UnusualAttitude

THE BARTDON PAPERS - "Cancel all previous directives."

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Wow! Incredible story!

I used all of my day's rep likes here...

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43 minutes ago, DMSP said:

Wow! Incredible story!

I used all of my day's rep likes here...

...then have some back! That makes me feel warm and fuzzy. Glad you liked it!

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Loving These. They are very well made and fun to read.

Good work. Looking forward to find out what happens to Camwise on the mission.  

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2 hours ago, HamnavoePer said:

Loving These. They are very well made and fun to read.

Good work. Looking forward to find out what happens to Camwise on the mission.  

Why thank you sir, and welcome to these forums.  

I'm sending Camwise up tonight... :wink:

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1 hour ago, UnusualAttitude said:

Why thank you sir, and welcome to these forums.  

I'm sending Camwise up tonight... :wink:

 Looking forward to it.:D

Edited by HamnavoePer

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YEAR 6, DAY 164. CAMWISE.

Carderie Three sat fuming on the runway in the sticky blazing equatorial heat of Kourou, minutes away from take-off. She was waiting for Cernin's orbit to bring her round over the Pacific Ocean, and when the interplanetary ship was still more than a thousand kilometres behind to the East, launch into the correct inclination to rendez-vous and dock with her. Inside the crew transfer module that was in turn installed inside the cargo bay of the spaceplane, Jonnie, Angun, Margaret and yours truly sat fully suited up and attempted to be patient as we slowly cooked to death.

The good news was that the refueling process was complete, we'd been cleared for launch and this part of our ordeal would soon be over, but in the mean time we would have to close the cargo bay doors, seal the crew cabin hatch and trust the hard-worked GPU to cool us sufficiently to avoid us baking in our own suits like a bunch of foil-wrapped potatoes before the engines came on line. The true irony of the situation was that the cargo bay itself was sandwiched between two absolutely massive liquid methane and oxygen tanks that each contained an ungodly amount of super-chilled cryogenic propellant. But until the main engines started, the effect they had on the temperature inside the cabin was precisely nil.

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You would have thought that traveling into orbit on board a sleek single-stage spaceplane should be the coolest thing ever, and that it would beat the pants off riding an ugly, blunt capsule strapped to the top of a disposable rocket hands down, right?

Well, think again.

Carderie was certainly one of the most complex machines we had ever devised, I must admit. The design and development processes had been... involved, as the many tonnes of scrap metal and composites strewn across the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean floors beyond the western thresholds of our runways in Omelek and Kourou can attest. The idea was brilliant: a remotely controlled vehicle capable of taking-off horizontally and flying into orbit without shedding bits on the way to deposit a small payload into low Earth orbit. The same vehicle would then re-enter the atmosphere in one piece and return to the launch site to land in an unassuming puff of hot rubber, before taxiing back into the hanger looking smug, if such an emotion can indeed be attributed to an inanimate object.

I can still remember the day Froemone came to see me in my office with the requested propulsion specifications for the design, fidgeting nervously. I'd read through the first page describing the closed cycle requirements and thought “Meh...”, then through the second page describing atmospheric performance and winced thinking “Ulp, this is gonna be hard...” Then, reaching the end of the document I'd realised that the two pages were actually referring to one single engine and I'd snorted the tea I had been drinking out through my nostrils.

But we'd met these specs eventually, and a prototype finally made it to space with a probe that was to orbit the Moon. However, it took us a great deal of trial and error to get the craft back to Earth safely, and several more prototypes ended their short operational lives at the bottom of the ocean at embarrassingly large distances from our landing sites, rather than sitting smugly in our hangars. The project that was supposed to save our precious funds by cutting our launch expenses dramatically wasn't delivering as promised.

But a change in launch sites from Omelek and Kourou, a new low-orbit communications network to reduce signal delay, and even more trial and error finally enabled an improvement in our ability to bring back our spaceplane intact. With Kourou, we at least had a whole continent to aim for rather than a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific, and eventually we had deemed Carderie reliable enough to carry her first human passengers into space.

I had personally flown on Carderie just once before, and it had also been to transfer to Cernin when we had made our first jaunt into solar orbit more than a year ago now. In terms of the most terrifying experiences I've had in space, I put it a close second to orbiting the Moon dangling from the open cargo bay of our shuttle. The spaceplane's crew module was wedged inside of the cargo bay, and once the bay doors glided shut you were left in the dark with no view of the outside world, and once Carderie left the ground, no real sense of direction. For all you knew, the remote guidance system could have failed and you could be seconds from impact with the ocean's surface or a hypersonic mid-air break-up. At least when strapped to the top of a rocket, you could see the sky through the view-port and make sure the capsule was still pointing at it. And don't get me started about re-entry in such a contraption... the good thing about today is that, if all goes well, I won't have to worry about that at any time in the near future.

“Engine start, helmets on.” said Jonnie flatly as the airframe shuddered. He was to be Cernin's pilot for our trip to Mars but right now he was just a passenger like the rest of us, and from his rather brisk manner and an uncharacteristic failure to call everyone “buddy”, I could guess that he clearly wasn't enjoying himself either.

Then the engine's shuddering turned into a rumble, and Carderie started to roll. Think positive thoughts, Cam, I whispered to myself. Then, ten minutes of pure madness began.

First of all, take-off. Today we were pushing the envelope by carrying a crew cabin, supplies and three tonnes of extra fuel for Cernin waiting for us at more than 300 kilometres above, so we were at MTOW. Getting a 350-tonne craft into the air on such tiny wings is insane. Karanda could give lectures all day about lifting bodies if she liked; the fact remained that you could easily go out for tea and a muffin when Carderie hit decision speed and still be back in time for V1, if you hadn't been strapped into your seat and clinging on with a death-grip of pure terror, of course. Somehow, she managed to rotate before reaching the end of the runway, but there was no margin for error or mechanical failure of any kind. If an engine stalled at that moment, then our only hope was that the cargo doors would open in time for the launch escape system to eject the crew module to safety.

