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Audacity: Memoirs of a Kerbonaut


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Chapter 6 - Overture

A cool breeze ruffled the treetops, setting their leaves rustling gently in the twilight. The sounds of the woods were changing, the day shift clocking out as the night shift began arriving; at one point a loud squeak indicated that one of the former had just fallen prey to one of the latter.

Zero noticed all the details, saw the small predator with its latest meal dangling limply in its jaws trotting away through the undergrowth. Zero was utterly in tune with the surrounding environment, because to be anything else was fatal in Zero’s line of work.

 Nobody really knew Zero’s real name, not even Zero. Names were just anchors to slow you down; Zero had gone by many names before and today went by the name of ‘Alpha’.

 “Alpha to all units, report.” Murmured Zero/Alpha into a throat-mounted radio microphone.

 “Beta, in position.” Whispered Beta.

 “Gamma, ready.” Breathed Gamma.

 “Delta, standing by.” Rumbled Delta.

 “Alpha to all units. Hold position and await further orders.”

 

For two more hours Zero/Alpha remained motionless and silent, not even flinching when a particularly large and fearsome insect crawled over an eye, fangs brimming with deadly venom. Zero knew how to combat those insects, how to treat their bites and how best to prepare them for eating. Zero did none of those things and instead watched as it pounced on an unfortunate forest critter, paralysing it with venom before laying its eggs inside it.

 Darkness was never truly dark, even on an overcast and moonless light, and tonight the stars were more than enough to illuminate their target. Not that they needed to- its entrance was lit by two bright spotlights and more lights were scattered around the perimeter. Two security guards were at the entrance paying only token attention to the world outside their little hut and the small TV inside it.

 

“Alpha to all units. Engage.”

 For a long time there was no obvious result to this order. Nothing changed and nothing moved. Zero wasn’t worried by that; on the contrary, that was the plan they had agreed on. Move up silently into position unnoticed, then strike without warning.

 Delta moved first, unfolding from a large bush like some kind of forest troll and hurling a smoke bomb straight into the open door of the guard hut. Both guards stumbled into the open, coughing and blinded by the smoke, where Beta was waiting and struck once, twice, dropping them before they even knew what had hit them. Delta lumbered up silently and moved the two unconscious guards into the bushes where they would be found by first responders bound, gagged and completely unharmed save for identical lumps on the backs of their heads and with no clue what had happened.

 Beta scaled the entrance gate in seconds and moved inside the compound, followed shortly after by Delta who went through the gates in a very literal but surprisingly quiet manner. Two clicks followed by three over the radio was the only warning before all the lights went out, courtesy of Gamma. Zero’s eyes were perfectly adjusted to the darkness and could easily see Beta and Delta moving to their next objectives, planting the explosive charges as they went. Nothing else moved and there was no sign of the other two guards.

 

“Beta, charges set, moving to position 3.”

 “Delta, charges set, moving to position 3.”

 Torches flashed on the other side of the compound as the remaining guards came out to try and fix the lights. The first encountered Beta and abruptly went out; the second encountered Delta and simply vanished. Beta moved to the last objectives while Gamma carried the second pair of unconscious guards, one under each arm, to leave them with their colleagues in the bushes.

 

“Beta, objectives complete.”

 “Delta, objectives complete.”

 “Gamma, objectives complete. Ready for detonation on your command.”

 “Alpha, detonate.”

 

A series of muffled thumps came from the compound, small clouds of dust and smoke rising from their sources. The charges were small and did only moderate damage, but each was placed to cause maximum disruption by destabilising foundations, destroying equipment or in one case knocking out the compound’s power and phone lines. No dramatic fireballs to attract attention and no ka-booms to carry over the breeze, exactly as planned.

 “Alpha, mission complete. Fall back to position 7 for exfiltration.”

 Zero took one last look at the objective, the sign outside the gates completely legible even at this distance in the faint afterglow from the lights that had previously lit it up. The damage to the facilities complete with Gamma’s hacks would be putting a huge dent in the latter half of Jebediah Kerman’s Junkyard and Spacecraft Parts Company’s activities for some time to come.

 

Zero was still there in the morning when the proprietors arrived to find the Junkyard in disarray, gates broken open and much of the machinery destroyed or rendered inoperable. Local law enforcement arrived, did some preliminary investigations but were clearly at a loss to explain how, or indeed why, anyone would try to sabotage a junkyard.

 Zero was still there when the Children’s video message hit the media, claiming responsibility for the sabotage and warning that it was merely an overture to a far greater campaign. Unless and until the destructive and wasteful Space Program was halted, it warned, more action would follow.

 

Zero was still there when Jebediah Kerman III, proprietor and CEO of Jeb’s Junkyard (and uncle to the famous Kerbonaut) gave an interview in front of his business denouncing the Children as ‘ignorant imbeciles’, pointing out that Jeb’s Junkyard was the biggest site not only for upcycling discarded scrap and unwanted machinery into useful products for the aerospace industry but also for refurbishing and reusing spent rocket boosters. By destroying that capability, Jeb the 3rd said, the Children had just removed one of the most environmentally friendly parts of the space supply chain and now instead of reusing those stages the Space Program would have to buy in brand new rockets made from virgin resources, precisely the opposite of what they wanted and as ironic as it was idiotic.

 Zero was still there when darkness had fallen again, a police cruiser parked by the gates and twice as many guards as before prowling the perimeter. Slowly, imperceptibly, Zero backed away into the woods, blending into the shadows and vanishing without a trace.

 

Chapter 7

Edited by jimmymcgoochie
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Time to apply my own angle on Kerbal biology. I actually did a degree in molecular biology so while it's not something that actually happens IRL (as far as I know), the mechanism is entirely feasible; plus @KSK's marsupial thing makes this seem pretty tame :P

Chapter 7 - Progress

Tina woke up, peered bleary-eyed at her alarm clock and immediately rolled over and fell asleep again. School was finished, exams completed and now all she had to do was wait for the results to be sent out in the next few days.

She was usually up before dawn for an early morning run, currently followed three times a week by swimming lessons and the other four by gym sessions. She had scaled back a bit while studying for the exams only because she didn't want to tire herself out too much and because there were just not enough hours in the day to fit it all in. The Astronaut Program had very strict criteria for physical health and her size was a disadvantage (there were girls three years younger at school who were taller than her now!) so she was determined to do everything in her power to mitigate against it. But not today- today she was staying in bed and having a well-earned lie-in.

She woke up again about half an hour later and felt hands wandering across her chest. She kept her eyes closed and pretended to still be asleep, and the hands kept up their clumsy, inexpert exploration. One found the neck of her pyjama top, slipped inside it and-

“Ow!”

She carefully removed the hands and looked at their owner reproachfully.

“Your nails are really sharp.”

The owner looked back at her blankly before responding by grabbing a fistful of her top with one hand and a fistful of hair with the other.

“Aaagh! Not the hair, Sasha!”

She tried to no avail to loosen the fist that was now pulling towards its owner's mouth. Why did babies have such ridiculously strong grip?

