peadar1987

Storm Clouds - A KSP Story (Now with a single rocket)

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This started off as me imagining how different countries and societies might have developed on Kerbin. It eventually developed into a semi fleshed-out world, and it seemed like a waste not to set some stories in it. I've tried to avoid just creating analogues for real-world nations, although some influences and parallels are going to be pretty obvious. This is my first attempt at writing fiction since I left school over a decade ago, so any feedback is very welcome and useful!

Here's the map I came up with, with the main players highlighted:

Kerbin.png

We have:

-The Atlavandian Empire

Formerly the dominant military power on Kerbin, with an empire spanning half a hemisphere. Atlavand was torn apart a generation ago in a succession war between brother and sister, and many of their colonies around the Atlav Ocean took advantage of this to declare their independence. Now an uneasy peace exists between the Emperor of West Atlavand and the Empress of East Atlavand, with both halves isolated, paranoid, and not on the best of terms with any of their neighbours

-The Eslen Alliance

The largest economic force in the southern hemisphere, the Alliance is more of a trading bloc than a unified country. Think modern day European Union more than USA. It grew up around a collection of small seafaring merchant republics around the Eslen Sea. They are prosperous, liberal and forward-looking, but tend to lack direction and strong leadership

-Shaland

An isolationist nation that has developed along the Great Lakes. These provide a natural highway making the nation very easy to defend against enemies, but the trackless badlands and highlands further from the lakes are harder to hold, so the Shalanders long ago gave up trying. Traditionally, the warlord who controls the Narrows between the two lakes controls the country.

-Tespen Confederation

Another group of separate countries that have become rich from a trading network around an inland sea. The Tespen Confederation is a collection of deeply conservative monarchies who club together to snuff out change if it starts to crop up in any one country, protecting the power of the monarchs and nobility. They tend to view anyone from outside the Confederation as savages.

-Yeflana

A totalitarian desert nation, which claims to be a benevolent dictatorship. The economy is mostly communistic, although slightly less brutal and rigid than the Soviet system. Has a history of friction with the Tespen Confederation. In the past the strength of the Confederation and the harsh climate of Yeflana have kept the border from moving too far from its current location

-Zeswurg

The island of Zeswurg was famous for its pirates and raiders for many years, heavy seagoing ships making easy pickings of the lighter vessels from the sheltered Eslen Sea. More recently they have developed a reputation for uncomplicated yet reliable engineering, building on a culture that necessarily placed rather a high value on not sinking without a trace. The political system is a council that developed from individual pirate kings

 

I'll follow up the background info with the first installment of the story over the next few days.

Edited by peadar1987
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Here we go, Chapter 1:

Matrick gently pushed forwards on the stick, levelling out the aircraft's climb, the elevators struggling for purchase in the thin air almost fifteen kilometres up. The deserts of Yeflana shimmered tranquilly below, baked by the sun. An ideal day for flying. Far below his port wing, a metallic glint raced along, leaving a slowly expanding contrail in its wake. A People's Self-Defence Interceptor on patrol, maybe. Or a Tespen fighter, probing for weaknesses. Such intrusions were becoming a lot more common recently. In either case, Matrick didn't worry. He was too high for any ordinary jet to reach, and obviously flying a sportsplane besides. No threat to anybody, until it came to a competition. Nobody had flown higher or faster than Matrick Otreised. Only a few in the world had the skill and knowledge to even come close.

He glanced quickly down at his instruments, registering airspeed, temperature and pressure, before looking out of his cockpit's floor window at the sparse cumulus clouds below. Potentially some good updraughts, high atmospheric pressure... Promising record breaking conditions. With a small adjustment to the trim tabs and a slight opening of the throttle, the aircraft began to rise. 14,900m... 15,000... 15,100... As the aircraft rose through the record altitude and the engine began to wheeze, Matrick felt a slight kick from the rudder pedals, before all hell broke loose.

Ground crews would later reconstruct those few moments from on-board telemetry. Matrick's aircraft had risen into a strong crosswind, causing the vertical stabiliser to stall. The sudden loss of yaw control caused the nose to snap sharply to the right. The port wing was yanked forward at the same time as the starboard wing was thrown back. The drop in airspeed over the wing caused the tip to stall, and the increased drag threw the plane into a spin.

All Matrick knew was that suddenly the horizon wasn't where he expected it to be and his ears were ringing with a jarring symphony of alarms and klaxons. He swallowed back the rising panic and tried to take stock of the situation. Upright spin. Nothing too earth-shattering there. Standard procedure. Drop power, neutralise ailerons, counteract the spin with the rudder, drop the nose to pick up speed. Counteract the stall. Change underwear. Easy!

He pressed down hard on the rudder pedal with his left foot. No reaction. Craning his neck to look around, he was just in time to see the last drops of hydraulic fluid drain from the ruined rudder assembly. He pushed the stick forward, even as he realised it would have no effect. The control surfaces all ran from the same hydraulic system. Design flaw. Stupid, stupid, stupid. 12,000 metres to figure out a way to recover a spinning aircraft with no control surfaces. Matrick averted his gaze from the tempting red lever just a few centimetres from his right hand.

"A world champion sportsflyer does not bail out. I'm not bailing out. I'm not bailing out". As the altimeter ticked below 10,000 metres, it was starting to look as though Matrick might have to abandon his well-honed flying skills and place his trust in his untried parachute packing ones...

Edited by peadar1987
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I imagine that feels a bit like driving down a steep incline just as a trailer careens past you.

"Hey, that one looks just like my trailer..."

Nice start, good 'hook', looking forward to the next chapter!

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36 minutes ago, KSK said:

I imagine that feels a bit like driving down a steep incline just as a trailer careens past you.

"Hey, that one looks just like my trailer..."

Nice start, good 'hook', looking forward to the next chapter!

