he found it did was
    decrease the contrast and turn everything a sickly shade of green. Still, every little bit
    helped.
    After warily searching the darkness for the source of this strange noise, he found it. A
    kerbal stumbling his way through the forest, who appeared very, very lost. From the
    style of this figure’s clothes, he evidently hailed from the USKK, but they were so torn
    and covered in dirt you could barely see what colour they originally were. This kerbal
    must have dragged himself through the USKK’s barbed wire perimeter fence.
    Calbin quickly pulled his jacket around himself, and put on his helmet. He needed to
    get down there and see what this kerbal wanted, be it good or bad. A thought occurred
    to him, and he grabbed his service revolver and slipped it into his holster, just in case.
    Climbing down the ladder of his watchtower, he approached the gate. The mystery
    kerbal had slumped against its bars, looking disconcertingly like a prisoner. Calbin
    grimaced. Based upon some things he’d heard about the USKK, that particular
    description of the wasn’t terribly inaccurate. Approaching the figure, he called out.
    “Who goes there? This is the border of the CKFN. What is your business here?”
    Not responding immediately, the kerbal coughed, then spoke in a croaky voice.
    “I—I need help.”
    Now that he was closer, Calbin could see that the kerbal was bleeding. Whether this
    was from crawling through the barbed wire or from another injury, Calbin could not
    tell, even under the glare from the spotlights.
    Quickly, he scanned the surrounding forest for any others (he was still a border guard
    after all), but everything seemed clear. He opened the gate and helped the kerbal inside.
    “What’s your name?” Calbin asked, half-carrying the mystery kerbal into the guard
    station’s break room. There was a couch there he could rest on.
    His guest coughed once. “Des—Desdin.”
    “Wait a sec—you’re one of those USKK kerbonauts! From the Space Program!” Even
    out here, kerbals still got news of what was going on in that other country, albeit
    somewhat delayed.
    “Not—not anymore.” Desdin began to cough, and fell to his knees. Quickly, Calbin lay
    him down on the couch and propped up his head.
    “Hey, hey, hey. Stay with me. Help is on its way; you’re going to be just fine.”
    The former kerbonaut smiled faintly, but did not speak. Still, he seemed unlikely to fall
    into unconsciousness any time soon.
    Turning away from the kerbal for a minute, Calbin went to his locker, where the
    manual on how to deal with such scenarios as this was stashed. Flipping through the
    pages, he found the chapter he was looking for: ‘Defection Directives: What to Do When
    the Other Side Comes to You’.
    He leaned against the wall and began reading. Fortunately, it was a short chapter,
    outlining the basic procedures of what would happen next. All he’d have to do was
    radio his commanding officer, and the authorities would soon arrive to pick his charge
    up. The kerbal would be collected and debriefed (naturally, one would want to get as
    much information as they could from the defector), then the kerbal would be integrated
    into mainstream CKFN society, under a new name.
    It would be a bit of a turbulent time for the poor kerbal, but judging by his state, Desdin
    was used to it.
    * * *
     
    “I can’t believe it.”
    “Yes, you’ve said that already, Bilvin. Just calm down, okay?” Gusbin told her.
    “But these are actual pictures of the Mun! Up close, not through telescopes or
    anything!” The two were part of a small crowd clustered outside the Space Facility’s
    darkroom, where a technician was developing the photographs Caelus III took while on
    its historic mission.
    “Yes, I know they’re exciting, but you were there last week; why are you so excited to
    see it again? If anybody’s got a right to be excited, it should be Danford; he’s done the
    most work out of all of us!” Indeed, the Director of the Space Programme stood nearby,
    regarding the door to the darkroom patiently. The door looked more like an entrance to
    some sort of highly fortified bunker, with multiple locks and reinforced hinges,
    complete with a hand-lettered sign stating: “DO NOT OPEN”.
    Finally, after what seemed like hours, the locks were undone and door opened up,
    revealing the developer, carrying a stack of photos. The largest ones he displayed at the
    front of the room, while a few smaller copies were distributed to the crowd.
    Immediately, there were ooohs and aaahs from everyone upon seeing the photos; this
    was the Mun, and while it did look an awful lot like a large potato someone had let fall
    into the dirt, these were the best photos of this celestial body anyone on Kerbin had ever
    taken.
     
    Even more interesting were the images of the Far Side; while only illuminated partly by
    the sun, one could clearly see the increased number of craters and scarring caused by
    the Mun basically acting as a shield for Kerbin from the cosmic hailstorm of meteoroids
    and their ilk. There was even a long canyon snaking its way across the surface. Gusbin
    wondered what that would look like from the surface. Imagine the geological processes
    which must have taken place to produce such a distinctive feature!
     
    Gusbin even let his mind wander a bit, imagining himself standing on the lip of that
    canyon, seeing its grey walls slope downwards. Of course, this was nearly entirely
    imaginary; the photos were not nearly sufficiently detailed to show much more than the
    canyon’s outline, but Gus did not let that stop him. For the first time since joining the
    Programme, he keenly felt that their goal was near. The fact that they got these pictures
    was proof that they were close. While Danford hadn’t revealed anything official, talk
    abounded throughout the Space Facility that work was soon to commence upon the
    rocket that would take kerbals to the Mun. There was truly so much to be learned out
    there, and they’d soon find out what!
     
    * * *
    USKK: Space Centre Grounds
    Three Months Later
     
    Joliana Kerman, secret agent extraordinaire and current personal assistant to Bob
    Kerman, walked along one of the Space Center’s sidewalks. She pondered how
    unpredictable life could be; one day you were chasing down CKFN spies halfway
    around Kerbin, the next you were fetching papers for a Space Program founding
    member. Still, this was a good assignment, all things considered. At least no one was
    shooting at her. So far.
    She noted the chill breeze at her back. Three months had passed since Uranus IX had
    exploded, and winter was fast approaching, with no plans to launch any more ships
    anytime soon. The effects of that explosion could be still felt; even now governmental
    agents walked the grounds, investigating various departments’ practices and
    determining whether the Program was safe enough to allow it to continue. They’d sent
    their preliminary reports to Parliament several weeks ago, and Joliana anticipated
    official word to come from the capital fairly soon.
    She arrived at the Administration Building, greeted Bob’s secretary, and entered that
    kerbal’s office. Bob was seated at his desk, scribbling away at something when Joliana
    walked in. After a minute, the kerbal finished writing and looked up.
    “Ah, what do you have for me, Joliana?”
    “First of all, sir, Bill Kerman has left for the capital on ‘urgent business’.”
    “Did he specify what sort of urgent business?”
    “No sir, he just up and left this morning. I have a few contacts in the capital; I could
    send someone to keep an eye on him when he arrives in Kolus City if you’d like.”
    “No need, he’s undoubtedly just meeting with the Prime Minister’s office again. I must
    say, Joli, he spends as much time over there as at the Space Center!”
    “He must be discussing important matters concerning the Space Program then,
    wouldn’t he?”
    “For certain, but the Program’s Director really ought to spend more time at the Space
    Center itself, don’t you think?” Bob snorted. “Humph, regardless, I’m not interested in
    discussing Bill’s choice in travel destinations, what else do you have? Any more news
    from the engineers?”
    “Yes sir, but I’m afraid it’s not good. A further ten quit the Program this morning.”
    “Ten? That leaves nearly less than half as many workers as we had three months ago.”
    “Danbro’s trial and subsequent incarceration really shook many of the staff’s
    confidence, they are afraid the same thing could happen to them.”
    Bob sighed. “I’m not even going to get into how stupid that is.” He rubbed his chin
    thoughtfully for a moment, then spoke. “Ever since Jeb left, Bill’s been giving me side
    jobs, little projects to keep me busy. It’s obvious he doesn’t want me messing about with
    the Program itself. But I can’t keep doing nothing for much longer. Bill’s so busy with
    negotiation that he can’t see that the Program is breaking up right under his feet.
    Joliana, are there any senior engineers left? It’s past time to crack down on these
    quitting epidemics, rather than waiting for Bill to come through and actually make
    policy changes.”
    “Yes sir, there are in fact three crew chiefs working in the VAB right now.”
    “Then get my hat, we’re going to pay them a visit.”
    * * *
     
