Jump to content

A Mystery Beyond Science: A Kerbal Mystery Thriller (Ch. 41: Still Alive)


Mars-Bound Hokie
 Share

Recommended Posts

A MYSTERY BEYOND SCIENCE

A Kerbal Mystery Thriller

 

 

 

 

PROLOGUE: THE TRIAL

As the sun set over the town of Krakopolis, its inhabitants were gathered around the town square. The evening was their favorite time of day; not only were they off work at this point, but the photosynthetic Kerbals could charge their cells’ chloroplasts at their pleasure. Nobody knew exactly how the people of the planet Kerbin became this way, only that it provided an evolutionary advantage as well as turned their skin green. However, they were now more interested in what was going on in the city courthouse.

Sitting in the defendant’s chair was Misty Kerman, a scientist in the recently-formed Kerbal Space Program. It had not yet sent anybody into space, but at least it sent small probes – such as the Stayputnik – and some relay antennae into low Kerbin orbit. Aside from government funding – which was really low compared to its massive military and entitlement programs – the program had completed contracts from private citizens and corporations for money. Almost 30 days ago, it had accepted a contract from the Koyota automobile company to research self-charging electric cars – that did not require any fuel cells (or fuel, for that matter). One of its engineers, Debra Kerman, had eagerly hopped on board to accomplish this task.

Until she died when the rover collided with the research and development building. Director Werner Von Kerman thought it was just another design flaw in the vehicle, as several other volunteers have died in rover accidents, until further investigation proved that the rover was tampered with before the accident. Besides the seatbelt mechanism missing several crucial components – all of which were included in Debra’s final design report – the brake lines were cut and so were the controls enabling the rover to go in reverse. Believing that this was sabotage intended to kill Debra, the police later found evidence that Debra’s science partner, Misty, was having a heated argument with Debra the day before she died. After finding an oil-stained shirt Misty’s size in the garbage near the vehicle assembly building, they executed a search warrant in Misty’s quarters and found a shrine centered around Debra’s then-boyfriend, a pilot named Dilford. Believing it to be a crime of passion, Misty was arrested and charged with Debra’s murder.

“Has the jury reached a verdict?” asked Judge Ruth.

“We have, your honor,” said the foreman.

“On the sole charge of the indictment, how do you find?” Misty almost looked nervous, as the evidence against her seemed pretty strong.

“We find the defendant… not guilty.” Misty and her lawyer, Thurgood, embraced in relief. Misty had also been charged with vehicular sabotage in the first degree, but the judge decided to tie it with the murder charge as the sabotage was intended to be fatal.

“Assuming no other holds, Misty Kerman, you are free to go,” said Judge Ruth.

“No, you’re making a mistake!” shouted Debra’s father, Dwight. “How much did she pay you?!”

“Order in the court!” said Ruth before banging her gavel.

“I know you killed her,” continued Dwight. “How much did you bribe the jury?!”

“That’s enough, Dwight. One more word, and I’ll have you forcibly removed.” Dwight continued ranting at Misty as she left, but she ignored him.

“Thanks for being there for me,” said Misty as Dilford ran into her outside the courtroom.

“I know you and Debra were friends,” started Dilford, “but I’m only going to ask you one more time and I want you to be honest with me.”

“Okay, shoot,” said Misty, hinting enthusiasm in her voice.

“Did you kill Debra?” asked Dilford.

“Of course not,” answered Misty, “don’t be ridiculous.”

“Even if you did, they cannot touch you anymore,” reminded Dilford. “Remember: double jeopardy is against the Constitution.”

“Why would I bother confessing to a crime I didn’t commit?” said Misty. “Maybe someone higher up, or even the cops, were on the oil industry’s payroll when they killed Debra.”

“Why would the oil industry want Debra dead?” wondered Dilford.

“If Debra succeeded in making an electric car, pretty soon nobody would bother buying gas,” explained Misty.

“I… don’t… understand,” stammered Dilford, then Misty put her hand on his shoulder.

“The important thing is that the corrupt have failed to put an innocent woman behind bars for a murder she didn’t commit,” she told him. “I’ll be there for you… always.”

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE: FALLEN STUDENT

 

(28 YEARS LATER)

Jebediah Kerman had just woken up after a good two hours of sleep in his quarters. He had requested that he sleep next to the base’s ore processor so that he could get warmer off the extra heat generated. Despite Frosty Base’s insulation and immense power generation capacity, Eeloo could get extremely cold – especially in the nights. Not only did the planet have no atmosphere, leaving it exposed to the cold vacuum of space, it was the farthest away from the sun in the Kerbol system.

He had a busy day ahead of him. 24 hours ago, an interplanetary transport pod had arrived with 6 elite pilot cadets awaiting the final phase of their training. Jeb had been assigned to train these pilots one-by-one in the Moonjet, an SSTO designed to take people anywhere on a moon and mine and convert its own fuel. Frosty Base’s Commander Gustov had also ordered Jebediah to fly with the female cadets first since Mission Control had informed him that, on average, male pilots aged 18 to 26 Kerbal Years were far more likely to cause fatal vehicle accidents than females. Though Jeb had wanted to choose his student order randomly, Gustov told him that he wanted Jeb to live to teach as many students as possible before one of them possibly killed him.

“So, you must be the famous Jebediah Kerman,” said his first student, Agaden.

“That’s right… Agaden,” acknowledged Jeb as he checked the roster. “You cleared your medical exam after your arrival, right?”

“Yes, Captain,” said Agaden. “Takes a while to get used to reduced gravity when you’ve been floating in a can for who-knows-how-long.”

“Yeah, well, better get comfortable,” said Jeb. “From what I hear, the transfer window back home to Kerbin opens once every few years – and it takes years longer to make the trip.”

“So… MJ, fire up…,” started Agaden.

“Oh no, you don’t,” interrupted Jeb. “We will not be using that sorry excuse of a copycat today, Cadet.”

“But, sir, don’t you know that MechJeb has reduced the amount of takeoff and landing accidents since they became standard-issue to all vehicles?” reminded Agaden.

“Any half-witted tourist can use MechJeb, but us pilots are trained to do better than that,” argued Jeb. “We use both training and instinct when flying… plus, we can control the ship in case we run out of power. Now fire up the engines and get us up to… let’s say… 10 kilometers altitude. Inclination… oh, 25 degrees.”

“Right,” sighed Agaden, then she did her routine pre-flight checks. “Fuel and monopropellant up to the maximum, batteries good, landing gear and brakes on drill and converters off and stowed, radiators and panels off and stowed, docking port stowed… yep, everything seems good to me.” She then punched in the activation code in the control panel.

“Clearance code approved,” a female computer voice spoke. “Welcome, Agaden Kerman. Instructor’s voice authorization required.”

“Shut up and let’s fly,” replied Jeb.

“Processing… accepted.” Agaden then applied some power to the throttle and took off before her navicomputer predicted her apoapsis to be 10 kilometers above “sea level.”

“Good,” said Jeb, checking the plane’s orbital inclination. “Now, do you know what to do next?”

“Cut off the engines until I reach my apoapsis, then burn prograde until my periapsis reaches 15 kilometers,” answered Agaden.

“Excellent,” said Jeb, checking off some items off his kPad as Agaden cut off the throttle.

“Initial orbit circularized,” said MJ. “Inclination is…”

Zip it, MJ!” barked Jeb.

“It can also give you the specifics of your orbit better than any cockpit navicomputer,” sighed Agaden.

“It can also shut up,” said Jeb, then a light started flashing between his and Agaden’s seats. “Just rendezvous with a space station or something.” He pressed a button with a phone on it, and Gustov’s face showed up on a screen. “Oh, Commander Gustov, what a surprise.”

“Did you get into low orbit yet?” asked Gustov.

“Yes, Commander,” said Agaden.

“I was talking to your instructor, but thanks,” sighed Gustov. “Did he let you use MJ?”

“No, Commander, and we were all supposed to simulate using it while on our way here,” complained Agaden.

“Captain, is this true?” wondered Gustov.

“Yes, and so what? What’s the point of going to pilot’s school if you’re gonna leave your fate to some computer?” argued Jeb.

“Jeb, do I need to remind you again that pilots are required to demonstrate proficient use of MechJeb as well as their own skills?” said Gustov.

“For the record, I did not agree to this,” snapped Jeb.

“Your father did,” said Gustov, “and so did your old partner, Admiral Val.”

“Fine,” sighed Jeb before hanging up.

MJ…” started Agaden.

“Not yet, Cadet,” said Jeb. “You can use MechJeb to rendezvous with a space station and dock if you want, but you have to change your inclination to zero by yourself first.”

“Okay,” said Agaden, waiting twenty minutes before she reached the equator to change her inclination. “MJ, rendezvous with Hades Station.”

“Okay, adjusting planes in T-minus seven minutes and four seconds,” MJ replied. Jeb reluctantly checked some items off his checklist.

“Back before the MJ took my job, we just planned our maneuver nodes and did the rendezvous… ses ourselves,” said Jeb. “Man, Val was the best. She could bring a moon lander to within five meters of an old booster in orbit… and that was before MechJeb was even thought of. Now, people are too chicken to get within twenty meters of anything… or even make maneuver nodes that work the first time. So what, we all make mistakes, and I’m sure MJ does too.” Several minutes passed before MJ automatically adjusted planes to match that of the Hades Station, in orbit 40 kilometers above Eeloo.

“Planning Hohmann Transfer to intercept target after 0.27 phasing orbits,” said MJ.

“We’ll be there in no time,” cheered Agaden.

“If Val was training you, she would have made you done everything on your own,” sighed Jeb in disappointment.

“Are you sure?” wondered Agaden. “She’s the greatest pilot in the program, and she uses MechJeb all the time. That’s why it’s a requirement.”

“No, it’s a requirement because Dad’s being OVERPROTECTIVE OF ME,” countered Jeb. “The only reason his opinion matters is because he happens to be the CEO of one of our contractors, even though everybody knows I can make my own decisions now. Have I killed anybody yet as a result of bad piloting? Of course not; some vomiting and broken bones, but NOTHING FATAL.”

“Can you stop ranting, please?” requested Agaden, then Jeb calmed down. All was silent as the Moonjet eventually got within 20 meters of Hades Station.

“Hades Station to Moonjet 314, identify yourself,” a woman’s voice said.

“This is Captain Jebediah Kerman, I’m training a student to rendezvous with this thing.”

“You may proceed,” said the woman.

“Oh, look, an asteroid,” said Jeb, pointing out Agaden’s window.

“Asteroid, where?” wondered Agaden. While she was distracted, Jeb aimed the SSTO toward retrograde and snuck his hand on the throttle.

“Oh, I’m sure you… psych!” To Agaden’s surprise, he fired up the engines and brought the craft further away from the station.

“What are you doing?”

“We’ll see you again soon,” said Jeb as he put his hands off the throttle. “Now try that without MJ.”

“Warning: T-minus 15 minutes and 39 seconds until catastrophic failure,” said MJ as Jeb taped the manual override switch. “14 minutes… 13 minutes. Adjust orbital trajectory immediately.” Agaden quickly cut the engines and burned in the radial direction until her periapsis reached 7.5 kilometers.

“What was that for?!” yelled Agaden.

“Motivation, my pupil,” answered Jeb. “If you want proof that you made a rendezvous with Hades Station, take a picture with its crew after you get inside. Now, try and rendezvous with it without using mechanical me.”

“You almost got us killed!”

“Relax, you pulled through,” assured Jeb. “Look, another asteroid.”

“I’m not falling for that again.”

“Okay, you got me; changing your orbital plane is the easy part, anyway. Now, for the hard part.”

“Fine, I’ll… circularize as soon as I reach periapsis,” sighed Agaden. “I won’t have to wait as long to make my Hohmann transfer if I have a shorter orbit and go at a faster velocity.” As soon as the Moonjet reached her orbit’s periapsis, she aimed toward the retrograde marker and fired up the engines. “Time to do this the wasteful way.”

“Warning: T-minus 4 minutes and 39 seconds until catastrophic failure.”

“What?!” gasped Jeb. “I thought you wanted to rendezvous with the station, not land.”

“This isn’t me,” objected Agaden as the SSTO’s engines continued to burn.

“T-minus 2 minutes… 1 minute.”

“This is obviously not part of the lesson,” said Jeb. “Hey, why’d you turn on the monoprop?”

“I didn’t…,” complained Agaden, then Jeb hit the diagnostics button.

“The monoprop engines are being fired!” he shouted.

“I’ll switch them off,” said Agaden, hitting one of the buttons. However, a loud crashing sound came from behind the cockpit, followed by a section of the plane’s lower fuselage blinking red on the diagnostics screen.

“Structural integrity compromised,” MJ replied, sounding casual.

“What do you mean COMPROMISED?” asked Jeb.

“Moonjet 314, you’re losing altitude,” a male voice said. “Everything okay.”

“No, everything’s not okay, the plane’s going nuts!” yelled Agaden in fear.

“We can do this!” shouted Jeb. “Just gotta… get it together.”

“Zooming in on your position,” the man acknowledged. “Why is your drill out?”

“Drill?” asked Jeb before turning on the lower landing leg camera. To his and Agaden’s shock, he saw that the drill had punctured right through the holding bay doors. “Uh oh.”

“Impossible!” gasped Agaden. “You can’t turn on a drill while it’s stowed.”

“Tell our drill that,” sighed Jeb sarcastically.

“Oxygen at 85 percent capacity.”

“WE’RE GONNA DIE!” panicked Agaden.

“Hang on, sending help to your estimated landing position,” said the man on the radio. “Is anybody physically hurt?”

“Not yet, and nor will there be,” said Jeb confidently. “Time to…”

“Oxygen at 70 percent capacity.”

“EVA me!” yelled Agaden, and an EVA suit flew out of a closet in the cockpit and landed on Agaden. When it finished with a helmet, Agaden was fully encased in an EVA suit.

“Shall I depressurize the airlock?”

“Belay that,” ordered Jeb. “I can do this!” He grabbed a hammer from the glove compartment and smashed a piece of glass on the control panel, which revealed a large red button labeled “DO NOT PUSH BUTTON.”

“Is that the cut off all power button?” wondered Agaden

“Oxygen at 50 percent capacity.”

“EVA me!” ordered Jeb before he got an EVA suit. “Good, my suit’s fine. How about yours, Agaden?”

“Everything’s operational,” replied Agaden.

“Good,” said Jeb before hitting the big red button.

“Shutting off power now.”

“Is this… part of the lesson?” wondered Agaden.

“Absolutely not. I don’t know how that drill turned on, but I’m pretty sure the buttons were clearly labeled. Now strap in, I’m about to make an emergency landing.” Jeb quickly pressed some buttons on the control panel before the cabin lights got back on.

“Reboot sequence activated,” replied the onboard computer. “Oxygen level at 30 percent, immediate action required.”

“We have EVA suits on,” said Jeb before turning on the reaction control system. “Okay, this should soften our blow.”

“Wait, are we crashing?” asked Agaden.

“Any landing you can walk away from is a good one,” reminded Jeb. “Now, to retract the drill.”

“Ore converter activated,” said the computer. Agaden thought Jeb had pressed the wrong button, until she saw her hand near the switch marked “Drill.”

“What the…?” gasped Jeb. “Does that look ANYTHING LIKE an ore converter?”

“Warning: radiators not active at the moment. Chances of overheating increased.”

“You know what, forget the drill. It’s broken,” cursed Jeb. “Let’s just get this bird on the ground.”

“Then how do we fly back, Captain?” wondered Agaden, who began to sweat under her helmet.

“We don’t, someone’s coming to pick us up,” said Jeb, using the RCS system to slow down his downward velocity. “I’m sure as heck not getting blamed for this, since you pointed out the drill was not supposed to do that while stowed – and I’m pretty sure ore converters aren’t supposed to activate when you flip the ‘Drill’ switch.”

“Captain,” said Agaden, “I feel… kinda dizzy.”

“That is to be expected. Now, let’s… come on, come on,” stammered Jeb. “Okay, now to lower my landing gear.” However, as soon as he lowered the lever marked “Legs,” the main engines fired. “Whoa!”

“Agreed, something’s definitely wrong with… the ship,” moaned Agaden.

“Great,” sighed Jeb. He tried to use RCS to slow himself down, but the main engines’ impulse was too strong; he couldn’t cut the main engines since the throttle was unresponsive. So, he tried to spin the opposite way to gain some altitude, but that resulted in the Moonjet started to spin out of control.

“What… now,”

“Impact in ten seconds.”

“BAIL OUT!” yelled Jeb, and he opened a hatch before dragging Agaden out through it. When he was clear of the Moonjet, which exploded upon smashing into the ground uncontrollably, he turned on his jetpack and safely landed on Eeloo’s surface. “Agaden, you okay?”

“I… not okay,” stammered Agaden.

“This is Eeloo Mini-bus Five, can anyone hear me?” another man’s voice replied on their suits’ radios.

“This is Captain Jebediah Kerman,” he responded. “I’m here with Cadet Agaden Kerman. We just bailed out of a malfunctioning SSTO.”

“Jeb…,” moaned Agaden weakly, “t….s n… no…”

“Does anybody need medical attention?” said the mini-bus’ driver. “I have a doctor en route to your position right now.”

“Not… your… fault…,” Agaden managed to say before her commlink went static.

“This is Doctor Marie,” a woman spoke. “I’m accessing your EVA suit’s bio monitors now.”

“SOMEBODY HELP AGADEN!” yelled Jeb.

“Take it easy, Cap,” the rover driver requested. “ETA to your position is one minute.”

“Don’t rush it,” said Dr. Marie. “Jeb’s fine for now, but… Agaden’s dead.”

“No… NO!” shouted Jeb before holding Agaden in his arms. “Computer, give me her vitals!”

“She’s gone.”

“Her suit’s integrity’s intact,” explained Dr. Marie, “but her heartbeat’s at zero and her breathing stopped. I’m sorry, Captain. She’s gone!”

 

Three hours later, Jeb was back in Frosty Base feeling gloomy. When the rover arrived, he took Agaden’s suit-encased corpse to Dr. Marie, who then confirmed that she was dead. The driver, a former racecar driver named David, had alerted Eeloo Command about the wreckage and Agaden’s death and gave their coordinates. Hades Station had dispatched a three-man lander to pick up Jeb, Dr. Marie, and Agaden’s body – which had been kept in her EVA suit to preserve evidence and to maintain sanitation standards (she didn’t bring body bags with her) – and take them back to Frosty Base. Though it was protocol that Eeloo Command notify Mission Control back on Kerbin about any and all deaths that occurred, David felt compelled to supply as much on-the-scene details as possible to Kerbin. Besides refueling the lander, he stayed behind to monitor the wreckage for when another Moonjet arrived to investigate.

“Not my fault,” he said to himself over and over again, repeating his student’s final words.

“Uh… Captain?” said a male cadet. “Is there a problem?”

“Well… let’s just say… you guys will be getting more simulation time before you get behind the wheel,” answered Jeb.

“But we wanna fly now.”

“Look, kid, Eeloo’s on total lockdown,” explained Jeb. “Nobody gets on, off, in, or out.”

“But I hear that a pod from Duna’s arriving some time,” the cadet’s friend complained. “You can’t just brake before you get in Eeloo’s gravitational pull.”

“Hopefully, by then, the SOI lockdown will be lifted,” said Jeb, turning on his kPad. “I should know, I have a buddy in that pod.”

“Hang on… I hear that a Moonjet crashed,” a pilot named Hadgan announced. “Why would that warrant a lockdown?”

“I didn’t make the call,” sighed Jeb, “but I can name two reasons why. One: a student died. Two: the plane was acting up after a while.”

“Wait… Agaden’s dead?” gasped the cadet. “Oh, God!” He ran off, about to cry.

“Well, well, finally Jeb’s crazy flying killed somebody,” sighed Hadgan.

“I didn’t kill her… wait, when was the last time the Moonjet’s software was updated?”

“Why ask?”

“Because, for some reason, the drill punctured THROUGH THE CARGO DOORS,” explained Jeb, surprising Hadgan. “And when I hit the retraction switch, the ore converter activated – without the decency to turn on the radiators, too. What’s worse, the plane couldn’t tell a landing leg from a main engine.”

“Are you sure you hit the right buttons?”

“Duh, they’re labeled,” said Jeb. “I did not kill Agaden.”

“Last time I went flying with you, I lost a leg,” reminded Hadgan, showing his left metal leg. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you DID kill her.”

“Are you calling me a liar?!”

“They should have thrown you out,” snapped Hadgan. “Take away your rich dad, what are you?”

“Perfect,” said Jeb, “since all Dad did was HOLD ME BACK!”

“You two, that’s enough!” shouted Commander Gustov. “Hadgan, get back to working the ore delivery robot.”

“Yes, sir,” acknowledged Hadgan before leaving the room.

“Cadets, GET,” ordered Gustov, then all the cadets left, giving Gustov and Jeb some privacy. “Wow… first time a fatality happened while you were flying.”

“Commander, you can’t blame me for this,” protested Jeb. “The plane’s controls were acting crazy, and Agaden’s last words…”

“Easy, Captain,” said Gustov, “but first, what were Agaden’s final words?”

“She said that the crash was NOT MY FAULT!” answered Jeb. “Please, sir, honor her dying…”

“And we will,” said Gustov, “and I’m sure you’d like to hear why.”

“If you so much as even… wait, what?”

“The recovery team got the black box and the probe core from the wreckage,” started Gustov, reading his kPad. “The black box corroborated your statement that the SSTO was, indeed, acting funny. It went as far as to note the ‘Structural integrity compromise in the drill bay,’ and ‘Sudden reduction in oxygen levels,’ not to mention the sudden spike in temperature when the ore converter was turned on. Hades Station also sent a telescopic photograph of the Moonjet with its drill sticking out mid-flight.

“The probe core, however, was the biggest clue. When the recovery team plugged it in to find out what the heck’s going on with the plane, it just… shut off. We have reason to believe that your SSTO was infected with a virus.”

“VIRUS?” gasped Jeb. “AM I GONNA DIE?”

“Not that kind of virus, Captain,” assured Gustov. “The worst part is that they don’t just happen, they’re artificially created.”

“Oh… so, how is that worse?”

“It means some wacko TRIED TO KILL YOU,” sighed Gustov. “Additionally, Doctor Marie mentioned that Agaden’s body showed no signs of crash-related injuries when she arrived at the scene. The full-body autopsy hasn’t been completed yet, but we have a preliminary tox screen report.”

“Tox screen?” wondered Jeb. “What’s a tox screen.” Gustov then showed Jeb the preliminary data, which surprised him.

“Agaden Kerman was poisoned.”

Edited by Mars-Bound Hokie
Update
Link to comment
Share on other sites

CHAPTER TWO: INITIAL HYPOTHESES

 

“POISONED?!”

“I’m afraid so, Captain,” said Commander Gustov. “I will order all cadets and base personnel tested to see whether or not this is an isolated incident.”

“But… how?” gasped Jeb. “She was acting fine this morning.”

“Once we find out what she was poisoned with, we’ll find out how that was possible,” explained Gustov. “Either way, this was a planned hit.”

“Somebody TRIED to kill her,” said Jeb. “You think he tried to kill me, too?”

“We don’t even know if the poisoning and Moonjet sabotage are even connected,” sighed Gustov. “Heck, we don’t even know if Agaden was the intended target – or even you. Whatever the case may be, Eeloo is on total lockdown.”

“But my friend Bill is coming here from Duna,” reminded Jeb.

“Hopefully, this matter is resolved before his ship gets here,” said Gustov. “However, if it’s not, he’ll have to make a parking orbit and stay there – no rendezvous unless otherwise ordered.”

“Okay,” sighed Jeb. “Just so we’re clear, you’re not blaming me for this?”

“Not unless you poisoned Agaden, which I highly doubt you did,” said Gustov. “As for the virus… well… remember the last time you tried to reprogram a spacecraft?”

“Yeah, we had to wait for days for Mission Control to send us the source code before I could use it again,” Jeb recalled.

“This particular virus went unnoticed until your Moonjet was active, which meant whoever hacked it was good… whereas you’re terrible at coding.”

“Hey, if it were up to me, we’d have good pilots on the force instead of half-witted fools with copycats doing our job,” complained Jeb.

“From what I hear, your friend Admiral Val uses it all the time,” commented Gustov, “except, maybe, for the docking autopilot, but that function wastes more time than a base converting ore into monoprop – like they need it.”

“Does Agaden have family or friends?” asked Jeb.

“I shall inform the cadets,” said Gustov. “Eeloo Command should have already notified Kerbin, and they’re supposed to notify her family.”

“Thank you, Commander,” replied Jeb. “Don’t you think they should hear her final words?”

“I’ll tell them,” offered Gustov, “along with the corroborating evidence that you did not crash the Moonjet. The doctor also let me know that, had Agaden not been poisoned, she would have walked away from the crash with just a broken rib and a mild concussion – nothing fatal.”

“Thanks,” said Jeb.

“You know what, take a few days leave,” said Gustov. “The death of a student on your watch can be quite traumatic… not to mention it will be a while before we can figure out what’s going on here.” Jeb thanked his commander again and returned to his quarters. After he sat down on his bed, he saw that he got a text message from Bill. It was protocol that interplanetary communications, even to ships in transit, would be in text or email messages since direct video or audio communication could get messed up along the way. There was also the issue of how long it took signals to travel across the Kerbol system, despite strong relay coverage for the parties in question.

 

Hey, Jeb, how’s it going?

 

 

Bad.

What now, you crash another lander?

 

 

First of all, it was a Moonjet.

And technically, I did NOT crash it.

Let me guess, you’re gonna blame the engineer for some unforeseen design flaw.

 

 

If that flaw was a lack of an antivirus program, then yes.

Antivirus? You mean the Moonjet was HACKED?

 

 

Yes.

What’s worse, my student pilot’s dead.

That’s weird. You’ve been in poorly designed spacecraft and planes before, yet you always managed to walk away fine.

 

Your passengers may have had vomiting and/or broken bones, but no fatalities (that I know of).

 

Some of those planes were YOUR design.

Agaden was poisoned – even if the Moonjet was perfectly fine, she would have died anyway.

Agaden – the student who died?

 

 

Yes.

My condolences.

 

Well, this puts a dent in my ski trip.

 

 

Ski trip?

I tested new skis designed to fit my EVA suit’s boots on Duna’s polar ice caps. If they work on Eeloo, our program will make a buttload of money out of tourists wanting to go to other planets for ski trips.

 

 

How long until you’re within Eeloo’s SOI

30 days, 3 hours, 54 minutes

 

 

If all goes well, they’ll lift the lockdown before you arrive.

Hey, how can you fix a plane that’s been hacked?

You could try plugging the infected probe core into a disconnected computer that’s not real valuable (e.g. DO NOT PLUG IT IN TO THE LIFE SUPPORT CONTROLS). Then you can get into the virus’ code itself, finding out how exactly it made your Moonjet lose control.

 

If it’s too risky to examine the probe core, wipe its memory clean. All planetary commands are required to have base codes for all spacecraft types within their sphere of influence, so they can plug in a fresh new source code for the Moonjet (assuming it can be fixed).

 

Maybe Mission Control screwed up on a new software update

Possible, but highly unlikely. They always test their new software updates before sending the software package.

 

 

Yeah, you’re probably right.

 

I seriously doubt that testing in an atmosphere vs vacuum use should affect whether or not the drill deploys while stowed.

Wait, the drill actually WENT THROUGH the bay doors?

 

 

No kidding. What’s worse, we lost our oxygen through the hole. Good thing we put on EVA suits before we crashed, otherwise we would have suffocated to death.

That’s just messed up. The cargo bay’s supposed to depressurize before opening, and the drill’s not supposed to deploy while stowed.

 

 

Why does the drill bay even allow oxygen flow in the first place?

Duh, in case we need to fix it while in transit. Even if you repeatedly hit the switch for the drill, it’s not supposed to turn on while it’s stowed – or while you’re flying, for that matter. There’s a passcode you need for that drill to turn on while you’re in space, but that’s only for when you’re docked with a space station and you need to mess with it.

 

 

That’s not all, dude.

-       When I hit the off switch for the drill, the converter turned on (and no radiators to go with it)

-       I pulled the landing gear lever, but the main engines fired and almost killed me.

Man, you’re lucky to be alive.

 

I seriously doubt that it’s a software update gone bad. If it was, we’d be hearing about more Moonjet crashes pretty soon. Was your jet working fine before it started to act up?

 

 

Yes, which is weird. Agaden was circularizing her phasing orbit at periapsis when the Moonjet decided to go on a crashing trajectory. She tried to fix it, but nothing – same case when I tried.

Huh. It’s a long shot, but you might wanna check what she was trying to rendezvous with in case its computers are infected too.

 

Manual control always reigns supreme unless it’s an emergency (pilots unable to perform, hijacking, etc), but even then, you’ll get notified and the drill shouldn’t puncture the cargo doors.

 

Watch your back, buddy. You said Agaden was poisoned, right?

 

Yes.

It’s clear that some psycho tried to kill you – or at least Agaden. You should tell your commander to get all spacecraft checked for functioning software IMMEDIATELY BEFORE USE, or else there may be another incident like the ones you have.

-       Any one of them start glitching or acting up, that’s a sign it’s infected.

 

 

I’ll watch my back, dude. Have a safe flight.

We will.

 

My pilot has a lower accident liability record than you, I’m the designated mechanic, and I have a base code for the pod in case of a hacking incident I can’t fix.

 

 

Hey.

 

Suddenly, Jeb heard a knock on his door. “Come in.”

“Captain Jebediah,” said Dr. Marie as she opened the door. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

“Not really,” said Jeb, putting away his kPad as Dr. Marie closed the door. “I was just texting my friend, Bill.”

“I believe I neglected to give you a follow-up exam after your arrival,” Dr. Marie told him.

“I’m fine,” sighed Jeb.

“I won’t believe that until I see proof,” said Dr. Marie, taking a medical scanner from her bag. “Take off your shirt, please.”

“Okay… what for?”

“To check for internal injuries you may have sustained during the crash,” said Dr. Marie, “or at least for your upper body. I’ll look away as you do the lower yourself, but I will know if you didn’t scan everything.”

“How do I use it?” asked Jeb as he removed the upper section of his uniform.

“Watch.” Dr. Marie carefully waved the scanner around Jeb’s head, arms, and upper body – finishing with his torso. “Huh, nothing seems to be broken.” Jeb took the scanner and Dr. Marie looked away from him.

“How come I’m fine while Agaden got broken ribs and a concussion?” wondered Jeb while he scanned his legs.

“It is possible that the toxin that killed her also weakened her and slowed down her reaction time while you two bailed out of the jet,” conjectured Dr. Marie. “You done?”

“Yes,” said Jeb as he gave her the medical scanner.

“No injuries there either.”

“Commander Gustov said that she would have died anyway even if the plane was working correctly,” added Jeb, sitting on his bed next to Dr. Marie.

“Well, depending on the kind of poison, her chances of survival would have increased if she had sought medical attention,” said Dr. Marie. “How was she acting before she died?”

“Come on, think… oh, she said she was feeling kinda dizzy while we were crashing,” Jeb recalled. “I didn’t really think that was important since A LOT of people get dizzy whenever they fly with me – or in this case, fly with me in malfunctioning SSTOs.”

“Go on.”

“She also sounded kinda weak under the EVA suit,” added Jeb. “Until you said that she died, I thought she was just another weak-stomached student who passed out.”

“How many of your students passed out during behind-the-wheel training?” wondered Dr. Marie.

“Four, but all of them were VERY MUCH ALIVE the next day,” answered Jeb. “Still have no idea how Agaden got poisoned; it’s not like we were carrying chemicals in the Moonjet.”

“A lot of Moonjets carry science,” reminded Dr. Marie. “My ex-boyfriend pilots one on Ike.”

“Yeah, but this one was made specifically for cadet training,” added Jeb. “No science there.”

“You think atmospheric composition, or even a leak, had something to do with it?” asked Dr. Marie.

“Maybe not, since I’M still alive and, as you pointed out, perfectly fine.”

“That remains to be seen,” said Dr. Marie, producing a syringe from her bag. “Hold still, please.”

“What are you… OW!” said Jeb as she poked his arm with the syringe. “What’d you do?”

“Taking a blood sample. I want to make sure you’re not poisoned as well,” explained Dr. Marie. “Commander Gustov also wanted me to tell you to see a counselor within the next 12 hours.”

“Troy, but he’s in orbit on Hades Station,” complained Jeb. “I can’t get up there until the lockdown ends.”

“You could just videochat him,” suggested Dr. Marie. “He is in the same sphere of influence, after all, and we have good coverage here.”

“Thanks, Doc,” sighed Jeb.

“Please, call me Marie,” the doctor replied. “If you need anything, you have my kPad number.”

“So glad those are standard-issue,” said Jeb. “Too bad the mechanical copycat is standard-issue, too.”

“Oh, MechJeb?” wondered Dr. Marie. “My job has been WAY easier thanks to that, not to mention we save plenty of fuel that way.”

“If we only had GOOD pilots instead of mid-level ones, your patient count would still be low,” complained Jeb as Dr. Marie left his quarters. Suddenly, his kPad beeped. It was another text message from Bill, only it was on a group chat with two more of his friends: Admiral Valentina, and a scientist named Bob.

 

Bill

Any ideas why anyone would want to kill Jeb and/ore his student, Agaden?

 

* or

Val

Wait, someone sabotaged Jeb’s plane?

 

Jeb

Yes, someone sabotaged my plane.

They also poisoned Agaden.

Bob

POISONED?

 

Bill

Yes, @Bob. His plane was also hacked.

Val

HACKED? For a while, I thought somebody forgot to turn on the ore converter or the drill.

Bill

Why would you think that, @Val?

Val

I can’t tell you how many times launches got delayed because somebody forgot to turn on the drills/ore converters. Some people even forget the radiators or the panels… or even all of them.

Bob

She’s right, that happens all the time in Jool.

 

Jeb

Does this also happen in Jool?

·         Drills destroying their own cargo bays.

·         Spacecraft mistaking landing legs for thrusters

·         RCS turning on when they’re not supposed to – or ore converters for that matter.

Bob

Well, I read about one Moonjet on Minmus blowing up after the drill was switched on, but that was because of a faulty fail-safe program combined with some idiot forgetting to turn on the radiators.

 

Val

@Bill, that was you, wasn’t it?

Bill

@Val, I was in a mini-bus kilometers away when Carl was supposed to be monitoring it.

 

Jeb

@Bill and @Val, can you please knock it off? Badass pilot with dead student here.

Bill

@Jeb’s right. Any one of us could be next.

 

Bob

@Bill, I seriously doubt any of us are going to be poisoned. I mean, if it happened on Eeloo, odds are that he or she will stay on Eeloo.

Val

I also checked Transfer Window Alarm Clock – the next transfer window from Eeloo to anywhere doesn’t open for another 83 days (and that’s for Jool).

Unless your killer doesn’t care about saving delta-V, he’s not going anywhere for a while.

 

Jeb

FYI, @Bill’s arriving in Eeloo in 30 days.

Bill

I was talking about being trapped in a malfunctioning spacecraft, which can happen ANYWHERE at ANYTIME.

 

Also, FYI, when fully gassed up, the Interplanetary Travel Pod Mk. IVb can have up to 6950 m/s of delta-V.

 

6950 > 6250 (from Eeloo to Moho)

 

Jeb

It’s not going anywhere, neither are any ascent vehicles – not as long as we have a lockdown in place.

Val

It will take more than a simple SOI lockdown order to keep the killer contained. He could probably jailbreak the ascent vehicle and get out of there unnoticed (or at least too late for anyone to take action).

 

Bob

Assuming the hacker and the poisoner are the same person. Regardless, you could also send another ascent vehicle to rendezvous with the getaway craft/s and make sure he doesn’t escape.

Or remotely pilot the interplanetary pod to alter the orbit and make the killer’s getaway far more difficult.

Bill

Assuming the other ascent craft aren’t grounded due to a spoofed lockdown order (or at least messed-up code)

Val

@Bill, don’t be a scaredy-naut. They’ll catch the killer AND the hacker.

 

Besides, erasing bad software and replacing it with the source code WHILE IN TRANSIT shouldn’t be too hard for an engineer.

 

Jeb

I’m gonna find who framed me for being a bad pilot if it’s the last thing I do.

Val

I think he just wanted to kill Agaden and not necessarily make you look bad. I mean, how was he supposed to know that Agaden would be piloting with you in THAT SPECIFIC SSTO?

 

Bill

Duh, he could hack the roster and find out who would be taking what training craft at what times?