Well if the author of First Flight likes it, then I'm happy!

Here are a few pictures of Matrick's aircraft over eastern Yeflana. I wrote the story before building the plane, and purely through coincidence it has a maximum altitude of about 15,500m (also, try as I might, I couldn't get it to enter a spin. I'll just have to put that one down to creative license!)

screenshot12.png

 

screenshot15.png

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Swallowing back the rising fear in his throat, Matrick tried to run through the available options. No control over any of the aerodynamic surfaces. So what did he have control of. Scanning across the kaleidoscope of mulitcoloured dials, gauges and switches on the control panel, not much was coming to mind.

"Navigation lights". Not much he could do with that.

"Fire suppression". Maybe after he hit the ground at 150 knots.

"Landing gear". Wasn't going to fix anything

"Flaps". They wouldn't stop the spin, but they were on a separate hydraulic system, so he still had control of them.

"Throttle". The engine had flamed out because of the spin, but seemed otherwise okay. And if he could get it started, he had plenty of fuel.

"Fuel... Hmm..." As the altimeter rolled down through 7,000m, and against every vestige of his better judgement, a plan began to form in the back of Matrick's head.

The aircraft kept spinning because its centres of mass and pressure were too close together. In essence, it was a giant, awkwardly-shaped frisbee. A lawn dart doesn't spin. An arrow doesn't spin. All he had to do was turn his plane into a lawn dart, and fuel was the key to doing that. His aircraft had four fuel tanks, one forward, one aft, on each side of the fuselage. Fuel could be pumped forwards and aft between them to control aircraft trim at high altitudes when the aerodynamic surfaces weren't up to the job. Each of the aft tanks also had a fuel dump system.

Matrick flicked the isolator switches for port and starboard fuel pumps, set them both to "forward", and watched the needles on the gauges start to move. He hesitated for a second, then pressed the button for the aft fire suppression system for good measure. Get rid of some of that CO2 from the tail. Get the mass towards the nose. Turn the frisbee into an arrow.

Heart in his mouth, he watched the spinning of the plane begin to slow, and gradually turn itself into a pendulum motion as the nose dropped and the Odalas salt flats started to loom large in front of him.

 

-------------------------------------------------

Again, any comments or criticism are very welcome. Or just let me now if you're enjoying it! I had intended to write more, but it took Matrick longer to get out of his spin than I'd anticipated! This story will eventually be about more than one plane that tried to fly a little too high, but I didn't want to put people off with a monster wall of text

Edited by peadar1987
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screenshot17.png

And an Elbas-19 fighter from the Tespen Confederation, the same type as Matrick saw flying below him before his spin.

This one is pulling out of a dive during pilot training over the swampy ground to the west of the Tespen Sea. The mountains being caught by the sun far to the south are just the other side of the Yeflanan border.

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Nice aircraft! Can't see too much of the Elbas-19 but I do like Matrick's sportsplane.

Enjoyed the update too. Matrick is certainly living up to his reputation: "Nobody had flown higher or faster than Matrick Otreised. Only a few in the world had the skill and knowledge to even come close."

Speaking personally, I think you could have merged those first two sections into one without running into 'monster wall of text' territory. Then again, posting large chunks of text at a time is how I work, so I've probably got a slightly skewed outlook on that. :) You'll be the best judge of what feels long enough to post!

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Thanks again for the advice, and the kind words. As I said, it's my first attempt at writing anything other than a journal article in a very long time.

It's probably worth noting that this story is about war, politics and flight. In it, Kerbals are basically just green humans, with the same flaws and motivations.

In my own headcanon, Kerbals don't have nations, they don't wage war, and they don't suffer from scarcity. They're also pretty much completely non-violent. Why fight when there's plenty of everything to go round? Life on Kerbin is idyllic enough and resources plentiful enough that if a large group of Kerbals decide it would be fun to start loading solid rocket fuel into canisters they found by the side of the road and blasting each other into orbit, they can do so without having to worry about such human problems as how they're going to pay the bills. But that's not the kind of story I wanted to write.

So without further ado...

---------------------------------------------

The next few seconds were going to be crucial. Matrick had stopped the spin, but at the expense of turning his aircraft into a nose-heavy dart intent on burying itself in the desert, cockpit first. He took a quick look at the altimeter and calculated there was about 45 seconds separating him from becoming the centrepiece of a terribly avant-garde and thought-provoking piece of modern art smouldering on the sand.

First things first. Full flaps. As the trailing edge of the wings hinged downwards into the airflow, digging into it, acting as an airbrake, Matrick could feel the deceleration dragging him towards his aircraft's nose. As the speed began to drop, his gloved hand returned once more to the fuel pump controls, this time setting both sides to "aft". Shifting the centre of mass further towards the tail. Being gentle. If he started to spin again, he wasn't going to be recovering.

As the crippled aircraft began to lift its nose, Matrick allowed himself a smile. Flying a plane with no control surfaces was like sailing a boat with no rudder. Not exactly easy, but a decent pilot could manage. It was just a question of anticipating what was going to disturb the fragile balance and counteracting it early. Early and gently, because it was all too easy to overcompensate. With that in mind, he eased open the throttle slightly, as the nose of the aircraft slowly rose past the horizon line. The dorsally-mounted engine whined slightly as its compressor spun up to speed, the asymmetric thrust balancing the plane, and putting it into a controlled flight. 130 knots, 900 metres altitude, sink rate zero. Matrick checked the map taped to the cockpit wall by his right hand and was relieved to see a Yeflanan airbase right on his nose, just a few tens of kilometres away. 

If a casual observer hadn't seen the drama just moments previously, they would be forgiven for thinking the strange-looking aircraft was on a routine flight as it dipped its nose slightly an began to lose altitude in preparation for a controlled landing at one of the countless military sites that peppered the Yeflanan side of the border...