Sasha found the whole thing immensely amusing, which meant that she flailed her arms around in the uncoordinated way that young babies move and pulled her hair even more. Tina did the only thing she could.

“Muuuuuuuum! Heeeeeeelp!”

Mum came to her rescue.

“All you need to do is take your finger and run it down the back of her head, like this-” she demonstrated and Sasha's eyelids flickered as a dreamy smile spread over her face, while her hands relaxed and Tina could finally retrieve her hair. It didn't take long for those little hands to return to their original target and Mum laughed.

“I think she's hungry.”

“Well, so am I. Why don't you deal with her, and I'll deal with me.”

“Did you hear that?” Mum pulled an exaggerated shocked face as she plucked Sasha up from the bed. “Grumpy Tina doesn't want to play with you. No she doesn't. No she-”

“Can you please do that somewhere else? I don't need that image in my head.”

“Does it make you uncomfortable?”

“Yes!”

“Why?”

“Because...”

There was a long silence, broken only by Sasha making little gulping noises.

“Are you afraid of this?”

“...no?”

Mum sat down beside her. Dad stuck his head round the door, took one look at them and wisely decided to be somewhere else for a while.

“Tina, there is nothing to be afraid of. This is what they're for.”

“I know that, but...”

“But the world out there is telling you they're only there to be boy magnets.” Tina's face turned scarlet. “Or maybe girl magnets. I'm not judging.” Scarlet turned to crimson and her toes seemed to curl up of their own volition.

“It's a man's world, Tina. They're scared of them, so they try to make you scared of them, so they can leverage it to suit them, and if anyone dares to act outside those narrow boundaries they get labelled with all kinds of horrible names. Never be afraid of your own body; you have nothing at all to be ashamed of.”

They sat in silence for a while as Tina's mind raced. The more she thought about it, the more she realised the truth of her mother's words. Strip away the societal pressures and preconceptions and there really wasn't anything to be afraid of, any more than there was a reason to be afraid of her kidneys or her tonsils.

“Do you want to try it?”

“What?”

Mum flicked her eyes down to Sasha, then back to Tina.

“That's not a thing!”

“Actually, it is. It's pretty rare in the general population, about 7 per thousand I think, but it's hereditary. Aunt Linley did it when you were a baby.”

“That's slightly disgusting, but also kind of... not sweet, but, um...”

“I know what you mean.”

Tina thought for a while.

“Does it hurt?”

“It's a little uncomfortable at first, but you get used to it.”

“How do I know if I can do it?”

“You just have to try it. You don't have to if you don't want to.”

She thought for another little while.

“OK. What do I need to do?”

“Just put your left arm there, like it's in a sling- now why didn't I think of that before? Just put her in that old sling of yours and- yes, sorry. Now pull your top up with your other hand while I pass her over to you.”

Sasha whimpered in protest at the interruption until she was safely in Tina's arms and instinctively latched on. Tina let out a little gasp of surprise- it felt strange, but somehow also felt right. Except for one thing which she took a few seconds to understand and then couldn't help laughing at.

“She's warm! I don't know why, but I was expecting her to be cold.”

“Why would she be cold? Try to relax or neither of you will be comfortable.”

Sasha was making little grunting sounds, either from effort or displeasure, or both.

“It feels like,” what did it feel like exactly? “Like when you really need a poo but it won't come out.” She nearly face-palmed at her own ineloquence, but her hands were full with Sasha so she couldn't.

Mum rolled her eyes. “You've been spending too much time with your father.”                                                                          

“Is it supposed to feel like that? Am I doing it right?”

“It might not work first time; you might not even be able to do it at all. We can stop if you want.”

“No, I'm OK, give it a couple more minutes.”

Another minute went by before something seemed to relax and that weird blocked sensation suddenly ended; Sasha stopped grumbling and seemed to relax too.

“First time, you're a natural!” Mum smiled at her. “It took four days after you were born before you were feeding properly and three days for Sasha. Now just wait there a minute while I...” She was already out of the room before Tina could object.

She noticed that Sasha was peering up at her with one eye and made a silly face at her; Sasha closed the eye disdainfully and loosed a staccato burst directly where Tina's left hand was supporting her along with a sound that could best be described as 'moist', or possibly 'squelchy'.

“Mum, she needs changing!”

“I'll be there in a minute!” was the shouted reply from downstairs.

Sasha was looking at her again in a slightly unnerving way. Maybe talking to her would be better?

“Hey there. This must be strange for you, you're thinking “Who are you? You're not my mummy, but you look a bit like her and you look kind of familiar too.”, and you're right. Well, I am Tina. Very nice to meet you Tina, I am Sasha. Nice to meet you too.” She put on a silly voice when speaking Sasha's part, which Sasha found amusing. “I wonder what's going on downstairs. Me too, why don't we go and see? Well, I thought about that, but I don't want to disturb you and make you start crying because then I'll look bad. Fair point, let's just stay put for now. Excellent suggestion!”

She shimmied along the bed to reach her phone sitting on the bedside table and started trawling the internet for information on her newly-found ability.

...chemical signals released by babies triggers release of the hormone Prolactin in the mother which activates the biochemical blah blah blah- positively regulated by Postgesterone which is only present from the 22nd week of pregnancy, peaks immediately after birth and then remains high until the infant is weaned at around 8-12 munths. Pretty much what she had already heard in Kerbal Biology class. So if Postgesterone was only present after actually having a baby, then how...

…in rare cases, a minor mutation in the Postgesterone receptor gene regulator (PGR2-rf) can result in low level signalling being produced spontaneously. Most common from onset of puberty to age 30 and thought to be prevalent at a rate of around 7 per million in the general population- so much for 7 per thousand!- close contact with a newborn induces Prolactin activity which will also increase Postgesterone production and results in sympathetic lactation or symp-lac- wait a second. She re-read the last couple of paragraphs and realised what they meant.

“OK, Sasha, I'm going to move you to the other side because my left arm is going numb, and then we're going to go and have a little talk with Mummy. About what? About her little scheme to try and get me to deal with your crying little face in the middle of the night. That's a pretty good idea actually, I like it. Whose side are you on?”

She got half way down the stairs just as Mum was about to head out the front door, coat and shoes on and car keys in her hand.

“Dad stuck his hand through the greenhouse door, I'm taking him to hospital. I've called Aunt Linley, she's working an early shift so she'll be done by noon and come straight round to give you a hand if you need it.”

“But-”

“You'll be fine, Tina. You're a rocket scientist, I think you can deal with a baby for a couple of hours on your own.” Sasha made another moist, squelchy sound. “As I recall, you're pretty used to dealing with hazardous gases.”

“But-”

“Sorry, I really do have to go. Just call me if you need something. Lock the door behind me, bye.”

Tina was left staring at the door as the car started and drove off.

“But-”

“I told you to go down earlier, but noooooo, you knew better. Don't you start!”