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Then came the sudden lurch of the three gee pitch-up maneuver that meant we had escaped  obliteration on the runway threshold, but were now already traveling at such a speed that Carderie had to swoop into a 45° climb into order not to shed parts under the rapidly rising aerodynamic stresses. If this happened, the first thing to go would be the canard fore-plane (we knew this from bitter experience), which would definitely ruin our chances of reaching orbit as well as our aircraft's pitch authority. Fortunately, the maneuver went as planned and the canards remained attached.

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There was a moment of respite as Carderie powered on upwards through the atmosphere at just below Mach one. I glanced over at Jonnie who was sitting along side me, and was relieved to note that our intrepid Head Test Pilot was having just as bad a day as I was. Then, having reached ten thousand meters, Carderie started to level off, and the true madness of the dual-cycle precooled rockets kicked in.

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You see, the engines in air-breathing mode didn't behave like any normal rocket, where thrust was relatively constant. Once Carderie had brushed the sound barrier aside and began piling on the Machs, their push began to get stronger as air was rammed into the intakes, and the more she accelerated, the stronger it got. Mach 2 was history in less than thirty seconds. The crew cabin seat pushed into my backside as if it was trying to eject me, and it was difficult to breathe. And then, just when I thought the acceleration couldn't get any stronger, it continued to increase. That's the thing about terrifying experiences: when you know what to expect, they're usually worse the second time round.

Attached to the forward bulkhead of the cabin was a small panel that displayed altitude and Mach number. It reminded me of a similar display devised to impress the passengers in our hypersonic jets, except they took nearly half an hour to reach twenty-five klicks and Mach four. We were coming up on Mach five less than four minutes into the flight, and finally the thrust began to fade away to a gentle push. But we still had another twenty Machs or so to go. Another few seconds of sweet reprieve from suffocation, and then Carderie pitched up again, the orbital maneuvering rocket fired and the main engines switched over to closed cycle. Positive thoughts, Cam... Unfortunately positive thoughts required the ability to breathe. Dark thoughts however, came easily.

Martian pyramids, unknown terrors in space, my potted plant finally withering away, never returning to Earth...

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The next six minutes were just a blur of watching the figures on the display rise until a constant five gees made them fuzzy and meaningless. Fortunately, whoever had designed the flight profile had been merciful enough to throttle back the engines towards the end of the burn to limit gee-forces as Carderie had consumed most of her fuel. Then, when mission control deemed our apoapsis was high enough to encounter our target, engine cut-off, and silence. Air in my lungs again.

After a four minute coast, the orbital rocket re-lit for a gentle one-minute burn to push us to meet Cernin. The cargo bay doors swung open at last to reveal the void, and to allow sunlight to fall upon the small solar panel in front of the cargo bay that would power our life-support systems for the two orbits it would take for us to catch up with our ship.

Rendez-vous with Cernin took us two orbits, and the sight of our spaceplane approaching the now complete interplanetary ship should have been a powerful one, but we could see none of it from the cramped interior of our cabin, just a patch of black sky through the service windows. Carderie was a cumbersome beast to dock, and Cernin carrying nearly two hundred tonnes of fuel was doubly so, therefore we had to sit waiting patiently for Jonbur, the caretaking pilot, to guide us in ever so slowly. Finally, the two docking ports locked and with a hiss of air, pressure stabilized between the two vessels.

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The hatch swung open to reveal what was to be my home for the next two years, and a familiar face was awaiting, peering at us curiously. Fortunately, she would not be joining us for the trip.

Salut cousin,” she said brightly. “I heard my lander gave you a bit of trouble on the Moon. Tu n'es pas en colère contre moi, j'espère..?”

I thought about this carefully for moment, then counted to ten slowly before answering.

“Karanda... Ferme-la s'il te plaît...”

 

Edited by UnusualAttitude

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5 hours ago, UnusualAttitude said:

“Karanda... Ferme-la s'il te plaît...”

Hehe.

That's quite an SSTO, especially for being RSS.  But yeah, you pretty much captured my own vision of the experience of riding the Skylon....

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6 hours ago, UnusualAttitude said:

Karanda... Ferme-la s'il te plaît...

Uh-oh

By the way, Nice Spaceplane.

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56 minutes ago, Geschosskopf said:

Hehe.

Yes, Camwise and Karanda were born in the same region of karstic caves in western Eurasia. They are probably cousins, quite literally, and they are known to occasionally lapse into their local patois to settle their différences. The original transcripts of Carderie's CVR suggest a far more colourful exchange, but it was too inappropriate to be repeated on these forums, even in patois.

1 hour ago, Geschosskopf said:

That's quite an SSTO, especially for being RSS.  But yeah, you pretty much captured my own vision of the experience of riding the Skylon....

The engine (modeled by Nertea's Broadsword) has basically the same specs as the SABRE, but I chose liquid methane over hydrogen. Methane probably wouldn't precool the engine sufficiently, but I just couldn't get it to work with hydrogen without it looking like a sausage. It does work like Skylon, however, getting to Mach 5 at 25 km on air, and lifting about fifteen tonnes to a 200 km LEO, which is a tribute to the accuracy of RSS, RO and FAR I suppose.

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10 hours ago, UnusualAttitude said:

The original transcripts of Carderie's CVR suggest a far more colourful exchange, but it was too inappropriate to be repeated on these forums, even in patois.

Even the everyday language there is pretty colorful :)

10 hours ago, UnusualAttitude said:

The engine (modeled by Nertea's Broadsword) has basically the same specs as the SABRE, but I chose liquid methane over hydrogen. Methane probably wouldn't precool the engine sufficiently, but I just couldn't get it to work with hydrogen without it looking like a sausage. It does work like Skylon, however, getting to Mach 5 at 25 km on air, and lifting about fifteen tonnes to a 200 km LEO, which is a tribute to the accuracy of RSS, RO and FAR I suppose.

Yeah, Nathan Kell and Feram put a lot of work into their stuff.  I really hope they get the real Skylon going someday, just to "unlock that achievement", but I don't envy anybody who'd ride it :)

 

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YEAR 6, DAY 180. CAMWISE.

Good evening. My name is Camwise, and I am officially the farthest Kerbal from Earth. Ever.

