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Audacity: Memoirs of a Kerbonaut


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Audacity

Memoirs of a Kerbonaut

by Martina D Kerman

Contents:

Chapter 0 - Maps and stuff

Chapter 1 - First Contact (scroll down!)

Chapter 2 - Perseverance

Chapter 3 - Darude

Chapter 4 - Aftermath

Chapter 5 - Gategrash

Chapter 6 - Overture

Chapter 7 - Progress

Chapter 8 - Expectations...

Chapter 9 - ...and reality

Chapter 10 - Ablaze with stars, part 1

Chapter 11 - Ablaze with stars, part 2

Chapter 12 - Ablaze with stars, part 3

Chapter 13 - Love, and loss

Chapter 14 - On a knife-edge

 

Chapter 1 – First Contact

It was the music that caught her attention first. That stirring, upbeat tune that sounded like a military march, simple yet instantly recognisable among the other jingles and ads.*

The voiceover kicked in as the camera seemed to soar over mountains and shoot up through the sky until the sky changed from blue to black and the stars appeared.

"We chose to go to the Mun, not because it was easy but because it was hard. Now, we choose to move on from our first steps to take our next giant leap forward into space."

The immortal footage of the great Jebediah Kerman stepping down onto the Munar surface accompanied the first half of that sentence; the latter was backdropped by a panoramic image from the Spirit of Discovery rover from Duna’s surface, Ike hanging low in the sky overhead.

"Our programmes continue to expand with more recruits arriving every day."

A montage of trainees going through their regimen of exercises, underwater EVA practices, centrifuge training and more flashed across the screen. Scientists in white coats and engineers in yellow overalls traded notes in front of a scale model of the Acapello rocket, pilots flew simulated manoeuvres to dock with a space station, a Javelin launch booster dropped onto its landing barge with a tremendous plume of fire from its engine exhausts and (miraculously) stayed upright and in one piece when the engines shut down.

"There’s only one thing missing..."

A space suited figure appeared in the centre of the screen, flipped up their visor and looked directly at the camera- directly at her. It was the very same Jebediah Kerman, and he pointed right at her.

"-You!"

A final musical flourish and the screen cut to black with just the familiar red logo and the slogan "Kerbal Space Program - join now!"

"That doesn’t look like homework to me," a voice from behind her made Tina jump. Too late she tried to click onto something homework related but instead managed to start the video again. Several frantic button presses later it eventually stopped and she turned to face her father, blushing furiously when she saw the amusement on his face.

"Um..." was all she could think of to say.

Dad put on a mock stern expression. "Homework. Now. Or I’ll eat your Minmus sorbet." It was an idle threat- Dad was on a strict diet and everyone knew it, and he liked to complain about it every mealtime.

"Yes, Daddy." Tina played the Daddy’s Girl card, looking up with big, round eyes and slightly trembling lower lip, and he laughed and walked away but left the door open so she could hear him muttering loudly: "Mmmm, Minmus sorbet. I can barely remember what it tastes like, maybe I could sneak a little spoonful from the freezer..."

Tina smiled, but it faded quickly as she turned back to the English essay that was supposed to be written by now, the cursor blinking mockingly at her on the empty page. It was hopeless- that poem made no sense to her at all, how was she supposed to write a thousand words about some stupid people from hundreds of years ago swooning over each other.

She stood up from the desk, grabbed her phone and a jacket and was downstairs and out the door in seconds with a "That was quick!" from Dad following her out. She headed for the end of the street, through the little play park and out to the open field at the edge of town, then cut across the north side to her usual spot on the bank of a small river. It was quiet here, just the sound of the river and birds and the wind rustling through the trees and she felt herself relaxing with every deep breath of that fresh country air.

A muffled thud reverberated through the air, almost felt more than heard. She sat up, slightly too quickly, looking around to find the source. A second, louder thud came shortly afterwards and she scanned the skies again with no luck. Only a supersonic spaceplane made that distinctive double sonic boom, but there weren’t any flights scheduled anywhere near here according to kerbinspacetracker.com or-

A much louder bang came from behind the trees, accompanied by a chorus of car alarms. The trees themselves seemed to be rustling with increasing volume and the river looked like it was rippling. She climbed back up the bank to get a better view and was promptly blasted back down by a tremendous wall of heat and noise and light that made her teeth rattle and her ears ache.

When it had finally stopped, she cautiously peeked over the edge of the bank. The ground looked scorched, the trees had lost most of their leaves and the field was covered by smoke and steam, but there was no mistaking the shape sticking up at an angle in the middle.

It was a Dynawing. Tina grabbed her phone and took a picture, then reconsidered and began recording a video as she slowly approached the downed shuttle. She saw what looked like an airbrake with its outer tip buried in the ground and a single wheel, torn off its mount by the impact, and then she saw the shuttle itself, sad and broken now, resting on its belly and one valiant landing gear that hadn't been torn off in the crash, missing half a wing and- pointing backwards?

The marks on the ground confirmed it: the Dynawing was facing the wrong way. Even more intriguingly, the scorch marks on the ground suggested that the engines had fired to bring it to a halt, so it had either landed fast and spun around, or else it had actually landed backwards.

The heatproof panels were still smoking slightly so she kept her distance, still recording, when suddenly a ladder deployed below the cabin hatch in front of her and the hatch itself opened with a clang and a hiss. A space suited figure emerged, clambering down the ladder and hopping the short drop to the ground. When they turned round, Tina’s jaw dropped: it was Valentina Kerman, the most famous female astronaut ever and her greatest hero. Tina had dressed up as Val last Halloween, had a little bobble head Val sitting on her desk back at home, followed every social media account she had, and now here she was right in front of her!!

Val noticed her and waved; Tina was too star-struck to respond, which made Val come over and ask "Are you OK?" She tried to speak but couldn’t so resorted to nodding.

"Jeb, you nearly landed on someone!" Val shouted up to the open hatch.

"‘Nearly’ being the key word in that sentence," replied a voice that was instantly familiar to Tina. She felt giddy- first Val, now Jeb too!? It couldn’t be...

A second astronaut emerged from the hatch and climbed down to the ground. Tina was slightly disappointed that it wasn’t Jeb, but only slightly.

"Nice idea with that monopropellant thruster, Val, it sure did the trick."

"Thanks, Nat. Still, I can’t take all the credit-" she punctuated this remark with a nod of her head towards the hatch and a roll of her eyes at the same time-" and anyway, it was you who figured out that the SAS core was misaligned in the first place to give me enough control for that manoeuvre."

"I heard that eye roll, Val!"

Val stuck her tongue out in the direction of the hatch.

"AND that stuck out tongue! I know all your tricks, Valentina."

"Really? I didn’t see you suggesting that monopropellant thruster trick, Jebediah..." Val retorted.

Nat laughed. "She’s got you there, Jeb."

Jeb suddenly appeared on the roof of the shuttle, tool two steps then jumped off and only just got his parachute open in time yet managed to land perfectly. He spotted Tina and her phone, struck a glamorous pose and said "And that, viewers, is how you land a Dynawing backwards!"

Val snorted. "‘Land’ indeed; ‘belly flop with the grace of a brick through a plate glass window’ would be more accurate." Tina giggled; Jeb acted outraged. "You’re taking her side!? Me, the greatest pilot in all of spacedom, who just landed a Dynawing BACKWARDS, and you pick Valentina ‘use the monopropellant thruster’ Kerman over me!?"

"Electronics are all shut down, fuel cells disabled and fuel tanks locked off." A fourth astronaut emerged from the shuttle and joined them. He spotted Tina straight away.

"And who might you be, young lady?"

"I’m Tina," she replied in barely more than a whisper.

"Hey, just like me!" Val grinned.

HOW COULD SHE NOT HAVE NOTICED THIS BEFORE!?!?!?

Sirens were approaching in the distance and a crowd was already gathering at the edge of the field, phones and cameras clicking furiously.

"Alright people, selfie time!" Jeb plucked Tina’s phone from her hands and propped it against a rock a few paces away. "In three, two-"

"Wait!" Val interrupted. She popped her helmet off and plonked it on Tina’s head, nearly making her fall over under its weight. Jeb rolled his eyes theatrically. "Whenever you’re ready..."

"Ready."

"Three, two, one-" Click. BOOOOOM!!!

"Uh, Doodul? Did you turn off ALL the fuel cells?"

"Oops..."

THUNK. A lump of smoking debris bounced off Tina’s helmet, leaving a little scorch mark, then landed straight on top of her phone and cracked the screen.

"Nice going, Jeb..." muttered Val.

"Hey! That wasn’t MY fault!" Jeb retorted.

"You stole the poor girl’s phone and then it got broken, how is that not your fault?" Nat chimed in.

"Fine, if it makes you happy..." Jeb pulled a notepad and pen out of a pocket, scribbled something on it and handed it to Tina, but when she went to take it he snatched it away and said "Nope, you chose Val’s side, so I don’t like you." The big grin on his face said otherwise, and he handed her the note again.

"Just make sure that gets framed and hung on your wall, OK?"

The first of the first responders had just arrived. The four astronauts and Tina headed towards them, picking up her damaged phone on the way. Half way there, Val and Tina slowed down for a chat.

"So what do you want to be when you grow up?" Val asked.

"I want to be an astronaut, like you." Tina replied, still unable to talk above a near whisper.

Val smiles. "Excellent choice! Well, if you work hard at school, do all your homework- ALL your homework," she added as she saw Tina grimacing, "then when you’re ready, you send in an application to the Space Program and I’ll talk to some people and get you a place."

"Really?" Tina was thrilled.

"Sure" Anyone with such an impeccable choice of favourite astronaut deserves to join the Program."

"I heard that!" Jeb shouted over his shoulder.

Val peeled her name badge off her suit and stuck it on Tina’s jacket. "Just keep hold of that, so I know it’s really you. I will need that helmet back though."

Tina was actually glad to lose the helmet, it was really heavy and the rim was digging into her arms as she tried to prop it up.

Another explosion shook the downed Dynawing, sending a fireball into the sky and causing the last wheel to collapse, shaking the ground as it settled heavily onto its belly.

"Just promise me when you’re an astronaut, you won’t do that," Vall added and Tina nodded so quickly she made herself feel dizzy.

As they reached the crowd at the edge of the field, Tina spotted her parents at the front and ran to them. They immediately started fussing over her.

"Are you OK? Are you hurt? What happened to your phone?"

"I’m fine, really!"

"I take it you’re her parents," Val said from behind her.

"Unfortunately, yes." Dad replied.

"Well, I told her that if she wants to become an astronaut, she has to finish ALL her homework. Can you make sure she does that?"

A very mischievous grin appeared on Dad’s face.

"Absolutely! Right young lady, you have an English essay to write and I have a Minmus sorbet to eat."

"No you certainly do not!" Mum rebuked him. "You're on a diet."

Dad sulked.

Val was about to walk away, but turned back and quickly signed her own name on the note Jeb had given Tina. "We both know who your favourite astronaut is," she whispered loudly enough that Jeb could hear it; Jeb sulked even more than Dad.

The four astronauts were escorted through the crowd by police, stopping for photographs and autographs, then climbed into four separate ambulances and were rushed away with a police escort, while firefighters tried to contain the fires as much as they could and prevent the river being polluted by leaking rocket fuel.

On their way back home, Tina read the note Jeb had given her and was confused by it- I. O. U., Jeb. Dad explained: "An IOU is what you give someone when you owe them some money, but can't pay it right there and then. It's basically a promise that you'll pay them later once you have the money."

"I think we have a picture frame somewhere, we might be able to get the pictures off your phone and print one out to put on your wall with that note and your name badge," Mum said.

"Hey! That's for my before and after diet photos!" Dad protested, then seeing everyone's expressions added, "And there will be an after photo, too."

Never in all of history had anyone eaten a Minmus sorbet so slowly, and with so many appreciative "mmm"s and "yum"s and bowl scrapes to extract every last minty morsel, as Tina did that evening.

Later that night, after everyone else had gone to sleep, Tina still lay awake. The events of that evening were replaying over and over in her head. She got up and walked over to the window, and as if on cue the clouds parted and revealed the full Mun in all its glory, illuminating everything with its soft white light. She looked up at it, trying to pick out the place where only last year Jeb, Fleegus and Bartger has taken those famous first steps, and trips and falls and faceplants, on its surface. Some day she was going to do the same, or if not the Mun then on Minmus, Duna or Ike or even Gilly. Some day she too would be strapped to many tons of explosive rocket fuel and hurled into the sky on a giant trail of fire and fury, then travel on to other worlds; or even other solar systems, if the rumours she had picked up online about Grannus being real were true.

Some day she too would become a Kerbonaut. Of that, she was absolutely certain.

Chapter 2

(*Yup, it's KSP Theme. They did it with the Imperial March in Solo, and if it's good enough for Star Wars...)

Edited by jimmymcgoochie
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Chapter 2 - Perseverance

Six years later...

This was not going well.

When Tina had heard the words 'Science Fair' she was expecting some baking soda volcanoes and little wheeled drones made from old computer parts. What she found instead was a huge exhibition hall full of sleek and shiny robotics projects, self-piloting airborne drone swarms buzzing around overhead and at least one laser that could shoot through solid metal plates.

Her entry paled in comparison, looking crude and cheap and every bit the collection of spare and scrap parts it was, in fact, made from. The worst part of it all was she couldn't even turn it on indoors because of fire regulations. Maybe that was a good thing, considering how many times she had nearly burnt down her workshop (the garden shed) with the various iterations and prototypes leading up to this.

Only a few people were even bothering to look at her stand, and those who did quickly lost interest and moved on. She wasn't sure whether to cry from disappointment or scream in frustration at their lack of imagination. How could they not see the uses for this!?

Her invention was simple enough to understand: a two-mode air-breathing rocket she had called DAGGER, for Dual-mode Air-Guzzling Gas Engine for Rockets; the acronym was more by accident than design. At the front, an array of desk fans stuck together spun at a dizzying speed, funnelling air into the intake. At its heart was a combustion chamber in which propane gas was burnt with some of that air at high pressure, producing lots of heat. The remaining air was then forced through the back of the combustion chamber and accelerated considerably by said heat, producing lots of thrust and spinning a dynamo which powered the front fans. Because of its design, the combustion cycle could be shut down altogether for almost a minute at a time without a significant drop in thrust as residual heat drove the system, effectively producing thrust from nothing but air. It was also capable of running without any air at all by pumping oxygen gas into the combustion chamber. In theory, it would operate from sea level all the way to space.

Unfortunately for Tina, three days before the Science Fair a joint venture between C7 Aerospace and the Rockomax Conglomerate had, to great pomp and ceremony, released the R.A.P.I.E.R. engine, an air-breathing multi-mode rocket that could operate from sea level all the way to space. She was convinced that the RAPIER had at least two notable flaws, but apparently nobody else felt the same way and she had stood through a barrage of comments with a general theme of "too late, someone else made that already" for the last six and a half hours.

Another Fair patron walked past with barely a glance in her direction. Tina sighed and looked across the hall to the largest displays, most of which had big screens showing slick presentations on a loop accompanied by loud music which was nothing but noise by the time it crossed the hall. Some of those exhibitors had clearly been well funded by rich family members with industry contacts; at least two were giving out glossy flyers and all had been well-photographed and visited by most of the corporate patrons throughout the day.

It took her several seconds to realise that the person who had just walked past had returned and was examining her rocket with great interest. Tina read his ID badge- Johnbro from K.V.Roe, not a company she was particularly familiar with, but she remembered they were aircraft part manufacturers. This could be promising...

"What are you using as your heat source?" Johnbro asked her.

"Propane," she replied. Johnbro seemed surprised at that.

"What made you choose propane?"

"It's what my dad's barbecue uses, so I borrowed some."

"Borrowed?" Johnbro raised one eyebrow sceptically.

"Well, it was supposed to go back under the barbecue before he noticed, but it slightly... set the garden shed on fire. And blew out all the glass in the greenhouse."

Johnbro smiled. "If you're going to invent something, you need to be prepared for a few shed fires. What's the maximum thrust?"

"I never found out, it always overheats if I turn the gas up too high because it never gets enough air into it to cool it. The one time I gave it more than half throttle the combustion chamber melted."

"Really? What was that made of?"

"An old tin can with some holes in it," Tina admitted sheepishly.

"Does this one actually work?" Johnbro seemed interested. A little red flag popped up in Tina's head warning her not to give too much information away in case K.V.Roe suddenly released a new and improved multimode engine in a few months' time.

"It would, but I'm not allowed to fire it up inside. Fire regulations."