 

Jeb

How would you know that?

Bill

Because I conducted the program survey to see what age group and gender would be the most likely to cause vehicle accidents, both non-fatal and fatal.

-       Males aged 18 to 26 are the most likely to cause fatal accidents – BY FAR.

 

I also wrote an algorithm to determine the best order of incoming cadets to be trained based on the probability that he or she would cause a fatal accident (lowest probability first, highest last). Not even the instructors want to die.

 

 

Jeb

Thanks a lot, @Bill. I’d have just gone randomly.

 

Suddenly, Jeb got another email. He closed out of Kerbtext and saw that it was from “Jebediah Kerman Senior.”

“What now, Dad?” sighed Jeb as he opened it. There was nothing in it but a video attachment on it. When he opened it, he saw his father, Jebediah Kerman Senior, standing in front of the launch pad at night.

“Hey, Jeb, it’s your dad,” said Jeb Senior. “My secretary said I should probably write an email, but, as you know, I’m kinda old-fashioned. I eventually compromised and decided to send you a video attachment.”

“Why is Dad in front of the launch pad?” wondered Jeb.

“So, here’s the deal. Jeb’s Junkyard has taken up a contract with the space program to construct a bridge to go across this big hole on some planet. And, wouldn’t you know it, I’m going to supervise it. It’s some place called Moron… or North Pole… dang it.” Jeb Senior then took out a kPad from his blazer. “Hey, Stephen, what was that place called again?”

“Moho,” a male voice replied from the kPad. “Stephen” was the kPad’s voice activated assistance system.

“Oh, yeah,” said Jeb Senior. “Anyway, I’m going with some spaceships to supervise the construction of a big bridge across a giant hole in this place called Moho. When it’s done, you can drive a rover across it without wasting power trying to go around it. You know how many rovers were lost because some crazyheads thought they could jump it? Lots.”

“Let me guess, you’re gonna blame me for starting a creed of daring pilots,” sighed Jeb.

“You probably had something to do with that, but those days are over,” continued his father. “This is the second time I’ve been in space since that time I went with you to the Mun while you were on leave. So, anyway, how are things going on your end? I hear that you’ve become some kind of flight teacher or something. Well… don’t fly like your mother.” Jeb then remembered how his father constantly reminded him that his mother used to be the best, and craziest, pilot back home on Kerbin. “Please send me a video file when you get this, I’d like to see my son’s face. Thank you, Dad out.”

“What do I tell him?” sighed Jeb. “Hey, Dad, how’s it going? A plane crashed – totally not my fault – and a student was POISONED to death. Hope your fleet is okay, love your son.” He played some Angry Vipers on his kPad before there was a knock on his door. “Oh, come in,” he said as he hastily put his shirt back on.

“Hey, Captain,” said Hadgan. “Sorry if I was out of line back there. Commander Gustov told me that your plane was hacked, and the cadet’s death was not your fault.”

“Hey, aren’t you supposed to be piloting an ore converter?” wondered Jeb.

“Meh, I got an hour and a half before I make my Hohmann transfer,” sighed Hadgan, checking his watch. “Anyway, Mission Control just sent us the latest season of The Kerbsons. Those of us not on duty are going to the rec room to watch, wanna come?”

“Sure, whatever,” sighed Jeb.

“Oh, and P.S., your shirt’s on backwards.” Hadgan left Jeb to his privacy as Jeb adjusted his shirt. “How did you escape unscathed?” he asked while he and Jeb walked to the rec room.

“Agaden was poisoned,” said Jeb, and Hadgan gasped in shock.

“Did you say she was POISONED?” he wondered.

“Yes, so don’t be surprised if you get called over for a blood test,” added Jeb. “Frankly, I think I’d rather face death from a malfunctioning jet than toxins; at least I can crash-land or bail out of lost causes.”

“Oh… dear,” said Hadgan.

“What is it?”

“Oh… nothing.” The two of them walked silently to the rec room, where several cadets and crewmembers were laughing at Barf Kerbson’s latest prank.

Edited by Mars-Bound Hokie
Link to comment
Share on other sites

CHAPTER THREE: FROZEN BROKEN HEART

 

On the frozen water moon known as Laythe, in orbit around the gas giant known as Jool, a blizzard was starting to settle. This was not like any other moon orbiting Jool, or anywhere else in the Kerbol system. Though the air was breathable – and sufficient for air-intake engine use – it was significantly colder there on average than on Kerbin. Most of the moon’s surface was covered in liquid water; it had a heavy mineral concentration which prevented it from freezing, as the surface temperatures ranged from -74.15 degrees Celsius (199 Kelvin) to 3.85 degrees Celsius (277 Kelvin). Fortunately for the Kerbin colonists, they had learned how to purify the water for consumption and clean up liquid waste using systems like the purification systems back home.

However, the first expeditionary missions to Laythe were rather tragic and nowhere near as pleasant as those to other planets or moons. The first three kerbalnauts to land there never made it back. When the second wave arrived, they had reported being “under attack by ice savages,” before losing contact with the U.S.S. Zeus – the main single-launch space station in orbit around Jool itself. One of them had managed to send a photograph of several figures in fur coats shooting bows and arrows at the crew before contact was lost. This apparently extra-terrestrial attack on the explorers sparked outrage among the Kerbals back home, especially their families. Walt, who was in charge of public relations, told his colleagues in Mission Control that the public wanted swift retaliation against the Native Laythans; Linus, the chief scientist of the program, objected by saying that the Native Laythans “are a scientific opportunity we cannot miss, let alone destroy.”

As a result, Mission Control took a contract with a weapons developer called BDArmory to make an armed SSTO that could transport enough weapons to fend off any hostile forces. Mission Control also required anyone heading for the Jool system to be trained in armed and unarmed combat before going there, as the possibility of attack was rather high on Laythe; Jool also was the mythological resting place of the feared Kraken – a creature that, according to legend, traveled the stars wreaking havoc on anything and any place it encountered. When the SSTO arrived with the retaliation army, they met a tribe of Native Laythans called the Ryagii. They had assumed the Ryagii were guilty of killing the Kerbal explorers, until the Ryagii tried to explain that it was a rival tribe called the Clivar that murdered the Kerbal crews; it was rather difficult, as none of the parties could speak the others’ language. A Ryagii guide showed Kerbin’s strike force that they were a peaceful people, then he showed paintings of their people suffering at the hands of the Clivar. The strike force decided to investigate the Clivar tribe, and were horrified to watch them sacrifice a female Laythan on a shrine. The strike force opened fire with their machine guns, and the Clivar tribe ran away before its relatively primitive army arrived.

The Clivar were fierce, but the Kerbals won the day with only two dead and five injured. With the Clivar held captive, the Ryagii eventually found them and celebrated. However, the Kerbals were less than happy; they had found a pit filled with many skeletons. They had guessed that this was where the bodies of sacrificed victims were thrown, but then their field medic recognized Kerbal skeletons among the Native Laythan bodies. He examined their bodies and sent photographs of their teeth to Mission Control, who confirmed that they were the explorers that went missing before. The priest of the Clivar seemed to admit that they were guilty of the murders, and the insignia on their coats was a perfect match to those found in the photograph from the second expeditionary force.

Officially, the Clivar tribe was driven from their lands and forced into starvation. However, there was also a conspiracy theory that the Kerbal strike force had decided to shoot them all to death for complicity in this heinous act. Either way, despite the language differences, the Kerbals had made peace with the Ryagii and had agreed to protect them from rival tribes. In return, Kerbin would be allowed to place colonists near their land. When Poseidon’s Palace started construction, the Kerbals were also kind enough to teach the Ryagii how to purify their water. In a matter of months, the tribe’s water-borne disease rate had plummeted. Since then, the Ryagii and the Kerbal colonists became close allies.

“If another tribe of savages attacks the Ryagii,” Gene Kerman had said in a general program statement, “you can be sure as heck that our colonists are next.”

Years had passed, and Poseidon’s Palace had evolved to house rovers and had many others parked around it. There was a landing strip for self-fueling SSTOs three kilometers away. The smaller ones were meant for planetary travel, functioning as they would back on Kerbin, while the larger ones were self-fueling and capable of breaking free of both Laythe’s gravity and atmosphere. They were frequently used to send crews and scientific samples to other spacecraft in orbit. Conventional ore transports wouldn’t work on Laythe, and they would also run out of fuel on the way to and from Laythe orbit, so these planes were designed for specific uses like transporting as much ore as possible without the need for refueling in the process.

“Morning, Bob,” said Guscan, a pilot who also worked as a mini-bus driver.

“Morning, Guscan,” replied Bob, a level-five scientist stationed on Laythe, as he stepped off an SSTO’s cabin ladder.

“Where to, dude?”

“Back to base, please,” replied Bob, and Guscan drove off after Bob got in. Guscan had made it known that he was never going in another spacecraft alone again, as he had been stuck in Kerbol orbit for three years due to a poorly executed Mun fly-by which resulted in a gravity-assisted escape trajectory out of Kerbin’s sphere of influence. Since all Kerbals were photosynthetic, and as long as the water and air purifier remained intact, he was able to stay alive; most people feared that he would kill himself out of desperation and no hope of a rescue. That was, until the Interplanetary Travel Pod Mark IVb had been developed – a nuclear-powered spacecraft that could basically take up to seven people go anywhere in the Kerbol system from Kerbin; if enough fuel was waiting at the destination, it could also make a return. It also came equipped with an inflatable heat shield and parachutes for when the crew came home. It took a long time and millions dollars (most of it on failed prototypes, and a lot more on relays), but the pod was able to rescue Guscan and send him back home.

“Glad you’re up there and not me,” sighed Guscan.

“Thanks for doing my laundry, Guscan,” said Bob.

“What laundry?” wondered Guscan.

“Oh, and by the way, if you’re going to do my laundry, don’t just do one set of workout clothes.”

“I never touched your laundry, dude,” denied Guscan.

“Wait, what?”

“It was part of our bunkmate agreement; we wouldn’t do each other’s laundry or else we run the chance of mixing things up,” reminded Guscan.

“Okay, but it seems weird that Captain Ersen would allow that in our official agreement given the fact that we’re supposed to ration water,” said Bob.

KSC allowed the exception when we proved our ability to harvest and purify the water here,” countered Guscan, “and Laythe is full of it.”

“Okay… anyway, you’re saying you didn’t do my laundry?”

“Duh, why would I?”

“That… doesn’t make sense,” stammered Bob. “Who sneaks into a man’s room to just to steal dirty workout clothes?”

“I dunno, why would he steal your clothes and not mine?” questioned Guscan.

“Yeah; if he’s short on workout clothes, he could have just called me and asked to borrow a clean set,” reminded Bob.

“What’s next, garbage theft?” joked Guscan, and Bob laughed. “Why am I driving you back to base again? Don’t you have your own license?”

“I did 20 in a 10 zone with Sheri; she got stuck on janitorial detail while I got my license suspended for 180 hours.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Guscan, “wait, was that in meters per second?”

“Duh, our velocity gauges are set to meters per second,” answered Bob, “and so are the maximum surface velocity limit transponders.”

“Oh, sorry, I’m still used to driving cars with gauges that measure in kilometers an hour,” apologized Guscan, remembering the extended leave he took after returning to Kerbin from his ordeal.

MJ, ETA until Poseidon’s Palace,” said Bob.

“ETA in 2 minutes and 13 seconds.”

“So, how was your trip?” wondered Guscan.

“Great, we studied the effects of microgravity on Native Laythan crops,” said Bob.

“How’d you get one, was there a farmer’s market nearby?” inquired Guscan.

“No; we brought a translator with us, and there was a farm not too far from the landing strip,” explained Bob. “We… got his signed permission to take three of each crop in return for us healing his broken ribs.”

“Since when do farmers get broken ribs, especially those who don’t have tractors?”

“Uh, the kind with rogue livestock.”

“Oh, yeah, good point,” agreed Guscan. “Don’t you wish the place was warmer?”

“Yeah, then Sheri and I would have a real beach date… uh oh, STOP THE CAR!” shouted Bob, and Guscan suddenly applied the brakes.

“What the heck, man?” he asked. “What’s the big deal?”

“Get me diagnostics,” ordered Bob.

“Running internal diagnostics… all systems are perfectly operational,” MJ replied.

“Guscan, be honest with me, has this rover been acting up lately?” asked Bob.

“No, why?” wondered Guscan, and Bob pointed a flashlight at Guscan’s eyeballs before waving his fingers left and right.

“How many am I holding up?”

“Three,” answered Guscan. “What’s going on here?”

“Sorry, I just had a buddy whose moonjet got hacked and his student got poisoned,” explained Bob. “Just wanted to make sure everything was okay here.”

“You mean your pal Jeb’s student, Agaden?” realized Guscan, surprising Bob.

“How did you know?” he gasped.

“Doy, it was all over Chirper,” explained Guscan, “some Moonjet in Eeloo got hacked and the student pilot was poisoned while the teacher turned out fine. Don’t you have it?”

“No, I prefer Kerbtext and email myself,” said Bob. “I also don’t study microgravitational effects on extra-terrestrial vegetation and check interplanetary social media at the same time.”

“Honestly, I think I’d take the poison over a bad spacecraft,” commented Guscan. “I spent too much of my life trapped in one, and it’s NOT going to end in one.” He then resumed driving the mini-bus.

“Good thing it happened on Eeloo and not Laythe,” remarked Bob.

“And why’s that?” wondered Guscan.

“Because Val would blame the Native Laythans for this,” answered Bob. “Remember, she had an older brother in the Strike Force.”

“He died there?”

“No, but he got a lot of crap when he returned home,” said Bob. “People started to call Victor a murderer and genocidal tyrant.”

“Well, we all know that’s not true,” commented Guscan. “We all know the Clivar ran away and they starved themselves.”

“Actually, I’m not too sure,” said Bob. “While taking a day’s leave – and before my license got suspended – Sheri and I took a plane to where we believed to be where the Clivar last settled. However, no signs of settlement anywhere.”

“So, what? It probably got buried under the snow and ice,” argued Guscan.

“We then flew to where the Strike Force encountered and fought the Clivar, but there were guards everywhere that threatened to shoot us down if we didn’t turn around,” continued Bob, “even though I told them who I was. If you ask me… I think they’re hiding something.”

“You think that the Strike Force exterminated… what the…?” Guscan stopped the rover as he saw a massive crowd gathered around Froze-up Beach.

“What is it?” asked Bob.

“Crowd at three o’clock,” answered Guscan as he put on an EVA suit and activated the parking brake. “Let’s check it out.” He and Bob left the rover and rushed to the crowd.

“What’s going on here?”

“A woman was found dead near the beach,” explained an engineer named Melburry.

“Native Laythan attack?” guessed Guscan.

“I’m not sure,” said Melburry.

“Everybody, clear a path!” ordered a security officer on a megaphone.

“Who is it?” asked Bob.

“We don’t know yet, but I saw the guards get her body out of an EVA suit,” said Melburry. “Maybe she’s carrying an ID.”

“And even if she wasn’t, all personnel are required to… oh my gosh,” said Guscan, looking like he was about to throw up. Bob then gasped in horror as he saw the victim’s face

“Can anybody name this woman?” asked Poseidon’s Palace’s commander, Captain Ersen. “If you can, we’ll take your identifications one at a time.”

“SHERI!” yelled Bob.

“Dude, wait!” shouted Guscan, but Bob didn’t listen.

“SHERI! NOOOOOOOOOOO!”

“Hey, can you look up Sheri Kerman for me please?” Ersen asked the guards.

“Hang on… Sheri Kerman,” started one of the guards as he turned on his kPad. “Ah, yes, here we go. Sheri Kerman, a level three pilot currently stationed in Poseidon Base.” He then showed Captain Ersen her photograph, and then compared it to the victim’s face.

“That’s her,” he said.

“Hey, there’s a recent notification on here,” commented the guard. “She always liked to work out in the mornings; this time, her EVA transponder went dead.”

“She worked out in her EVA suit?” wondered Ersen.

“Yes,” sobbed Bob, “minus the helmet.”

“I mean, I know it’s cold here, but I’m pretty sure that you’d cook in that after a few minutes,” remarked Ersen. “Trust me, I almost got heatstroke doing that.”

“That’s why she went in the mornings,” said Bob. “They… were the coolest time of the day. Not only was…,”

“Pull it together, dude,” said Guscan.

“Not only was it the time of day with the lowest temperature,” cried Bob, “she loved… to see the sunrise above the beach.”

“I take it that you and Sheri were close,” guessed Ersen.

“Yes,” answered Bob. “She was… my girlfriend.”

“I see,” said Ersen. “Guards, take the victim to sick bay and notify the staff we need the designated medical examiner.”

“Yes, sir,” acknowledged the guards, and they hauled Sheri’s body back to the base.

“How did she die?” asked Bob. “Did she say anything?”

“So far, it looks like she drowned,” answered Ersen. “As for her final words… the guy who called it in said that she was already dead when he found her washed up on the beach. Tell me, did she swim in her EVA suit in the mornings?”

“Absolutely not,” said Bob. “One time she got put on medical leave after she tried that and got hypothermia. She only runs and does some calisthenics in the mornings.”

“Okay, off to a good start,” remarked Ersen.

“Was she poisoned?” wondered Bob.

“No… but the guards found evidence of multiple blows to the head and neck areas,” answered Ersen. “Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean somebody hit her; for all we know now, she could have sustained those after she drowned.”

“She… she couldn’t have,” cried Bob. “She was an excellent swimmer, I saw her competition videos.” He leaned on Ersen as tears started to form – and nearly freeze – under his eyes. “She said she would never swim anywhere but the waters back home… after she beat hypothermia.”

“Also, why would you suggest she was poisoned?” inquired Ersen. “So far, it looks like somebody BASHED HER HEAD IN rather than slip some toxins.” Bob then told his captain about what Jeb had gone through back on Eeloo. “Oh… tragic what happened to that girl.”

“Let me guess, you read about it on Chirper,” sighed Bob.

“Not quite. A day ago, Mission Control ordered all planetary commands to check all their craft for functioning software and email them if they have any issues. Besides that, we were also ordered to double-check our life support systems and our inventory to see if ‘Any potentially toxic substances,’ are unaccounted for. I was confused at first, but then they explained about an incident where a Moonjet got infected with a virus and malfunctioned… followed by a brief story on how the cadet in behind-the-wheel training died from poison.” Ersen paused as Bob’s eyes widened. “I don’t have Chirper.”

“Was everything fine?” wondered Bob.

“Actually… no,” answered Ersen. “So far, the software engineers report nothing wrong with any of our craft or rovers. HOWEVER, three small canisters of Mystery Goo are missing from Poseidon’s Palace’s lab closet.”

“Mystery Goo?” gasped Bob. “That’s weird. You have to ingest A LOT of it AT ONCE to be fatal, and even then it tastes bad.”

“Maybe not a murderer’s choice, but probably a drug dealer’s,” elaborated Ersen. “Several crewmembers I was supposed to get were either hospitalized or arrested back home for stealing goo and/or using it as a means to get high.”

“If the heterogeneous mixture and temperature are altered correctly, it can be used to get high,” added Bob.

“Officially, I’m not supposed to tell you this,” started Ersen, “but, since you recognized the victim and were her boyfriend, the guards are going to question you for her murder. You understand why, right?”

“Yes, but I didn’t kill her,” said Bob.

“If you’re innocent, you have nothing to worry about,” added Ersen.

 

 

“State your name, specialty, and level,” ordered a security force officer named Eli.

“Bob Kerman, level five scientist,” Bob replied, sitting opposite of Eli.

“Seems about right,” said Eli, checking Bob’s personnel file on his kPad. “I understand you were close to the victim.”

“Yes, we were… boyfriend and girlfriend,” answered Bob.

“That explains your outburst back at Froze-up Beach,” remarked Eli. “You must understand why we’re doing this, Bob. Everybody’s demanding answers, and so will her family when they get notified.”

“Then ask yourself this: why would I kill the love of my life?” responded Bob.

“I can think of at least… seven right now,” said Eli. “However, if you’re innocent, you shouldn’t have anything to hide. Well, do you?”

“Of course not,” answered Bob.

“Okay,” started Eli. “Where were you within the last 12 hours?”

“I can do you better; I’ll give you where I was for the last… 30 hours,” said Bob. “I took crop samples from a Native Laythan farm – with the farmer’s permission, of course – a few kilometers away from the landing strip. I then rode a plane with three men and two women up to the U.S.S. Victor Kerman.”

“Go on,” said Eli.

“Besides the crew manifest and the station’s entry logs, you can also read my science reports,” added Bob. “I was studying the effects of microgravity on the crops in question.”

“Last I checked, we’re photosynthetic,” recalled Eli.

“Native Laythans AREN’T,” Bob told Eli. “If we can make their food last for extended periods of time in space, they can explore the Kerbol System along with us. Who knows, we may even give them a place back home to stay.”

“Sounds nice, and we will read the documents in question,” said Eli. “What’d you do after that?”

“After all my experiments were done, several others and I took that SSTO back to the landing strip when we were in position to make our de-orbit burn,” continued Bob. “When we landed, Guscan met me with a mini-bus and he drove me back to Poseidon’s Palace… or at least were heading there when he saw the crowd in Froze-Up Beach.”

“Convenient to have your designated roommate vouch for you,” said Eli. “How do we know you didn’t just drive yourself?”

“Seriously?! You know I can’t drive while my license is suspended,” said Bob. “Are you trying to frame me?!”

“If you’re telling the truth, you have nothing to worry about.”

“Really? My one true love is dead, and you’re seeking to blame me?!” snapped Bob. “How would you like it if your girlfriend died and I accused you of it?”

 “Joke’s on you, I’m gay,” teased Eli as Bob stood up.

“I was gonna propose to her on an Eve sunset on my next leave – which, I believe, coincides with the next Eve transfer window – and some monster took her away!”

“Sit down, sir,” barked Eli.

“Unless I’m under arrest, I believe I’m free to leave.”

“Don’t leave the base perimeter,” said Eli as Bob slammed the door. A minute later, Captain Ersen walked in.

“How’d it go?”

“Well, if Bob was telling the truth about his alibi, it should be easily proven,” said Eli before telling his superior officer what Bob told him.

“I’ll get the takeoff and landing logs for you,” said Ersen. “Find the SSTO Bob was in and talk to everyone else who was with him on the manifest, and don’t forget to phone the Victor Kerman. Also… you might wanna read his science report.”

“Yes, sir,” acknowledged Eli, then Ersen’s kPad buzzed.

“Oh, great,” sighed Ersen. “General Jackson’s heading down here.”

“General Jackson, you mean the commanding officer of all program personnel within Jool’s sphere of influence?” wondered Eli.

“Yep, the one and only,” said Ersen.

 

Meanwhile, Bob was in his and Guscan’s quarters mourning the loss of his girlfriend. Not only did he lose the woman he loved, he was treated like a criminal when he was supposed to be getting condolences. Not only was his alibi rock-solid, he felt no compelling reason to ever hurt Sheri. Sure, they have had their arguments every now and then, but they always made up within six hours. He took out his kPad and opened Cult Clash, thinking that preparing for the next war would cheer him up – at least until the funeral.

“Okay,” said Bob, reviewing the resource gain and loss math in his head. “Net loss, so no… no… no… net gain but too heavily defended, so no… no… bingo!” He started by placing five infantrymen in a half-circle around the weakest point in the enemy’s wall before deploying the trapsweepers, deactivating several mines around the area. He then sent more infantrymen in the battle area before ordering his bazooka troopers to blow the walls wide open and placing his medics behind them. “Off to a good start.”

He then scrolled to the right of his army’s inventory, then thought about where to target his airstrike. He was tempted to destroy the machine gun nest mowing down his troops, but he came here for the money and steel. Leaving his troops to fend for themselves, he targeted the resource safes and awaited the awesome jet strike.

“Kerbnet Connection Lost,” said the kPad as the attack screen disappeared.

“Ugh,” groaned Bob, trying to fix his connection – to no avail. When Guscan entered the room, Bob asked him to see if he was having troubles with his kPad.

“Huh, everything seems to be fine,” said Guscan. “Why ask?”

“My Kerbnet’s not working,” explained Bob. “Tried turning it off and on again, but nothing.”

“You might wanna get it checked out,” suggested Guscan. “I hear Irpond’s great with software.”

“Okay,” said Bob as he left his quarters with his kPad. He headed for the base’s control room but bumped into a woman as he rounded the corner. “Oh, sorry.”

“Sorry, sir,” said the woman as she picked herself up.

“Hey, you wouldn’t happen to know a man named Irpond, would you?” asked Bob.

“Of course, I know Irpond, it’s me,” said the woman, gesturing toward herself.

“Then you must be great with software,” conjectured Bob.

“Well… I did win a Cyber Soldier contest in high school before I joined the program,” said Irpond, shaking Bob’s hand.

“I’m Bob,” he said. “I’m… a scientist.”

“Why were you looking for me?” wondered Irpond.

“My kPad’s Kerbnet connection’s down. No matter what I try, nothing works,” explained Bob, handing her the kPad.

“Oh… that’s funny. Have you tried turning it off and on? Logging off then on? Anything?”

“Tried that, tried that, and nothing.”

“Huh… well, I think I can fix this,” said Irpond.

“Be careful, there may be a virus in there,” warned Bob.

“Why would you think there was a virus in there?” asked Irpond.

“Well… you wouldn’t happen to know about what happened in Eeloo a few days back, would you?” responded Bob.

“Yeah, a Photogram friend of mine told me about it,” said Irpond. “Shame what happened to Agaden… especially since she was the least likely cadet to kill herself.”

“Good thing JEB bailed out in time,” remarked Bob. “How long will this take?”

“I’ll call for you when I fix it,” said Irpond, smiling at Bob. “Say… I also heard about the woman on the beach this morning. Terrible tragedy, that was.”

“Let’s hope none of us are next,” sighed Bob, and the two parted ways. “Great, now I can’t be in the next Cult War.” He decided to head for the rec room and found a wall-mounted phone on the wall opposite to the magnetic dart board. “Get me Admiral Val Kerman.”

“Searching… found,” a male computer voice said on the phone, “Admiral Valentina Kerman. Connecting now.” A couple of ringtones later, and Bill heard a woman’s voice.

“Admiral Valentina Kerman speaking,”

“Hi, Val, it’s Bob,” he told her.

“Hey, Bob, how’s it going?”

“Bad,” he replied.

“Why bad?” wondered Val. “And why are you using a rec room phone?”

“Sheri’s dead, and my kPad’s Kerbnet connection stopped working,” answered Bob. “That’s why I’m calling you from the rec room phone.”

“The connection can get a bit choppy up here in Jool orbit,” reminded Val. “Too bad it was clear when we had to make an orbital adjustment, and someone was working MJ AND going on Photogram. I mean, I know MJ made your life easier, but ONE AT A TIME.”

“Hey, didn’t you Chirp and use MJ at the same time while making a rendezvous orbit one time?” wondered Bob.

“I was in a phasing orbit awaiting the right time to make a transfer burn,” recalled Val. “This guy did both AT THE SAME TIME. Anyway, what happened to Sheri?”

“She was either drowned or repeatedly hit over the head before being thrown in the water,” explained Bob.

“Another murder?” gasped Val. “Oh my gosh.”

“Any ideas why anybody would do this?” asked Bob.

“Glad you asked me and not my older brother,” sighed Val, “otherwise he’d automatically blame the Native Laythans… regardless of their tribe.”

“Better them than me,” said Bob. “As far as I know, I was the first suspect.”

“You didn’t do it, did you?”

“OF COURSE NOT!” shouted Bob, surprising the crew in the room. “Uh… sorry about that.”

“They monitor and record the heck out of us,” remarked Val. “Not only will they find you innocent, they’ll find the real killer in no time.”

“I hope so,” agreed Bob, “just like I hope they find Jeb’s plane hacker and cadet killer.”

“I am SO sorry for your loss, Bob,” said Val. “You also said that you lost your kPad?”

“My connection’s not working and I took it to Irpond to fix it,” explained Bob. “Man, my army was doing so well, too.”

“If you don’t get it back within three hours, I’ll have to boot you out of the next Cult War,” reminded Val. “You know how much I don’t like slackers on my team, either in real-life or Cult Clash.”

“I understand,” sighed Bob. “I can’t be allowed to jeopardize our rematch against the Duna Dudes just because my kPad’s acting up.”

“Bob!” shouted Irpond as she approached him. “I think I got it.”

“Thanks,” said Bob as she gave him his kPad. When he turned it on, he saw the results of his attack. “Aw, man.”

“What?” asked Irpond.

“Nothing, everything’s fine,” Bob told Irpond before returning to Val. “Sorry about that, just got my kPad back.”

“What was wrong again?” inquired Val.

“No matter what I tried, no connection,” explained Bob. “It’s better now but got an ‘Utter failure’ out of my latest attack. That was an unlucky waste of money.”

“Yeah, don’t you hate it when that happens?” remarked Val, and Bob agreed. “Anybody else have similar problems?”

“No. In fact, Guscan’s kPad was working fine,” answered Bob.

“Weird. Usually, connections are lost if the relay connection is broken – but that would also result in everyone else’s kPads losing Kerbnet too.”

“I’ll have my army and air support ready when you start the next war, Admiral,” said Bob. “Hail Mun Hoppers.”

“Hail Mun Hoppers,” replied Val before she hung up.

“Just out of curiosity, who was that?” asked Irpond.

“Admiral Val,” answered Bob. “She’s on the U.S.S. Zeus right now.”

“And what exactly are the Mun Hoppers?”

“You ever play Cult Clash?” wondered Bob, but Irpond shook her head. “Well, Val and I are part of this online team that goes into simulated wars with other ‘cults.’ In this case, we’re about to start a rematch war with a rival cult called the Duna Dudes.”

“Ah, good luck with that,” said Irpond. “Val… Valentina, isn’t she related to Kerbal Strike Force commander Victor Kerman?”

“Yes, she’s his younger sister,” said Bob. “He’s back on Kerbin, but we have a space station in Laythe orbit named after him.”

“Huh… neat,” remarked Irpond. “Feel free to bump into me again next time you have kPad trouble.”

“Anytime, Irpond,” said Bob as Irpond left him.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

CHAPTER FOUR: A GOD’S DESTRUCTION

 

Darrel, Jay, and Pauline Kerman were finished making their escape trajectory burn in their SSTO. It would take them out of Pol’s sphere of influence and into Jool’s orbit, where they will then begin a rendezvous with the U.S.S. Zeus. Jool was not like any other planet with moons in the Kerbol system. For starters, it required a lot of delta-V to make two-way trips between low Jool orbit and any of its moons; Laythe was the easiest to descend to (provided the landing craft had parachutes), but ascending was the hardest to accomplish. This required spacecraft capable of converting – and in some cases, storing – its own ore into fuel while having several thousand meters per second worth of delta-V; the designs were very bizarre compared to conventional moon landers and ore delivery craft.

This particular mission involved finding evidence of the existence of the so-called Kraken. Earlier, an ore scanning probe in orbit around Pol captured photographic images of what seemed to be the monster itself. General Jackson then dispatched Darrel, Jay, and Pauline to check it out. Though the crew didn’t see the Kraken, they took pictures of what Jay believed to be Kraken tracks. He then took surface samples to test them for organic matter, and the three kerbalnauts left Pol as soon as its fuel tanks were fully loaded.

“You really think there is a Kraken, boys?” asked Pauline as she checked the craft’s power flow.

“I hope not,” said Jay while he carefully observed his soil sample floating in a test tube. “Otherwise, we’re in big trouble when he wakes up.”

“How would you know it’s a he?” wondered Pauline.

“It’s always the males that did the hunting back home, and it was a pack of MALE natives that wiped out our first Laythan explorers,” reminded Jay. “Not that I’m not open to the chance that it’s a woman, but don’t be surprised if it’s a man.”

“We’re leaving Pol’s sphere of influence,” said Darrel. A minute later, he spoke again. “MJ, take me to within 30 meters of the U.S.S. Zeus.”

“Calculating rendezvous maneuver nodes… done. Preparing to match orbital planes now.”

“I think I liked it better when we used the legged landers,” commented Darrel.

“What’s wrong with this?” asked Pauline.

“Well… call me prejudiced, but I think plane and spacecraft designs need to stay separate,” started Darrel. “I mean, at least you can tell which ones are supposed to work in a vacuum and which aren’t.”

“Technically, Eve and Duna have atmospheres,” reminded Jay.

“Yes, but they’re insufficient for jet engine use,” countered Darrel. “Pauline, you’re an engineer. Do you know about that one supersonic plane that tried to get into orbit but couldn’t circularize at apoapsis because it forgot a vacuum-free propulsion source?”

“Know it,” chuckled Pauline, “I designed it.”

“Yeah, you got mixed up in the design process,” added Darrel. “I bet many engineers back home are getting confused by this.” Several minutes passed as the crew debated on whether or not plane and spacecraft designs should be merged together, each side citing many credible examples. After that debate, they moved on to discuss whether or not the space program should make speaking Native Laythan a requirement for cadet graduation. Hours passed as the three of them filled their chloroplasts with sunlight and did the routine checks for the craft.

“We’re coming up on the Zeus,” announced Darrel. “ETA, three minutes.”

“U.S.S. Zeus, this is Joolplane 23,” said Pauline. “We’re on rendezvous trajectory with you. Please respond.” To her surprise, there was static on the other end. “No answer.”

“They’re probably asleep,” guessed Darrel. “We’ll wake ‘em up when we dock.” Suddenly, an alarm went off and a light in the cabin started to blink red.

“What is it?” gasped Jay.

“Incoming asteroid at eight o’clock,” said Pauline.

“Try the Zeus again,” ordered Jay.

“U.S.S. Zeus, do you copy?” asked Pauline nervously. “Incoming asteroid, over.” Still no response. “Dang it, no answer AGAIN.” The crew looked to their right and saw an asteroid coming from behind it.

“Evasive maneuvers, STAT!” said Jay, and Darrel activated the RCS and attempted to alter his orbital trajectory to stay clear of the asteroid. “Brace for impact!”

“Current trajectory…,” MJ started, but the crew didn’t listen as they braced themselves. A flash of light came from the window, and Jay poked his head out of his arms.

“Damage report!”

“No damage sustained to the vessel,” MJ answered.

“It didn’t hit us,” added Darrel. “The Zeus is gone.”

“What?” gasped Jay, and he and Pauline got up to see several chunks of debris floating where the U.S.S. Zeus once was.

“No,” said Pauline.

“Well, this certainly messes up the rendezvous,” remarked Darrel.

“Pauline, contact General Jackson,” ordered Jay. “Darrel, if we have Delta-V to spare, look for survivors.”

 

“Sheri had a boyfriend, right?” asked General Jackson while in Captain Ersen’s quarters back in Poseidon’s Palace.

“Yes, General,” said Ersen, “a scientist named Bob Kerman. His alibi’s solid as a rock, lined with science reports.”

“Must have been a severe blow to him,” commented Jackson. “I remember a few days back, he emailed me asking for advice on how to propose to her.”

“Why would he ask you?” wondered Ersen.

“I’m married,” explained Jackson.

“Huh, you never told me you were married, nor have I seen your wife,” said Ersen.

“She’s not allowed to fly in space due to hip trouble,” replied Jackson. “Once the lab boys back home find out a way to transport tourists with such problems, she’ll meet me here.” He sighed as he took a sip of water. “I email her every day, waiting for the message that she’ll be allowed to go interplanetary.”

“Oh, since you had experience, Bob talked to you,” concluded Ersen, and Jackson nodded.

“Any ideas on who might want to hurt Sheri?” asked Jackson.

“No… but I think we can narrow down suspects,” said Ersen.

“How so?” wondered Jackson as Ersen took out his kPad.

“A Native Laythan named Teru came forward two hours after Sheri was found,” started Ersen. “According to our translator, he saw a ‘Bright-eyed metal monster’ driving away from the spot we believe Sheri was killed. When we showed him pictures of our rovers,” he then showed the general an image of a mini-bus, “he freaked out at THIS.”

“A mini-bus?” gasped Jackson.

“Yeah, and we found tire tracks going to and from the primary crime scene,” added Ersen. “We have no confirmation yet, but the security force said that they likely belonged to a mini-bus.” As soon as he finished his sentence, Jackson’s kPad started to ring.

“Joolplane 23… weird. Hang on,” said Jackson as he accepted the call. “General Jackson.”

“This is Doctor Jay Kerman,” he saw a man say on the screen. “We just saw an asteroid hit the U.S.S. Zeus… there’s debris everywhere.”