Pretty cool, huh? I wonder what my old man would have to say about this, if indeed he is still alive and kicking amongst my kind, chewing on his fish in the darkness beneath one hundred metres of limestone in the cavernous gulfs of Padirac where I was born and raised, oblivious to the fact that one of his numerous offspring was currently coasting in deep space on a Hohmann transfer orbit to another world. A world that is entirely different to his own subterranean kingdom. That fact might make even old Cambert look up for a second, stop chewing, and think for a moment...

Or then again, maybe not.

Anyway, I say this because I am currently sitting in the forward crew module of Cernin, attempting to write in zero-gee which is, of course, one of the reasons this log took so long to be recorded. The actual writing isn't a problem, as mission control was thoughtful enough to provide us - at great expense - with pens that work in micro-gravity. The problem is that when I put pen to paper, the third law of motion pushes me slowly upwards towards the ceiling, where my head eventually comes into contact with uncompromising hardness of the ship's hull. The usual result is that I lose my train of thought and that I end up staring blankly at the page for long periods of... what was I saying, again?

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Oh yes, I'm writing from the end of the ship pointing away from Earth. Jonnie is somewhere amidships in the centrifuge probably doing another series of one thousand push-ups to vent his frustration at not having anything to fly at unreasonable speeds in close proximity to mountainous terrain, as the nearest mountainous terrain is now over a million kilometres away. Angun and Margaret are back in the Lab and are probably arguing over the dimensions of the strange architecture on Mars we are supposed to investigate. Let them. I'm up front here on my own, gazing out of the lateral viewing port into the deep, inky, star-studded blackness and just being the farthest ever Kerbal from Earth.

I don't want to look back at the Earth for now. I've seen it before as a tiny blue marble in the middle of an endless void, and that gave me the chills last time. I don't want to think about the friends and cousins I've left behind, and I certainly don't want to think about my awkward last meeting with Lisabeth, and having nothing more to offer as a farewell gesture than the pass to my office and a request to water my plant from time to time.

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It is now nearly two weeks since we burned. We had lit the two nuclear thermal rockets three times: once to push our apoapsis up to four thousand kilometres, a second time to push it up to nearly geostationary, and one last time to kick us out into interplanetary space. This had been a rather memorable moment, sitting at my station in Cernin's cockpit along side Jonnie. As the ship's Engineer, it was I who had given clearance to light the NTRs for the final burn that had ejected us from Earth's influence and made us the fastest moving Kerbals in history, in relation to our respective birth places. More than eleven kilometres per second just after periapsis. If you could only try to imagine that, Cambert; less than two seconds to travel between the Salle des Pluies and the Resurgence.

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Cernin had been the first vessel of our little fleet of hardware destined for Mars to light up and swing out into solar orbit. We were followed just a few days later by the Phobos lander Céré and the three Type G rovers. Their trajectories were calculated so that they would eventually arrive a couple of weeks after Cernin and we would therefore have time to establish a stable orbit and evaluate appropriate aerocapture altitudes. This would be essential, as without a little bit of help from the Red Planet's atmosphere, the Type G rovers would not have the fuel budget to slow down and land. Céré had a bit more bang in her transfer stage, but not much. Wouldn't it be awful if we got to Mars only to find that the toys we had brought with us whipped past and flew back off into the void? The long, embarrassing and tedious two years of thumb-twiddling that would ensue didn't bear thinking about.

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But so far, so good, and the departure burns were successfully completed for all parties. Earlier today, a final correction burn was planned for Cernin to make sure that we would skim just a couple of hundred kilometres above the Martian atmosphere where our powered insertion would be at its most efficient. Jonnie and I had sat in the cockpit for a couple of hours with our hi-gain dish pointing back towards Earth, waiting for Steledith to call us back with the correct azimuth, altitude and velocity change for the burn.

Although Cernin was fitted with the necessary instruments to perform rudimentary auto-navigation, the coordinates provided by Mission Control and the ground-based deep space network would be far more accurate. The problem was, Steledith had been distracted - as she so often was - by aiming our space telescope at some monumental interstellar discovery of hers and she had momentarily forgotten more trivial matters such as providing vital guidance to the first crewed mission to another planet.

If Margaret was the motherly figure of our space programme, then Steledith was the dotty aunt. But no Kerbal alive was more brilliant at astrodynamics (when she could remember to get up in the morning, that is) and so we had sat patiently waiting for her enlightenment. We were about to give up for the day when Bartdon finally managed to track her down and bring her to Mission Control.

“Hello, Hamwise. Is that you dear?” Her dreamy voice drifted lazily towards us across four light-seconds of space, taking what seemed like at least ten seconds to reach our antenna.

“Yes it is, Steledith. I was hoping you could give me the coordinates for a correction burn that will avoid my crew and I being stranded in deep space. Forever. Please?”

“Oh yes. (…) Where is it you are headed to, again?”

Jonnie looked over at me and gulped.

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“Mars, Steledith. You know, the red one with the tiny moons you complained about because you couldn't see them very well.”

“Oh... (…) Yes, Mars. I calculated the burn coordinates last night before I went to... I've got it written down on a piece of paper here somewhere.”

Steledith searched her pockets for a painfully long time before finally finding the figures she'd scrawled down sometime after 2 am between observing nebulae and reading them off to me. I didn't doubt their accuracy, as she had never failed us yet, but I was a little concerned that she had forgotten a plus or a minus somewhere and so double checked with her for little crosses or dashes in front of the numbers she had written, and then triple checked with our autonavigation system. They agreed and I punched the figures into our flight computer.

“Thank you Steledith. We'll bring some rocks back for you.” I said.

“No need, Hamwise dear.” she replied enigmatically. “I've got some already.”

“Yeah, right, lady...” muttered Jonnie as he activated Cernin's RCS to swing us round to the correct orientation for the maneuver, and thereby cutting off the downlink to Earth. “That is one crazy Kerbal, doncha think buddy?” I briefly thought about airing some smart remark about the fine line between genius and madness, but then I decided that it might be inappropriate in our current situation.