---------------------------------------

As they did on the Tespen side. And in a bunker in the Bonehill Range, Jadra Yer was worried. In fact, worried was an understatement. Terrified was probably closer to the truth. As the rest of her squad loaded heavy crates and ominous looking weapons into the jeep just outside, she remained at the slit in the concrete, binoculars glued to her eyes, transfixed by the oily black plume of smoke that was rising into the sky just a couple of kilometres to the south.

Edited by peadar1987
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"First time seeing proper action?"

Jadra jumped at the sudden intrusion. Corporal Angrid had suddenly materialised beside her.

"Y... yes ma'am. Is it that obvious?"

"Don't worry kid. First time for everything. Even hops across the border. You'll do fine"

Jadra looked at her heavyset superior, then back at the ominous column of smoke. Opened her mouth to speak, then closed it again.

"Waiting isn't going to make it any easier, private." said Angrid, almost kindly. "Come on, in the jeep. We'll be back within an hour".

Private Desbald had finished loading the last of the equipment into the jeep. He flashed his two squadmates a grin.

"If you two ladies aren't over here in the next thirty seconds, I'm going to be forced to drive this thing myself."

Angrid sighed.

"You heard the private. Take the wheel. Let's go."

Jadra walked mechanically over to the jeep. She barely even registered turning the keys and putting it in gear. Angrid and Desbald bantered back and forth between the observer and gunner positions behind her, but all the newest member of the squad could think about was what might be waiting for them on the other side of the border as they bounced to the south.

---------------------------------------------------------

Meanwhile, fifty kilometres away Matrick was also on the move, sitting in the cab of a small Yeflanan military truck with a pair of very excitable soldiers. They had been talking non-stop about competitive gliding for over an hour, Matrick's early career featuring heavily. Both of the young Kerbals were highly opinionated, and one of them had been convinced that he would have bettered Matrick's winning performance at the National Championships two years previously, if only the Central Recreational Committee had given him the money.

The whole thing was starting to wear on Matrick. There was only so long even the most patient of souls could tolerate having one of their proudest moments dissected so brutally. He hadn't even asked for the ride in the truck, but the base commandant had insisted on the red carpet treatment when a celebrity had gouged a hundred metre groove in the grass airstrip with his overloaded nose wheel.

He sighed in relief as the tower of his home flying club came into view. The truck pulled up alongside the main building with the sound of grinding gears, and Matrick swung out of the cab with a wave of thanks, not bothering to wait until the wheels had come to a complete stop. He was looking forward to a cold drink with the other fliers and ground crew. He was almost even looking forwards to the inevitable roasting he would get for ruining a perfectly good hydraulic system.

His train of though ground to a halt as he strode through the front door, straight into a severe-looking Kerbal who had been waiting on the other side. The wide-brimmed hat, the heavy black overcoat, the red star-shaped badge. And most tellingly, the attitude. The air of complete control, coolness. The absence of a single bead of sweat in spite of the sweltering desert heat. Political Enforcement Bureau. If they were here, someone was in big trouble. The Secret Police were not known for making social calls

"Good afternoon Comrade Matrick." said the PEB agent. "My colleague and I would like to have a discussion with you."

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And a few more pictures of the craft I've been building:

screenshot19.png

Another one of the Elbas-19 flying through disputed airspace on the Yeflana/Tespen border

 

screenshot24_1.png

And it's main Yeflanan opponent, the more agile, but less heavily-armed and armoured Mellten-80, flying past the Great Pyramid of Yeflana

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Aaaand I'm back.

Hope you guys are enjoying the story. I've been away for a while, but have the next chapter for you now. I'm trying to strike a balance between introducing new characters early on, and developing the ones I've already introduced.

---------------------------------------

Amblia, The Eflen Alliance

Tombart stumbled through the narrow streets of Amblia, the cobbles slippery underfoot with a thin sheen of ice, small flakes of snow collecting in his greying hair and landing on his glasses. His contact had told him not to hurry, not to attract attention, but he found that almost impossible to do. Walking too quickly, holding his briefcase too tightly, he was sure he stood out like a sore thumb among the regular citizens of the sleepy capital of Eflen's smallest republic. Knowing that made him even more nervous, and made him clutch his briefcase tighter still. From the university to the meeting place was barely a ten minute walk. To Tombart it seemed like it took hours, and when he finally reached his destination, he was drenched in sweat, in spite of the frigid morning mountain air. His contact was waiting for him. He greeted Tombart politely, in his usual clipped, precise manner.

"Comrade Tombart. You are early. I trust you have brought that which we agreed upon?"

"Um.. yes. Yes I have. In the briefcase... Um, comrade"

His contact seemed amused at this. A hint of a smile appeared on his face as he took the briefcase from Tombart

"You are learning. I think you will enjoy Yeflana" he chuckled. "The trip there, maybe not so much"

"Now? We're leaving now?!" said Tombart, feeling a stab of panic

The Yeflanan smiled again.

"You have just handed me a very heavy briefcase of state secrets. I don't feel you will be warmly received by your police when they find out what you have done. Of course, you are very welcome to stay and take your chances. I've heard that Amblia are very soft on spies. They mightn't even shoot you"

Tombart squeaked. The enormity of what he had just done dawning on him rapidly. He scurried around his contact, through the door behind him, and into the Yeflanan embassy.

------------------------

10km south of the Yeflana-Tespen border

Jadra's slowed her jeep to a near halt as it crested the rise overlooking the source of the smoke plume. At the bottom of a shallow depression lay the remains of a shattered Elbas-19. The wings had been torn off by the force of the impact. Unidentifiable debris was scattered in a trail, ending in the broken remains of the cockpit. There was no sign of the pilot. Angrid and Desbald had gone silent behind her.