Johnbro looked a bit disappointed. He turned away and pulled out a phone, and Tina sighed inside. Nice work, you managed to scare off the only person who's shown any interest-

"Hey Desdas, it's Johnbro. Come over to stand E-14-7, I think you'll be interested."

In less than a minute Desdas turned up and immediately began studying the DAGGER in great detail, at one point almost sticking his face into the engine nozzle.

"Are you busy tomorrow?" He asked while peering into the air intake, making his voice echo strangely.

"Well, we're going down to the test range-" Johnbro answered, but Desdas cut him off.

"Not you, you." He pointed to Tina.

"Um... no? Why?"

"Are you interested in firing this thing up at a real rocket test range?"

"Really?" Tina tried, and failed, to hide her excitement.

"That good, huh?" Johnbro asked.

"This could be exactly what we need for the Project Eeloo." He noticed the alarm on Tina's face. "Don't worry, we aren't about to steal your ideas. Unlike some other corporations I could mention. You should patent this, as a matter of fact. If you patented this, we could license it and you'd make yourself a tidy little college fund even if it doesn't work for what I think it will. If it does work, of course, you'd get a lot more."

"Stop trying to scare her off, Desdas. Patents aren't anything to be afraid of, Tina, I know a good patents lawyer I worked with back when I was with C7 and she'll deal with all the paperwork if you want to go ahead with it. Don't rush into anything without thinking it over though, talk about it with your parents and if you're still interested give us a call and we'll send someone round to pick you and the, uh," he checked the name on the display, "DAGGER in the morning." He handed her a business card. "Of course, you don't have to decide by tomorrow. Take as long as you need, and I'll make sure this one"- he pointed at Desdas- "doesn't steal your idea until then." Desdas' expression was remarkably similar to a young child who had a plate of cookies put in front of him but was then told he couldn't have any.

"Thanks." Tina managed to stay calm until they had walked away, then quickly headed for the nearest exit, found a quiet spot and called her parents, telling them what had just happened at double speed. Both were thrilled despite some muttered comments about burnt sheds from Dad, and both said they would need to discuss the whole thing that evening. "Legally you're still a child, so we would have to act on your behalf and set up a trust fund in your name until you turn 18." Mum pointed out.

Tina hung up and headed back inside- and stopped dead. Her stand was gone. She double-checked exactly where she was on the floor map. Definitely gone. Stands E-14-6 and E-14-8 had a gap between them that wasn't there before.

She climbed onto a raised stage at one side of the hall for a better view and spotted her stand being wheeled erratically towards another exit, in the company of none other than her school's top spoilt rich brat Tebal and her gang of sycophants. No doubt she wanted Tina to run after her so she could make a big show of smashing it up while her cronies laughed, which might not be a particularly good idea since the propane tank was nearly full and could explode if it was punctured.

As she watched, the group suddenly lost control of the trolley after it clipped another stand and began to tip over. It overbalanced to one side and landed straight on top of Tebal's foot with a loud crash and an equally loud yelp from Tebal, and then Tina heard the fans start spinning at full speed which meant it was about to-

The rocket shot forwards, a cone of blue fire erupting from the nozzle. It immediately began crashing through exhibits and sending people diving for cover in all directions as it bounced and ricocheted through the hall. It bounced up and hurtled through the air, chewing through a swarm of little drones that apparently couldn't fly themselves out of the way quickly enough, before slamming into the opposite wall and exploding in a huge fireball. All the emergency sprinklers kicked in, hundreds of electronics shorted out as the water soaked their circuits and the entire Fair was evacuated.

The bus back to school was unnaturally quiet. Everyone knew exactly what had forced the Fair to be abandoned, and most also knew exactly how it had happened after seeing Tebal being carried off in a stretcher. Tebal's friends spent the entire journey glowering at Tina, but she ignored them and they didn't dare to do anything worse than glower for fear of being identified as accomplices in the Great Rocket Heist, as it had already become known. She made it the whole way home without any trouble but as soon as she got inside and saw her parents' excited faces she broke down crying.

It took over half an hour and a whole box of extra-large tissues to explain what had happened.

"It's not as bad as you think, Tina." Dad tried to reassure her. "You still have that half-finished one in the shed and all the designs-"

"But they wanted to test it TOMORROW!" Tina wailed. "Now they'll lose interest and steal the idea for their super-duper Project Elon or something."

"Unless we finish the other one."

"I can't finish the other one overnight! I don't have the parts or the time to-"

"I didn't say you could finish it, I said we could finish it."

"Really?" A glimmer of hope appeared in Tina's mind.

"Sure! How hard can it be, it's not exactly rocket sci- oh..."

"Dad Joke Alert! Dad Joke Alert!" Mum shouted in what was supposed to be a robotic voice, accompanied by a rather terrible attempt at making a klaxon sound.

"Right then. Tina, you make a list of stuff you need to get and I'll break out the toolboxes while you girls go shopping." Double death glare. "Is it just me, or did it suddenly get cold in here?"

"But wait! Surely you should go shopping, Tina will need a big, strong man to lift all those heavy things for her." Mum retorted. Dad tried a pose that was supposed to say 'Look at my huge muscles!' but instead was closer to 'I have terrible indigestion!' and Tina laughed.

"See, that cheered her up!"

Team Tina sprang into action. Fortunately the local hardware store and rubbish dump/scrapyard were both still open and all the necessary parts could be procured at a small price and one bruised shin from blundering around a scrapyard in the dark. Working long into the night, they sawed, welded, ground angles, ate snacks, welded some more, put out a small fire, soldered, coded a small computer chip, ate more snacks, did some additional welding and sawing and with a little help from a 3D printer produced a new engine bell in six pieces which were stuck together with glue and welded in place. By the time they were finished the first hint of sunrise was lighting the sky to the east and Tina stumbled upstairs and fell into bed fully clothed.

And woke up again immediately as a tremendous racket shook the entire house. The clock said three hours had passed, but it didn't feel like it. For a moment she thought the new rocket had gone off and rushed to the window in a panic, but the source of the noise was in fact a huge aircraft that flew down with vertical thrusters and landed in the same field that the Dynawing had crashed in six years earlier. She had just enough time for a quick change of clothes and a slice of toast before a flatbed truck with a crane on the back arrived outside their door.

"They phoned ahead while you were still asleep after they heard about the rocket being destroyed, and we told them we managed to build a new one. They were very impressed with your dedication." Mum told her as she tried to fold an entire slice of toast into her mouth in one go.

The doorbell rang and Dad answered to find Johnbro waiting. Dad showed him round to the shed containing the new DAGGER giving Tina time to brush away the toast crumbs before joining them.

"You built that overnight? That's very impressive." Johnbro told her.

"Some of it was already built, but we had to make most of it again. I haven't had a chance to test it though."

"That's fine, there will be plenty of time for that later. If you could just keep clear while my colleagues bring this huge and not at all wobbly crane around, that would be great. I've heard these things are heavy." Johnbro clearly knew exactly what had happened at the Science Fair- and who was responsible.

There was a small problem for the crane, however: the crane couldn't get into the shed to remove the rocket without putting a big hole through the roof. After a lot of manual effort they got it onto an adjustable trolley and rolled it out the shed for the crane to pick it up.

"So are you all coming to the test range? I do have to warn you, some of the projects we're working on are pretty secret so there are some forms you have to sign saying you're not going to steal our secrets and sell them to anyone, but I'll have someone draw up a form to say that we won't steal your secrets either-"

SNAP.

They all turned around just as the DAGGER fell off the platform, now dangling from only three corners, and landed on its exhaust nozzle. Unfortunately the nozzle wasn't meant to take that sort of force and the entire rear third of the rocket - everything behind the bulkhead between the fuel tank and the combustion chamber - collapsed into a thin wedge of crumpled metal.

For the second time in the space of a day Tina could only stand and watch it happen. She felt a wave of hopelessness wash over her and tried very hard not to start crying in public.

"We can fix that!" Johnbro reassured her. "We have all sorts of parts at the workshop, we can fix it there as soon as we land."

"Are you sure? It's pretty smashed up."

"We've dealt with more than a few smashed up prototypes before. After all the effort you went to to get this ready for us, it's the least we can do."

He aimed a dirty look at the two technicians, both of whom immediately to the other and said "It was his fault!"

They ditched the platform and grabbed the DAGGER with the crane's claw-like end, moved it over to the truck and got it strapped down securely without any further incident. It was a short drive to the waiting aircraft, which had landed with its cargo ramp just touching the edge of the road for the truck to drive straight up and into the hold.

Up close it was clear just how massive it was- the entire hull of the Dynawing could easily fit inside its cargo bay with enough space left over to stow the wings and tail too. Two huge engine nacelles housed two equally huge jet engines and ten vertical thrusters were spread across the underside of its hull and its wingtips.

"We call it the Vulture," Johnbro told them. "It might not be the prettiest plane ever, but it does everything we need it to do and rattles every window in five thousand metres when it does a vertical take-off. Hmm, maybe that last part isn't such a good thing..."

The truck was secured in a remarkably similar fashion to the rocket on its back, the cargo door retracted and closed and then all six of them headed through a door at the front end of the hold, up the stairs and into a small passenger bay behind the cockpit with four seats.

"Do you want to sit up front?" Johnbro asked Tina. "I'm sure Thombert won't mind, just don't touch anything."

"I won't!" Tina answered. Getting to see the inside of a high-tech plane like this wasn't an opportunity she was going to miss.

They headed forwards while the others strapped in. Thombert was sitting in the central of three seats, wearing a strange looking flight helmet with a visor that flipped down over most of his face. It only took a few seconds of wheedling by Johnbro (and pointing out that there were no other seats on board) to persuade him to let Tina join them in the cockpit.

"Just don't touch anything," he growled at Tina. Suitably terrified, she sat down in the left seat, buckled the harness and sat with her arms folded, very conspicuously not touching anything. Thombert looked over and chuckled before tapping some commands into a large touch screen display in front of him and some of the displays in front of Tina switched off, leaving just the primary flight display with a navball, speedometer, altimeter and a small readout in the corner that said 1.00g.

"Relax, kid, I don't bite."

"Much..." added Johnbro.

"Your controls are locked out, so if you want to pretend you're a real ace pilot you go right ahead- just don't press any buttons and if you throw up, you're cleaning it up yourself."

He lowered the helmet visor and Tina was surprised to see it darken to nearly black. It didn't seem to bother Thombert though so it was obviously supposed to do that. She tried to look out the front window, but it was just a narrow slit and had a terrible view.

"How can you see out of these windows?" she asked.

"Well, we usually don't." Thombert answered. "Those windows are mostly to keep the helmets calibrated and a backup for if the electronics fail. These are virtual reality flight helmets: they get fed images from cameras across the hull and create a three dimensional image that can make the walls and floor disappear; it can be a bit disorienting at first, but it makes it much easier to fly especially in a plane this size when you have to land vertically without hitting anything."

"Do they use those in the Space Program?"

"Nope- the cameras are too fragile and anything tough enough to survive a space launch would just add too much weight to make it worthwhile. That's one of the biggest obstacles we're facing to make this thing a spaceplane."

"This plane can go to space!?" Tina was amazed.

"Not yet it can't. It's too big to be launched on a rocket like the Dynawing and too heavy to try and fly itself up there- even those new-fangled RAPIERs wouldn't be powerful enough to get this big beastie into orbit."

"So that's why Desdas was so interested in seeing my rocket for his Project Elon?"

Thombert turned to Johnbro and wagged his finger. "Dear me, Johnbro, are you trying to give away all our secrets to schoolchildren?"

"I mentioned it once and not even to her, I can't help it if she eavesdrops on private phone calls." He glowered at Tina.

"I can't help it if you make your private phone calls right in front of me in a public exhibition hall." She glowered right back and Johnbro laughed.

"I better be careful, or else by the end of the day you'll have stolen my job right out from under me and I won't even realise until my canteen card stops working."

Thombert started both the main engines and the lift engines.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Please fasten your seatbelts, store your tray tables in the upright position and-" he gunned all the engines and the plane surged upwards; the display in front of Tina climbed to 2.17g before the main engines kicked in and propelled them forwards, replacing the thrust of the VTOL engines with aerodynamic lift. It was a far greater acceleration than any plane Tina had flown on before and she could feel her head being pushed back into the headrest behind it.

They climbed rapidly to 15km and accelerated supersonic, outrunning the sun which got steadily lower in the sky ahead of them. Mid way through the flight, Johnbro pulled another flight helmet out of its storage cupboard and let Tina try it. At first she was clutching the armrests in terror as she seemed to float in empty air, convinced she was plummeting towards the ground, but she soon got used to it and even began enjoying it. At least, until Thombert pulled an unannounced barrel roll and she nearly lost her breakfast, at which point she decided to stick to looking out the window instead.

The ground shifted from green to yellow to sandy brown and soon after they began descending and slowing down. Tina heard the landing gear lower into place, felt the turbulence change as they crossed over a lobe of a huge lake and back over land and shortly afterwards they were landing horizontally on a runway. The plane taxied around and parked up inside a large hangar building which was so huge it could have fitted the plane with a Dynawing stuck on top, wings, tail and all.

They all congregated in the cargo hold. The truck wasn't big enough to carry them all so Thombert and one of the technicians got in a small electric car that was parked at one side of the hangar and the rest of them got in the truck and followed behind. They crossed a second runway and headed towards what looked like a thinner version of the Space Centre's VAB, painted orange by the sun which was still rising. A rocket was being wheeled out towards a launch pad further east as they drove past.

They pulled up outside a building that looked like one half was an office block and the other half was a smaller assembly hall with a large yellow door on the front. Johnbro shepherded them straight in and up to the roof just in time to watch the rocket launch on a huge trail of fire. The noise was incredible at such close range, the deep roar of the solid boosters accompanied by a higher-pitched whooshing sound from the core rocket.

A voice came over a tannoy, echoing from loudspeakers across the complex.

"Testing abort sequence in three, two, one..."

The three solid boosters were decoupled and pushed away by separator motors, the main engine shut down and a group of small rockets fired from the base of the payload fairing, lifting the entire fairing off the rocket and pushing it sideways. Parachutes deployed on the payload as the main rocket dropped back down towards the pad, deployed landing legs and made a flawless, if rather hard, powered landing. The solid boosters flamed out and parachuted down as well.

Tina noticed that both her parents were standing with silly big grins on their faces, and was about to comment when she realised she had an even sillier and even bigger grin on her own face.

"You look just like I did when I saw my first launch", said Johnbro, having to shout slightly so everyone could hear over the ringing in their ears.

"Welcome to Darude."

Chapter 3

Edited by jimmymcgoochie
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I like it! 

Subscribed and looking forward to more but I'm enjoying the characters (especially Tina's dad :) ) already! I also liked the contrast between Tina's 'parts found by the side of the road' science project and the real deal, shiny and competent space hardware she gets shown at the end.

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On 5/11/2020 at 7:54 AM, KSK said:

I also liked the contrast between Tina's 'parts found by the side of the road' science project and the real deal, shiny and competent space hardware she gets shown at the end.

Given how many parts in KSP are "found lying by the side of the road" I think she's in good company!

Chapter 3 – Darude

“Welcome to the PAB- the prototype assembly building.”

It was like walking into Santa Klaus' workshop. An entire wall of the cavernous hall was taken up by shelves and racks overflowing with components and parts ranging from nuts and bolts to a Kerbodyne S4 fuel tank as tall as an office block. A gigantic 3D printer the size of a small house sat in a corner, a rotating arm in its centre slowly spiralling upwards and creating a new... thing.

The floor space was split into four separate areas, three of which were occupied by teams assembling or tinkering with three completely different prototypes.

The first area held what looked like an enormous ramjet engine attached to an equally enormous engine nacelle. One side of the nacelle was open, and Tina saw a technician climb in and stand up inside it without banging her head on the upper surface.

The second area contained a moderately sized rocket engine with quite possibly the most hideous turbopump assembly Tina had ever seen stuck on one side. On the ground beside it was a large boattail shroud, equally lopsided and misshapen to fit over the engine.

A relatively small group were working in the third area. What they were working on was in pieces strewn across the floor or in crates waiting to be unpacked, but Tina spotted a very small aerospike engine and a tiny RCS cluster among the parts.

The fourth area was conspicuously empty of parts and a group of three standing in the middle. Tina immediately recognised Desdas and waved to him as they approached; he waved back, but was far more interested in the cargo truck being carefully reversed through the main doors and the payload it was carrying. He hurried at a near run towards it before stopping dead, eyes wide in horror at what he saw.