“Oh… dear,” Jackson gasped in horror. “If you have fuel to spare, look for survivors and wait in Jool orbit for someone to pick you up. Does your crew know first-aid?”

“Yes, sir. My pilot and engineer,” answered Jay.

“Good luck, doctor,” said Jackson and hung up.

“Wait, I thought he was a doctor,” thought Ersen.

“Archaeologist,” clarified Jackson. “Stephen, pull up the crew roster for the U.S.S. Zeus.”

 

NAME

GENDER

RANK

SPECIALTY

LEVEL

Avery

M

Captain

Pilot

4

Cassandra

F

N/A

Doctor

4

Fitzsimmons

M

Lieutenant

Scientist

3

Kendall

M

N/A

Doctor

3

Matt

M

N/A

Engineer

5

Megan

F

Sergeant

Engineer

3

Penelope

F

Corporal

Pilot

2

Scott

M

Commander

Scientist

5

Valentina

F

Admiral

Pilot

5

Xavier

M

N/A

Scientist

2

 

“The famous Admiral Valentina,” sighed Ersen. “Bob will be devastated when he hears… wait a second.”

“What is it?” asked Jackson.

“I asked a drone pilot to redirect an incoming asteroid that would have come within 50 kilometers of the Zeus,” explained Ersen. “The thing is that its plotted trajectory would have still missed the Zeus if we did nothing.”

“Then why bother redirecting it in the first place?” wondered Jackson.

“Program regulations… and it makes ore collection WAY easier,” said Ersen. “Anyway, are you thinking what I’m thinking.”

“If it is the same asteroid,” started Jackson, “are you saying that it was… DELIBERATE?”

“Without a doubt,” said Ersen. “More specifically, somebody used the asteroid redirect craft to target the Zeus and destroy it.”

“Why not just use the craft itself to destroy it?” inquired Jackson. “That sounds quite inefficient.”

“Unless you want THE PERFECT CRIME,” countered Ersen. “That Joolplane crew saw AN ASTEROID instead of a ROGUE LANDER hit the Zeus, so everybody will think it was a natural disaster.”

“Then how come the Zeus didn’t see it coming and adjust orbit,” wondered Jackson, “unless…”

“I think Eeloo’s moonjet hacker and our asteroid probe-jacker,” started Ersen.

“ARE THE SAME PERSON!” both men concluded simultaneously.

 

On the other side of the base, Bob was finishing up on his experiment for the day. Using translated instructions from the Ryagii tribe, he started to grow Laythan crops in a controlled environment similar to theirs. He also grew a lot more of the same crops in varying conditions, eventually getting to those similar to Kerbin (down to its atmospheric and soil composition and average plant-growing temperature). It felt weird that he basically turned an interplanetary science lab into a temporary greenhouse, but he felt that it was a small price to pay for learning if Native Laythans could live among the Kerbals back home.

After he measured the crops’ growth, he decided to do inventory for the closet. Taking the log for what supplies were supposed to go where, he turned on the lights and carefully inspected the contents.

“Okay, let’s see,” said Bob, checking off the items on the list one-by-one. When he reached the shelf full of Mystery Goo, he made sure to read the serial numbers on the canisters. “Huh… Ersen was right. Canisters 3456 to 8 are unaccounted for.” He knew that they were stolen, as it was regulation that anyone who needed to use a canister would sign for that specific one before obtaining it.

“Knock, knock,” a man said outside the lab.

“Come in, but be careful!” shouted Bob, and he saw Guscan enter. “Oh, hey Guscan.”

“Bob, I thought I’d find you here,” said Guscan.

“What’d you expect, I’m a scientist?” teased Bob.

“Not a greenhouse,” Guscan retorted. “I didn’t know you took an interest in botany.”

“Well… sort of,” confessed Bob. “If I can prove that we can grow Laythan crops on Kerbin, then we can welcome the Laythans into our society.”

“Except the savage Kerbal-murdering ones,” added Guscan.

“Well… naturally,” said Bob. “Whatcha doing here?”

“I got some bad news,” started Guscan. “Oh, how do I put this… the U.S.S. Zeus is… well, uh… destroyed.”

“Destroyed?” gasped Bob, dropping a canister of Mystery Goo. Fortunately, the impact didn’t leave a dent – but he would have to check its structural integrity later just to be sure.

“Yeah, got hit by an asteroid,” added Guscan. “What’s worse… Admiral Val was on the station’s crew roster.”

“How is she?” said Bob. “HOW IS SHE?!”

“I don’t know, man,” answered Guscan nervously. “So far, three dead and two survivors; the rest are unaccounted for.”

“She’s gotta be one of the survivors,” conjectured Bob. “She’s been through worse.”

“Sorry, buddy, but those two survivors were MEN,” corrected Guscan. “General Jackson still has spacecraft looking through the debris, but if they cannot find Val or her body… we’ll have to assume the worst.”

“No, she’s not…,” stammered Bob, starting to look furious. “NO, SHE’S NOT!”

“Bob,” shouted Guscan, “you gotta cool it.”

“How many were with her?” asked Bob, grabbing Guscan’s uniform.

“Nine others, just let go man,” answered Guscan.

“NINE MORE!” yelled Bob. “Sheri, Val, and NINE MEN AND WOMEN! Who’s next?”

“Buddy, listen to me,” said Guscan, holding on to Bob’s shoulders. “You gotta take some time off. Go see the psychiatrist.”

“We have a psychiatrist?” asked Bob.

“Yes, they helped us understand A LOT about the natives,” answered Guscan. “Go see her before you go completely crazy.”

“But… what about the plants?” complained Bob.

“I’ll ask Captain Ersen to send a temporary replacement, he’ll understand,” said Guscan. “Now go.” Bob took a deep breath and walked away from the lab.

“Hi, Bob,” said Irpond as Bob passed her. “Where are you going?”

“Psychiatrist,” replied Bob angrily, “if I can find her.”

“What’s the matter, Bob?” asked Irpond, and Bob stopped in his tracks.

“First Sheri, then Val,” said Bob. “Who’s next?”

“Oh… must be a real tragedy losing Val like that.”

“Yeah, no kidding,” responded Bob. “What’s worse, I try to resume working like nothing happened, but my own bunkmate told me I need to see a psychiatrist while potentially leaving my plants to die in the hands of some noob.”

“Hey, want some advice,” said Irpond. “As a ‘different’ girl myself… don’t bother seeing a psychiatrist.”

“Why not? We were all screened before we could go interplanetary?” reminded Bob.

“The program either treats us like soulless robots or fragile children,” said Irpond. “What you see as a perfectly normal reaction can be seen by them as a ‘red flag,’ that you don’t even deserve. Many people have recovered from loss without seeing a psychiatrist, and I’m sure you can too. Especially since… I’m here to help.”

“You know Captain Ersen’s going to just force me to see her,” said Bob.

“Only if you exhibit signs of violent or self-destructive behavior,” added Irpond. “He can force you to take leave… which can be a good thing.”

“But what about the plants… the Native Laythans?”

“When one drops a torch, somebody else picks it up,” said Irpond. “My mother used to tell me that when I was a kid.”

“Popular inspirational quote,” sighed Bob. “We used to say it all the time at the space center back home.”

“Cool, my…,” started Irpond, but then Bob’s kPad started to buzz. “Is your pad ringing?”

“Hang on, sorry,” apologized Bob as he opened his kPad screen cover. “That’s weird.”

“What’s weird?”

“Val’s calling me,” said Bob as he accepted the video call. “Uh, hello.”

“Bob, everything okay back on Laythe?” asked Val, and a smile quickly overtook Bob’s face.

“SHE’S ALIVE!” he yelled, getting everyone’s attention.

“Duh, of course I’m alive,” sighed Val. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I thought you were dead,” explained Bob.

“Calm down before you embarrass yourself, then tell me everything,” said Val, and Bob took a deep breath before returning to his makeshift greenhouse laboratory. He then told her about how Guscan told him about the U.S.S. Zeus getting blown up.

“How’d you survive?” he asked.

“I wasn’t on the Zeus,” said Val. “I was on Tylo, picking up some people for a crew rotation.”

“Hang on.” Bob minimized Val’s screen and looked up the last crew roster for the U.S.S. Zeus. “Weird, you’re on the crew list.”

“They either forgot to log my departure or decided that I would stay on the roster as I was NOT getting rotated out,” Val figured out. “Either way, glad I wasn’t on it.”

“Too bad there’s no Zeus to go back to,” said Bob. “As far as Guscan knows, three dead and two survivors.”

“WAIT A SECOND!” gasped Val. “We’re supposed to have sufficient detection and redirection systems in place here. And even if redirection or orbital trajectory change was not possible, an immediate evacuation should have been held if the asteroid would have hit it. I mean, come on, we could have seen that coming from at least 100 days away – and we would have seen a potential collision as soon as it entered the sphere of influence.”

“Val, what are you saying?” asked Bob.

“Meet me in the group chat with Bill and Jeb in 10 minutes,” said Val. “I’m stuck here for a while, anyway.”

“Got it,” acknowledged Bob as he hung up and returned to his quarters. When 10 minutes passed, he opened his group chat with Bill, Jeb, and Val.

Val

@Bill, @Jeb, @Bob, you there?

 

 

Bob

Yep.

Jeb

Thanks for ending my beauty sleep, @Val.

 

Bill

What is it, @Val?

Val

Somebody tried to kill me, and I know who.

 

Bob

Who is it?

Val

Sergeant Jendun Kerman (M – Lvl 3 Pilot)

 

Bill

@Val, we need your level clearance to open it.

Val

Oh, yeah. Sorry.

He piloted the probe which rendezvoused with a Class B asteroid, which has more than enough mass to destroy the Zeus.

Jeb

What the heck’s a zeus?

 

Bob

It’s a single-launch space station in Jool orbit

* or at least it was.

Bill

That doesn’t make sense. Since KE=(1/2)m(v^2), an asteroid redirection craft BY ITSELF should still dish out enough energy to destroy a space station if it had enough velocity (which shouldn’t be much). Why would he bother catching an asteroid, hence reducing his delta-V capacity?

 

Val

·         He was assigned to redirect the asteroid in question before the Zeus was destroyed.

·         He has the knowledge (and MechJeb access) to make a rendezvous with any target and hit it.

·         Witnesses would think it was a natural disaster and not a probe-jacking.

Jeb

I knew MJ was no good.

Bill

Technically, it was no good because SOME WACKO set it to a 0-meter target separation distance à somebody TOLD IT to crash into the station.

 

Bob

Why would he kill you, @Val, or anybody else on the Zeus?

Val

I don’t know.

 

Jeb

You think he also hacked my moonjet?

Bill

Unlikely. I double-checked the schematics for the moonjet – you need to be directly plugged in to the moonjet to alter its operation software.

Jeb

Here’s a theory: someone SPOOFED Mission Control and told a guy at Eeloo to give my moonjet a software update – which actually contained a virus.

 

Bob

How would you know what spoofing is, @Jeb?

Jeb

My dad got involved in some spoofing scandal once – that’s why we never got Jeb’s Junkyard parts for a while.

 

Bill

Possible, then how do you explain Agaden getting poisoned? Or the killer knowing THAT SPECIFIC MOONJET should be hacked?

Val

Yeah, @Bill has a point. The moonjet hacking and the poisoning may not be connected at all.

 

Bob

I don’t even know if Sheri’s murder and the Zeus’ destruction are connected, either.

Jeb

Either way, this Jendun has some serious explaining to do.

 

 

Bob

At least for the Zeus getting destroyed. For all we know, he knew nothing about Sheri OR the incident in Eeloo

Heck, (if he did redirect the asteroid) he may have targeted an occupant OTHER THAN @Val.

Bill

Hang on. I just saw this on Chirper:

-       DEAD: Cassandra, Fitzsimmons, Megan, Xavier

-       ALIVE: Matt, Scott

-       M.I.A.: Avery, Kendall, Penelope, @Val

 

Better tell Jool command that you’re still alive.

Val

Oh, yeah. Thanks for reminding me, @Bill.

Bill

{ Agaden + Sheri + (four others) = 6 } + (3 M.I.A.) = 9

 

6 to 9 deaths in only a few days – hopefully, just 6

Highest death rate in the program since the Rebel explosion (and this is all INTENTIONAL)

 

Bob

This madness needs to end NOW! We’re gonna get to the bottom of this.

Jeb

Say no more. COUNT ME IN.

 

Bill

Sounds cool, but why us?

 

Bob

Jeb’s student, my girlfriend, (most of) Val’s crew, who’s next? How long before this murderer kills someone close to you, @Bill?

We need that engineering brain of yours. You designed and programmed whole vehicles, wrote algorithms, and not to mention Dres’ ore transport and orbital refueling system was YOUR idea.

-       You also designed the Interplanetary Travel Pod Mk. I to IV.

Our race depends on all four of us stopping the killer before he strikes again.

Bill

Well, I suppose that makes sense when you put it that way.

 

I’m in

But I can’t turn around now. I’m still waiting to get caught in Eeloo’s SOI – and @Jeb’s stuck there for a while.

 

Bob

That’s what Kerbtext and email are for.

Val

I want dibs on the guy who tried to kill me, but why does OUR WHOLE RACE depend on US?

 

 

Bob

We’re no longer confined to our homeworld, where it’s hard enough as it is (but not impossible) to track down and capture a murderer. Now that we’ve expanded across the entire Kerbol system, if the killer is smart enough, the odds of finding him (let alone catching him) are next to impossible.

We’re the greatest minds to travel through space, and WE broke the ground for interplanetary colonization. If we don’t stop this killer now, who know who’s next.

Val

You need some rest, @Bob. The program has safeguards for this sort of thing.

 

 

Bob

Even the best safeguards fail - @Bill should know, he designed some of them.

Bill

Hey, at least I didn’t set off a bomb on Gilly.

 

 

Bob

I had no idea the explodium would go off when exposed to direct sunlight (Eve’s atmosphere apparently blocks out the radiation that caused the explodium to detonate).

Plus, a lot of Kerbalnauts (myself included) think putting a permanent base on Gilly is a bad idea due to extremely low surface gravity.

Val

Boys, I get the point.

 

While I agree that we need to find whoever killed Sheri and Agaden, and whoever messed up Jeb’s plane, I think that it’s open-and-shut for the asteroid murder

 

Bob

Don’t be surprised if he cries probe malfunction. With all the crazy stuff that’s going on, I’d be surprised if it WASN’T.

Val

Along with the update that I’m still alive, I’ll tell General Jackson about Jendun being suspect number one.

 

Bill

Is he even in Jool’s SOI, because we can’t access his file (higher rank means better security clearance)

 

Val

Even better, he was assigned to Poseidon’s Palace on Laythe.

 

 

Bob

Why not tell Captain Ersen, who runs the base?

Val

-       I outrank him (Admiral > Captain)

-       General Jackson wants to know about what happened to the rest of the Zeus crew.

-       Captain Ersen only runs one base on Laythe, whereas General Jackson runs pretty much everything in Jool’s SOI – I was in general Jool ops, too.

 

 

Bob

You do realize Captain Ersen will be notified too, right?

Val

I’ve talked to General Jackson more than I talked to Captain Ersen, he’ll listen to me. Besides, on the small chance that Ersen’s INVOLVED (he gave the order to redirect the asteroid), he won’t have time to hide it if the general’s notified first.

 

 

After thirty seconds of message silence, Bob accessed his photo gallery and tapped the album named “Shob Moments.” He then scrolled through pictures he and Sheri took while they were dating. They had first met at the foot of Dres Canyon; when Bob was about to get ready to venture in there with a mini-bus, a lander arrived with the new driver (the old one got sick). Bob first thought Sheri driving would mean his death, as she had an accident liability record close to Jeb’s. However, not only did she return the rover without any new dents (despite the mini-bus’ high statistical likelihood to get in an accident), but no injuries and the surface and ore samples remained undisturbed throughout the trip.

Bob then apologized to Sheri for underestimating her driving ability, then Sheri told him about her court-ordered driver retraining course she had to take before going to Dres. She then dared him to distract her as much as he could while she remotely piloted an ore transport probe to the U.S.S. Defiant in orbit of the planet. Bob felt weird about this, but he eventually gave in to her dare. To his surprise, none of his attempts to get Sheri’s attention off the controls worked. She was able to do a successful rendezvous and docking with the station before returning to the designated landing spot to refuel and get more ore repeating the process. Everybody in Colorado Base – located at the foot of Dres Canyon – was amazed at her focus. Bob first thought Jeb was her inspiration, but she said that she often emailed Val for help after she got injured in a rover crash. She told him that Val was able to do whatever task she put her mind to despite distractions, whereas Jeb was easily distracted and unfocused – which explained his high accident liability record.

“We sure were awesome together,” sighed Bob, looking at a picture somebody took of him and Sheri doing an EVA on an interplanetary transport pod. “You were like… the best parts of Jeb and Val put together.” He recalled emailing Jeb and Val and asking them if Sheri could be related to any of them, and they all denied it. As far as they knew, Jeb was an only child and Val had one older brother. Bob then read an old email he sent to Victor, asking him for advice on how to get a girl to like him (since Victor was about to get married at the time).

“Girls like confident men,” Victor had replied. “They like men who take bold risks, that’s why we soldiers get called by the ladies A LOT.” Bob knew there was validity in Victor’s advice, but at the same time he didn’t want to end up as crazy as Jeb – who suggested that Bob and a friend stage a robbery that Bob would “save” Sheri from. Bob rejected Jeb’s idea and decided to ask Sheri to be his pilot to the polar ice caps as soon as they arrived at Duna. Sheri asked why her specifically, and Bob gave her the answer which sealed his plan.

“Because you’re the most focused pilot I know.” He had meant every word of it, as he did not know about any instances where Val got as many distractions as Bob offered Sheri during that dare and still piloted perfectly. Eventually, Bob got his surface samples and analyzed the ice caps for potential underground water content – and his first kiss (in the plane, since Duna’s atmosphere was not breathable) with Sheri.

“Why you, Sheri?” he groaned as he viewed a photograph of her smiling after a lab explosion. “What kind of… monster would do this to you?” He did not suspect any Native Laythans, as the base would have been on full alert by now if it was. When he was about to scroll to the right, Val started to call him. “Hi, Val.”

“Hi, Bob,” answered Val. “I didn’t want to talk to the other guys about it since I didn’t think this was necessary for them to know, but I hear there’s more going on in Poseidon’s Palace.”

“Like what?” wondered Bob.

“Well… to start from the beginning, one of the base guards is an old trainee of my brother’s,” started Val. “He told me about Captain Ersen briefing the security force about this strange burglary.”

“What was stolen?” asked Bob.

“Goo canisters,” said Val, “three of them.”

“I know,” said Bob. “Captain Ersen told me about it, and I did inventory before you called me.”

“Goo’s not toxic, right?”

“If taken in a large enough dose, it is… but it tastes so bad you’d want to throw up after five milliliters,” explained Bob. “That’s not the only thing that’s been stolen.”

“Let me guess, your massive cash and steel reserves got looted?” sighed Val.

“No, but that would put a dent in the Cult War,” said Bob. “A set of my exercise clothes is gone.”

“Are you sure you didn’t just lose it?”

“Guscan and I searched every centimeter of our bunk from top to bottom, and we checked the laundry, but no sign of it. I also did inventory of all my clothes – both clean and dirty – and everything BUT that set is accounted for.”

“What about Gus?”

“Checked his too, nothing; and he denied ever doing my laundry.” Bob paused as he saw Val’s jaw drop. “The weird thing is that it was a dirty set, too. Why not steal a clean set?”

“All kinds of crazy things going on here,” agreed Val. “Any ideas why?”

“No, but I doubt it has anything to do with Native Laythans,” said Bob. “If it was, we’d be on full alert by now.”

“The base security shares your doubts,” added Val. “My contact just told me that… a mini-bus was seen driving away from the spot Sheri drowned; the tire tracks confirmed it.”

“Mini-bus?” gasped Bob. “You mean that A KERBALNAUT killed Sheri?”

“At least one who had a valid license – which I know you DON’T have because you were speeding,” elaborated Val. “Unless we started to give Native Laythans driving lessons and working licenses, it’s reasonable to say that a base crewmember drove up to Sheri, bashed her head in and left her to drown, then drove away.”

“I think I know why,” said Bob angrily.

“What? Earlier, you said that you had no idea as to the killer’s motive. What changed?” Bob then told Val about the trip he and Sheri took to where the Strike Force fought the Clivar tribe but was turned around or else the guards would shoot him down.

“Maybe… there REALLY WAS a Clivar Genocide,” theorized Bob. “Sheri got too close to uncovering the secret and then someone killed her to SHUT HER UP. But that means… I may be next.”

“Oh… dear,” gasped Val. “I’ll be on the next SSTO down to Laythe. You told anybody else about your flight to the battle site?”

“Well, I told Guscan,” said Bob.

“Until I get down, don’t trust ANYBODY,” warned Val. “You’re licensed to carry, right?”

“Yes, but I never carry a gun,” answered Bob.

“You may need to use one soon, so get a handgun and keep it concealed… along with your permit,” said Val. “Anybody tries to hurt you – Kerbal OR Native Laythan - shoot them.”

Edited by Mars-Bound Hokie
Grammatical error
Link to comment
Share on other sites

CHAPTER FIVE: AN ODD CONFESSION

 

“State your name, rank, and specialty,” ordered Eli.

“Sergeant Jendun Kerman, level three pilot,” the man opposite to him answered.

“You were assigned to redirect a Class B asteroid that had just entered Jool’s sphere of influence, correct?” continued Eli.

“Yes, sir. Its predicted trajectory took it to about 50 kilometers from the Zeus’ orbit,” explained Jendun.

“If it wasn’t exactly a threat, why bother?” wondered Eli.

“Aside from Captain Ersen giving me an order to do it,” started Jendun, “it is KSP regulation to redirect all asteroids coming to within 100 kilometers of any orbital trajectories. If not, we leave them alone unless otherwise ordered.”

“After you caught the asteroid, what were you going to do with it?”

“Put it in a safe, controlled, circular orbit with a radius 150 kilometers wider than that of the Zeus,” said Jendun. “That way, ore transport probes – and not the ones that look like planes – can mine ore off it and send it to the Zeus easily. However, as I said earlier, I never got the chance to plot my orbital adjustment after I grabbed the asteroid.”

“Tell me again what happened,” said Eli.

“Fine,” sighed Jendun. “I had just grabbed the asteroid with the probe’s claw when somebody knocked me out from behind. The next thing I knew, I was locked in an EVA suit closet. Good thing there’s a switch to open it from the INSIDE in case you get locked in.”

“How did you know it was an EVA suit closet?” asked Eli.

“I know what the texture of the exterior layer feels like,” said Jendun.

“Interesting. Why don’t to tell me what happened before you got knocked out.”

“I told MJ to get me within 20 meters of the asteroid so I can have space to figure out where to put the redirect craft for an effective orbital alteration,” started Jendun. “I then heard a clang in the room, then I stood up and took aim with my gun.”

“Gun? Why do you have a gun?” wondered Eli.

“All control room personnel are required to carry them,” said Jendun. “Anything bad happens in there – hostile attack, rogue crewmember, remote hijacking – a lot of people’s lives are in jeopardy.”

“Okay, you heard a clang and drew your gun,” started Eli.

“I then said, ‘Stop or I’ll shoot.’ Everything was quiet when I heard another sound, then I shouted to come out with their hands up. Again, no answer. I then walked back toward the probe control panel while keeping my gun at the opposite corner and waited for MJ to match the probe’s velocity with the asteroid’s. I then moved closer to it using the monopropellant; I was about to order MJ to change my periapsis, but then BAM… lights out.”

“Could you see his face?” questioned Eli. “Did he have any other distinguishing marks, like a scar or a tattoo?”

“I didn’t see any part of him,” said Jendun. “After I woke up in the closet, I unlocked myself out and went to the nearest sick bay.”

“Why sick bay?”

“Because I want to know if I had any life-threatening injuries sustained from that blow to my head,” explained Jendun. “I… don’t even know why we’re here. Did the craft leave Jool’s sphere of influence?”

“Pardon me, sir,” said Eli as he read an incoming message on his kPad. “Hmm… well, what do you know. That bruise below your head could NOT have been self-inflicted with enough force to knock you out.”

“See, I told you,” smirked Jendun. “Now answer me this, officer, why am I here?”

“That asteroid you were sent to redirect,” started Eli, “destroyed the Zeus.”

Jendun laughed. “You can’t be serious. Even if I let the asteroid drift, the Zeus would have been on the OTHER SIDE of the planet at the asteroid’s closest point to the station’s orbit.”

“How do you know that?”

“After docking with the asteroid, I selected the Zeus as my target and… wait, you’re SERIOUS? My asteroid hit the Zeus?”

“You sound surprised,” noticed Eli.

“That can’t be!” shouted Jendun. “After I learned that asteroid would have posed no threat to the Zeus, I unselected it as the target. HOWEVER, right before I ordered a periapsis change, I got hit.” Jendun almost shook in horror. “Oh my gosh, he did it.”

“Who?” asked Eli. “Who did it?”

“The guy who hit me and stashed me in a closet,” said Jendun. “He must have come in there to steal the probe and destroy the Zeus… but who would do such a thing?”

“We’ll send someone to check the probe core,” said Eli, but then he got another email. “Sorry about that, it’s been a busy day.” After he read it, he looked at Eli sternly. “Well… I got some good news and some bad news.”

“I hope everybody’s okay,” said Jendun. “I mean, they should have seen it coming and either adjusted their orbit or evacuated.”

“Unfortunately, neither happened,” Eli informed him, “but… the good news is at least that asteroid won’t hurt anyone again.”

“What’s the bad news?”

“Your craft was seen entering Jool along with the asteroid,” said Eli. “It got destroyed.”

“Well… you could try checking my MJ command logs,” suggested Jendun. “Everything up until ‘Unset U.S.S. Zeus as target,’ is me. Everything after that, NOT me.”

“We’ll do that. We’ll also check the hallway cameras to see who this intruder may have been,” reminded Eli.

“Please, do that,” sobbed Jendun. “I want to help you catch the psychopath that did this. Tell me… how many died?”

“Five dead, three alive, and two unaccounted for,” answered Eli.

“I think I’d better…” started Jendun as he left the room, but then Bob pinned him against the wall next to the door.

“Why’d you do it?!” yelled Bob.

“It wasn’t me, I swear,” replied Jendun.

“Calm down, sir!” ordered Eli, and Bob looked at him.

“This is the guy who tried to kill Val,” explained Bob.

“No, he’s not,” countered Eli.

“Are you sure? He redirected the asteroid,” said Bob.

“I never got around to that,” said Jendun, showing Bob the bruise under the back of his head. “The REAL killer gave me this and stuffed me in a closet. HE’S the guy you want.”

“Then who is he?” asked Bob.

“We’re working on that,” said Eli.

“You’d better,” warned Bob, “unless you want a corruption claim filed against you.”

“You’re still mad that we questioned you for Sheri’s death,” said Eli. “First off, we checked your alibi – it’s ironclad. Second, you’d question the boyfriend too if you had my job.”

“Try jealous EX-boyfriends,” suggested Bob.

“Already found them; they’re ALL back on Kerbin,” said Eli. “Say… have you been involved in any intimate relationships OTHER THAN Sheri since you two started dating?”

“No, why?” asked Bob as Jendun left them to their privacy.

“This happens all the time back home,” said Eli. “A man cheats on his girlfriend or wife, the other partner gets jealous, and takes out the competition.”

“What? No,” replied Bob angrily. “I would never cheat on Sheri… or anyone, for that matter.”

“Then it’s possible that someone who had the hots for you grew jealous of Sheri and offed her to eliminate the competition,” explained Eli. “Likewise, it’s also possible that someone who liked SHERI grew jealous of her relationship with you, things got heated between them, and that resulted in her death.”

BANG! BANG! A muffled sound came from around the corner, getting everyone’s attention.

“Oh my gosh!”

“She’s got a gun!”

“She shot her!” Eli and Bob quickly drew their guns and rushed to the scene.

“I didn’t know you carried a gun,” said Eli.

“I think now’s the best time to use it,” commented Bob, then he and Eli saw a large crowd gathered near the base’s main airlock.

“Move it, out of the way, base security,” said Eli as he and Bob got through the crowd. The two men then saw a woman holding a handgun, towering over a woman’s bloody corpse. From the looks of the wounds and the bloody clothes, it was obvious that the woman with the gun shot the other woman who lay dead on the floor. “Drop the gun!”

“Kill,” the woman with the gun said weakly. “Kill… kill…”

“Yes, you killed her,” said Eli. “Nobody else needs to get hurt if they can avoid it.”

“HELP!” a lady’s voice screamed, and Bob saw Irpond standing at the other side of the crowd.

“Kill… kill…” She quickly turned around and aimed her gun at Irpond. At that split-second, Bob squeezed the trigger on his gun. The next thing he knew, the woman with the gun fell dead on the floor with a hole in her chest.

“Great shot, sir,” thanked Eli, and Bob immediately realized what he had done. He had shot and killed someone; though all the witnesses would argue that it was in self-defense, he still felt guilty about it.

“Thanks, Bob,” said Irpond as she rushed over to him.

“She’s dead,” announced Eli as he checked her pulse. He then checked her pants pocket and found an ID. “The shooter’s a tourist named Tami Kerman.” He put the ID back in her pocket and found her victim’s card. “Dora Kerman… another tourist.”

“What happened?” asked Bob.

“It was horrible,” said Irpond. “I just saw Tami walk over to Dora and then… she shot her… twice.”

“Hang on,” interrupted Eli, sniffing the air, “what’s that smell?” Bob approached him – careful not to get blood on his boots – and took a whiff.

“Mystery Goo,” Bob told him.

“That’s quite a nose you got,” complimented Irpond.

“All scientists are required to know the smell of Mystery Goo in case of leaks,” added Bob, still shocked at what he did. The next thing he knew, Irpond had kissed him on the cheek.

“That was for saving my life,” she explained.

“Thanks, but…” stammered Bob, “it’s just… not the same.” He and Irpond were redirected away from the scene by more guards.

“Why, you still torn up about Sheri?” asked Irpond.

“Not just that… I just shot and killed a woman,” answered Bob.

“You mean you shot and killed a PSYCHOPATH,” corrected Irpond. “If you hadn’t done it, some other innocent person would have died.”

“Yeah, but…” said Bob.

“It was only natural,” said Irpond. “Tami shot Dora, she aimed a gun at me… you wanted to save another innocent life.”

“What kind of motive would Tami have to shoot Dora… or you?” wondered Bob.

“Well… I have one idea,” started Irpond. “You know how one of them wreaked of Mystery Goo, right?” Bob nodded as a tear started to form. “Yesterday… I saw Tami walking with an oddly-shaped bag. It kinda looked like a canister.” She then took out her kPad and showed Bob a news article from Kerbin.

MYSTERY GOO DRUG DEALERS APPREHENDED

“I know that… if altered in specific ways, the goo can be used as a narcotic,” said Bob.

“I’m no scientist, but I can tell you that Tami showed signs of a drug dependence,” continued Irpond.

“You work with software,” recalled Bob.

“Yes, and I also sort out the passenger and crew rosters for this base,” added Irpond. “Tami and Dora were assigned to the same bunk; I’m guessing Dora found out about Tami’s theft and drug use and decided to confront her.” She then grabbed Bob’s hand, who did not seem to notice. “Unfortunately… Tami shot her. Tragic, but if you hadn’t pulled the trigger and shot Tami… who knows how many others could have died.”

“Now I definitely need to see a psychiatrist,” sighed Bob.

“Because you’re shaken by the act of killing someone?” guessed Irpond. “No… you should talk to someone with… experience.”

“Who did you have in mind?” inquired Bob.

“Try Victor Kerman,” suggested Irpond.

“Some guy who’s on the Victor Kerman?”

“Not the space station, silly. I’m talking about your friend Val’s BROTHER.”

“Well… I can see why you would think he’s credible,” said Bob, “but… of course he killed people. The Clivar army was trying to kill his men… and they had hunted down and sacrificed some of our astronauts.”

“Trust me, he knows ALL ABOUT what it’s like to live with that guilt… if there was any,” assured Irpond. “He might not want to talk about it, but he knows.”

“Wait a second, how do you know so much about that?” asked Bob.

“Ever wonder why the historic battle site is a RESTRICTED AREA?” responded Irpond. “They won’t even let you enter for archaeological studies, which can only mean one thing: they’re HIDING SOMETHING. Only a few people know what actually happened that day with the Clivar, yet there’s such secrecy surrounding it. Care to guess why?”

“Back up,” said Bob. “Are you accusing Val’s brother of murder?”

“That seems to be the only logical explanation,” answered Irpond. “Think about it: no signs of Clivar migration SINCE that battle, and the battle site is HEAVILY GUARDED.” She paused as Bob gasped in horror. “The women and children had NOTHING to do with the kerbalnauts’ deaths… yet no sign of them anywhere; worse, the guards won’t even let you check the old settlement to research what happened.”

“No… it can’t be true,” said Bob. “He did what he had to…”

“Did he HAVE to kill the WOMEN AND CHILDREN as well as the Clivar soldiers?” asked Irpond. Bob sat down on the floor, then Irpond got down closer to him. “It’s only natural; they killed unarmed explorers, he wanted revenge.”

“Oh… no,” replied Bob. “Does Val know?”

“Eh… I don’t know,” said Irpond. “On one hand, she is honest, straightforward, and always dedicated to her job and her integrity. On the OTHER hand, siblings OFTEN keep secrets for each other.”

“It… can’t be,” said Bob. “She’s the one who said I should carry a gun.”

“No surprise there; a lot of freaky things have been going on lately,” sighed Irpond. “But… do you really trust her?”

“She would NEVER lie or betray the integrity of herself or her crew,” snapped Bob. “I’d trust her with my life.”

“Since Jeb’s more likely to kill you,” finished Irpond. “She’s an admiral, and they have A LOT of security clearance… not to mention she’s the warmonger’s little sister.”

“Warmonger?” asked Bob.

“You and Sheri must have wanted to find out the truth for yourselves… and that’s why she’s dead,” said Irpond. “You know it to be true, Bob… Val killed Sheri to hide her big brother’s dirty little secret.”

“How DARE YOU?!” shouted Bob, standing up quickly.

“You think you know people… until you don’t,” added Irpond. “Just like Dora with her friend… and Mom with Dad.”

“Don’t be absurd.”

“Am I, Bob. Am I?”

“Val would never kill anyone.”

“Not even to protect her brother?” Bob said nothing for half a minute. “You’re a scientist, you want answers that are hidden from you. Surely, you can see what’s going on here.”

“I don’t… understand.”

“I understand this is a lot to process at the moment, but I’m confident you can put the pieces together,” said Irpond. “You want more answers, feel free to visit my quarters.”

“That sounds nice… except I don’t know where it is,” reminded Bob.

“I’ll show you now,” said Irpond, but then they were halted by a couple of guards.

“Bob Kerman?”

“Yes, sir,” acknowledged Bob.

“We’re gonna need your weapon and your statement,” said the guard.

“I’ll gladly give my statement,” said Bob, “but not my weapon. I’d rather keep it for now.”

“We’ll give it back when we’re done with ballistics tests,” explained the guard. “Hopefully, we’ll be done with it in less than two hours with no additional problems.” Bob then surrendered his gun and recalled the events leading up to the shooting and what happened during. “Thank you. Don’t leave Laythe.”

“No problem,” said Bob, and he continued walking with Irpond through the base.

“I can’t believe Val’s alive,” commented Irpond. “But… I got the strange feeling that it was ALL HER IDEA.”

“That I KNOW she didn’t do,” said Bob. “She was on Tylo, and I saw the bruise on the redirect craft pilot.”

“Victor’s massacre involved many more soldiers, not to mention a good piece of the public advocated the Clivar’s extinction,” reminded Irpond. “It is only logical to assume Admiral Val had AN ACCOMPLICE hit him over the head and steal the probe while Val sabotaged the Zeus’ detection systems FROM THE INSIDE.”

“Why would she destroy the Zeus?” asked Bob. “If that WAS her, then she ruined her best chance at getting out of Jool’s sphere of influence.”

“Actually, I hear a low-occupancy refueling port – and a fleet of new ore transports – is inbound for Jool’s sphere of influence to assist with interplanetary craft refueling,” Irpond told him. “Expect a quick getaway out of her when it comes… and don’t forget the immense delta-v capacity of the Mark V travel pod.”

“But… why?”

“I have a few theories,” started Irpond. “She knew it would be loaded, so she must have targeted someone in it. So, she and/or her partner DISABLED the communication and asteroid detection system – or at least sabotaged the station to prevent adequate lifesaving measures from taking effect.”