The big bag of baby stuff was in one corner of the lounge; Tina rummaged through it to find the changing mat and put Sasha down on it to have both hands free. She peeled open the soiled nappy, trying very hard not to look at its contents, rolled it up and stuck it in a bag then tied the handles together in a double knot just to be safe. She dug through the bag to find the baby wipes and turned back to see a puddle spreading across the mat and trickling off onto the carpet.

“No, Sasha! Not on the carpet!”

She picked her up and immediately felt something squelch under her left hand.

“Eeeewwww, it's up to your neck, Sasha! How did you even do that?”

Sasha replied by burping a little glob of sick straight into her lap.

“That's it. You're going for a bath.” She sniffed under her own arm. “Actually, we're both going for a bath.”

She took Sasha back upstairs and took the baby bath seat out of the bath, then put Sasha in the bath seat and turned the taps on. While it was running, she went back downstairs and tried to clean up the mess quickly before it soaked into the carpet. A sound from upstairs made her almost literally fly back to the bathroom, taking the stairs three at a time, but it was just a bottle of shampoo that had slipped and fallen into the bath. She glowered at it as she put it back on the shelf under the shower and it immediately fell back into the bath again. This was clearly not going to be her day.

She peeled Sasha's soiled top off and dumped it in the washing basket before stripping off her sicked-on pyjamas and adding them to the basket as well. The bath was shin-deep by this point and not too hot so she picked up the baby bath seat and put it in the bath; Sasha's face was almost comically shocked when she touched the water, but seconds later she was happily splashing her hands in the water with a big grin on her face. Then she burped another little sick glob into the water and Tina remembered what you were supposed to do with a baby after feeding them. Fortunately the sick glob stayed together in a lightly congealed lump so she scooped it out with a little plastic cup and dumped it in the toilet, then draped a towel over her shoulder, picked Sasha up and put her on her shoulder and started patting her on the back to get her to burp up the air she had swallowed. And then remembered why she had run the bath in the first place.

“I bet if they went into Sex-Ed classes with some babies and said: 'Last week we told you how babies are made; this week you find out the things that babies make. Here are some babies, their lunch just went in the top end and their breakfast just came out the bottom end; deal with them.' they could end teenage pregnancies overnight.”

Sasha demonstrated both of those things at the same time and seemed quite startled by it. Tina sighed, deployed the cup and dumped its contents in the toilet again. She put Sasha back into the bath seat and tried to wash the cup out in the sink with some soap before giving up and switching the shower on at low power and low heat. At first Sasha didn't really know what to make of it, but she quickly decided it was fine and went back to happily splashing around while Tina scrubbed her clean with a soft sponge.

Once Sasha was clean, she turned her attention to herself and turned the shower up to a more reasonable temperature and pressure. Five minutes later she was (reasonably) clean, turned off the shower and grabbed a towel off the towel rail, completely forgetting that it was heated and burning her fingers before snatching them away with a yelp. She held them under the tap and ran cold water over them, grumbling the whole time.

“This is your fault, Sasha.”

Sasha looked up at her blankly.

“If I didn't have to mess around dealing with you, I could have had a shower and be downstairs eating breakfast by now. I blame you.”

Sasha thought for a moment, then responded with “Buh.”

“Less of that language, young lady!” She pulled the plug out to drain the bath. Sasha squawked in protest as the water drained away.

“You weren't even supposed to be having a bath until this evening, so stop complaining! And don't give me those big, sad eyes and that wobbly lip either, it won't work.”

Sasha looked up at her with big, sad eyes, lower lip trembling slightly. You cold, heartless monster, they said, how could you do such a terrible thing to a poor little baby?

“I told you, it won't work. No matter how cute you look... No.”

It took another ten minutes to get them both dried and dressed, mostly because Sasha kept wriggling and squirming, pulling her arms and legs out of the little pink onesie as soon as Tina got them in before she eventually resorted to the trick Mum had shown her earlier, stroking the back of Sasha's head to make her go limp and then shoving all her limbs into place and fastening the buttons as fast as she could.

“Right then, the plan is: breakfast, then a nice walk down to the park. The weather forecast said it should be nice and sunny today.” She looked out the window just as a huge bolt of lightning lit up the sky, almost immediately followed by a tremendous thunderclap that made both of them jump; rain and occasional hailstones were coming down almost sideways.

“On the other hand, I never trusted the forecasts anyway.”

Trying to eat breakfast and hold a baby at the same time was nearly impossible so she stuck Sasha in her little springy chair thing (was it called a baby bouncer, or was that the thing that hung under the door?) and sat that beside her while she ate.

“Breakfast, check; walk in the park, cancelled. Ooh, I know what we'll do!”

She found the baby carrier thingy that vaguely resembled a backpack, only it could also be worn on your front, and rather than being a bag it held a baby instead. A brief and one-sided struggle later Sasha's flailing limbs were inserted into the right holes and the straps were secured so she could see where they were going without any risk of falling out or straining her neck, which still wasn't strong enough to support the weight of her head for more than a minute or so. They headed upstairs to Tina's room and she switched on her computer, then loaded up Terrin Space Program.

“Pay attention- stop eating your own fingers, you just had breakfast! This is Terrin Space Program, and it's essentially what I'm going to be doing in a few years but easier, because it's a game. Those weird little orange creatures with their weird little heads are Terrins, and they live on that nice planet there called Terr. Now if you just wait a little while for the save game to load up... And then we go to the Tracking Station... Tada! That's Terr, with its little Mun called Moen and the little Minmus called Minimun- very imaginative... They're about a third of the size of the real Kerbolar system to make the game a bit easier than real life. Over here, this pretty purple one is Venis, the little brown one there is Murcrey, that red one there is Mors and the big green one here is Joviter. Then there's Plootu, Seerees and that little thing there is Hayley and it's a comet, not a planet, so it has a pretty tail behind it, see?”

[04:46] EssKayEss – Hey Tee, you're here early.

“That's just someone else on the server saying hi.”

[04:46] WeeTeeKay – Hey SKS. Finished that Joviter transfer yet?

[04:46] EssKayEss – Almost XD those ion thrusters might be efficient, but they are slooooooow!

[04:47] WeeTeeKay – I told you that would happen. NERF rockets are a much better bet for something that size plus they don't need those expensive RTGs to power them either.

[04:47] EssKayEss – But they don't look nearly as cool.

[04:47] WeeTeeKay – dgjf kgkjb sgbc             dsf sfs

[04:47] EssKayEss – I agree :p

[04:47] WeeTeeKay – sorry, baby found the keyboard

[04:47] EssKayEss – congrats! Is that why you've been away, too busy parenting?

[04:47] WeeTeeKay – she's my sister! :\ Had exams

“See? Everyone assumes you're my baby. Like that grumpy old man last week who started shouting at me in the street; I still can't believe you slept through that but woke yourself up when your stomach rumbled.”

[04:47] EssKayEss – ah, sorry. congrats on becoming a sister then

[04:47] WeeTeeKay – you almost salvaged that one :p

[04:48] EssKayEss – So you're starting her early so she can fly the rockets while you're asleep? CHEATING!!!