“What happened!?”

He turned to Tina looking aggrieved.

“They said you fixed it!”

“Fix it? We made a new one overnight but-” she tried a variation of her old “Daddy's Girl” expression- “they dropped it off the crane.”

Some combination of lack of sleep and being a lot older than when she had first discovered it made the look veer towards surly and resentful rather than eliciting sympathy, but apparently that was a normal expression for a sleep-deprived teenager and actually fit the situation quite well.

“You dropped it!?” Desdas turned his ire on Johnbro, while Tina noticed one of the engineers who had been waiting for them reluctantly drop several coins into the waiting hand of the other, who looked rather pleased; she suspected one had lost a bet to the other relating to her rocket.

“We can fix it though.” Johnbro replied. “We aren't booked on the test firing pad for another three hours, we have plenty of parts we can use, and we have the technical drawings to work with.”

Uh oh.

“Excellent. We should have it fixed in no time at all, since we have the blueprints...”

Tina was suddenly aware of everyone looking at her.

“You do have the blueprints, right?”

“...no?”

“What!?”

“I thought we were just taking the DAGGER itself, then when it broke I didn't think to go back and get the blueprints for it.”

“You didn't bring them?” Johnbro asked incredulously.

“Well, you didn't think of it either!” Dad leapt to her defence, before spoiling it slightly by adding: “Of course, I didn't think of that either as well.”

“Well, it's a good thing ONE of us is organised.” Mum said, before opening her bag and producing the blueprints. “I figured these might come in useful, so I grabbed them just in case- before the crane dropped it on my nice begonias, and they had just started flowering too.” She aimed The Look at the two technicians who had operated the crane, who were suitably intimidated.

“Nice to see someone besides me getting The Look for once,” said Dad, before The Look was transferred to him. “Bah, I knew I should have kept my mouth shut.”

“What else have you got in there?” Desdas asked. “Duct tape? A blowtorch? A bazooka?”

“Nothing quite as exotic. Hand sanitiser, a portable backup battery because someone never charges his phone, some breath mints, that sort of thing.”

“While we're on that subject...” Dad interjected, sheepishly holding out his phone. “Seven percent left.”

“Actually, since you brought it up, we're going to need to keep your phones in the safe. No phones, cameras or other recording or imaging equipment is permitted either inside the PAB or outside if the launch pad is in use by any other group.” said Desdas, leading them over to a small office in one corner of the building with a row of lockers and storing their phones in one of them before signing it out on the record sheet.

“If you just sign in that box... Sorry, I didn't get your names.”

“Martin,” said Dad, offering his hand which Desdas shook.

“Jeanette,” said Mum, doing the same.

“Desdas. The grumpy looking one on the left is Lurim, the even grumpier one on the right is Richgan.” He pointed to the two technicians as they returned to the PAB floor.

“Unfortunately Samlas is running a bit late, her first train was late so she missed the connection, but as soon as she's here we can sort out all the paperwork before we get started. In the meantime, we can try and peel the remnants of your thrust chamber off the back of that poor contraption and check if anything else is damaged; if I remember rightly, you're using a pretty standard fan compressor on the front, right?”

His enthusiasm was contagious, and in minutes the entire group were hard at work removing the damaged sections of the DAGGER and examining the rest to ensure it was still in working order.

“Bad news, I'm afraid- your propellant tank valve is damaged.” Richgan reported as he climbed back down the stepladder. “Best case is it doesn't open at all, worst case it could explode. We're going to need a new fuel tank.”

It wasn't that surprising but Tina was still disappointed. More work to replace the tanks, followed by more work to get the compressor fans and air pipes fitted around it to feed air to the combustion chamber, as well as making a new chamber and nozzle.

“I think there's a small methane tank we can use, it should be the right size and it's still gas-powered so there shouldn't be too much trouble adapting the design.” Lurim answered. “We could run the fuel lines round the chamber before leading them back to the top and injecting the fuel, use the liquid methane as coolant before burning it to prevent overheating.”

“Maybe on a bigger engine, but the chamber is the size of a drinks can so the tubes would have to be incredibly small and that could mess with the fuel flow,” countered Mum. Everyone turned to her with expressions ranging from surprise to amazement. “I wasn't always 'Mum' or 'Mrs Martin Kerman', you know- before that I was a systems engineer at FLOOYD.”

“No wonder you've got a budding rocket scientist for a daughter!” laughed Desdas. “Of course, that assumes she can plug the pipes in the right way round.” Lurim and Richgan both snorted in amusement.

“After my time, Desdas, and besides that I worked in the maritime division, not aerospace. I sent an old colleague one of those cups with a novelty straw a few years back, but I had Tina draw arrows on it to show which way the drink was supposed to go. She found it hilarious, but her husband was aerospace and wasn't amused.”

One of the technicians from another team joined in the conversation.

“I heard about that! My cousin works for FLOOYD as well, and that cup with the arrows on the straw found its way onto the company website's home page for three days before someone in senior management noticed and nearly had a heart attack. Nobody ever figured out who put the picture there either.”

“So THAT'S why you wanted me to draw the arrows on it.” said Tina. “I didn't understand why you found that so funny.”

The banter continued as they stripped the DAGGER down and removed the damaged parts, replacing them with genuine space-grade alternatives that made the few remaining original parts look decidedly shabby in comparison. By the time Samlas arrived with the paperwork they had a fully functioning air intake and fuel tank assembly with a few small pipes and wires dangling from the end where the thrust assembly would go. Most of them signed the forms straight away, but Dad took the time to read through the entire thing before signing.

“I work in insurance, and if there's one thing working in insurance teaches you, it's that you always, ALWAYS, read the small print before signing any legally binding documents.”

While everyone else went over to a large drafting board to study the blueprints, Samlas asked Tina to stay behind and pulled out another set of forms.

“These are patent application forms. They're pretty straight forward but if you need any advice or aren't sure about something, just ask. I deal with these on a daily basis so I could probably recite it to you from memory by now.”

Ten minutes later the forms were complete and a copy of the designs was made to be included along with the information display from the Science Fair. Tina and her parents all signed the forms along with two of Darude's ground staff as independent witnesses.

“I'll get this sent away as soon as I get back to civilisation, then while it gets processed you'll have patent pending protection in case anyone tries to copy your design. I'll keep you up to date with everything as it moves along.”

They shook hands with Samlas then headed back to the assembly hall to be greeted with the sight of the DAGGER belching smoke from the air intake, fans shrieking far beyond their intended speed until someone pulled the power and they spun down.

Fire alarms began to blare accompanied by red strobe lights scattered across the walls and ceiling and everyone headed for the main exit doors as a team of firefighters wearing breathing gear came in from a side entrance. They waited outside in the morning sun for a few minutes before being allowed back in.

The DAGGER looked rather forlorn, intake melted and charred and reeking of burnt plastic and  singed electronics.

“First you dropped it, now you've burnt it- are you trying to wreck it or something?” Tina asked Johnbro, half serious.

“Actually, that was my fault,” admitted Desdas looking suitably ashamed. “I plugged the fans into the new power bus but misread the designs and thought it was 13 amps instead of 3. The fan overloaded, overheated and caught fire before we could shut it down.”

“How long until we're booked on the test pad?” asked Johnbro.

“Two hours, which is still plenty of time to get this fixed.”

“OK, boss,” he turned to Tina, “what's the plan?”

“Split up into teams- one team makes a new air intake assembly, one team makes the combustion chamber and the other makes the engine nozzle. Once we've built it all, we put it together and make sure it doesn't catch fire before we roll it out and test fire it.”

It was strangely exhilarating to give instructions to a proper team of rocket engineers, in a real rocket assembly hall, to build her rocket.

Team Intake consisted of Lurim, Dad and Johnbro, who between them scrounged up a small but potent motor and fan blades to go with it plus a shroud to funnel the air into the engine. Team Nozzle was Richgan and Mum, who between them turned out a sturdy and effective air-cooled nozzle with a truncated bell to improve low-altitude thrust. Team Chamber was Tina and Desdas, who couldn't resist the chance to get hands on with the novel design that Tina had produced; their efforts created a version which was made to micrometric accuracy by the 3D printer and as a result ended up being lighter and profoundly more effective than the tin-can-with-holes that had done the job before. One detail was added to the original design: a set of triangular fins for both aerodynamic stability and structural support on the ground.

With ten minutes to spare before their test slot, the DAGGER Mark 2 was ready and everyone took a well-earned break and drank copious amounts of water; even indoors, the heat of the desert sun combined with their physical exertions meant everyone was hot and sweaty.

They donned safety gear- goggles, ear protectors and hard hats with fold down sections at the back to protect against sunburnt necks- and using a bright yellow transport truck brought the DAGGER out to the launch pad. Batteries charged, fuel tank filled with liquid methane and fins held to the launch pad's gridded floor with clamps, they moved back to the control booth a short distance away and prepared for the test fire. To Tina's surprise, she was put in charge of running the test.

“Starting the fans.”

The new and improved air intake assembly whirred into life, spinning up to a muted roar and blasting dust and sand from the exhaust vents at the sides of the pad.

“Fans at operating speed, air flow looks good.” Desdas reported, watching the telemetry feeds closely for any signs of trouble. “Ready for engine start when you are.”

“Engine start in three, two, one...”

She turned the dial to engage the fuel pump and hit the starter button, activating the spark generators inside the combustion chamber. There was a loud whoosh as the methane caught fire, building into a steady rumble as the engine span up to operating speed.

“Thrust is 10 kilonewtons and holding steady, ready for full throttle.”

Tina gradually increased the throttle, feeling the vibrations in the floor as the thrust climbed higher and hearing the rumble build to a roar with the howl of the fans over the top.

“Sixty percent power. Sixty five, seventy, seventy five percent. Holding at seventy five percent.”

“Thirty seven kilonewtons of thrust, looks like we'll get fifty at full power. Telemetry looks good, thermal sensors are well within the safety parameters. Looks like that fuel cooling system won't be needed after all. Ready to throttle up when- hang on.”

A loud clunk came from the launch pad, closely followed by another and then two more. The engine noise suddenly got much louder and when Tina looked out the window she saw the DAGGER climbing rapidly into the sky.

“Abort test! Engage emergency abort procedure.”

Tina slapped her hand down on the big red ABORT button and the DAGGER responded, feathering the fan blades and spinning down the motor, but the fuel valves didn't close and enough air was still flowing into the intake to keep the rocket running.

“Throttle to zero, arm the parachute.”

Throttling back the power stopped the combustion, but still the DAGGER kept climbing as residual heat created thrust from the air that was still flowing through the engine. As that heat dissipated, gravity took over and the ascent became a descent, triggering the parachute which deployed flawlessly to bring the DAGGER floating back down to the launch pad.

“Touchdown, and engine shutdown. Sensor data records saved and ready for analysis.” Desdas turned to Tina and a smile crept onto his face. “I can honestly say I've never seen that happen before.”

The tension in the room broke and everyone began high-fiving each other, with the sole exception of Tina who was too caught up in the moment to notice anyone or anything else. Her hands were shaking uncontrollably and she wasn't sure if she was about to start laughing or crying, or possibly both.

She had just launched a real rocket at a real launch site!

It took a few minutes to let the rocket and launch pad cool down before they were allowed to retrieve it. As soon as they got there it was clear that the clamps had failed, apparently unable to take the strain of the rocket's thrust.

“Strange, those are 50kN clamps and we weren't even at 40 when they failed,” commented Lurim. “Either we got a dud clamp that failed early and overstressed the others, or we made a lot more thrust than the sensors recorded.”

“Where are the sensors that calculate the thrust positioned?” Tina asked. “If it's only reading the thrust from the combustion chamber it will under-report, there's the bypass air flow to consider too.”

“Oops...” muttered Desdas, visibly blushing and not from the desert heat.

“Right everyone, let's get this thing back inside before someone gets heatstroke.” Johnbro chivvied them back towards the PAB as the DAGGER was loaded back onto the transport truck and returned to its assembly point.

They took a break for lunch to let any residual heat dissipate, enjoying the cold drinks and even colder air conditioning in the canteen. Word had gotten around about the straw with arrows drawn on it and a small crowd soon converged on them wanting to hear the tale first hand; someone turned up with a huge printed version of the FLOOYD website complete with the famous picture pride of place in the centre and a queue formed to get pictures taken beside it with two of the people who had made it possible.

The early afternoon was spent analysing all the data gathered from the test fire, and sure enough the thrust sensors were only detecting thrust from the combustion chamber itself and not the additional thrust from the air being fed around the outside and turning excess heat into more thrust via Meredith effect, or indeed the extra force that the much more powerful fan was generating as it forced air through the engine.

More sensors were installed before a second, horizontal test fire was carried out with the engine throttle gradually increased from idle to full power to get a full picture of its thrust curve and to measure its specific impulse, followed by rapidly changing the throttle setting to measure its responsiveness and finally a maximum power burn with extra fuel being injected into the exhaust as an afterburner, producing a tremendous plume of fire and a deafening roar and boosting the total thrust to an impressive 140kN but burning through the remaining fuel reserves in seconds. Unfortunately, the afterburner test also damaged the engine nozzle so a replacement had to be made before the final test could be run.

The sun was already setting behind the hills to the west by the time the repairs were complete and the DAGGER was wheeled out to the launch pad for a second time. Unlike the first test, the oxidiser tank was also filled and excess fuel was added to attempt a realistic vertical launch profile, launching in air breathing mode and switching to internal oxidiser when the air became too thin.

“Pad One is condition red, Pad One is condition red. Test launch of DAGGER Mark 2 in progress.” The loudspeakers blared, echoing across the launch complex. A large crowd had gathered, many of them staff who had clocked off their shifts and were either staying at the facility full time or were waiting to travel home.

“Launch in five, four, three, two, one.”

DAGGER launched with its distinctive rumble and buzz, accelerating smoothly and gaining altitude at a steady but increasing rate. It climbed into the sky on a pillar of blueish fire and a barely visible vapour trail, rising above the terrain shadow and catching the last rays of sunlight as it raced ever upwards.

“Eight thousand metres, we're at 0.93 Mach, switching fan geometry for supersonic flight.” Desdas reported in the command bunker. Tina heard his voice through the headset but was standing on the bunker's roof, looking almost straight up to follow DAGGER's progress. Eventually it got too high and her neck started to hurt so she moved inside the bunker to watch the feed from a powerful telescopic camera that was tracking its progress.

“Twenty thousand metres, six hundred metres per second, standing by to switch to closed cycle.”

High above, DAGGER's acceleration faltered as the fan blades struggled to cram enough air into the intake to fuel the combustion. Thrust dwindled almost to zero, then the oxidiser valves opened and fed the engine a new source of oxygen and it lunged forwards again, the fans shutting down and feathering to minimise drag.

“Forty thousand metres, we're up to 1272m/s and approaching oxidiser depletion. Engine shutdown in three, two, one-”

Deprived of any source of oxidiser, the fire at the rocket's heart sputtered and died, fuel valves automatically closing. High in the air, DAGGER continued on its ballistic trajectory, sensors dutifully recording every parameter and relaying the information down to the radio mast on the ground. Darude had a tracking dish with a lot more transmitter power than the mast, but it was offline for maintenance after a sandstorm blew grit into the mechanisms where it caused havoc with the bearings.

“Seventy thousand metres, we're approaching maximum transmitter range. Descent profile armed, stand by for loss of signal.”

Telemetry feeds started to stutter before dropping out completely leaving only the video feed from the ground, a radar altimeter readout and the camera feed from the DAGGER which now used the entire available bandwidth to continue broadcasting. Kerbin spread out below it, glowing in the last rays of the sun and with huge shadows across the terrain, Darude visible as a cluster of bright spots in the centre.

“Eighty five thousand metres. We're in space.”

A huge cheer went up from the spectators and the control bunker erupted with celebrations. Tina found herself being picked up and carried out the door before being deposited on the roof in front of the crowd, who cheered even louder. It was the single greatest moment of her life.

 

But it didn't last long.

At first she thought it was just the crowd's exuberance, but it quickly built until everyone could feel the ground trembling. The cheering was replaced by alarm and then fear as the shaking got worse, making the floodlights flicker as they swayed from side to side. A loud alarm klaxon began blaring accompanied by a frantic announcement.

“Code Red! Code Red! All outdoor personnel stay clear of the buildings, all indoor personnel take cover immediately. Code Red! Co-”

The speakers were silenced abruptly as power across the complex suddenly died, plunging them into near darkness.  There was a loud crack and then someone grabbed Tina and nearly knocked her off her feet before the launch pad flagpole came crashing down right where she had been standing. Panic gripped the crowd and they scattered in all directions as the ground shook even more violently, shattering windows and sending pieces of masonry tumbling from walls and rooftops. Tina threw herself down, covered her head with her arms and hoped desperately that it would all be over soon.