“Why would she want to kill anybody on there?” gasped Bob, showing Irpond a picture from his photo gallery. “She and a crew took a happy group picture three days before the Zeus got hit.”

“To make appearances,” said Irpond, then she stopped in front of Bunk 23 before entering her keycode. “Feel free to come by anytime and knock; I have a vibration-triggered camera on the door, so I’ll know if it’s you.”

“Eh, I’m pretty sure ALL bunk doors have some sort of eyehole.”

“Not this one. THIS one sends the video feed to my kPad, so I’ll know at ANYTIME who’s at my door when he knocks,” explained Irpond. “Well, I got rosters to file through.”

“Eh, don’t you have to do that at the control room?” wondered Bob.

“That’s an advantage of having a kPad AND my level clearance; I can do my roster sorting detail anywhere… provided I get this done by tomorrow,” said Irpond. “Well… have a nice day.”

“You too,” said Bob and he left Irpond. Inside, he was shaken by her words and the logic behind them. He knew Val since astronaut training, and she was always honest, straightforward and adherent to the rules; unlike Jeb, who had the highest accident liability record of anyone in the space program. Val was also not afraid to stand up to anyone who was corrupt; for example, when she was a corporal, she reported a commander who she learned was blackmailing Gus – the director of operations – into ordering more Kerbodyne parts so his accomplice could help him skim company funds.

However, everything he learned plus Irpond’s theory about Val’s guilt seemed to add up. After all, what was so special about the battle site that warranted anyone approaching it getting shot down? Sure, there was the possibility of Native Laythan scavengers trying to steal treasure – or, worst-case scenario, return for a rematch or using the battle site as some kind of religious grounds – but even though Bob explained who he and Sheri were, why did the guards still threaten to blow them out of the sky; they could have been supervised if they went inside. After he landed from his flight, he and Sheri researched the battle site and found no reason why it had a “Heavily Restricted Access” status; it was regulation that any places with such status would have specific reasons noted, like heavy a toxin concentration or “One-Way Trip.”

He and Sheri notified Mission Control about this lapse, but still no response about it. This struck Bob as odd, since Mission Control was always prompt in its replies; if they weren’t, they would always have a valid reason why. As Val was an admiral, and the younger sister of the alleged perpetrator, there was a good chance she was entrusted with silencing Sheri and/or Bob before they could expose the truth.

“No… she wouldn’t,” he thought as he entered the rec room. Not only was Val in low Jool orbit at the time of Sheri’s murder, he didn’t think she had the guts to commit such a heinous act. Then again, it was her own brother’s reputation and life at stake. She could have had an accomplice or subordinate do it or falsified the Zeus’ roster and committed the deed herself.

“Nice shot,” a man’s voice told him. Bob turned around and almost gasped in shock at who it was.

“Victor.”

 

Meanwhile, on Eeloo, Jeb had resumed behind-the-wheel training with his cadets. After the autopsy was finished on Agaden’s corpse, a memorial service was held in her honor. Her parents had demanded that her body be flown back to Kerbin for burial. The sick bay personnel had hoped that they would just place her in an EVA suit and bury her two meters below Eeloo’s surface before placing a flag as a grave marker – it had been done for the first person to die on the Mun – but Commander Gustov convinced them to reserve a cryogenic preservation chamber for her; not only to respect her family’s wishes, but to preserve the body in case there was undiscovered evidence for her murder.

Jeb was finished with his last student when Corporal Urgar approached him and saluted him. “Wassup, man?”

“Captain Jeb,” said Urgar, “Commander Gustov wants to see you immediately.”

“Did he tell you why?” asked Jeb.

“He mentioned that he had some information about your moonjet,” explained Urgar.

“I’ll head for the control room at once,” acknowledged Jeb.

“Sir, he’s… in Hadgan’s quarters,” corrected Urgar, and Jeb turned around.

“Why is he there?”

“I don’t know, but Hadgan was there too; he wouldn’t tell me why.”

“Weird, oh well.” Jeb then left his students and headed back inside Frosty Base, where Urgar escorted him to Hadgan’s quarters. “Thanks, Corporal. Take five.”

“Come in,” said Gustov’s voice after Jeb rang the bell, and the door slid open. He then saw Gustov sitting on the bed opposite of Hadgan.

“Commander, why are we here?” wondered Jeb. “Don’t we usually talk in the control room?”

“Hadgan has requested that this be confidential unless disclosure is relevant,” explained Gustov. “I suppose that corporal I sent told you it was about a moonjet.”

“Yes, he did,” answered Jeb.

“Well, what I DIDN’T tell him was that it was about Moonjet 314,” said Gustov.

“Moonjet 314… sorry, not ringing any bells,” remarked Jeb.

“It was the one that you and Agaden were in,” answered Gustov, surprising Jeb. “Speaking of which, he also has some information regarding how she died.”

“Well, what is it?” Hadgan sighed and spoke to the two men in a somber tone.

“I killed Agaden Kerman.”

“WHAT?” gasped Jeb.

“Let the man…,” started Gustov, but Jeb grabbed Hadgan by his shirt and pinned him against his closet.

“Why did you do this, WHY?”

“Release him, Captain,” ordered Gustov.

“Why, Commander? We have Agaden’s killer RIGHT HERE!” argued Jeb.

“And don’t you think he deserves to tell why?” replied Gustov.

“Ugh… fine,” sighed Jeb, releasing Hadgan. “Why’d you do it?”

“Because Mission Control TOLD me to,” said Hadgan.

“Why should I believe you?” asked Jeb.

“This.” He then unlocked his kPad and accessed one of his emails. When Jeb read it, he almost dropped it – but Hadgan caught it with his feet before it could shatter on the ground.

 

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: URGENT – READ AND EXECUTE IMMEDIATELY

Hadgan,

 

I have an important mission for you. Not only is it important that this gets done immediately, but you keep quiet about it.

 

Our engineers back on Kerbin have just realized that Moonjet 314 has a serious problem with the software. More specifically, we forgot to add some crucial fail-safe protocols to it; fortunately, it has not yet resulted in any catastrophic outcomes. Why Moonjet 314, you ask, it’s because we learned that the guy who programmed this was drunk at the time it was plugged in – that was the only jet he programmed before he got fired.

 

To correct this egregious oversight, you must wipe out Moonjet 314’s corrupted software and replace it with the software in this attachment. You must also be asking “Why me?” Mission Control ran the numbers and decided that you were the best person currently stationed on Eeloo to accomplish this task and keep quiet about it. The reason you must keep this quiet is because, if the people on the base realize that one of their moonjets is corrupted, they’ll think all of them are and bad start a panic.

 

Remember: replace MOONJET 314’s software with THIS – and DON’T LET ANYBODY SEE YOU (or otherwise know what you did or your assignment)

 

If successful, you would have done the men and women on Eeloo a huge favor. Good luck.

 

Gus Kerman

KSC Head of Operations

 

Moonjet314Update.voc

 

“Gus TOLD you to?” asked Jeb. “You can’t be serious?”

“Actually, that is indeed Gus’ email,” said Gustov. “Hadgan showed me another email he sent asking for verification that it was Gus; turns out, either the guy who spoofed him is good or Gus really did want you and Agaden to die.” Hadgan showed his replies to Jeb.

“Hang on… I got the feeling the attachment was not a software update, but I don’t know what it ACTUALLY was,” said Jeb.

“Duh, the virus,” sighed Hadgan. “Gus told me to hack THAT SPECIFIC MOONJET, and it later went out of control and crashed. Seriously, why don’t you remember the numbers of the spacecraft you take?”

“Because I’m never assigned one for regular use,” replied Jeb.

“Cool it, you two,” ordered Gustov. “We plan to test that code to see if it really is a virus… but it is risky. I mean, do we really want to sacrifice a moonjet and/or anyone else at this point?”

“Wait a minute,” recalled Jeb. “The plane crash didn’t kill Agaden, POISON did.”

“You don’t remember the moonjet number, but you remember Agaden was poisoned?” teased Hadgan.

“Just show him Linus’ email,” said Gustov.

“Linus?” gasped Jeb.

 

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Student in Need of Help

Hadgan,

 

A squad of cadets is inbound for Eeloo to receive behind-the-wheel training. It is of utmost importance that they are prepared for this phase.

 

It has come to the attention of Mission Control that one of the cadets, a woman named Agaden, has some confidence issues. We already tried to talk her into preparing herself, but so far, we have evidence that she is not ready. There is a medicine that will enable her to increase her self-confidence and, effectively, her ability to perform adequately in her moonjet exam. Fortunately, the side effects are almost negligible, and it has proven extremely effective.

·         Don’t bother looking up the recipe, though. It is classified to ensure nobody steals the manufacturer’s secrets.

 

Unfortunately, we checked our inventory records and have discovered that none of Eeloo’s bases or stations carry the drug in question – but the ingredients are. As such, you need to make the medicine yourself. Attached to this email is the recipe, along with detailed instructions on how to administer this to Agaden. We had offered earlier, but she refused; this is the only way to ensure she can perform what is expected of her.

 

Good luck, Hadgan. Agaden, her instructor, and her entire cadre DEPEND ON YOU.

 

Linus Kerman

KSC Head of Science

 

AgadensMedicationRecipe.txt

Instructions.txt

 

“Gus told you to mess up the jet… and Linus told you to drug her?” gasped Jeb.

“I didn’t think it would KILL her,” said Hadgan.

“And did you CHECK to see if that REALLY WAS Linus?” asked Jeb furiously.

“Oh, yeah, like YOU would have!” snapped Hadgan, his face 20 centimeters away from Jeb’s.

“Easy, Captain, or I’ll put you on resource harvesting detail,” said Gustov. “As long as you’re bunking in my base, you’ll obey MY orders.”

“Yes… sir,” sighed Jeb.

“Hadgan replied asking if Linus – or at least whoever’s posing as him – was sure this was the right medication for Agaden,” started Gustov, “and he replied with absolute certainty. When Hadgan came forward to me… what he DIDN’T know was that, while he was getting orders to UNKNOWINGLY kill Agaden, the REAL Linus had called in sick at the day those emails were sent.”

“Even if he REALLY WAS sick,” conjectured Hadgan, “it’s STILL possible that he sent those emails himself.”

“Couldn’t Hadgan have Oogled that recipe and found out it was toxic?” wondered Jeb.

“Tried that, nothing,” answered Hadgan. “Plus… he’s the head of science. He’s SUPPOSED to know if it’s toxic… which means both he AND Gus wanted you and Agaden killed.”

“Using the recipe his email provided, the medical examiner found that it was, indeed, the poison which ended Agaden’s life,” said Gustov. “To sum up… either Mission Control has become corrupt or some computer geek posing as them did a good job at tricking Hadgan. Either way… Hadgan was only following orders.”

“Keep in mind I checked for verification,” added Hadgan.

“Has anybody else been poisoned?” wondered Jeb.

“So far, no,” said Gustov. “Thankfully, no other deaths or disappearances have occurred on Eeloo. Only one rover crashed, and that was because the driver was speeding; the software was working fine.”

“That was you, wasn’t it?” said Hadgan accusingly to Jeb.

“No, that rover crash happened at Eeloo’s north pole,” Gustov told him. “Hadgan has agreed to cooperate fully in this investigation in exchange for leniency on the grounds that he was an unwitting pawn in the real killer’s game.”

“This makes no sense,” sighed Jeb. “Why would Gus and Linus want to kill Agaden?”

“I emailed the investigation board back home… and an old friend in the police,” said Gustov. “Hopefully, they solve this crime before anybody else gets tricked.”

“Don’t you think we should have the software guys check it out?” wondered Hadgan.

“Sergeant, you have damning evidence that both Gus and Linus are involved in a conspiracy to kill Agaden and/or Jeb,” said Gustov. “This warrants investigation back on Kerbin, but you’re right. Please turn over your kPad.”

“Gladly,” said Hadgan as he surrendered his kPad to Gustov. “I shall confine myself to my quarters until the next return window, then I shall turn myself over to the police upon landing.”

“Not yet,” objected Gustov. “As the higher-ups MAY OR MAY NOT be involved, it cannot be known that you talked or else we may never get justice for Agaden; I can’t take the chance that they ACTUALLY planned Agaden’s death. As such, you are to resume your duties as planned until I give you further orders. Is that understood?”

“Yes, Commander,” saluted Hadgan as he left his quarters.

“Stay, Captain,” ordered Gustov as Hadgan closed the door behind him. “I don’t need to remind you how important it is you remain discreet about this.”

“Actually, Commander… there’s another problem,” said Jeb.

“What is it?” asked Gustov.

“There’s a bunch of weird things going on at Jool, too,” started Jeb. “Bob’s girl murdered, Val’s station getting destroyed by an asteroid. I think they have a right to know what else is going on here; I already told them about Agaden.”

“Val… she’s a captain, right?”

“Admiral, actually,” corrected Jeb.

“All the more reason to keep quiet about Hadgan’s confession,” said Gustov. “Look, I know you trust Bill and Bob, but if you or any of them talk to Val…”

“Why is Val a problem?” wondered Jeb.

“Her high rank comes with high security clearance, so she reports to the higher-ups,” answered Gustov.

“Back up, are you accusing Val of being involved in this conspiracy?”

“Not exactly; she may not even know about it, and UNKNOWINGLY leak to the conspirators that we’re on to them. If they know that, there goes our chances of catching the real killers,” explained Gustov.

“I thought you said they may be innocent,” Jeb recalled.

“Until I see solid evidence that they were FRAMED, I’m going to go with the evidence I already have and not take the chance that Mission Control IS involved,” clarified Gustov.

“I’ll at least tell Bill, since he’s coming here in a few days,” said Jeb. “Bob and Val are in Jool.”

“Hmm… wait a minute… how good is he with software?” questioned Gustov.

“Are you kidding? He wrote the base code for our first spacecraft and program-built planes,” said Jeb. “He… was also the one… who programmed MJ.”

“Then I guess he wouldn’t object to helping us solve this mystery,” suggested Gustov.

“He was all in,” added Jeb, “right after Bob invited him, Val and I to solve these weird going-ons in our solar system – starting with Bob’s girlfriend’s murder.”

“Do not talk to anyone about what was said here,” said Gustov. “Don’t even text your three friends… or your dad.”

“I agree with you on Dad, since he can’t keep a secret,” remarked Jeb, “but those three? They’ll want to know what’s going on.”

“And they will; but now, Bob and Val have their own problems in Jool. As for Bill, wait until he GETS HERE to talk to him about the moonjet hacking and Agaden’s poisoning. However, inform me when you meet him so that I will be at your quarters when you bring the news.”

“Why do you need to be there?” inquired Jeb.

“In case you slip up, and we have privacy in your quarters,” answered Gustov. “Wanna go get some water?”

“Sure.” Jeb and Gustov then left Hadgan’s quarters and headed for the rec room.

“Eeloo, Jool, and/or Kerbin,” sighed Gustov. “Just what have we come to?”

“Another challenge that we NEED to beat fast,” remarked Jeb.

“I agree that it’s challenging, but this isn’t another one of your crazy flights,” reminded Gustov, taking a sip of purified water with Eeloo Ice. “Ooh, that’s cold.”

“You exposed that water to Eeloo’s temperature, what’d you expect?” teased Jeb, and Gustov laughed.

“So many men and women in our program died in the pursuit of knowledge,” started Gustov. “They knew the risks involved, and the rewards associated. BUT, ‘Chance of death by murder’ was NEVER in the job description.”

“When was the last time we had a murder in the program?” asked Jeb. “I think it was when the Rebel exploded after liftoff, but I may be wrong.”

“Technically that shuttle explosion was due to O-ring failure in a poorly-designed rocket booster,” corrected Gustov, “and the only charges filed were for negligent mission planning.”

“Okay… the Native Laythan attacks,” guessed Jeb, but Gustov shook his head.

“28 years ago… before you and your three pals joined,” started Gustov, “an engineer named Debra Kerman died in a rover crash.”

“So, rovers were TERRIBLE back then,” said Jeb, “since they broke down ALL THE TIME. Even today, rover crashes happen everywhere. Heck, I saw a news report of one happening on Eve today.”

“First off, the driver was checking his Photogram – bad idea no matter what vehicle you’re in,” clarified Gustov. “Second of all, we now have WAY fewer rover accidents than we did back then; the percentage of fatal crashes has also dropped. And third of all, Debra’s death was NO ACCIDENT.”

“Her rover was hacked too?” gasped Jeb.

“Eh… it was sabotaged, and it directly caused her death,” answered Gustov. “The cops thought her partner, a scientist named Misty, did it.”

“Did she?”

“Nobody really knows; she got acquitted, and she cannot be tried again for that murder,” said Gustov. “Some people say she was framed, others say that she really did kill Debra.”

“Sheesh… what happened to Misty?” wondered Jeb.

“Last I heard, she has a kid who’s now in the program,” answered Gustov.

“It’s… okay if I text Bob, Bill, and Val about THIS, right?” asked Jeb.

“Sure, but I don’t see what a 28-year-old rover sabotage has to do with today’s murders,” sighed Gustov. “Go nuts or whatever, but whatever you do, DO NOT MENTION HADGAN.”

“My lips are sealed, Commander,” said Jeb as he raised his reusable plastic cup. “To our health.”

“To our health.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

CHAPTER SIX: SHAKEN TRUST

 

Back on Kerbin, there was massive outrage over the events that occurred on Jool and Eeloo. Everywhere, people demanded answers as to what was going on and who was perpetrating them and why. Friends and family members of the victims started sending letters to the Kerbal Space Center, asking that their bodies be returned for proper funerals back home. Some citizens decided to hold a demonstration at the old space center in Baikerbanur in protest of the program’s “Blatant allowance of criminals to run free.”

In the administration building, the heads of the program departments were discussing what they were to do about the killings.

“Gentlemen,” started Gene Kerman, the director of the Kerbal Space Program, “as you already are aware, we have a murderer on the loose in our solar system.”

“The public is demanding answers faster than we can find them,” added Walt, the head of public relations. “However, if we give them our evidence now, I fear it may start an interplanetary witch hunt.”

“I agree,” said Kirrim, the head of personnel. “When our astronauts get evidence that the murders were committed by ONE OR MORE of THEIR OWN, it may cause internal conflict that we cannot afford.”

“I doubt that would do any good,” warned Mortimer, the finance specialist. “With today’s fast media, everyone back home ALREADY KNOWS what’s going on.”

“Okay, let’s break it down,” started Gene, drawing a cross in the middle of a Smartboard screen. “Now, let’s start with the information the public already knows and separate that from the information it DOESN’T.”

 

EELOO MURDER/S

JOOL MURDERS

Public knows

·         Moonjet hacked

·         Victim (Agaden) poisoned

·         Jeb piloting à NOT LIABLE.

·         Sheri hit over head repeatedly à wound up on beach.

·         Asteroid hit U.S.S. Zeus à 7 dead, 3 alive

·         Tami shot Dora (murder), then Bob shot Tami (self-defense) à IN FRONT OF EVERYBODY

Public DOESN’T know

·         Poison unregistered toxic substance (further analysis warranted)

·         Victim #1 had boyfriend (Bob) à alibi cleared.

·         Mini-bus seen driving from crime scene à someone who has a license (a kerbal)

·         Tire tracks on crime scene belong to mini-bus (serial number pending)

·         3 Mystery Goo canisters missing from lab (why?)

·         Dirty laundry theft reported (why would anyone steal that?)

·         Redirection probe hijacked and destroyed à designated pilot claimed he was KO’ed (had bruise to prove it)

·         Tami’s autopsy showed signs of torture and other unknown substance (needs further analysis)

·         Bob sniffed Mystery Goo at scene of shooting.

 

“We could at least tell the public about the boyfriend’s alibi,” started Walt. “It will generate sympathy for the family and the poor astronaut.”

“Not to mention that Bob will know that there are people back home supporting him,” added Kirrim. “It will help him get through this terrible ordeal.”

“You’re talking about the same Bob Kerman that shot somebody dead,” reminded Gus, the head of operations.

“I’ve known Bob since he was an undergraduate,” objected Werner, the chief of research and development. “He could never kill anybody.”

“That was a long time ago, Werner,” reminded Gene. “On the other hand, this particular incident was clear-cut self-defense.” At that moment, Purnell Kerman – an intern in the Mission Transit department – burst into the room. “What is it, young man?”

“Sorry, sir,” panted Purnell, “but the Internal Investigation Committee is here and they brought the police.”

Gene sighed in disappointment. “Then tell them…,” but he was interrupted when Roger, the head of the Internal Investigation Committee, entered the room with several cops and committee members. “Ah, Roger. Hello, officers.”

“Hello, Gene,” replied Roger.

“Gus Kerman,” said one of the officers, “you’re under arrest.”

“Arrest?!” gasped Gus. Gene was shocked when he saw this, then he almost fainted when he saw the cops handcuff Linus.

“You two are now being charged with conspiracy to murder Agaden Kerman,” explained the cops. “You have the right to remain silent.” The officers continued to read Gus and Linus their rights as they walked away with them.

“What the heck’s going on here?” asked Gene angrily.

“Sir, don’t make it harder than it already is,” suggested Roger.

“Answers, NOW!” demanded Gene.

“Did they say they planned to murder Agaden?” questioned Walt.

“I’m afraid so,” said Roger. “We got a tip claiming their involvement in orchestrating the moonjet crash and Agaden’s poisoning.”

“You gotta be kidding me,” sighed Gene.

“I wish,” said Roger. “Once our tipster sent us screenshots of the emails he received, we checked Gus’ and Linus’ email accounts. Turns out,” he then gave Gene his kPad before showing him the incriminating evidence, “Gus and Linus really did order Agaden’s death.”

Gene took a minute to read the emails – which were edited to block out Hadgan’s name to preserve his identity (in case Mission Control was involved). “Impossible! Somebody must have spoofed that.”

“We accessed their accounts, and the emails in question are in their ‘sent’ folder,” explained Roger. “Additionally, they both had access to their emails at the time they were sent.”

“But… how? More importantly, why?”

“Read this,” suggested Roger, and he showed Gene another email. Some of the words were blotted out, as they contained Hadgan’s name; Roger didn’t want anyone to know that he talked in case Mission Control was involved.

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Securing Kerbalkind’s Safety

Linus,

 

As we are all aware, Captain Jebediah Kerman is a problem that will not go away. Not only does he have the highest accident liability record of anyone in the program, but 83% percent of his passengers (regardless of specialty) have filed official complaints against him – you’ll find a zip file with all the complaints logged. It’s time we took a stand once and for all.

 

Remember what we discussed the day before you “called in sick.” I would email (CLASSIFIED) and tell (CLASSIFIED) to “update Moonjet 314’s software.” The new software package actually contains a virus that will cause the craft to malfunction and crash itself. Not only that, in case Jeb tries to avoid this, the controls will be switched, and he won’t be able to save the jet from certain doom. Fortunately, the EVA suit dispenser will still work so he can bail out and face the charges.

 

However, if Agaden bails out too, she can testify that Jeb did NOT cause the moonjet to crash. As such, you need to get (CLASSIFIED) to poison her before her exam begins. Be sure to tell (CLASSIFIED) that it’s “a confidence medication she’s in dire need of,” or else (CLASSIFIED) will never carry it out. That way, Jeb will get blamed for causing the student’s death and nobody will defend him – not even his own father.

 

Why Agaden, you ask? As she’s the first student to go on Moonjet 314 for elite cadet training. If she dies, everyone will think that only he is at fault. If somebody else is involved in the crash, (even if s/he was poisoned instead), as they are more likely than the student before them to cause a fatal accident, there will be doubt as to who’s at fault.

 

When Jeb is punished, we shall drink to the day when we can all sleep sound knowing that he won’t crash anything into another innocent victim.

 

Gus Kerman

KSC Head of Operations

 

Jebediah Kerman.zip

 

“What exactly was their endgame?” wondered Gene.

“Getting Jeb removed from the program by killing Agaden and framing him for it,” said Roger. “The poison was for good measure in case Jeb miraculously bailed her out of a malfunctioning moonjet. In other words, Agaden needed to die so she would KEEP HER MOUTH SHUT; if she said that the crash wasn’t Jeb’s fault, everybody would know it was due to SABOTAGE and not BAD PILOTING.”

“So, Gus made the virus and Linus knew what to poison Agaden with,” Gene figured out, and Roger nodded. “The two of them then told their accomplice at Eeloo to carry it out?”

“So far, it looks like the person who did it HAD NO IDEA – at the time, at least – it would cause Agaden’s death. Plus… they are the masters in the respective departments.”

Gene sat back down in his chair as the police interviewed his staff one-by-one. “Tell the police we will cooperate fully in this investigation.”

“Yes, Gene.”

“Only one problem; what about Eeloo’s end, or the Jool murders?” wondered Gene.

“Commander Gustov has let me know he’s conducting his own investigation on Eeloo and will report all findings to me,” said Roger. “As for the Jool murders, General Jackson already has the Jool security force working double-time to figure this out.”

“I hope to heaven none of these are connected,” commented Gene.

 

“How long have you been here?” Bob asked Victor.

“I’ve been in the rec room for five minutes,” answered Victor. “I’ve been on Laythe for,” he paused to check his kPad’s calendar, “about 200 days.”

“200 days?” gasped Bob. “Val never told me you were here.”

“I’m surprised; she’s supposed to know who’s coming and going now that she’s an admiral,” said Victor. “But… since she DOESN’T, I want to make it a surprise.”

“Whatcha doing on Laythe?”

“Heading an expeditionary force,” said Victor. “Mission Control wants to know more about potentially friendly and hostile tribes on this rock. I just flew back to this base after being put on leave a day ago.”

“Good… for you,” stammered Bob. He hoped that did not mean Victor was hunting down his next victims.

“You sound troubled,” noticed Victor.

“I’ve… been through a lot recently,” confessed Bob.

“I understand,” replied Victor. “You looked shaken up after you shot that woman.”

“You saw that?” gasped Bob.

“Yes, and I would have done the same thing in your position.”

You probably won’t object to killing UNARMED women and children, too,” Bob thought to himself. “Uh… I feel… uncomfortable,” said Bob.

“This happens to everybody in the military,” commented Victor. “Hey, didn’t you get firearm defense training before flying here?”

“Yes. I fired a gun before, but… I didn’t think I’d KILL anyone,” answered Bob.

“That’s pretty much what they’re for,” sighed Victor. “What, you think you can NEGOTIATE with savage Laythans for your life?”

“They’re not savages,” said Bob.

“Yes, they are!” spat Victor, slamming his fist on the table. “Six men and women… unarmed, all with families, all mere explorers… and the Laythans butchered them like meat.”

“Not all of them!” argued Bob. “We can welcome them into our society, I KNOW IT!”

“Yeah, how?”

“We and the Ryagii have been getting along fine for years,” explained Bob.

“Please,” sighed Victor, “the only reason we didn’t shoot the Ryagii where they stood was because that particular tribe didn’t murder our explorers.”

Bob shuttered at this statement. Was this an admission of guilt for wiping out the Clivar tribe, or did it mean something else? “Well, how did YOU feel after the first time YOU killed someone?”

“Guilty at first, but I got over it when I was old enough to know it had to be done,” started Victor.

“Old enough?” wondered Bob.

“My first kill was Rover… my own dog,” explained Victor. “He was terminal and had been biting Val. I didn’t want to do it, but I had no choice… so I shot him.” As soon as he said that, there was a loud clang in the middle of the rec room.

“HOW COULD YOU?!”

“Oh… hey, sis,” said Victor as he turned around.

“You said Rover RAN AWAY!” shouted Val, getting everyone’s attention.

“What was I supposed to say?” replied Victor. “Hey, Val, you know that dog you were so into? Well, turns out, I shot him dead and buried him in our yard.”

“You lied to Mom and Dad,” said Val.

“Correction: I lied to Mom,” Victor responded. “Dad made me shoot him.”

“I believe you’re talking to an admiral, sir,” interrupted an engineer who tried to diffuse the situation.

“Unless she’s my LITTLE SISTER,” shouted Victor, “who, by the way, couldn’t get her own crew off a space station before an asteroid hit it!”

“Oh, so you’re blaming ME for it?” said Val. “News flash, big brother: the asteroid was HIJACKED and INTENTIONALLY REDIRECTED!” Bob saw a chance to leave the rec room unnoticed, but he wanted to hear more. If Val and/or Victor was guilty of anything, there was a possibility that they might let it slip in this heated argument. “Oh, and FYI, I was NOWHERE NEAR the Zeus when it got destroyed.”

“Then you’re a worse leader than I thought,” spat Victor. “You let your crew get lazy and complacent; you set a bad example for them.”

“Like THAT mattered,” said Val. “The survivors told me that the radar and communication systems were down; they COULDN’T do anything.”

“Wait a minute,” Bob said out loud to himself.

“You mean someone broke it, or they didn’t even bother to FIX it!” Victor told his sister.

“Matt told me that those systems went nuts before the asteroid hit,” explained Val. “He tried everything to fix them, but no use; it was SABOTAGE!”

“Oh, so now you have INSUBORDINATES on your hands,” said Victor.

“Vic, why are you blaming ME for something COMPLETELY OUT OF MY CONTROL?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You two, that’s enough!” interrupted Eli. “Major Victor, Admiral Valentina.”

“Thanks, Eli,” sighed Bob.

“Bob, can you come with me to sick bay please?” asked Eli. “We need your help.”

“Sure, but… why me?” wondered Bob.

“I’ll tell you on the way,” said Eli, then a scientist named Wenpont approached Victor before splashing water on his face.

“I know what you did,” she told him angrily. “I KNOW WHAT YOU DID!”

“Lady, what are you talking about?” asked Victor rudely.

“The Clivar NEVER scattered away and starved,” explained Wenpont, pointing at Victor. “YOU gave the order to kill them all… men, women, and children.”

“How DARE YOU!” replied Val.

“Hang on,” interrupted Bob, “what evidence do you have to support that?”

“Question: why is the old battle site HEAVILY GUARDED?” responded Wenpont. “I can’t even go in there to collect SOIL SAMPLES.”

“That information is classified,” said Victor.

“A-HA, you just admitted it!” shouted Wenpont. “You DID gun them all down.”

“Victor would NEVER do such a thing!” argued Val.

“Open your eyes, Admiral!”

“Guards, put her in the brig,” ordered Val. “Maybe some time there will cool you off.”

“This isn’t over!” yelled Wenpont as two guards dragged her away. “YOU’LL PAY FOR THIS!”

“Bob, let’s go,” said Eli, and the two men left.

“Again, why do you need me?” questioned Bob. “I don’t think I’m qualified for sick bay work.”

“If the higher-ups give us crap for that, I’ll vouch for you,” said Eli. “Anyway, here’s the story.

“We started the autopsies for both shooting victims. Dora’s corroborated witness statements that she was shot twice at point-blank range with Tami’s gun; she was dead before she hit the ground. Tami’s however, was the most interesting.” He took out a kPad and showed Bob the medical examiner’s notes. “You ready for this?”

“Dead girlfriend, buddy losing a student, another friend ALMOST dying thanks to a saboteur, I think I’m ready for anything,” sighed Bob.

“She was tortured recently before the shooting,” said Eli.

“Tortured… how?” asked Bob.

“We have yet to learn how and to what extent,” answered Eli. “Now, here’s the part where you come in.”

“Tell me more.”

“It’s… regulation to run tox screens on all dead bodies we do autopsies on,” started Eli. “Dora was clean, but Tami WASN’T. Since you were able to smell Mystery Goo at the scene, we believe maybe you can tell us more about this substance.”

“Can you get the molecular structure of the substance in question?” asked Bob.

“We should have it ready for you right now,” answered Eli as he led Bob into the sick bay.

“You must be the Bob Eli told me about,” said Dr. Melinda.

“That’s right, Doc,” replied Bob as he extended his hand.

“Ah ah ah, not in here you’re not,” objected Dr. Melinda, showing him her gloved hands. “Don’t wanna risk cross-contamination.”

“Oh, of course,” said Bob as he put on a fresh pair of rubber gloves. “Eli told me you found something in Tami’s body.”

“That is correct,” said Dr. Melinda. “Computer, access Tami Kerman’s tox screen.”

“At once, madam,” a male computer voice replied, then her screen showed Bob the molecular structure and elemental composition of the substance he wanted.

“You have a voice-activated computer?” inquired Eli.

“Duh, so I don’t have to risk getting germs on me OR my gloves,” explained Dr. Melinda.

“Germophobe,” teased Eli.

“Then medicine’s NOT the job for you,” replied Dr. Melinda.

“Ooh, roasted,” said Bob. “Let me think, please.” All was silent for a minute before Bob spoke again. “Yep, there’s definitely goo in there.”

“But not in its pure form,” reminded Dr. Melinda.

“I know,” said Bob before ordering the computer to find the concentration in Tami’s blood. “Huh, strange. Doc, you told Eli you found signs of torture on Tami.”

“I did,” answered Dr. Melinda, “but I don’t know how she got them. From my knowledge on Native Laythan culture, they always tortured their victims through more… obvious means.”

“Good to know,” said Bob. “Did you, by chance, find any… injection sites?”

“Well, now that you mention it, yes,” said Dr. Melinda.

“Injection sites?” gasped Eli. “Bob, what are you getting at.”

“I doubt the other particles binding with the goo molecules are for seasoning,” answered Bob. “This was injected DIRECTLY into Tami’s bloodstream.”

“You think someone PUT THAT in Tami?” gasped Eli.

“Possible, or she did it herself,” replied Dr. Melinda.

“Are you sure?” asked Bob. “Computer, you have any Mystery Goo-related drug overdose cases on file?”

“I do, sir.”

“Great, now put their molecular structures on the left side with Tami’s on the right.”

“At once, sir.” The monitor then displayed several molecular structure diagrams on one side and Tami’s tox screen report on the other.

“Your computer can tell the difference between male and female voices?” Eli asked Melinda.

“Yes, since we have both men AND women working here,” explained Dr. Melinda. “Plus, whoever programmed that was in a contest involving AI differentiating between male and female recorded voices.”

“How intriguing… weird… uh-huh…,” Bob continued to carefully analyze the similarities and differences between Tami’s drug and those of the other cases.

“Find anything?” asked Eli.

“For starters, there’s definitely Mystery Goo in Tami’s blood,” said Bob. “The reason I asked if she had injection sites was because, had it been ingested, the blood concentration would have been lower.”

“How do you know she didn’t just drink A LOT of it at once?” asked Dr. Melinda.

“Because it tastes so bad you’d spit it out,” said Bob. “Even if you CHUGGED it down, there’s a good chance it will trigger a reaction in your digestive system that will have you PUKE it out.”

“Which… is consistent with the fact that I found no signs of vomiting in her digestive tract,” said Dr. Melinda. “Speaking of which, she was also starved AND dehydrated; I could tell her chloroplasts had been inadequately charged for days.”

“This is FAR unlike any of these previous goo drug cases,” commented Bob. “Perhaps the additional molecules will tell us something. Computer, analyze compounds binding to the Mystery Goo.”

“Searching… found.”

“Whatcha get?” asked Dr. Melinda.

“Another of the key components of Tami’s substance is volitium,” started Bob.

“An explosive?” wondered Eli.

“That’s volitalium, which is often used in building demolition,” corrected Bob. “Speaking of which, why do some of the other overdose cases have compounds you find in explosives?”

The doctor shrugged her shoulders. “Illegal drug manufacturers usually AREN’T qualified chemical or medical scientists; if they were, they definitely violated the Scientist’s Vow.”

“Scientist’s Vow?” questioned Eli.

“United we are in the purs…,” started Bob.

“Less reciting, more analyzing,” interrupted Dr. Melinda. “You were saying about volitium?”

“Oh, yeah. Thanks,” said Bob. “As you should know, Doc, volitium can be found in drugs intended to deal with psychological and mental issues.”

“The drugs in question are intended to get the user to be more compliant and less rebellious,” added Dr. Melinda. “People who work with vicious animals often use them to decrease the risk of an attack when they want to get closer to them.”

“Is there a legal use on kerbals?” questioned Eli.

“Are you kidding, it’s used on smokers and drinkers ALL THE TIME to get them to quit,” answered Melinda. “It’s also used on violent prisoners and children who frequently misbehave despite adequate measures. Fun fact: I’m actually part of a Kerbnet group intended to outlaw the use of volitium on children.”

“Do you have such medications in stock?” inquired Eli.

“Yes, as a matter of fact,” said Dr. Melinda. “Computer, name and count all medications with volitium in the supply closet.”