[04:48] WeeTeeKay – 5 weeks old and she could still fly better than @thelaykerbonaut

[04:48] thelaykerbonaut – I heard that!

[04:48] EssKayEss – better take a trip out to Plootu to get some ice for that buuurn!

[04:48] EssKayEss – actually that buuurn would be enough to fly you all the way out to Plootu

[04:48] EssKayEss – retrograde :p

[04:48] WeeTeeKay – so TLK, where'd your Mors rover end up?

[04:49] EssKayEss – the silence says it all

[04:49] <private> EssKayEss – fifty funds says it was a 'kraken attack'

[04:49] <private> WeeTeeKay – 'Mortian defence systems'

[04:49] <private> EssKayEss – deal

[04:49] thelaykerbonaut – Kraken broke the heat shield off the front

[04:49] <private> EssKayEss – ka-ching!

[04:49] thelaykerbonaut – but the fairing held up until the Mortian defence systems kicked in and the whole thing came apart, made some very nice explosions though

[04:49] <private> WeeTeeKay – one all :p

[04:50] <system> Challenge 'Minimun Speed Challenge' will begin in 10 minutes.

[04:50] EssKayEss – Joviter here I come!!!

[04:50] EssKayEss – four hour burn to brake into orbit!?!? :,(

[04:50] <system> User 'thelaykerbonaut' has left

[04:50] WeeTeeKay – maybe I should teach little Sasha the importance of clearing up space junk, and take down that Murcrey probe TLK stuck right in front of my space station

[04:50] WeeTeeKay – it's going to hit it sooner or later and I have five crew on board, I have to protect them!

[04:50] EssKayEss – DO IT!

[04:50] WeeTeeKay – nah, I'll just shove it into another orbit. Although my station is a bit low on power and the solar panels on that probe look just about the right size to make up the deficit, plus it's just inside EVA range...

[04:50] EssKayEss – do it do it do it do it do it

[04:51] EssKayEss – just blame the Kraken :p

Sasha was snoring loudly, her head drooping towards the desk.

[04:51] WeeTeeKay – sorry, Sasha just fell asleep

[04:51] WeeTeeKay – clearly she rates your conversation about as highly as I do, but she hasn't learnt to be polite about it yet :p

[04:51] EssKayEss – :0 ouch

[04:51] WeeTeeKay – if I come back and find pieces missing from that station again... >:(

[04:51] EssKayEss – hey, I never took those magnetometers!

[04:51] WeeTeeKay – then how do you know they were magnetometers?

[04:51] EssKayEss – …oops

[04:51] WeeTeeKay – HA! It WAS you! You owe me seven thousand funds!

[04:51] EssKayEss – oh come on, they only cost 3000!

[04:51] WeeTeeKay – I had to spend more funds to get the replacements up to the station. Seven thousand, or Landon. Your choice.

[04:51] EssKayEss – but Landon's my favourite Terrinaut!

[04:51] <system> User 'EssKayEss' transferred 7000 funds to your account

[04:51] WeeTeeKay – I knew that would make you pay up :p see ya later

[04:51] EssKayEss – see ya :

SKS and The Lay Kerbonaut were two of the biggest names in space-related internet videos, explaining rocket science and related concepts in a way that the everyday Kerb-in-the-street could understand. They were also both huge TSP fans and after discovering that Tina had launched a home-made rocket into space (which was technically true) SKS had invited her to a private server; initially sceptical of the dodgy email she hadn't responded, until he had name-checked her on a live stream and she knew it was genuine.

It also turned out that TLK was a decidedly mediocre TSP player when he wasn't using it to demonstrate some obscure rocketry principle, which was a continuous source of amusement for everyone else on the TSP server; his habit of blaming every mishap on 'kraken attacks' a.k.a. game glitches, rather than poor construction and piloting, only made it funnier.

She switched over to the game's modelling and development systems where a nearly finished DAGGER Mk5 was waiting for a final coat of paint and detailing work before it was ready to be unleashed on the unsuspecting Terrinauts. The game used parts at a 40% scale compared to real life, so the 0.625m DAGGER could have been scaled down to 0.25m, but she chose to go for 0.5m instead as it was closer to reality (and because it made the integrated fuel tanks have enough fuel to work for more than ten seconds) and had adjusted the thrust and weight accordingly.

The Mk5 was pure fantasy, a hypersonic version with a ramjet ring around the outside and a variable geometry shock cone inlet for use on spaceplanes, which was slightly superfluous since orbital velocity on Terr was a mere 2400m/s and the plain old DAGGER Mk2 could fly itself into orbit and back again using the same configuration that had just crept over the Kérmán line at Darude.

Or at least, it did when she switched on the 'infinite power' cheat because she forgot to put solar panels on it and the battery ran out. She kept that fact to herself though.

The detailing was delicate, fiddly work and there was only so much she could do at a time before her eyes blurred and she had to stop. She considered looking in on the KSC forums, but there were a growing number of people popping up there to spout their nonsensical opinions and conspiracy theories at anyone who'd listen (and anyone who wouldn't) and she didn't want to wake Sasha up shouting at the screen. In the end, she decided to catch  up on that story she had found online about how the entire Space Program was just a cover to save the world from marauding magic trees by planting them on Duna, or something like that- she still hadn't quite figured it all out yet- but there weren't any new chapters out since yesterday.

Her phone let out a loud PING and Sasha stirred; a bit of shushing later she was asleep again and Tina switched the phone to silent mode before checking the message. For some absurd reason her heart did a little skip when she saw it was from Darryl.

Hi Tina, did you see the news this morning? Level B and C Geography papers were misprinted, wrong title pages on them so they were used in the wrong exams, they're probably going to scrap the exams and go with predicted grades instead. -D

Forget skipping- her heart was pounding now. No wonder that Geography exam had seemed so easy! And to make matters worse, her Geography teacher was a grumpy old woman with a strong dislike of all things space-related; she had given Tina a predicted grade 3 despite passing the two end-of-term assessments with grade 1s and getting the second highest score in the whole class for the essay work, which had been marked by another teacher and so wasn't biased. She already knew that English was going to be her biggest weakness, wasn't expecting any better than a 3 but would be more than happy to scrape a 2, and she was only sitting six exams total: a 3 in Geography would scupper her chances of getting into Rising Stars that year and push her into a much more competitive field the next year with all the other school leavers.

What!? When did this happen??? How? I need that grade 1 from Geography and old Ms Gerselle hates me so gave me a predicted 3.

She fired up a browser window (Kopernicus, obviously- no way was she handing over her entire life story to some faceless mega-corporation by using Kalium or WebNavigator) and spent ten minutes trying to chase down the source of this story with absolutely no luck at all.

Where did you get this info? Can't find anything online at all.

As soon as she saw the reply, she realised she'd been duped.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHA gotcha XD :p ;) -D

What was that last one supposed to be, a cyklops? A- oh. That's just how Darryl ends his messages, he just did that in the last message right there on the screen. Palm, meet face. Today is a total write-off and it's not even 5 o'clock yet...