She began to pick her way down the slope towards what remained of the aircraft, and had nearly reached it when her entire world seemed to explode. A blinding flash, impossibly bright, dazzled her, but she barely had time to register that before a wave of pressure and heat washed over her, her head started to spin and she lost consciousness.

She was only out for a few seconds, when she came to, she was hanging from her seatbelt in the overturned jeep. The crater from the mortar smoking close by to her left. Putting a hand up to avoid a fall onto her neck, she unclipped the buckle on her seatbelt and dropped to the floor. No broken bones, and apart from a painful ringing in her eardrums, she seemed uninjured. Looking back towards where her squadmates should have been, she could only see Angrid's arm sticking out from under the jeep, elbow bent at a horrible angle, with the weight of the vehicle resting firmly on it. There was no sign of Desbald. Jadra was trained as a driver and combat mechanic. There wasn't much she could do for the Corporal. Not without a lever and a lot more time than she probably had, with a Yeflanan mortar crew probably reloading at that very moment.

She ran a few steps uphill, towards the north, and freedom, then stopped to look downhill. Setting her jaw, she turned and ran back down towards the wreckage of the aircraft, the reason she'd been sent over the border. Patches of burning vegetation and jet fuel grew denser and denser as she approached the cockpit, and the heat was almost unbearable. Jadra could see the paint blistering on the fuselage near some of the more intense fires. Still no second mortar. She reached into the cockpit through the smashed canopy, desperately fumbling with the catches on the instrument panel as she felt her skin beginning to burn. Half-blinded by the choking smoke, she finally managed to prise the panel free, and reach in behind it. She found what she was looking for by feel and wrenched it out, before sprinting away from the smoke and the heat. She paused for a few seconds to examine her prize. A small metal cylinder, hot to the touch, with multiple holes drilled into its faces, and the words "Cavity Magnetron" stamped on it. She may have lost her squadmates, but the mission was still alive.

She had just passed beyond the brow of the hill and out of sight heading north when the first Yeflanan troop carriers sped down into the depression to secure the crash site.

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And a few more pictures. These ones of a ground attack aircraft flying over the mountains of Amblia at sunrise. The city of Amblia is nestled in a valley among these mountains.

screenshot32.png

 

screenshot37.png

 

screenshot38.png

 

 

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The ceiling fan spun slowly, blowing a tiny current of air over Matrick and the two PEB agents. One was the overcoated one from earlier, and the other was a giant Kerbal who must have stood over one metre tall. Overcoat was doing all of the talking, while his colleague stood stony-faced beside him.

"Comrade Matrick. You are probably curious about the reason for our visit. I'm afraid it is not good news for you, or anyone else in our nation."

He paused for a moment before continuing.

"War is coming with the Tespen Confederation. They become more bold every day. They send aircraft. Patrols. Spies. Just yesterday a fighter was downed by one of our flak batteries near the border."

Matrick thought back to the fighter he had seen below him the previous day. "Poor scrope" he muttered.

"That poor scrope was an enemy combatant." said the agent. "He was trained to kill Yeflanans. Shoot down our planes. Kill our pilots. Pilots like you"

"Not quite like me, Comrade." replied Matrick. "I'm no fighter pilot. I fly sailplanes. I ride thermals. I wouldn't know where to begin with one of those little gnats the fighter jocks fly"

"That can easily be fixed" said the agent with a brief smile. "We are not short of trainers or instructors. And from what I understand, you are not short of talent. You will be an asset to our air force"

"No" said Matrick, the steel in his voice belying the hundred voices in his head screaming in horror that he had just defied a PEB agent.

"No?" said the agent, seeming more confused than angry. "Your country is on the verge of war. How better to serve it than using your talents as a pilot?"

"I'm an engineer. I'll serve my country that way. I'll build a desalination plant, or design a municipal chiller. I don't want to kill some poor scrope who probably just wants to go home, and I don't want to drop a bomb on a Tespen factory."

The agent sighed. "Comrade Matrick. What do you think would happen if every farmer from the Red Mountains decided they didn't want to farm? That they would rather live in Yef, or Arla Valley? Where would the cities find enough water? Who would grow our food?"

Matrick looked at him silently as he continued.

"And what do you think would happen if every Kerbal we ask to serve his country said no, they would rather build machines? We would be overrun by the Tespen Kings and their serfs. those 'poor scropes' you keep referring to. For over 500 years Yeflana has thrived because people serve the state instead of their own selfish ends."

Matrick stayed impassive.

The agent sighed again. "You're an intelligent Kerbal, Comrade Matrick. Too intelligent, I hope, to choose a work camp over a prestigious position in the air force. Pack up your personal belongings tonight. We will send a car to transfer you to a military airfield in the morning"

"I understand" said Matrick.

"Good", said the agent, as he stood up to leave. "Oh, one more thing..."

"Yes?"

"Would you sign a model for my colleague? He's a big fan of yours"

Matrick looked over at the giant, who had a huge grin on his face and a model sports glider in one of his massive hands.

He shrugged, and reached for a pen. Writing his name on the glider, he felt as though he was signing his life away.

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I like this! Just starting reading it!

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Ah, I see. An offer I cannot refuse. In that case - I will not refuse it.

Poor Matrick. :(

 

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6 hours ago, KSK said:

Ah, I see. An offer I cannot refuse. In that case - I will not refuse it.

Poor Matrick. :(

 

Indeed. He's probably more scared of having to kill someone else than being shot down or anything. Although on the bright side, military pilots do get to play with all the shiniest toys

8 hours ago, vsully said:

I like this! Just starting reading it!

Thanks, it's nice to know people are reading and enjoying

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Jadra sat in front of the bewildering array of dials, knobs and switches. She had been scared before driving south into Yeflana, but now she was feeling a different kind of fear, if anything even more intense. She adjusted the headphones over her ears and tried to focus on what the Kerbal opposite her was saying.