After what felt like hours but was really only seconds, the shaking subsided. Power came back on and most people picked themselves back up, although a few had been trampled in the panic and required medical attention.

“Brace for aftershock!” boomed over the speakers and anyone standing threw themselves back down again. The aftershock was even worse than the first, shaking the ground in all directions and lasting twice as long, but eventually it too subsided. A large fire was burning where the aviation fuel tanks had been and one of the PAB doors had collapsed, crushing the transport truck parked outside. Remarkably, everyone worked together, tending to the most seriously injured even if they had been hurt themselves, freeing two unfortunate technicians from a forklift which had been knocked on its side and partly buried by debris and creating a semblance of order as buildings were evacuated.

A team headed out to the base's perimeter fence to check on the small group who had been camping out there for over a munth, protesting against nuclear technology in general and its use in space in particular, and returned shortly afterwards with several members of that group carrying first aid kits and offering their assistance, previous antagonisms forgotten in the face of the current crisis.

A loud whumph made everyone flinch, but it quickly became clear where the sound had come from as the DAGGER floated down under its parachute and landed near one of the secondary pads. A small round of applause greeted its return, but attentions quickly returned to the tasks at hand and it was ignored after that, ticking as it cooled.

The team from K.V. Roe had escaped with only minor injuries, and when Thombert appeared unscathed he reported that the Vulture was also undamaged. Seeing an opportunity, Tina stood on the command bunker's roof and shouted to the crowd.

“Everyone! We have a transport aircraft with plenty of space that can carry all the injured to the nearest hospital.”

A ragged cheer went up at her announcement and soon a line of stretchers was snaking its way across the complex towards the waiting plane, the walking wounded following close behind. The Vulture's cavernous cargo bay could fit them all in with room to spare and even had room to fit the flatbed truck with the DAGGER once again strapped down in its cargo bed. Thombert taxied the plane onto the runway and took off vertically at a much more sedate speed than he had that morning, setting a course for the nearest city.

They flew over several towns and villages at the fringes of the desert, many without power and with multiple fires burning, before landing in an open square within walking distance of a major hospital where a cluster of ambulances were waiting.

Tina and her parents were given a small room and after a short wait a young doctor came in to check them over. He gave Tina and Dad a clean bill of health, but was concerned about the bruises across Mum's stomach and requested an ultrasound machine. They struck up a conversation while they waited and the doctor was impressed by Tina's story.

“You actually managed to launch it into space? That's amazing!”

“It was, but right after that happened the earthquake struck and that really took the shine off of it.”

The ultrasound arrived and he carried out the scan, at one point peering intently at the grainy image for several seconds.

“Have you thought of a name?” he asked.

“We already gave it a name- DAGGER: Dual-mode Air-Guzzling Gas Engine for Rockets.”

The doctor gave her an odd look.

“No, I meant a name for your little sister.”

“WHAT!?” Tina and Dad shouted at the same time.

“Look just here,” he pointed to a tiny smudge on the screen, “that little bit there that's moving, can you see it? That's her heart; listen.” He turned a dial and the machine began playing a rapid and distinctive thump-thump sound in time with the screen's movements.

Tina turned to her parents.

“Wha-? Why didn't you tell me!?”

“Did you really think I was going to sleep a wink while you were out in that shed at all hours of the night, possibly setting yourself on fire? I didn't want you to know that I was watching you so I kept the lights off, and, well...”

An image appeared in Tina's head, one that immediately burned into her memory.

“Aaagh! I did NOT want to think about that!”

“Well, where did you think you came from?” Dad asked her, which only made things worse.

“Noooooo! My mind is ruined!” she wailed.

“You're sure about this?” Dad asked the doctor, who nodded.

“Absolutely. We can do a blood test to prove it beyond doubt, but I think this-” he pointed to the ultrasound- “is pretty convincing.”

Dad laughed. “I always said that rocket was Tina's baby, but now I've changed my mind. Just make sure you don't try and launch her into space.”

Tina sat down, trying to comprehend what had just happened. Yesterday, she was at the Science Fair hoping someone would notice her ground-breaking invention; today, she had launched it into space, survived a literally ground-breaking event and now she was going to be a sister. She suddenly realised that as thrilling as launching the DAGGER had been, it paled in comparison to the news she had just been given.

“Maybe we could call her Luna,” Dad mused, “because of the way the Munlight shone in the window when we-”

“AAAAAGH Nooooo!”

Chapter 4

Edited by jimmymcgoochie
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Awww. :)

Well that whole chapter put a smile on my face at the end of the day - and not just that last part!

And a thumbs up for the FLOOYD gag. :) 

 

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On 5/8/2020 at 10:33 AM, jimmymcgoochie said:

She looked up at it, trying to pick out the place where only last year Jeb, Fleegus and Bartger has taken those famous first steps, and trips and falls and faceplants, on its surface.

:D 'tis the Kerbal way.

On 5/10/2020 at 10:04 AM, jimmymcgoochie said:

a two-mode air-breathing rocket she had called DAGGER, for Dual-mode Air-Guzzling Gas Engine for Rockets

All good space stuff needs acronyms (and it fits well with the SABRE, RAPIER theme).

In all seriousness though, I am enjoying this so bring on the next chapter. :)

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On 5/18/2020 at 10:55 AM, LordOfTheNorth said:

:D 'tis the Kerbal way.

All good space stuff needs acronyms (and it fits well with the SABRE, RAPIER theme).

In all seriousness though, I am enjoying this so bring on the next chapter. :)

My form with acronyms is a bit dubious- my previous creations include landers called DAVE (Duna Ascent Vehicle for Expeditions) and DDOS (Duna Direct to Orbit Ship) and an abandoned prototype called Callissto (as in Callisto, but it was an SSTO) . Fortunately DAGGER could easily be manipulated with both an E for Engine and an R for Rocket, and a slightly clunky name worked well in the story.

And in case anyone was wondering, all the names I’ve used so far (with the sole exception of Tina) are taken from the game- most from my current career save and a few from older saves or randomly generated by the Kerbal creator cheat. Future characters may include Billy-Bobny, Lagerbree and Lenemone as well as my personal favourite, Derbal the Kerbal :D.

 

Oooh, look what I just found lurking in my screenshots- actual footage of the DAGGER's first test flight at Darude! Forgot I made those :rolleyes:

Spoiler

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nvZEg3m.png

 

Edited by jimmymcgoochie
I found a thing!
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On 5/17/2020 at 9:25 AM, KSK said:

Awww. :)

Well that whole chapter put a smile on my face at the end of the day - and not just that last part!

And a thumbs up for the FLOOYD gag. :) 

 

Oh yes, the FLOOYD gag made me laugh for a good long while.

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Brainstorming some story lines and plot ideas is going quite well and once that's finished Chapter 4 will follow. However, it just occurred to me that while using a different version of Kerbin than the stock solar system is good for avoiding any pre-existing ideas around geography, politics etc. which I don't really know much/anything about and which would complicate the story unnecessarily, it does come with the significant drawback of being considerably different than the stock Kerbin meaning most people won't know where anything is.

While almost all players would be able to look at this map and identify where the KSC is:

Spoiler

GXLlgpl.jpg

Very few people would be able to do the same for this one:

Spoiler

Image broken, it will be replaced SoonTM. Until then, just look at the one below.

So to make it a bit easier for everyone (myself included!) to keep track of where everything is, here's a map of Kerbin as used in Audacity with all the launch sites and tracking stations marked. There are three unique to JNSQ and two that are redesigned versions of the DLC exclusive Dessert and Woomerang sites.

Spoiler

6WZheZi.png

1- Baikerbanur, aka KSC2.

2- Darude, analogous to the Dessert Launch Site. Already featured in the story.

3- Musgrave. Named after Story Musgrave, the only astronaut to fly on all five Space Shuttles.

4- KSC. Like the original, it's on the east coast and has ocean downrange.

5- Island Airfield. Much further east of KSC than the stock version.

6- McAuliffe. Named after Christa McAuliffe, school teacher turned astronaut, who sadly died in the Challenger disaster.

7- Yeager. Named after Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to fly supersonic.

8- Woomera2, analogous to Woomerang and home to the Larkes tracking station.

Sites A-E are tracking station sites, whose names have been slightly altered to reflect the fact that they don't match the original map any more: A- Carter; B- North; C- South; D- Harvester; E- Nye. Carter is actually Crater Rim, but since there's no crater that name made no sense, so Carter it is.

JNSQ resizes the solar system by 2.7x so speeds and distances are considerably greater than stock: launching to LKO requires around 4900m/s of delta-V compared to ~3400 in stock, and flying out to Jool then capturing into a low orbit requires a total delta-V of ~8500m/s compared to ~5200m/s in the stock system. It makes for a more challenging game, and also a greater economic cost of space travel in the story which causes [spoilers :sealed:].

And for reference- Tina's home town is somewhere to the south of KSC, close enough that a shuttle could end up there after a bodged re-entry when attempting to land at KSC as in Chapter 1, but far enough that visiting the KSC would take at least an entire day of traveling each way. A day is 12 hours long, a month (munth?) is 28 days, and a year is 365 days.

(edit- 27 day months was correct according to JNSQ, but they're a pain for creating a calendar system; 28 days is much easier- 4x 7 day weeks per month, 13x 28 day months with a bonus day added in somewhere to round up the 365- plus it more closely matches Earth time which is easier to calculate)

 

On 5/20/2020 at 9:28 PM, Kerballing (Got Dunked On) said:

Oh yes, the FLOOYD gag made me laugh for a good long while.

Glad you liked it :D 

Edited by jimmymcgoochie
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Chapter 4 - Aftermath

Staying overnight in hospital when you're not ill or injured is incredibly boring, Tina thought to herself as she sat just after sunrise watching an early morning news bulletin.

“We cross over to our scientific correspondent, Ensted, who is near the epicentre of yesterday's Kerbquake. What more have we learnt since last night?”

“According to official estimates, the quake measured a 7 on the Merkalli scale and caused noticeable damage to buildings and infrastructure including power, water and gas supplies. The epicentre of the quake is believed to be approximately forty kilometres directly north of the Darude rocketry complex in the heart of this active fault line; as you can see from these orbital images, the ground has been shifted by several metres, severing what locals call the 'Road to Nowhere' on account of it being disrupted by at least three previous quakes over the last century.”

“Are there any official casualty figures, and how long will it take to repair the damage?”

“It's still too early for official figures, but the current estimates are in the region of 20-30 fatalities and around 1500 injured to varying degrees. Damage-wise, it could take a few days to get power, gas and water supplies restored and a few days after that before things like phone and internet cables are repaired. We also know that the Darude complex itself sustained moderate damage and will likely be out of action for a few weeks while repairs are completed.”

“Thank you, Ensted.”

The news anchor turned back to the camera.

“Still on the subject of yesterday's quake: a group calling itself the 'Children of Kaia' released a statement this morning stating that the Darude launch complex was itself the cause of the quake, blaming the vibrations caused by rocket engines for weakening the fault line. They also claim that there was an active rocket test in progress at the moment the fault slipped, a claim which has been verified by a member of Darude staff; this staff member was keen to point out that the test in question was only a tiny fraction of the size of the Lindor 5 first stage that was tested at Darude over twenty years ago and which had no effect at all on the fault line.”

Tina turned the TV off in disgust. Whoever those 'Children of Kaia' were, they clearly had no idea what they were talking about- how could a rocket test range have triggered a seismic fault line to shift over forty kilometres away, when that fault line had been unstable for hundreds of years  and was actually about twenty years overdue for shifting? Why hadn't it failed after the four Acapello tests- including the static firing that gigantic Lindor 5 first stage at full power for its full three minute burn time straight at the ground- and why would a quiet day of only seven rocket tests whose combined thrust and duration was less than four seconds from the Lindor 5-1 be enough to trigger it? Did they somehow think that the DAGGER had caused the quake, forty kilometres away, while it was literally in space?

She walked over to the window and looked down to the street just outside the hospital's main entrance, nine floors below. Traffic was flowing slowly but steadily despite the fact that around half of the traffic lights weren't working. A small crowd were standing just outside the entrance, and by pressing her face against the glass she could see many of them were holding placards and banners and moving them in a synchronised way, but if they were chanting or singing anything then it wasn't reaching this far up. A persistent trickle of ambulances kept arriving as rescue efforts continued, but only a few came with lights and sirens.

The reason for that was fairly simple- after dropping off the Darude staff, Thombert had taken the Vulture and flown to various nearby towns, transporting dozens or even hundreds of people to hospitals in a single flight and greatly easing the pressure on emergency paramedics who were then free to focus on the most needy cases or help those freed from collapsed buildings, before eventually being forced to return to base before he ran out of fuel. Of course, the 'Children of Kaia' would see that as an action born of guilt for triggering the quake in the first place rather than a generous kermanitarian effort.

It was another long and tedious hour before a doctor came round, checked her over and declared her fit to go home, closely followed by Mum and Dad. This became a problem immediately when they realised they weren't entirely sure where they were, had no means of getting back home and- most importantly for Tina- had to find both the DAGGER and its blueprints before going home as well. She was quite insistent on that last point.

Johnbro, Desdas, Lurim and Richgan were also cleared to leave, and Tina was relieved to hear that the DAGGER was still safely stowed in the Vulture's hold and being guarded by Thombert. “With strict instructions not to let anyone near it until you arrive to collect it,” Johnbro elaborated. “Nobody with two brain cells to rub together messes with Thombert, so it'll be perfectly safe.”

The blueprints, on the other hand, were gone; turned to mush when the quake had triggered both the water and foam fire suppression systems in the PAB and utterly ruined anything still inside.

After hearing that the crowd protesting outside were calling themselves '(Da)Rude Awakening' and aggressively harassing anyone remotely connected to Darude, rockets or anything even tenuously related to space travel, Team Tina packed their Darude-issued overalls into a bag and walked out the entrance wearing normal clothes. The protesters paid no attention, until one of them spotted a rocket motif on the back of Tina's jacket as they were getting into a taxi and suddenly they surged forwards, transforming from peaceful protest to angry mob so quickly that the handful of police assigned to keep the peace could do nothing but try and avoid being trampled. The mob surrounded the taxi on all sides and began rocking it violently from side to side, screaming abuse and pounding on the windows, terrifying everyone inside.

After about ten seconds that felt more like ten minutes, things turned ugly: someone managed to pry a metal bollard out of the ground and turned it into a battering ram, smashing one of the side windows; a hand reached through and pulled the door handle, but couldn't get back out again before the door slid back and got trapped between the taxi's C pillar and the remnants of the window and badly lacerated; more hands reached in and grabbed Tina's jacket, hair, anything they could reach and dragged her screaming out of the car and into the heart of the mob. All she could do was try to cover her head as she felt her clothes being torn to pieces and then a blinding white-hot pain shot up her left arm making her almost black out.

Hospital security and the few police on scene pushed through the crowd and forced them back from the open taxi door and from Tina. Many in the crowd realised what they had done and scattered, with those two stubborn or stupid to leave corralled until police reinforcements arrived. Paramedics from the waiting ambulances came over to treat Tina and the unfortunate Kerbal whose arm had been trapped, taking both into the hospital.

Tina's arm was broken and her whole body was covered in scratches and bruises. A doctor gave her something to numb the pain and everything went very fuzzy for a while before she came back around and found herself in a bed with her arm straightened out and a heavy plaster cast applied. A TV was on in one corner of the room showing another news bulletin and she spotted “Seventeen arrested after hospital protest turns violent” on the scrolling headlines at the bottom of the screen.

“Are you feeling OK?” Dad asked. Tina hadn't noticed that he was sitting in a chair beside the bed and flinched away from his voice, making her arm throb painfully. Mum arrived with some new clothes and then had to help Tina put them on (which was extremely embarrassing) before leaving for the second time via a different entrance where the rest of Team Tina were waiting with another taxi. They got away with no trouble at all the second time round and were soon at the local airport where another protest was happening outside the main entrance. Everyone else got out the taxi, but Tina just couldn't do it, terrifying flashbacks replaying in her head. It took a solid ten minutes to talk her out of the taxi and only by forming a protective circle around her could she walk past the protest into the airport.