I hate you. >:(

The reply came back in seconds.

Awww, you know that's not true ;) -D

Sasha woke up again, as if she could sense her mood, and started whimpering. She took her out of the baby carrier and carried her through to their parents' bedroom and lay her down in her cot before lying down on the bed beside her. A little fist took hold of one of her fingers and soon she was snoring again in an endearingly cute way. The bed was surprisingly comfortable and rather than risk waking Sasha again she stayed put and watched her sleep, noticing that every so often the corners of Sasha's mouth would twitch up into a fleeting smile. It really was a very comfortable bed, she could feel her eyelids flickering shut...

And blinked open a moment later. The cot was empty; no sign of Sasha apart from a crumpled bit on the little pillow. Instantly wide awake, she frantically (and illogically) searched under the cot's blankets, under the cot itself, nearly tore the bedsheets off the bed, but there was still no sign of Sasha. Now comprehensively panicking, she ran through to her own room and found the empty baby carrier, but no baby; in the bathroom, an empty baby bath but no baby; she tripped and almost fell down the stairs before bursting through the door to the lounge-

“Well, look who just woke up,” said Aunt Linley, more to Sasha than to her. Tina collapsed onto the couch in relief.

“When did you get here?” She asked, slightly out of breath and talking faster than usual.

“About twenty minutes ago. I tried the bell but you didn't answer, so I used the spare key to the back door. You looked like you needed that nap so I just left you to sleep.”

Twenty minutes? But she hadn't been asleep for more than- how could it be half six already!?

“I think she's hungry. I didn't see anything in the fridge, do you have any formula milk for her?”

“I don't think so. We don't need that though, give her here.”

Linley didn't seem at all surprised. “How long have you been doing that?”

“About two hours.”

“Really? That's quick, when you were that size it took five days before I could do that.”

“Well clearly she has good taste. Or maybe I do. Aaaaand now it's weird again. OW! How can your nails be that small but that sharp?”

Sasha responded with another moist, squelchy sound.

“If this goes up to your neck again I am NOT dealing with it.” She looked over to Linley. “Did Mum ever do this with you when you were a baby?”

“She was three when I was born, so no. And don't you go complaining about the old 'fizzy nappy' either- there was one time you did one so bad your mum actually had to cut your hair because it had dried in.” Tina turned a shade greener and looked down warily at the little biological weapon in her arms.

A couple of minutes later Sasha started squirming and crying for no obvious reason.

“Just a bit of air stuck in her stomach, she'll be fine once you've winded her.”

Tina put Sasha over her shoulder and started patting her back.

“You might want this,” Linley suggested, holding out the vomit-catching blanket thingy (she really needed to find out what all these baby-related things were actually called!), but when Tina moved Sasha off her shoulder to put the blanket over it she immediately projectiled half of what she had just eaten all over her; some of it went down the neck of her top too, yuk!

“Sasha! I liked that top!”

“It'll wash out,” Linley reassured her. “Nobody ever said looking after a baby was glamorous, and what's a little vomit between family, eh?”

Tina gladly handed Sasha over then went upstairs to get a fresh top, one that was old and she didn't like much in case Sasha decided to share any more bodily fluids. She peeled off the old one (carefully, to avoid smearing baby sick over her face), mopped up the rest with the towel she had used earlier then pulled the fresh top over her head with some difficulty as the elastic was old and didn't stretch as much as it should have.

In the bitter struggle between Kerbal and T-shirt her phone came loose from her pocket and clattered to the floor. She noticed that she had four new emails since the last time she had checked and opened them.

The first was from the exam board with her grades for Chemistry (1), Physics (1) and English (3); a good start.

The second was also from the exam board and contained her grades for Maths (1) and Metalwork (level A, grade 1- the teacher had bumped her up to the level A class after finding out about her Science Fair project and she had risen to the challenge).

The third was from the exam board too and had her grade for Geography... She could barely read the screen because her hands were shaking but eventually she held it still enough that she could see the grade.

1.

A strange, high-pitched eeeeeeeeee sound started leaking out of her throat.

The final email had come from the KSC's public outreach department and contained confirmations of both her acceptance into the Rising Stars program and award of the Kanopus scholarship covering the full entry fee.

The eeeeeeeee became an EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE and she flew downstairs without even touching the ground just as the front door opened and her parents returned, Dad's left hand heavily bandaged. She tried to tell them what had happened but the only sound she could make was EEEEEEEEEEEEE so she handed them her phone so they could read the emails while she grabbed Sasha and cavorted round the room with her (still going EEEEEEEEEEEE) until Sasha's eyes were spinning in different directions and the adults were looking concerned.

Finally she managed to string together a coherent sentence. More or less.

“I'M GOING TO SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACE!!!!!”

 

Chapter 8

Edited by jimmymcgoochie
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15 hours ago, Kerballing (Got Dunked On) said:

Please help this chapter made me wheeze and now I can't breathe this is amazing XD

 

Also, who is this "Landon Terrin" based off of? I'm surprised you didn't go with either Neil, or Hoot for the obvious ones XD

I completely forgot to call him ‘Neil’ or ‘Yuri’ or ‘Chuck’ :blush: Landon was the first name that came into my head; there may or may not be a sneaky edit done on that chapter in the near future ;)

DISCLAIMER: The author accepts no responsibility or liability for any respiratory failures or other medical emergencies resulting from reading this literary work.

Edited by jimmymcgoochie
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Man, kerbal babies sure seem to be messier than Terrin ones! I feel for Tina trying to dress the wee octopus - been there, done that with various nieces and nephews, only without the benefit of the head stroking trick.

Oh - and magic trees indeed. Who would write about something like that. :) The Kraken though... that we do not speak of.

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On 6/14/2020 at 9:16 PM, KSK said:

The Kraken though... that we do not speak of.

To be fair, Terrapin just doesn't have the same menace to it. I'm still not sure if the big-squid-on-Bop exists in JNSQ, there are some files for something cephalopod-derived in it but no clues to its location.

I have a feeling that this next chapter is going to be either a 10 kiloword monster or two smaller chapters (but I haven't quite figured out how to split it), need to include more boring stuff like 'character development' and 'plot' instead of just MOAR ROCKETS!!1! I'm also trying to angle away from the 'Big Four' as basically everyone has put their own spin on them already and the age difference between them and Tina is going to become an issue; however two of them are featuring in this next chapter so that's not going too well :rolleyes:.

And if the descriptions weren't clear on this, Terrin Space Program is set in the stock Kerbol system- which is ~1/3 scale compared to the JNSQ version that I'm using- plus I can scale down stock part sizes to 2/5 (0.5m instead of 1.25m) which is both more aesthetically pleasing and does a good job of 'game balance' as it makes them slightly overpowered compared to 'real' rockets.