    When the two arrived at the VAB, its atmosphere was a far cry from the bustling,
    energized hub it had been three months ago. It did not help that the place felt like a
    ghost town with half the original workers still there.
    The crew chiefs sat on a few discarded boxes in front of Bob and Joliana. The one in
    front, in charge of Capsule Integration, addressed the two. “To be honest, Mr. Bob, it’s a
    bit of a relief to see you paying us a personal visit. There’s been a lot of talk among the
    workers that upper management has just forgotten about us.”
    “Is that so?” Bob responded, raising an eyebrow.
    “Not only that,” another chief, from Propulsion, spoke up. “There’s talk you guys want
    to distance yourself from this department; given what happened with Uranus,” She
    sighed. “Can’t say I blame ya, though.”
    The third chief, Electrical Subsystems, added to this tale of woe. “That’s not all. I heard
    that you guys have been working pretty closely with Werhner’s labs on some of his
    inventions. Do you know how many stupid gadgets he wants to stick on our rockets?”
    He gesticulated wildly. “The Uranus V RTG incident is exactly why that’s a bad idea. We
    need more investment in rocket tech, so that we’re not forced to cluster out-of-date
    engines and wind up with overheating issues like on IX!”
    Joliana frowned. The engineers seemed to be annoyed about a lot of the
    administration’s decisions, but she wasn’t sure how much of this was even within Bob’s
    authority to fix.
    Bob did not share this uncertainty, it appeared. “Don’t you worry. I give you my word
    I’ll look into these issues. In the meantime, I want to ask about the disappearing of our
    engineering talent. Where is everyone going?”
    “I don’t know sir, but without much of a goal, no one really knows what to work on
    anymore. We’re pretty hesitant to start work on anything new; remember what
    happened to Danbro?” Propulsion offered dejectedly.
    “Nonsense. Whatever happened to the reason you got into the Program in the first
    place?”
    Electrical stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Well, now that you mention it, I remember
    staring up at the sky one night after a long shift at the chemical plant. This was when
    Werhner’s discovery was all over the news, so there was lots of talk about rockets and
    space travel, that sort of thing. I got to thinking, ‘What if I could make a difference?
    What if I could help explore what’s up there?’ I think with everything that’s happened,
    I—I sort of lost sight of that goal; this just became another job to me. I think that’s
    probably the same story with a lot of other kerbals as well.”
    “There we go!” Bob said happily. “Remind your crews of why they wanted to join the
    Space Program in the first place, and all the things we’ve done so far. We’ve put kerbals
    in space, for Harv’s sake, something unheard of five years ago. This is the cutting edge of
    research and technology, after all.” The chiefs were smiling and nodding at these
    words. Bob continued. “However, the thing about the cutting edge, is sometimes we get
    cut. What happened with Uranus IX was regrettable, but we need to pick ourselves up
    and keep moving towards the future! The CKFN certainly hasn’t been resting on their
    laurels the past few months, have they? Let’s show them what rocket science looks like
    when it’s done right!” He punctuated this final word with a fist thrust into the air.
    Some of the surrounding engineers had stopped what they were doing to listen.
    Listening to Bob’s words brought smiles and faraway looks to the kerbals’ eyes as they
    too remembered why they got into the business in the first place. When Bob finished,
    there were cheers and a general smattering of applause across his small audience.
    Capsule Integration shook Bob’s hands, his eyes wet with what looked a lot like tears.
    “Well said, sir. Well said.”
    Electrical added to this. “I can’t promise you miracles, sir, but—but I’ll talk to my
    workers. We’ll do our best for the Program.”
    “That’s all I ask,” Bob responded. “Now, I have to go; let me know if you have any
    more issues, all right?”
    * * *
    Returning to Bob’s office, the kerbal sat down at his desk, and turned his attention to
    Joliana.
    “So Joli, what do you think of the engineers’ position? Are they ready to start building
    more rockets?”
    Bob rarely asked others for their advice, so Joliana answered warily. “I think your little
    speech today did revitalize the crews somewhat, but over a longer period, they will lose
    that motivation and workers will keep leaving the Program.”
    “Indeed? And how would you propose to fix that?” Bob asked. He appeared to be in a
    very good mood, he was leaning back in his chair and smiling, two rare characteristics
    of the kerbal. Joliana continued, she’d oblige him for as long as this mood lasted.
    “Well sir, I believe the main problems with the engineers stem from both guilt for the
    destruction of Uranus IX, and the poor administrative policies enforced on them so far.
    You took care of some of that guilt, by replacing it with pride, but they will need
    something to strive for in the long-term. I’m not entirely certain of the specifics of what
    that should be, though.”
    “Interesting. And the administrative policies, how would you fix those?”
    “Well, I suppose the only real option would be to get Bill to give the engineers more
    funding, better equipment, larger and more strictly monitored testing setups, et cetera.
    Danbro was only a symptom of a larger problem; we need to fix the lack of support the
    engineers have been getting at its source, or we’ll just get more Uranus IXs.”
    “I agree with you on both counts, Joliana.” Bob then raised an eyebrow. “However, we
    can’t exactly just march up to Bill and ask him to change those policies. For one, Bill
    doesn’t even have that authority. Any changes will have to be extensively negotiated
    with the Board of Directors, as well as making sure the budget is balanced with our
    accountants, etc. Besides, Bill would have a fit if he knew I was pushing for such
    dramatic policy changes. No, it will have to be something else.”
    “Yes sir. If I may, why does Bill seem to dislike you so much? Surely it’s not beneficial
    to the Program if one of its senior members is unable to change its policies?”
    “Well, the kerbal’s never liked me much to begin with, but with the recent loss of
    Jebediah and the chaos consuming the Program, I actually think he’s afraid I’ll take
    over. That’s why he’s been assigning me these tiny jobs, in the hopes that it will keep
    me distracted.”
    “Well, to be completely honest sir, I’ve seen the efficiency at which you complete those
    tasks. I have no doubt that if you put your mind to it, you could replace Bill as Director.
    And quite frankly, do a much better job at it.”
    “Thank you for your confidence in me, Joli. I also don’t doubt that I could easily take
    over. But that’s not the way I want to go about things. Any old idiot can steal the
    spotlight—as we are seeing with Bill’s performance so far—but it takes far more skill to
    remain on the edge of the public’s eye, carefully staying out of full view, controlling
    events to be in your favour.”
    “So is that what we’re doing? Manipulating Bill into doing what you want?”
    Bob chuckled. “I suppose you could put it that way, but it sounds much better if you say
    we’re giving Bill the ‘guidance’ to do what’s best for the Program.”
    “Can’t argue with that, sir.”
    “Glad to hear it, Joli.” Bob paused for a moment. “Now, do you recall a conversation we
    had about five months ago? Where you passed on to me your employer’s most recent
    orders?”
    Joliana sighed. “As I said at the time, sir, they are not orders. As USI’s representative in
    the Program, I have a responsibility to pass on its wishes for paths they wish for the
    Space Program to follow at some point in the future. As they do not have direct control
    over the Space Program—your Board of Directors has gone so far as to patent any
    rocket tech, ensuring their continued dominance in the field—it is only natural they
    would want to have a bit more input, particularly with the more militarily-oriented
    applications.”
    “United Secret Intelligence. Not so secret if you keep letting me know you’re their
    representative, now are they?” Bob leaned back, grinning.
    “We’ve been over this. I can’t exactly perform my job at maximum efficiency if you do
    not know the extent of my capabilities. Besides, I require some sort of official agency
    backing me up; you’d hardly listen to these recommendations if I told you they came
    from myself alone.” Joliana intoned, annoyed.
    “All right, Joli.” Bob dismissed the explanation, then continued. “As I’m sure you
    remember, they most recently asked us to create a subset of the Program to launch their
    own types of missions. As you said, they’d be primarily focused on military
    applications.”
    “If I may, sir, why are you bringing this up now?”
    “Because this is how I’m going to fix the engineers’ troubles. They want and need better
    technology and testing procedures.”
    Joliana had no idea how this was in any way related, and said as such.
    “It’s very simple, Joli. Making any direct policy change, such as the ones the engineers
    want, takes a whole lot of negotiation with accountants, the Board, and many other
    departments to make sure everything is in order. However, no such negotiation is
    required to create a new division of the Space Program, provided the necessary funds
    are already available.”
    “The only question is, why would you ever want to do something like that,” muttered
    Joliana, still very much confounded by Bob’s plan. “Are you seriously considering just
    putting all the engineers into this new department? Because Bill will most certainly hear
    about that, and USI won’t exactly give much of a choice in terms of missions; it will
    derail any Munar plans, for example. The suggested subdivision was intended to be an
    offshoot from the Program, not its replacement.”
    “What if I told you I wasn’t planning on transferring any engineers at all? As your
    agency will be providing funds, all we have to do is open the Division and request as
    much as we require from them in equipment costs, wages, and development work.
    Since this division is an official part of the Program, we could easily transfer those to the
    VAB.”
    “So you’re not actually planning on building rockets for USI?”
    “No. Well, at least not yet. The Program is far too fragmented to work on two major
    projects at once; our priority is still to beat the CKFN to the Mun.”
    “So if you’re not employing any engineers in this new division, then who is going work
    there?”
    “Simple. I’ll take the best of our rocket-focused scientists and technicians from
    Werhner’s labs. The old fellow doesn’t know what to do with them all, anyway. The
    engineers don’t want situations like Uranus IX to happen again, yet they want more
    advanced rocket technology. This division will do rocketry research, as well as testing
    this new tech to make sure it is safe for the mainstream rockets coming out of the VAB.”
    “And any technology the VAB doesn’t want will go to USI! This satisfies the engineers,
    the administration, and the agency, all in one. That’s–that’s genius!” Then Joliana’s eyes
    narrowed. “You can’t have come up with this all in the five minutes we’ve been
    talking.”
    Bob’s eyes twinkled. “You are correct; I did not.” He opened the top left drawer of his
    desk and withdrew several sheets of paper. Upon them was the early version of an
    official request to open this new division. “I first had the idea a couple of months ago,
    based upon your employer’s ‘recommendation’. From there, I simply tweaked the idea
    of a separate division to best suit our needs. And there we have it, the salvation of the
    Space Program. Today’s trip to the engineers was to make absolutely sure that they
    would be totally receptive to this plan.”
    “And I presume they were?”
    “Of course! The engineers are just begging for strong leadership; you saw how they
    reacted to my little speech in there.”
    “But I thought you said you didn’t like the spotlight?”
    “Which is why this division will take the place of a leader. Its designs will propel the
    engineers forward.”
    “You sound very confident that this division will produce things of value. What if
    there’s nothing new to learn in rocket science?” While in favour of the scheme, Joliana
    tried to poke any hole in it she could. If this new division flopped (or was vetoed by
    Bill), USI would be very annoyed, so Bob had to be prepared for any eventuality.
    At this, Bob grinned. “Oh, I have my sources, primarily among those techs in Werhner’s
    labs. They inform me we’ve barely scratched the surface of the field; giving more
    priority to their research will unlock technology which will have us walking on the
    Mun while the CKFN is still floating about in low orbit.” Bob had evidently done his
    homework; he had an answer for every question Joliana threw at him.
    Satisfied, Joliana acquiesced. “If you say so, sir.” She picked up the papers and scanned
    them. “In the meantime, how do we go about creating this division?”
    “Well, aside from finalizing the document here, all we really need is Bill’s signature.
    The Director’s authorization will give us all the clearance we need to open up the new
    division.”
    “How on Kerbin are you going to get Bill to approve this? He’ll take one look and rip
    this paper up.” She brandished the papers in question. “Looking at some of these terms,
    you’re asking for a great deal of control over the division. If I didn’t know you were
    doing this for USI, I’d think you were starting your own private space program here.”
    “Which is why I need you to translate it into something a little less readable, preferably
    full of very long words, so that Bill won’t even bother to read it. He’s been so busy
    lately, I’d be surprised if he had time to get through one paragraph.”
    “Very well sir, I will get right on it.”
    * * *
    Two days later, Joliana approached Bill Kerman outside the Administration Facility.
    The Director was freshly returned from the capital and looking very tired and harried.
    “Mr. Bill! Do you have a spare moment?”
    Bill stopped and turned, a long-suffering look on his face and bags under his eyes. “Yes,
    but I only have a minute or two. What is it?”
    “The engineers need authorization to open up a new dedicated testing division of the
    Space Program. They say it will prevent accidents like the one on Uranus IX.”
    “That sounds like a good plan. How’s it being funded? Will I have to talk to the
    accountants and work out a budget for the division?”
    “Actually, no. That’s taken care of, as you can see here, on Page 12.”
    Bill leaned closer, taking a look at the paragraph in question. “Ah yes…I, err, see.” The
    Director was obviously having difficulty deciphering the meaning of the words Joliana
    had enlisted one of her lawyer contacts to write. Finally having enough, Bill
    straightened. “Well, I, uh, presume everything else is in order; I’ll authorize it. Do you
    have a pen?”
    With a smooth motion, Bill signed the form Joliana and Bob had been working on for
    the past couple of days. Then, he set off again towards his office, leaving a very pleased
    kerbal behind.
    * * *
    Immediately after talking to Bill, Joliana joined Bob in the VAB. A makeshift podium
    had been set up, and the kerbal was preparing to make a speech to all the engineers,
    who were gathered together in the main assembly chamber, among various rocket bits
    and pieces.
    With a sense of pride, Joliana spoke. “I’m pleased to report that Bill signed the
    document, sir. The Advanced Projects Division is now officially authorized. The timing
    worked spectacularly; Bill was in such a rush that he didn’t even read the fine print.”
    “Not that he would have found anything; your legalese was most impressive. Now, it’s
    time to share the good news with our crowd.”
    Bob walked to the podium, greeted by cheers from those who remembered his speech a
    few days ago.
    The plan for this speech was to reveal the new division, or the Advanced Projects
    Division, as it was called. Had Bill had not signed the document, Bob would have had
    to speak more inspiration for the engineers to continue their work, while frantically
    drafting an alternate plan to achieve his goals.
    “Hello, all!” Bob spoke into the microphone. “I’m pleased to report that myself and my
    colleagues of the administration have heard your complaints and are in the process of
    brainstorming solutions as I speak!”
    The engineers, already pleased by Bob’s return, began cheering louder.
    “The first and foremost solution is as follows. As of this moment, the administration is
    opening the Advanced Project Division, a subset of your work here in the VAB. Its
    primary focus will be to research and develop new rocket technologies. No longer will
    you be forced to work with discarded tech from Werhner’s labs, or have to do all your
    testing on your own; this new division will provide everything you need. Now, all you
    have to do is what you do best: put rockets together!”
    The largest cheer yet greeted Bob’s words. Joliana smirked. The engineers had been
    ignored and patronized for so long that they were overjoyed when someone actually
    listened to their concerns. They would be loyal to Bob for a long, long time.
    Honestly, for all that kerbal’s talk about not preferring the spotlight, he handled this
    sort of thing very well. Indeed, Joliana had been surprised when USI had made her the
    assistant of this seemingly quiet, unassuming kerbal in the Space Program. She’d
    argued that providing USI’s guidance would be a waste and that even if Bob would lack
    the authority to carry the advice out. However, she was never as happy to be proven
    wrong as he was today. With the access to space launch facilities and technologies
    granted by this department, USI would be able to finally mount some sort of defence
    against the CKFN’s military’s previously-unrestricted access to space.
    Joliana would be keeping a close eye on Bob in the future; the kerbal had nearly single-
    handedly managed to turn a nearly untenable situation into a win for all parties
    involved. That sort of skill would be very dangerous if ever directed against her and
    USI’s own interests. Still, a new dawn approached for the Space Program; while a
    tremendous amount of work still awaited everyone, the USKK was back in the race to
    the Mun.
     
    * * *
     CKFN: Facility for Space Research, Danford’s Office
    Two Weeks Later
    Danford leaned back in his desk, watching as the engineer standing in front of him
    drew the presentation to a close. The kerbal in question was lead engineer on the Space
    Programme’s division working on the Aurora capsule, Caelus’ successor.
    Danford reflected on what he’d heard so far. It was really quite remarkable what the
    team had accomplished; in just over three months, they’d come up with a far more
    capable and technologically-advanced ship compared to Caelus. The engineer’s face
    positively shone with pride at what they’d done as he pointed at a technical diagram of
    the capsule. Danford liked that, it really showed how dedicated his crew was towards
    the Programme.
     
    The engineer concluded his speech. “So as you can see sir, Aurora has a completely
    redesigned thermal cooling system, which can and will prevent any incidents like the
    one with Caelus III on its Munar trip. Do you have any further questions?”
    Danford did. “I noticed that the capsule appears to have two docking ports, one fore
    and one aft. Are those both going to be functional?”
    “Yes sir, the capsule will indeed be able to connect to two spacecraft at once. In fact, we
    envisioned it as connecting both to the Munar lander as well as a Janus refuelling
    spacecraft.”
     
    “Ah excellent,” Danford then glanced at some of the more detailed specifications for the
    spacecraft. “What’s this I see? There’s no liquid fuel carried on board?”
    “This was a suggestion from one of the Propulsion Engineers; we wanted to make
    Aurora as safe as possible. So we did away with conventional liquid fuel and oxidizer,
    and designed the monopropellant in the RCS system to be used for main propulsion as
    well as fine position control. This will make for a ship which won’t detonate if a tank is
    breached, as well as giving it exceptional long-term capabilities. The fuel will be just as
    viable two years from now as it is today. Of course, that does come at the cost of
    reduced delta-v once in orbit.”
     
    “That’s not a problem,” Danford replied. “Aurora should mainly act as a command-and-
    control vessel for larger spacecraft or carry crew up to low orbit. I don’t expect it will
    have to venture out into deep space on its own. Speaking of which, you mentioned
    Janus during your presentation. What’s the news on the updated version of that
    vessel?”
    “Ah yes, Janus is a very simple craft so it was trivial to simply widen the body to
    accommodate Aurora’s ventral docking port, as well as fit more fuel as well as an engine
    on-board. In fact, we have an early version of that ship ready for launch, which can
    occur as soon as Jupiter I is ready.”
    “Fantastic. I just heard from Dilbrett that he’s planning to launch the Jupiter I prototype
    within the week, if everything goes well.”
     
    “That is excellent news. I think this is everything you need to know about the capsule.
    I’ll get an intern to give you a complete technical readout of our designs.”
    Danford leaned back in his chair. “That would be much appreciated, thank you. Now,
    speaking of launch dates, how long do you think the capsule will take to complete?”
    The engineer deflated somewhat, losing his earlier good cheer. “Well, sir, that’s
    something I wanted to talk to you about.”
    “Go ahead.”
    “The Vehicle Assembly Building is proving to be entirely unsuitable for our needs; the
    facilities simply aren’t up to the task of the high-precision work necessary to assemble
    the capsule. We’ve tried to outsource as much as possible, but the most we can give you
    is a simple boilerplate, with only basic systems included.”
    “Hmm. So basically we can’t get to the Mun without better tech?”
    “Exactly, sir. There’s just no way to build a spacecraft which is rugged enough to get to
    the Mun and stay there with our current equipment.”
    “I’ve been trying for months to get Bilcas to allocate more funds to the Space Program
    for precisely that reason, but he keeps refusing me. Maybe this news will pressure him
    into finally coming through for us.”
    “Hopefully, sir. In the meantime, what would you prefer my team focus on? We could
    assist Dilbrett’s team with the Jupiter prototype, get it to the launchpad a few days
    ahead of schedule?”
    “No, no, your time is better spent elsewhere. Continue working on Aurora, at the very
    least build the boilerplate, as we can launch that. Make sure your team is ready to begin
    building the capsule as soon as the required facilities become available. When you’re
    through with that, focus on the Munar lander. We’re going to want to put a kerbal on
    the surface, after all.”
    “Very good sir! I’ll let my team know!”
    * * *
     