"...so you were sent across the border to recover it. How did you feel when you heard the news, and what was at stake?"

Jadra avoided freezing like a springhorn in the headlights through sheer force of will and spoke, her voice going out across the airwaves to the millions of listeners of Tespen Royal Radio.

"Scared, Nonfred. No, that's not right. Terrified. I was terrified."

"But also excited about the chance to do your duty, and win glory for the Confederation, I'm sure. I heard the lord of the estate on which you grew up even sent a telegram to congratulate you. That must have been a special moment for someone of such lowly birth"

Jadra hesitated. Lord Morfron hadn't been the worst. His rents were fair, and his hobbies were hunting and fishing, instead of petty evictions. Still, she wouldn't have described the moment as 'special'. She had probably set eyes on him four times in her entire life.

"I was just happy to be home safely." she said "The telegram from my parents meant more to me. I haven't spoken to them in months, and it was my Dad who first took apart an engine with me when I was tiny"

"And wasn't it wonderful that Lord Morfron gave you the freedom to take apart engines on his land?" said the host, "The skills you learned on his estate must have really helped you get back to the border"

"To be honest, the most useful skill I learned on the estate was how to slog for a day and a half with no water" blurted out Jadra, before clapping her hand over her mouth. Danger flashed in in Nonfred's eyes, but behind him, one of the technicians was doubled over in laughter.

"Of course, the commitment of our workers is legendary" said Nonfred, every inch the professional, although his face was still dark "whether it's on a farm, or on the battlefield. Can you tell us about your mission? Or is that classified information?"

Jadra knew full well that she hadn't been told any classified information. She had been told that shortly before going on air.

"All we were told was that there was an important piece of technology in that crashed plane. And that it gave our aircraft some sort of advantage against the Yeflanans. We were told to go and get it back..."

She described in detail the drive to the crater with the crashed aircraft, her voice cracking as she described the mortar strike, and the decision to abandon her squadmates, and finished off with her arrival into a small border post, lips cracked and sunburned, head throbbing from dehydration, but with her precious cargo still in her pocket.

"And there you have it" said Nonfred. "Private Jadra. Combat Mechanic. Family Kerbal. National Hero. An example to us all. Stay tuned for Lordas with the sports news"

Jadra let out a huge sigh. She was dripping with sweat, but she caught the eye of the technician again. He was grinning and giving her a thumbs up. Maybe her first interview hadn't gone so badly after all.

--------------------------------------------------

In Yeflana, Matrick was pacing around the airfield in the pre-dawn chill, duffel bag slung over his shoulder. The PEB agent would be along to pick him up in a few hours, and he couldn't sleep. A familiar voice roused him from his early morning daydreams.

"Hey Matt, breakfast's not for another four hours. That's keen, even for you!"

Samly had been working on Matrick's aircraft since Matrick had first been sent to the airfield five years before. He'd been at all the pilot's triumphs, and a few disasters as well. A picture of the two of them covered in engine oil at the national gliding championships sat in Matrick's bag.

"Hi Sam. I'm not sure what the breakfasts are like in the military. I'm planning on enjoying this one as much as I can. What has you up so early?"

"You." Samly replied. "I've just finished fixing the hydraulic system on that bird you tried your best to destroy. You're losing your touch, only took me six hours this time"

"Don't worry, I've got big plans for those Melltens the fighter jocks fly. I reckon I can give them a two-day repair without much of a problem. How's my bird looking?"

"Not bad. You only blew out one coupling. Of course you picked the most important and hardest to reach one, and I had to take apart half the rudder, but she should be back in the air for a shakedown tomorrow"

"Sam, how would you feel if I took the old girl up for one last flight? Save someone else a boring shakedown flight, and give me something to do before breakfast"

The technician scratched his nose as he thought, leaving a long smudge of black grease

"Sure, I can't see why not. Too early for a beer, and nobody ever wants to do a shakedown. Just promise not to break her this time. Those lovely PEB guys would have to redirect the car. You'd miss that breakfast. It'd ruin everyone's morning."

"And nobody would want that. Do you think you could throw on some drop tanks? There's something I want to try out with the fuel flow, and I probably won't get another chance"

"No problem Matt. I've got some already filled. Bobbart won't miss them. Fly safe!"

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In the air, Matrick opened the throttle and began to climb. His flight plan called for a gentle series of manoeuvres over the desert to the north of the airfield. He looked back at the duffel bag wedged into the cockpit behind his head, and then pushed the stick gently to the right. The aircraft banked to starboard, and kept climbing, out over the sea, to an altitude no fighter could hope to reach, drop tanks hanging from its belly like some sort of strange fruit.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

And in the Embassy in Amblia, Tombart lay on a spartan bunk and looked at the ceiling. Waiting for the call that would take him away from all the burned bridges to a new life in Yeflana.

Edited by peadar1987
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The City of Reman lies on the western shore of the Atlavand Peninsula. It had started out life as a small fortress on a hillock, one of the few dry spots in a marsh that stretched all the way to the horizon. From this nigh-impregnable position, its influence had spread through trade and conquest, until the Atlavandian Empire covered a quarter of the globe, almost completely surrounding the ocean that shared its name.

And the city had spread too, from the hill which was now covered in elaborate plazas and the well-appointed villas of rich merchants, to the warren of streets, bridges and canals surrounding it, thronged with boats, rickshaws and Kerbals. And at the peak of the hill stood the Imperial Palace, grand spires and steeply-sloping roofs soaring over the columns of the breathtaking facade. In the Imperial bedchamber, the Glorious and Serene Rightful Emperor of the Atlavandian People and Their Vassals, a middle-aged Kerbal in his 92nd year, was awoken by the ringing of the Imperial Telephone.