This final burn used up most of the remaining fuel in the liquid methane tanks and now that we were on course, we could ditch them. Their separation was messier than we'd expected: the docking ports had not unlatched in sync and one of them had rotated inwards and banged against the lab, but no damage had been caused and they had finally drifted off into the emptiness of space. According to Steledith, they would be kicked up well above Earth's orbit when they swung past Mars, and would become relics of our first trip beyond our home planet, frozen in time.

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And now, the long wait lay ahead of us. Nearly nine months in deep space. This gave me plenty of time to think about what the hell I was doing here, although it was a bit late in the day to do anything about it. If I understood correctly, Angun and Margaret were determined to get to the bottom of the strange puzzle that was the state of life on our planet.

You see, the Earth was about four and a half billion years old if we believed what the zircon crystals, the lunar samples or the asteroids told us. Simple life and bacteria had appeared in a remarkably short time after the birth of our planet, and depending on which biologist you believed, life had possibly arisen just once or maybe several times at different epochs of the Earth's early history after major disasters, heavy meteorite bombardments, and various other phenomena that had rendered the planet's surface completely unsuitable for chilling out, even if you are a hardcore extremophile.

But whatever the processes for abiogenesis may be, the fact remains that for several aeons life was a pretty simple affair, consisting of single-cell mush floating around in the Earth's primitive oceans or living in bubbling, reeking carpets covering the rocks on the sea-floor. After an awfully large amount of time, it had finally got bigger, evolving into the giant Leviathan and the awesome Behemoth that had roamed the waters, plains and forests of our planet for hundreds of millions of years. And still the rocks had rained down from space to take out these monsters. The bigger they came, the harder they fell when the Siberian Traps had erupted, or the skies had boiled to blackness from the fallout of latest impact. Despite this, the fossil record - however incomplete it was - showed that as more monsters were wiped out, even more fearsome creatures sprang up to take their place, romping carefree through an ever more luscious vegetation that spread across the continents.

And then the age of the giants had come and gone, and more subtle, complex animals had emerged. A blink of an eye ago, in cosmic terms, the monsters had got smaller, leaving room for even stranger creatures. Warm blooded and long lived, they defied any evolutionary logic with their weighty metabolisms and fragile ecosystems. Maybe Sol had entered a kinder phase of her life at this point, and the lenient climates had enabled the prosperity of strange and abundant lineages of birds, cats and primates.

If there is some kind of hilarious logic behind all this, it doesn't matter. The fact remains that these species were all betrayed by fortune anyway. Eight hundred thousand years ago, according to Angun's best estimation, something happened.

The very last Leviathan gave up the ghost on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean in a lonely cloud of bubbles that no other creature noticed, because they were too busy expiring themselves. Nearly all of the trees, plants and ferns that had covered dry land withered away and rotted into a layer of decaying organic matter, leaving behind a desolate carpet of only the toughest moss and lichen. Almost all creatures not capable of digging or burrowing into the ground became extinct. Unlike previous mass extinctions, this one could not be attributed to some bolide from the heavens or massive volcanic activity: there was no trace of such an event so recently in our planet's history.

And almost immediately after this final disaster, give or take a few thousand years, we popped up. We, the Kerbals, a species of cave-dwellers blessed with organs that, by all logic, we should not have: eyes.

Eyes to see with. Eyes to look up to the skies with, and to search for the truth behind our origins.

Make any sense of this if you may. I'm still not sure that a lonely monument standing on an apparently dead planet will hold all the answers we are looking for, interesting though it may be. Angun champions the hypothesis that seems to be trendy in some of the thriftier circles of biologists since our discoveries on the Moon, stating that we might not be from this planet in the first place, and that we might have literally come from the stars. Without further evidence, I just don't buy this. Why would we have traversed the endless void, if this was even possible, just to live in damp caves eating fish for the next million years? Besides, here I am sitting in an interplanetary ship partly of my own invention, feeling full of myself at being one of the most adventurous pioneers in the history of my species. What a blow to my status it would be to find out that my ancestors came from Alpha Centauri.

And, judging from the heated arguments between Angun and Margaret I sometimes heard coming from Cernin's lab, I gathered that Margaret was more worried about the cause of this most recent mass extinction on Earth, and the possibility of it also being connected to our alien visitors, or whatever we would find on Mars. For all her previous warmth and friendliness, I sensed that something in her had changed since her own experience on the Moon beneath that gigantic rock arch that we still had no explanation for. I sometimes got the impression that she was on this mission with us to look out for Angun, and make sure he didn't get carried away with his research or do something that Kerbalkind would later regret.

What trouble have I got myself into this time?

 

 

Edited by UnusualAttitude

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Awesome, another chapter! I was glad to see this pop up in Mission Reports.

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4 hours ago, DMSP said:

Awesome, another chapter! I was glad to see this pop up in Mission Reports.

You're welcome. This one did take quite a bit longer than usual, due to a sudden urge to reconsider most of the backstory that will be revealed eventually. But the good news is, at least one person posting on this thread now knows where this story is going... :D

Also, it's spring. And in spring we do this...

pozb3Ra.jpg

And before you ask, sorry no potatoes.

Edited by UnusualAttitude

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YEAR 6, DAY 262. CAMWISE.

Deep space can be kinda boring after a while, once you get over the initial excitement of being the farthest and fastest dudes in history.

Fortunately, something arrived today via the high-gain antenna to alleviate the drudgery and tedium of interplanetary space-travel: the latest pictures from our space probe Martel One, currently in orbit around Jupiter. Bartdon and the rest of the team back on Earth were thoughtful enough to beam them up to us. And damn it, they were worth every one of the 800 million kilometres Martel had had to travel to get them.

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The Martel probes were the very first vessels we had sent to check out the daunting mastodons of the outer solar system where everything seemed to be huge. One for Jupiter and one for Saturn, these brave, small-fry twins were the best we could come up with the technology we had three years ago to tackle the seemingly bottomless gravity wells of the gas giants.

Martel Two was still drifting out in the middle of nowhere, and we would hopefully arrive back from Mars in time to see its final approach to Saturn, but Martel One had arrived at Jupiter a few weeks ago and as expected, the puny delta-vee budget of its tiny hypergolic fueled engines proved to be almost hopelessly inadequate against the gravitational might of the King of the Planets.