    A few days later, in the VAB, Danford paid a visit to Dilbrett’s team. “How goes the
    Jupiter?” the Director called out.
    A kerbal in the middle of welding a seam in a rocket engine, face covered by a mask,
    looked up. Upon seeing Danford, he shut off his torch and lifted the mask. Beneath was
    Dilbrett’s face, smeared with grease. “Hey Danford! Everything’s going well, thanks!
    It’s good to see you! Want a coffee?”
    Dilbrett pointed at a battered, ancient coffee machine which looked like it predated the
    Great War. Danford wouldn’t have been surprised if it burned coal.
    “Ah, I’ll pass, thanks.” He looked up at the body of the prototype Jupiter I, looming
    large overhead. “I see you’re making good progress on the rocket. When’s the expected
    launch date?”
    “Shouldn’t be much more than a few more days,” Dilbrett said, somewhat preoccupied
    with working his thick welding gloves off his fingers. “The fuel tanks are complete, and
    once we finalize work on the main engine, she’ll be ready to fly!”
    Danford took note of the massive engine bell. “That certainly is a main engine. I think I
    could fit my car in there!”
    “Ha! We’ve taken to calling it the ‘Mainsail’ around here, the thrust it’ll output is
    comparable to one of the city-states’ total power plants’ outputs in a year!”
    Danford chuckled. “So will this be the final version of Jupiter which will fly, Brett?”
    “Not entirely. The rocket you see here is just the final prototype of the Jupiter I lifter.
    When we launch, it won’t even have a second stage on board; it’s just to test the engine
    and to make sure that all systems work properly. 2.5 metre rockets are no joke, after
    all.”
    Dilbrett’s smile faded as his thoughts obviously turned to the USKK’s ill-fated Uranus
    IX. Danford tried to take his mind off the situation by changing the subject.
    “So, uh, I heard you guys were planning on making this recoverable?”
    Evidently, this was the right thing to say, as the smile returned to the lead engineer’s
    face. “We are! Of course, today’s rocket won’t be, but there are plans to outfit future
    rockets with the technology.”
    “So will it let you land the rocket stages safely?”
    “Yes, the initial designs will add landing legs and parachutes to the Jupiter first stages.
    This should let the stage come back down, be refurbished, and reused on a future
    launch. This should bring costs down a great deal!”
    “That’s good to hear. Apparently we’re going to need more advanced facilities in order
    to make it to the Mun with Aurora, so we’re going to have to do some major cost-saving
    efforts around here. Recycling our rockets will be a great way to do that!”
    “Cost-saving? You mean we won’t be able to replace the coffee machine?”
    The machine in question chose that moment to unleash a particularly nasty-sounding
    gurgle, and belched a cloud of thick, black smoke.
    “Ah, well, we’ll see about the coffee maker. I may be able to pass its replacement off
    under ‘kerbal rights’.”
    “Excellent, that’s good to hear! I’m beginning to suspect it may be possessed by some
    sort of demon.”
    “Really? You believe in that sort of thing? Why that’s just—”
    The coffee maker let out more smoke, this time emitting a noise which sounded a little
    too much like a roar.
    “I—err—I’ll look into it. Good luck on the rocket, Brett!” Danford beat a hasty retreat,
    making a note to get that coffee maker replaced—or at the very least exorcised—
    immediately.
    * * *
     
    Three days later, Danford grinned as he watched the Jupiter I rocket roll out to the
    launchpad. Completed at last, the ship shone in the morning sun. For a change, Mission
    Control wouldn’t be monitoring this launch. No complicated payload stood atop this
    rocket, rather it was Instead, the engineers had the run of the launch controls. This
    would be as simple as one of the old sounding rocket launches they’d done a year or
    two ago. Rocket lifts off, rocket reaches highest point, rocket comes down. Simplicity
    itself.
    A shout from the launchpad alerted him that fuelling had completed, and the rocket
    was nearly ready for takeoff. Soon enough, the ship’s umbilical cables disconnected,
    and it leapt into the air.
     
    Leapt was perhaps an understatement; the thrust of the main engine was designed to
    carry both an upper stage and a sizable payload, so its Thrust to Weight ratio was far
    greater than the rockets Danford had seen launched so far.
    In the blink of an eye, it cleared the tower and was on its way to climbing higher than
    the mountains near the Space Facility. Soon, it was almost too small to see.
     
    Danford looked over to the engineers manning a makeshift Mission Control; a tech kept
    a radio dish pointed at the rocket, receiving telemetry and performance data from the
    vehicle. This was displayed on a number of screens all connected together with some
    unholy tangle of wires. Two engineers monitored the data, and a printer was busily
    outputting the most important information onto a long strip of paper.
    “How’s the rocket looking?” the Director asked. One engineer looked up.
    “She’s performing very well, but the higher acceleration is playing all sorts of havoc
    with our aerodynamic results. She’s barely made 5 klicks and already is at Mach 1!”
    The other piped in, not looking up from his monitor. “We’re getting a nasty
    temperature rise on the upper portions of the rocket, I don’t think that nose cone’s
    going to last much longer!”
     
    As the tech said that, several numbers went into the red, and suddenly they cut out
    altogether.
    “Well dang, there goes the transceiver, probably fried by the heat. If that’s gone, we
    don’t have any control over the ship anymore.”
    The kerbal pointed up to the sky, where the trail of smoke left by the rocket was now
    tilting to the left, as the rocket tipped over and began its long fall back to Kerbin.
    Fortunately, the Space Facility wasn’t near any civilian-populated areas.
     