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Chapter the 8th will be arriving shortly. Partly because I'm slightly distracted by SHINY NEW KSP 1.10 (and bug hunting therein- a perfect example of work (software testing) and play (KSP) coming together in perfect harmony. Or some such poetic drivel...) and partly because this chapter recently took several unexpected changes in direction, one of them rather dark but which could work out rather advantageously in the long run. But also because I was busy trawling the forums to plaigarise reference some other existing works.

Spoiler

#glorytoarstotzka :wink:

Also, I haven't come up with a name for it yet. It's very important to name these things properly!

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On 6/13/2020 at 5:09 PM, jimmymcgoochie said:

DISCLAIMER: The author accepts no responsibility or liability for any respiratory failures or other medical emergencies resulting from reading this literary work.

I just noticed this. Nice.

 

37 minutes ago, jimmymcgoochie said:

Chapter the 8th will be arriving shortly. Partly because I'm slightly distracted by SHINY NEW KSP 1.10 (and bug hunting therein- a perfect example of work (software testing) and play (KSP) coming together in perfect harmony. Or some such poetic drivel...) and partly because this chapter recently took several unexpected changes in direction, one of them rather dark but which could work out rather advantageously in the long run. But also because I was busy trawling the forums to plaigarise reference some other existing works.

  Reveal hidden contents

#glorytoarstotzka :wink:

Also, I haven't come up with a name for it yet. It's very important to name these things properly!

I KNOW, 1.10 IS AMAZING!

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The draft of this latest chapter turned out to be over ten thousand words long and covered too much ground in one go, so I've split it in two. The upside is you get two new chapters at once! :wink:

Chapter 8 – Expectations...

"The train now arriving at platform four is the 2:42 Delta-Rail service-“

Tina snorted. “Who came up with that name?”

She got a lot of blank looks.

“Delta-Rail.”

Blank looks.

“Delta is D in the phonetic alphabet.”

Blank looks.

“D-Rail! Come on, nobody noticed that but me?!”

“It’s too early for bad puns,” said Mum, barely managing to stifle a yawn.

“It’s always too early for puns, until the second it hits noon and then it’s too late...” grumbled self-confessed pun aficionado Dad.

“I don’t get it,” said Darryl, looking bemused.

“Gaaaaaaa!” said Sasha; this was a normal time for her to be awake and the train station was full of NEW THINGS to be seen and heard and smelled and touched (and tasted, given half a chance).

“Stand clear of the platform edge, fast train approaching.”

Seconds later an express train hurtled past behind them with a tremendous screech of metal on metal, syncopated clack-clacks as the wheels crossed over the expansion joints and a staccato whoosh as the shockwaves reverberated off the station’s walls; Sasha was thrilled and looked disappointed when the train was past and the noise abated.

“You really didn’t have to come here just to watch me get on a train, you know,” Tina told Darryl, who looked like he was about to fall asleep standing up.

"You’re going away for nearly four munths, I think I can do one early morning to see you off.”

Conscious of her parents behind her, Tina opted for a simple handshake; unfortunately Darryl went for a hug and she jabbed him in the stomach instead.

Furious at bring left out, Sasha started squawking “Eeeaaa!” at full volume (it was as close as she could get to saying ‘Tina’ and was actually quite advanced for her age) with her arms thrust out towards her and hands making grabbing movements in the air.

 “What? Who’s making that noise?” She looked around in an exaggerated way prompting Sasha to shout “EEAAEEAAEEAAEEAA!!!” (or something broadly similar but with a few more EEs and AAs) in a shrill and insistent tone.

“Where is that coming from?” Tina walked slowly around the back of the pushchair. “Hmm, it isn’t over there, maybe-“ she tapped Sasha on her left shoulder- “it’s over- HERE!” Sasha had turned to look the other way as she said ‘here’ and found Tina’s face right in front of her own. She had the choice of either a) laughing delightedly or b) crying in fright, and went for b: almost in slow motion, her lip started trembling, the corners of her eyes seemed to turn down and she let out a whimper that rapidly escalated to full blown sobs.

“Nonononono it’s OK! It’s OK Sasha, don’t cry, it’s just me, please don’t cry! Don’t -oh, now I’m crying too!”

“I’m jumping on that bandwagon,” said Mum with a wobble in her voice and then all three of them were having a tearful hug while Dad watched looking amused and Darryl stood looking bemused.

“D Rail?” he whispered to himself.

“The train now arriving at platform two is the 2:47 Krosskountry service to Tamermouth, calling at: Kerbarchan, Barkton Parkway, Barkton Central...” On and on it went, nineteen stations in all before ending with “Tamerton Falstaff and Tamermouth.”

“That’s our train, Tina,” Dad interrupted the cry-hug party. The train was about two hundred metres short of the platform and slowing down.

Tina turned to Darryl again and this time went for a hug, but he misread her intentions and went for a kiss instead and she head-butted him in the eye. Sasha let out a very loud giggle and Tina’s face turned to a colour that was a textbook example of ‘fire engine red’ and would probably have glowed in the dark.

Dad and Tina stepped up to the line at the edge of the platform and waited for the train to arrive.

And waited. And waited...

And waited. The train was still sitting stationary about a hundred metres short of the platform. The displays first reported it as on time, then the arrival time started to slip back, then it was delayed, then the departure time went back by fifteen minutes and another train jumped ahead of it, then that other train moved to a different platform and the train finally rolled up to the platform but the doors didn’t open.

A police riot van drove onto the platform at the front of the train and a dozen police in riot gear piled out and went into the front carriage. A tremendous scuffle ensued that was audible from the other side of the station and lasted for several minutes before several very drunk sports fans were removed from the train in handcuffs, still trying to fight each other as they were bundled into the van. Once they were safely locked inside, the train doors opened to let the passengers on and off the train.

Just before the train pulled out of the station, Darryl suddenly ran up and knocked the window beside them with a silly big grin on his face.

“De-rail! I get it now!”

Fortunately the train accelerated away and spared Tina from any further embarrassment.

They only rode the train for three stops, disembarking at Barkton Central (Dad immediately seized on the pun) and had to run from platform 17 to platform 2 to catch the express train that would take them to the Space Centre, making it with seconds to spare. It was a three hour journey with three other stops along the way and Dad had paid a little extra to get a private cabin with space for Tina's luggage; within five minutes both of them had deployed the reclining seat backs and were sound asleep.

The train lurched to a halt and woke her up. Out the window she saw a sign for the station proclaiming ‘Kerbin Space Centre Terminus’ with the KSC logo, and beyond that rose the VAB, the two new VIFs and the tips of the lightning towers on Launchpad 4.

KSC’s expansion was nearly completed, phases 1 (additional ground support buildings, Vertical Integration Facility, a larger second runway and two new launch pads) and 2 (a second smaller VIF, a horizontal IF for smaller rockets, a further three launch pads of varying sizes and two large landing zones for reusable boosters to return and land on) already open and the third phase (a third ‘runway’ carved into the ground to the south-west, plus more ancillary buildings such as fuel depots, a conference centre and visitor accommodation) mostly finished too- in fact the runway was the only major facility not fully constructed, although some buildings still needed painted and furnished.