The key word being almost.

Martel One nevertheless managed to brake heroically into a highly elliptical orbit around Jupiter that would take it from a perijove situated just a few thousand kilometres above the hydrogen cloud tops, to an apojove way out near the orbit of Callisto, the outermost of the four large moons.

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The very first thing we learned about Jupiter before Martel had even got anywhere near her first pass, was that the planet was shrouded by punishing radiation belts that extended out beyond the third and largest moon, Ganymede. In comparison, the Earth's own belts that had caused us much concern in the early days of our space programme were a joke. An intrepid Kerbonaut wishing to conquer the Jupiter system would save himself a lot of trouble by taking a much shorter trip to the Moon, climbing into the service bay of our Padirac mining rover and hugging its fission reactor for a week or two. That's how bad it was.

Just hours before the mission critical insertion burn, Martel's simple computer brain decided that since we had shot it into such a hostile environment, we apparently didn't love it anymore and shut down. Only swift action from Mission Control, working around a forty-five minute signal delay, managed to persuade the probe that this was not true, of course we still loved it, and force a reboot just in time to save it from letting it drift past the gas giant without braking and shoot out beyond Neptune.

So, Martel was living on borrowed time and there was no way of knowing whether it would be months or even just weeks before it fell silent for good. Mission Control had therefore got to work gathering data, and adjusting the probe's trajectory in order to perform close flybys of the four large moons.

Callisto was first, and proved to be the easiest of the moons to aim for when Martel was at the slowest part of her orbit. After only two orbits around Jupiter, our intrepid explorer managed to get close enough for a good look. Callisto turned out to be considerably larger than Luna, but it contained a significant proportion of water ice. Its surface extremely old and was very heavily cratered all over, but lacking the volcanic maria of our satellite. On the whole, it was a rather drab shade of greyish brown that wasn't very appealing, and probably wasn't something I would travel through deep space for several years to see. “It's the Moon with some dirty ice mixed in...” was Jonnie's unenthusiastic conclusion. Callisto did however score points for not having a level of radiation at its surface that would have you coughing up blood the moment you got anywhere near it, unlike the other moons of Jupiter, which was something I suppose.

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The next body Martel flew past was Europa, which turned out to be considerably more intriguing. Europa lacked the impact-blasted surface of most of the airless bodies we had seen so far, and the high albedo suggested a young surface that seemed to be constantly recycled, a bit like the oceanic crust on Earth, except here the crust was made of ice. Readings from Martel's magnetometer revealed fluctuations in the magnetic field of Jupiter as it swept past Europa that could possibly be explained by an ocean of briny liquid water beneath the surface of the moon, heated from below by tidal forces caused by its proximity to the gravitational bully that was the gas giant. Whether this subsurface ocean would be accessible to future exploration missions was anyone's guess, but the biologists back on Earth had already begun to imagine sightless aquatic monsters swimming in the eternal darkness of these unfathomable depths.

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The pictures that Bartdon had sent to us today were of Jupiter's innermost large moon, Io. As soon as I clapped my eyes on the first one of them, I knew that I would be in for some awfully bad kerbonaut nightmares the next time that I closed my eyes. Io was one of those places that seemed to be thrown out there by some evil Creator just to spite the engineers and scientists of a young and enthusiastic space programme, and to show them that no matter how hard they tried, there were some places in the Sol system that just weren't meant to be explored.

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For a start, it was so deep inside Jupiter's gravity well that getting there would require more delta-vee than we could begin to contemplate. It was also constantly blasted by high levels of radiation, and most surprisingly of all, the surface was highly volcanic and dotted with calderas that spewed lava out into space. Flying low over Io's North pole at more than twenty kilometres per second, Martel One had fortunately avoided being obliterated by these clouds of molten material thrown hundreds of kilometres up into the vacuum and lived to explore the Jupiter system for a while longer.

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During all this time, the probe's scanners had been searching for the same tell-tale signs of anomalous features that had revealed the rock arches and the alien ship on the Moon. So far, nothing had turned up. The Jupiter system so far seemed completely devoid of extra-terrestrial activity.

One more moon was missing from our little probe's trophy cabinet: Ganymede, the largest satellite in the Sol system. Martel's tiny rockets strained against Jupiter's mighty pull to ensure that it's trajectory would encounter Ganymede in a few weeks' time, shortly after we arrived at Mars.

Meanwhile, just thinking about the outer solar system gives me the creeps. It seems full of strange and menacing landscapes, frozen to numbingly low temperatures or baking infernos due to volcanism, all bathed in deadly radiation and all separated by unimaginably large gulfs of empty vacuum and velocity changes. We would never make it out there ourselves, would we? A quick two-year trip to the relative cosiness of the Red Planet will answer all our questions, and then we can get back home for a late supper, right?

Surely no sentient beings worthy of the title of Intelligent Life Form would have gone right out there?

 

Edited by UnusualAttitude

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On 4/14/2016 at 3:46 PM, UnusualAttitude said:

And before you ask, sorry no potatoes.

Doesn't look like sugar cane, either, which is what I've just got sprouting :)

 

31 minutes ago, UnusualAttitude said:

Meanwhile, just thinking about the outer solar system gives me the creeps. It seems full of strange and menacing landscapes, frozen to numbingly low temperatures or baking infernos due to volcanism, all bathed in deadly radiation and all separated by unimaginably large gulfs of empty vacuum and velocity changes. We would never make it out there ourselves, would we? A quick two-year trip to the relative cosiness of the Red Planet will answer all our questions, and then we can get back home for a late supper, right?

Surely no sentient beings worthy of the title of Intelligent Life Form would have gone right out there?

Poor Camwise.  I hope that by the time he gets back from Duna, the Kerbals will have invented e-readers so he can take a huge library with him to Jupiter :)

Back when I played Orbiter, flying between Jupiter's moons was a training scenario to learn how to plan and execute interplanetary trips.  Of course, this started with your ship already out there and it had infinite fuel, but IIRC the dV was indeed rather daunting.  I wish you luck with it.