    Danford was somewhat worried by this. “If you lose control authority when things get
    warm, isn’t that bad?”
    The second engineer chuckled. “Well yeah, if you wind up going over Mach 2 under 10
    klicks, shock heating’s going to cook your goose for sure. With an actual payload
    underneath, there’s no way we’ll reach those speeds that early into the flight.”
    The first tech showed Danford the long strip of output numbers. “Look at these thrust
    and temperature readings on the Mainsail itself! Gorgeous!”
    Danford thought that the numbers looked rather like random values, but he smiled and
    mhmm’d at the kerbal. Still, if the engineer was happy, Danford was happy.
    He walked away, adding elements to his mental checklist. Now that the launcher was
    well on its way to completion, all the Space Programme needed was to build Aurora,
    and design a Munar lander system. The Mun drew ever closer, and with the USKK out
    of the picture, his workers had the luxury of time and being able to double-check their
    work.
    They were making excellent progress; he had no doubts that one day soon the CKFN
    would land a kerbal on the Mun.
    * * *
     USKK: Space Centre, Bob Kerman’s Office
    One Month Later
    “…and as you can see, sir, the Advanced Projects Division is fully staffed and working
    at optimum efficiency. However, they have yet to actually produce anything of value.”
    “As I said, Joli, give them time. Aerospace developments don’t happen overnight!”
    Joliana’s jaw set. “With all due respect, now that the CKFN has proven they have a 2.5-
    meter launch vehicle, it may be best to re-task the division to focus primarily on a wide-
    bodied lifter of our own.” She picked up a grainy surveillance photograph and waved it
    around to punctuate her point.
    She sighed. “Perhaps you could get them to dig up the Uranus IX specifications, focus
    on solving the first-stage overheating issues?”
    Bob was adamant. “Give them time. Uranus IX was a rush job, built just to beat the
    CKFN to the Mun. It failed. The techs need to take things slowly and make sure they
    don’t miss any rocket designs which could be more efficient than the current ones.”
    “Very well sir.” Joliana grumbled. She pulled another paper out of the stack she was
    carrying. “In other news, it looks like there are still complaints about lack of direction
    from the Space Center staff, though those have decreased substantially from the
    engineers. In my opinion, sir, we need to get Bill to decide what the Space Program
    should focus on.”
    “What’s the mood in the capital? With those government observers finally gone, maybe
    Bill will want to finally focus on the Program? Then again, he’s been over there for a
    good week now. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that something big is going
    down.”
    “I’m afraid I don’t know, sir. I’m a field agent first and foremost; the politics going on in
    Kolus City are no concern of mine.”
    “Huh. Well, whatever it is, it’s been consuming a great deal of Bill’s time. In fact…”
    Bob’s face drew into a wide grin, the one Joliana associated with one of his schemes.
    Oh no, she thought to herself. What does he have planned now? “Sir?”
    “It may be time to take a little vacation.”
    “A…vacation?” Whatever it was Joliana expected to come out of Bob’s mouth, it was
    certainly not this.
    “Yes, but not to the Dazian Beaches. I’ll have need for your skills; I’m planning to go
    hunting for a certain kerbal, one who can tie.”
    “And that kerbal would be…?” The question was almost redundant, as she realized
    there was only one possible answer.
    “Jebediah Kerman,” was Bob’s response, and Joliana sighed, suspicions confirmed.
    “With all due respect—” Before she could commence her rant on why bringing back
    Jebediah was a terrible idea, Bob cut her off.
    “I know what you’re going to say; his policies caused the death of three kerbals, chaos
    in the engineering department, and put us seriously behind in the space technology
    race with the CKFN.”
    “You are correct, sir.” Those three topics were precisely what Joliana was going to
    mention.
    “Which is why I want to bring Jeb back, but in an advisory role only. You can’t deny the
    kerbal had vision! His plans and ideas brought us to dominate Low Kerbin Orbit for
    nearly a year, doing research which is still bearing fruit for scientists here on Kerbin.”
    “Then launch more kerbals into orbit. It doesn’t take Jebediah to tell you that.”
    “The game has changed, Joli. Jeb’s got more imagination than the entire administration
    of this Program, and we’re going to need that if we want to beat the CKFN to the Mun,
    especially with their advantages over us so far.”
    Joliana massaged her forehead. “All right. Suppose Jebediah would be an asset to the
    Program, rather than the liability he’s proven to be. How do you propose to find him?
    He’s dropped completely off the map.”
    “I have a few ideas, the first and foremost his old hometown. There’s bound to be
    someone there who he’s talked to recently.”
    “You do realize you don’t require me if all you want to do is talk to Jeb’s old friends,
    correct?”
    “Well, I do require your connections. Bill’s likely to be back within a few days, and I
    need to get up north quickly. Do you happen to know of any jets I could borrow?”
    She sighed. “I do know of a craft or two I could borrow for a day or two. But I doubt
    you know how to fly one, they’re fairly new technology.”
    Bob bowed his head, conceding that much. “You are correct; I can’t fly a plane. Besides,
    I have a bit of an…issue…with heights. Perhaps you could chauffeur me? You are my
    personal assistant after all.”
    “I suppose so, sir.” While Joliana grumbled externally, she was secretly glad for this
    opportunity. She quite enjoyed flying the new prototype jet planes USI had been
    developing, and this would be an excellent opportunity to get away from the dullness
    of her duties here at the Space Center.
    “Excellent, let me know when you have it ready, I have a few last-minute arrangements
    to make. The sooner we leave, the better the chance we get back before Bill returns.”
    “Yes sir.”
    * * *
    Bill Kerman leaned forward in disbelief. “So what is it you’re saying, sir?”
    The Prime Minister of the USKK leaned back in his seat. “I am saying that Parliament
    was not satisfied with the governmental investigators’ reports.”
    “But I’ve worked to include their suggestions over the past few months into Space
    Program policy! That’s the entire reason I’ve been here so often over the last few
    months.”
    “Now, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate your cooperation with the government
    regarding the policy changes, but there is a subset of Parliament which thinks that more
    extreme measures are needed.”
    “And those extreme measures are to put the Space Program under government
    control.”
    “Yes. Bill, I know the independent Program has covered a lot of ground over the past
    few years and done wonderful things for science and public inspiration, but to be
    honest, Parliament has lost faith.”
    “What? After a single accident?”
    The Prime Minister sighed. “It’s not just that. Look, Bill, we’ve been seeing diminishing
    returns from the Program. Your most recent missions haven’t given much of a
    technological advantage or done as much useful science as the initial ones. My
    colleagues and I believe that greater good can be accomplished by beating the CKFN on
    the home front, rather than trying to explore a new frontier.”
    Bill’s shoulders slumped. “Surely public opinion counts for something? The people are
    incredibly enthusiastic about the Program!”
    “Not particularly. The most recent public opinion polls reveal that the explosion of
    Uranus IX—the debris killed nineteen civilians, thank Harv it wasn’t more—has made
    the public far more worried about the impact that space travel has on both themselves
    as kerbals, and on the nation itself. I daresay very few kerbals will go out to watch the
    next rocket launch.”
    Bill conceded the point. “You’ve stated Parliament’s worries. What are these increased
    governmental controls?”
    The Prime Minister passed a sheet of paper over the desk to Bill. “As you can see, the
    document—Bill UK-67—outlines the transition towards a government-overseen space
    agency. The Director—which is you, of course—will be replaced with a governmental-
    chosen candidate who will answer directly to Parliament, and the Program’s funding
    will also be overseen by that body. Naturally, you are free to continue working with the
    Program, just not as its Director.”
    Bill kept reading. “What’s this at the bottom? You’re restricting launch sizes? This
    would prevent the Program from launching anything but tiny probes! Correction, tiny
    probes to low orbit!”
    “Ah yes, an excellent suggestion from one of my colleagues. There was a great deal of
    concern over the Uranus IX explosion, and many in Parliament feared that more kerbals
    would be at risk if there existed additional, less obvious, flaws in the engineering work
    or policies. This size and payload restriction will let any unforeseen kinks work their
    way out.”
    “But this puts us completely out of the race for the Mun! The CKFN will surely beat us
    there if we’re stuck launching tiny payloads!”
    The Prime Minister raised an eyebrow. “Bill, I believe your Program is operating under
    the impression that the USKK is desperately competing with the CKFN in space. While
    they have admittedly made some progress there, their achievements have merely
    matched your own. This government believes that effort should be spent on beating the
    CKFN in more functional applications, such as economic dominance, or militarily. Your
    Program should be focused on that as well, rather than attempting to send kerbals
    straight for the Mun, which is as far as our scientists can tell, a featureless rock.”
    “So that’s it? The Program is finished?”
    “I wouldn’t say it’s finished. The Bill is still in its early stages, and Parliament will not
    vote on it for a few months. I’m informing you of its existence now to give you time to
    let go of non-essential staff, gear down production, and prepare for a successor.”
    “You mean the Bill isn’t in effect yet? There’s a chance to stop it?”
    At this, the Prime Minister let out a sigh. “No. Bill, this—ahem—bill is a near-certainty in
    my books. I highly advise against trying to fight this; all it will do is tarnish your
    reputation further.”
    Bill stood up. “Very well. I suppose we’re done here.”
    As Bill walked towards the door, the Prime Minister spoke. “Bill, don’t get me wrong, I
    admire what you managed to do these past few years. But this nation needs to stand
    together against the CKFN, not be divided over the Space Program.”
    Bill left the office. Regardless what the Prime Minister said, he was going to fight this
    bill. The Space Program couldn’t be snuffed out that easily!
    * * *
    With a practised hand, Joliana set the aircraft she’d procured down on the cracked
    tarmac of a back lot of Tenby, Jebediah Kerman’s hometown. She suspected that a town
    as small as this wouldn’t get much air traffic, particularly a cutting-edge Vertical Take
    Off and Landing design. She just hoped it was out of the way enough.
    “Where did you have in mind for searching for Jebediah, sir?” she asked as the two
    exited the vessel.
    “I thought we’d walk around and get to know the place, see if anyone knows of Jeb,
    then take it from there. We’re in no real rush, Bill’s not due back from the capital for a
    few days.”
    As it turned out, finding information about Jeb was less difficult than they’d initially
    thought. The town appeared to be proud of their famous kerbal, and most kerbals they
    talked to had some anecdote or another about Jeb. However, it wasn’t until they met the
    local general store owner when they found information of value.
    “Ah, Jeb! You know, he’s a bigwig at the Space Program now! I did so enjoy watching
    those rockets go up on the TV—except for that most recent one. ‘Tis a pity. Ah, I
    remember when Jeb still lived here though, must have been, oh, twenty, twenty-five
    years ago? He used to pop down to the store for snacks every weekend! Ah, that was
    before the Great War, you know, I nearly had to shut down the store during that
    conflict! Terrible for business, that was.”
    “Yes, ah, I can imagine. Do you know if Jeb has been back in town recently? We’re
    looking for him; he left the Space Program nearly four months ago.” asked Bob, clearly
    a little impatient with this kerbal’s stories.
    “Huh, well I can’t recall Jeb being back in town recently; he’d surely have come by to
    visit me! But if you want to know more about where Jeb might be, I’d check with
    Valentina. She’s an old flame of his; they were close for a while a few years ago.”
    “Hmm, do you have any idea how we could get in touch with her?”
    “I think she’s one of them fancy new fighter jet pilots now, but I just heard she’s back in
    town. You can probably find her at the bar down the street, to tell you the truth. But
    what’s this about Jeb not being with the Program any more?”
    Joliana could see that Bob had no desire to continue the conversation now that he had
    the information he needed. So she quickly intervened. “I’m afraid we don’t have much
    time, and have to run. Thank you for your cooperation!”
    * * *
    The bar the shopkeeper mentioned was a quiet affair, certainly no wretched hive of
    scum and villainy like what Joliana was expecting. Evidently the locals preferred their
    drinks in peace. Still, she must be cautious. Entering, Bob made his way to the
    barkeeper, a heavyset kerbal cleaning out some glasses. Joliana followed, keeping her
    eye out for trouble.
    “Excuse me,” Bob asked. “Is Valentina Kerman here tonight?”
    The barkeeper made an affirmative-sounding grunt and jerked a thumb towards a
    corner booth. Bob thanked the kerbal and the two made their way over to the table.
    Upon reaching it, Bob spoke. “Valentina Kerman, I presume?”
    “Who’s asking?” came the response. The kerbal appeared uninterested. “Look,
    whatever it is you want, I probs won’t be able to give it to ya, my squadron’s shipping
    out tomorrow morning.”
    “Don’t worry. All I need is information. On one certain Jebediah Kerman.”
    At this, Valentina raised an eyebrow. “Jeb? Jeez, I haven’t spoken to him in years. Why
    are you asking me, by Mu? Isn’t he some sort of bigwig at the Space Program now?”
    Bob slipped into the seat opposite Valentina. “Yes, up to about four months ago. He’s
    vanished off the map, and we’re trying to find him. I’ve been told you were close to
    him…do you have any idea where he might have gone?”
    The other kerbal’s eyes narrowed. “Before I go telling you Jeb’s life story, mind if I ask
    just who you are? I’m a bit of the suspicious type, you know.”
    Bob chuckled. “Hey Joli, looks like we’ve found you a kindred spirit!” Leaning up
    against a wall and scanning the crowd for trouble, the secret agent narrowed her eyes,
    unamused. “Regardless, I’m Bob Kerman, co-founder of the USKK Space Program. This
    here is my assistant Joliana.”
    Valentina leaned back in her chair. “Ah, so you’re Bob. I recall Jeb mentioning you a
    couple times. Nice to meet you.”
    “Likewise. So, how about it? Any idea where Jeb may have gone?”
    Valentina’s brow wrinkled. “Well, I can’t tell you much for certain, but I do know he’s
    got a cabin up in the northern woods. You used to only be able to get to it by hiking, but
    nowadays I’m sure you can just fly there, though you might have a bit of a time landing
    your plane! I’ll give you the coords if you want to check the place out.”
    “We’ll manage, and the coordinates would be most helpful, thank you.”
    “Yeah, I’m not sure why you’d need them again, ‘specially after your guys asked me
    about this a few weeks ago. Maybe they got lost, heh?” She scribbled down some
    numbers on the back of a napkin.
    “Our guys?” asked Bob.
    “Yeah, the big dudes with weird accents. Said they were from the Space Program too.”
    At this, Joliana’s eyes widened, coming to a realization. She caught hold of Bob’s sleeve.
    “Excuse me, sir, but we need to leave.”
    Looking around, Bob looked like he was about to protest, but thought better of it when
    he saw the look in Joliana’s eyes.
    “Ah, very well. Thank you for the information, Valentina. I’ll say hi to Jeb for you when
    we see him.”
    “Yeah, yeah, whatever…” The pilot turned her attention back to her drink.
    Outside, Bob turned to Joliana. “Do you mind telling me what that was all about?”
    She didn’t turn around, but kept walking quickly towards where they’d parked the
    aircraft. “The CKFN.”
    “Were there agents in the bar? I didn’t see…”
    “No, they were the ones who talked to Valentina!”
    “You sure? It could have been just a couple of concerned citizens, looking for the
    founder of the Space Program.”
    “Think about it, your rival’s space program’s leader just up and quits after a rocket
    blows up. If I was the CKFN, I would spend all my efforts determining his
    whereabouts. An opportunity like this would be too good to pass up, if you ask me.”
    Bob had caught up to her now. “You don’t mean that Jeb’s…in danger from these
    agents?”
    Her face darkened. “I don’t know. But we need to get to that cabin before they do.”
    Shooing away a couple of small children who were enamoured by the plane’s sleek
    lines, she climbed in the cockpit and began the engine start-up sequence, before
    rocketing into the sky and towards the provided coordinates.
    * * *
    Eyeing the terrain below, Joliana glanced over her shoulder. “We’re less than five
    kilometers out, sir. I suggest you strap in; this could be a rough landing.”
    Nervously peering out at the endless expanse of trees, Bob did as she asked. “Doesn’t
    look like any clearings ahead. Is this plane strong enough to survive a landing on top of
    a tree?”
    “Theoretically.” This did not appear to calm Bob’s nerves, already appeared to be on
    edge due to the height. “I imagine the cabin has some sort of clearing around it,
    though.”
    To Joliana’s relief (and likely Bob’s as well), the cabin did indeed have a patch of grass
    surrounding it, flat and wide enough to serve as a makeshift landing pad. She brought
    the plane down once more as smooth as a feather, though she did catch a wing on one
    of the surrounding trees’ branches. Hopefully the paint wasn’t scratched, or she’d never
    hear the end of it back at USI.
    After exiting the plane, Joliana crept carefully up to the cabin, sitting serenely on top of
    a rise in the grass. She motioned Bob to get down behind a rock.
    “You can’t possibly think those CKFN agents got here first, now do you? We were
    going so fast in that plane I thought it was going to split in half!”
    “Bob, they’ve had weeks to get here. Even on foot, it’s not too far from the nearest
    town.”
    “Well, it doesn’t look like anyone’s here.”
    “That’s what I’m afraid of,” Joliana said darkly. If the agents had already come and
    gone and encountered Jebediah—, well, Bob’s plan to breathe more life into the Space
    Program would very quickly fall apart. “Let’s move up.”
    The two crept closer to the cabin, and Joliana tried the door. “Locked.”
    “Good or bad sign?” asked Bob.
    “Not sure, give me a second and I’ll get this open,” she said, pulling a custom-built
    lockpick from her utility belt and reaching for the lock. It was an old-fashioned single-
    tumbler design and she unlocked it easily enough.
    As the door opened, a wave of dust poured out. Bob looked like he was about to begin a
    coughing fit, but he put a hand over his mouth and stepped to the side, suppressing it.
    Joliana held her breath and ventured into the cabin. It didn’t take her long to conclude
    Jebediah wasn’t there. In fact, it didn’t look like anyone had lived there for years, based
    upon the lack of personal belongings and several-centimetre-thick layer of dust that lay
    over everything.
    Bob walked in. “Well—ahem—it looks like Jeb didn’t come back to his cabin after all. By
    Max, where could he be?”
    “Not sure. Any more ideas as to places to look for him?”
    “There might be another place he could be at, but it’s hard to say if it’ll be another wild
    goose chase or not.”
    “I’ll take any lead over no lead,” Joliana said as she walked back outside. Then she
    froze. A tall kerbal dressed in hiking clothes stood outside, about halfway down the hill.
    He spoke crisply, in a clear CKFN accent.
    “Ah, hello there! Do either of you chaps happen to know where one might find a certain
    Jebediah Kerman? We were told this cabin belonged to him.”
    Joliana drew her service pistol and levelled it.
    “Put your hands up, Confederate scum.”
    The CKFN spy, for his credit, did not freeze, but leaped behind several rocks in one
    swift, fluid movement. That didn’t stop Joliana from letting off several shots, but their
    only effect was to send a few rock chips flying.
    “We’re going, Bob!” she yelled at the kerbal still inside the cabin. A second or two later,
    Bob emerged, half-covered in dust. He looked like he dove to the floor the second he’d
    heard gunfire. Smart.
    From behind the rocks, she could hear the CKFN agent speaking into his wrist radio.
    “Nox 2, I’ve come under fire from enemy units at the cabin, repeat, hostiles engaged.”
    Knowing the agent was calling for backup, Joliana grabbed Bob by the collar and took
    off running for the plane. She managed to get a few shots off, but unfortunately didn’t
    hit anything. Still, it stopped the agent from returning fire.
    Finally, the two reached the aircraft. Joliana shoved Bob up the ladder, and quickly
    followed. She wasted no time with pre-flight checklists, but rather fed fuel to the
    engines (still warm from their landing not ten minutes earlier) and shoved the throttle
    forward. The aircraft’s vertical-facing engines roared to life, scorching the grass
    underneath.
    When the aircraft had cleared the treetop, Joliana immediately spooled up the main jet
    engines, shoving them both back in their seats as the plane accelerated away. She could
    see Bob’s knuckles turning white as he desperately clutched his seat’s armrests.
    Finally, putting some distance between them and the agents, she let out the breath she’d
    been holding. She turned to Bob.
    “Confirmation of CKFN agents operating here is definitely something USI should know
    about. I’m going to need to call this in. Mind getting in the back while I call?”
    “Sure. I imagine you want to know where we’re headed next first, though?”
    “Right. You said you had an idea to where Jebediah may have gone?”
    “Yes. A year or two back, Jeb wanted to open up an airbase on one of the islands north
    of the Space Center. He intended it to be a hub of shipping and transportation. He even
    started spending a lot of time up there, flying back and forth himself in an early-model
    aircraft.”
    “So is that airbase still there?”
    “Yeah, but it never proved to be financially viable. The Space Program’s funders wrote
    it up as a loss and the place was shut down. I can’t imagine why Jeb would want to go
    there, but it’s the place with the next-closest connection I can think of.”
    “All right, I’ll set a course for the airbase now.”
    * * *
    Bill watched shadows outside getting longer and longer as the sun set.
    He sighed. What could he do? From where he was sitting, the government was right.
    The Space Program was divided, unfocused, and would probably not make it to the
    Mun before the CKFN regardless. He’d recently seen some improvement, particularly
    with the engineers, but it was almost certainly too little, too late. In a few months, the
    Space Program would be over.
    Not for the first time in recent days, he found himself wondering what Jeb would have
    done, if he was around. Then, he cursed himself for thinking of that kerbal. It was Jeb
    who was responsible for all this. His policies, his apathy towards proper safety
    procedures, and then dumping the whole Program’s responsibility onto Bill at the first
    sign of trouble.
    Again, Bill sighed. If only that blasted rocket hadn’t blown up. He’d tried his best to keep
    the Program together in the aftermath of Uranus IX, but he just wasn’t cut out for the
    job of Director. No matter how much direction he’d tried to give the Program, it never
    seemed to be enough. There was always more work to be done, another governmental
    investigator to satisfy, another document which required his signature.
    Maybe this is for the best, though, he thought, as the sun disappeared over the horizon,
    shrouding his office in darkness.
    * * *
    “This is it.”
    “It appears the runway is not in terrible shape, I’ll land conventionally.” Joliana brought
    the plane down and taxied towards the main aircraft hangers. “Where do you expect to
    find Jebediah?”
    Bob scratched his chin. “There’s a series of old administration buildings further inland,
    but let’s first check the aircraft hangers. Jeb’s always loved planes.”
    The plane came to a stop, and the two exited, approaching the largest of the hangers.
    Before they got halfway there, a voice stopped them.
    “Hello, Bob.”
    A lone figure emerged from the base’s aircraft control tower, and walked toward Bob
    and Joliana. It was Jebediah Kerman, looking tired and scruffy, with week-old stubble
    and large bags under his eyes.
    “Jeb, it’s good to see you! How have you, ah, been?” Bob said, quite happily.
    The former Director took a moment to reply. “I’ve…been getting by. Why did you come
    here?”
    “Jeb, I’m going to be honest with you. We need you back at the Space Program.”
    With this, Jebediah turned away. “Didn’t you hear me after Uranus IX exploded? I’m
    done. Done with killing kerbals and done with space.”
    “I don’t believe that for a second. What happened to the optimistic kerbal who believed
    in the Space Program? Who believed we could make a difference in the world? Who
    believed we could explore space peacefully, and for the betterment of all of Kerbin?”
    “He’s gone, Bob.”
    Joliana smiled to herself. Having witnessed the inspirational speeches Bob liked to whip
    up, she had a feeling this would be an entertaining exchange. Meanwhile, Jeb continued
    his self-pitying spiel.
    “After Uranus IX exploded, I saw first-hand what I had done to the Space Program, and
    I hated myself for it. I can’t go back. I stay here, and wander this base. The empty
    hangers remind me of my penance, and I must stay here to live through it.”
    Joliana suppressed another smile. Really? That sort of thing sounded like what an
    adolescent would write into their diary while trying to be all ‘deep’ and insisting to
    their mother that ‘this wasn’t a phase’. She deeply hoped Bob would put some sense
    into the kerbal, because she was on the verge of speaking up herself.
    “C’mon, Jeb. If you feel like you committed a crime, turn yourself in, go to jail. Don’t
    wander around an abandoned airbase for three-and-a-half months! Don’t beat yourself
    up over IX, it was as much Danbro’s fault as yours.”
    Jeb’s shoulders slumped. “Maybe—maybe you’re right, but how can I help the Program
    any more? I drove it straight into the ground.”
    “I’m damn sure I’m right, otherwise I wouldn’t even be here! Jeb, you’re a fantastic asset
    to the Space Program. “
    “I’m no Director. You saw first-hand the results of my policies.”
    “Maybe so, but you can’t deny that your imagination and drive led us to soundly beat
    the CKFN to low orbit, and we very nearly beat them to the Mun as well!”
    Joliana saw Jeb smile. It was a very faint smile, but a smile nonetheless.
    “That’s…that’s true.”
    “By Harv is it true!”
    “But I caused Uranus IX. The kerbals at the Space Center and across the USKK won’t
    accept me back.”
    “You’d be surprised as to what can be forgiven, Jeb. And besides, there’s one more
    reason why we need you back at the Space Program.”
    Joliana saw Bob pull a photograph out of his pocket and show it to Jeb. By that kerbal’s
    reaction, she could tell exactly what photograph it was: the CKFN’s Jupiter rocket from
    earlier. She’d have to liberate that from Bob at some point, classified information like
    that certainly did not belong out in the field.
    “Is that what I think it is?” asked Jeb, dumbfounded.
    “It sure is. The CKFN launched a 2.5-meter rocket without any issues. Now do you see
    why we need you back? If the CKFN makes it to the Mun first, they’ll establish a
    massive lead in space travel. Who knows what they’ll find up there? Maybe the new
    territory will give them the confidence to declare war on the USKK and wipe us all
    out!”
    Jeb snorted, then smiled a little bit more. “Don’t you think that’s just a bit
    unreasonable?”
    “Maybe, but who really knows what’s up there? Besides, keeping the CKFN from
    establishing a monopoly over space travel will be good for everyone.”
    “Hah! You think they’d start selling meteor chunks or something?”
    “At ridiculously steep prices, no doubt.” Bob started chuckling, and Jeb joined in.
    The former Director broke into a full smile. “You don’t know how good it feels to laugh
    again. Maybe I really have been gone for too long. Bob, tell your assistant to fire up that
    jet of yours. I’m coming back to the Space Center!”
    Bob grinned. “That’s good, I wasn’t going to leave until you said yes, you know. Wasn’t
    looking forward to what you do for sleeping arrangements here…”
    * * *
     CKFN: Facility for Space Research, Danford’s Office
    Two Days Later
    Danford leaned back in his chair. The term was nearly up for the CKFN’s current
    President, and the entire country was preparing for the elections next week. With Jupiter
    coming along on schedule, a boilerplate of Aurora nearly finished, and work beginning
    on the Munar lander, Danford didn’t have a whole lot to do. Thus, he sat idly in his
    spartan office, watching one of the most recent presidential debates on a small
    television set an intern had brought in.
    So far, nothing terribly exciting had occurred, unless one counted the various insults the
    candidates spouted off at one another, of course.
    All three candidates stood on a stage erected in some small town in the middle of the
    CKFN, bickering about today’s topic. The candidate furthest to the left hailed from a
    more conservative-leaning political party, who strongly believed that altogether too
    much information was flowing between the USKK and CKFN, far more than should be
    tolerated (they were enemies after all, they had insisted), and demanded a complete
    border shutdown and an overall isolationist policy on the world stage.
    The second candidate was more liberal, and believed that some trade should be opened
    between the two great powers, arguing that the CKFN could dominate the USKK
    economically, particularly if more attention was paid to upgrading and modernizing
    industrial sections in the southern half of the country. Unsurprisingly, this candidate
    hailed from that region, and no doubt had several kerbals with a great deal of self-
    interest in the region supporting his candidacy.
    However, the final candidate was far more interesting to Danford. She spoke little of
    international relations, but was an enthusiastic supporter of the Space Programme. She
    found a way to bring up the subject nearly every debate she spoke in, and stressed that
    rather than attempting to out-compete the USKK on the Kerbin itself, the CKFN should
    do so in the skies above, by establishing a permanent kerballed presence in orbit. She
    empathized that the Space Programme was the way to the future of the CKFN, by
    research and developing new technologies, as well as exploring new worlds. Needless
    to say, she’d be getting Danford’s vote.
    Unfortunately, today’s debate was about as far from the topic of space exploration as
    one could get, as the candidates were arguing whether or not current cabbage import
    legislation was too strict, too lenient, or should be abolished altogether. Wild tales of
    cabbage smugglers had been circulating around the CKFN for a few months now, of
    kerbals attempting to dodge the expensive import fees by making tremendous journeys
    across kilometres of open desert with their wares. Of course, more often than not, these
    tales were pure fiction or highly exaggerated, but the fact remained that the import fees
    were quite high, and there existed a significant demand for the goods.
    To Danford, each candidate had entirely too strong of an opinion upon these cabbages,
    and he sorely wished they’d actually get back to talking about subject matter which did
    not cause their viewers to fall asleep (as most of the audience onscreen appeared to be
    napping). But the debates went on, for better or for worse. Finally, when Danford was
    on the verge of switching the television off altogether, his desk’s telephone rang.
    Thrilled to have some form of distraction, he grabbed the receiver.
    “Hello?”
    The voice on the other end was deep and gruff and belonged to General Geoffnard.
    “Danford. I need you to come to the capital as soon as you can. The President has called
    an important Advisory Council meeting.”
    Danford’s brow furrowed. “The President called the meeting? His term ends in three
    days, what’s there to be said?”
    “Circumstances have, ah, conspired to require a meeting. Listen, I can’t brief you
    further over the phone—USKK spies could be listening—so get to the Capital.
    Immediately.”
    Glancing at the television, Danford saw that the cabbages debate was still in full swing.
    Compared to this, the mystery Advisory Council meeting would be heaven. “Sure
    thing, General,” he responded, and hung up.
    As Danford walked into the Council room an hour later, he saw the other members
    were already seated. There was Bilcas, glaring at his watch; Bilfrod, shuffling papers
    nervously; the General, sitting ramrod-straight in his chair; and finally, the soon-to-be-
    former-President of the CKFN, seated at the head of the table and looking like he would
    much rather be at home enjoying a nice cup of tea.
    “Now that everyone’s arrived, we can begin,” the General began. “Thank you all for
    coming on such short notice. Within several hours, this event will be all over the news,
    but I need to get the President’s opinion as soon as possible.”
    Bilcas grunted. “I’m not particularly sure why you insisted on us all being here; surely
    if it’s a matter for the President, it can be solved via personal communication?”
    Geoffnard grimaced. “Not exactly. I feel getting everyone’s opinion would give us an
    advantage in this situation. To be frank, two hours ago, the USKK invaded the
    sovereign state of Malentea.”
    You could hear a pin drop. Danford’s mind was reeling. Peace had reigned supreme for
    the last twenty-four years on Kerbin, why was the USKK spoiling that with a Max-
    damned invasion? “You can’t be serious,” he found himself blurting out. “Would—
    would this mean a repeat of the Great War?”
    “I’m afraid the situation is all too serious, but we may yet avoid war.” responded the
    General. He unfurled a map of the region, southeast of the USKK. Additionally,
    Geoffnard had marked upon the map diagonal lines which showed the extent of the
    USKK’s invasion, enveloping the entire country of Malentea.
     