“Searching… sorry. No medications containing volitium found in inventory.”

“What?” gasped Dr. Melinda. “Impossible.”

“How so?” wondered Bob.

“Computer, access inventory and tell me if anybody’s signed off on such drugs?”

“Searching… no logged acquisitions.”

“You were ROBBED!” concluded Bob.

“Doesn’t your computer have auto-report in case this happens?” asked Eli.

“It did, but we switched it off when too many people forgot to sign for the medications first,” said Dr. Melinda.

“First my dirty clothes, then the goo, now this,” commented Bob.

“Wait, goo was stolen too?” asked Dr. Melinda.

“Recently, base security got a report that three canisters of mystery goo are unaccounted for,” explained Eli. “As for the laundry… Bob reported a set of his exercise clothes going AWOL. He claims to have searched the laundry room, but no sign of the clothes in question.”

“Weird,” said Dr. Melinda. “Can’t you just get another set of clothes?”

“I could… but it still bothers me,” answered Bob. “Just WHY would anyone want to steal MY dirty clothes. One day they were in my basket, the next they were gone.”

“You know, more money goes into colonizing Laythe than any other place in our solar system,” commented Dr. Melinda.

“What about Moho or Eve?” wondered Eli. “I hear Moho is the hardest to get to, and Eve is next to IMPOSSIBLE to get OUT of.”

“Moho’s second because of the IMMENSE delta-V needed to get to AND from there – and the transfer window from Kerbin happens frequently,” said Bob. “Eve’s third because of ascent rockets.”

“Okay, that makes sense,” said Eli. “Now that Melinda mentioned it, with all the money coming here, you’d think we’d have solved those crimes already.”

“Wait, did you examine a pilot named Sheri Kerman?” asked Bob.

“Yes, I did,” said Dr. Melinda.

“Tell me you found something,” sighed Bob.

“No way. I’m not allowed to talk to unauthorized personnel,” replied Melinda.

“It’s okay, Doc,” said Eli. “Bob was her boyfriend, and he has an alibi.”

“From what I recall, Sheri was clean,” started Melinda. “No defensive wounds on her, which means she KNEW her killer. However, the degree and quantity of blows to the head suggested that this was personal.”

“Personal?” wondered Bob.

“It means that whoever bashed her head in was FILLED WITH RAGE when he killed her,” explained Eli.

“You’re correct, except for one thing,” said Dr. Melinda. “I also found a hand print in the back of her head, corroborating the cause of death as drowning.”

“Uh, I’m pretty sure THAT many blows to the head would be enough,” suggested Bob.

“Yes, but someone pushed her head in the water to finish the job,” clarified Melinda. “Judging by the size of the hand print, it’s safe to say your killer’s a woman.”

“A WOMAN?” gasped Bob.

“Yes; it’s smaller than A MAN’S average right hand size,” explained Dr. Melinda.

“Thanks, Melinda,” said Eli. “Well, that narrows things down a bit.”

“What about the smaller-than-average MEN?” asked Bob.

“I’ll make a note on it,” replied Eli, taking notes on his kPad. “Right now, we’re looking into anyone who took a mini-bus around the time of Sheri’s death.”

“Mini-bus? You mean the killer was… A KERBAL?” said Bob, realizing Val was telling the truth about the mini-bus.

“I’m afraid so, since we don’t issue licenses to Laythans yet; they don’t know how to drive,” said Eli. “Additionally, from what I hear, they take their prey back to their tribes to either eat, show as trophies, or offer as sacrifices.” Bob hastily left the sick bay.

“So, let’s take this from the top,” he told himself. “One of OUR women took a mini-bus, drove to where Sheri was, bashed her in the head a few times before drowning her – and LEAVING her – then drove back. Sheri didn’t drive there since her license was suspended, and she always ran in the mornings… so somebody FOLLOWED her.”

“Bob!” shouted Eli. “You okay?”

“I dunno,” answered Bob. “I just figured out that some lady PLANNED to kill Sheri then stole a car to INTERCEPT her.”

“That makes sense,” commented Eli. “On the other hand, why not just RUN HER OVER?”

“Maybe she tried, but that didn’t work,” said Bob.

“Base security will get started looking for licensed drivers who drove at the time of the murder,” started Eli.

“Why not licensed WOMEN?” wondered Bob.

“It IS possible that the killer had AN ACCOMPLICE who drove her, so we’re looking into anyone who took a mini-bus at the time,” explained Eli. “Aside from tire tracks, we have an eyewitness who saw a mini-bus heading for the base shortly after Sheri’s time of death.”

“Please tell me when you catch her,” requested Bob.

“You’ll be the first to know.”

 

Back on Eeloo, Jeb had just returned to Frosty Base on a moonjet from an expedition to Mu Glacier. He was assigned to take a geologist and a chemist there so they can learn if they can harvest water from the frozen surface. Fortunately, the SSTO worked perfectly and all three men came back alive; the geologist threw up in his helmet when Jeb did a barrel roll in orbit (and while he was strapped to his seat). Commander Gustov had told him to “keep the tomfoolery down to zero,” but Jeb wasn’t listening – as usual.

Now he was waiting for at the base entrance for a mini-bus to arrive. 75 hours before Bill’s craft – a Mark V Interplanetary Travel Pod (which had a larger delta-V capacity than its predecessor) – got captured in Eeloo’s sphere of influence, Bill called Jeb and informed him of his prompt arrival. Bill was allowed to call Jeb since the pod had a total communication range of over 200G, which meant that his pod can adequately handle phone calls to and from Eeloo if within 100 hours of arrival in Eeloo’s sphere of influence; the powerful relays surrounding the planet also helped. Bill’s pod then established a parking orbit 500 kilometers above the surface before making a rendezvous with Hades Station. Bill then grabbed his ski prototypes and took them with him on a lander back down to Eeloo’s surface, where a mini-bus was waiting to take him (and two others) to Frosty Base five kilometers away.

“Wassup, Bill,” said Jeb when he saw his friend enter the base through the docking port.

“Hey, Jeb,” replied Bill as he high-fived Jeb with his left hand – he was holding the ski bag with his right.

“You ready to ski?” asked Jeb.

“Nah, I gotta get used to Eeloo gravity before I get started with the tests,” explained Bill.

“I’ll test it for you,” offered Jeb.

“No-can-do.”

“Why not?”

“Because you SNOWBOARD.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Jeb. “Wait, you didn’t bring snowboards?”

“Nope; Mission Control told me to confirm the SKIS work before we bring snowboards,” explained Bill, and Jeb sighed in disappointment.

“This is discrimination.”

“Actually, it makes sense,” argued Bill. “Numerous studies have shown that it is WAY easier to control skis than it is snowboards.”

“Who conducted them, my Dad?” Jeb joked. “Skiers are totally missing out on the thrill.”

“The last time you said that to me, I lost half a year of fifth grade,” reminded Bill.

“I’m pretty sure you got in that coma because your design STANK,” said Jeb.

“Because I didn’t account for you doing a TWO-MINUTE BARREL ROLL that would cause structural failure,” explained Bill. “I’m surprised only ONE other person died before your cadet was murdered.”

“NOT MY FAULT,” spat Jeb.

“Why, was he poisoned too?” teased Bill.

“Technically, he was poisoning HIMSELF; he smoked and got a heart attack,” clarified Jeb. “Anyway, Commander Gustov wants me to accompany you to my quarters.”

“Okay, but first I gotta lock up my skis.” Bill then walked to his assigned quarters and put his ski bag in his room before locking the door and headed to Jeb’s room. “Jeb’s Joint, really?” he sighed, reading a magnetic dry-erase board on Jeb’s door.

“Warmest bunk in the base,” smirked Jeb as he opened his door, then he saw Gustov waiting for him. “Hello, Commander.”

“Hello, Captain,” replied Gustov and the two men saluted each other. “You must be Jeb’s friend, Bill.”

“That is correct, sir,” said Bill as he and Gustov shook hands. “You know my mission here, right?”

“Ah, yes, the ski test,” recalled Gustov. “I’m also adding ‘Solving a murder mystery,’ to your Eeloo to-do list.”

“Then you got the moonjet codes I asked for?” asked Bill, then Gustov produced a flash drive.

“Why do you need moonjet codes?” wondered Jeb.

“I called Bill 24 hours before he got in Eeloo’s sphere of influence,” said Gustov. “He told me to copy and download the operation codes from two random moonjets of the same design as the one that crashed.”

“Let me check the codes for similarities,” requested Bill, then he plugged Gustov’s flash drive into his kPad. “I have a program on my kPad that analyzes multiple code files for similarities and differences; it’s also used in factories. Were the moonjets you got these from working fine?”

“Yes, they were,” answered Gustov.

“I couldn’t help but notice that there was a file labeled ‘Virus’ in your flash drive,” said Bill.

“That’s correct,” said Gustov, then Jeb told Bill about Hadgan’s confession.

“That explains it,” gasped Bill. “I saw a transmission from Kerbin saying that Gus and Linus were arrested, but until now I didn’t know why.”

“The worst part is that it was all an elaborate scheme to FRAME ME,” added Jeb, “and a TERRIBLE one at that!”

“What do you mean terrible?” said Bill. “I think it was INGENEOUS; a plane crashes, a cadet dies, the instructor is held responsible and punished. They won’t even bother to consider STUDENT error, as the instructor has override protocols in place AND… the instructor is the notorious Jeb Kerman.”

“Yeah, but the law MANDATES autopsies be done and crashed vehicles be inspected,” reminded Jeb. “That’s what saved me from prison when that chain smoker died in that rover.”

“Which gives me a gut feeling that Linus and Gus are INNOCENT,” added Gustov. “Hacked probe core plus poisoned victim equals zero valid claims that Jeb caused the crash.”

“Both codes are the same,” announced Bill when his analysis was complete. “Now to compare with the operation code I got emailed on my way here?”

“Why is that important?” wondered Jeb.

“Duh, in case I have a faulty code,” explained Bill. “If the codes are 100% similar, I can compare one of them to the virus file and see how this guy tampered with the jet.”

“Neat,” complimented Gustov. “Bet this will keep you occupied while you get used to Eeloo’s gravity.”

“And when I do, I’m not letting Jeb fly me to the mountains,” commented Bill.

“Hey, relax Bill,” said Jeb. “I haven’t put anyone in a coma since your fifth-grade mishap.”

“Wait, what happened in fifth grade?” wondered Gustov.

“Well, Bill built a small plane that BOTH of us could fly in,” started Jeb. “Once we were airborne, I tried to do some stunts; that’s when the plane broke apart.”

“Because it was NOT designed for crazy stunts,” argued Bill. “We lost altitude and crashed. The next thing I knew, a doctor told me I missed six months of school. All the kids there had my back, even the ones who stole my RTG-powered hugger bot.”

“Uh… how did you get RTGs at your age?” gasper Gustov.

“Mom worked at a nuclear plant, and they had a sale for surplus RTGs,” explained Bill. “That’s… also how she died from cancer when I was 15.”

“Bless her soul,” said Jeb. “When Bill recovered… we kinda stopped playing around.”

“No, I started flying again with VAL,” corrected Bill. “As good a pilot as you, but NOWHERE NEAR as crazy.”

“You didn’t object to me flying the lander on the first Mun mission,” replied Jeb.

“Because Val was the best choice for the return craft,” answered Bill. “If YOU were in it, you would get bored waiting for us and leave us stranded on the Mun. And furthermore, there was a remote-control fail-safe measure in place for when you decided to go crazy… AGAIN.”

“Come on, Bill. I haven’t killed anybody yet; you LIVED through that coma.”

“I had to repeat fifth grade BECAUSE OF YOU.”

“But you bounced back because you were too smart for them.”

“That was luck.”

“Enough, you two!” interrupted Gustov. “Bill, is your reference code the same as those from the two jets?”

“Almost done… and… yep,” answered Bill before accessing the virus file. “Now, let’s see what you got my little multi-million-line malware.”

“Try saying that five times fast,” dared Gustov.

“My little multi-million-line malware,” started Jeb. “My little multi-minion-line mal one, my little lulti-bunyan mal… forget it.”

“Huh… intriguing…,” started Bill. “So far the code on the top is EXACTLY ALIKE to the reference code… uh oh.”

“What do you mean uh oh?” asked Gustov.

“This.” Bill then zoomed in on a few lines of the virus code.

“Uh, what are we looking at?” asked Jeb.

“Everything on this code seems fine until here,” started Bill. “Once the navicomputer detects a periapsis altitude below zero, an ‘if-then’ protocol is activated that starts with burning retrograde until the expected minimum touchdown time is reached. Not only that, the command ports…,”

“Sorry to interrupt, but we don’t speak computer nerd,” teased Jeb.

“Ha ha, dude,” sighed Bill. “The virus tells the jet to crash, and it changes the control switches. For instance… hang on… toggling the monopropellant engines would deploy the drill; that, by the way, had its ‘do not deploy while stowed’ and ‘depressurize before opening’ orders REMOVED.”

“Wait, what is it supposed to do if I hit the emergency shutdown button?” asked Jeb. “I tried that, but still no good.”

“In the least technological of terms… the hacker accounted for that,” said Bill. “Whoever wrote this code really wanted you and Agaden to die… aside from… HELLO, what do we have here?”

“You find something else?” asked Gustov.

“Yeah; the virus also has another trigger,” said Bill. “You know how you need to verify your identity before using a moonjet?”

“How could I not? Gustov threatened to suspend my clearance if I did another barrel roll,” answered Jeb.

“Yeah, well, once the periapsis altitude reached zero, it would also check the registered instructor and student. There’s an if-then-else loop on here that will activate the virus if ‘Jebediah Kerman’ and/or ‘Agaden Kerman’ is on board. Where did you get this code, anyway?”

“I fetched it from the attachment Gus allegedly sent Hadgan,” answered Gustov. “It was too risky to extract the virus from the damaged probe core.”

“So, that code is saying ‘Moonjet, when Jebediah Kerman boards you, you must kill him?’” summed Jeb.

“Not exactly; as I said before, the first activation key is when the periapsis altitude reached zero,” repeated Bob. “When’d it happen, were you landing?”

“Well… no,” confessed Jeb. “I distracted Agaden and forced her to correct her orbit after flying her craft away from Hades Station.”

“You almost got her to crash?” gasped Gustov.

“No; I gave her PLENTY of time to fix it,” argued Jeb.

“Technically, he DID cause the crash,” remarked Bill. “He didn’t know it at the time, but putting the moonjet at a crashing trajectory activated the virus; his presence was the second key that was supposed to seal his fate.”

“And Agaden’s,” corrected Gustov.

“Actually, Jeb’s,” said Bill. “The second activation key is coded so that it will look for JEB’S ID first. If Jeb wasn’t on board, it would then look… for… Agaden.”

“Oh, no,” said Gustov.

“The hacker didn’t want ME dead,” gasped Jeb. “He wanted AGADEN.”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

CHAPTER SEVEN: THE TRUTH

 

“You got it, Jeb,” Bill confirmed. “The moonjet would still try to kill Agaden if VAL was the instructor… or if anybody else was in it, for that matter.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” said Gustov. “On one hand, it proves that there was no plot to frame Jeb. On the other hand, why would anyone want to kill Agaden?”

“I’ll do you one better: how did the hacker know to get THAT ONE JET?” asked Jeb.

“I think we’ll make more progress with the motive,” suggested Bill. “Commander, permission to enter Agaden’s bunk.”

“Don’t bother, it’s been emptied,” said Gustov. “I can take you to where we’re keeping her stuff.”

“Thank you,” said Bill, and Gustov led him and Jeb out of Jeb’s room. “Requesting permission to see the pilot’s emails from Mission Control when we’re done looking through Agaden’s stuff.”

“Granted.” He took Bill and Jeb to his quarters and produced a plastic bin from his closet. “Help yourself… anything to bring justice for her.”

“We’ll start with her kPad,” suggested Bill.

“Eh, don’t you need a password for that?” asked Jeb.

“Some people forget to lock their kPads,” said Bill as he turned it on, “but Agaden ISN’T one of them.”

“Try opening her shield and looking there,” said Jeb, and Bill found a sticky hidden inside Agaden’s kPad shield. He then found a six-digit number in there and punched it in the kPad lock screen; it worked.

“How’d you guess?”

“That’s how I hide my passwords,” said Jeb.

“Okay, let’s see what we have here,” said Bill. “Wanna check through her photo gallery for anything?”

“Sure,” said Jeb.

“I gotta go back now,” said Gustov. “Call me if you find anything.”

“Can-do, Commander,” saluted Jeb as Gustov left. He and Bill then looked at a selfie of Agaden with another female cadet inside Frozen Base.

“Who’s she?” asked Bill.

“Hanina Kerman; she said she was Agaden’s ‘BFF’ from the academy,” answered Jeb, scrolling through the photos. “Man, Agaden was quite the selfie shutterbug. At least ten of these photos alone are of her in Hades Station.”

“She came here from Kerbin, right?” asked Bill.

“Yes, why ask?”

“Because I’m seeing A LOT of photos from the Mark Vb,” explained Bill. “With as long a transit time as it takes to get from Kerbin to Eeloo, you think you’d get bored of that pod.”

“Why are you so fascinated in those pods?” wondered Jeb. “They’re just a capsule with a heat shield slapped onto four weak engines.”

“Weak, you say?” replied Bill. “Weak? At the time we designed it, we only wanted to save a man we stranded in Kerbol orbit. It also broke the ground for sending kerbalkind to other planets AND back.”

“Those nuclear engines are lame as heck, dude,” argued Jeb. “Even the Poodle engine can do better than FOUR of them.”

“That engine won’t do much good if the delta-V gauge reaches zero,” said Bill. “Those 60-kilonewton liquid fuel engines are the most efficient engines for transporting multiple kerbals AT ONCE. You want weak impulse, try the xenon engines. Good for small probes and relays, but BAD for manned spaceflight; and at least liquid fuel engines are REFUELABLE.”

“Let’s see,” sighed Jeb. “Pod pics, pod pics, a video of the zero-g mannequin challenge, applying makeup in the pod, Interplanetary Matchmaker results, more pod pics…”

“Wait, back up,” interrupted Bill. “Interplanetary Matchmaker?”

“Why is that important?” wondered Jeb.

“Seems odd that she’ll have a screenshot of THAT in a gallery full of average everyday pics,” explained Bill. “Plus… I’m kinda… curious.”

“Ooh, you’re interested in her,” teased Jeb.

“No,” said Bill, “but… I’d like to know if I made the list of ‘Most Eligible Males’ for her,” said Bill.

“So, you are interested in her.”

“First of all, she’s dead, so what’s the point? Second, you don’t get notified if you made the top three matches on anyone’s list.”

“Yeah… Hanina was hotter, by the way,” remarked Jeb.

“Dude, what’s wrong with you?” sighed Bill.

“What, she’s 25?”

“And you’re, what, 37?”

“36,” corrected Jeb as he stopped at the matchmaker results. “Let’s see what Agaden… that’s weird.”

“What’s weird?”

“This.”

NAME

SPECIALTY

LEVEL

LOCATION

Bob

Scientist

5

Laythe (Jool)

Ferton

Engineer

1

Mun (Kerbin)

Samley

Engineer

3

IN TRANSIT (Moho à Kerbin)

 

“Bob? OUR Bob?” gasped Bill.

“You know many other Bobs who are level five scientists,” replied Jeb, “AND who are stationed at Laythe?”

“It couldn’t have been Bob OR either of these guys,” said Bill. “They were too far away.”

“Maybe one of the men in the pod got jealous and decided to off her,” suggested Jeb.

“Then why didn’t he just stuff her in an airlock and ejected her without an EVA suit on?” countered Bill. “I can name at least FIVE people who died because they didn’t have an EVA suit on while exposed to space; two were suicides, one was from a faulty airlock, and the last two were just plain dumb.”

“Okay, I get it,” sighed Jeb. “You think this may have something to do with Agaden’s murder?”

“Maybe,” said Bill. “Since Bob and Val texted me about the Zeus getting destroyed, I downloaded some classic Sherlock Kerman novels to pass the time; some of the others also brought Law of Order: Badass Kerbals Unit with them to watch. If there’s one thing I learned, it’s that unmonitored feelings of love can be a STRONG motive for murder.”

“Again, why Agaden?” said Jeb.

“More importantly, how did the killer know… she would use Moonjet 314?” added Bill. “It’s not like she posted the jet number on Snapspeak.”

“That sounds like something… Mission Control… would… know,” stammered Jeb, then he hastily dialed his kPad. “Commander Gustov, yes, this is…”

“Sorry, intended recipient is outside your sphere of influence,” replied the kPad.

“Impossible!” said Bill. “Gustov couldn’t have left Eeloo’s sphere of influence THAT quickly.”

“Actually… I dialed a wrong number. My mistake,” explained Jeb before hanging up. “Gosh, I almost dialed my Dad.” He carefully scrolled through his contact list before he dialed Commander Gustov.

“When was the…,” started Bill, but Jeb wasn’t listening.

“We need the emails Hadgan got, ASAP.”

“You got it,” said Gustov. “Anything else?”

“Now that you mention it, I could also use the cadet personnel files you put into SOSA,” requested Bill. “Oh, and don’t forget the original virus file.”

“Heading over right now,” replied Gustov before hanging up.

“SOSA?” wondered Jeb.

“The Student Order Selection Algorithm,” answered Bill. “It takes the cadet files and determines the safest order to train cadets, starting with the least likely to cause a fatal accident.”

“You’re the one who started the #ladiesfirst wave on Chirper, aren’t you?” sighed Jeb.

“Indirectly, but yeah,” said Bill. “How would you pick your student order?”

“Ask for volunteers first; if nobody steps up, I go randomly,” answered Jeb. “Anyway, why do you need the cadet files now?”

“If Agaden was the least likely to cause a fatal accident, she would appear top of the list,” explained Bill. “If she WASN’T, then that means the list was ALTERED before lessons began. Otherwise, if somebody else started first, Agaden would die while still on the ground and nobody would blame it on a moonjet crash – particularly since the moonjet would not have crashed without Agaden on it; you were just the fall guy.”

“Maybe Commander Gustov decided to mix it up a little bit, then the killer got lucky with Agaden going first,” suggested Jeb.

“I’ll ask him if he deviated from the recommended list,” said Bill as Gustov entered the room. “Ah, Commander. Thanks.”

“Here’s Hadgan’s kPad,” said Gustov as he unlocked it, “and here are the emails he got. Why do you need the cadet files?”

“Maybe that’s how the killer knew when to poison Agaden; if she was first, then she would die from poison at the time of the plane crash. Did you make any alterations before they arrived?”

“No, Bill,” said Gustov. “I stuck to the list.”

“We’ll see about that,” remarked Bill.

“Are you calling me a liar?” questioned Gustov as he gave Bill the cadet files.

“Not even close, Commander. If Agaden didn’t make number one, odds are someone TAMPERED with the list before you got it.”

“Still doesn’t explain how the killer knew to mess up Moonjet 314,” added Jeb. “More importantly, how did the killer TEST the virus UNNOTICED?”

“Yeah, how did he test his virus?” wondered Bill. “It’s not like Mission Control let him test malware in the spaceplane hangar. And even if they did – which meant one or more of the higher-ups ARE corrupt – you can’t fly a moonjet on Kerbin; they’re brought to their designated moons space shuttle-style. The delivery craft design depends on the intended destination, but the moonjet itself should stay the same.”

“So, if the killer wanted Agaden dead…,” started Jeb.

“Moonjet 314 is NOT THE ONLY VICTIM,” concluded Bill.

 

“Poseidon Tower, this is Admiral Valentina. I’m on landing approach, over.”

“Roger that, Admiral,” a man replied on the radio. “You’re clear to land, over.”

“Copy that.” As Val lowered the landing gear, she saw the runway lights activate while the sun started to set above Laythe’s shores. “MJ, land this plane,” she ordered before entering the designated runway coordinates.

“Okay,” replied MJ as it cut the engine. “Would you like to deploy the parachutes upon touchdown?”

“Yes, please.”

“Okay; you are very polite.”

“I didn’t know Bill programmed you to have manners,” commented Val.

“He didn’t; it was part of a software update,” MJ explained, and Val reached for her kPad. “DO NOT use a kPad while landing. I am NOT a substitute for common sense.”

“That, I know Bill put in you,” commented Val, accessing a picture of her, Jeb, Bill, and Bob at the beach near the Kerbal Space Center. It was taken two days after the four of them made it back home from the Mun; they all seemed cheerful at their victory.

Now they barely talked to each other. Granted, Jeb and Bill were millions of kilometers away, but Bob and Val were in the same base. Not only that, Val had a gut feeling that Bob was trying to avoid her. She tried to visit him in the lab once, but his partner said that visitors were prohibited; even when she told him who she was, he wouldn’t let her in. She then forced her way in by reminding him of her superior rank, but Bob didn’t want to talk. He also didn’t respond to her calls, giving excuses like his battery died or his Kerbnet connection was down at the time when Val confronted him about it.

“What happened to us?” she asked.

“ETA until touchdown is one minute, over,” said the man at the control tower.

“Holding steady,” replied Val, and soon the jet’s landing gear touched the strip; it then deployed the brakes and parachutes, and Val was at a complete stop before she was halfway across. “I made it.”

“Proceed to taxi.”

“Roger that.” She carefully got the plane off the landing strip and parked right beside another supersonic air-intake jet. “Okay, I’m parked.”

“Sending a surface transport to pick you up.” She disembarked the jet and walked toward an incoming mini-bus.

“Did you have a nice flight, Admiral?” asked the driver as he saluted Val – who recognized him.

“Guscan… Bob’s roommate?”

“That is correct, mam,” said Guscan. “I’ve been assigned to drive you back to base.”

“I kinda guessed,” sighed Val.

“You know, you didn’t have to do a patrol flight all the way around Laythe,” commented Guscan. “Anybody else coming?” Nobody answered, and Guscan and Val got in the mini-bus as a refueling truck headed for Val’s jet. “I remember seeing that kind of jet back home. How’d you get it here?”

“Simple: we slapped it on top of a rocket and transported it space shuttle-style,” explained Val. “However, we had to put them in parking orbit around Laythe and put pilots inside before making re-entry.”

“That explains the airlocks.”

“Say, how has Bob been acting lately?” asked Val.

“Strange,” answered Guscan. “He wouldn’t leave his room, even for exercise, without a loaded gun and a spare clip.”

“That IS strange,” commented Val. “It’s been a month since the base shooting.”

“Did he tell you that he was the one who shot that girl with a gun?” inquired Guscan.

“No, but… we haven’t really talked much in a month,” stammered Val.

“That’s weird; he used to talk about you, Bill, and Jeb ALL THE TIME,” remarked Guscan.

“Anything else?” asked Val. “Even if it doesn’t seem relevant, tell me.”

“Yes; I couldn’t help but notice him getting more paranoid since the shooting,” answered Guscan. “The weird thing is that he seems more distrustful of the WOMEN than the men.”

“What?” gasped Val. “Did he tell you why?”

“With all due respect, Admiral, I am not comfortable disclosing that. He made me swear not to tell anyone his reason BEFORE he disclosed that to me; ‘Don’t tell anyone, especially Val,’ he said,” replied Guscan.

“Okay,” said Val, confused. “I’ll let you honor that… unless, of course, it contains his involvement in any felonies.”

“Of course not; I even warned him about that regulation before I swore my vow.”

“Then I’ll let you keep your mouth shut,” sighed Val. “Why would Bob not want to tell ME? We’ve been friends since training.”

“Without giving specific details,” started Guscan, “I can tell you this: I thought it was a GOOD reason.”

“Good reason?” said Val. “What reason can Bob POSSIBLY have to not trust the women?”

“Wish I’d tell you, but I’m not gonna break my promise,” said Guscan. “Maybe you can ask him, and he’ll change his mind.”

“Then…,” started Val, but her kPad started to ring. “Oh, look, it’s Bob.”

“I’ll give you some privacy,” started Guscan as he closed the cockpit doors.

“Hello, Bob,” sighed Val.

“Listen carefully, Val,” a distorted voice said. “Bob Kerman is off-limits.”

“Bob, is this a joke?” asked Val.

“You will end all communications with Bob, whether they be personal, on the phone, or written or typed messages,” continued the voice.

“Bob, I know it’s you; I can see the caller ID.”

“If you do not, you and your family will suffer dire consequences,” threatened the voice. “You know what happened to Elegail Kerman? That was me.”

“Victor’s wife,” realized Val. Earlier, she had received news that Elegail was found dead after supposedly drowning herself in Laythe’s waters. “Did YOU kill her?”

“Let’s just say… she could not handle the truth,” replied the caller.

“Whoa, back up. WHAT truth?” No answer. “WHAT TRUTH?!”

“You mean to tell me you don’t know the secret hidden from the Laythe settlers? Let me give you a hint: once Victor’s wife knew, she couldn’t live with the shame.”

“Hey, wait a second, how do I know you’re not lying?” replied Val.

“You will receive proof in time,” said the voice, “but for now, I got another call. Talk to you later… Admiral.”

“Everything okay?” asked Guscan as the caller hung up.

MJ, ETA until we reach the base.”

“ETA in 2 minutes.”

“Make that immediately,” ordered Val. “Guscan, HIT IT!”

“But… that’s speeding,” objected Guscan, “not to mention we could tip…”

“I’ll take the heat; just get me back AS FAST AS YOU CAN!”

“Yes, mam!” acknowledged Guscan and he deactivated the cruise control and put his foot on the rover’s accelerator.

“Now draining power at 35 charge per second,” MJ informed him as Guscan ensured the stability control was on.

“What’s the rush, Admiral?” questioned Guscan.

“Someone stole Bob’s kPad and threatened me,” explained Val. “Focus on the road.”

“Warning: you’re going at 25 meters per second above the designated surface velocity limit,” MJ informed Guscan.

“Whatcha gonna do… whoa!” The mini-bus’ wheels then hit a rock and it started to tip over to the left. Fortunately, the reaction wheel had activated in time to stabilize the vehicle before it could fall on its side. “Whew, that was a close one.”

“Warning: 20 seconds before collision with Poseidon’s Palace!”

“I gotta apply the brakes!” yelled Guscan.

“Not yet!” countered Val.

“15 seconds.”

“Now?”

“Not yet!”

“10 seconds.”

“NOW!” shouted Val, then Guscan applied the brakes and put the rover in reverse.

“Warning: rover becoming unstable.”

“Hang on, Admiral,” warned Guscan. “Come on, reaction wheels. Don’t fail me now.” After a few seconds of sliding and nail-biting terror, the rover’s site hit the base walls before making a complete stop. “We made it.”

“You got your gun with you?” asked Val.

“Yes, mam,” said Guscan, showing his gun holstered under his jacket.

“Then come with me,” she ordered, and the two of them quickly left the mini-bus. “Take me to Bob’s room!”

“Yes, mam!” acknowledged Guscan as he and Val drew their guns. They quickly ran to Bob’s quarters and Guscan knocked. “Bob, this is Guscan. You okay?” Nobody replied.

“Open it.” Guscan then punched in the code and slid the door open before quickly moving to the side. Val took point with her gun raised and searched the room. “Nobody here. Check the closets.”

“Clear,” said Guscan after he opened both closet doors and checked under the beds.

“Any ideas where else he may be?” asked Val.

“Try the lab he turned into a greenhouse,” suggested Guscan.

“Anywhere else?”

“Sheri’s room crying,” sighed Guscan, “or hanging out with that base guard.”

“Wait, what base guard?” questioned Val.

“I think Bob said his name was Eli.”

“You go to Sheri’s room; if he’s not there, find that guard,” ordered Val. “I’ll try the lab. Meet back in the rec room in 30 minutes.”

“Got it,” said Guscan as they split up. Val ran toward Poseidon’s Palace’s greenhouse-for-a-lab.

“Is that the admiral?” wondered an onlooker.

“Why does she have a gun?”

“What’s she doing?”

“What’s the problem?” Val ignored them as she saw the lab doors.

I hope you’re in there,” said Val as she forced the door open.

“Hey!” yelled Wenpont as she turned around shocked. Val then raised her gun at her when she didn’t see Bob.

“Where’s Bob?” asked Val.

“He went to the bathroom,” answered Wenpont, but Val quickly searched the inventory. “Hey, watch the plants, miss.”

“That’s ‘Admiral Miss,’ to you, mam,” corrected Val, pointing at the stripes on her flight jacket. “Did Bob take his kPad with him?”

“What do you mean?” wondered Wenpont, taking out a kPad lying next to a container labeled “Laythan Atmosphere, Kerbin Temp.”

“Give me that,” said Val and she carefully inspected it. She tried to unlock it, but it was surprisingly easy – it had no password. “This can’t be his.”

“It is, check the back,” suggested Wenpont, and Val read the label on the back

PROPERTY OF BOB KERMAN

RETURN WHEN FOUND

 

“What’s the deal…,” started Wenpont, but Val kicked her in the stomach and put her gun at her head. “Whoa, take it easy.”

“Why’d you call me?” asked Val angrily. “TALK!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” denied Wenpont, but Val slugged her before grabbing Wenpont’s lab coat with her left hand.

“Liar! BOB’S name came up as the caller ID,” said Val. “Explain THAT.”

“I can’t; I was working on the plants the whole time,” said Wenpont.

“And why should…,” started Val, but then she heard a gun click from the lab entrance.

“Drop the gun or I’ll shoot,” said a man. Val slowly put the gun down and turned around with her hands up, surprised at who was there.

“Bob. It’s me, Val.”

“Other corner of the lab,” ordered Bob as he closed the door behind him. “NOW!”

“Bob, you don’t need that,” said Val as she did what he told her. To her shock, he still had the gun pointed at her. “Just put down the gun and we can talk this over.”

“Why should I trust you?” countered Bob.

“Because we’ve been friends since Basic, and I know you would never hurt me,” answered Val.

“Oh, yeah? What about Sheri?” said Bob.

“Sheri… WAIT A SECOND!” gasped Val, who then fell silent for a few seconds.

“Yes, and you know PERFECTLY WELL why she was killed,” accused Bob.

“Sheri’s killer’s a WOMAN, isn’t it?” guessed Val. “I also know why you think it was ME.”

“Go on,” said Bob.

“You think I killed Sheri to keep her mouth shut about the Clivar Genocide,” said Val. “After all, I have a valid driver’s license AND, since Sheri’s killer is a woman, I seem to be the only woman here with a strong enough motive to do it.”

“Ha, so you DO admit there was a genocide,” said Wenpont.

“That’s why you don’t want to talk to me, and that’s why you’ve become distrustful of the women here lately,” figured out Val. “Any one of them, including me, could have killed Sheri – or, worse, target you next.”

“Well… at least Guscan kept his promise,” commented Bob.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” sighed Val. “I was in low Jool orbit the day Sheri was killed; check with the crew.”

“Bull,” spat Bob.

“What?!” gasped Val. “Why don’t you believe me?”

“Because I know you’re lying,” answered Bob. “You sabotaged the Zeus’ radar and communications before YOUR PARTNER-IN-CRIME hijacked the redirection craft and hit the station so nobody would live to refute your alibi.”

“If I had to guess now, I think VICTOR knocked out Jendun and hijacked that probe,” added Wenpont.

“It wasn’t me, and Victor never ordered an extermination,” said Val.

“And brothers are ALWAYS HONEST with their little sisters,” replied Wenpont sarcastically.

“Uh oh… my caller said he – OR SHE – had proof of ‘some truth,’” said Val.

“What caller?” asked Bob.

“Someone just used your kPad to threaten me,” explained Val. “Check your call log.”

“Can-do,” said Bob as he turned on his kPad and accessed his communication log – his gun still trained on Val. “That’s weird.”

“What’s weird?” inquired Wenpont.

“My last call was to Val less than five minutes ago,” started Bob, “but I was IN THE BATHROOM at the time. That couldn’t have been me… UNLESS.” He took the gun off Val and held it at Wenpont. “What’d you do?”

“What do you mean?” asked Wenpont.

“Only one other person had access to my kPad, and that’s YOU,” started Bob. “Why’d you call Val? What’d you threaten her with?”

“I never called Val, and why would I use YOUR kPad?” replied Wenpont.

“Doy, to throw me off,” said Val. “Where were YOU when Sheri was killed?”

“I don’t know; someone knocked me out from behind and stuffed me in the supply closet,” answered Wenpont. “And for that matter, why would I kill Sheri?”

“Oh… no…,” stammered Bob. “It makes sense now. The shooting… the probe-jacking… my kPad calling Val.”

“What?” gasped the women.