Phase 3 also included an expansion of the harbour a few kilometres to the east of the KSC, with improved facilities for cargo operations, new hangars for amphibious aircraft and seaplanes plus a dock where landing barges could unload the boosters that had landed on them, and the restoration of the old lighthouse around ten kilometres north of that.

(Exactly how the lighthouse would benefit the Space Program wasn’t clear to Tina and to many others, but it had somehow found its way into the improvement projects- something about ‘historical importance’ and ‘land ownership rights’ was the official waffle- and given the vast sums of money being spent already it was barely a drop in the bucket.)

They de-trained and followed a small crowd towards the exit where security gates blocked the way. Everyone entering or leaving was being checked using 3D scanners like those used in major airports and any bags or cases were being scrutinised heavily using x-ray imagers and frequent searches by the security staff.

Tina grew increasingly nervous as they got closer to the front of the queue. It was irrational- she had nothing to hide and nothing that wasn’t allowed in- but she couldn’t stop herself imagining the scanner suddenly squealing in alarm, a squad of security guards emerging from hidden doors and whisking her off to a quiet room before donning medical gloves and searching her in places she didn’t even know she had.

Dad put his arm around her.

“Relax, Tina, it’s just a standard security check. I did these four times a week not so long ago.”

Feeling slightly better, she approached the security gate, put her case onto the conveyor and headed towards the scanner.

“Excuse me, miss?” One of the security staff shouted to her from behind the conveyor. She spun around to face him with a slightly panicked look on her face.

“Your watch?”

She looked down at her left wrist and the watch still attached to it.

“Oh. Sorry.”

She dropped the watch in a tray to go through the X-ray machine and was waved forward into the scanner. The scanner was a cylindrical thing, broken only by the openings to walk into it at one side and out again at the other. Tina stood on the footprints in the centre and faced towards the label on one side of the machine, arms raised as instructed; the two scanner arms swished around the outside of the cylinder and just when she was sure she could hear the distinctive snap of medical gloves being donned, she was waved through and hurried to pick up her luggage before they changed their minds.

Squat yellow shuttle buses were waiting to carry the train passengers over to the Space Centre itself, driving through a tunnel under the new third runway and dropping them off at a very new building (you could still smell the fresh paint) which looked like a small but modern airport terminal, with many large windows letting in plenty of sunlight and a small selection of food shops and cafés. Large touchscreen displays were scattered around at ground level and many of the walls had screens displaying information like train timetables and directions for various groups. Tina spotted the Rising Stars program on one screen but didn't have time to read it; a quick check using the nearest touchscreen display and they made their way across the central concourse to a small kiosk with Rising Stars posters on it where much paperwork was waiting for them.

“Put this tag on your luggage and by the end of the day it will be in your assigned room over in the Astronaut Complex,” the young Kerb behind the desk told her as she signed the last form. “There's a tour starting just outside those doors in twenty minutes so there's plenty of time for any bathroom breaks and final farewells you may require.”

Two minutes before the tour was due to start, two late arrivals hurried to the kiosk at the same time; they had been on the same train which got delayed and made them miss the train that Tina had arrived on. There was a moment of confusion when they were given each other's luggage tags and then they joined the rest of the group waiting at the door to start the tour.

“Hello everyone, my name is Deblin and I'll be your guide for this whistle-stop tour of the Kerbin Space Centre. Please make sure your passes are visible at all times and stay with the group. Photography is permitted but no live-streaming, it can interfere with the telemetry over in the Tracking Station. Everyone, follow me.”

Tina waved to Dad one last time on her way out and then he was gone.

“This site was originally one of seven independent space projects and enjoyed a lot of success during the First Space Race that started nearly sixty years ago. During that time probes were launched to all of the inner planets, the dwarf planet Dres-” someone 'boo'-ed Dres' official demotion from full to dwarf planet and a few others laughed- “and the Wayfinder probes launched from here before travelling out past Jool and Lindor, discovering several new moons around them before Wayfinder 1 also passed by the newly discovered ice world Hamek and confirmed that it really was pink. Unfortunately, it didn't confirm that the surface was in fact raspberry ripple ice cream although that is an unspoken fact in the canteens round here.”

“To your left is the new conference centre. It was loosely modelled on the Administration Building and will host most of your classes for the next four munths. Beyond that is R&D where some of the best and brightest minds on Kerbin are hard at work-”

BOOM!

A huge green fireball burst into the air from the far side of the R&D complex, followed by loud cheering and whooping.

“-very hard at work,” Deblin continued while trying (and failing) to keep a straight face, “crunching the data from all those spacecraft and designing future missions. And to our right is the world's largest free-standing structure in terms of internal volume: the Vehicle Assembly Building.”

They entered through a door on the south wing of the VAB which led into a smaller assembly hall.

“This is the secondary assembly hall, which serves as a payload integration facility for smaller missions and a horizontal integration hall for mounting payloads onto upper stage rockets. This hall is actually a similar size to the original VAB that was used in the old Space Races and some of the smallest rockets currently in service are assembled here instead of in the main hall.”

A satellite was sitting in the middle of the hall on the base of a fairing, with the three clamshell pieces of the fairing itself sitting on frames around it waiting to be assembled. The spacecraft itself was festooned with all manner of scanning equipment- visual, radar, multispectral and resource scanners that could create accurate maps of any planet or moon in a matter of weeks- as well as three large solar panels and a pair of white things that were shaped like slices of pizza and which Tina recognised as very compact folding communications dishes. Interestingly, the base of the satellite had a docking port over the engines, which meant that it was one of eight identical satellites destined for the Kopernicus mission which would be departing for Jool in less than a year in order to map out the largest of its moons as a precursor to an eventual crewed expedition.

“And here we are in the primary assembly hall, where over 90% of the Space Program’s rockets have been assembled since its inception twenty-seven years ago. Everything from the first crewed orbital flights, to the Acapello missions, to the Dynawing shuttle launchers, right up to the rocket you see before you which will carry a Descent/Ascent Vehicle, Expedition-class up to Trailblazer for its journey to Duna.”

“Heh, DAVE.” Someone sniggered and within seconds everyone was laughing.

“All right, settle down now or we’ll miss lunch,” said Deblin, which got everyone’s attention. “If you look up to the ceiling you can see the gantry cranes in operation as they lift the rocket components into place...”

“I fell through that window once,” Tina said to the girl beside her.

“You, fell? Through a skylight? In the roof of the VAB?”

“Yup.”

“How?!”

“I built a rocket in my shed and-”

“OK, now I know you’re making this up.”

“It’s entirely true!”

“Keep up at the back, please!” Deblin shouted to them and they hurried to catch up with the group.