    “Allow me to explain the background on this area for those unfamiliar.” Danford saw
    the General glance towards him, and narrowed his eyes. No doubt the General was
    rolling out the history lesson because he was present. Danford wasn’t an idiot, for
    Harv’s sake, he remembered just as well as any kerbal what had gone on during the
    War.
    Geoffnard began. “In the aftermath of the Great War, the full extent of the Malentean
    Isthmus was promised to the USKK in return for its liberation of several nation-states.
    However, the signing of the Treaty of Okheka in the final days of the war froze the
    borders of both the USKK and CKFN, and forbid either from adding more territory in
    the future, essentially nullifying this promise. The Treaty was signed to avoid precisely
    this sort of preying on the weaker nation-states, which I’m sure you all can recall was
    one of the primary causes of the War.”
    The General’s eyes darkened. “In the event of such a breach of the Treaty, it called for
    the other nation to declare war upon the aggressor, in defense of the smaller nation.
    This was written in the hopes of forcing the other to back down. Ideally, this threat of
    mutual warfare would discourage either side from even trying to break the Treaty.
    Unfortunately, the USKK has evidently decided that the Treaty no longer applies to
    them, and has moved troops into Malentea.”
    He passed some grainy, black-and-white photographs across the table, clearly showing
    USKK tanks doing battle with an unidentified militia-type force. The President looked
    at them and sighed heavily.
    “Has the USKK declared a casus belli? Do they have any sort of justification for this
    attack?”
    “None officially, but I believe this was a diplomatic annexation gone bad. Malentea’s
    leaders have long sought to join the USKK, but dissident factions may have started riots
    and popular movements against the current governing body, which led to the images
    you see here.”
    “Regardless of intent, the USKK still violated international law. I presume you called
    me in here to ask whether we will declare war in Malentea’s defense?”
    “That was indeed the purpose of this meeting, sir.”
    Again, the President sighed. “I can’t condemn the nation to war, then leave office three
    days later. Nor will my successor have an easy time of it; the government typically takes
    months to reorganize when a new President enters office. It appears the USKK has
    lucked out in their timing of this invasion.”
    “Not luck, sir,” the General stated. “The details of our elections are not exactly private, I
    believe it was very precise timing on their part which led to this invasion happening
    now, when they know we are unable to respond quickly.”
    The President massaged his temples. “So what are our options, then? Do we declare
    war? I was under the impression that most of the military is currently either disbanded
    or off patrolling the borders, and it would take a great deal of time to organize the
    forces.” The President continued. “I suppose declaring war immediately, then taking
    some time to send an attack isn’t out of the question.”
    Danford sat in disbelief. While certainly not eager about the whole thing, the President
    was discussing declaring a war which would undoubtedly consume most of the planet
    once again. And he did so while looking annoyed. Danford had always imagined a
    certain gravitas was present when discussing such matters, but he supposed reality
    never really did match up with what one saw in the movies, did it?
    The General was now pacing at the front of the room. “Sir, if the USKK so wished, they
    could invade us during that interim period and force our surrender. Recent intelligence
    reports show that they have conducted alarmingly extensive modernizations and
    upgrades to their military, and I believe have the potential to strike a devastating blow
    against our nation.”
    “Surely they aren’t so stupid as to attack us? It would take them weeks just to cross our
    defensive lines!”
    “Sir, based upon the intelligence we have, their modern tanks can cover a great deal of
    ground, and can concentrate a great deal of firepower on a single point. Static defenses
    won’t last long against the USKK’s armies. Also, there is the matter of aircraft, whose
    military application is still poorly understood, but which could easily overwhelm us.”
    The President was silent. “So what is it you’re saying? We don’t declare war?”
    “As always, the final decision is up to you, sir, but my recommendation is to allow the
    USKK to continue. Entering a war which the defender wants to lose with an unprepared
    military is just not strategically sound. Besides, it has been over twenty years since the
    Treaty, and one could argue that it may need some readjustments based upon the
    events which have occurred over the past two decades. Naturally, I recommend
    condemning the USKK at our earliest opportunity; they should certainly not get away
    with this scot-free.”
    “I agree, Geoffnard, thank you,” the President stated. Around the table, Danford could
    see the other council members nodding their heads in agreement. He continued. “Does
    anyone else have an opinion on this development?”
    Bilcas cleared his throat. “If we are to let this incident go without taking military action,
    well it sets a bit of a precedent, doesn’t it?”
    Evidently confused by Bilcas’ vague statement, the General responded angrily. “A
    precedent for future invasions by the USKK?”
    “Not necessarily. If the Treaty of Okheka is truly null and void, why any nation could
    then annex its neighbors—if it so wished, of course.” Bilcas clarified, smiling in a bit of a
    conspiratorial manner.
    “…I see,” remarked the General. “This will no doubt have to be more clearly defined
    in the future, though. Thoughts on the Finance Minister’s words, sir?” he asked, turning
    to the President, who was looking thoughtful.
    Standing up, the President responded. “All I can say is I believe the CKFN’s current
    borders to be sufficient for our prosperity. A re-evaluation of those will have to be a
    question to ask my successor. Now, if that’s everything, I very much wish to get home.
    It’s been altogether too long of a term in office.”
    * * *
    Four days later, Danford stood in the centre of the CKFN’s capital, in front of the main
    governmental buildings, where a cheering crowd had gathered. Fortunately, he was not
    speaking to them today, giving as many speeches as he’d had for the Space Programme
    had made him rather sick of the whole thing. Still, today’s speech would certainly be
    interesting, though the content of the speech did not nearly interest him as much as the
    speaker herself, or rather what her future policies hopefully would contain.
    As Adming Kerman, the space-loving Presidential candidate had won the election, not
    quite by a landslide, but by a significant margin which evidently reflected the public’s
    enthusiasm for space travel. He smiled. It must mean he was doing a pretty good job at
    the Programme, if the public voted for a candidate who promised to make
    advancements in that area!
    She began to speak, reciting grand words no doubt memorized the night before, but still
    impressive. For the most part though, it was a pretty generic ‘thank you for electing me’
    speech, but the last few segments caught his interest.
    “For as you all know, in a vile and despicable move, the USKK has invaded the
    sovereign state of Malentea with overwhelming force, and we are unable to intervene.
    We can only condemn them for such a shameful act of destroying the peace we all have
    worked so hard to maintain since the Great War!”
    At this condemnation of their rival nation, the audience let out a cheer. Danford
    suspected that this didn’t mean much; if the President got them riled up enough, the
    crowd would probably cheer for anything. Still, there was something to be said about
    the national pride the President was inspiring. The previous President never was one
    for grand speeches and usually preferred to work on things such as cabbage legislation,
    much less visible or accessible to the public.
    “Indeed, our great nation is focused upon greater achievements, ones which will bring
    the CKFN into the future! Take Danford Kerman here, his crew at the Space Programme
    are reaching for the very stars themselves, reaching to bring us all a better tomorrow!”
    Again, the crowd went wild, and Danford gave a little wave, once again amazed by the
    positive opinion of the Space Programme. One would expect that kerbals would be
    distrustful of his agency after the USKK demonstrated the deadly consequences of
    rocket failure, but these kerbals didn’t seem to be thinking about that at all. Truly,
    understanding public opinion was a more difficult task than rocket science.
    As the President continued her speech to the crowd, Danford looked skyward to where
    the Mun was rising above the horizon. He imagined kerbals walking on that body, clad
    in space suits and planting the flag of the CKFN proudly, to show the world the
    fantastic achievement they’d attained, which would be talked about for years, and no
    doubt live on throughout history as kerbalkind’s first step out from their home planet.
    Bringing his gaze back down to Kerbin, he reflected upon the road he’d need to travel
    to get to that future. The Space Programme faced a few issues, certainly, but he was
    confident that this new political regime would allow for those to be smoothed over
    quickly enough, he was certain.
    Things were looking up!
    * * *
     USKK: Space Program Administration Facility, Bob Kerman’s Office
    One Week Later
     