“Eli told me that the probe-jacker is also most likely A WOMAN since there were drag marks from the crime scene,” started Bob. “It COULDN’T have been Victor since he can carry OBESE MEN on his shoulders. This woman then stuffed Jendun in a closet, targeted the Zeus, then sent the probe crashing down to Jool after the hit.”

“And why would I do that?” asked Wenpont.

“To kill Val,” figured out Bob. “You also had access to the Mystery Goo canisters at the time they were stolen, and you knew what volitium can do to you.”

“Volitium, that mind-control chemical?” gasped Wenpont.

“Yes; the shooter was drugged with it – along with mystery goo,” said Bob.

“Mystery Goo?” asked Wenpont, then Eli and two base guards entered the lab.

“Sir, lower the gun. We’ll take it from here, thank you.”

“Thank goodness you’re here,” sighed Wenpont.

“Wenpont Kerman, you’re under arrest,” said Eli.

“ARREST?” gasped Wenpont as the other two guards cuffed her. “For what?”

“Murder, theft, probe-jacking, sabotage, illegal drugging, and stalking,” explained Eli. “Read the woman her rights, boys.”

“You have the right to remain silent…,” started a guard as he and his partner walked away with Wenpont.

“Admiral,” said Eli as he saluted Val. “Good to see you.”

“Same here,” replied Val as she saluted back. “Status report.”

“We know who’s behind all the strange events going on here on Laythe,” started Eli, “and we have solid evidence to prove it.”

“How solid?” wondered Val.

“We started by looking through the vehicle usage logs; Wenpont’s license was used to activate a mini-bus that departed before Sheri’s time of death and returned afterwards. Its predicted path also took it to where the Laythan said he saw a mini-bus,” started Eli.

“She could have had a partner,” suggested Val.

“So far, the evidence at the crime scene and Sheri’s autopsy points to ONE killer who was Wenpont’s size – but if she had a partner, she’s likely to give it up in exchange for a plea deal,” continued Eli. “After base security got a warrant for her quarters – which took a while since two higher-ups had been arrested – we found a treasure trove of evidence.”

“Mission Control? ARRESTED?” gasped Bob. “What for?”

“Two of them were ALLEGEDLY planning to frame your friend on Eeloo by killing a student and sabotaging the moonjet,” explained Eli. “Didn’t he tell you?”

“Actually, no he didn’t,” said Bob.

“We’re getting off-topic,” said Val.

“Oh, yeah, the evidence in Wenpont’s room,” remembered Eli, taking out his kPad and showing Bob some pictures. “Recognize them?”

“Hey, that’s my toothbrush,” said Bob.

“Your toothbrush?” asked Val.

“Yeah; that got stolen too,” explained Bob. “Tell me she at least had the decency to CLEAN THAT before using it.”

“We don’t know yet, but we’re checking for DNA,” said Eli, showing the next picture. “Oh, and we found your dirty laundry – emphasis on DIRTY.”

“Using dirty clothes as stuffed animals, REALLY?” sighed Bob. “She didn’t even WASH IT?”

“Apparently not; or it was recently used,” said Eli.

“Now WHY would SHE steal MY dirty clothes?” asked Bob. “Even if she washed it, it’s too big for her.”

“Uh… Bob…,” stammered Val. “I got a reason.”

“What, you DO?” replied Bob. “What is it.”

“Same reason she stole your toothbrush,” said Val. “She’s obsessed with you.”

“Bob, what else was stolen from your quarters?” asked Eli.

“Hmm, let me see,” said Bob as he accessed his personal notes on his kPad. “Ah, yes, here we go. My book on Kerbin botany and farming, a schematic of a cheap water reclaimer that I drew, a flash drive with my pictures of Sheri and I, and…,” Bob leaned in closer to Eli so Val wouldn’t hear him, “a diagram about the Clivar Genocide.”

“Let’s see… found that, found that – it was sneezed on a while ago – and found that.”

“Yeah, I accidentally sneezed on my reclaimer diagram,” explained Bob. “Oh, and Wally’s RTG got stolen.”

“Who’s Wally?” asked Eli.

“My robot,” said Bob. “I sent him out to take environmental readings along the beach a few days ago, but I found out the next morning he was dead. When Guscan drove me to his last known location, there he was – minus his RTG.”

“Why do you even have RTG?” wondered Val.

“Doy, so he can work at night,” sighed Bob. “When I found the RTG gone, I contacted base security. I even gave them the serial number.”

“Sorry, no RTGs,” said Eli. “Anyway, we also found the missing goo canisters and volitium drugs in her closet – and documents proving her intent to kill Sheri.”

“Documents? Like what?” wondered Bob.

“A map of Sheri’s jogging route with the words ‘Drive here at dawn,’ on it, corresponding to the time and place where Sheri was killed,” started Eli, showing Bob a hand-drawn map. “We also found a sticky with Sheri’s murder scheduled.”

“So… Wenpont killed Sheri?” gasped Bob.

“Seems like it,” said Eli, “and we think we found a murder weapon.” Bob did not respond, as he was getting visibly angrier.

“Wenpont… did this,” he breathed heavily.

“Bob, now’s not…,” started Eli, but Bob rushed past him and headed toward a struggling Wenpont.

“I swear, I DIDN’T do anything!” said Wenpont, but Bob pulled her away from the guards and slammed her against the wall.

“YOU!” he shouted, but one guard pulled him away from Wenpont while the other seized her. “Why did you kill Sheri?!”

“Wait, did he just say that woman killed Sheri?” asked a bystander.

“Isn’t Sheri the woman who died on the beach?”

“That woman killed Sheri?”

“Hey, that’s the boyfriend.”

“AGH!” Bob stepped on the guard’s foot and drew his gun at Wenpont.

“TALK!”

“I swear, I didn’t kill her!” said Wenpont nervously.

“LIAR!” shouted Bob. “You also stole chemicals and drugged Tami to do your bidding. WHY?!”

“I didn’t steal anything,” objected Wenpont.

“Bob, put down the gun and nobody gets hurt,” said Eli as he arrived at the scene with his gun raised at Bob.

“Is that really necessary?” asked Val.

“Yes, Admiral,” said Eli.

“She deserves to die!” complained Bob.

“And she will, but first she needs to stand trial for what she did,” Eli told him.

“What about Sheri, did SHE get a trial?” countered Bob.

“EVERYBODY has rights, despite what they did,” said Eli. “Now, put down the gun and perhaps we can talk this over.”

“Eli’s right,” agreed Val. “If you shoot Wenpont now, everyone’s going to think you’re a gun-happy psycho who murdered an innocent woman.”

“But she’s not.”

“Innocent until proven guilty, Bob,” said Val, and Bob dropped the gun and started to cry.

“She was my world,” he wept, Eli taking his gun and Val comforting him as he walked back to the lab. “I was gonna marry her.”

“You proposed to her?” asked Val.

“I was going to while on leave to Eve,” answered Bob. “And then… that MONSTER took her from me.” Val had to stand on her tiptoes as Bob cried on her shoulder. “We were going to be a family. If we had a daughter, I would have named her Val.”

“Aw, how sweet,” said Val, then her kPad buzzed. “It’s Jeb.”

“I got it too,” said Bob as he checked his own kPad. “It’s on the group chat.”

“You should get some rest,” suggested Val.

“Not until my experiments are done,” objected Bob.

“Fine, I’ll talk FOR you,” sighed Val.

Jeb

Guys (and Val), this is @Bill. My own kPad’s being used right now for something else.

 

 

Val

Like what?

Jeb

Like analyzing the moonjet virus.

 

Turns out, it was designed to “kill” Agaden by entering a crashing trajectory and altering the control ports

 

Val

What do you mean designed to kill Agaden? I’m pretty sure a crash like that would kill anyone who didn’t have a jetpack.

Jeb

The virus checked the student and instructor IDs; if Agaden was on there, the virus would activate and try to kill her (her name and credentials were in the virus code).

 

Even if @Val was piloting it, if Agaden was in there, it would try to kill her.

 

Val

@Bob says it seems like a pretty sophisticated plan – and I agree.

How does one test a code like that unnoticed?

Jeb

The real Jeb here. @Bill and I have a couple theories

 

1)    Mission Control has gone corrupt.

2)    The real hacker caused an accident just like this as a test run

 

Val

Wait, @Jeb, I thought you said Agaden was poisoned.

Jeb

@Bill: He did; the poison was for good measure in case Agaden bailed out. She was the intended target.

 

 

Val

I suggest looking for incident reports, but I doubt that “Moonjet tried to kill me” is a good keyword.

Jeb

Me: You’re an admiral, you have high clearance. YOU do it.

 

 

Val

That won’t be necessary. @Bill should know that engineers level two and above have access to all accident reports

Jeb

@Bill: She’s right, we do. It’s to learn from other people’s mistakes and spot potential design flaws.

-       A lot of those I read were caused by Jeb

 

Real Jeb: Because @Bill desqwgrvar.u

Where’s @Bob?

 

Val

He’s working on his experiment.

Also, guess what.

Jeb

Bob has a new girlfriend?

 

 

Val

No

They found the killer – Wenpont Kerman

@Bob also said that they didn’t find Wally’s RTG, though.

Jeb

Me: Who’s Wally?

 

Bill: What happened to the RTG?

 

Val

@Bob said it was stolen one night – then Wally died of power starvation.

Jeb

Bill: Makes sense to steal it at night. No sun means no power source for solar panels

 

 

Val

If the intent was to sabotage Wally. Also makes sense if one wants to make a quick buck.

The weird thing is that Wenpont was found with a lot of @Bob’s things and stolen chemicals – but no RTG

Jeb

Me: ANYWAY, @Bill and I found some interesting things in Gus’ and Linus’ emails.

 

 

Val

What emails?

Jeb

One of our pilots said Gus and Linus emailed him into “fixing the moonjet’s software” and “giving Agaden a confidence medication.” à both of which actually killed her (he didn’t know it at the time – was only following orders)

 

Or so he thought

 

Val

Who’s the pilot?

Jeb

Commander Gustov told me not to tell anyone else the pilot’s name – especially not anyone outside Eeloo’s SOI.

 

Bill: While it IS Gus’ and Linus’ email accounts, the IP addresses from where the emails were sent struck me as odd.

 

Val

How odd?

Jeb

Bill: The emails originated from Poseidon’s Palace – on Laythe.

 

 

Val

Did the pilot know this?

Jeb

Me: no. Heck, I can’t even tell a for-loop from a fruit loop.

 

 

Val

For-loops, if-then-else loops, I-give-up loops

Jeb

@Bill: Ha ha. You and me both @Val.

 

That was Jeb, not me.

THE REAL BILL: Weird that “Gus” and “Linus” would be emailing a pilot on Eeloo from Jool. If they did, they would not have made it to Kerbin in time. 

Commander Gustov also said:

-       Linus called in sick that day.

-       Gus claimed he was locked out of his computer and forced to take a day off.

 

Val

Apparently, they were telling the truth.

Jeb

Theory 1:

-       Killer tests moonjet virus on Jool’s moons à sees handiwork.

-       Killer sees SOSA and finds Agaden as student #1

-       Killer hacks Gus and Linus and told (PILOT’S NAME CENSORED) to poison Agaden and mess up Moonjet 314.

-       KA-BOOM

 

 

Val

Makes sense.

Bob

I’m back in front of my room. Sorry I wasn’t with you guys – I had to use my kPad to write my lab report (@Val was there to speak for me)

 

Anyway, it DOESN’T make sense.

 

Jeb

Why not?

Bob

Who on Laythe would want to kill a cadet going to Eeloo?

 

Val

@Bob has a point; Agaden was going to Eeloo straight from Kerbin

Bill

Just finished looking at he-who-cannot-be-named-by-order-of-Commander-Gustov’s emails – now working out and using voice chat at rec room elliptical

 

I agree; if this was just a plot to frame @Jeb, the virus would have been designed to activate merely when HE was on the plane.

Jeb

I thought you said it would activate when the trajectory hit the ground.

Bill

That was Key 1; Key 2 was Agaden’s presence

-       Keep in mind, it still would have turned on if you weren’t on it but Agaden WAS.

Bob

I guess our next move is for @Val to use that high-level clearance of hers to find out if all the moonjets within Jool’s SOI are working right

 

Val

Good idea, but unnecessary.

@Bill has clearance for all craft incident reports – manned or unmanned – that happen in our solar system. If our killer tested his or her virus before hacking @Jeb’s moonjet, then there’s a chance someone logged a moonjet going haywire.

Bill

On it, Admiral.

 

Oh, and @Bob, please tell me when they find Wally’s RTG (double-check the serial number to make sure it’s his).

Bob

Can-do.

Jeb

Still doesn’t hurt to check the Jool moonjets, though.

 

Val

You got it.

 

Val then headed to Bob’s quarters, but was surprised to see Bob waiting outside the door. “What’s wrong? The door won’t start?”

“Guscan’s in there with his new girlfriend,” answered Bob.

“New girlfriend?” wondered Val.

“They started dating a few weeks back,” said Bob.

“I didn’t know,” said Val, “since you didn’t trust me.”

“I had valid reason to,” countered Bob as they started to walk to Val’s assigned quarters. “You had means AND motive to kill Sheri, and I’m pretty sure your rank and brother’s connections gave you PLENTY of opportunity.”

“That’s also why you didn’t trust the OTHER women on base,” reminded Val, “you were paranoid about one of them being Sheri’s killer.”

“Good thing we found her,” said Bob. “How did you know I was paranoid about the women here?”

“Guscan told me,” answered Val, “but he didn’t tell WHY because you made him swear to keep his mouth shut.”

“You’d be paranoid too if you lost someone you loved,” countered Bob, then Val unlocked her door.

“You wanna come in for a while?”

“Yes, please,” answered Bob and shut the door behind him.

“Well, now we know we also have a hacker AND another killer in our midst,” started Val. “The worst part is we don’t even have a motive.”

“I’d say another cadet, but I doubt we get any of THOSE here,” suggested Bob. “Then again, what were a bunch of CADETS doing on Eeloo?”

“They were FIRST-CLASS ELITES, the best of the best,” explained Val. “You complete that, and you’re already a level four with a command position.”

“Maybe it was a jealous classmate,” said Bob, “but do we get cadets here?”

“No,” answered Val. “It’s FORBIDDEN for cadets to go to Jool for training runs. Heck, they’re not allowed to go here while on leave.”

“Really? I thought Jool was a good place to practice,” argued Bob.

“So is Kerbin, if you’re practicing moon hopping, fuel runs, and atmospheric re-entry and orbital launch,” reminded Val. “I checked the roster for the pod that took them; one of the students was the designated pilot.”

“Why would they let a student pilot a travel pod?”

“Because at that point, the student practiced well enough to do it,” explained Val. “It’s also a team-building exercise; either all of them make to Eeloo alive or none of them at all.”

“Man, they are the best of the best,” said Bob. “Even so, why not Dres or Duna?”

“If you can make it to Eeloo, you can pretty much fly anywhere,” commented Val. “Moho’s also a no-cadet-zone because it’s extremely risky and next-to-impossible to get to compared to the other planets.”

“So, let’s go over what we know,” started Bob, leaning towards Val’s closet door. “The virus was sent from Poseidon’s Base using Gus’ and Linus’ email accounts.”

“Which means that the killer was a hacker,” said Val, “which also means he’s in the software personnel.”

“Eh, not necessarily,” countered Bob, taking out his kPad and accessing Kerbnet. “I read about a cadet back home who got arrested for cyber extortion; he was a pilot. Plus… it could have been a tourist with a knack for computers.”

“True,” said Val. “From what Jeb and Bill said, this virus was well-concealed. The moonjet was working fine until… the craft’s orbital trajectory hit the surface.”

“But that was only the first key; Agaden being on board was the second key,” reminded Bob. “You know of any ‘Moonjet tried to kill me’ incidents?”

“No,” answered Val, “but it doesn’t hurt to check.” She gestured Bob to step aside as she opened the closet door. Much to her surprise, a large object came down on the floor and almost hit her. “WHOA!” As soon as Bob recognized it, he pulled Val through the bunk doors.

“GET BACK!”

“What the heck?”

RTG,” explained Bob.

“WHAT?!” gasped Val, rushing to the corner of the hallway. “What’s it doing in my closet?”

“I don’t know, but I hope it didn’t break,” said Bob, taking out a Geiger counter from his jacket.

“Why do you carry that?” asked Val.

“Why would I NOT? I’m a scientist,” replied Bob. “Okay, it’s safe.” He crept forward to Val’s room with the Geiger counter in front of him, praying it would stay silent. When he opened the doors and waved it around the RTG, it didn’t make a sound. Bob carefully took the item and placed it on Val’s bed as he inspected it.

“Hey, don’t spread radiation on my bed,” complained Val.

“If it WAS leaking, we’d already be affected,” said Bob. “Good, the casing’s intact.”

“How did it end up in my closet?” wondered Val. “It’s not like I collect boxes of blutonium as a hobby.”

“And even if you did, you’re required by law to keep them in specially designed containers unless they’re being used to supply power for something,” added Bob, then his eyes widened.

“What happened? Did the case break?” Bob then showed Val the serial number.

294-7840-615

“What’s so special about THAT one?” questioned Val.

“It’s Wally’s,” answered Bob. “Where did you get this?”

“I don’t know why I even have it,” said Val as Bob accessed his notes on his kPad. She looked over his shoulder and saw some math. “What is that for?”

“I know you didn’t take that off Wally,” started Bob.

“What do you mean?”

“At the estimated time the RTG was stolen, you were talking to me from Bop’s orbit; I remember seeing you float on the video camera,” explained Bob. “You COULDN’T have stolen the RTG.”

“Thanks for not accusing me of first-degree larceny,” said Val. “Even so, until now I never… wait just a minute.”

“You think the bunk’s PREVIOUS occupant stole the RTG and stashed it in the closet?” asked Bob.

“General Jackson? No,” said Val. “Why would he steal an RTG, or store it in a closet?”

“You’d be surprised at how many people don’t store them correctly,” sighed Bob. “I know they’re tough, but they’re NOT indestructible.”

“Again, WHY would he steal it and keep it in here?” reminded Val. “More importantly, why would he take that off Wally WHILE HE WAS RUNNING?”

“Good point,” agreed Bob. “It’s not like Poseidon’s Palace has a power shortage – thanks to all the panels and RTGs this place ALREADY has. Oh, well, time to put this thing back in Wally.”

“Not just yet,” objected Val. “Program regulations mandate you report found RTGs and have them inspected for damage before putting it back where it came from.”

“Fine,” said Bob, “but get me a cart for this.”

“Of course,” said Val. “I’ll also call base security and the designated RTG inspector.” She then sent the orders via her kPad, and five men in lead-lined suits entered the room in two minutes.

“Why are you not wearing protection?” asked a base guard.

“I didn’t find any cracks or signs of radiation leakage,” answered Bob.

“I’ll be the judge of that,” said another man who checked the RTG. “Good, it’s intact.”

“Get me the serial number for that unit,” ordered another guard, and Bob showed it to him. “Ah, yes. It says here that this particular unit was reported stolen a few days back.” The guards then looked at Val. “Where did you get it?”

“She doesn’t know,” Bob chimed in. “General Jackson had this bunk before she did, AND she was videochatting with me at the time it was taken.”

“We’ll check that,” said the guard, then he checked the crew assignments for the day of the theft with his kPad. “Hey, what do you know. She was at Bop.”

“So, can I put it back where it belongs please?”

“Of course, sir. Boys, load it in the cart.” Two more guards obeyed and put the RTG in the carrier cart. “Where does it go?”

“It goes on a science robot named Wally,” answered Bob. “He’s parked in the rover lot.”

“Do you even know how to install it?” asked Val, then Bob accessed a PDF on his kPad and showed the front page to her.

WALLY FOR DUMMIES

By Bill Kerman, its creator

“Bill created Wally?” she gasped, and Bob nodded. “Then why do YOU have it?”

“He gave it to me during Basic,” said Bob. “When Bill built him in high school, he tried to impress girls – but that didn’t work.” Val laughed. “What’s so funny?”

“He built a rover to impress girls?” said Val. “I didn’t think he was THAT nerdy. Did you?”

“I never knew Bill until Basic.”

“Oh, yeah, you never went to Baikerbanur County High,” remembered Val. “Bill, Jeb, and I were good friends there. Where’d you go?”

“Woomerang Institute,” said Bob, and Val gasped.

“You’re the science geek who stomped us in our scholastic bowl, aren’t you?” Val figured out.

Bob shrugged his shoulders. “Guilty as charged. Bill was that math nerd who almost beat me.”

“Yes, he was,” said Val. “How’d you know that?”

“We recognized each other during Basic,” explained Bob. “After we shared a couple drinks, he showed me Wally and told me of his intentions to keep using him while Bill’s exploring other planets. I then suggested we fit Wally with scientific instruments, and Bill agreed. After modifying him, Bill then reprogrammed him to be fully automated – with a manual remote-control override, of course – and we tested him along the beach near the Space Center. We both agreed that I would have better use for Wally than Bill would now that we were kerbalnauts, so he then signed ownership over to me.”

“How nice,” said Val. “Why did you need to SIGN a change of ownership?”

“Wally had an RTG, and you know how tightly they were regulated,” said Bob. “Besides, it also had a provision that I would not pass off Wally as my own design.”

“Wait a second,” gasped Val, recognizing the robot on the cover. “I’m pretty sure there are robots like those EVERWHERE on Eve and Duna.”

“Yes, but they’re remote-controlled; Wally’s COMPLETELY autonomous (with a fail-safe code in case of emergencies),” explained Bob. “Since Bob told me his plans to get rich off of those robots through a contract with Jeb’s Junkyard, he etched serial numbers on Wally and his parts so I can tell him apart from other models.”

“What about the RTG?”

“Bob said he had that since he was a kid.”

“Jeez,” sighed Val.

“Sir, are you coming or what?” interrupted a guard.

“Oh, yeah,” said Bob. “Later.” As he left with the guards and Wally’s RTG, Val closed the door behind him and got out her kPad.

“Belay my last order,” she said while typing. “Found Bob and mystery caller. P.S. Wenpont killed Sheri.” She then set an alarm to go off in the morning and plugged in her kPad. “Man, I need a rest.” As she plopped on her bed, she heard a strange sound on impact. “What?” She lifted her sheets and found a folder under it. “Huh, wonder what’s in it.” She turned it around and saw her name written on it. “Must be for me, but how did it end up here?” After she opened it, she read the note on the top of the stack of papers.

I told you that you would get proof

Stay away from Bob, or everything goes public

Final warning

 

“Proof of what, exactly?” wondered Val. Normally, she would alert base security and order them to find the one who broke into her room; but she was curious as to what was in the folder. As soon as she saw the first document, she gasped in horror and fainted on her bed.

“It’s… true.”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

15 hours ago, fulgur said:

This is a very... interesting story. Dunn dunn dunnnnnnnnnn...

And it's going to get even more... twisted.

CHAPTER EIGHT: FIRST VICTIM

 

Two Eeloo days later, Bill was hitting the slopes with his new skis. Hadgan, his assigned pilot, was relieved to hear that it wasn’t actually Mission Control that plotted to kill Agaden. Bill asked him if he knew anyone on Laythe that would want Agaden dead, and Hadgan denied even knowing anyone on Laythe (except for Val). As soon as Hadgan landed the moonjet – which was working perfectly fine – an engineer in a mini-bus was waiting for him at the test site. While the engineer would stay in the jet and refuel it, Hadgan would drive Bill up the mountain and down alongside Bill when he skied. He repeated the process at least eight times before Hadgan decided to give it a try.

“Man, it’s harder than it looks,” he commented as he got back in the rover.

“No kidding,” remarked Bill. “Takes a lot of practice; I first learned on Kerbin.”

“Why can’t you have Jeb do it?”

“Because I didn’t bring any snowboards,” explained Bill, then he typed his observations on his kPad while Hadgan drove back. “Better dry these off before the melted ice freezes and causes potential problems to the skis’ structural integrity.”

“Now that you tested your skis, what are you gonna do now?” asked Hadgan.

“I’m glad you asked,” said Bill. “Besides looking for anybody who can ski, I’m going to find out where Agaden’s killer struck before.”

“Before?” gasped Hadgan. “How do you know?”

“Jeb and I believe that, since the moonjet virus was precise in its targeting and execution methods, this isn’t the first time the virus was used,” answered Bill.

“You think someone tested it BEFORE?” wondered Hadgan, and Bill nodded. “Maybe that WAS the test run.”

“Then why order the virus to activate when Agaden was on board?” retorted Bill. “Better yet, why also POISON the same person that the moonjet was targeting?”

“Oh, so the main purpose was just to kill Agaden?”

“Yep.”

“I can’t believe it,” sighed Hadgan. “Agaden’s death… was MY fault.”

“Hey, unless you’re a badass with computers – like me – there was no way in heck you could have known they weren’t actually Gus and Linus,” assured Bill. “In your mind, you were only following orders. You thought you were updating a moonjet and helping a depressed cadet; as they were the experts in their respective field, they seemed credible.”

“Like that makes me feel any better,” said Hadgan sarcastically. “What do I tell her parents, that some psycho tricked me into killing their daughter?”

“If you want to tell the truth, yes,” sighed Bill. “I don’t know about you pilots, but that’s what’d I’d do – as I am bound by the Engineers’ Code of Honor to speak the truth in its entirety.”

“Yeah, I never got why you guys had them,” commented Hadgan. “I’ve heard of the Scientist’s Vow, the Engineers’ Code of Honor, but there’s no ‘Pilot’s Vow’ or anything.”

“Probably because of too much rule-breaking from one Jebediah Kerman,” teased Bill, and Hadgan laughed. “Okay, how long before we arrive at the jet?”

“ETA in five minutes,” said Hadgan, “but it’s not gonna be ready for another hour. Whatcha wanna do now?”

“Look up accident reports,” sighed Bill. “Okay… and I’m in.”

“Why do you wanna look up accident reports?” asked Hadgan.

“Duh, to find where the moonjet virus first showed up.”

“Oh, I thought you were doing research like what kind of rovers are likely to get themselves into orbit,” remarked Hadgan.

“Okay, let’s see,” started Bill.

ACCIDENT REPORT SEARCH

Craft Type

Moonjet

Search back as far as

All time

Location

Everywhere

Casualties

Unknown

Liability

Unknown

Keywords

·         Rogue autopilot

·         Drill punctured cargo doors

·         Virus

·         Malfunction

·         Tried to kill me

 

To his disappointment, nothing appeared in the results page; not even Jeb’s crash. Bill decided to widen his search parameters by removing the keywords, then his kPad displayed links to 207 moonjet accident reports. Since “Moonjet 314 (Destroyed) - Eeloo,” was the most recent accident, he knew he had to look through the reports one-by-one; he had nothing better to do while his ride back to base was refueling.

“Okay, let’s see,” started Bill. “Jeb’s accident, everything happened just like he said; it’s got pictures from Hades Station, too. Now, to begin.” He tapped on the next accident report and looked through it carefully. “Six Kerbin days before Jeb’s crash, Moonjet 46 on Ike ran out of fuel and was forced to land using monopropellant.” He scrolled down to find pictures of Moonjet 46 after it landed. “Man, they did a number on the landing gear.”

“What about the pilot, what’d he say?” wondered Hadgan.

“Pilot claims that his first landing spot was based on faulty information; the ore concentration there was too low,” answered Bill. “Upon further investigation… the mechanics found a dead rat in the orbital ore scanner’s computer.” Bill didn’t believe it until he saw a picture of an astronaut pulling a frozen, shriveled rat’s corpse from inside the probe’s survey scanner.

“How did a rat end up in an ore scanner?” asked Hadgan. “I’m pretty sure we put animals in LABS and not SATELLITES.”

“An internal investigation proved that the Ike scanner was built at the same time the VAB had a rat infestation,” read Bill. “It’s very likely that one of the rats snuck into the probe while it was being built.”

“Doesn’t exactly scream sabotage,” said Hadgan, and Bill agreed, “unless the rats PLANNED it?”

“Then it was a dumb plan,” added Bill. “Anyway, here’s the next one. Moonjet 172 flew out of Gilly’s sphere of influence and the pilot repeatedly tried to get back. He ended up taking some damage landing; no surprise, considering Gilly’s extremely low gravity.”

“No sabotage there,” sighed Hadgan.

“More like bureaucratic negligence,” commented Bob. “You only need 30 meters per second of delta-V either way to go up OR down – that’s 60 in total – and all EVA suits have 600 meters per second of it.”

“Try doing a rendezvous without MechJeb,” retorted Hadgan.

“Good point, but I’m pretty sure integrating MechJeb into EVA suits will cost WAY less than sending manned craft up and down Gilly.”

“Great idea,” said Hadgan, then Bill resumed reading the accident reports. He described each incident to Hadgan in case he had some useful input; so far, nothing that seemed to involve sabotage.

“Report Number 38,” sighed Bill. “Moonjet 79 on Dres, crashed in the highlands. Pilot dead, engineer in a coma, scientist unharmed. Scientist claimed that the pilot was on Chirper while flying and the engineer was asleep. Her kPad was checked, and… uh oh.”

“What do you mean uh oh?” wondered Hadgan.

“The pilot WAS on Chirper right before the crash,” started Bill, “but witnesses on the ground claimed the moonjet was spinning out of control AT THE SAME TIME.”

“Big deal, you’d be appalled how many dumb pilots we have here,” sighed Hadgan, “even with GREAT designs.”

“Yeah, but how does one NOT notice their plane about to crash – even in microgravity?” countered Bill.

“Maybe he just panicked,” suggested Hadgan.

“All three occupants were WOMEN,” corrected Bill, “and though you bring up a good point, you’re still wrong.” He turned his kPad around to show Hadgan why.

The screen displayed several pictures of the moonjet’s drill sticking out of the cargo doors while its engines were firing. Bill even showed Hadgan a time-lapse that the orbital scanner recorded of the moonjet losing control; he could barely see an explosion at the edge of the last frame.

“Hey, Hades Station had pictures just like that the day Jeb crashed,” said Hadgan.

“The U.S.S. Defiant also took telescopic photos of the crash,” added Bill. “Bruises on the engineer and the pilot… strange. It says here that the doctors couldn’t tell if they were sustained during or BEFORE the crash.”

“Before, why is that an issue?” asked Hadgan.

“When Alva finally woke up, she claimed that someone hit her over the head from behind,” explained Bill.

“Hit over the head? Behind? Wait a second,” said Hadgan. “The SCIENTIST did it.”

“Maybe,” replied Bill. “Danlong, the scientist, denied it and stuck to her story that Corporal Harriet was using Chirper while flying.”

“So, she says,” interrupted Hadgan. “Here’s what I think: Danlong knocks out Alva, then hits the pilot over the head, then activates the virus. She bails out unscathed, while the other two are left to die.”

“Hadgan, this virus was designed to turn on after two things: the periapsis altitude reached zero after the ascent, and Agaden was on board,” reminded Bill.

“Then why K.O. the pilot and the engineer?” argued Hadgan. “Answer: so the pilot won’t try to fix it or prove the moonjet was sabotaged.”

“Hang on,” said Bill. “Danlong and Alva were both seen in EVA suits when a mobile base arrived – but Harriet WASN’T.”

“Sorry to go off-topic,” said Hadgan, “but please secure your restraining harness. We are heading back to the jet.”

“Okay,” said Bill as he did what Hadgan said. “You know these are just overpriced seatbelts.”

“Hey, don’t look at me,” remarked Hadgan, “YOU designed the mini-bus to save a couple of tourists on the Mun.”

“Not the seats,” Bill clarified as Hadgan started the rover. “It’s not like anybody will be flying in them – and how do you plan on fixing the carnival harness WHEN IT BREAKS? It’s not like you can just drive to the nearest auto shop and have Lizard Insurance pay for it.”

“Actually, my little brother back home is running a rover repair service on the Mun,” said Hadgan.

“That’s not the point,” argued Bill. “Seatbelts are just as effective in rovers for only a SMALL PIECE of the cost, and they’re easy to fix and replace if they break.”

“Tell Mortimer that.”

“Okay, now we’re going WAY off-topic,” said Bill. “There were bruises on Harriet’s and Alva’s heads and necks, but the doctor said they could have also been caused by crash-related impacts.”

“But if witnesses took photos of the drill sticking out, there’s bound to be a case for sabotage,” said Hadgan. “Tell me they found an infected probe core.”

“Well… some of it,” stammered Bill, “but not enough to tell what happened. The Black Box was also destroyed… and moonjet debris scattered EVERYWHERE for kilometers.”

“Then how come they recovered more from Jeb’s crash than that one?” stated Hadgan.

“Oh, no,” said Bill. “Because Jeb was ALERT; he TRIED to land it.”

“And Harriet WASN’T since Danlong knocked her out,” finished Hadgan.

“That’s one possibility,” said Bill. “Another possibility was that she was dumb enough to text while the moonjet was crashing and too lazy to fix it.”

“Why would you think that?” questioned Hadgan.

“Uh, at least 20 of the accidents I’ve read about were due to pilot stupidity,” explained Bill.

“Oh, then how do you explain Alva getting in a coma, or claiming to have been hit over the head, OR only her being in an EVA suit while Harriet WASN’T?”

“Even crash victims… actually, you may be on to something.”

“Told ya,” smirked Hadgan.

“But… how do you explain the moonjet going crazy?” asked Bill. “Ground witnesses and orbital cameras captured what happened; same MO as JEB’S crash.”

“Oh…,” said Hadgan. “Theory Two: Alva sabotages moonjet, then she puts on an EVA suit and kills the pilot. However, Danlong FIGHTS BACK and bails out just in time.”

“Okay, Harriet’s autopsy showed she died of suffocation and rapid hypothermia – caused by exposure to space,” explained Bill. “That’s… also a possibility, seeing how the pilot could have been so easily distracted – and you know how often women go on Chirper.”

“They use Photogram and Snapspeak more, actually,” commented Hadgan.

“Then again… if that was a test run… why would the killer stay on board a craft he or she knew would TRY TO KILL HER?” asked Bill. “Not even Mission Control lets people in preliminary tests on vehicles that are supposed to WORK FINE.”

“Hmm…,” said Hadgan, “maybe an EVA suit malfunctioned – or the closet got hacked too. That could be why Harriet never got a suit.”

“Yet he would want to admire his handiwork… hmm.” The two men exchanged their ideas as they returned to their jet for the flight back to base.

 

After the sun rose on Laythe, Bob was out in protective clothes running along the shore. Next to him was his automated rover, Wally, fully charged and panels soaking in the sun. Now that he had his RTG reinstalled, as long as the power consumption was kept to a minimum, he could resume being a cute automated science robot. His panels and antenna glistened in the sunlight reflecting off the mineral-loaded waters, but his lights were turned off since he didn’t need them.

“Wow, 12 kilometers an hour,” said Bob. “Not bad. How was that, Wally?”

“WO, WEE, WEE!” Wally beeped.

“I know you can go faster, but I can’t,” said Bob. “Besides, you’ll save power when running my speed.”

“WOO!”

“Hey, try going on the hard surface to save power.” Wally beeped again, pointing his front left wheel at Bill and his tracks. “I need that since it’s a good foot workout; you DON’T. Now, let’s go.” They resumed their run along the shoreline before returning to Poseidon’s Palace.

“Morning, Bob,” said a guard. “Hey, Wally.”

“BEEP BOOP!”

“Hey, Bob!” shouted Guscan as he ran through the base doors. “You got some messages from your buddy, Bill.”

“Thanks,” said Bob as he took his kPad. “I’m gonna hang in the rec room before I shower. Wanna come with?”

“WEE, WEE!”

“Sorry, I can’t,” said Guscan. “My shift starts now. Later.” He hopped on his mini-bus and drove off to the landing strip while Bob and Wally got in the rec room.

“So, Wally, you’re indoors now, so try not to expend too much power. I know you got your RTG back, but that has a weak power output.”

“Hey, Bob!” said Irpond, and Wally turned around and looked at her. “Aww, what a little cutie.”

“WEEEEEE!” yelled Wally, then he blinded Irpond with his flashlights.

“AAGH!” groaned Irpond, starting to see spots. The next thing she knew, Wally had hit her and knocked her to the ground. She tried to get back up, but Wally hit her again at high speed.

“Wally, STAY!” ordered Bob, but he didn’t listen.

“Oh my gosh!” gasped a bystander.

“That robot’s trying to kill her.” Wally hit her with another blast of light as he spun around and repeatedly struck her with his rear end – where the RTG was kept.

“Wally, what’s wrong?”

“WO, WEE, WEE!” the robot replied, pointing its front right wheel at her.