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42 minutes ago, Geschosskopf said:

Doesn't look like sugar cane, either, which is what I've just got sprouting :)

Because of you, I now have images in my head of someone called Geschosskopf cutting cane down his garden in Louisiana with a large, wicked army surplus machete and humming Creole folk tunes, before going back up to his house and continuing the latest session of physically and spiritually torturing Kerbals on distant alien worlds. Disturbing, but awesome. :D

Nothing so exotic will grow in my garden: tomatoes, peppers, courgettes and aubergines (sorry, eggplants!) mainly. And chickens.

59 minutes ago, Geschosskopf said:

Poor Camwise.  I hope that by the time he gets back from Duna, the Kerbals will have invented e-readers so he can take a huge library with him to Jupiter :)

Back when I played Orbiter, flying between Jupiter's moons was a training scenario to learn how to plan and execute interplanetary trips.  Of course, this started with your ship already out there and it had infinite fuel, but IIRC the dV was indeed rather daunting.  I wish you luck with it.

I'm sure the dV will be astronomic, and my Kerbals will certainly not even consider going there with chemical propulsion, or even standard nuclear rockets. They will have to wait until they have access to some of the fancy near-future stuff Froemone is working on, such as VASIMR or MPDT. Even then, I'm not sure it will work.

But if all else fails, then I suppose they can always send... Camwise, and a big library. Poor Camwise, indeed.

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On 4/16/2016 at 10:54 AM, UnusualAttitude said:

Because of you, I now have images in my head of someone called Geschosskopf cutting cane down his garden in Louisiana with a large, wicked army surplus machete and humming Creole folk tunes, before going back up to his house and continuing the latest session of physically and spiritually torturing Kerbals on distant alien worlds. Disturbing, but awesome. :D

Yeah, that's pretty accurate.  Except that because everything's only just sprouted, this morning I instead went kayaking with the water moccasins.  No alligators spotted.

On 4/16/2016 at 10:54 AM, UnusualAttitude said:

But if all else fails, then I suppose they can always send... Camwise, and a big library. Poor Camwise, indeed.

What the lifespan of Kerbals in your universe?  That poor guy's going to end up spending most of his in interplanetary space :)

 

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1 hour ago, Geschosskopf said:

What the lifespan of Kerbals in your universe?  That poor guy's going to end up spending most of his in interplanetary space :)

I do imagine they live long and happy lives, perhaps several centuries, as long as they stay away from high gee-forces, radiation, stress... you know, the sort of thing a kerbonaut faces on a daily basis... 

If I do send my Kerbals to the outer planets, it certainly won't be via Hohmann transfer. But I'll worry about that when I get to it...

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29 minutes ago, UnusualAttitude said:

I do imagine they live long and happy lives, perhaps several centuries, as long as they stay away from high gee-forces, radiation, stress... you know, the sort of thing a kerbonaut faces on a daily basis... 

Yeah, my Kerbals might last many centuries in captivity but in the wild, not so much :)  Those who don't get ground down by toil, lost in wars, duels, and chance medleys, or killed by accidents and hardships along the way usually drink themselves to death long before their time.  In fact, I doubt there's ever been a single Kerbal who has died of old age.  So basically, where I come from, the natural lifespan of Kerbals is unknown.

Edited by Geschosskopf

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YEAR 6, DAY 335. CAMWISE.

Today started out well, but then suddenly things got really bad.

This morning I performed an EVA to check the general condition of our ship and in particular, the main engine that would hopefully fire at the appropriate time to capture Cernin into orbit around Mars. Everything appeared to be in good shape, and I took a moment to squint into the distance at the small red disk that was now growing in size with each day that passed. I even thought I caught a fleeting glimpse of a faint dot that must be Phobos, hugging its parent body closely as it dashed through its orbit every seven hours.

l48W14K.png

I drifted along side Cernin for a few minutes, in no hurry to get back inside. The atmosphere on board had been tense for the past few days. As we approached our objective, Angun and Margaret's arguing back in the lab became more intense. I guessed this because at meal times (which we took together in the centrifuge since it was a slightly cleaner business there, although pouring drinks could get pretty messy due to the massive Coriolis effect of such a small, swiftly rotating hub) they would barely talk to each other, and on some days you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. Exactly what they were in disagreement about I had no idea, and asking Angun about any of his subjects of research was usually a non-starter.

lU0nPmf.png

Even Margaret wasn't talking, and when I approached her discreetly one evening to ask whether further examination of the Vers Eight Mars orbiter's imagery had revealed any conclusive evidence of the pyramid, she simply told me not to worry about such matters and reminded me that we would still have to chose our landing sites based on the mission's official scientific objectives anyway.

You see, old Cambert didn't raise no fool, and eight months in deep space had given me plenty of time to think things over... I had already come to the conclusion that Angun and/or Margaret knew just a little bit more than they had cared to share with me when they had shown me the picture of the Red Pyramid back at the KSC. You don't go sauntering off to another planet just because some watery black slab of stone spits out a picture that, for all I knew, could have been ripped from a page of the Mars tourist office brochure.

And earlier this evening, while my crew-mates were resting and I was pulling watch, I received confirmation that my suspicions were founded.

Half way through my shift, while I was sitting at my station on the bridge, I received a message from Mission Control. We were now well beyond range for direct conversation, being about three light-minutes from Earth, so the message came through as text. It was also on the medical channel, which meant that it was private and could only be opened and read if I entered my personal code. I punched it in and the message appeared on my screen. One glance told me that it had nothing to do with my medical well-being. This is how it began.

Salut vieux cousin pourri, c'est Karanda,

Je t'écris de la part de Bartdon. Il a des informations importantes pour toi, mais il voulait être sûr que personne à bord de Cernin à part toi puisse les lire, donc il m'a demandé de t'écrire en patois et de passer par le canal du chirurgien...

lAXeVB3.png?1

...which meant that my beloved cousine Karanda was writing to me most respectfully on behalf of the now acting Principal Investigator Bartdon, with important information for my eyes only, hence the use of patois as a kind of natural encryption, and the arrival of the message via my medical channel.