    For at least the twelfth time that day, Joliana Kerman glanced at Bob and Bill, locked in
    argument, and let out a snort of annoyance. Ever since she and Bob had returned from
    Jebediah’s old base, Bob had been arguing non-stop with Bill, and making no progress,
    from the sounds of it. Bill seemed to have relapsed into the same counter-argument he’d
    been using ten minutes ago and the two were making no progress. Shaking her head,
    she turned her attention back to the mail she was sorting, shifting in her uncomfortable
    small folding chair. Evidently the ‘Personal Assistant to Bob Kerman’ did not warrant a
    desk of her own. Fan letter, fan letter, bill, bill, bill for Bill, spam, another fan letter…
    This could get a little repetitive. Still, despite it all, she didn’t really mind this job.
    Sometimes she would catch herself thinking about getting back into the field, but that
    encounter with those CKFN agents was enough action for her for a good while. For the
    time being, sorting mail would do just fine for Joliana, though she really could do with
    a break from that argument.
    “I just can’t believe you brought…him…back here!” Bill was saying.
    “You do know you can speak his name; it’s not like he’s some sort of evil spirit who
    appears when you say it three times. He’s our friend, Bill!”
    “He killed those kerbals, Bob, there’s no coming back from that.”
    “Oh come on, looking at the grand scheme of things, that’s hardly a drop in the bucket.
    Why, similar R&D programs to ours have a much larger—”
    “Don’t even go there. He pushed the button to blow them up personally. We all heard
    what went down in that control room; with two minutes of decision-making time, Jeb
    chose to kill those kerbonauts. Snap decisions like that might work when one’s in the
    pilot’s seat, but never when kerbals’ lives are on the line like that!”
    “You’re being unreasonable! What would you have had him do? Wait until the rocket
    crashed into the spectators, killing everyone? No no no, he should have seen the engines
    overheating somehow before IX lost control, with data that didn’t exist at the time and
    made the call to scrub the launch? Is that what you’re saying?!”
    “You know full well that there wasn’t any data available, which was only because of his
    lax policies with inspections!”
    “Well he’s back and you can’t change that. You know what? Just stay in your office all
    day, and you won’t even have to see him! There. Problem solved.”
    “I’m still the Squad-damned Director of this Space Program, don’t you forget. Maybe I
    should just fire the both of you and be done with this whole business.”
    Joliana noted that the threat directed towards his position at the Program rattled Bob a
    considerable amount, as the kerbal stepped forward aggressively. “Oh yeah? You’re
    just going to start laying off everyone who disagrees with you? Yeah, that’s going to
    make a lot of kerbals really happy. What’re your buddies in Parliament going to say
    when the Space Program splits in two? Huh?”
    Something flashed within Bill’s eyes, and the kerbal glanced sideways for a moment
    before replying. “Maybe—maybe it doesn’t matter what they think.”
    Bob laughed nastily. “What, you’ve done such a bad job managing the Program, the
    government’s decided to shut it down?”
    This certainly caught Bill by surprise. After a moment, his jaw set, and his voice
    dropped to a whisper. “Maybe.”
    “Yeah, well—wait, wait…what?!” Bob was uncharacteristically caught entirely by
    surprise.
    “Let’s—ah, let’s consider this discussion elsewhere. Somewhere a little more…private.”
    His eyes flickered briefly over Joliana, who rolled her own. She probably had a higher
    security clearance than the both of them combined, but if Bill felt he needed to keep
    whichever Big Secret he was hiding under his hat confined to as few ears as possible, so
    be it.
    She waited until the two had left the room, then took her things over to Bob’s desk, and
    sat in his big chair. Much more comfortable!
    * * *
    Bill moved quickly down the hall, glancing in every doorway he passed, Bob
    begrudgingly following. This was taking longer than anticipated, all the rooms they’d
    passed so far were full of kerbals. Fortunately, a couple minutes more of searching
    yielded a small room used for storing cleaning supplies. Bill ushered Bob inside, and he
    closed the door behind the two of them. As a meeting room, this was decidedly non-
    ideal, as there was barely any space to maneuver, the only lighting came from a single
    overhead lightbulb, and a couple of spiders appeared to be listening in, but it would do
    for now.
    Bill composed himself. He’d been butting heads with Bob over this for the past week
    now, bringing the former Director back was absolutely inexcusable. Why couldn’t Bob
    see that Jeb was the reason the Space Program was in as much hot water as it was right
    now?
    Looking around at their cramped surroundings, Bob spoke. “Now that we’re alone,
    what’s this about the Program being shut down?”
    Bill swallowed. “About a week ago—while you were off site with your assistant—I met
    with the Prime Minister regarding the results of the governmental investigators.
    Apparently, they were displeased with our conduct and work practices and, ah,
    recommended we shift the Program’s focus immediately.”
    Bob appeared to be taken aback by this, but contrary to his usual response, did not
    make some sort of nasty remark about Bill’s character, nor did he scoff and dismiss
    Bill’s concerns. Instead, he asked an insightful question. “Shift our focus to what,
    exactly?” Unaccustomed to this, Bill took a moment to respond.
    “Well, rather than the current big, expensive kerballed boosters, they want us to return
    to what we started with two years ago—small atmospheric probes.”
    Bob’s face took on a pensive expression as he mulled over these words, once again
    surprising Bill. “That’s…not ideal. When does it come into effect?”
    Relieved that Bob was actually listening to him for once, Bill continued. “Well, I suppose
    there’s one piece of good news; the necessary bill to enact these restrictions isn’t due to
    be voted on for another two months.” Bill knew what Bob would say, and cut him off
    before he could speak. “However, the Prime Minister has been very clear that he expects
    a majority to pass it when it comes to a vote.”
    Brow furrowing, Bob responded. “Regardless of what the President thinks, that vote is
    no sure thing. We just need to convince them that we’ve learned from our past mistakes
    and the Program’s under competent management.”
    “Which is why bringing him back was such a bad idea! That majority will be a sure thing
    when Parliament hears the kerbal who blew up our last rocket is back,” Bill couldn’t
    believe Bob wasn’t getting this.
    “Come on, Bill. We need Jeb to actually get things done around here! We’ve sat around
    doing nothing for the past five months and I bet it’s half the reason that bill made it this
    far!”
    “You know; Jeb isn’t the only kerbal with ideas on what the future of the Space
    Program should be.” Bill hesitated, then decided to share an idea he’d been toying with
    for the past couple of days. “Why don’t we assemble a team of mission specialists and
    plan out a long-term strategy for the next year or so? That surely will inspire some
    confidence in Parliament!”
    “Are you kidding? You’re trying to fix this with a committee?” Bob exclaimed,
    immediately shooting the idea down. “They’ll use up those two months just deciding
    on a basic framework! It’s way too little, far too late.” Bill missed the brief window of
    time where Bob listened to what he had to say and responded rationally.
    “So he’s our only option?” he asked incredulously. “I refuse to believe that.”
    “Bill, if you’d actually talked to the kerbal since he got back, you’d know that he’s
    immensely sorry about the entire incident, as well as the handling of it. In addition, he’s
    also got a plan for how we could get to the Mun.”
    Bill couldn’t believe his ears. “And so you think following any plan he comes up with is
    a lower risk strategy?”
    “Anything we do is risky, Bill—this is rocket science after all! But we’ve got precious
    little time to do things and are low on options. I’m not saying his plan is perfect—it will
    need some tweaks for sure—but it’s our best chance at saving the Program.”
    “I can’t believe you. How can’t you see this is exactly what we did to get us into this
    whole scenario? We’ll follow this damn plan over my dead body!” Bill was positively
    shouting now.
    Bob’s face darkened, but before he could respond, the sound of a hesitant knock broke
    the tense atmosphere between the two. Bill scowled at Bob, then opened the closet door.
    A small kerbal stood there, clad in a white lab coat and glasses, clutching a clipboard as
    if if was a shield.
    “Uh…um, is Bob there?” he asked, timidly.
    “What, you can’t talk to the Director of the Space Program?” snapped Bill. Upon seeing
    the poor kerbal’s terrified look, he immediately regretted it. “Sorry, sorry. Bob’s right
    here.” Bill stepped out of the closet to give the two some room.
    “What is it, Derrigh?” Bob questioned. Evidently he was familiar with this kerbal.
    “Well…I…err, the simulations we were running ha—have completed. I was coming to
    tell you about it, but your assistant said you’d stepped out, I…I heard raised voices
    coming from here, and…ah, well, you’ll want to see these results.”
    “Are they good results?” Bob asked, quizzically. “We’re kind of in the middle of
    something here.”
    “Sir,” At this, Derrigh cracked a smile. “They were beyond our wildest expectations.”
    Thoroughly confused, Bill stepped closer. “What is this? Results? Simulations? What’s
    going on? Bob, what haven’t you been telling me?”
    Bob sighed, annoyed. “Remember that ‘Advanced Projects Division’ you green-lit a few
    months ago? They’ve been working on alternative rocket designs to the standard ‘serial’
    staging method.”
    “Indeed,” the technician confirmed, nodding his head. “Bob has been taking a great
    deal of interest in our work, and requested updates on our progress. I’m happy to be
    able to report that we actually have something!”
    Bob nodded. “If these results are as good as Derrigh here says, we can build better-
    performing lifters with the same 1-meter stack sizes we’ve been using so far, rather than
    resorting to a 2-meter design. I don’t think I need to tell you why that would be ideal.”
    “That—that…actually makes sense. I—ah, well done then!” Bill said, surprised. He was
    surprised all this had taken place right under his nose these past weeks. Then again, he
    had been busy running back and forth to the capital. Eager to escape the argument
    which his discussion with Bob was devolving into, he spoke to the tech. “So what are
    we waiting for, let’s see these results!”
    * * *
     