“Why were you hitting Irpond?” Wally beeped again, and Bob tried to guess what he meant. “Is your software glitching?”

“BEEP, BOP!”

“Is your connection broken?”

“SIGH!” Wally then made his rear end face Bob and moved forward and backward.

“Is… this about your RTG?” asked Bob, and Wally blinked his lights once. “Once means yes, twice means no, so… is your power flow acting funny?” Two blinks. “That’s weird. I’m pretty sure I installed it correctly.” He then took out a small remote from his pants pocket. “Diagnostics.”

“Everything is functioning perfectly,” said a female voice.

“See, buddy, nothing to worry about. Now, what’s your problem?” Wally then blinked at Irpond, who panicked.

“Oh my gosh, please don’t kill me,” she said, holding onto Bob by the arm.

“I want to help you, but I won’t let you hurt anyone,” said Bob, then Wally stormed off. “Strange, he’s never like this. He’s never attacked anybody before.”

“That IS strange,” agreed Irpond. “How are you doing?”

“A little better, now that Sheri’s killer was locked up a few days back,” answered Bob.

“Uh… who was she?”

“My partner, Wenpont,” said Bob. “She also stole some of my things… and didn’t even have the decency to clean them.”

“Yeah, well, she was a creepy stalker,” said Irpond. “I mean, who does that?”

“For a scientist, she sure doesn’t know how to store my toothbrush – or even use it – in a sanitary manner,” sighed Bob.

“You know… my bunk’s still unlocked if you wanna talk,” said Irpond. “You doing anything else today?”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” answered Bob. “I gotta shower and change before my breakfast exposure, then I gotta get back to my crops. Besides that, I got a text chat with my buddies and then I need to figure out what’s going on with Wally.”

“What do you need to talk about?”

“We think Agaden’s killer struck before, and Bill’s trying to find out where,” answered Bob, and Irpond said nothing.

“Why do you have your gun?” Irpond noticed. “I thought you said they arrested Wenpont.”

“Yeah, but something else is going on here,” explained Bob. “Someone on Laythe orchestrated Agaden’s death, but nobody knows by who, how, or why.”

“Oh… no,” gasped Irpond. “Can I ask a question?”

“Okay, what?”

“May I join you in your little farm?” she requested.

“Why? I’m pretty sure this requires scientists for optimal results; you work with software,” said Bob.

“Yet you also invited LAYTHANS in your experiments,” countered Irpond.

“Because they’re teaching us how to grow their crops,” explained Bob.

“Please, I used to garden when I was a kid,” sighed Irpond. “I can help you.”

“Okay, just meet me in the lab in half an hour.”

“I’ll be there.” The two of them left, then Bob showered off before changing into his laboratory uniform and went to the sunbathing room for breakfast; it had been specially designed to allow as much sunlight as possible in while keeping the occupants warm. After his chloroplasts were charged, he headed to the lab – where Irpond was waiting for him.

“You’re early,” he said.

“I just happened to be ready before you were,” commented Irpond, and Bob laughed as he let her in the lab. “So… man, that’s a lot of plants. What are you trying to do?”

“My objective is to see if, and how, we can grow Laythan crops on Kerbin,” explained Bob. “The reason I have so many different variables is to find determining factors in what may cause them to die; temperature, atmosphere, soil, average rainfall, et cetera.”

“Neat,” complimented Irpond. “So… what do I do? I mean, I’ve gardened before, but this isn’t your average everyday lima bean project.”

“I have instructions written on the containers,” said Bob, checking his kPad. “Hey, what do you know. Today we just need to make sure the climate regulators are working right and record height in the morning and the evening.”

“That’s it?” wondered Irpond. “I thought you’d be busier today.”

“Me, too,” agreed Bob, then he set an alarm on his kPad to check the plants later that afternoon.

“You got any other plans today?” inquired Irpond.

“Yeah, talking to Bill, Jeb, and Val about the moonjet hacking,” answered Bob. “I also need to tell Bill that his brainchild attacked someone.”

“Brainchild, so HE built Wally?”

“Yep, built him when he was in Baikerbanur County High School,” recalled Bob. “He then gave Wally to me during Basic.” A few minutes later, Bob and Irpond determined that all the containers were operational, and Bob locked the lab as he left. “Well, time to get in a group chat.”

“I think you need a rest,” Irpond disagreed. “Leave the mystery solving to base security.”

“But Bill may have something important.”

“Hey, there’s a reason text messages were invented; so you can read them whenever you want,” assured Irpond. “Whatever he has to tell you can wait.”

“Okay, I suppose I could use a break,” said Bob. “We have other scientists here anyway. So, whatcha wanna do?”

“Well… what’s showing in the rec room right now?”

“Let’s see,” started Bob as he accessed the rec room TV schedule. “The Kerbsons are showing now… and then Ferocious Females. I bet a few laughs wouldn’t hurt.” Bob then started running toward the rec room, and Irpond followed.

“Hey, Moaner,” said Barf on the TV. “Can you read me a bedtime story, please?”

“Sure thing, Barf,” replied his father, Moaner Kerbson.

“Here it comes,” said Melburry, who was sitting with four other men.

“Hmm, The Chronicles of Lisette Kerbson,” stated Moaner.

“Unauthorized access,” a male voice said.

“AAGH!” screamed Moaner as the diary shocked him. Moaner tried again but was unsuccessful; Barf was laughing that his prank worked so easily. Back in the rec room, most of the crew was laughing loud enough to wake up everyone in the base.

“Seriously?” said Bob, trying to catch his breath. “COME ON, how can you not see that it’s your DAUGHTER’S booby-trapped diary.”

“Yeah, Moaner’s just stupid,” said Melburry.

“He sure is,” agreed Bob.

“Hey, wanna prank-call someone from the rec room?” suggested Irpond.

“DIBS!” shouted Melburry, then he reached for the nearest wall phone. “

“Oh, I know,” said Jendun, “Try Armstrong Base on Tylo.”

“Good one,” agreed Bob, then everyone was silent as Melburry asked for Armstrong Base.

“Hello?” a man replied.

“Hello,” started Melburry, trying not to laugh. “I wish to speak with Mr. Apu-en. Last name… Mapence.” Bob almost cracked when Irpond covered his mouth.

“Hang on, let me get him,” the man on the phone replied. “Uh, Apu-en Mapence. Hey, everybody, I POO IN MY PANTS!” On both sides of the phone, everyone laughed.

“That’s a new one,” remarked Jendun.

“Oh, wait a minute…,” the caller realized. “Who is this?”

“You have just been prank-called by the… Eccentric Ersen,” replied Melburry before hanging up. “Man, Captain Ersen’s in for it now.”

“Uh… what’s the gag?” wondered Irpond.

“Doy, you call someone and trick them into saying something hilarious,” explained Jendun.

“Oh, great,” sighed Melburry, “it’s Ferocious Females.”

“I don’t mind,” said Bob, getting a surprised look from the two men.

“You mean to tell us you actually like that high school chick flick?” asked Jendun.

“It’s actually got some good laughs,” said Bob.

“Uh oh, we got a flick-man here,” teased Melburry.

“For your information, that movie has been the inspiration for more memes than any other,” argued Bob. “Also, Sheri and I watched that once when we started dating on Dres.”

“He’s right about the memes,” agreed Jendun. “My daughter looks at a lot of those.”

“Wait, your daughter’s HOW old and she’s already looking at memes?” wondered Melburry.

“Five,” sighed Jendun.

“Seems pretty young, doesn’t it?” questioned Melburry.

“Not really. Jeb and Bill flew a plane when they were ten,” answered Bob. “Bill… was also the one who built the plane.”

“Let me guess, Jeb crashed it… AGAIN,” sighed Jendun.

“Yes, but even today I don’t know if it was because of pilot stupidity or a design flaw,” sighed Bob. “Val thinks it was a combination of BOTH.” Jendun’s watch then beeped.

“I’d love to stay and chat, but my shift starts now,” he told Melburry, Bob, and Irpond.

“I thought you were suspended,” said Irpond.

“That was lifted; I’m on control tower duty now,” explained Jendun. “The guy before me can’t leave until I relieve him.”

“Wait,” said Melburry, “what happened?”

“You know what happened to the Zeus, right?” started Jendun, and everyone nodded. “Turns out, it was a planned hit.”

“PLANNED HIT?” gasped Melburry. “Someone HIJACKED your probe?”

“Yes. Some guy knocked me out and stuffed me in a closet,” explained Jendun.

“You’re wrong,” sighed Bob, and Jendun turned around.

“Bob, what are you talking about?”

“Some guy didn’t knock you out,” clarified Bob, “some GIRL did.”

“Wait, it was A WOMAN who stole my probe?” asked Jendun.

“Yes, but the guards arrested the culprit a few days ago,” chimed in Irpond. “She tried to kill Admiral Valentina.”

“Oh no,” sighed Melburry, then Jendun ran off to start his shift. “All the girls in my cadre wanted to be her; she was their inspiration. What kind of sicko would do such a thing… and take OTHER men and women with her?”

“Wenpont believed Val’s brother committed genocide,” explained Bob. Irpond was about to speak, but Bob continued. “However, rather than look for positive proof, she went ahead and tried to kill Val.”

Melburry shrugged his shoulders. “So what if Victor shot up the Clivar?”

“Give me ONE good reason why mass murder is justified,” spat Irpond.

“Oh, I got plenty,” said Melburry. “First off, that tribe not only terrorized and slaughtered innocent kerbals, but OTHER LAYTHANS as well. Secondly, if Victor’s strike force didn’t do anything about it THEN, the Clivar would rebuild and cause MORE death and destruction.”

“There were CHILDREN in that tribe,” argued Irpond.

“Who would have threatened more innocents when they got OLDER,” countered Melburry, “Laythans and kerbals alike. Third of all, the Strike Force came here for retribution and THAT’S what they did. There’s actually an online fundraiser focused on covering legal fees for Victor and his men in case they’re ever arrested. Fourth of all… most of Kerbin wanted the Laythans exterminated too; just be glad they only shot up the GUILTY PARTY.”

Bob gasped in horror. “Is it true? Did Victor kill the women and children too?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care,” sighed Melburry. “THEY ALL deserved it; if not then, they would later.”

“Then why bother guarding the battlegrounds?” asked Bob.

“Doy, so hippies like YOU won’t use it as a worshipping site.” Bob then slugged Melburry and held him by his uniform.

“What’s going on here?” he asked threateningly. “Ever since Sheri and I flew near the battle site, people have been poisoned, beaten, drowned, shot, and burglarized LEFT AND RIGHT. My guess is that there’s a cover-up operation going on here, and those involved are not hesitant to kill innocent KERBALS as well as Laythans. I’m going to get straight answers before I leave this rock, and I don’t care who I have to go through to get them.”

“Would that include your friend, Admiral Val?” countered Melburry, then Bob started to loosen his grip. “Are you going to go through HER to get straight answers?”

“Don’t you have some drill to fix?” asked Irpond, then Melburry checked his kPad.

“Hey, what do you know? I’m needed at the landing strip to fix a drill,” said Melburry. “Gotta go.” He then left Bob and Irpond alone.

“How’d you know?” wondered Bob.

“Lucky guess,” replied Irpond. “I just realized… Wenpont didn’t kill Sheri.”

“What makes you say that?” questioned Bob.

“She and Sheri both wanted positive proof of a Clivar Genocide, so she had more to gain working together than against each other,” started Irpond. “Val, on the other hand, was on the opposing team; her big brother’s big secret is exposed, she and her family are disgraced forever. So, she must have offed Sheri to SHUT HER UP and then planted evidence in Wenpont’s room to throw off the guards.”

“Then how come Wenpont was found with MY stuff in HER room?”

“How often do you let Val in your quarters?” questioned Irpond.

“I’ve let her in a few times,” said Bob. “Wait… you think that VAL robbed me?”

“First of all, as an admiral she can just FORCE the door open. Second of all, she knew that she would need to pin her crimes on someone else. So… she kept breaking into your room and stealing your stuff to make Wenpont look like a creepy stalker; same case when she stole Wenpont’s license.”

“That… makes… SOME sense,” replied Bob. “Then how do you explain the Zeus and Wally’s RTG theft? Val was NOWHERE NEAR those crime scenes.”

“She had an accomplice,” answered Irpond. “Who else benefits from this cover-up?”

“Melburry?” sighed Bob.

“No, he’s not the type to cover it up – as you just saw,” said Irpond. “Who else do you know is close enough to Val to keep his mouth shut after doing such a heinous act?”

“His…,” gasper Bob. “Oh no… VICTOR.”

“You got it.”

“How? Why would he try to kill his OWN SISTER?”

“Simple: he told his sister to EVACUATE the Zeus before he hijacked the probe,” explained Irpond. “Val also had to sabotage the station from the inside to prevent countermeasures from taking effect in time.”

“But Jendun was DRAGGED; Victor could carry THREE men his size on his shoulders.”

“Which means that he can easily drag someone… to throw off the guards,” clarified Irpond. “He also has the skill to sneak up on your robot in the middle of the night, steal his RTG, and sneak it back to the base unnoticed.”

“Then why plant it in his sister’s quarters?” asked Bob. As Irpond scratched her chin in confusion, Wally quickly approached him. “What now?” Wally then pointed its front wheels at the entrance and inched towards it. “Something’s going on that way?”

“WEE, WOO!”

“Well, what is it?” wondered Irpond, then Wally blinked its lights at her and charged at her – stopping 20 centimeters in front her legs. She almost lost her balance as she tried to not get hit, but Wally drove around her and tripped her with his wheel.

“HEY!” shouted Bob, but Wally ran away. “GET BACK HERE!” He then helped Irpond back on her feet and chased Wally through the base.

“WO, WEE! WEE!”

“You’re in so much trouble when I get my hands on you, little hunk of metal!”

“Wait up… Bob,” panted Irpond.

“I’m so gonna tell Bill that you… what the heck?” Bob stopped when he saw a crowd gathered near the bunks. Wally beeped loud enough to create a hole for him to go through, then Bob was surprised at what was going on.

“Hey, r…vy one,” said Val, who was holding a bottle of wine in her left hand. “You’ll know yer… doo… duties. Doodies.” She laughed as she leaned on the wall.

“Oh, man, this is Photogram GOLD,” said a woman who started recording on her kPad.

“Oh, no,” gasped Bob as he approached Val. “Val, you okay?” He knew the answer was no, as she wreaked of alcohol and her hair and uniform were a mess.

“Hi… Bill, that you?” slurred Val.

“Uh, Bill’s on Eeloo,” said Bob. “I’m Bob, your OTHER friend.”

“Where’s… Jeb?” asked Val.

“Also on Eeloo.”

“Did you know that… we…,” started Val, then Bob heard a strange noise coming from her stomach; he knew was coming next.

“EVERYBODY, GET CLEAR!” He pointed Val at the wall as she threw up. “Man, how much did you drink?”

“I dunno,” answered Val. “One and a half bottles… maybe two.”

“You should get some rest,” suggested Bob. “I’ll walk you to your quarters.”

“NO!” objected Irpond.

“Why not? I can’t just LEAVE her here,” disagreed Bob.

“Then have the guards throw her in the brig,” suggested Irpond.

“Not just yet, mam,” interrupted Eli, accompanied by two other guards. “Unless she took a swing at someone or operated any machinery or vehicles while intoxicated.”

“Don’t give her any special favors just because she’s an admiral,” said Irpond. “Oh, and FYI, she and her brother are a pair of murderers.”

“Take the admiral to sick bay,” ordered Eli, and the two guards escorted Val through the crowd; she threw up on one of them. “You say she and Victor are murderers?”

“Yes… didn’t you figure it out already?” said Irpond. “Search her room, you’ll find the proof.”

“Not without probable cause, we’re not,” objected Eli. “Even the interplanetary colonists are bound by Kerbin’s laws.”

“Hi, Wally!” shouted Val as she got near the robot. “Did you know that you look like my dog… the one Victor shot?”

“WO!”

“Oh, right. Wally,” said Bob as he approached him. “Is that what you were trying to do, just get my attention to see THIS?” Wally blinked his lights once to reply yes. “Oh, then why did you hit Irpond?” Wally spun to show its rear end to Bob. “Your RTG? What did she do to your RTG?”

“I think it wants to play charades,” suggested a woman passing by.

“Okay, since you can’t talk,” sighed Bob, and Wally pointed at Irpond – who was backing away. “Uh… Irpond.” Wally blinked once, then showed Bob his RTG again. “Her rear… no, wait… YOUR rear end.”

“BEEP BOP!”

“Weird. Why are you so mad about her touching your rear end? People do that to you all the time, and you don’t mind. You’re a cute little dog-like science robot.”

“WEE!” sighed Wally, then he opened his RTG compartment.

“Oh, your RTG?” gasped Bob. “Wait… SHE stole your RTG?” Wally blinked once, and Bob looked at Irpond. “Is it true?” As soon as he said that, Irpond started to cry.

“Yes,” sighed Irpond.

“What?” gasped Bob. “Why?”

“Because…,” started Irpond, “because I was FORCED to.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

CHAPTER NINE: DISORDER ON DRES

 

“FORCED to?” gasped Bob. “How?”

“It was Val,” sobbed Irpond.

“I don’t think so,” Bob disagreed. “I was videochatting with her when Wally’s battery died.”

“She threatened my mother,” explained Irpond, holding on to Bob. “She said that if I didn’t do what she told me, she had friends back on Kerbin that would kill her.”

“That… doesn’t make sense,” sighed Bob. “We have spare RTGs buried under the surface, why steal Wally’s?”

“Val said that Wally got in the way,” said Irpond. “I don’t know why, but she was very specific.”

“Well… now that you mention it,” started Bob, “I did plan on sneaking him into the Clivar battle site. However, the only other person I told was… Sheri.”

“Don’t you see?” said Irpond. “Val must have TORTURED Sheri before she killed her; that’s how she knew about Wally.”

“Do you know why she had YOU steal the RTG and not someone else?” questioned Bob.

“It… was probably because she knew Wally would recognize me and try to hit me,” realized Irpond.

“Why you? Why did she threaten your mom?”

“I never told you my mom’s name, did I?” said Irpond. “Her name is Misty Kerman; she used to work as a scientist in the program’s early days.”

“Misty Kerman…,” said Bob. “That name rings a bell, but I can’t remember from where.”

“She lived in Woomerang,” started Irpond, taking out her kPad. “Before I was born, she was accused of killing an engineer named Debra. Even though the courts figured out she was framed, people still treated our family like criminals.” Bob then read the headline.

JEALOUS SCIENTIST ACQUITTED

“Jealous?” wondered Bob. “Why was she jealous?”

“The cops said that she was jealous of Debra having the man SHE wanted,” explained Irpond. “That man… is my father.”

“So… Debra dies, Misty’s acquitted, marries that guy, and they have you,” Bob figured out.

“You got it,” said Irpond.

“I still don’t see why Val would pick YOUR MOM as a target,” said Bob.

“Mom has been involved in MANY scandals since,” started Irpond. “A big one was when she… shot Dad. Even though the cops figured out it was self-defense… some people STILL disrespect her… especially in Woomerang.”

“Hey, I remember where I heard Misty’s name before,” announced Bob.

“You do?”

“Yeah, my parents told me never to go near ‘Misty’s House’ when I was a kid,” explained Bob. “They said the house was haunted, but I didn’t believe it; like ‘life-threatening pathogens’ was any better.”

“Huh… did you ever try to go near it?” asked Irpond.

“My little brother and I tried once, but we chickened out before we even got on the porch,” said Bob. “Years later, in eighth-grade, Bill – who was in tenth-grade at the time – built a suborbital rocket for his toy spy car to get him a visual.”

“Wait… you’re the one who set my house on fire, aren’t you?” realized Irpond.

“It wasn’t me,” said Bob. “Bill said that… uh oh.”

“What is it?”

“Bill said that he lost contact as he was re-entering Kerbin’s atmosphere,” started Bob. “Theoretically, Bill did NOT account for the extreme temperatures and aerodynamic forces associated with re-entry. The intense air resistance broke off the antenna, cutting off Bill and causing the rocket to lose control. At the same time, the debris caught fire during re-entry and was still hot by the time it entered the lower atmosphere. As a result, the hot debris crashed into your house and ignited with something flammable… starting the house fire.”

“So… it was an ACCIDENT?” gasped Irpond.

“Seems like it. I hope everyone was okay,” said Bob.

“Nobody got hurt,” said Irpond. “Thank you for explaining the craters in the walls.”

“I didn’t think Bill had anything to do with it… and neither did he,” added Bob. “I mean, I called him after I heard about the fire… but he told me he lost control mid-flight. He then mailed me a disc, showing me proof that he couldn’t have done anything about it. I thought it landed in the ocean or some clearing.”

“Anyway, Val threatened to not only have her friends kill Mom, but to make it look like either suicide or self-defense,” continued Irpond. “Not only that… she threatened to frame Mom for murder for good measure.”

“Val would NEVER do such a thing!” shouted Bob.

“Wouldn’t she?” interrupted Irpond. “There’s a big cover-up going on here, and Victor’s at the center of it… and where he is, his LITTLE SISTER is close by.”

“No… it’s not true,” gasped Bob.

“Use your head, Bob,” said Irpond. “You know it’s all true; everything fits perfectly.” Bob then took out his kPad after it buzzed.

“Sorry, it’s Bill,” said Bob. “I gotta take this.”

“I’ll leave you alone,” said Irpond. “I gotta… fix the relay.” She left Bob alone as he walked to his quarters and unlocked the kPad.

Bill

@Bob, @Val, you there?

 

Jeb

Relax, @Bill. It takes a while for the signal to travel, and they may be busy.

 

Bob

I’m back, @Val’s not

Jeb

What happened to her?

 

 

Bob

She got drunk and is now in sick bay.

Bill

Drunk? Why?

 

 

Bob

I dunno.

Anyway, what did you want to tell us?

Bill

Anyone know anything about Moonjet 79 (Dres)?

 

 

Bob

Nope.

Jeb

How could I forget? @Val always complained that something was off.

 

 

Bob

What you mean?

Jeb

The pilot was a student of hers.

 

Bill

Wait, @Jeb, you know about the Moonjet 79 crash?

Jeb

Yes, the pilot was texting and flying – Val INSISTED it was foul play, though.

 

Bob

@Jeb, don’t you do that?

Jeb

Only when I’m waiting for my burn WHILE IN ORBIT – or when MJ steals my job.

 

Bill

Val may have been on to something.

 

Bob

Moonjet 79 was hacked when it crashed?

Bill

Seems like it – the probe core and black box were destroyed, but several witnesses and probes took pictures.

 

Jeb

Nah, I’m pretty sure the pilot was texting WHILE she was flying.

Bill

So, we think. The on-board engineer claimed someone hit her over the head from behind; the next thing she knew, she was in sick bay.

 

There were also bruises on her and the pilot – the doctor couldn’t tell if it was BEFORE or DURING the crash.

 

Bob

Before?

Bill

If it was sustained during, big deal.

 

If BEFORE, then one of them is a SABOTEUR.

 

Jeb

Are you sure? That pilot wasn’t even in an EVA suit when she died.

I mean, I may be crazy – but I am not THAT stupid.

Bill

@Jeb, was the EVA suit dispenser working when you crashed?

Jeb

Yeah, why?

 

Bob

Back up, WHAT happened?

Bill

Harriet (pilot) – DOA (no EVA suit)

Alva (engineer) – in coma (EVA suit – survived)

Danlong (scientist) – unharmed (EVA suit)

 

Witnesses took pictures of a drill sticking out and moonjet losing control

 

Bob

How did Harriet not get an EVA suit? Did the dispenser jam?

Bill

Hard to tell with what was left of it.

 

 

 

Bob

Maybe that was sabotaged

Bill

Highly unlikely

-       With a code that long, any alteration will require countless follow-up adjustments – which may require another test run (and no “accidents” like that since – until Jeb’s crash)

-       If the dispenser WAS hacked, odds are all three of them would have died (unless they brought their own EVA suits with them) à same case if it was mechanical sabotage

-       Danlong’s and Alva’s suits were fine when rescue crews arrived.

-       None of the survivors mentioned anything wrong with the dispenser

 

Jeb

They checked the pilot’s kPad - she was definitely texting.

Bill

While it was crashing? How could she not notice?

Jeb

She probably got complacent and used MJ.

Bill

Then how do you explain the bruises found only on two of them (one dead, the other in a coma)?

-       The third came out okay

Jeb

Like you said, they could have also gotten them DURING the crash.

Bill

Or BEFORE, but yeah.

 

Then how do you explain only two people getting EVA suits?

Jeb

Maybe they forgot to install the suits before taking off.

Bill

No, they didn’t. The accident report came with a pre-flight checklist – 6/6 self-assembling EVA suits loaded in the dispenser.

And JEB’S was working fine, FYI – and program alterations are risky. Even one small overlook can cause the whole thing to not work.

 

Bob

But Jeb and Agaden weren’t on that jet.

Bill

Unfortunately, without the virus that affected Moonjet 79, I can’t exactly say what the differences are – or who was targeted.

 

It’s more likely that the name and ID numbers were changed in the “targeting” code – nothing major (not like the code for a suit dispenser)

 

 

Bob

I’m guessing it was the engineer – she should have known how to fix the moonjet in case something went wrong. It also gives her the knowledge to sabotage it

She then knocked HERSELF out to throw off the investigators.

Bill

I’m leaning towards Danlong (scientist).

-       If it was Alva, then who slugged Harriet – and why did Danlong not even mention a fight in her report?

-       Alva said she couldn’t remember who or what knocked her out?

-       I find it hard to believe that even a dumb pilot would text and fly while THAT many things went wrong.

 

Jeb

Yeah, even the alarms were working in my crash.

 

Bob

Maybe Alva attacked Harriet, but Danlong fought back and tried to get everyone out.

Bill

You bring an interesting point, @Bob. Then again, why didn’t Harriet get an EVA suit?

 

 

Bob

Maybe it was that blow to the head that killed her.

Bill

Her autopsy said that space killed her – but you’re probably right. Danlong probably thought that blow was fatal, then fought back when Alva tried to kill her.

 

But why bother saving Alva, or even not disclosing the crime?

Jeb

Danlong has some serious explaining to do.

 

Bob

So does @Val.

Jeb

Why her?

 

 

Bob

Because, @Jeb, you said that Harriet was Val’s student once. She probably knows something about WHY she was killed

-       My gut says that Harriet was the intended target (why else didn’t she get a suit)?

 

Bill, DM me.

Jeb

If 79 was only a test run, 314 was the main event – that virus was sent to Bill-and-I-know-who from Laythe, and he had no idea it was meant to kill her (same case for the poison)

 

Bill

As soon as @Val sobers up, ask her to use her high-level clearance to see if Danlong or Alva are on Laythe (or at least were at the time of AGADEN’S death). If so, then we probably found Agaden’s killer – and Gus and Linus’ blackmailer.

 

 

Bob made a mental note to approach Val after she was sober – which would be in a few hours. Then again, he thought that Val would be less capable of lying while she was still drunk. She may still be incoherent and her mind fuzzy, but that would inhibit her ability to concoct a convincing cover story right on the spot.

“I’ll definitely wait until she’s sober to talk about the student,” thought Bob, “but… everything else?” He then got a text from Bill.

Why’d you want me to DM you?

 

 

Remember that time in 8th grade (you were in 10th grade at the time) you launched a rocket at Woomerang to spy on Misty Kerman’s house.

Sorry, but I don’t know any Misty Kerman.

 

 

She owned that “Forbidden House” everyone talked about – you called me once about it after you stopped by my school to test a rocket booster.

Oh, now I do.

 

You also accused me of setting a house on fire.

 

 

Because your rocket DID start a fire.

How? I lost contact with the rocket during re-entry, so odds are it missed the target completely.

 

A seminar with Werner – who came by to visit Baikerbanur soon after that – made me realize that my payload broke apart and was most likely disintegrated during re-entry

-       Pieces of my rocket were also found IN THE OCEAN months later.

 

Some of your pieces survived and hit the target

How do you know that?

 

 

Misty’s daughter works here – she described craters on the wall when it burned up.

-       Most likely caused by debris that was still hot when entering the lower atmosphere.

I KILLED MISTY?

 

 

You killed nobody.

Looked up the fire on Oogle – you were right. Misty Kerman and her daughter were out at the time – but didn’t see anything.

 

 

They probably arrived some time after the debris hit.

That’s weird, because the fire department pinned it on a faulty furnace (why did she even have a man-sized furnace anyway?)

 

It also took you 21 years to figure out I caused it?

 

I thought it was a bad furnace too, until Irpond told me about the craters just now.

Why didn’t they find the craters THEN?

 

 

They were looking for clues on the floor or lower walls – not rocket debris.

Come to think of it, it’s also possible that the debris triggered an ALREADY-MALFUNCTIONING furnace and caused IT to burn the house down.

 

Irpond is Misty’s daughter, right?

 

Yes.

There’s something else.

What?

 

 

I have strong reason to believe that Val’s a murderer – and Wenpont was FRAMED.

-       Sheri’s killer is a woman – and Val had more than enough motive to kill her.

-       She had access to the Zeus’ emergency systems before the asteroid hit – and her big brother’s on Laythe.

-       She and I frequently visit each other’s quarters – it’s possible she got my combination.

-       She forced Irpond to steal an RTG – WALLY’S.

NO WAY! I’ve known her since elementary school.

 

 

You did; I never met her until Basic

Why would Val commit multiple murders? Or even want to steal Wally’s RTG?

 

I personally designed the crates for the spare RTGs on Laythe – she could have just stolen one of them.

 

To protect her brother’s secret – that he committed mass murder.

-       Sheri and I were investigating before she died.

-       I planned to sneak Wally into the Clivar battle site.

-       Wenpont was on my side – Val must have framed her to get one more person off her back (and turn me against Wenpont)

-       The Zeus was probably to throw us off – and Val had her brother pilot the asteroid while she evacuated.

Is that why you wanted DM? You don’t want Val to see this?

 

 

Yes – and to talk about the rocket incident.

Can you hack into her KSP account and get the personnel files?

Why do you want ME to do it?

 

 

Right now, I don’t know who to trust on Laythe.

I can try, but odds are I’ll get flagged and stopped. If the SOI IP address is different from her assigned location, then Mission Control will find that suspicious.

-       E.g. “How did Val log on from Eeloo while she’s supposed to be in Jool?”

-       Either she’s AWOL or someone hacked her.

 

 

On second thought, maybe I can try and talk her into giving it to me. At least I can log on from Laythe.

How are you gonna do that?

 

 

Simple: ask her while she’s still drunk.

She won’t even remember we talked.

Still have no idea WHY was she drunk?

 

 

Still no idea.

Okay.

 

What are we gonna do about the fire that I caused?

 

 

You could email Misty and tell her it was an accident – you didn’t intent to cause any damage

Actually, if all went well, I would have crashed through her ceiling window and deployed the recon car after landing.

-       Not that it matters now.

 

Besides, unless Misty’s an active-duty kerbalnaut, I can’t get her email address.

 

I’ll get it for you – and I’ll try Val’s password, too.

 

Bob then switched off his kPad and ran out of his bunk. “Irpond, you there?”

“Yeah,” she answered, getting off her own kPad. “What’s up?”

“Can you get me your mom’s email address, please?” he asked.

“Why do you want it?” she questioned curiously.

“My friend wants to apologize for any damage his faulty rocket may have caused,” explained Bob.

“Wait, he’s waiting UNTIL NOW to apologize?”

“We BOTH thought it was a faulty furnace until you told me about the craters in the wall,” said Bob. “Plus, Bill thought the remains of his rocket ended up in the ocean; some parts of it were found there months later.”

“Mom thought it was an angry mob, but the cops didn’t think it was arson,” commented Irpond. “Apparently, it was neither; it was just a HEAVILY FLAWED rocket.”

“I dunno why the cops didn’t see the craters either,” sighed Bob.

[email protected],” said Irpond. “That’s mom’s email.”

“Okay,” said Bob as he wrote it down on his kPad. “Hang on… didn’t you say that your mom was in KSP?”

“Yes, but she’s retired,” explained Irpond. “Whatcha gonna do now?”

“Trick Val into giving me her password,” said Bob.

“No way,” gasped Irpond. “Why?”

“If she IS guilty of the Laythe crimes, I want the evidence to nail her,” started Bob. “Also, we need to know where Moonjet 79’s survivors are right now.”

“Moonjet 79?” said Irpond. “Why do you want THAT? I’m pretty sure Harriet was texting while flying.”

“Yeah, well, Bill thinks it was sabotaged,” started Bob. “Also, Jeb said that Val told him that Harriet was a student of hers; maybe she crossed paths with the killer.”

“Okay, so how are you gonna get the password out of Val?”

“Simple, talk to her while she’s drunk,” answered Bob. “Depending on what she ate and how much she drank, we only have a few hours before she’s sober enough to keep her mouth shut.”

“Why bother when I can access Val’s account RIGHT NOW?” bragged Irpond.

“Wait, you know Val’s password?”

“Password, phhbt,” scoffed Irpond. “I can get us in her account and find what you want.”

“Wait, but… I don’t feel right about this,” sighed Bob.

“Please, you’re going to ask A DRUNK WOMAN for her password – and that woman committed murder, just like her brother,” said Irpond. “If you ask me… hacking is nothing compared to all that.”

“You make a compelling argument,” said Bob as he got another idea. “I’m still gonna talk to her.”

“About what?”

“Maybe she knows something about Harriet that’s not on record AND wouldn’t tell while sober,” explained Bob as he headed over to sick bay.

“Halt,” ordered a guard. “Identification, please.”

“Bob Kerman,” said Bob. “I’d like to speak with Admiral Val, please.”

“Hang on,” said a guard, verifying Bob’s identity with his kPad. “Lucky you, you’re a designated friend; proceed.”

“Designated friend?” wondered Bob.

“Hey, we can’t just let any visitor in here – especially if the patient is a high-ranking kerbalnaut,” explained the guard. “I mean, DON’T tell me you didn’t fill that out too.”

“Whatever,” said Bob as he approached Val’s bedside. “Hey, Val.”

“Hey, Bill,” replied Val.

“Bill?” wondered Bob. “Bill’s on…,” he stopped himself when he got another idea. “on duty to make sure YOU’RE okay.”

“Wanna hear a secret?” slurred Val.

“Okay… whatever,” said Bob, hoping it would be something juicy.

“I’ve had a crush on you since high school,” confessed Val.

“Weird,” said Bob, “I thought you liked Jeb.”

“Jeb, PUL-LEASE!” sighed Val. “If I ever married THAT hunk, I’d die from a plane crash within a week.”

“Okay, so you had a crush on Bill… I mean me,” said Bob, remembering that he was still pretending to be Bill while Val was intoxicated. “So… lovely lady,” he started, trying to sound smooth – Val giggled, “what’s a firey soul like you doing in a cold place like this?”

“The drunk said I was guards,” answered Val.

“She is,” commented Dr. Melinda. “Her BAC is 0.12.”

“Hey, a…least I drivent did,” replied Val.

“How’d you even get alcohol anyway?” wondered Bob.

“The high-ranking personnel bring it for special occasions,” explained Dr. Melinda. “I’ve gotten too many of those while stationed here.”

“I hope to heaven Jeb didn’t get any,” said Bob. “Anyway, Val, try to remember a student of yours.”

“Could you be specific?” requested Val. “I have A LOT of kids… students.”

“Just one, Harriet Kerman,” said Bob, activating the voice recording app. “She died in a moonjet crash a long time ago, but you said that… uh oh.” Bob quickly picked up a bucket as Val threw up. “You said that her jet was sabotaged, and that she DID NOT text and fly.”

“This may take a minute,” said Val. “My head’s a little fuzzy.”

“Maybe this was a bad idea,” sighed Bob.

“Ah, yes,” said Val. “Harriet was SUPER-focused… had a father who died in a plane crash.”

“Where was the crash?”

“I dunno, but I think it was… NOT off Kerbin,” recalled Val. “She never once texted or used Chirper while she flew. Heck, I even got her off Photogram when I saw her model… hang on, bucket please.” Bob quickly caught Val’s vomit in the bucket before she continued. “And I thought MALE catets were stupid.”

“Note to self: don’t tell Jeb about her Photogram,” said Bob. “Any reason why you think she was murdered?”

“Insurance fraud, DUH,” sighed Val.

“I seriously doubt that,” started Bob, “but still a good idea to check Harriet’s life insurance policy and our program insurance policy for off-planet moonjets.”

“Hang on, that’s not right,” said Val. “Someone got jealous and SHOT HER DOWN!”