"Emperor Kermor speaking."

His sister's voice grated in his ear from a no doubt tacky and unimpressive palace in East Atlavand.

"Kermor, how's life in the swamp? Mosquitos eaten you alive yet?"

"Give me back my rightful territories and you can find out. If you do it quickly, I might even give you a cell with a window"

The telephone was a recent addition. It made the verbal sparring between the two siblings much easier. When the succession war had first broken out 70 years previously, they had had to send their insults and threats via courier. This "hotline" made things much simpler, especially now the novelty of ringing the Empress at 3AM simply to wake her up had worn off.

"As appealing as that sounds, I have a more... cooperative proposition" said Empress Kerlness. "There has been too much fighting. Atlavand has lost so much. Angorfa, Smera, the Bone Coast... But I have an idea for something we can achieve together. Something that will make the rest of the world remember Atlavand"

"They would remember Atlavand if it wasn't for you!" replied the Emperor, his voice rising. "You tried to steal my throne. I am the eldest son! You're just a woman! So what if you're two years older than me? I deserved that throne, not you!"

"Kermor, calm down, I'm offering an olive branch. This could be bigger than which one of us controls the Spiny Mountains or the Ruby Islands this year. This could be the biggest thing Kerbalkind has ever done"

It was no use. Her brother was already in full flow

"...Angorfa would never have defied me if I hadn't been busy fighting you. And if the traitors in the navy hadn't taken your side I would have crushed you in the first month..."

Kerlness hung up the phone, leaving Kermor on the other end, dumbfounded by his sister's audacity. That usurper dared to hang up on him? He should assemble the army and invade the Saggow Marsh. That would show her. He stomped off down the corridor to toward the war room

In East Atlavand, Kerlness looked up her next phone call. Perhaps the Tespens would be more reasonable, if only to spite her brother. She checked the time zone chart and began to dial.

------------------------------------

And far to the south, a lone sportsplane jettisoned its last remaining drop tank, bobbing slightly as the weight fell towards the distant ground. Matrick had been in the air for almost eight hours, and could now see the mountains of Amblia poking above the horizon. Behind them was the Eslen alliance, and freedom. Even if his engine failed him, he was now within gliding range.

He had picked his destination almost without thinking. Yeflanan propaganda was pervasive: Tespens were elitist snobs who mercilessly exploited their brainwashed and coerced serfs to make life better for the rich and noble. Atlavandians wanted nothing but to control Yeflana, because they were jealous of its power. The River Republic were barely more than ticket inspectors who profited from the work of others... The list went on and on

And the Eslen Alliance were an undisciplined, individualistic rabble. Spoiled and petulant because of the accident of nature that had given them a fertile maritime plain surrounded by mountains, instead of a barren desert surrounded by enemies. They would never be a great nation like Yeflana, so the school textbooks said, because they refused to work towards the common good, the member republics only looking out for their own needs.

Matrick liked the sound of it. He couldn't imagine a disorganised rabble particularly caring whether or not he flew a fighter plane or an airliner.

He clicked the radio on and set it to the air traffic control frequency. There were commercial flights between Yeflana and several Eslen capitals, and he hoped the frequencies were the same.

"This is Yeflanan pilot Matrick, requesting landing on Eslen territory. I am a defector and request political asylum"

It felt strange, saying that out loud. Defector. He gave out some details of his aircraft and waited for the reply from air traffic control.

"Yeflanan Pilot Matrick, this is Amblia Air Traffic Control. You are cleared for landing on runway 3."

The feeling of the surreal grew. He was about to land in a free country. He was within touching distance of making it.

--------------------------------------------

Tombart's door burst open to reveal his contact.

"It is time" said the Yeflanan, simply, and disappeared.

Tombart sprung to his feet and followed. Soon he would be in Yeflana, with his own research team, and precious, precious funding. Who knew what he could achieve with that?

Author's note: I will stop introducing new characters eventually! Most of the major characters in the story have now been introduced, and things can start moving forwards.

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The Hall of Tespen Kings was an imposing structure. Built from immense stones, its fortified parapets rose directly from a cliff looming over the Tespen Sea, 100 metres below. When storm clouds rose over it, as they often did in that part of the world, It brought to mind an evil sorcerer's castle in some Kerblet's fairy story, many of which had probably been inspired by its edifice. Today, however, the skies were clear, and the sun shone through the great window at the end of the Meeting Hall, in which the sixteen Tespen Kings were assembled. The King of Tokana was finishing a speech about peasant rebellions. A request of help from the armies of the other rulers to help nip any dissent in the bud. It was a fairly standard request. For the past six centuries, when the peasants of one kingdom rose up, the armies of sixteen kingdoms were on hand to put the rebellion down. It did wonders for the peace of mind of a king.

None of the assembled kings were paying much attention. Troop movements could be delegated to some minor earl or viscount. Someone whose success still wouldn't make them a threat.

The next speaker rose to their feet, a tall and dignified Queen with silver hair and a regal posture.

"For too many years, the Tespen Kingdoms have been humiliated. Yeflen raiders plundered us, we were bullied by the Atlavandians, mocked by the Eflens. They snickered at us. Looked down their noses, in spite of our nobility. Laughed at us. Today, that all ends!"

The mood in the room had changed. All but the most doddering and decrepit kings were waiting to see where this was going.

"Earlier today, I signed a momentous treaty with Empress Kernless of Atlavand. With our combined power and knowledge, we are committed to, before this decade is out, send a Kerbal to the Mun and return her safely to Kerbin. Never again will anyone question the glory of the Tespen peoples. Now, who is with us?!"

The room erupted with noise as the queen sat down. The Tespen confederation had one foot in the Space Age.