A small business jet was waiting for them and soon they were airborne and heading back home. The flight quickly became a competition between Dad, Johnbro and Lurim to see who could snore the loudest and almost everyone else fell asleep too, but every time Tina started to doze off she woke up again in a panic with her whole body trembling in fear. She tried listening to music on her phone, some soothing piano to calm her nerves, and it seemed to help as long as she stayed awake.

She noticed a voicemail message was waiting from an unknown number, but when she played it she recognised Samlas' voice.

“Hi Tina, it's Samlas here. Just to update you- I filed the patent application yesterday afternoon, and this morning Rockomax and C7 Aerospace applied to have the case examined by an independent expert. Nothing to worry about, it's perfectly normal for this to happen and with the RAPIER just hitting the market they're understandably rather twitchy about someone stealing their ideas; from what I've seen there isn't anything to worry about and your design doesn't infringe any of their patents. I'll keep you posted on any new developments as and when they happen. Take care, bye.”

The first part of the message alarmed her, but the rest was more reassuring. It didn't surprise her that C7 Aerospace and Rockomax were on the lookout for people trying to copy their latest product, especially something as potentially game-changing as a multi-mode air-breathing rocket engine that could conceivably be used for single stage to orbit spaceplanes.

She tried one more time to get some sleep but her arm hurt too much. She got up and headed to the back of the plane where a small fridge held a variety of drinks and a small selection of sandwiches, picking a bottle of water and a kale salad wrap. She didn't like kale, but its high nutrient and energy density made it ideal for space rations and apparently it would eventually be included on interplanetary ships as both an air scrubber and a source of food, so her plan was to eat it enough that she got used to it and could eat it on a regular basis.

So far this plan was having limited success, in as much as she no longer had to hold her nose while eating it to avoid gagging at the taste, but she was fairly certain that she would never enjoy eating it.

On the way back to her seat, she noticed Desdas was still awake and sat down in the empty seat facing him.

“What can I do for you?” he asked.

“Distraction. Anything to avoid thinking about...” She shook her head sharply, trying to shake away the bad memories. “What is Project Elon? And why did you think I could help you with it?”

“It's Project Eeloo, not Elon. As you probably know, building a single stage to orbit, or SSTO, aircraft requires an engine that works in atmosphere and in space, but the two are considerably different: an atmospheric engine can use oxygen in the air to avoid carrying internal oxidiser, giving it a much higher effective ISP than a traditional rocket, but that doesn't work once you get into the upper atmosphere so you need some form of rocket motor to get the rest of the way into orbit. The RAPIER- and your DAGGER- try to solve that problem by using air to supply the oxygen at low altitudes and then switching to an internal oxidiser supply at higher altitudes, but this is inefficient and the changeover point can be a bit, shall we say, unpredictable.”

Tina remembered a particularly interesting afternoon when she got hold of an old oxygen tank and plugged it into an early DAGGER prototype to test that changeover, resulting in the rapid unplanned disassembly of both the DAGGER and Dad's greenhouse.

“Now think about a planet like Eve- the atmosphere has no oxygen in it and the pressure at sea level is ten times what we have on Kerbin. No jets will work, and most rockets won't be able to function either or will have terrible efficiency as they fight against all that pressure. If we're ever going to get onto the surface of Eve and then get back out again, we'll need something different.

That's where Project Eeloo comes in. Instead of using combustion to provide power, Project Eeloo aims to use a nuclear reactor as a heat source and use the local atmosphere itself as a propellant, avoiding the problem of atmospheric composition completely. By using the local atmosphere as propellant, there's no need to carry fuel for atmospheric flight and atmospheric pressure isn't an issue as we can just dump excess intake air and keep feeding the engine only as much as it needs.”

“A nuclear engine that runs on air? That sounds a little bit too science fiction to be real.”

“Oh, it's real all right. We made a prototype and had it running at full power for a good ten minutes using nothing but air and generating a decent amount of thrust. If we ever got one airborne and flying at speed, we think it could produce over two meganewtons of thrust under the right circumstances.”

“Two meganewtons? How big is this thing?” Tina was picturing a small power station with wings whizzing through the sky.

“We're aiming for a 2.5m profile with a maximum diameter of about three metres to give us space for additional cooling systems, and about 5 metres long without including the pre-cooler on the front.”

That was big. Bigger than even the Goliath turbofan that powered the largest airliners and heavy lift planes, taller than Tina's house if it was stood on its end (the engine, not the house) and surely so bulky and heavy that it would completely upset the balance of any aircraft that tried to use it.

“If it's that big, why do you need my design? That thing would eat my DAGGER for breakfast just with the static suction from the intake.”

“It's that contra-rotating air feeder system you developed that I'm really interested in. Air coming through a shock cone intake and passing through a pre-cooler has to be slowed down by several times the speed of sound and compressed to feed into the engine, but that also makes it more viscous and rather difficult to control.  If we could apply your design to Project Eeloo, we could get more air through the reactor more evenly and increase the efficiency while reducing the potential for overheating, which for a nuclear reactor could be, um, problematic.”

“Yeah, probably best to avoid that. What are you using for fuel once you're out of atmosphere?”

“Liquid hydrogen. Or at least, that's the idea, but that's even harder to deal with than compressed air and the fuel density is really low which limits the range.”

“So why use it then?” Nuclear rockets were still rare, with only the LV-N 'Nerv' in use and even then only rarely, so for Tina this was an opportunity to learn something new.

“Liquid hydrogen is a nuclear moderator and an effective coolant. When it's fed into a reactor those two things balance each other out and the reaction rate scales directly with the quantity of liquid hydrogen being added; it's very stable and very controllable, plus it heats the hydrogen by over two thousand Kelvin so produces a lot of thrust at very high efficiency.”

“So, more hydrogen makes the reactor run faster but also cools it down faster to counter the extra fission?”

“That's the idea.” He looked at her in a strange way, she couldn't identify exactly what it was. “You know, I've seen rooms full of grown adults who couldn't understand half of what I just told you. If you were a few years older, I'd hire you right now.”

She finally realised what that look meant. Desdas Kerman, head of research and development at a reputable aerospace company and professional engineer, saw her as an adult, an engineer, even an equal. More than that, he had just told her that Tina, teenage schoolgirl and amateur rocketeer, had built something that an entire team of professional rocket engineers and nuclear physicists hadn't even thought of despite huge research and development in the very same area, and which he considered a technological breakthrough of such importance that he had had her and her scrap-built rocket flown half way across a continent to study it in detail. That realisation was profoundly moving.

“That's possibly the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”

“Well, it's entirely true. There will always be a place for you in my team if for some reason your career as an astronaut doesn't take off.”

Tina snorted. “Dad jokes?”

Desdas looked at her blankly.

“Astronaut? Take off?”

“Oh... right. Totally meant that. I was just testing you.”

“Uh-huh. One more question- how exactly are you going to sell the concept of a barely shielded nuclear reactor inside a jet engine spraying radioactive waste into the upper atmosphere to the public?”

“Well, we have a lot of safety systems built in to-”

Tina interrupted him.

“Desdas, an angry mob almost killed me this morning because I was wearing a jacket with a band logo on the back that happened to include a rocket, just because they listened to some deranged conspiracy theory about rocket tests triggering that kerbquake. If you told them you were building a nuclear jet engine...”

Desdas turned noticeably pale.

“Even though it would be greatly beneficial to the environment to replace oil-burning jet engines with ones that ran on just air, people are scared of anything remotely nuclear- if you told them MRI machines used nuclear magnetic resonance imaging they'd never go to a hospital again, or worse, smash the machines to bits- and they'll believe whatever moronic nonsense fits their conspiracy-addled view of the world and dismiss any and all evidence that disproves it as part of that conspiracy.”

“Your hand is bleeding.”

She looked down and saw that she had clenched her fist so tightly that her fingernails had dug into her palm and drawn blood. Alarmed and slightly frightened by how angry she had become during that rant, she broke off the conversation and headed to the small toilet at the back of the cabin to get some paper towels to mop up the blood. It took several minutes of slow, deep breaths before her heart stopped racing and she felt calm again, and slightly embarrassed by the outburst.

When she returned to the cabin, Johnbro and Richgan had joined Desdas around the table and were setting up some kind of card game that required many packs of gummy bears and three packs of cards.

“What's with the gummy bears?” she asked as she took the remaining seat at the table.

“We don't have any chips and it's against company policy to use real money for any games or gambling-related activity while we're on the clock.”

“Hang on- you're getting paid to sit in a private jet and play card games?”

“It's a perfectly legitimate business trip, and we're not “playing card games”, we're “performing a team-building exercise”. There's a difference.” Johnbro replied. Tina was not convinced.

“So what 'team-building exercise' are you doing, and can I join in?”

“Ever played 9-card switch?” He saw Tina shake her head and explained. “ It's pretty simple: everyone gets nine cards, then you can choose to swap up to four of them. The goal is to get two or more of the same card, or a run of consecutive cards, with more and higher value cards being better. Matching colours beat the same set when they don't match, and matching suits are even better; getting two identical cards, like for example two nine of diamonds, is a snap and beats most other sets, and three the same is a triple snap; the best possible hand is a straight triple triple flush, that's three triple snaps for consecutive cards of the same suit.”

Tina was nearly cross-eyed trying to understand the straight triple triple flush but the basics of the game seemed simple enough.

“And the gummy bears?”

“Everyone puts one, um, bear, in at the start of each hand. Once everyone has swapped cards, you can put more in if you think you're going to win, then everyone else either has to do the same or drop out. Of course, you can always put in more even if you don't think you're going to win to try and trick everyone else into dropping out but that's risky.”

“And try not to eat any of your gummy bears while you're playing, either.” Added Desdas.

Half an hour later, Tina's hoard included nearly a hundred gummy bears, most of a bar of chocolate broken into squares and a hastily scribbled IOU from Johnbro. Richgan had been eliminated twice; Lurim had joined but went all in on his first hand and lost immediately; and both Desdas and Johnbro were barely clinging on with two bears and one square of chocolate respectively. Their predicament was worsened considerably by the fact that Tina had twice resorted to essentially giving away gummy bears to keep the game going and the addition of the chocolate for the same reason, plus the fact that Tina was now regularly snacking on her pile.

They were saved from any further humiliation by the plane arriving at its destination, where they were met by Thombert and the Vulture. The truck with the DAGGER on its back and a small car were driven out of its hold before the little jet performed it party trick, folding its wings and tail and driving into the Vulture's hold using electric motors in its wheels. The convoy of two drove out of the airport's perimeter and almost an hour later Tina watched as the DAGGER was- very slowly and carefully- lowered down by crane onto a wheeled platform and wheeled down into her workshop/shed. A quick exchange of email addresses and a round of handshakes followed before the K.V. Roe team drove off.

Even though it was still daylight, Tina immediately went upstairs and fell asleep in her bed fully clothed. For some reason, when the angry mob descended on her this time she fought them off by pelting them with gummy bears and slept soundly until the next morning.

After the second alarm didn't work, Mum had to go in and wake her up.

“You're going to be late at this rate.”

“Late for what?” Tina tried to blink her eyes into focus.

“School, silly!”

“School?” Her brain was still half asleep.

“Yes, that big building with teachers in it where you go to learn things.”

“No school on Sunday.” She curled up again to go back to sleep.

“Today is Munday.” Mum replied, throwing the curtains open and making Tina hide under the covers from the bright sunlight. “Munday, fun day, time to get things done day! Get up!”

That was a quote from Tina's favourite book- when she was four.

“Not going to school. Sick.”

“You're not sick, it's just a broken arm. You write with your right hand anyway.”

“Hurts too much. Need to stay in bed all day. Doctor said so.”

“The doctor said nothing of the sort. Take some painkillers and get a move on.”

Tina refused to budge until Dad started eating her stash of gummy bears; when she chased after him to get them back, Mum stripped the bedsheets and took them down to wash them leaving a horrified Tina with a bare mattress and a pillow with no pillowcase. With no other options, she reluctantly headed downstairs in search of food, ignoring her parents' smiling faces on the way.

“I don't even need to go to school, I'm a rocket scientist,” she muttered.

“Does the rocket scientist know what an iambic pentameter is?” Mum asked her.

“A poetic technique with lines that consist of five unstressed syllables, or iambs, each followed by a stressed syllable.” Dad replied.

“And how is that related in any way to rockets, science, engineering or anything remotely space-y? On the plane yesterday, Desdas said he would hire me if I was a few years older.”

“Well, you're not a few years older, so you'll just have to go to school until then.”

Tina's phone rang and interrupted their argument. She recognised Samlas' phone number.

“Hi Samlas, is this about that review thing?”

“Unfortunately, no. Do you know anyone named Tebal?”

“Yes, she tried to steal my rocket at the Science Fair and ended up dropping it on herself and nearly blowing up the Science Fair.”

“Well, someone has filed a counter-claim on your patent application claiming that you stole the whole design from one Tebal Kerman, demanding that any and all physical items and documentation be returned to their rightful owners and threatening dire consequences if they are not.”

“What!?” That slimy, scheming-

“I told them exactly where they could stick those last two points; there's nothing they can do to enforce it and plenty of things we can do to stop them trying. Their evidence isn't worth the paper it's printed on, but they're insisting on having the matter resolved in a formal hearing.”

“Is that bad?”

“I suspect they're trying to intimidate a low-budget attorney into giving up without a fight, which to me says they didn't do their homework and don't realise they're picking a fight with K.V. Roe or else they don't usually deal with patent applications. My money's on the latter; no self-respecting patent attorney would touch this application with a bargepole.”

“Are you sure we'd win?”

Tina heard her laugh on the other end of the line.

“I've been doing this job for nearly thirty years, Tina, and in all that time I've never come across anything this terrible. I showed it to a colleague who knew nothing about the case and he genuinely thought I was writing an example for a 'how not to do it' section in a textbook. If they don't back down, we'll wipe the floor with them.”

“Thanks, Samlas.”

She hung up and explained the conversation to her parents, whose assessments of Tebal matched her own.

“Take the thrust chamber out and hide it somewhere. That's what Desdas and Johnbro were most interested in, and even if someone tries to steal the DAGGER it won't work without it.”

Dad went outside to start dismantling the DAGGER while Mum helped her get dressed before driving her to school. It felt strange walking up to the school gates after the events of the last three days: everyone else was still talking about the Science Fair but to Tina that was a distant memory. Just before she reached the entrance she was cut off by Tebal in an electric wheelchair with her leg in a cast, her cohort of cronies running after her.

“Well, if it isn't lickle tiny Tina. You couldn't copy my look any better than you copied my rocket.”

Cue laughter from the cronies, at least two of whom looked like they didn't actually know why they were laughing. Tina was unfazed.

“Nine years later and you still can't come up with anything better than 'teeny Tina'? And tell Daddy's lawyer he should stick with weaselling out of speeding tickets and parking fines instead of picking fights with multinational aerospace corporations. I look forward to seeing your pathetic attempts at patent fraud land you in the trouble you deserve; until then, have a nice life.”

Tebal's smirk faltered badly and for once she had no retort to come back with. Tina walked past and headed into the school, feeling strangely elated. For almost a decade Tebal had been the bane of her school life, always teasing and taunting her because of her short stature, but now she knew that nothing Tebal could say to her would ever bother her again. She had built a rocket that had flown into space; Tebal was a spoilt rich brat and a petty school bully whose antics had finally come back to bite her.

She took her seat for Geography 3B, but her mind was elsewhere. If she took some glass out of the greenhouse, maybe used an old washing machine or fridge with the innards removed to reduce weight and make some space, extended the intakes around the sides, added some control surfaces to the fins, then maybe, just maybe, it could work. No, it would work.

Next time the DAGGER flew, she wouldn't be watching from the ground: she would be sitting on top and launching herself into the sky.

 

Chapter 5

Edited by jimmymcgoochie
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I'm not sure which I prefer - your slice-of-life sections with Tina and her family, or your technical sections with the other rocket engineers - they're both great!

Do you think Tina could take a couple of photos from atop the airborne DAGGER for her next Geography class? :) 

And as a patent guy of sorts, I'm kind of enjoying seeing that part of the story too. Don't know how much the patent shenanigans are going to feature in future chapters but I'd be happy to throw in some comments if they would help? That's assuming you're not a patent person yourself and, of course there's also no reason why Kerbal patent law needs to hew to Terran patent laws. :)

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1 hour ago, KSK said:

I'm not sure which I prefer - your slice-of-life sections with Tina and her family, or your technical sections with the other rocket engineers - they're both great!