“It wasn’t shot down,” said Bob, then Val tugged his uniform.

“Kiss me, Bill Kerman,” Val told him. “You may not get another chance.”

“Come on, come on,” said Bob, but his lips were already touching Val’s. “Man, I’m so telling Bill… I mean… I got another one ready.”

“You do?!” gasped Val in drunken excitement. “GIVE IT TO ME!”

“But first, you gotta give me something,” smirked Bob, his eyebrows going up and down.

“I’m all yours.”

“I just need the password to your KSP account,” said Bob. “The one with the high clearance and everything.”

“Why, Bill? But… it’s MY password.”

“You’re gonna be stuck in here for a while, and we need to find a killer FAST.”

“A killer?” gasped Val, getting behind Bob. “Protect me with your life, my love.”

“I can’t wait until you’re sober again,” sighed Bob. “Password, please?”

Val sighed. “Wolverines suck, with one z, all caps.”

“HEY! Our football team’s been UNDEFEATED for four years straight now,” replied Bob, but Val grabbed his shirt again.

“You got what you wanted, sweetie… now PAY UP.”

“Fine,” said Bob, trying to imagine Val as Sheri. Even though she was dead, he still felt guilty about kissing Val.

“Man, you are such a good kisser,” commented Val after 30 seconds. “Where did you get so good?”

“Sheri,” sighed Bob.

“Sheri? I thought she was girl’s Bob-friend,” said Val.

“Uh… Bob and Sheri broke up for a bit,” lied Bob. “She then got back together with Bob before I was sent to Duna.”

“Please, tell me somethin’,” said Val. “Who was your crush in Baikerbanur?”

“First, you gotta tell me something,” said Bob.

“Ooh, playin’ hard-to-get,” said Val. “You’re on.”

“Did you kill Sheri Kerman?” Bob hoped that the answer was no, but he wanted the truth immediately. Val then leaned in closer and whispered in his ear.

“I did… NOT.”

“Oh, then were were you about… 30 days ago?”

“How should I know, it was a long time ago.”

“Uh… thank you,” said Bob. “I had a crush on…,” Bob tried to think of a convincing name and get out of sick bay as soon as possible. “Sally.” It was the name of a physics student he dated in Woomerang before Basic Training.

“Ha ha, of course you would,” said Val. “You were SUCH a nerd back in high school.”

“Eh, how did you know Sally?” asked Bob. “She was in Woomerang.”

“She was in my ladies cadre during Basic,” explained Val. “I was the first woman to make it to space and live to tell about it – ME!”

“Eh… okay,” said Bob. “Well, I got… engineering stuff to do. So, you stay here and obey the doctor’s orders to lower your BAC.”

“Call me!” said Val as Bob departed sick bay.

“How’d it go?” asked Irpond.

“Perfect,” said Bob. “Anywhere we can get some privacy?”

“Try my room, Val’s probably bugged YOURS,” suggested Irpond, and the two of them headed to Irpond’s room.

“Neat,” complimented Bob as Irpond locked the door. “So, I got Val’s password.” He then asked Irpond to log out of her own KSP account and onto Val’s using the password he gave her.

WOLVERINEZUCK

“Wolverine Zuck?” wondered Irpond.

“No, it’s supposed to be Wolverines Suck,” explained Bob. “The irony is that the Badgers have been sucking WORSE lately.”

“Welcome, Queen Val,” a lady’s voice said as access was granted.

“We’re in,” said Bob.

“We’re in your account, Val,” bragged Irpond.

“Warning: your account is currently being used by another device.”

“You mean THIS device?” said Irpond, producing Val’s kPad.

“You stole Val’s kPad.”

“Technically, she dropped it. And we’re not stealing it, we’re PROTECTING it from an intoxicated owner.”

“Good point,” said Bob. “Now, let’s see what we have here. Orders, missions, crew rosters… here we go. Personnel lookup.”

“Who did you want to look up?” asked Irpond.

“Harriet Kerman,” said Bob, and a file popped up with a picture of a female kerbal in a pilot’s uniform.

Name (Last, First)

Kerman, Harriet

Sex

F

KSP ID

93473

Specialty

Pilot

Status

K.I.A.

Last Assignment

Dres

-       Killed when Moonjet 79 crashed

Last Training Officer

Kerman, Valentina (Admiral)

Pre-Basic Education

Baikerbanur

 

He then clicked on Harriet’s name, and found her date of birth and date of death – which coincided with the date of the Moonjet 79 crash. There were also links to Harriet’s transcripts, her psychological and physical screening reports, and her mission reports. Basically, he had access to everything Harriet did during, and some of before, her time in the Kerbal Space Program.

“Awesome,” he gasped.

“What now?” wondered Irpond.

“We need to find out who would want to kill her and why,” explained Bob. “Even if Moonjet 79 was just a TEST RUN, why leave her to die?”

“I think I can help with that,” offered Irpond. “To not leave any witnesses.”

“Witnesses?” gasped Bob. “You mean that she was killed to KEEP HER MOUTH SHUT?”

“Yes,” said Irpond. “You said it yourself, 79 was only REHEARSAL. If the pilot lived to tell about a MALFUNCTION, everyone will know it was hacked and then 314 would have flown just fine due to the countermeasures taken.”

“If 79 was rehearsal, and 314 was the main event… 79 must have been a lucky chance, while 314 was picked SPECIFICALLY… which means our killer HAD A PARTNER,” concluded Bob.

“But who?” asked Irpond. Bob then turned on his own kPad and looked back at his chat with his friends.

“Can you look up Alva Kerman, please?” requested Bob.

“Huh, it says here she’s an ex-pilot who got fired for freezing the runway and using it as an ice rink for the supersonic jets,” said Irpond, feeling confused.

“That doesn’t sound right,” said Bob, looking at the personnel file. “It starts with an ‘A,’ not an ‘E.’”

“My bad,” apologized Irpond, fixing her mistake. “A-L-V-A Kerman’s an engineer at the space center right now.”

“Wait, she’s on Kerbin NOW?” gasped Bob.

“She clocked in to her job at the SPH four hours ago,” added Irpond. “Look, they even logged her time card.”

“Jeez, Val’s clearance ROCKS,” commented Bob. “Was Alva ever on Dres?”

“Yes, she was,” answered Irpond. “She too was involved in the Moonjet 79 crash, but claimed she was… hit over the head.”

“I know SHE didn’t hack Moonjet 314,” Bob said. “She’s most likely to know how to work the moonjets HERSELF, and she would not have enough time to get from Laythe to Kerbin right now.”

“Laythe?” gasped Irpond.

“The ‘orders’ to sabotage Moonjet 314 and kill that cadet,” explained Bob, “came from Laythe – THIS BASE, in fact.”

“Oh, no,” said Irpond.

“Even so, I’m open to the chance of MORE THAN ONE killer at work here,” continued Bob. “Now, let’s see what we got here. Alva Kerman was at Nye Academy before Basic, then she was sent to a new airport on the Mun.”

“Ha ha,” chuckled Irpond. “How can you have an airport if there is no air?” Bob laughed with her.

“I asked myself the same thing,” said Bob. “Turns out, her assignment coincides with when KSP made its first working SSTOs.”

“The moonjets?” wondered Irpond.

“No, those planes later used for orbital surveys above Kerbin, fly-bys of the Mun, and mainly flying through Duna,” explained Bob.

“How do you know all that?” asked Irpond.

“I rode in one of them,” said Bob, “when Sheri and I were on Duna. Plus, Bill and Val both have subscriptions to Spaceplane Monthly.”

“Nice,” said Irpond.

“Alva then flew back to Kerbin and worked at restoring the Island Airfield before she was sent to Dres,” continued Bob. “She stayed there for a few years… before she ended up in a coma from the Moonjet 79 crash. After she woke up, she filed a request for a reassignment back home.”

“Hey, Bob, you got a text message,” said Irpond.

“What does it say?” wondered Bob.

“Danlong did it,” read Irpond.

“Let me guess, BILL sent it,” said Bob, and Irpond nodded. “He thinks the scientist did it, but my money’s on the engineer.”

“What makes you say that?” asked Irpond, fluffing her hair.

“Alva inspected Moonjet 79 the day it crashed,” started Bob, showing Irpond a detailed job list. “As she also got in-transit training on how to deal with moonjets, she knows the ins and outs of how to sabotage it.”

“You got another message,” said Irpond, then Bob unlocked his kPad for her.

Did you get Val’s password

 

 

WOLVERINEZUCK

Nice.

 

Here are the reasons why I think Danlong is the killer

-       She didn’t mention any malfunctions or alarms going off in her report à Jeb’s crash DID.

-       She didn’t even mention a loss in cabin pressure, which happened in Jeb’s crash (and, most likely, hers).

-       She also could not explain how Alva got her bruise à she claimed Alva “passed out from panicking.”

-       Why did she make no effort to fix the jet’s trajectory? It was equipped with MJ if, by some unlucky chance, she didn’t know how to at least ADJUST HER PERIAPSIS (if she could)

 

Bob still thinks it was Alva.

Who are you?

 

WHERE’S BOB?! >:(

 

Irpond Kerman (F – engineer). Bob’s using Val’s account right now.

Sorry. I don’t expect other people to answer Bob’s DM. His kPad sends a “Busy,” notification whenever he’s driving or working on his next science project.

 

Plus, a whole bunch of crazy things have been going on around our solar system. Right now, I don’t know if I can even trust Val.

 

Bob says that Alva “knew the ins and outs” of the moonjets before her assignment on Dres.

Not the software; she was the mechanic.

 

P(physical damage) >> P(bad software)

-       Which can lead to physical damage

 

 

How do you know she wasn’t lying?

1)    More people have died from the following than bad software: pilot stupidity, flawed designs, unmaintained/broken hardware, hard landings, botched takeoffs, et cetera

2)    Even if a software malfunction occurs (they caused 1 in 45 moonjet incidents), it will most likely result in physical damage – THAT needs fixing.

3)    Unless there’s a software engineer within the SOI, Mission Control will send precise instructions with corrected software.

 

Also, she worked in Aerodynamics – the PHYSICAL aspect of planes

 

Wait, how do you know her?

I met her in an e-convention once – we’re subscribed to Spaceplane Monthly magazine

 

 

“Huh, I think Bill’s right,” said Bob. “Alva’s training did NOT involve the software in the moonjet – just the physical nuts and bolts.”

“I’ll tell him that,” said Irpond.

“Also tell him Val has a crush on him,” added Bob.

“Wait, Val has a crush on Bill?” asked Irpond.

“Well… hard to tell since she was intoxicated,” confessed Bob.

“Yet she was able to accurately give you her password,” said Irpond. “Ew, what’s that smell?”

“I… had to kiss her to get her to talk,” answered Bob. “I pretended to be Bill when she mistook me for him.”

“Oh,” said Irpond, resuming typing. “I think you’d better look up Danlong.”

 

Bob says he thinks you’re right. Alva’s in-flight training was just “nuts and bolts.”

No surprise. Usually, in-transit training for new vehicles does NOT involve extensive software – especially at the time she would have made it to Dres

 

Where did she start from?

 

Kerbin.

Okay.

 

 

Another thing: Val told Bob that she has a crush on you (not Bob, you).

-       And Bob pretended to be you to get her to talk à even kissed her

One other thing: only Mission Control and the manufacturer can see the full operation code

-       Tell Bob to check for digital thefts that happened before the Moonjet 79 crash

-       Also a good time to see if Alva was involved with the manufacturers and/or the personnel that dealt with the moonjet operation software

 

Don’t be surprised if you don’t find anything, though – I seriously think DANLONG did it.

 

Bob thinks that the saboteur on the jet WASN’T ALONE.

You mean a partner-in-crime?

 

 

Yes.

I was thinking the same thing. Assuming Danlong is not a whiz with computer hacking, somebody else must have asked her to review her virus’ performance from the inside (everyone else kinda did the outside)

 

Any of them on Laythe now?

 

So far:

-       Harriet’s dead

-       Alva’s on Kerbin

-       We haven’t looked up Danlong yet.

If NONE of them are on Laythe, the saboteur DEFINITELY had a partner who IS.

 

 

“Okay, Danlong Kerman,” Bob began. “A level five scientist from Woomerang – go Wolverines – who worked as an intern in Mission Control before getting a full-time job in R&D. She then… huh.”

“What?”

“It says on her file she then quit and worked in Baikerbanur at the police crime lab,” explained Bob. “After quitting THAT, she decided to enlist in Basic. She then went to Eve to make the explodium… less explosive and more propulsive. She was later sent to Dres, and… she’s STILL THERE.”

“Drat, NONE of them are on Laythe,” sighed Irpond.

“But their cohort IS,” said Bob. “We’d better talk to that scientist.”

“If she worked in a crime lab, she must know how to manipulate the evidence and cover her tracks,” added Irpond. “I’d better email base security.”

“There is no security,” elaborated Bob. “Dres has been the lowest on the interplanetary colonization budget since we reached across our solar system. Heck, even Minmus is getting more cash than Dres.”

“So, what now?”

“We’d better go there ourselves and find out what went on,” said Bob. “Better talk it over with the guys first, since I’ll definitely need their help.”

“But isn’t Val, like, in charge?” wondered Irpond.

“Not until she’s sober, and even then Bill and Jeb are on another planet further away from Dres than we are,” explained Bob. “In the meantime, I’d better email Roger about Alva in case she knows… strange.”

“What’s strange?”

“Danlong was accused of extortion at least FIVE times after Basic,” started Bob, “but the complaints were soon dropped.”

“I’d better tell Bill that,” said Irpond.

“Also tell him NOT to tell Jeb that we broke into Val’s account,” added Bob.

“Why, is he Val’s boyfriend?” wondered Irpond.

“No, he’s terrible at keeping secrets,” answered Bob. “One time when Bill tried to test an SSTO prototype, Jeb said, and I quote, ‘Just so you know, I did NOT burn up the cockpit and cause the to crash into the ocean. I also DID NOT go full throttle when you said not to.’ I mean, COME ON!”

Irpond laughed. “Only his rich dad could keep him in the program.”

“The weird thing is Jeb doesn’t seem to appreciate it,” remarked Bob. “From what I hear, Jeb and his dad are estranged.”

“What, estranged?” gasped Irpond. “Mom and I chat ALL THE TIME.”

“It’s a miracle if they send one email EITHER WAY in a 60-day period,” sighed Bob. “My little brother’s in prison for illegal genetic experimentation, and even we write each other more often than Jeb and his dad.”

“What was he doing?” asked Irpond.

“Rob was experimenting with kerbal cloning,” explained Bob, and Irpond laughed. “What’s so funny?”

“Bob and Rob,” she told him. “Bet your parents got the names mixed up A LOT.”

“Last I heard, they’re working to get him released,” added Bob. “All Rob was going for was reducing the death rate for our testing crews.”

“By making expendable substitutes?”

“Exactly,” sighed Bob, shaking his fist. “If I see another one of those bureaucrats, I’m going to strap him to a supersonic plane flying full throttle.”

“Ooh, burning him to death,” said Irpond.

“Over 75 percent of SSTO-related deaths are directly linked to atmospheric overheating ALONE,” Bob mentioned. “Not only will our REAL pilots be safe and ready for other missions, but we won’t have NEARLY as many grieving friends and families. STUPID POLITICIANS!”

*You’re right, something needs to be done about this ergregious breach of progress,” agreed Irpond.

“Just as we need to get Danlong,” said Bob. “Can you check the Transfer Window Alarm Clock, please?”

“Okay,” said Irpond. “It says the next Jool to Dres window opens in… 12 years.”

“12 YEARS?!” gasped Bob. “We need to get there NOW!”

“At the optimum position, it takes at least another six to get there,” added Irpond.

“I think I’d rather get shot than live the rest of my life in transit trajectories,” commented Bob. “I hope Jeb and Bill have better luck.”

“What makes you think they’ll get you to Dres before the next transfer window?” wondered Irpond. “Or, better yet, before Danlong tries to make a run for it?”

“I’m more worried about the transfer window timing than Danlong fleeing,” said Bob. “It says here that she applied for permanent Dres residence… 307 days after the moonjet crash.”

“Was it granted?”

“Yes,” said Bob. “Now I gotta ask Val to do all this again.”

“That’s SO lame,” said Irpond. “You already have her password, why not just tell her YOURSELF?”

“Because I don’t want her to know I broke into her account,” explained Bob. “Even if she WAS guilty of murder, that just means I’m a terrible friend.”

“Wait, what do you mean IF she’s guilty?”

“I asked her if she killed Sheri, and she said no.” Irpond gasped in surprise.

“And you believe her?”

“She was honest about everything else, including her password,” started Bob. “Normally, she would take it to her grave even with Bill. Plus… she was singing – sometimes literally – while drunk.”

“DANG IT!” cursed Irpond. “I… seriously thought it was her. I KNOW she’s hiding something.”

“Something’s definitely hidden, but I don’t know if it’s VAL who’s doing the hiding,” said Bob. “Victor, definitely.”

“So, what’s our next move?” asked Irpond. “It’ll be YEARS before we can go anywhere.”

“Stop the search before we go too deep,” said Bob. “If we gather too much now, Val will know we used her clearance without permission.”

“But everything we need is RIGHT THERE.”

“Then what, freeze our butts off before the next time we can leave Jool’s sphere of influence?” argued Bob. “If we left now, we have two major issues: delta-V, and transit time.”

“Well, we gotta find this killer before she strikes again.”

“I can ask Mission Control to talk to Alva in case she knows something about Danlong or more about the crash,” suggested Bob. “We can also try to look for the killer here.”

“Wait, are you talking about Sheri’s killer, the Zeus destroyer, or the moonjet hacker?” wondered Irpond.

“Hopefully… all of them.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm not too worried about the killer, I just wanted to remark on how Bob was engaging in a nonconsensual activity for the purpose of finding it who dunnit

 

/s

Edited by Atubara
Wanted to be funny, I'm not serious
Link to comment
Share on other sites

CHAPTER TEN: TRAVEL PLANS

 

“Uhh… what happened?” groaned Val, having a headache. “W… where am I?”

“You’re in sick bay, Admiral,” said Dr. Melinda.

“Sick bay?” wondered Val, looking around her. “How long have I been here?”

“Nine hours,” replied Dr. Melinda.

“NINE HOURS?!” gasped Val, looking at herself in the mirror. “What happened to me… and why do I smell bad? I thought sick bays were supposed to be SANITARY.”

“You were intoxicated and had to be observed, mam,” answered Dr. Melinda.

“Intoxicated? What?” said Val. “No way that’s possible; someone drugged me.”

“We checked your blood and BAC; you were LOADED,” started Dr. Melinda. “Base security also checked the bottles of wine you drank out of; they’re clean.”

“Aw, no,” sighed Val. “Tell me nobody saw me.”

“Unfortunately, EVERYONE has,” said Dr. Melinda, showing Val her Chirper page. Val was appalled at the headline that came before the video of her.

VAL’S GONE WILD

“Oh, great.”

“Be sure to drink a lot of water,” suggested Dr. Melinda. “As a doctor, and in compliance with program regulations, I forbid you from operating any vehicles for the next six hours.”

“Looks like I’d better wash up and see what I missed,” said Val as she straightened her hair before leaving sick bay.

“Hello, Admiral,” saluted Captain Ersen as she got near him.

“Hey, Captain,” replied Val as she saluted back. “What’d I miss?”

“One of the men here pretended to be me and prank-called Armstrong Base,” started Ersen. “You were then seen intoxicated and then base security took you to sick bay. After that, all operations have proceeded as planned.”

“Good to know,” said Val. “Anything else?”

“Bob has formally requested that you give him a list of all kerbals, living and dead, who are currently on Laythe that have ever been to Dres,” added Ersen.

“Me, why me?” wondered Val. “Also, DRES? Why?”

“He didn’t say, only that he’ll tell you himself,” answered Ersen. “I take it you’re hitting the showers?”

“Correct, Captain,” said Val. “As you were.” Val then got a new change of clothes and showered before heading over to Bob’s quarters. “What is Bob up to?” She knocked on the door and heard a voice at the other end.

“Oh, shoot,” a man had said. A messy Guscan Kerman then opened the door. “Oh, Admiral Val. What a nice surprise.”

“Where’s Bob.”

“I don’t know.” Val then heard footsteps on the other end of the door.

“Who’s in there?”

“It’s… my… maintenance guy,” stammered Guscan. “Yeah, the heater’s dead.”

“Then you won’t mind letting me see…” said Val, then she saw a hand with nail-polished nails get on Guscan’s shoulder. “HA!”

“HEY!” screamed a woman wearing exercise clothes. “What the…”

“Lady, GET!” ordered Val, pointing at the hallway, then the woman obeyed. “Guscan, I want Bob over here NOW!”

“Yes, Admiral. Right away,” panted Guscan as he ran off. Val then closed the door behind her and sat on Bob’s bunk – Guscan had the top. She then unlocked her kPad and accessed her contact list.

“What do you want, sis?” asked Victor as he answered the video call.

“The truth, Victor” said Val.

“At least tell me you’re sober,” sighed Victor. “My men are already making memes out of you dancing in the hallway drunk.”

“Because of what you did.”

“What I did?” gasped Victor. “Just because you have more stripes than me doesn’t mean you’re really that high-and-mighty. You’ll always be MY little sister.”

“Am I, Vic? Am I?” replied Val.

“Want me to pull out the birth certificates, because I will,” Victor responded.

“I didn’t think I’d be related to a PSYCHOPATH,” said Val.

“You’re still mad at me about Rover, aren’t you?” guessed Victor. “I thought a grown woman would have gotten over shooting A SICK DOG within a week.”

“Uh, everything okay sir?” asked one of Victor’s men.

“GET!” shouted Victor, and the soldier left.

“You LIED TO ME!” continued Val. “No wonder Elegail hung herself.”

“How DARE YOU blame Elegail’s suicide ON ME!” yelled Victor. “Oh, and by the way, she shot her own terminally ill cat when she was SEVEN.”

“I guess that’s how it starts,” started Val. “One day you’re killing your sister’s dog and lying about where he went, the next…,” she was interrupted by a knock on the door. “I have to call you back.” She hung up and asked whoever was at the door to come in.

“Val?” wondered Bob. “What are you doing in my quarters.”

“Responding to your request,” explained Val. “And as for you, Guscan, as punishment for lying, you’re going to be on janitorial detail for the next six hours.”

“Aw, man,” sighed Guscan as he left.

“Lying, what about?” asked Bob.

“He said a maintenance guy was here when it was some woman in exercise clothes,” sighed Val. “Honestly, I don’t see why people even wear it if they’re not even going to work out.”

“Eh... Sheri and I had our hottest dates in exercise clothes,” confessed Bob. “Too bad it was in the COLDEST parts of the solar system.”

“Anyway,” interrupted Val, “Captain Ersen said that you wanted a list of Laythe personnel who were on Dres.”

“Yes,” said Bob, then he explained what he, Jeb, and Bill discussed earlier – while leaving out the part where he and Irpond broke into Val’s KSP account.

“Moonjet 79?” gasped Val. “I KNEW that crash was fishy.”

“Yeah, and Bill and I think Danlong knows something,” added Bob.

“The scientist?” inquired Val. “How do you know her?”

“Duh, her name was on the accident report,” said Bob. “How do YOU know her?”

“After I got word that Harriet died, I emailed the two women she was flying with at the time,” answered Val. “Danlong said Harriet was texting while flying, but Alva said she was hit in the head before waking up in sick bay.”

“So why didn’t you report this to Mission Control?”

“I did, but they said Harriet WAS texting at the time of the crash,” sighed Val. “I was about to file corruption claims until they showed me the messages Harriet sent with the time stamps. Additionally, while there WERE bruises on Alva and Harriet, the doctors couldn’t tell if they were sustained BEFORE or DURING the crash.”

“Harriet was not in an EVA suit when she died,” remarked Bob. “The report also showed the results of her autopsy; space killed her, not a blow to the head.”

“Oh, no,” said Val. “Alva did it.”

“I thought so too, but Bill has good reason to disagree,” countered Bob. “First of all, JEB’S EVA dispenser was working fine.”

“Maybe the killer changed the virus.”

“Then ALL THREE of them would have died,” said Bob. “Secondly, Bill knows Alva from before; she was a mechanic, not a software girl. Thirdly, if it was Alva, how come she ended up in a coma… and how come Danlong never mentioned a FIGHT or even a MALFUNCTION?”

“Now, are you sure that Moonjet 79 was hacked in the same manner as Moonjet 314?” asked Val.

“I… think you should ask Bill that question, but HE’S sure,” said Bob. “Witnesses took pictures and video of it flying out of control with its drill sticking out through the cargo bay.”

“What?” gasped Val in shock. “H… how did Mission Control NOT notice that?”

“Playing Kraken’s advocate here,” started Bob, “they didn’t find any SOLID evidence that the moonjet was sabotaged. The probe core and black box were both destroyed. Plus, they had good reason to believe it was due to pilot negligence.”

“What about Jeb’s crash, how did they know HE was sabotaged?”

“Jeb and Agaden were yelling for help as THEY were crashing, and he tried to save it… or at least cause a safe crash-landing. In 79’s case, the pilot was KNOCKED OUT and NOBODY even sent a distress signal. Jeb managed to at least save MOST of the jet since he was alert, but Harriet couldn’t do ANYTHING.”

“Oh… dear,” said Val. “Danlong slugs Alva from behind, Harriet catches her in the act, then Danlong punches her. As the moonjet crashes. She puts herself and Alva in EVA suits while texting with Harriet’s kPad to make it look like it was HER fault. She then bails her and Alva out, leaving Harriet to die.”

“Makes sense,” agreed Bob, “but there’s no way we can know if Harriet even saw a fight. Bill thinks Danlong killed her so that she’ll KEEP HER MOUTH SHUT about any malfunctions AND she can’t dispute the texts that were sent while she was crashing.”

“Also makes sense,” said Val. “Where are Danlong and Alva NOW?”

“Bill says that Alva’s back on Kerbin,” answered Bob, getting ready to lie to Val. “As for Danlong… we don’t know where she is.”

“Not anymore,” smirked Val, unlocking her kPad. “Danlong Kerman… BINGO.”

“What?” asked Bob, acting surprised.

“She’s still on Dres,” said Val. “She has permanent resident status, too.”

“But… that means that Danlong HAD A PARTNER,” Bob told Val, “since none of them are on Laythe.”

“When does the next transfer window from here to Dres open?” Val asked Bob.

“12 years,” sighed Bob, showing Val his Transfer Window Alarm Clock.

“Oh, great,” sighed Val, then Bob told her it would take at least six more years to get there. “Looks like we’re stuck here for a while.”

“Hey, maybe Jeb and Bill can help,” suggested Bob.

“Well, how long before THEIR window opens?”

“Let’s see… 2 years, 371 days,” answered Bob. “It’s then an estimated SEVEN years to get to Dres… and that’s before YOU AND I can even get out of here.”

“Maybe one of our pods has enough delta-V to make it to Dres early,” suggested Val. “If we’re lucky, we’ll catch this killer before we need to get out of here. Now, what are your search parameters?” She and Bob then typed in the desired parameters in the personnel search bar.

“Anyone who’s ever been in Poseidon’s Palace in the past… 75 days,” started Bob, “who was also on Dres… at some point in their lives.”

“Seems a bit broad, dude,” said Val.

“It’s possible that our killer and Danlong crossed paths on Dres BEFORE Moonjet 79, then he or she sent Danlong the virus FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE,” said Bob. “Jeb thinks it’s also possible Danlong made the virus herself and SOLD it to our killer.”

“That makes… no… actually, it kind of does make sense,” said Val. “Then again, if the killer HERE wanted to kill a pilot on Eeloo, why not just hire Danlong to send the virus from DRES?”

“Maybe that’s an extra charge,” said Bob. “And if you think that makes no sense, y… Jeb thinks it was an insurance scam.” He decided to blame it on Jeb, since he couldn’t risk jogging Val’s memory – hence, her high chances of recalling that she gave Bob her password.

“Insurance fraud? What?” wondered Val. “That is literally the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard coming from a level five pilot.”

“Like you,” Bob thought to himself, then he asked Val, “Why, are they not insured?”

“They’re insured, all right,” said Val. “However, KSP doesn’t get A DIME if the crash was due to PILOT ERROR – which Moonjet 79 was blamed on. Now, if it was because of a design flaw, unforeseen or unpreventable disaster, or… SABOTAGE – or if it crashes after getting hijacked – then you have solid grounds for an insurance claim. And even then, MISSION CONTROL gets the money to pay for a new moonjet and delivery rocket.”

“Okay, so much for the ‘Mission Control Gone Bad,’ theory,” sighed Bob.

“Just what was that theory?” wondered Val.

“Well… maybe the saboteur planned to get a kickback from the insurance check,” remarked Bob, “but that would mean someone back home would be funneling it to her bank account.”

“Definitely not it,” said Val. “If it was an interplanetary insurance fraud, Mission Control would have told Danlong to blame it on a technical malfunction or a hidden saboteur… or undetected debris or a random meteoroid. They’re the ones who are supposed to know the insurance policies backwards and forwards.”

“She also wouldn’t need to kill Harriet and K.O. Alva,” added Bob, “or use Harriet’s kPad to make it look like she was stupid.”

“I’ll contact Roger back home and ask him to look into the crash again,” said Val. “In the meantime… oh my God.”

“What?”

“Danlong was repeatedly accused of extortion, but the complaints were soon dropped,” explained Val. “Maybe Alva knows something that Danlong doesn’t want to get out.”

“Maybe Roger can get Alva to talk,” suggested Bob.

“Meet me at the landing strip at sundown,” said Val. “Your license still works, right?”

“Yes, the suspension was over a few days ago,” answered Bob. “Wait, are we taking separate rovers?”

“Yes, I… gotta go fly and meet Victor later,” sighed Val. “I don’t want to WALK all the way back to base when I return.”

“Okay, but what do I tell the guards when I sign off on the rover?” reminded Bob. “I can’t just leave in the middle of the night without SOME purpose.”

“Tell them you’re… studying black ice on the landing strip,” suggested Val. “I mean… a lot of flights around the northernmost parts of Kerbin get delayed or cancelled because of black ice on the runway. Odds are it’s BOUND to happen more frequently here.”

“Good idea,” said Bob. “I’ll be sure to bring in some observations.”

“Do not tell anyone except Bill and Jeb we had this conversation, not even Guscan,” said Val.

“Then what do I tell HIM?”

“Tell him… I was… scolding you for putting my hand in a jar of water while I was in sick bay.”

“Hand in a jar of water?” asked Bob, confused. “Why is that worthy of a scolding?”

Val chuckled. “You don’t know, do you? It’s a childish prank the boys did to each other ALL THE TIME in Baikerbanur. It caused them to pee in their pants while they’re asleep.”

“That happened in Woomerang too… except we just slipped each other diuretics and watched them urinate themselves IN FRONT OF EVERYONE while they’re awake.”

“Yeah, Guscan’s gonna know that’s not your style,” sighed Val, “unless you tell him that you learned a new prank.”

“Yeah, I’ll go with that,” agreed Bob.

 

Later that evening, Bob was at the landing strip waiting for Val in a one-man rover. He had to wear a full EVA suit due to the exposed seat – which did not provide adequate warming. Guscan had offered to drive him in a mini-bus when he saw Bob in the garage, but Bob politely declined. After arriving at the landing strip, he plugged his rover into the charger port since the sun was getting low – which would render the solar panels useless later.

“You’re early,” said Val on her commlink after she arrived. Bob reached for his gun when he saw the lights. “Take it easy, Bob. It’s me.”

“Not taking any chances,” said Bob. “Why did you want me to meet you?”

“To give you the list you wanted,” explained Val, taking a flash drive out of her bag. “I also want you to have this.”

“What’s in here?” asked Bob.

“The reason why I’m heading to the peaks to meet Victor,” said Val, “and… why I got myself drunk.”

“Then why are you giving it to me?” wondered Bob.

“As it turns out… you were right all along,” sighed Val, then Bob took aim at her. “Whoa!”

“Why’d you do it?”

“Why’d I do WHAT?”

“Kill Sheri and frame Wenpont,” explained Bob.

“Whoa, I did NO such thing,” denied Val.

“Then why force Irpond to steal Wally’s RTG?” asked Bob

“Wally’s RTG… and who’s Irpond?”

“That software engineer whose mother YOUR CRONIES have hostage,” answered Bob. “Now, I’m only gonna ask once, where’s Misty Kerman?”

“I got a better question, WHO’S Misty Kerman?” questioned Val, confused.

“You threatened to kill her and frame her for a crime she didn’t commit,” said Bob.

“Freeze!” shouted a security guard who arrived at the scene. “Sir, drop the gun and step away from the woman.”

“Stand down, guard,” said Val. “He’s not gonna shoot me.”

“Mam, you can’t be serious.”

“That’s an order,” said Val, and the guard left. “Now, who the heck is Misty Kerman?”

“She was a scientist in the program when we were kids,” said Bob. “She was falsely accused of sabotaging a rover which caused someone’s death. Soon after, Misty had a daughter named Irpond – who now works here. You then had some friends kidnap Misty and forced Irpond to steal Wally’s RTG to hide VICTOR’S secret.”

“You’d better have solid proof to back that up, scientist.”

“Wally ATTACKED Irpond after I reinstalled his RTG, then Irpond told me why. Given her mom’s reputation for being persecuted – and the recently-discovered fact that BILL burned her house down – everything seems to make sense.”

“Just why would I steal Wally’s RTG?” asked Val.

“So I couldn’t use him at the Clivar site,” said Bob, and Val was shocked.

“You were gonna sneak your robot into a restricted area?”

“You mean a covered-up crime scene.”

“Okay, Bob, I’m just gonna set this straight – but first, put down the gun.”

“No, you set it straight first,” said Bob. “Right now, I don’t know if I can trust you.”

“You want it that way, fine,” sighed Val. “Until two days ago, I’ve been living in denial. As soon as I found out the truth, I tried to forget I ever learned it.”

“That’s why you got drunk?”

“Exactly. Since I never knew Victor’s secret – AT THE TIME – I had no reason to sabotage you, Wally, or even kill Sheri.”

“Now why should I believe that?”

“Think of this way, Bob: if I WAS covering for him, you would have never seen me drunk.”

“Then how come the Zeus never evacuated before the asteroid hit?” countered Bob. “Answer: you sabotaged it from THE INSIDE and then you told YOUR BROTHER how to destroy it FROM THE OUTSIDE.”

“I don’t know why no there were no evacuation efforts,” said Val. “I sure as heck don’t know HOW they didn’t see an incoming asteroid.”

“There had better not be a virus on that flash drive.”

“Nope, just a digital copy of this.” Val then produced a folder from her jacket. “I’m heading to Victor’s location right now to confront him about it. If I do not make it back by sundown tomorrow evening… leak the contents of the file labeled ‘Sheri Kerman’ to everyone you know. Friends, family, media… and don’t forget Roger.”

“Wait… LEAK it?” gasped Bob in surprise.

“I doubt that Victor will kill me or let anyone else do it,” started Val. “But, then again… I feel like I don’t really know him. If something DOES happen to me, at least I’ll have an insurance policy.”

“Mam, your jet’s ready!” shouted a mechanic.

“One minute!” replied Val. “You were right about Victor, and there’s the proof. Now, don’t try to look through everything else on my flash drive – it’s all locked. There’s a text file with the password for ‘Sheri Kerman,’ on it, so delete it first chance you get. Everything else… you need a password to delete those, too – including the contents of the folder.”

“Got it,” said Bob, putting his thumb up. “But first… I gotta study black ice formation on Laythe. I’m not gonna go back to base empty-handed.”

“Well, in that case, I’ll be going,” said Val, climbing the ladder into the cockpit. “Please stand clear of the jet.” She then started the engine and proceeded to take off. After she was airborne, Bob collected his sample of black ice the engine left behind and recorded his observations about the temperature, barometric pressure, seismic activity, and atmospheric composition. Suddenly, he heard a rustling noice coming from behind him.

“Who goes there?!” shouted Bob as he turned around and drew a handgun. “Show yourself!”

“Base security!” announced a man. “What’s going on here, sir?”

“I thought I heard something,” said Bob.

“Hey, where’s that lady you were with?”

“She flew away.”

“Then why did you pull a gun on her?”

“I thought she was a crook,” said Bob, “but I was wrong. Now you’re letting our creeper get away.”

All was silent for thirty seconds before the guard spoke again. “Well, whatever it was, it’s gone now.”

“I’ll holler if it happens again,” said Bob, then he jotted down some notes of the black ice on the landing strip before h