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The Kronos Maneuver


MedwedianPresident
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Prologue

The metallic silver of the craft’s hull, various pipes, iron tank elements and unidentifiable mechanic parts formed a clear road of debris stretching from the southeast to what had been left of the once-magnificent, streamlined hypersonic reconnaissance unit’s cockpit.

The landing was off by a tad bit. By a goddamn tad bit of twenty kilometers. Jebediah did not know what had caused it - a problem with the flight automation computer, or a problem with himself. Two and a half bottles of lager were not exactly the best breakfast for a reconnaissance pilot.

Lieutenant Jebediah Kerman coughed. There was blood. A broken rib - or two, or three. Doc would have a hard time stitching him up again, if he would ever be saved.

”Crap.”

He was supposed to land on the Derideaz Airfield, just south of the border, near Semigor. The northernmost tip of Taheireaz, the last bit of the free world, almost completely engulfed by the moloch of the Medwedian border barriers. He had clearly seen the barbed-wire fences, the minefields, the endless hangars, the tanktraps and the watchtowers flashing below him in the last seconds before the crash. The tinnitus of the impact now made way to the distant ringing of alarm bells and barking of dogs. No doubt - you’re in Medwedia, imperialist pig, ready to be liberated from your ungodly sins?

Two, three minutes before they would find him. There seemed to be a helicopter up in the sky, he was not sure.

Pain. Goddamn pain. Jebediah’s head was exploding. Throbbing pain. Somebody hammering on his head.

The burning bush in the background duplicated itself. Everything was double. Jebediah threw up, with more blood.

Pain. Pain and Blood. Darkness. The predatorial flapping of the helicopter rotor came closer and closer.

Light. Men in white robes. Men in uniforms. A hospital corridor. A nurse setting up an IV drip.

Darkness.

A man in a dark suit, accompanied by two uniformed officers.

”Good morning, Lieutenant ...Kerman.”

”He’s not ready yet. Three more hours. Let’s give him some more sedative.”

”I will stay here and wait. Bring me a tea.”

Darkness.

The man, without the officers, sitting on a wooden stool to the right side of his bed. Jebediah did not recognize the old kerbal, whose hair and mustache were grey. An empty cup of tea was standing on the bedside table.

”Good evening. You have slept for six hours. Ten bones broken. We thought we would lose you. Doctor Soboth thought so, to be honest. You crashed at an incredible speed, my friend. In fact, you have broken at least five different world records.”

”Where am I?” - Jebediah found it incredibly hard to speak; the pain was almost unbearable. They had drugged him up; whatever they had given him was now wearing off.

“In a safe place. Nobody will hurt you.”

”Where?”

”The situation is quite...erm...complicated, if you understand what I mean. I must disappoint you with the fact that the negotiations on your behalf have not started yet. You are presumed dead.”

”Please...”

“You are safe.”

”Where am I, for god’s sake?”

The old man folded a file he was holding and laid it on the table. He stood up and looked sternly at Jebediah.

”Welcome to the Medwedian Democratic Federation, Lieutenant Jebediah Kerman of the International Aerospace Peacekeeping Corps.”

He was speaking with a slight rhotic and guttural accent.

”How do you know my name?”

”We have been collecting information on you since you were conscripted. We have pictures of you as a kid. We have copies of your preschool report card. We know everything about you, and everything means everything. We know that you like to visit the Mun, often spend months alone in a keostationary centrifuge outfitted with nothing but basic life support and a decent supply of liquor, and last but not least - engage in covert reconnaissance missions when you are on Kerbin. You do it to find more excuses to drink. You are an alcoholic, a misanthrope and a spy - what a funny combination...”

The man laughed loudly and heartily. Something was telling Jebediah Kerman that he was getting into some serious trouble.

”And now back on topic - I really must commend you on the high resolution of that camera. The silo caps of Facility 46 are clearly visible. Even a toddler will recognize nuclear missiles. Seems that you have done a good job for your government.”

”What do you want from me? Who are you?”

”Lieutenant - please do not polemize with me. All I want from you is to do another job, now for us.”

”Another job? I presume that you have already destroyed the data I collected, and that your satellites are good enough to see our nuclear launch centers as clearly as we do yours...”

”You are misunderstanding me, Lieutenant Kerman. This job has nothing to do with missiles, at least not in the way you imagine. It’s a space job. Space is your element, your natural habitat, am I correct? Space is the only place where nobody judges you for literally turning your blood into booze, where your siblings can not aim their watchful eyes at you, right?”

”Why should I?”

The man pulled two small injection syringes out of his chest pocket and tightened his tie. Only now Jebediah noticed the restraints that held him in place in the bed, tight belts immobilizing his arms, legs and head.

”You have the choice. Nobody is forcing you to do anything for us. However, remember that you are officially dead, the victim of a tragic accident. In my left hand, I am holding a syringe that contains painkillers and a drug that will guarantee you deep and comfortable sleep for at least two days while your wounds start to heal. The other syringe contains pure benzol. You will choke painfully, spending the last thirty minutes of your life spitting out your lungs.”