Do you think Tina could take a couple of photos from atop the airborne DAGGER for her next Geography class? :) 

And as a patent guy of sorts, I'm kind of enjoying seeing that part of the story too. Don't know how much the patent shenanigans are going to feature in future chapters but I'd be happy to throw in some comments if they would help? That's assuming you're not a patent person yourself and, of course there's also no reason why Kerbal patent law needs to hew to Terran patent laws. :)

I'm not sure if I'll include the courtroom drama of the patent hearing in the story, not sure it would add that much when the outcome is a foregone conclusion and I want to move the story on towards the point where Tina actually joins the Space Program (spoiler alert, but given the title it's about as spoiler-y as saying that in Titanic, the boat sinks :rolleyes:).

Although as she'll be an Engineer when she gets there (but with a good science background too), any tips on this area would be appreciated and could help with some of the more technical aspects that I'm not familiar with- most of what I know about rockets and rocket science came from either playing KSP or internet research of things from KSP- looking up the real life inspiration for mod parts, videos by Scott Manley et al etc.

Screenshot illustrations probably won't be coming back in the chapters in future- while they can make a nice break in the text, it's fairly rare for them to appear in books and novels, plus when I've seen them in other stories I find they distract from the story and the pictures I have of the events in my head. I may add some kind of compilation at the end, which is quite common in biographies, but after the effort it took to get the Vulture off the ground (and keep it there!) that's not guaranteed.

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Broke the 10,000 word barrier on this one :o

Chapter 5 – Gatecrash

“I can't believe you did this.”

Dad was staring aghast at the new and improved DAGGER Mk3 as it sat on its makeshift launch pad, wisps of condensation drifting from its skin. Five munths of effort had gone into the upgrades, but Tina had hidden what she was doing for as long as possible to avoid having her parents worrying about it- or worse, stopping her entirely. She suspected that they knew what she was up to, especially when she started taking flying lessons, but had said nothing because they knew they couldn't talk her out of it.

But now that they could see the finished article...

“You took that beautiful machine that we made-”

“That I made!”

“- and welded an old fridge on the front. Then stapled wings on the sides and a shopping trolley on the bottom.”

“A vertical landing is impractical. Look how long it took them to get the Skyseeker to come back down and land vertically, and they had nearly twenty tests and huge development budgets.”

“She has a point, Martin.” Mum waddled over, by now only a munth away from her due date. She grasped Tina by her shoulders and looked straight into her eyes.

“Fifteen minutes, and not a single second more. Understood?”

“Yes, Mum.”

“And no detours either, especially not over that Darryl's house.”

Tina was appalled. “Muuuum! For the hundredth time, there is nothing going on between me and Darryl. At all.”

“Between Darryl and I, not 'me and Darryl'.” Mum suddenly turned serious. “No heroics up there, OK? Anything goes wrong, anything at all, you hit that abort button right away.”

“I will, Mum. Don't worry about me.” She smiled, trying to be reassuring.

“Tina, no matter how old you get, I'll always worry about you. But, I know that you know what you're doing. Now go and fly your rocket.” There was no mistaking the pride in her voice and Tina suddenly felt rather emotional, and gave Mum a surprise hug (which lasted just long enough to start feeling a bit awkward) before doing the same to Dad.

She climbed into her fridge- er, pod, using a stepladder, turning backwards and sticking her head in first before stepping her feet inside.  An old bucket seat from a crashed sports car and a few flight instruments from a scrapped microlight were the only features inside the pod, with a mirror to see out the window on top for landing and a second window in front of her head. And of course, the obligatory BIG RED BUTTON which triggered the abort procedure- engine off, parachutes armed, fan to idle, control surfaces to airbrake mode. She fastened the seat straps as Dad followed her up the ladder and closed the hatch and locked it, gave her a thumbs up, then removed the ladder and retreated to a safe distance.

Tina started the fan first, spinning it up to operating speed and making the DAGGER vibrate slightly but keeping the blades feathered, before Dad started a countdown on his walkie-talkie.

“Ten, nine, eight, seven, six- fan blades to power pitch, four, three- starter, two, one- ignition!”

The engine roared into life and built rapidly to takeoff power. Liftoff was flawless, the extra weight of the command pod making little difference to its rate of acceleration. The vibrations weren't as bad as Tina had expected but it was still uncomfortable inside her home-made command pod with exposed wires and crudely filed down edges.

When the altimeter said 2000 metres, she nudged the controls to pitch down towards level flight. Or at least, she tried to. The control stick was unresponsive and no matter what way she moved it, nothing happened. This wasn't good: the controls had worked perfectly when she tested them yesterday, and all the other times before that; but since she was still fairly low and slow it wasn't too bad yet-

The speedometer said 522m/s and was still climbing, altitude already 6km. She had forgotten how much more powerful the engine would get as it gained speed and was now pulling a sustained 2.5g of acceleration. The DAGGER was slowly pitching over, but in the completely wrong direction, heading north and further inland instead of south towards the sea and the beach where she planned to land. Tina pulled the throttle lever back to idle only for it to snap off in her hand leaving the thrust set to full power.

She immediately went for the big red abort button and slammed her fist down on it; with the extra force from the continued acceleration, she hit it much harder than intended and punched the button itself straight through the panel and out the bottom where it dangled by its wires, out of reach.

Altitude 12km, speed 887m/s, engine operating nominally but starting to struggle with the lack of outside air. It was getting extremely cold inside the pod, causing both windows to freeze over and making each breath hurt. She was profoundly glad that she had installed that emergency oxygen supply, even if wearing a scuba mask while flying a rocket looked ridiculous.

She should be panicking: hurtling at several times the speed of sound at an altitude most airliners could barely match in the completely wrong direction while sitting in a rocket-propelled fridge with no controls to speak of should have been absolutely terrifying, reducing her to a quivering wreck, but instead she was almost alarmingly calm.

When the engine flamed out due to lack of oxygen, she could retrieve the abort button and shut it down before cranking the handle that would deploy the control surfaces to their full extent and lock them there for air braking, deploy the drogue chute first and then the two main chutes mounted on the top the fridge/pod and near the back of the engine cowling between two of the fins. It would be an awkward landing, being stuck facing up and totally blind to what was under her, but still totally feasible. Then she would have to fix the throttle lever, find and fix the control issue followed by adding a more robust abort system, and now that she thought about it an engine gimbal mechanism wouldn't be a terrible idea...

But the engine didn't flame out. Cruising at over a kilometre per second and 23km up, a delicate balance was found between the wings and the engine. At this altitude the engine was producing a fraction of its sea level thrust, only 4kN, but the air was so thin that 4kN was enough to keep the speed up; if it rose slightly, the engine faded more and the airspeed dropped slightly, resulting in the altitude decreasing and feeding more air to the engine which produced more thrust, causing it to level out and then rise again. Tracing a gentle wave across the sky, the DAGGER raced north above rolling hills and forested valleys, a tiny speck leaving a thin contrail behind it.

This was going to take A LOT of explaining. Tina could see a year of dish washing, grass cutting and house cleaning in her future. In the more immediate future, though, she could see a horrendous cramp in her back and a dull headache that might have been caused by the friction heating the nose cone, precariously close to her head. Head first was a good idea when launching vertically, but for landing horizontally it might prove to be... Problematic.

Still, there was no denying that it was incredibly peaceful up here, the continuous whoosh of the air flowing around her and the dull rumble of the engine were as quiet as a whisper, the sky tinted a deep blue, like sapphire. She was floating far above even the highest cloud-tops, peaceful, calm, relaxed-

Lonely.

She started at the unexpected interruption.

Lonely? She wasn't lonely! Alone, yes, but not-

Lonely. You are lonely.

“No I'm not.”

A lone, lonely loner, up here all alone.

“I'm not lonely!”

She heard laughter in her head; unfriendly, almost cruel.

Yes you are. You have nobody down there.

“I do! I have Mum and Dad and, and-”

And..? Who else?

“Well, there's, um... er...”

She sensed a smug satisfaction from the... whatever it was. Her conscience? Her imagination?

See? Nobody.

“Erliwise, the boy I sit next to in Science class.”

Really?

“Fine then, what about Darryl?”

There's nothing going on between you and Darryl; your exact words.

“Sasha then.”

Your unborn sister? That's just sad...

Well, then there's... Um...

What, nothing? Smugness intensified. Not one single person?

I...

The only one who paid you any attention down there was Tebal, and after that public humiliation she got at the patent hearing even she won't look at you. You have nobody.

A tremendous weight seemed to settle on her chest and start squeezing, slowly suffocating her. Dark waves of despair rushed over her like tsunamis, picking her up and hurling her around before dumping her back on the ground with a thump before the next one came along and repeated the process. The sun came through the little window in front of her, but it felt like ice on her face and stabbed at her eyes even when they were tightly shut. And through it all, that voice-

You have nobody. You are nobody. Nothing.

“stop”

Nobody!

“Stop.”

NOTHING!

“ENOUGH!!”

And suddenly everything was silent, except the pounding of her heart, the swish of blood in her ears and her ragged breathing, using up the oxygen supply far too fast. In fact, it was a bit too silent, and it took a while for her to realise what was missing.

The engine was silent; after over 20 minutes of high-altitude super-cruising, the fuel reserves had finally run out.

Once again, the DAGGER continued to make usable thrust for a while after that until the latent heat in the combustion chamber dissipated. Speed and altitude dropped steadily but slowly, giving Tina plenty of time to deploy the air brakes, scrape the ice off the windows and check her location. The last activity sent a cold chill down her spine as she realised just how far she had flown- almost to the equator in fact, and a few degrees to the east too. This was going to take A LOT of explaining. And at least three years of bin duty.

She hit the switches to arm the parachutes, then just had to wait as the DAGGER slowly lost speed and altitude, dragged inexorably down by gravity and air friction. Hopefully she wouldn't end up in the sea, because she was a terrible swimmer. Nothing she could do about it though; all she could do was wait...

***

Erbo Kerman was bored.

It was his own fault, really. He had been sent on a coffee run and had spiked his friend Cammore's coffee with salt instead of sugar, only to get them mixed up and give that cup to his boss instead. After spraying a mouthful of it across the room, she had sentenced him to one week of tracking station duty as penance, looking after Kerbin's SOI, which was interminably dull when nothing was actually happening. He was currently tracking:

–   One busted probe, waiting for a team to go up in a Dynawing and inspect it next week;

–   Four old communications relays, parked in orbits just in front of or behind the Mun and Minmus;

–   12 GPS satellites in their synchronised orbits, unchanged since their launch eight years ago;

–   One little blip in the atmosphere, heading towards him;

–   And nine commercial satellites providing anything from TV signals to telecommunications for ships at sea.

Wait, what?

He looked at the screen again.

One little blip, flying too high and fast to be an airliner, heading almost directly towards him. That wasn't there the last time he'd looked up from the other screen surreptitiously hidden under the desk, which had been just after he'd read something about a cold, wet frog to the face and sneezed coffee all over said desk, which takes some doing when you don't have a nose.

He tapped the screen but it didn't go away. He switched the screen off and back on, but it was still there. He pulled up the flight list but found nothing that could be causing this mystery blip. How odd.

He brought the controls for Dish 3 online and swung it around to point at the blip, firing a pulse of signals at it to identify, classify, communicate, interrogate and/or otherwise turn it from a blip into something intelligible. To his consternation, it had no effect at all; the blip remained stubbornly blippy and held its course.

He picked up the phone and dialled an internal number.

“Harbour tracking, Lenemone speaking.”

“Harbour tracking, this is Erbo in KSC tracking. I have a weird blip on my screen and can't make head nor tail of it. Bearing, hmm, 190 from your position, altitude 16 klicks, speed just above 700.”

“I'll point the dish over thataways, wait one.” Erbo heard many computer keys being tapped, followed by the distinctive sound of the backspace key being furiously bashed about 20 times along with some choice swearing, and then more typing.

“Uh, say again, Harbour Tracking?”

“ahem... Dish is pointed in the right direction, but I don't see any sign of your- no, wait, there it is! Huh, pings didn't get a response. That's odd.”

“I got the exact same thing. Any ideas what it is?”

“Kerm knows, but I reckon you're about to find out.”

“Why's that?”

“Well, if this trajectory is right, it's going to come pretty much right over your head in approximately,” pause “ninety eight seconds.”

“And what exactly is 'Kerm', anyway?”

He heard a strange sound, something like 'pffffp' that face to face would be accompanied by a shrug. Or at least, he hoped it was that, although the canteen menu did say they were serving 'extra-hot five bean chilli surprise' so you never knew...

“Too much internet. Eighty nine seconds and counting. Take a picture and send it over, I can stick it on that 'What did you do at KSC today?' forum thread. Can you do that Erbo? Erbo?!”

But Erbo was already out the door and running for the exit.

***

At two thousand metres, the drogue chute deployed perfectly. At fifteen hundred metres, it opened fully and began to slow the DAGGER's descent. At a thousand metres, the two main chutes opened and the drogue detached, but a slight timing error meant it immediately tangled in the rear chute which failed to open at five hundred metres. With only one parachute at the front opened, the DAGGER fell tail-first and much faster than intended. She considered cutting the fouled chute but that would just make her fall even faster. All she could do was watch the altimeter drop and brace herself.

***

“And now we are entering the Vehicle Assembly Building, where all the rockets get built.”

Jeb smiled his trademark smile (which was also trademarked, and was bringing in a nice little side income from the merchandising deals) for about the fiftieth time, and silently wished he hadn't taken Val up on that bet, for about the hundred and fiftieth time. He could still see that smug smile on her face as she watched him watch the gaggle of unruly children pile out of the bus in a perfect illustration of Brownian motion, everyone going in different directions with no obvious pattern or purpose.

And why did he have to wear a spacesuit to do a tour? It was swelteringly hot and stuffy in the suit even indoors; under the midday summer sun, he felt like one of those boil-in-the-bag ready meals. And why, oh why, did he need the helmet? That thing was heavy! He kept it on for about thirty seconds then pulled it off and carried it, which was only slightly less uncomfortable.

“This is the biggest building in the Space Centre, big enough that even the biggest rockets can fit inside it without touching the ceiling.”

“Where's the rockets?” “Yeah, we want rockets! We want rockets! We want-”

He cut off the chant before more than three of them got involved.

“Well, unfortunately there aren't any rockets being built right now, but when we get over to the Spaceplane Hangar you can see...” He spotted the looks on the teachers' faces. “Um, anyway. This is the tallest building in the entire Space Centre, and if you look waaaay up there, those yellow things on the ceiling are huge cranes that can lift entire rocket subassemblies-”

“Boooooring!” “I hafta pee!” “Gift shop?” “Where's the rockets?” “Why are you wearing a spacesuit if you're not going to space?” “Who ate my gummy bears?” “I'm boooooored!”

The grin was decidedly forced now. Famous kerbonot or naut- Kerbonaut or not, those infuriating children were making him have thought typos!- Jeb's patience was wearing thin and without a big shiny rocket to distract them the infuriating children were free to pester him with inane questions. Fortunately, he spotted two familiar faces and hurried in their direction to dump the school tour on someone else for a while. As he approached, gaggle of children following in his wake, he picked up their conversation. Gene, flight director and general Space Program manager, was even grumpier than usual; Mortimer, head of finance, was looking even more flustered than usual.

“- possibly keep up with that kind of schedule without increasing the budget!”

“Yes, Gene, I did raise that point on several occasions. Might as well have been talking to a brick wall. 'Safety costs money', 'Costs more to fail than to succeed', the whole shebang, but none of it mattered. 'Do more, with less money, and hurry up about it!' is all I got out of them.”

“Bah! New rocket parts don't grow on trees, it takes time- and funding- to get them approved for use and run the test launches, and those private corporations are all too happy to drop the bill for actually testing their new creations in our publicly under-funded lap.”

“Not to mention the bills for all those clerical staff we keep having to employ to shift all that ludicrous paperwork, tracking every penny spent on toothbrushes and toilet rolls while we employ a small town just to dot each T and cross every I.”

“Well, boys and girls!” Jeb broke into their conversation very loudly. “Look who we have here: it's Gene and Mortimer!”

“Who?” “They're not spacemen!” “Boooooring!” “Where's the rockets?” “I hafta pee!” “Gift shop?”

Gene and Mortimer glowered daggers at both Jeb and the gaggle of children behind him.

“No, Jeb, we still won't have games konsoles on the Trailblazer.” said Mortimer; Jeb sighed. “Frankly, it's a miracle we're getting the Trailblazer at all, and even then that's mostly because the deposits are non-refundable.”

“The meeting with the Board didn't go well then?”

Gene chuckled humourlessly.