Karanda went on to explain that since Bartdon's promotion to acting PI, he had gained access to various documents that had previously been unavailable to him or simply irrelevant to his function. Bartdon had gone through all of this carefully with far more attention to detail than might be expected for a busy, newly-instated leader of a space programme, but Bart just happened to be seriously committed to his job.

These documents included the account books for various activities that were essential to the Space Centre's operations, but were outsourced to private contractors for practical reasons. Examples of this included some of the transportation requirements between Omelek and Kourou if they were not provided by our own Air Service, and the deployment of certain equipment from aircraft or airship. This latter category also included scientific hardware for research projects. One such project had been the deployment of a network of underwater microphones in the Pacific Ocean, commissioned by a certain PI Angun, officially to perform research on marine life and sending the audio feed back to our lab via our geostationary satellites. OK, typical Angun stuff, but so far so good.

However, what drew his attention was a request placed by PI Angun - four months prior to his departure for Mars - for an upgrade to one of the hydrophone platforms situated just off the coast of South America. Bartdon was now wondering why his predecessor had requested this particular platform to be equipped with a long range dish capable of transmitting directly across interplanetary distances. Pretty far out, even for Angun.

And sure enough, after sending one of the Air Service jets to investigate and fly over the platform in question, it turned out that the contractor had done the job they had been payed for, and there was an underwater microphone beaming out gibberish into deep space through a shiny big dish. It didn't take a genius to work out where this data was headed, but they couldn't make any sense of it. It seemed to be encrypted.

oLH2XNx.png

I checked. I flicked through the various channels our hi-gain dish was tuned in to and found several that might be relaying the signals, all of which Angun or Margaret had protected with a personal code. And there was me thinking they were just receiving data for the projects they'd been working on back on Earth...

Bartdon went on to state that he believed he could trust me. Karanda, who had known me since I had been a wee sprout, had apparently vouched for my integrity (thanks a bunch, Karanda...) and therefore he was appealing to me to keep an eye out for any sign of our mission commander engaging in suspicious activity or deviating from our primary mission objectives. I was not to say anything about Bartdon contacting me, as they were trying to decipher the data from the platform in the Pacific without Angun knowing they were listening in.

He had his doubts about Margaret (touché, Bart), and suspected she would be working with Angun on whatever unauthorized research they were up to. And as for Jonnie, well... He could be trusted to recover a jet from an inverted flat spin or, in moments of dire need, to tie his own shoelaces, but certainly not to spy on a pair of crafty, paranoid scientists. Which is why Bartdon had turned to me for help.

Karanda ended by saying that I should report any information I came up with to Bartdon via her in patois on the medical channel, including as many foul expressions as I wished to make it believable that I was just casually discussing the merits (or lack thereof) of my cousine's latest design. (At least that didn't sound too difficult). Oh, and that I should change my personal code every day. Then she signed off.

...tu ne me manques pas du tout. Reste sur Phobos, Cam.

Bisous, Karanda.

I briefly considered writing straight back and telling Bartdon everything, including me being fully aware of Angun's plan to go visiting ancient Martian architecture. But after thinking things through for a few minutes, I decided that this would only make matters worse. If I spilled all the beans, Mission Control would no longer trust anyone on board Cernin with the possible exception of our pilot, and they would probably order Jonnie to lock us all in the lab until the launch window to return to Earth.

This is just great. I only tagged along on this trip for the view and now I've unwittingly become a double agent, alone in space with a couple of mad scientists working on a secret project and a crazy test pilot for company. I can't decide which is worse: my current situation, or having Karanda up my surgeon's channel...

Xb1AQAA.png

Edited by UnusualAttitude

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8 hours ago, UnusualAttitude said:

This is just great. I only tagged along on this trip for the view and now I've unwittingly become a double agent, alone in space with a couple of mad scientists working on a secret project and a crazy test pilot for company. I can't decide which is worse: my current situation, or having Karanda up my surgeon's channel...

Mental as well as physical suffering.  Great :)

And IMHO, "la patois'" normal conversational language is so filled with expletives that it would be hard to tell when Camwise was criticizing a design or just remarking on the weather :)

 

Edited by Geschosskopf

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8 hours ago, UnusualAttitude said:

You don't go sauntering off to another planet just because some watery black slab of stone spits out a picture that, for all I knew, could have been ripped from a page of the Mars tourist office brochure.

Forgot to mention, this seems like a Python reference :)

 

Edited by Geschosskopf

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YEAR 7, DAY 11. CAMWISE.

It never rains, but it pours.

Well, I don't mean this literally. At least not out here in orbit above Mars, where I'm reliably informed that it never rains, pours or precipitates in any way whatsoever. That was merely an expression relating to the fact that after eight months in deep space doing nothing much to write home about for much of the time, I've had a busy couple of weeks.

Getting a fleet of ships into orbit around another world from interplanetary transfer is a stressful business, to say the least. Particularly when the ship you are on is going in first, and the rest of the vessels tagging along a couple of weeks behind you arrive mere hours apart from each other. But we ended up with all heads accounted for and more or less where we wanted them, and Cernin is now orbiting a few thousand kilometres above the red desert on a course that will eventually bring us to encounter Phobos.

Over the previous weeks, Mars had gone from being a small red dot you could make out if you knew where to look, to a huge rusty disk filling the view-port of my engineer's station and shining its pale light back at me in a way that I can only describe as baleful. This meant that our arrival was imminent and that it would be soon time to flip our ship around and burn in order not to shoot past Mars and back off into deep space as quickly as we had arrived.

I had been fascinated by the dusty landscape unfolding below, but during our first pass there had been no time for sight-seeing. Jonnie had pointed Cernin retrograde and, about a minute before we had reached our closest approach just two hundred klicks above the Martian surface, I had ignited our hypergolic fueled rocket, greeting the sudden kick of thrust that pushed us back into our seats with a silent engineer's prayer of gratitude.

uxdUFRw.png

The first burn had been a relatively short one, just enough to bring us into an elliptical orbit with a period several days long that shot way back up past the Red Planet's moons. The plan had been to aerobrake until our apareion came down to meet Phobos, and then boost up our periareion until we were circular. This would cut down on our fuel consumption significantly and hopefully give us an acceptable margin with which to make our trip home in more than a year's time.