    As the trio entered the laboratory, the general air was one of excitement and great cheer.
    As Derrigh led them towards the chief scientist of the lab, it almost seemed like a full-
    scale party was taking place.
    The chief scientist turned around and introduced himself. “Hello, Bob, Director, I’m
    Gus Kerman, only recently promoted to the chief scientist of this lab.”
    Shaking the kerbal’s hand, Bill asked him about the levity surrounding the group. “Oh,
    excuse my colleagues, they’re just relieved that we finally obtained good results!” the
    kerbal responded excitedly.
    “Judging by the atmosphere around here, you’d better have found a way to create fuel
    out of thin air,” Bob remarked. “Hang on, are those guys drinking ethanol?”
    “Ah—you do have to understand, we’ve had a very stressful few weeks here at the
    APD, running fruitless simulation after simulation, trying desperately to find a better
    rocket setup than our current one. With the lack of activity around here recently, there’s
    been talk of maybe you guys are planning to shut the Space Program down! I can assure
    you, everyone at the APD is wholeheartedly committed towards space exploration!”
    Bill’s eyes widened, and he hoped that the kerbal didn’t realize just how close those idle
    rumours were to reality. “Well, I—ah, can assure you that the leadership is just as
    committed as you are towards our goals. You needn’t worry.”
    “That’s certainly good to hear! Now, I know what you’re here for, let me show you the
    results! Please bear in mind that this simulation is hardly exhaustive—you do have to
    remember that it’s only recently that computers have become powerful enough to
    enable simulations of this type. We’re really breaking new ground here!”
    “Mhmm,” was Bob’s only comment, as he watched a kerbal with a lampshade on their
    head run around.
    “That being said, while this may not be as ground-breaking as violating Conservation of
    Mass, it should offer at least a 25% increase in delta-v when compared to a standard
    serial-staged vessel, and comparable performance to a 2.5 metre rocket, like the, ah,
    theoretical performance Uranus IX could have given us.”
    “Impressive,” Bill commented. “So you’re saying that these rockets could reach the
    Mun? And why haven’t we been using this method before now?”
    “Multiple reasons, really. One is the engineering complexity. Serial staging is
    remarkably simple you know, as it simply places one stage on top of the other, and
    decoupling the two is trivial. This new method takes a great deal of knowledge in how
    stages attached to the side of other stages behave when detached, something we’ve only
    been able to analyze recently due to the Uranus’ SRBs. Also, we integrated fuel lines into
    our simulation, a relatively new technology which allows us to actually pump fuel from
    tank to tank. We didn’t have those when the engineers were starting out building the
    Aether rockets!”
    This all seemed to make sense to Bill. He was about to ask what the engineers decided
    to call this staging method, when Bob cut in, evidently less sure about the design side.
    “And all of that allows you to achieve this efficiency? What in the world would that
    rocket look like?”
    “Well, naturally further refinements will have to be done by the engineers once we have
    a working model, but the rough shape should be a central core surrounded by parallel-
    staged boosters, each with their own engine. Fuel tanks drain the outer tanks first, then
    they’re detached, and the process continues, keeping the central core full of fuel. Think
    of it as connecting a large amount of drop tanks to the rocket, but they all have engines
    on the bottom.” Gus explained proudly.
    “That’s going to be an awfully wide rocket, won’t it?” Bill pointed out.
    “It certainly could be; some of the techs have been drawing likeness to a pancake! But I
    believe that for normal-sized payloads and sufficiently-powerful rocket engines, the
    stacks can be made taller, and not wider.”
    “Well, if you say so,” Bill responded, unconvinced.
    The tech’s face brightened as they approached a small room of whirring fans and
    blinking lights, within which a single green-lit screen sat. It displayed a large, flickering
    line of text: ‘?v = 3345 m/s’.
    “Is—is that the delta-v of the rocket? What sort of payload would it be carrying?” Bob
    asked, clearly impressed.
    Gus grinned, pushing his glasses up his nose. “In fact, this simulation was based upon
    the Uranus IX mission, we got the capsules’ and transfer stage’s mass from Engineering,
    and applied it to the simulation.”
    “Wait a minute,” Bill just recalled something. “Wasn’t XI’s estimated delta-v at least 3.8
    kilometres per second?”
    Gus’ brow furrowed, then he read the number again. “Oh dear, this is a newer
    simulation, it was estimating how much delta-v would remain once the ship was in
    orbit, to check if it could perform a successful Munar mission. We basically did analysis
    from past rocket launches, estimating how much fuel was expended and—”
    “Gus,” Bob interrupted. “How much delta-v did the ship have when fully-fuelled?”
    “Oh, of course!” The scientist looked around. “Er, I appear to have misplaced the data
    tape, but it was approximately five kilometres per second, on the pad.”
    “Five? As in five thousand metres per second?” Bill asked, incredulous.
    “Yes, as far as I can recall. Naturally, the simulation would give more detailed results to
    its performance, but even then we’re still dealing with some degree of error; these
    machines are limited in how much they can model, after all.”
    “That’s more than enough to make a Munar flyby—why, we could do an orbital
    mission, and maybe even a landing with this tech!” Bob exclaimed excitedly.
    Before Bob could continue, Bill pulled him aside. “Bob, can I talk to you for a second?”
    The two went over to a corner which was undisturbed by the ongoing party.
    “What is it Bill? I thought you’d be happy about this new design! The Program is
    saved!”
    “Bob, don’t start getting any Munar ideas, we haven’t even tested this design yet!” Bill
    hissed. “It doesn’t matter how good those numbers look, they don’t have anything
    concrete! Without actual hardware, the Program’s still doomed.”
    “Oh come on, Bill. We can surely show off the design, perhaps to the military? I’m sure
    they’d be very interested with a rocket which can carry large payloads.”
    “After what happened with Uranus IX, how can you even consider allowing this
    technology to kill more kerbals?”
    “Lighten up Bill, the military will get their hands on the tech eventually, it’s just a
    matter of getting what we want when they do. I’m certain they would be willing to
    speak up in Parliament on our—”
    “Hem-hem.” From behind them came the sound of a kerbal gently clearing her throat.
    Bill and Bob quickly turned to face this new sound.
    “Joli? What are you doing here?” Bob asked, puzzled by the appearance of his assistant.
    “Forget her, what is he doing here?” Bill asked, turning his gaze to the kerbal behind
    her.
    For Jebediah Kerman, former Director of the USKK Space Program, stood beside
    Joliana. “Hey Bob, I—ah, popped by your office, and, well, Joliana brought me up to
    speed on what’s been going on. She mentioned a new design the technicians had
    worked up so we popped over here to see it. Really great stuff, isn’t it?”
    “Yes,” Joliana confirmed. “He was interested in the new rocket design, so I offered to
    show it off to him while you two were having your little, ah, ‘discussion’. Speaking of
    which, what’s this about the Program being ‘doomed’? Bill, you looked particularly
    concerned about that.”
    Caught completely off-guard, Bill struggled to explain this away but only managed to
    get out a few ‘ums’ and ‘ahhhs’. By Harv she was a sharp one. “Ah, merely a figure of
    speech?” he tried again, though the lie fell short even to his ears. Eyes narrowing,
    Joliana turned her head. “Bob?” she asked sharply.
    “Oh it’s really nothing,” Bob said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “Just a minor piece
    of legislation passing in Parliament to, oh, you know, shut down the Space Program as we
    know it. Nothing of any major concern whatsoever, I can really see why you kept that to
    yourself, Bill.”
    “Mu’s eye, Bob, give me a break. You’ve kept your secrets too; like this fancy rocket
    design you’ve got the lab working on!”
    “As you said, Bill, it’s not vital to the future of the Space Program! Why in Harv’s name
    would you keep this decision secret, especially if you keep on shooting down any ideas
    on how to fix it?” Bob retorted, voice rising once more. By Max, why couldn’t he just
    understand the scope of this problem?
    Before he could let loose, though, Jeb cut in. “Well, actually…this design might be vital
    to the Program.”
    “What do you mean?” asked Bill with disdain, turning to the former Director. “You
    can’t possibly expect a new staging design will convince the bureaucrats, particularly one
    that’s still just wild speculation and a number on a screen.” After he’d pointed this out,
    he realized that this was the first time he’d spoken to Jebediah in over four months, and
    felt a little bad about his sharp tone. Not too bad though, he still wasn’t exactly pleased
    the former Director was back.
    “But don’t you see? It’s not the staging design itself, it’s the payloads we could put into
    orbit! You saw those results, we could reach the Mun, with ships the size of Uranus IX,
    and much safer too! Heck, we could even put huge payloads into Low Kerbin Orbit!
    That would certainly make some in Parliament stop and think, wouldn’t it?” Jeb was
    looking more excited now, some hints of his old energy leaking back into his
    mannerisms.
    “Exactly, Jeb,” Bob agreed, looking thoughtful. “All we need to do is likely just launch a
    payload or two, whether to Mun Orbit or just to LKO, and the government has no
    choice but to keep us in action. It’s not as if they have any other space launch options
    just lying around!”
    Bill responded, still unconvinced. “At the moment, we’re hopelessly behind the CKFN
    for launching capabilities, and from what the Prime Minister said, Parliament knows it.
    That’s half the reason they’re shutting us down; they think any achievements we gain
    are just not worth the risk of rockets blowing up. The CKFN put kerbals around the
    Mun, for Harv’s sake! Even if we do manage to launch a payload into orbit, how are we
    supposed to show Parliament that we’re not out of the game?”
    “Analysis of the most recent Caelus mission showed that they only barely made it to the
    Mun, requiring refuelling en route,” Joliana cut in. “The CKFN’s rockets are incredibly
    anemic, especially compared to this new design. They may be reliable and extensively
    tested, but they trade that for raw performance. We now have the capability with this
    new method to overtake them by showing our rockets are far more powerful then
    theirs.” Bill’s brow furrowed. How on Kerbin did Bob’s assistant know this much about
    the CKFN’s rockets?
    Unaware of Bill’s musings, she continued. “This nets us a number of advantages. One,
    the CKFN sees our technology has outclassed theirs and spends time rushing to catch
    up. This diverts time from their inevitable Mun mission. Two, this makes the USKK
    look strong, and the CKFN weak, something which Parliament absolutely adores. Thus,
    even the most die-hard factions in government will be inclined to allow us to continue,
    so long as we continue to show off how much better USKK rocketry is than the
    competition. And three, this puts us farther along the way for developing for a Munar
    mission, as we have the launcher design completed, and by demonstrating the size of
    payloads it can carry to orbit, we simply have to design a crew carrier and lander which
    will fit this design.”
    “Well said, Joli!” Bob said as she finished her speech, clapping her on the shoulder.
    “This design will be the saviour of the Space Program yet!”
    “It might be the saviour,” corrected Bill. “We neither have a working design nor a
    payload to show it off.”
    Bob glanced at Jeb. “Well, we may have an answer to that. Remember that plan I told
    you Jeb was thinking about for how the Program should move forward?”
    Jeb stepped forward. “Hey, hey, Bob, those were just my thoughts about some of the
    Program’s future options, not really a cohesive plan,”
    Bob continued anyway. “Nonsense, it was an excellent plan, and much better than how
    the Program has been handled so far.” This elicited a scowl from Bill. Bob was being
    very unfair; it wasn’t easy being Director! Bob kept speaking. “As I recall, you proposed
    using the older-model boosters which launched the early Kaether spacecraft to lift
    probes to Kerbin orbit and beyond. Since a probe is much lighter than a kerbal, we
    could most likely make it to the Mun using just those basic one-metre stages.”
    “You’re forgetting that those earlier boosters suffered failures too. What if the same
    happens again?” Bill pointed out.
    “Now that the engineers have been reorganized, I’m certain they can pull of
    manufacturing those simple rockets easily enough!” Bob said, confidently.
    “Hang on a minute, while we’re tossing out ideas, I—ah, may have one more,” Jebediah
    offered cautiously, with a look at Bill.
    “What is it, Jeb?” Bob asked.
    “Well, rather than just rehashing the early Kaether rockets with probes instead, why
    don’t we use this new method of staging? Apparently it can easily be done with simple
    one metre stages.”
    “That’s brilliant!” Bob shouted excitedly. “Then we can launch heavy payloads to
    Munar orbit, all without the risk to kerbals you’re so worried about, Bill!”
    “We could even perhaps try to pull off a remote landing, if we could get a properly-
    sized payload to the Mun. That would certainly put us ahead of the CKFN!” Jeb said,
    cracking a smile.
    Bill sighed. While he couldn’t deny that a Munar landing would almost certainly
    reverse Parliament’s decision on the Program, this staging design still needed extensive
    testing before it could be deployed on an actual mission, and he said as much.
    “That’s true, Bill,” Bob responded, “But we can easily test it with a simple test flight.
    Heck, that test flight could show just how much payload we can put into orbit, and
    would certainly wow Parliament!”
    Once again, Bill sighed. He would have protested, but he was sick of rehashing the
    same argument over and over. Bob had finally worn him down. “You know what, fine.
    We’ll do this.”
    At his words, Bob and Jeb shared a quick high-four. Bob quickly continued. “But it
    needs to be properly managed! I want you two to write down Jeb’s ‘plan’ in a detailed
    report and give it to me by tomorrow. We’re going to go over this piece by piece,
    making sure everything makes sense. We can’t afford any more mistakes.”
    Jebediah smiled. “Thanks Bill, we’ll get on that right away! I understand if you’re still
    wary about trusting me with leadership, and I promise that I’ll just help with the basic
    framework of this plan; I’ll leave you guys to debate the finer details like safety without
    me.”
    “I—ah, thanks Jeb,” Bill said, hastily turning away. Despite Jeb’s ideas on how to save
    the Program, he still wasn’t a fan that the kerbal was back. “I think I’ll head back to my
    office; I need a nap.”
    He walked away from Bob and Jeb (Joliana appeared to have wandered away at some
    point while Bob was shouting, perhaps joining the crowd) and pushed his way through
    the ongoing party. As he approached the exit, he noticed Gus, the chief scientist among
    the crowd. He was suddenly reminded of his question from earlier, and pulled that
    kerbal aside.
    “Yep, ah, how can I help you, Bill?” Gus asked, looking a little put off by the fact he had
    been dragged away from his party.
    “I’ll just be a moment. I had a question about the staging design. What are you guys
    calling it? I seem to recall you saying something about pancakes?”
    “Oh dear me, no! That’s just what the interns are describing the rocket as, though as I
    said, with the proper engine design it won’t be much wider than a conventional Uranus
    lifter. No, we’re naming it after the team who discovered it, which was in fact myself
    and another kerbal, Perry Kerman.” He pointed his colleague out of the crowd, who
    turned out to be the one running around with the lamp shade on his head. “We’re
    calling it Perry-Gus staging.”
    “So that’s the official name the department is calling this method?”
    “Actually, it seems that the interns are trying to call it ‘asparagus staging’ as a bit of
    play on words, and they say that the rocket would actually look a bit like a bundle of
    asparagus. They’re putting it on all the official documents too, so it’s a major pain to get
    them to stop repeating it. Eventually though, I’m sure that this parody name will just
    fade away into obscurity!”
    “That’s good to hear! Thanks, Gus,” Bill said with a smile, and walked away. Even
    though Jeb was back, and Bill was under pressure from Parliament with this bill
    shutting down the Space Program, it was good to hear that some kerbals were still
    having fun.
    ?

     

     

    TO BE CONTINUED…

    Thanks for reading! Be sure to catch the latest updates at the KSP forums:
    http://forum.kerbalspaceprogram.com/threads/78186
    A PLANET DIVIDED: THE STORY OF THE KOLD WAR

    A PLANET DIVIDED: THE STORY OF THE KOLD WAR


    2

    3

     

 
  • CHAPTER I: FIRST STEPS
    • 1.01 A FOURTH DIMENSION?
    • 1.02: HEARTS AND MINDS
    • 1.03 JENFRY'S GARAGE
 
 
 

 

OFFLINE READING (i.e. ebook readers, etc.):

Download: [PDF]

Download: [EPUB]

Download: [MOBI]

 

STAYING UPDATED:

To keep up to date on the story, I recommend 'following' either this thread or my profile, as I'll post on my profile when a new chapter is updated. In addition, I generally post a draft version of the next chapter to the Google Site before it's updated here. Hence, if you want sneak previews of the next chapter, I suggest subscribing to that site as well.

 

 

STORY OUTLINE:

This provides an overview of what's happened so far, useful for keeping up-to-date on the story while waiting on updates. Note that it is a work in process, and there may be some differences from the main story. In case of differences, the timeline takes precedence.

WARNING: If you are a new reader, looking at this is not recommended, as it does contain spoilers for the entire story so far. I suggest you read the story first, then look at the timeline if you are confused as to things are progressing.

Spoiler

Kold War Timeline & Story Outline

Legend:

  • BWD = 'before Wehrner's discovery'
  • AWD = 'after Wehrner's discovery'
  • Space Program = USKK's space program
  • Space Programme = CKFN's space program

25.0 BWD --- Great War begins

The War grew out of a border dispute between two nations. Normally such things were worked out between the nations, with conflict if necessary, but never bringing in outsiders. In this case, a smaller, weaker nation promised a stronger one land if they'd help them out in a skirmish. This then had a snowball effect, drawing more and more nations in on the conflict until the world was engulfed by war. 

20.2 BWD --- Nuclear strike on aggressor nation

The de facto leader of the Firesvar Coalition, the as of yet unnamed aggressor nation was considered to be a ruthless foe. A nuclear strike was carried out in order to pacify them.

20.0 BWD --- Great War ends with Treaty of Okheka

Both sides ended the war in fairly even terms, striking a peace deal. Gave the areas most affected by the war total autonomy, and consolidated their own power bases. CKFN is created from the remnants of the Firesvar Coalition, and USKK absorbs several additional nations to its north, establishing a set border between the two.