-----------------------------------------------

In Amblia, Tombart was being bundled into the back of a car behind the Yeflanan embassy. They had left through a delivery entrance to avoid being spotted by anyone watching the front door. The car pulled away, leaving a set of dark tracks in the light dusting of snow covering the street, and began to head east. Tombart was not sure where he was going to be taken, his contact hadn't told him, and remained silent as he sat in the back seat. Over the mountains via treacherous and twisting back roads, staying just one step ahead of the chasing police cars? Or maybe to a sleepy port where they would board a vessel registered in Bableina, but actually run by Zeswurgian pirates? He felt like he was in one of the melodramatic films he used to enjoy so much when he was a kerblet, and was almost disappointed when the car turned onto a perfectly normal road, leading the the airport. A plane was still exciting, but it was no Zeswurgian pirate.

The car pulled into the airport and stopped beside a low building. The Yeflanan wordlessly stood up and entered, emerging a few seconds later with two heavyset Kerbals. Tombart couldn't quite dispel the feeling that something was very wrong. One of the new arrivals motioned for him to wind down his window, which he did only reluctantly.

"Dr. Tombart?" he said "Agent Timford, Amblian Security. We're going to have to ask you to step inside. You are under arrest for the illegal sale of classified aerospace information to Yeflana."

Tombart's contact waited on the fringes of the group.

"Sorry Comrade Tombart. It would appear somebody made an offer that was worth more to our leaders than you were. I hope my prediction regarding your execution doesn't prove to be too inaccurate. Now if you will excuse me, I have other business to attend to"

And he strode off towards the terminal building, Tombart staring balefully after him as handcuffs were snapped onto his wrists.

--------------------------------------------------

Matrick guided his aircraft in gently towards Runway 3 of Amblia International Airport, the mountains rising to port, and to starboard, across a grassy plain, lay the sea. He would no doubt have been missed in Yeflana by now. The car to pick him up would surely have arrived to find his room empty. He hoped Samly would't take any of the blame for his escape.

A gust of wind brought him back to the moment. His aircraft was designed for altitude and endurance. It weighed barely anything, had a huge amount of lift, and really didn't enjoy pilots who tried to make it be on the ground. And with those enormous wings, it was very easy for a stiff breeze to blow the aircraft into all sorts of strange configurations, as he had discovered on his last flight.

The plane floated down towards the runway, flaps fully extended, Matrick making small adjustments to the controls to keep the trim just how he wanted, pulling back on the stick to flare the craft just before the rear wheels touched down. No bounce, no weaving, a perfect landing to impress his new hosts. As Matrick slowed down and began to roll slowly towards the taxiway, a small fleet of cars and small trucks filled with soldiers screeched over. A welcoming committee!

Matrick popped the canopy and let himself down the ladder before walking towards the assembled Kerbals, keeping his hands visible so they would see he was no threat to them. A broad smile coming unbidden to his face as he got his first breaths of freedom.

The crowd suddenly parted, and Matrick's stomach knotted. Through the gap marched a tall Kerbal wearing an overcoat and a hat with a five-pointed red star. 

No!

How?!

"Comrade Matrick. Welcome to Ambia. I am afraid your stay will be a short one. A space has recently opened up on a flight to Yeflana, you see. And when you arrive back there, you will be shot for defection". The PEB agent's crooked smile contained no more warmth than the frigid Amblian air.

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First off - thanks for the earworm! I now have 'In the Halls of the Mountain Kings' playing in my head. :)

The story is really ramping up! Lots of depth developing and I really like the word-pictures you're putting in of the various states and kingdoms. Short but vivid and very effective.

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On 05/10/2016 at 11:35 PM, KSK said:

First off - thanks for the earworm! I now have 'In the Halls of the Mountain Kings' playing in my head. :)

 

The story is really ramping up! Lots of depth developing and I really like the word-pictures you're putting in of the various states and kingdoms. Short but vivid and very effective.

Well completely coincidentally, that's also the tune of the Tespen National Anthem. 

Apologies for the slow pace right now, turns out writing a PhD thesis is hard!

I've put together a quick interlude to the story, and will post it later tonight...

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The future KSC is in Smera? Love the story so far, really enjoying it!

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Reman, Atlavandian Empire. 65 years previously.

Emperor Kermor stood on top of a small hillock, and looked at the mound of Reman, ten kilometres distant. His troops had taken the Imperial Causeway, and his sister was trapped inside the city. Plumes of smoke rose from multiple fires caused by his army's shelling. His sister's forces were depleted, starving, and ready to surrender. Soon he would be the unchallenged emperor of the largest empire on Kerbin.

He entertained himself in the meantime imagining the creative things he would do to his sister once she was captured. Lock her away, perhaps. Maybe in Eba. Somewhere northern and cold. In a tower beside the sea where it was always damp. That might make her suitably miserable.

His musing was interrupted brutally when the causeway in front of him suddenly disappeared in a shower of concrete and earth, splashing into the marsh and sending soldiers and officers scattering. What was that?!  Grabbing a pair of binoculars, he zoomed in on the smoking city, and realised to his horror that some of the plumes he had seen weren't from fires at all. Ten warships were steaming towards the besieged city. His warships. His city. Those TRAITORS!

The causeway was destroyed. He could only look on as his sister and her remaining supporters fled the city onto the ships, to link up with their loyalists in the east.

Three days later, the First Angorfan Regiment turned their coats, stormed the Autumn Palace in Carnod and declared independence from Atlavand. Eba and Autrand followed within the week. Kermor was never able to muster the troops for a decisive campaign against his sister again.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

Algrab, western Yeflana, 22 years previously

Matrick knew he was in big trouble. He was sitting in front of a desk, his friends Jorbret and Baibry either side of him. The Kerbal on the other side of the desk was a whole head taller than any of them. And Matrick had never seen him this angry.

"I hope you appreciate your time in this school is over!" he was bellowing. "This is the final straw". He had been continuing in this vein for quite some time.