It had to work though, there was no choice. The lander and the three rovers screaming in behind us had little to no fuel margin, and more or less depended on being captured by the planet's atmosphere. Our aerobraking was therefore also a test to determine a suitable altitude for them to aim for before they got here, but we also had to be ever so cautious. If we went too low, Cernin would never make it back out, and our interplanetary ship was no lander. We would earn the not-so-glorious title of being the first Kerbals to splatter onto the surface of Mars – posthumously, of course.

Pyi1T9C.png

I remember the glow of plasma licking at my view-port as Cernin shuddered her way through the upper atmosphere. I touched the laminated glass with the sudden realisation that the ionised molecules mere centimetres from the palm of my hand, warming our ship's windshield, were those of an alien world just waiting to be ours if we could only find the means to get down there and back up safely. A brief caress of the unknown that faded away into nothingness as we rose back up into that infinite black vacuum that seemed to smother the entirety of creation.

3sSpG1f.png

No matter, the Red Planet's moon Phobos awaited us, and each pass through the atmosphere brought us closer to our goal. Five times in total, we took the risk of plunging into the thin, wispy clouds to arrest our velocity relative to Mars and bring down our apareion. It worked, and we now just had to wait for our guests to turn up to the party.

Rover Type-G Seven was the first to arrive, with its inclination tuned so as to end up in an orbit that would enable it to land on Mars' southern hemisphere. It plunged into the thin air until it was less than thirty kilometres from the planet's datum altitude, so it was perhaps less than twenty klicks from the surface at its lowest point over the southern highlands. The Red Planet's atmosphere reached high above the surface but it's density dropped off more slowly than in the skies of Earth, and in any case it remained deceptively thin all the way down to the surface. It happened to be ideal for such a capture, and future missions would no doubt exploit this to save fuel. G Seven made it into a stable orbit.

JK4r3ij.png

The Céré lander was next, coming in more or less lined up with the inclination of Mars' moons. We had to make a small correction after it was captured to ensure that we would be able to rendez-vous with it up near Phobos, but there was enough fuel left in its transfer stage for this. Our two other rovers, G Eight and G Nine, made similar captures that put the lowest points of their respective orbits above the equator and northern hemisphere.

During this entire operation, Cernin played a crucial role and most of the maneuvers our probe fleet performed were programmed from our on board remote command station, our ship's hi-gain antenna blasting orders at the simple machines. The rovers would be driven across the surface in the same way once they touched down.

Today, we finally met up with Céré and Jonnie guided the tiny lander, with its transfer stage still attached, in to dock at the front of our ship. I watched in awe from my station up front as the vessel we had sent on its way just a few hours after our own departure, nine months ago, caught us up and latched its docking clamps into place. After a journey through space across tens of millions of kilometers of emptiness, it had found us. For once, Jonnie's drawl summed things up perfectly.

“Well fancy seeing you here, buddy...”

SlPcB9I.png

After Céré had been secured, I floated aft to the lab to enjoy the view from its wide, generous windows that gave a stunning view of the planet, seven thousand kilometres below. Even from this distance, I could clearly make out details with the naked eye that generations of astronomers on Earth had been straining to see with their largest telescopes. Olympus Mons and her sisters, the Tharsis Montes. The Martian Canyon was also creeping slowly into view above the planet's limb as we swept round Mars in just over seven and a half hours, letting Phobos slowly catch up with us.

The lab had been empty when I'd arrived, but shortly I was joined by Margaret who drifted down beside me to enjoy the view in silence for a few moments. Things seemed to have settled down a little between her and Angun since we had arrived, and the atmosphere on board Cernin had certainly improved now that we all had things to do. Had the disagreements between them during the trip been a simple case of two brilliant but bored scientists in too close proximity for too long?

Weeks had now passed since Bartdon had contacted me with the revelation that Angun had been receiving live data directly from the thing at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean that he called the Monument. I was no closer to knowing if they were monitoring it just as a precaution in the off chance that it would provide some other pretty pictures of Mars, or if the Monument was actually still talking to them and they were tuning into Alien Artifact TV every day just before dinner. The fact that Angun had gone to the trouble of having an interplanetary coms relay installed on his listening platform suggested the latter.

But Angun and Margaret had given no indication that the plan of action for our robotic exploration of Mars' surface had changed in any way. How was I supposed to approach the subject without them knowing that I knew what they were up to?

“Do you think we'll find it?” I thought out loud, gazing down at the red desert below us.

“Find what?” Margaret's tone was unreadable.

“The Pyramid... or whatever it is we're actually looking for?” I tried to sound vague and thoughtful.

“What do you think we're looking for, Camwise?” she asked.

“Well, I'm an engineer. My job is just to make sure we get here in one piece, with air to breathe, water to drink, and then go in engines blazing. It's your job to look for stuff when we do. However, PI Angun seems to be of the opinion that the Martian Pyramid, along with the ship we found, suggests that intelligent life on Earth did not originate from Earth. And I gather you're not convinced.”

Unexpectedly, she gave a dry chuckle. “The thing is, I believe it doesn't matter whether I'm convinced or not. The point I would make is that where we come from is certainly interesting but also irrelevant. The fact is, just under a million years ago, almost all life was erased from the surface of our planet. My point of view is that it might just make sense to find out why.”

“Maybe we Kerbals are all just Class-E bait green trash, waiting for the next one to hit...” I started, but I was cut off by her mirthless snort.

“Cam, I've spent most of my life looking for the crater that would have been left by such an impact. I've scoured the Earth and I found nothing. This one was something else, and if I have to travel to Triton and back to find out what it was, I shall. That's why I'm here.”

With that she lapsed back into silence. After a couple of minutes, she floated back towards the crew module, and I was left to watch Cernin very slowly slip behind Phobos. Being in a slightly lower orbit, the moon was drifting imperceptibly ahead. When it lapped us, Jonnie, Angun and I would take Céré down to its surface. Until then, we had a couple of weeks to land our first rovers and start exploring the surface of Mars.

aQzHjxF.png

Edited by UnusualAttitude

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