“They didn't shut us down, so at this point I'd say it was a roaring success. Bureaucrats,” he spat the word out like it was a fly that had just flown into his mouth, “seem to think that brand new, flight qualified rockets just parachute out of the sky straight into the VAB.”

CRASH!

Everyone looked up at the sound as something came, well, crashing, through one of the skylights in the roof.

CLANG!!!

It hit a support girder with a crane mounted on it just below the ceiling, snagging a parachute on said crane which meant that the rest dropped half way to the floor before becoming stuck.

That final jolt made Tina's teeth rattle. She wasn't sure exactly what she had just landed on, or in, but at least she was still in one piece. Until her seatbelt pinged open, dropping her onto the door of the pod which opened immediately and presented her with a very long drop to a floor far, far below. And the other parachute, which she fell straight into, tangling in it enough to slow her descent but not enough to stop it, until she fell out the other end but got her foot snagged in one of the parachute lines and continued downwards as the parachute slowly ripped in half before she finally came to a sudden halt with a most undignified squeal, upside down.

Eyeball to eyeball with a rather surprised Jeb.

She let out an even less dignified sound that wasn't so much squeal as squee. All that blood rushing to her head must be to blame. Must be.

Quick, quick, say something clever about your amazing rocket that you made yourself!

“You owe me a phone.”

What was that!?!?

Jeb looked at her blankly. So did the- are they children?- behind him, before she somehow rotated round and came face to face with an equally bemused Gene and Mortimer. She squee-ed again- what is WRONG WITH YOU!?!?- then blurted out: “Hiiii, I want to be a spaceman. Girl. Woman. I like spaaaaaace, why is everything going red? Am I leaking? I feel like I'm leaking.”

There was a chorus of “Eeeeewwwww!”s from the children.

“Not like thaaaat...”

Something high above slipped slightly, dropping her closer to the floor with a sudden lurch and yet another undignified noise in the general vicinity of squuurk.

She rotated to face Jeb again, who was still looking utterly befuddled. And so were the children. Apart from one who looked inexplicably relieved and slightly uncomfortable at the same time.

“What, have none of you ever seen someone hanging upside down by their ankles before?”

One kid piped up. “Well there was that one time I got home from school early and-” before suddenly realising that this might not be the time or place for that particular anecdote and closing his mouth with an audible clack.

“You still owe me a phone.” Stop with the phone already!

“I owe you a phone?” Jeb was utterly bewildered.

“Uh-huh. Because you broke it.” Seriously, just drop it.

“I broke your phone?”

“Yep.” Drop. It. Now.

“Really?”

Slightly exasperated “Yes.” I give up. This is entirely on you. Sincerely, your conscience.

Slightly indignant “When?”

“When you did that thing with the parachute.”

“...nope...”

“And then you did some silly pose.”

“...nope...”

“And then you said 'something something land a Dynawing backwards' and Val said 'brick through a plate glass window more like' and you-”

Jeb's eyes widened, an impressive feat in itself given his previous bewilderment.

“Wait- you!?”

Snap. Squeal. THUD.

Tina was now lying on the floor but with one foot still hoisted in the air by the parachute, which was somehow even less dignified than before.

“Yup, it's me. Now pay up.” She let loose a ridiculously childish giggle for no apparent reason.

“I still don't see how I owe you a phone th- ohhhh. Right. That.” Jeb looked rather sheepish.

Tina looked utterly ridiculous, flailing around on the floor trying (with limited success) to free her foot from the parachute. She scowled at Gene and Mortimer and said: “Don't offer to help me or anything.”

Something high above them finally gave out and the DAGGER began falling straight towards her. Without hesitating, Jeb grabbed her arms and dragged her out the way just before a fridge landed right where she had been, followed by the rest of the rocket which floated down surprisingly gently as the remaining parachute billowed and caught the air as it fell.

Tina spotted Jeb's discarded helmet rolling past her and said “Hey can I-borrow-thisblaaaaaaagh” before realising that the visor was open and the curved interior had splashed most of it back to spatter across her legs. But she felt much better!

“Eeeeeewwwww!” chorused the children.

Mortimer looked decidedly green... -er.

“What is that?” Gene asked, pointing at the now-fridgeless but otherwise intact DAGGER.

“That's my rocket.” Tina replied.

“Your rocket?”

“Yes, my rocket.”

“You built this? With a fridge on the top? And you flew in it!?” Jeb asked, incredulous.

“Yes- ooh, hang on...” Tina's neck hadn't taken kindly to her suddenly turning her head the other way and had seized up. She tilted her head to one side then slowly circled it back and around to tilt the other way, eliciting a sound like splintering wood as she did.

“Eeeeeeewwwwww!”

Mortimer turned another shade greener.

“It's an air-breathing rocket. I called it DAGGER- Dual-mode Air-Guzzling Gas Engine for Rockets.”

“Booooring!” a kid shouted. Tina turned on him.

“Oh yeah? Did you build a rocket? In your shed? And launch it into SPACE?”

“no”

“You launched that thing into space with a fridge on it!?” Jeb was even more incredulous, but also looked like he really wanted to try it for himself.

“No, silly, I put the fridge on after so I could fly around in it. Just had a teensy bit of trouble with the controls not working and went the wrong way.”

Someone burst through a door on the far side of the VAB.

“INCOMING!!! WE HAVE INCOM- oh.”

Jeb saw an opportunity, and seized it with both spacesuit-gloved hands.

“And now I'll hand over to my colleague” he squinted at the newcomer's name badge- “Erbo here, who will give you a tour of the” more squinting “Tracking Station. Isn't that exciting?”

“Who?” “Booooooring!” “Gift shop?” “You're not a spaceman either!” “Where's the rockets?”

The school tour left with the hapless Erbo leading them out the door he had just entered by, and Jeb let out a huge sigh of relief.

“Aaaaaanyway...”

Gene gave the DAGGER a close inspection and was clearly impressed with what he saw.

“So this is the rocket that Desdas was raving about at that family party last munth.”

“You know Desdas?”

“Yes, he's my aunt's cousin's step-daughter's cousin's uncle, once removed.” He noticed the looks everyone else was giving him. “It was a really big party.”

He turned to Mortimer.

“Have we given out the Kanopus scholarship yet?”

“I've been asking you to do that for the last three weeks.”

He turned to Tina.

“Have you done your Level 3 exams yet?”

“They're called B-levels now, and they're next munth.”

“Hmm. OK then: if you can get five A grades-”

“They're graded by numbers now, not letters. Old grade As are now grade 1s”

“Who makes this stuff up!? Fine, five grade 1s. If you get five of those including maths, physics and at least one more science, then I'll get you a place in the winter intake for the Rising Stars program.”

It took a few seconds for that to sink in. Rising Stars took in school leavers, or in some cases school students, and in the space of half a year gave them in-depth learning on all things space-related and plenty of hands-on experience to back up the theory plus considerable physical training and assessments throughout. The entry requirements were strict, the learning curve precipitous and the drop out rate rarely dipped below 80%, but those who completed it were fully qualified to enter the Astronaut Program and had guaranteed places if they wanted them. Which a surprisingly small number actually took up; for many of them, the idea of spending a couple of years doing even more intensive training was enough to make them realise that space wasn't for them, and were soon spoilt for choice as major corporations lobbed job offers at them.

Aaaaaaand it's sunk in.

Tina leapt up from the floor and shook Gene's hand so rapidly he thought his wrist had just been dislocated.

“ThankyouthankyouTHANKYOUthisisAMAZINGIAMSOHAPPY- oh...”

And fell to the floor face first with a THUD. There was a stunned silence as the three of them looked at her, trying to work out what had just happened. Jeb poked her with his foot and got no response.

“Is she dead?” Mortimer asked, looking even greener-er than before.

“Just passed out. All that dangling upside down would push blood to her head, then when she stood up too quickly it all drained away again et viola, face plant.”

“Uh, Jeb? It's voila, not viola.”

“Aaagh! Those infuriating children are making me make speech typos now too! How is that even possible!?”

Gene pulled an old brick phone from his pocket and punched in a number. Literally punched; the keys were clunky and required brute force to operate.

“I need a medic and an engineering team to the VAB right away.” He looked over at the puddle oozing out of Jeb's helmet. “And a janitor. No, make that three janitors.”

“And the smallest command pod we've got!” Jeb shouted before Gene could hang up.

“No, Jeb.”

“But she flew it!”

“No, Jeb.”

“In a fridge!”

“No, Jeb.”

“But-”

“No. Jeb.”

Jeb gave up and walked off, already plotting his dastardly plan to get hold of that tiny little command pod and take the DAGGER for a spin. The medical team arrived and scooped Tina up on a stretcher before whisking her off to the medical centre in the Astronaut Complex, then the engineering team arrived and began checking the DAGGER over for damage and any potential hazards like fuel leaks. Gene gave them strict instructions not to let Jeb anywhere near it before he and Mortimer left to deal with yet more paperwork and left the janitors to clean up the VAB floor.

***

Tina woke up with a thundering headache. Her mind felt fuzzy, everything after the parachutes deployed a featureless blur. A face slowly came into focus over her, shining a bright light into her eyes and saying something that sounded like they were speaking underwater.

A few more minutes were needed before tina_kerman.exe had fully reloaded; during that time she wondered idly why it was written in K-sharp, and indeed how she knew it was K-sharp since she had only ever seen KOBOL and learnt Kobra; then she wondered why all those code languages began with K, and that started her thinking about why so many other things inexplicably seemed to start with the letter K as well, which nearly krashed tina_kerman.exe until some prokesses were prioritised to allow it to kontinue to funktion korrectly. More or less.

Which is why when the doctor tried to check her pupil responses again she suddenly lunged forwards and tried to kiss him. He only just responded in time and retreated, tripped over a stool and ended up in a heap on the floor. The nurse setting up an IV on Tina's other side found that hilarious. Until Tina spotted the needle.

***

Tina blinked and suddenly the world snapped back into focus. Her head hurt, her face hurt, everything hurt. She tried to move but couldn't and when she looked down she was horrified to see her arms and legs had been strapped down to the bed with restraints. When the door opened she was sure it would be a group of black-suited agents wearing sunglasses ready to cart her off to some secret base for interrogation, or else a group of hazmat-suited scientists with pointy things to poke at her with.

Fortunately, it was just a young looking doctor who checked her vitals on a medical monitor then almost timidly approached her.

“I'm going to take those restraints off now, as long as you promise not to kiss me again.”

“What? I didn't-”

Yes you did. You tried to kiss the doctor.

What!?

And you nearly got killed by a fridge.

How did that happen?

And you shouted at a small child.

...should I feel bad about that? Small children are infuriating; everyone knows that.

AND you threw up in Jeb's helmet too.

No, no, this can't be true...

And then she remembered it all, and wished furiously that the ground would open up and swallow her.

An older doctor entered the room. “So, there's some good news and some bad news.” She told her. “The bad news is, we found a small blood clot in your brain, most likely because of all that dangling upside down.” She spotted Tina's terrified look and continued. “The good news is, we gave it a quick blast with that laser thingy and it's gone now. It's also good news for you, because it explains why you tried to kiss poor Lewwise here-” she patted the young doctor on the shoulder, who blushed nearly as deeply as Tina- “and why you tried to pick a fight with two nurses, three orderlies and a fire extinguisher.” Tina's blush shifted to a similar colour to said fire extinguisher.

“We've already contacted your parents and they're on their way. I've also been asked by the Director to give you this, and to tell you 'five 1s'.” She handed Tina a plain brown envelope, which she opened to reveal a glossy promotional leaflet for the Rising Stars program and an application form. A little thrill of excitement raced down her spine- he actually did mean it! This was her ticket to the Space Program!

A shadow loomed outside the window. The older doctor glanced towards it, did a double take, then her eyes widened and she grabbed the younger doctor and threw them both to the ground just before there was a tremendous BANG from outside. The window shattered an instant before something large and white crashed through it, accompanied by a shower of debris.

A hatch opened in the large white thing and Jeb emerged from inside it, speaking with the excess volume of someone who's just witnessed a loud explosion at close range.

“Wow, that little thing had some kick! That's the most fun I've had in a rocket in years! Just don't tell Gene or-” he spotted Tina staring at him. “Well, hello again. Fancy meeting you here, heh. I'll just be... going...” The door he was trying to open was blocked by the pod meaning he was trapped in the room. Tina spotted something on the floor next to her bed, stood and picked it up: it was part of the DAGGER's thrust chamber, and then it all made perfect, terrible sense.

“You...”

She advanced slowly towards Jeb, who was still smiling but looked decidedly nervous.

“You... you stole my rocket?”

The smile was slipping.

“You stole my rocket?”

Jeb shot a pleading look towards the two doctors, but neither of them moved to help him.

“And you crashed it!?”

Jeb was cornered now, but Tina's IV stand had snagged on the corner of the bed and she couldn't get any closer without either removing it or damaging herself. It was a comical sight: Jeb, fearless astronaut and test pilot, cowering in a corner from an angry teenager.

An emergency team forced the door open and tried to get into the room but were nearly flattened by Jeb as he clambered over the pod, through the door and disappeared down the corridor at triple speed with “You better run!” echoing down the corridor after him.

***

“He broke it...” Tina said sadly, looking out the hole where the window had been at the debris field scattered across the road all the way down to that bridge in the middle of the R&D complex. True to form, Jeb had tried to fly under it, but on this occasion he misjudged the DAGGER's top-heavy design and couldn't make the turn before clipping a wall and losing part of one wing, sending him hurtling out of control down the road, bouncing and breaking more parts off before crashing through the window of the medical centre at the south end of the Astronaut Complex.

There was little hope of repairing the damage as the fuel tank had ruptured and blown out, obliterating everything in front of the central bulkhead in front of the combustion chamber in an instant. The chamber itself had shattered on impact, the rocket nozzle cracked into pieces and one of the fan blades was now buried in the wall of the VAB, ninety metres up.

“He broke it...”

All that work, all that effort, the tests at Darude and then her flight that morning, now so much scrap and shrapnel.

She noticed a strange sound from the corridor beyond her room, something that sounded like 'ow-ow-ow-ow-ow' getting louder and louder until two Kerbals walked in and Tina's mouth dropped open. Gene entered first, one hand firmly grasping the back of Jeb's spacesuit and towing him along backwards in an uncomfortable and undignified way. Jeb looked like he desperately wanted to be somewhere else- in fact he looked exactly like a misbehaving child who had just been given a good telling off. He couldn't meet Tina's eyes, and some part of her found it incredibly funny.

“I didn't mean to crash your rocket.” He said, staring at the ground in front of her feet.

“And?” Gene prompted him.

“And, I shouldn't have taken it without your permission.”

“And?”

“And, it was wrong of me to do that.”

“And?” Gene looked like he was struggling to keep a straight face; Tina immediately understood why and only just managed to keep her own face neutral as she thought of her reply.

“And, I'm very, very, very...” Jeb took a deep breath. “Sorry.”

Tina took a step forwards and Jeb tried to take a step back but a sharp shove from Gene propelled him forwards again.

“Look at me.” Jeb's eyes flicked up to her face, then back to the ground. “Look at me, Jebediah.” He reluctantly obeyed, looking just like a scolded child.

“I'm not angry with you, Jeb. I'm just-” she desperately suppressed a giggle and managed to keep a straight face- “I'm just... disappointed.”

Gene was making an odd, high-pitched whine and his face had turned a strange colour.

“Very disappointed in you, Jebediah. Now go stand in the corner and think about what you've done.”

Gene seemed to explode, and one look at his face was too much for Tina who started laughing hysterically too. The two doctors joined in, and after a while Jeb saw the funny side and laughed as well, though his was a slightly nervous laughter as if he expected everyone else to suddenly turn serious. Just when they seemed to be stopping, Gene and Tina would look at each other and start laughing again until there were tears running down both their faces and Tina had an uncontrollable fit of hiccups, which only made things worse.

“Well now, young- giggle- young lady, Jeb here has agreed to fully reimburse you- chortle- for the costs of your rocket.”

This was clearly news to Jeb, but for once he said nothing.

“Really? That's- hiccup- very kind of- hiccup- of you, Jebedebed- hiccup- ebediah. Although there is one- hiccup- small problem with that idea. Hiccup. I don't know what it- hiccup- is actually worth.”

She tried holding her breath to suppress the hiccups.

“If you have a blueprint or assembly scheme of some kind, I'm sure we'll be able to calculate the costs. Then I'll personally see to it that the funds are deducted from Jeb's wages directly and sent on to you.”

Hiccups defeated.