Treaty forbids either nation from taking additional territory, in the hopes of avoiding dispute which started the whole conflict.

0 BWD --- Wernher Von Kerman makes discovery of rocket propulsion

Chapter 1-01

USKK scientist Wernher Von Kerman discovers the fact that hot gases expelled through a nozzle can produce a tremendous force, and would be most advantageous when attached to a vehicle. Governments from both sides of the conflict are interested in developing this technology further.

0.5 AWD --- USKK starts their Space Program

Chapter 1-02

Various companies make donations and build a launching site in the USKK, in the hopes of providing a guaranteed source of income from buying specialized rocket parts. The government sponsors a great deal, but companies intend on contracting out missions once it gets going.

0.8 AWD --- CKFN begins its Space Programme

Chapter 1-03

The government is unwilling to provide much funding for the expedition, and only really intends for it to be a counter to the USKK's Program. In the absence of support, the Programme works out of an old military base and Jenfry Kerman's garage.

0.5--1.3 AWD --- USKK conducts flight tests

To gain experience in rocket design, the Space Program conducts six flight tests with small sounding rockets. The first four explode on ascent, but the problem appears to have been ironed out by the last two.

The plan for space exploration is made here, with probes leading the way into orbit, and perhaps the Mun, prior to kerbal explorers venturing forth.

0.7--1.5 AWD --- CKFN conducts flight tests

Similar to their counterpart, the CKFN's Space Programme conducts flight tests of their own, albiet much reduced in size due to their smaller budget.

1.3 AWD --- USKK launches Aether 7 probe into orbit

Chapters 2-01,  2-02

With the completion of probe designs and rocket technology, the USKK launches a rocket of their own into orbit.

1.5 AWD --- CKFN launches Latonna I into orbit

Chapter 2-03, 2-04

In response to the USKK's rocket launch, the Space Programme launches a kerbal into orbit due to their inability to get a probe launcher online.

Chapter 2-05

The USKK's Space Program reacts to the launch by deciding to forgo probes from now on and focus on kerbals as well, in order to stay on top of the Space Race.

1.7 AWD --- USKK launches Kaether 1 into orbit

Pressured to remain on top, the Space Program modifies their Aether launcher and send a kerbal into space as well, following this up with several other missions.

1.9 AWD --- CKFN launches Latona II into orbit

Attempting to maintain their lead over their rivals, the Space Programme launches another kerbal into orbit

2.0 AWD --- USKK launches Kaether 2 into orbit

Following up their initial launch, the Space Program launches another kerbal into space.

2.2 AWD --- USKK launches Kaether 3 into orbit

Again, the Program launches a kerbal, putting them in the lead in terms of crewed missions.

2.4 AWD --- CKFN reveals two-kerbal craft

Chapter 3-01

Due to media and governmental pressure, the Caelus capsule, a twin-kerballed craft, is unveiled, but it will be some time before it can be launched.

2.5 AWD --- USKK launches Uranus 1 into orbit

Chapter 3-02

Not to be outdone by the CKFN, the Space Program modifies their basic Kaether design and launches two kerbals into space before their rivals can. The design is flawed, injuring a kerbal and requiring his withdrawal from the Program.

Chapters 3-03, 3-04

2.7 AWD --- CKFN launches Caelus I into orbit

Chapter 3-05

Caelus I is launched initially without crew, in a highly elliptical orbit. It suffers damage upon landing, but otherwise collects good data.

Chapter 3-06

2.9 AWD --- USKK launches Uranus 2 into orbit

First flight of modified Uranus spacecraft, all kerbals involved make it through the mission without injury.

3.0 AWD --- USKK launches Uranus 3

Mission tested experimental solar cells which initially failed to deploy, but quick thinking on the kerbonaut's parts saved the day.

 

3.0 AWD --- CKFN launches Caelus II

Chapter 3-07

First crewed flight of the Caelus spacecraft, launched into standard equatorial orbit and performed as expected.

3.1 AWD --- USKK launches Uranus 4

Continued testing of solar arrays, nothing notable occurred.

 

3.2 AWD --- CKFN determines Munar Landing plan

A group of engineers in the Space Programme decide on the method of Munar landing which they will work towards. Kerbin Orbit Rendezvous is chosen, and it is determined that they need to develop efficient docking procedures in order to pull it off.

 

3.3 AWD --- USKK launches Uranus 5

First test of RTG for providing spacecraft power, shocks of launch damaged containment unit, it had to be ejected. Plans for radioactive power sources are shelved by the Space Program for now.

 

3.4 AWD --- USKK launches Uranus 6

Further tests of on-spacecraft power systems. Solar panels with backup battery banks are considered the best option for ships going forward.

 

3.5 AWD --- USKK launches Uranus 7 and 8 into orbit, dock together

After catching wind of the CKFN's planned docking maneuvers, the Space Program performs their own by launching two nearly-identical spacecraft and attaching them together. Mission is a success, but nearly ends in tragedy when Uranus 8 is unable to return to Kerbin immediately and its pilot is stranded.

 

3.6 AWD --- Interview with Desdin

Chapter 3-08

Erdan Kerman interviews a former kerbonaut, who calls out the Space Program for rushing through construction and testing of its rockets, and prioritizing results over kerbals' lives.

3.6 AWD --- CKFN docks two ships in orbit

Chapter 3-09

Developing the Janus uncrewed refuelling ship and launching it from a hidden military base, the Space Programme docks it with a Caelus capsule, proving that they too can dock objects in space. The Programme then announces their next mission, with the same basic configuration of a Caelus and Janus, the plan is to send two kerbals in a slingshot around the Mun within the next few months.

 

3.7 AWD --- Uranus 10 launch failure, Jeb leaves Space Program

With the announcement of the CKFN's next mission, plans for Uranus 9 are scrapped, and work is finalized on the 2 metre Uranus 10. However, it suffers a launch failure, and the Space Program is thrown into disarray when its founder, Jebediah Kerman, exiles himself and leaves it with no sense of direction.

4.0 AWD --- Bob forms Advanced Projects Division

Chapter 4-01

With the absence of Jeb, and Bill not providing sufficient direction for the Program, Bob Kerman takes it into his own hands to create a seperate research team of the Space Program, the Advanced Projects Division. Unbeknownst to most, it also works on projects for the USKK's spy division.

4.1 AWD --- CKFN develops Aurora capsule design

Chapter 4-02

Learning that the Caelus spacecraft would be poorly-suited for an extended Mun mission, Danford commissions a new capsule design, but budgetary and equipment limitations slow its progress significantly.

4.1 AWD --- Bob finds Jebediah Kerman and returns him

Chapter 4-03

Bob Kerman finds Jeb hiding out at his old aircraft base and convinces him to return. Jeb doesn't do much initially due to friction between him and Bill.

4.2 AWD --- USKK invades Malentea, CKFN elections

Chapter 4-04

In order to secure its borders, the USKK launches an invasion of the small nation-state of Malentea. The CKFN is alarmed at this, but ultimately elects to do nothing as it is in the process of electing a new leader.

The new President turns out to be very pro-space, and promises to make things easier for the Space Programme in the future.

4.2 AWD --- Space Program makes plan for future

Chapter 4-05

The Advanced Project Division has delivered a new rocket design capable of providing exceptional delta-v increases. Bill and Jeb finally reconcile their differences and work together to make a probe-focused plan for the exploration of the Mun in preparation for landing kerbals there.

4.3 AWD --- Space Programme receives new Space Centre

Chapter 4-06

General Geoffnard took funds from the Space Programme's budget to establish the Space Launch Centre, a brand-new facility to facilitate larger and more expansive space missions from the CKFN.

Optional Download: [PDF]

 

UPDATES/CHANGELOG:

Spoiler

[2016-09-30] Also updated ebook links to include latest parts.

[2016-09-30] Added Chapter 4-07! I also pasted the story in its entirety (to test character limits) in one of the spoiler tags, so expect the story to be fully posted here when I get around to splitting it into parts.

[2016-09-15] Updated story artwork, new part coming soon.

[2016-07-06] Added Chapter 4-06, as well as links to previous chapters of the story hosted on the KSP forums, for those who prefer reading it here.

[2016-03-12] Added new artwork to story and signature.

[2016-03-04] Changed order of entries, added spoiler warning for timeline.

[2016-03-04] Added story timeline, changed Mediafire links to MEGA links, as SQUAD has stated they're not allowing the former on the forums any longer.

[2015-12-05] Updated ebook download links to work properly.

[2015-12-01] Posted new thread in Fan Works, hopefully this won't go anywhere!

 

Edited by CalculusWarrior

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Where did the old one go?(I haven't been on the forums for a while due to homework and stuffs, like cluster bombing the heck out of my friend's tanks with my MiG 21S's)

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1 hour ago, Generalstarwars333 said:

Where did the old one go?(I haven't been on the forums for a while due to homework and stuffs, like cluster bombing the heck out of my friend's tanks with my MiG 21S's)

As you can see, the old thread appears as if it was created by Kyrian, the first commenter on the story, and the main post is nowhere to be found (I suspect it's due to the length of that initial post). Ah well, I'm just glad I didn't lose any actual story bits! (Thanks to those who motivated me to create the ebook versions of the tale, getting those together forced me to actually archive all my writing nicely and back it up securely)

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15 hours ago, SpaceplaneAddict said:

Gimme moar and I won't complain at all about anything :)

Do not worry, the next part is on its way. All I can say about it is that it's one of the original parts of the story, before I, ah, extended the outline from 12 or so parts to 12 or so chapters. Thus, I've been planning this one for a very, very long time.

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Sad to hear that the old one is down, but fortunately, you preserved the text. Love the story so far, hyped for the next chapter.

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Pdf file is corrupted. Anyone know why

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9 hours ago, Bev7787 said:

Pdf file is corrupted. Anyone know why

I double-checked the download links, and they did seem a little broken (Mediafire said something about repairing the links), so I replaced them, and they should work properly. Let me know if you still encounter difficulties with the download.

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I'm trying to save it to iBooks on my iPad but it still says the download is borked. Will try using a different browser

EDIT: It worked using Safari. Chrome is definitely borked.

Edited by Bev7787

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Will there be some rocket action next chapter, it's about time :). I think it's around time to put a probe or two on the surface. Also, to make this more complicated, maybe you could add in a China-like space program. Maybe have it start as a small providence, gain land, and be the first to realize the potential of the militirizatian of space. Just an idea. 

When in doubt, more geopolitical drama. Followed by missiles and rockets.

Edited by MajorLeaugeRocketScience

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On December 12, 2015 at 11:05:07 AM, MajorLeaugeRocketScience said:

Will there be some rocket action next chapter, it's about time :). I think it's around time to put a probe or two on the surface. Also, to make this more complicated, maybe you could add in a China-like space program. Maybe have it start as a small providence, gain land, and be the first to realize the potential of the militirizatian of space. Just an idea. 

When in doubt, more geopolitical drama. Followed by missiles and rockets.

Kuban missile crisis?

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2 hours ago, SpaceplaneAddict said:

Any day now...

Easy there, I'm still being bombarded by finals! I promise to give it my best shot to get the next chapter out as a Christmas present to you guys though.

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Ive done a Kold War type thing before, between Orbs and Blorbs, I actually documented it quite well. It was more focoused on espionage and proxy wars than a space race, however there was some essence of space-racing. I never put it together, filled in the gaps, and published it though.

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I started to read this online, but there where a ton of images missing on the second page.

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I mean, all in all, a necro of ~2 months isn't all that big of a necro; you're fine!

I am indeed here, and slowly working on the next part. However, the more I think about the next few parts (particularly when they reach the Mun), the more I'm realizing that I need a solid plan going forward, just so I can tie together all the little plot points I'm introducing.

In order to help me with this, is there any feedback? What do you guys want to see more of in the story? More rocket tests? Less character drama? A transformation into a geopolitical drama with no rocketry at all? (whoops, may have done that already :P) Longer parts? Shorter parts with more pictures?

Really, any feedback is immensely helpful, as the story I have planned may be very different than the story you guys want to read!

 

Also, I'm not 100% satisfied with the new banner image, does anyone have any suggestions as to make it better?

Edited by CalculusWarrior

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there is one broken link in the site, 4.1-->next says coming soon instead of 4.2. Btw this story is awesome, have you considerd becoming a writer?

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On 3/4/2016 at 10:55 PM, superstrijder15 said:

there is one broken link in the site, 4.1-->next says coming soon instead of 4.2. Btw this story is awesome, have you considerd becoming a writer?

Thanks for letting me know, it's fixed now, and the whole website should have the same font for every section now.

In addition, I'm posting my timeline for the story so far on the main page. I drew it up over the last few days as a guide to me to keep a good idea of the story so far and how it will progress into the future. That seems to me to be the sort of thing which would be useful to everyone, particularly those who have forgotten what's happening because I take so long to upload new chapters! Of course, I will crop out the future sections so nothing is spoiled.

You may notice that I'm retconning a few things, such as Wehrner's 'discovery of up', which doesn't exactly mesh well with the tone and direction of the rest of the story. A few other things are tweaked here and there, in particular the dates between parts. This can and no doubt will change as I work further on the story, but as it stands it is a good sense of where the story's been, and the themes and ideas I wish to emphasize going forward. I am also taking a leaf out of the Star Wars Expanded Universe's book by setting dates as lengths of time from a critical event, in this case, Werhner's discovery.

 

Also, thank you very much for your compliments, @superstrijder15! However, I don't think the world is quite ready for a Kerbal Space Program fanfic quite yet, so I'd best not quit my day job. :P

Edited by CalculusWarrior

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6 hours ago, CalculusWarrior said:

Thanks for letting me know, it's fixed now, and the whole website should have the same font for every section now.

In addition, I'm posting my timeline for the story so far on the main page. I drew it up over the last few days as a guide to me to keep a good idea of the story so far and how it will progress into the future. That seems to me to be the sort of thing which would be useful to everyone, particularly those who have forgotten what's happening because I take so long to upload new chapters! Of course, I will crop out the future sections so nothing is spoiled.

I seem to be unable to find a "main page" do you mean the prologue or am I missing something?

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In this case, the 'Main Page' means the first forum post. I think I'll keep the timeline exclusive to the forum, as I feel like it would ruin a new reader's experience if they read that first rather than the story itself. With that in mind, I added a 'spoiler warning sign' and shuffled some things around in the main post.

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