Matrick wasn't quite sure what the problem was. The glider had worked perfectly. He'd flown it for three circuits of the campus before he realised he hadn't picked a landing spot, and put the nose through the window of the dining hall. And now the agricultural college were going to kick him out. He doubted he would be having this problem if he'd thrown a sack of dirt or some seeds through the window. Farming had never interested him, he'd always been more into maths and science, reading books and building models whenever he could get his hands on them. If there'd been anything in that corner of Yeflana apart from farms, he would have taken it.

The door clicked softly open behind him.

"That's enough, Administrator Kelbart" said the new arrival, the Senior Dean of the college. "I'll take it from here". Kerbart shot the trio a venomous glance and stalked out of the room.

"Are we going to be expelled?" asked Baibry, her eyes glistening with tears.

"Not exactly" said the Dean. "Three fourteen-year-olds build a glider in a shed out of college property and use it to shower Administrator Kelbart with broken glass while he is eating. If you were to stay here, I don't think you would be able to top that."

He paused for a second, savouring the image.

"I've arranged for all three of you to be transferred to the Aeronautical College in Arvil Bay. They've agreed to overlook the fact that you didn't achieve the required score in your ARP Tests. I've called in a couple of favours for this. Don't let me down!"

Matrick's jaw hit the floor. He was going to be an engineer!

------------------------------------------

University of Amblia, the Eflen Alliance, 10 years previously

The test rig was huge. Taking up an entire room, its complicated system of pipes and wires snaked around chair legs and over tables, finishing at a small nozzle about the size of a halved watermelon, pointing at a bare concrete wall.

Tombart was excitedly showing the assorted guests the setup.

"This one is the chiller for keeping the oxygen liquid. Three years the team worked on that. We're hoping to put one together soon that will be able to liquefy hydrogen... But the alcohol-fuelled version is more than enough to give you the idea. Ear defenders on, everyone!"

He pulled a switch to his left and a blinding blue flame shot from the mouth of the nozzle, the pipework casting bizarre and twisted shadows on the walls. The noise was deafening even through ear defenders, and all of the Kerbals in the room were left with a ringing sensation in their ears, even after the motor was powered off.

"So what does it do?" said one of the observers, who Tombart knew was the Amblian minister for Science and Education.

"It's an engine" replied Tombart. "And not just any engine. It's an engine that doesn't need any external oxygen to operate."

"Could the military use it?"

"Well, I suppose... Maybe you could put something on top of your craft. Some explosives? A few kilos maybe. I can't see how it would be better than a normal bomber though. Harder to intercept maybe?"

The minister sighed

"Tombart, this was all very impressive, but I've got to get reelected. People have to vote for me. And people vote for things they want to see. A cure for the Red Pox. Some naval development to keep our ships safe from Zeswurg. Impressive toys aren't going to win them over. I'm sorry, but I can't approve any more funding for this project. I'm sure we can find you something in Jet Engines though. I'll let you know. Good luck"

As the minister and his entourage left, Tombart was left alone in a room with his shattered dreams, popping and crackling as the first, and now probably last, rocket engine on Kerbin slowly cooled down.

------------------------------------------

Morfron Estate, Tespen Confederation, 2 years previously

Jadra nearly had the engine repaired. The fault had been difficult to find, some of the teeth on the timing gear had sheared due to fatigue, and it was causing a misfire. And whoever had designed the thing had made it necessary to disassemble half the cylinder head before the timing gear could be accessed. Her father watched on proudly as she deftly tightened the last few nuts and swung the bonnet back over. She'd never been the most sociable Kerbal, possibly because she was an only child, and she was awkward around those her own age, but he had never seen an eighteen-year-old so confident and at ease with machines as her.

It was a pity that she would soon have to perform her National Service. He knew she wasn't going to enjoy being stuck in a barracks or a mess hall with no escape from other Kerbals, and no engines to play with.

He looked at the form he had just picked up from the post. Standard questions. Age, height, weight, place of birth, social class. The usual. He turned over the page and read on:

"Please list any further skills you feel might be of benefit to the Tespen army, and any relevant references as to the candidate's proficiency therein. Of particular interest are aviators, medics and mechanics"

A smile creased his mouth. He was going to lose his girl for a while, but maybe she wouldn't hate her military service so much after all.

1 hour ago, Garrett Kramme said:

The future KSC is in Smera? Love the story so far, really enjoying it!

Yep, but the story has a way to go yet before Smera gets involved. Glad to hear you're enjoying the story, I've taken a big chunk out of my PhD over the last few weeks, so can hopefully push the story forwards a little soon.

Edited by peadar1987
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14 hours ago, peadar1987 said:

Apologies for the slow pace right now, turns out writing a PhD thesis is hard!

It sure is - been there, done that. Full time job during the day, writing up my thesis in the evenings and at weekends. Not something I'd care to go back to doing.

No need to apologise - we'll be here whenever you can find some spare time to move the story on! And speaking of which - I liked the interlude and character backgrounds!

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9 minutes ago, KSK said:

It sure is - been there, done that. Full time job during the day, writing up my thesis in the evenings and at weekends. Not something I'd care to go back to doing.

No need to apologise - we'll be here whenever you can find some spare time to move the story on! And speaking of which - I liked the interlude and character backgrounds!

Oh wow! At least I'm full time. The thesis is due in February, so I'm just slogging through the literature review now. Reading about one reference for every two sentences really makes the whole process drag! Hopefully things will speed up once I get onto writing up the results, as most of them are already written in some form from journal articles and conference papers. At least, that's what I'm telling myself!

The interlude was an idea I had on the back burner for when I didn't have time to worry about taking the story forwards. So now I've used that one up! I have got a rough idea for the next instalment in my head though. Hopefully I'll find some time over the next few weeks

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