Jebediah did not say anything.

”Great. I am your mission coordinator and superior officer for the duration of this enterprise. Colonel Herbert Olsen, Ministry of National Security of the Medwedian Democratic Federation.”

”Nice to meet you.” - Jebediah’s tone was undoubtedly sarcastic and full of despise. He was doing his best to provoke the colonel without openly enraging him.

”Now, to the objective of the undertaking...” - Olsen unfolded a large graphic. Jebediah immediately recognized it as a poorly photocopied excerpt from his own orbital mechanics textbook. Some annotations in Medwedian were scribbled all around the sheet.

”Lieutenant - are you familiar with the Kronos Maneuver?”

”Why?”

The Kronos Maneuver was a complex Oberth transfer devised by Jebediah’s own physics professor, designed to fling a spacecraft quickly towards Jool, Sarnus or Urlum (or even into interstellar space); it involved performing a power burn while skipping on the outer edge of Kerbol’s atmosphere.

”You will perform it, exactly in three weeks’ time. According to the information avaliable to the Ministry and to the Medwedian Administration of Cosmonautics, you are one of the three men in the world left who are able to pilot the Ikarus-3 spacecraft.”

Ikarus-3. The most secret and most dangerous vessel ever designed by Kerbalkind. The Medwedians had a good reason to get to the outer edge of the Kerbolar system as soon as possible.

”We have detected a strange anomaly in the close proximity of Jool. You will help us investigate it. We need to get there before anybody else does. I can not tell you more at this moment, as I have not been fully briefed yet myself. The level of secrecy is higher than for any of your nuclear installations. This might mean your death, Lieutenant. The offer of euthanasia still stands.”

 

To be continued...

Edited by MedwedianPresident
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One

14:53, 1st of August, Mission Control, Kerbal Space Center, Central Kafrican Republic

”Goddamnit, Winkler, we lost him!”

”What did you say? We lost him?”

”Yes. Five degrees off the prescribed deceleration trajectory. Messed up the whole vector - last ping we got contained thermal alert. He’s either fried or crashed. And so is the material.”

”He must have saved himself. Did he have a parachute?”

”Yes, but parachutes are not of great use at Mach 5. He’s dead. Just like Humphrey and Anders last month. Just like Lieutenant John Briankerb. He went poof. And moreover - he crashed in goddamn Medwedia.”

”Good grief. Well...the good thing is that the Igors will have to collect the pieces and bits and not we. And I must say, that’s probably gonna be a great cleaning job, right?”

”Stop being morbid, Frank.”

The two men immediately interrupted their lunch as Gene Kerman entered the mission control room. Everything went silent. The color of the face of the Head Mission Director (Operations) was not the pale yet formidable green his subordinates were used to but an unusual medium red. Gene was the uncle of Jebediah Kerman.

”Stand up.”

Gene Kerman’s was speaking calmly (like he always did when he was furious), and yet his voice sounded like thunder. Those who were finishing their coffee turned to him.

”Stand up. Everybody.”

”What has happened, Mr. Kerman?” - somebody courageous had dared to interrupt the silence before the storm.

”We’re fired”, said the Head Mission Director (Operations) calmly, “all of us. This is the last order from the Director of the Space Program before he resigns.”

A hearty murmur went through the majestic control hall. Kerbonauts died, even crashed in Medwedia, and every time, a funeral with weeping mothers and widows held at the space center paid by the Program closed the affair. Yes - it was Jebediah Kerman, the man who had stepped onto the Mun thirty and onto Duna fifteen years ago, but...

”No, it’s not what you think. It has nothing to do with my goddamn nephew, who seldom missed opportunities to get into trouble,” proceeded Kerman, who was now noticeably intoxicated by a mix of coffee and wine, “it’s much, much worse, at least for me.”

A newspaper fell down somewhere, and everybody heard that.

”This morning, I have been accused of diverting thirty million dollars from the space program’s budget. Gentlemen, this is the end of the civilian space program. Even if I can prove that I - and you - are innocent, we are doomed. This is the end.”

”What is happening now, Mr. Kerman?”

”I don’t know, Mr. Davies, but I can assure you of my suspiction that this is all orchestrated in order to get the civilian program, a thorn in the eyes of certain persons, as we know, out of the game. Do you think somebody who wants orbital laser cannons will suddenly give a new grant for an orbital greenhouse after inauguration?”

”So we are basically uneployed from today on, Director?”

”Yes. At least most of us. Who is in the military?”

Ten employees raised their hands.

”I have been asked to forward a new offer to you. You will be taken over with the infrastructure here. Mediocre pay. The rest of us - and that includes me - can just as well go knocking of the door of the homeless shelter.”

A sight of relief went through the part of the room where most of the officers where sitting, and sixty pairs of envious eyes stared at them.

Edited by MedwedianPresident
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