“That is an excellent sugges- HICCUP!” She clapped both hands over her mouth. Hiccups- 1, Tina- 0. She spotted a jug of water and a glass, poured herself a glass of water, then thought again and just drank straight out of the jug in another attempt to suppress the hiccups.

“An excellent suggestion. I can send over a full schematic by tomorrow.”

Well, since we're all in agreement.” Gene ignored Jeb, whose face said he was anything but in agreement, and turned to the two doctors. “Please ensure miss Tina here is provided with lunch and that her clothes are returned to her when they're cleaned.” Tina blushed brightly, but nobody seemed to notice. “Jeb, you are dismissed.” Jeb couldn't get out of the room quickly enough. “I look forward to meeting you again, Tina, although possibly not under the same conditions.” Tina blushed even brighter, and Gene gave her a wry smile before leaving. He was half way down the corridor when he heard a tremendous HICCUP! behind him and chuckled to himself.

About half an hour later a messenger arrived to tell Tina that her parents' plane was on final approach and to reunite her with her newly-washed clothes. She got dressed as quickly as she could, glad to be rid of the scratchy and horribly thin medical gown she had been wearing before, and then followed the younger doctor- Lewwise, she remembered- along to the main cafeteria for a plate of 'extra-hot five-bean chilli surprise', which she demolished at a speed that left everyone around her amazed, and even went back for seconds, which was unheard of. Nobody had seconds on chilli surprise day!

She didn't even hear the plane landing, but Lewwise got a message on his pager and led her towards the rear entrance of the Astronaut Complex towards the waiting jet. Just as they were about to walk out the door, Tina heard a familiar voice behind her.

“Did you think you could just leave without saying hello?”

She turned around, a big silly grin spreading across her face.

“Val!”

“Who'd you expect?”

Tina only just stopped herself from running over and hugging her, wary of embarrassing herself in front of another Space Program legend, and instead walked over and offered her hand for a handshake.

“Is it true? Did you really crash a rocket through the VAB skylights right in front of Gene, Morty, Jeb and that school tour?”

“Well, yes, but-”

“And did you really puke in Jeb's helmet in front of them too?”

Blushing furiously, Tina said nothing, which made Val laugh.

“And then to cap it all off, after Jeb stole your rocket and crashed it, Gene actually dragged him- by the scruff of his neck, no less- back to you and made him apologise?”

“Yes! He looked like a kid who got caught raiding the cookie jar, and I told him I was very disappointed in him and- GET BACK HERE!” Jeb had appeared round a corner, spotted Tina and immediately turned on the spot and raced back the way he had come, leaving a confused looking- Bob? Bill?- standing in the middle of the hall. “Do NOT make me come over there!”

Bob/Bill made the connection and laughed. “Oh, Jeb, you're in trouble!” The only reply was loud footsteps disappearing at a run.

“Don't worry, I'll make sure he gets reminded of his misdeeds at least once every, hour? Is that too lenient?”

“Hour and a half. He did apologise, after all.”

“Fair enough. So what exactly made you think it was a good idea to try and drop a rocket on the VAB?”

“It was an accident. The controls didn't work and it just flew until it ran out of fuel. I couldn't even see where I was going when the chutes opened. Just pure blind luck.”

“Tina, threading a needle first time is luck; flying a rocket plane for nearly half an hour with no controls only to drop straight through an eight-by-two-metre window on top of the VAB... The odds of that happening are astronomical- and believe me, I know a thing or two about that.”

Tina smiled, but it faded as a memory resurfaced from the flight.

“Val, when you first went up there, did you ever feel...” She struggled to find the words to describe what she had felt.

“Lonely?” Val finished her sentence. “Just you, all alone in a tiny tin can, hurtling through the sky at ridiculous speeds with nothing but those pessimistic voices trying to make you doubt yourself?” Tina was startled at her insight. “First time, second time, and every time since. Doubting yourself is just part of being Kerbal, Tina; down here it's easy to drown them out, but up there with no distractions, you have plenty of time to think and that's when they rear their ugly, metaphorical heads.”

“How do you deal with them?”

Val's smile looked slightly sinister. She made a twirling motion with her finger in the direction of Lewwise, who obediently turned around and began intently studying the pattern of scuff marks on the floor. Val leaned in close and whispered to Tina.

“I give them all spectacularly rude names, and whenever they try to talk to me I throw every swear word I know at them. And with so many people from all around Kerbin working here, I know a great many of them.”

Tina just stood and gawped at her. That was not the answer she had expected at all!

“Of course, I never actually say anything out loud. Except that one time I accidentally called Gene an 'Arstotzka', but as far as I know that's just a type of cheese from somewhere up north.”

“Erm, Val?” Lewwise broke into their conversation. “It's really... not.”

“Then what is it?”

In response he came closer and whispered something to Val, who suddenly blushed brightly.

“oh”

Seeking a quick change in subject, Val turned back to Tina.

“So are you going to rebuild your rocket?”

She thought about it for a moment before coming to the logical, if unpalatable conclusion.

“No.”

“No? Why not?”

“I have exams next munth, and I need to do really well in them so that I can get that Kanopus scholarship and get into the Rising Stars program.”

“Scholarship? When did this happen?”

Tina whirled around to see her parents walking through the entrance. She was a little apprehensive at first, but it was soon clear that they were far more interested in hearing about what she had been doing at the KSC, and how she had got there in the first place, than telling her off for flying away and making them worry about her.

“I met Director Gene Kerman and he said he'd give me the scholarship to pay the entry fees for Rising Stars, but only if I got five grade 1s in my exams.”

“Well, in that case I'm putting you two in charge of making sure she gets those grades.” Val blinked, then added: “Wow, I just had this really weird feeling of déjà-vu.”

“Me too,” Dad added, “and for some reason I'm thinking about Minmus sorbet.”

“Some things never change.” Said Mum. “And while we're on that subject, why don't you explain to Tina why her controls didn't work.”

Dad blushed and stammered, “Er, we don't even know that that that was the problem. That was too many thats in that sentence, I know that much.”

“This electronics genius,” Mum pointed her head in his direction, “dropped the walkie talkie when you launched and then stuck the batteries in the wrong way round. He was also in charge of putting fresh batteries in your control joystick last night and must have put them in the wrong way as well.”

“You don't know that!” Dad protested.

“Well, why don't we go and have a look at the DAGGER and prove it one way or the other.” She spotted Tina's expression. “Tina, what's wrong? What happened? They told us the DAGGER was intact when it landed.”

“It was, until Jeb stole it.”

“He did what?”

“And then he crashed it.”

“He did what!?”

“And it got smashed to bits.”

Mum spotted Jeb trying to sneak past by hiding behind a janitor with a cleaning trolley.

“Jebediah Kerman, you get over here RIGHT NOW, YOUNG MAN!”

Jeb bolted back into the corridor and there was a loud crash as he knocked over a second cleaning trolley in his haste to escape.

“It's alright, he's going to pay for it when I send a schematic over; Director Gene said so. Apparently he's also a distant relative of Desdas and already heard about me and the DAGGER.”

“See? It all worked out well even if I did put the batteries in wrong. Which is not an admission of guilt, just so you know.”

Val looked at her watch. “Well, it's been great to see you again, Tina, and I look forward to seeing you around here more often in future.” With a final flurry of handshakes, Team Tina turned and headed towards the waiting plane and were soon airborne and heading home again. It was at that point that Tina discovered why nobody ever had seconds on chilli surprise day as she felt something deeply unpleasant happening inside her; she spent most of the flight locked in the toilet at the back of the cabin, emerging just before landing looking dishevelled and slightly traumatised.

It took her a while to realise that they weren't driving home. Her suspicions were aroused when neither of her parents would tell her where they were going but they seemed to be heading to the beach where she was supposed to have landed. They parked in a deserted back street and walked through the dunes towards the beach, and as they got closer Tina could hear loud music and see a large kite that looked suspiciously rocket shaped.

Then they crested the final dune, and Tina's jaw dropped.

The entire town seemed to be there, spread across the whole beach. There was a large stage setup in the middle just in front of the water with speakers blasting music; at least a dozen vans and trailers selling burgers, hot dogs and ice creams; hundreds of children swimming or splashing around in the sea; a fifty-a-side game of football- the proper football where you actually kicked the ball instead of that weird version with the body armour- which was slightly complicated by the fact that there were at least four different balls in play at any given time and nobody seemed to know whose team they were on; and huge screens scattered around which were showing a hundred different views of the DAGGER's launch that morning.

Someone on the beach spotted her arrival and within seconds the beach erupted with cheers and applause. Before she had a chance to react, she was lifted off her feet and carried through the crowd towards the stage as thousands of people chanted her name. Waiting on the stage was the town mayor and the police chief.

“Everyone!” The mayor's voice boomed out through the speakers but was barely audible over the noise of the crowd. “Our very own junior astronaut, Tina! Who built her own rocket out of junk and scrap and blew up a Science Fair!” There were a lot of laughs, but by now almost everyone knew the story of what had happened at the Science Fair and the laughter wasn't aimed at her. “Who rebuilt said rocket overnight, took it out to a test range and fired it into space!” A loud cheer went up from the crowd. “Who was so impatient to join the Space Program, she had to fly that very same rocket straight to the Kerbin Space Centre and make her case directly to the Program's director.”

The big screens played a video, obviously recorded by one of the kids from the school tour, showing the DAGGER come crashing through the ceiling and Tina's extremely undignified arrival. Fortunately for Tina, it didn't include any of the conversation that had happened just after that.

“Whose rocket was so incredible, even the famous Jebediah Kerman, test pilot and Kerbonaut, couldn't last more than three minutes at its controls before, well...” The mayor pointed up to the screen above their heads and a video from a camera on the VAB roof played, showing Jeb's disastrous attempt to fly under the R&D bridge and the audience gasped at the impressive fireball that resulted.

“Don't worry, folks, I've been assured that he walked away from that unharmed.”

“No he didn't.” Tina interrupted. “He RAN away, as fast as he could, and had to be dragged back by the scruff of his neck to apologise for stealing and crashing my rocket.”

The crowd cheered even louder than before. The mayor waited for the noise to die down slightly before speaking again.

“However...” There was a chorus of boos and jeers. “However, even Kerbonauts are required to obey the law. Chief Dibella, over to you.”

The police chief walked up to the microphone and waited for the booing to quiet down.

“Martina Kerman, this morning you were observed in operation of what eyewitnesses described as, and I quote, 'A Spaceship'. I need to see a licence and registration for said vehicle.”

Tina saw the chief wink at her, out of view of the audience, and understood where she was going with it.

“But Officer, the documents were in the rocket when it was destroyed.”

“That is no excuse, young lady. Operating a spaceship without a licence or proof of ownership is a serious criminal offence.” More booing and jeering from the crowd greeted that statement.

“I'm afraid there's only one thing for it. Prepare the slide!”

A number of generators sputtered into life and the big screen behind the stage split in half and folded away to reveal a gigantic inflatable slide extending out into the water and inflating to its full height. Chief Dibella guided Tina to a small changing room hidden behind the stage where she changed into a wetsuit before being escorted to the top of the slide by a pair of police sergeants.

The slide was a lot steeper when seen from the top and Tina suddenly felt nervous. The whole slide was swaying slightly in the light breeze and the far end of the slide was visibly moving with the waves. A cameraman appeared to provide the video and audio feeds for the big screens, clipping himself onto a safety line to avoid falling off the narrow platform at the top of the slide.

The two sergeants grabbed an arm and a leg each and prepared to throw Tina down the slide, but then paused.

“Are we going on three?”

“Yep, sounds good.”

“OK, in one-” they swung her out over the edge and back again, “two- wait a second.” They dropped her unceremoniously to the floor. “Is that one, two, three and then go or one, two, go on three?”

“One, two, go. That's what we said- go on three.”

“I always thought it was one, two, three, go. Maybe we should count backwards instead?”

“Oh, HURRY UP!” Tina told them. She saw a look pass between them before they picked her up again.

“Aaand, THREE!”

They hurled her down the slide. She accelerated at a dizzying rate before hitting the ramp at the end and flying up through the air. She screamed in terror and exhilaration in equal measure, seemed to hang in the air for ages before dropping into the sea with a tremendous splash.

She surfaced several seconds later and a huge cheer went up from the crowd. Someone paddled up to her on a paddle-board wearing a lifeguard's uniform and after blinking sea water out her eyes she recognised him.

“Darryl?”

He responded by diving off the board and into the sea- totally unnecessary as she was barely a metre away, but it looked good from her vantage point - and reappeared behind her. She was quite happy to let him push her towards the board and help her up onto it before he joined her. He knelt down to keep the board balanced and began paddling towards the shore with Tina sitting behind him clinging on to his waist. She found that to be a very enjoyable experience even when people in the crowd started wolf-whistling to them.

More huge inflatables were deployed and soon there were queues waiting for a turn on each one; everyone moved aside to let her through and somehow every time she splashed into the sea it was Darryl who picked her up and carried her back to shore.

Later in the afternoon they ended up sitting with Darryl's family eating hot dogs and having a wide-ranging conversation about everything from rocket launches to rocket salad and on occasions venturing into contentious territory, such as the correct order of ketchup and mustard application on hot dogs- Tina and Darryl both argued that ketchup should come first, but Darryl's parents and sister Marta were adamant that mustard should precede ketchup. It also turned out that Tina's dad and Darryl's dad were in the same pub quiz team so he passed on a message to Tina that her parents had gone back home and gave her strict instructions to be back before it was dark.

The sun was beginning to set by the time they left the beach, and they were some of the earliest to leave. They walked back into town until they reached a point where Darryl's home was to the right and Tina's was to the left and split up, with Tina and Darryl continuing towards her house together. At some point along the way he started holding her hand and an unfamiliar but pleasant tingling sensation spread up her arm and then out through her whole body. She confided in him about that strange feeling that had come over her during the DAGGER's flight and he listened attentively without making any patronising or 'helpful' comments.

In no time at all they were standing outside her front door and to her surprise she was reluctant for the walk to end. They just stood for a while, facing each other and holding both hands, then at some unspoken signal they kissed.

That little tingle when he had first held her hand paled into insignificance next to the incredible rush of sensation that suddenly surged through her. Each second felt like hours, every nerve felt like it was extra sensitive and conscious thought was just along for the ride.

Until they heard the door being unlocked and broke apart suddenly before it opened. Darryl said “See you on Munday.” then turned and walked away, and Tina just said “Bye.” and watched him leave.

She felt... different. Different in a good way. She felt like she was floating above the ground instead of standing on it. Not even the rush of hurtling down that huge slide could compete with what she was feeling now.

She walked inside, completely missing the look on Dad's face that on any other occasion would have provoked embarrassed outrage, walked upstairs to the bathroom, peeled off the wetsuit and stood under the shower marvelling at how she could feel every individual little jet of water and every drip from the nozzle that didn't work right, every little grain of sand stuck between her toes, every crystal of salt in her hair.

She wandered through to her room afterwards and was asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.

Dad chuckled to himself as he climbed into his own bed.

“The love bug has bitten at last.”

“Like you're one to talk, Martin. How many years did it take you to pluck up the courage to ask me out?”

“It wasn't talking to you that scared me, it was the thought of having to talk to your mother. I once saw her scowl at a bottle of milk and it instantly turned into cheese!”

Mum laughed quietly. “I admit, she can be a bit intimidating at first, but once you get to know her... She's still terrifying.”

“Still, better for Tina to get it out of her system now.”

“What do you mean?”

“She's dead set on going to space, Jeanette. She could be gone for weeks or munths at a time; if she gets assigned to one of those interplanetary missions they're talking about, she could be away for years. I worry that one day, she'll have to choose between her love for someone here, and her love for space. And no matter which choice she makes, she'll regret it for the rest of her life.”

“So do I, Martin, so do I.”

 

Chapter 6

Edited by jimmymcgoochie
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Looks like Jeb needs to work on his fridge logic. :) 

And what a great 10K+ word way to end the weekend!

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18 hours ago, GuessingEveryDay said:

Wait. What about Tebal? Sure, yeah she will probably drop the case against Tina, but it would make a interesting twist to make Tebal come again as trying to make Tina seem like a fraud.

I can neither confirm nor deny that I forgot to add that bit in :blush:

But I CAN confirm that we haven't seen the last of Tebal...

 

EDIT: Chapter 5 has been edited slightly to include the missing explanation of what happened to Tebal between chapters 4 and 5. We still haven't seen the last of her though... @Misguided_Kerbal I can neither confirm nor deny your hypothesis :sealed:

Edited by jimmymcgoochie
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