They left the VAB behind and paid a brief visit to the Spaceplane Hangar only to be chased out by several harried-looking engineers before they got a peek at their super-secret prototype (which was a pile of lightly scorched parts and scrap metal strewn across the floor); stopped off at Mission Control for a brief tour and an overview of active missions; headed over to the Tracking Station just in time to see a thrilling edge-of-the-seat event: the Kopernicus-5 satellite tiptoeing its way forwards and docking to the heavy transfer stage that would carry it and its seven siblings (including the one being prepared in the VAB) to Jool; and arrived at another new facility called the Training Centre which had been built to increase capacity for astronaut training with EVA simulation pools, two gravity centrifuges and state of the art simulators.

One of the centrifuges was slowing to a halt and as they watched the hatch in the pod popped open to reveal none other than Jebediah, who had just finished a trial run- a trial of the centrifuge, that is; nobody else had come close to beating Jeb's record of 11.5g sustained for ten seconds without blacking out.

“I love the smell of g-forces in the morning!” He announced as he exited the pod.

“Is there any quote you haven't mangled yet?” Deblin replied, eliciting a chorus of 'oooooooooooh' from everyone else.

“Let's see how good you are at quoting TV shows when you've been spinning at 9g,” Jeb retorted.

“No thanks!” Deblin looked slightly worried. “How about we let one of our Rising Stars take it for a spin?”

“Excellent suggestion!”

Jeb’s eyes scanned the group, settled briefly on her, moved on, suddenly snapped back to her. A mischievous smile spread across his face.

“You!” He pointed at her.

Uh oh...

“Yep, you at the back, in the red top. Step forward!”

With some trepidation she approached the centrifuge pod and climbed in. Jeb leaned over and made sure the straps were secured and when he did she whispered to him: “You still owe me a rocket AND a phone.”

Jeb whispered back.

“I was going to go easy on you, since it’s your first day and all, but now I’ve changed my mind. Let’s see how you do at full speed.”

And with a rather smug expression on his face he withdrew from the pod and slammed the hatch shut before she could respond. His voice then came through a speaker in the headrest behind her.

“Starting the centrifuge now. Please keep your arms, legs and breakfast inside the pod at all times and no flash photography. If you pass out, please remember to let go of the button and the centrifuge will automatically stop.”

The centrifuge started with a jolt and built up speed rapidly. 3g was unpleasant; 5g was distinctly uncomfortable; at 6g it felt like there were weights stuck to her eyelids dragging them down and her scalp hurt from the weight of her hair pulling down on it.

7g. It was getting hard to focus her eyes.

“I have to be honest, I didn’t think you’d still be conscious at this point,” Jeb told her, sounding genuinely impressed. “Most people can’t take more than 6g for a few seconds the first time they take a spin in this thing.”

“This. Is. Nothing.” She spat the words out through gritted teeth. “Pleasant. Morning. Stroll.”

“Unfortunately, we’re not allowed to spin you faster than 7g or for longer than four minutes in the Rising Stars program, so for now you’re safe. But the moment you hit the Astronaut Program proper, we’ll see just how far you can go.” Was it just the tinny speakers or the g-forces, or did that sound oddly ominous?

The centrifuge slowed rapidly and came to rest with a jolt. Jeb opened the hatch and helped her unfasten the straps and stand up. She couldn’t resist muttering “Have you brought a helmet?” so only he could hear it and he reversed backwards and hit his head against the frame of the hatch, scowled at her amused grin, then smiled and said “Well played, Cadet.”

She wasn’t actually a ‘Cadet’ yet- that would start tomorrow on the first official day of the program- but it was oddly exhilarating for a veteran Kerbonaut to acknowledge her like that, almost like he was saying “You’re one of us now.”

“You’re probably wondering why we keep this bucket beside the centrifuge,” Jeb said as he held up said bucket just in front of Tina's head. At that point her internal organs, which had been pushed down into her legs by the centrifuge, sprang back into place and she snatched the bucket from him and spent several seconds making retching noises into it; fortunately she hadn't eaten lunch yet and breakfast was several hours ago so her stomach was empty and she recovered fairly quickly. Even so, she was a little unsteady on her feet until they headed to the Astronaut Complex canteen for lunch and the girl she had been talking to earlier- Megan- had to prop her up a bit on the walk over. And she steered well clear of the 'five bean chilli' this time after the traumatic experience she had had the last time.

The afternoon was taken up by introductory lectures- safety stuff, what the various alarms meant, when they were tested and what to do if one of them went off for real, where all the rooms were and what the program's class timetable looked like. By the time that was finished it was already dark outside and they returned to the Astronaut Complex to find their allocated rooms. Tina ended up sharing a room with Megan and after unpacking they turned in early to be fully rested for the start of classes the next morning.

 

Chapter 9

Edited by jimmymcgoochie
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So this one took a really dark turn... As in, really dark. Makes the levity elsewhere in the chapter seem a bit out of place kind of dark. I genuinely didn't expect it at all but I can already see how it would work in the long run so I'm going with it.

Chapter 9 - ...and reality

By day 3 she was bored; by day 7 she was convinced that everyone else in the class had cheated their way through the selection tests. How could NOBODY know what the argument of periapsis was, and why did it take nearly a whole day for the lecturer to explain it?

To make matters worse, most of her classmates would leave at the end of the day and spend their evenings in the common room playing games, drinking and generally causing a ruckus instead of actually trying to learn anything. Her new room-mate Megan wasn’t much better, posting incessant updates on every social media network there was and staying up into the small hours replying to comments and counting her ‘likes’, but at least she seemed competent enough at the theory of space travel.

On day 9, she finally snapped.

The hapless fool who had been called on to write the rocket equation on the board had produced something that looked like a scientific calculator had exploded, with a lot of crossing out and arrows pointing in every direction. To make matters worse, the entire lecture had been dedicated solely to this subject, as had half of the previous one, and three others had already tried to write the same equation to equally dismal results.

She wasn't entirely sure how she ended up at the front of the lecture room but suddenly she was there, snatched the pen out of her astonished classmate's hand and at the same time shoving him out the way hard enough that he tripped over his own feet and fell to the ground.

“Idiot. Troglodyte. Have you been asleep for the last two hours? Don't even bother answering that. What is this supposed to mean? 'Delta-V is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides, multiplied by the sine of the argument of periapsis over the inclination times pi over ISP over Macho Grande'? It's on the front page of the lecture notes!!”

She brandished said lecture notes like they were a sword and she was about to start cutting people in half; everyone in the lecture room was staring in open-mouthed amazement.

“'Delta-V is the exhaust velocity – ISP multiplied by standard gravity – multiplied by the natural log of the total mass over the dry mass'.” She wrote it on the board as she spoke, jabbing the pen into the board until she pushed the tip inside the case and it began leaking ink onto her hand. “You would know this if you could scrape together enough neurons between the whole lot of you to operate a fruit fly!”

“Er, yes, that's right-” the lecturer started to say before Tina turned on him.

“Don't say another word. I've seen people describe orbital mechanics better in five minutes than you did in five hours. All you've done is read the slides out to us with absolutely no additional information; I could have done that myself without even getting out of bed! I could teach this course better than you!”

The lecturer just stood, silently opening and closing his mouth like a fish.

Someone at the back of the room muttered something to his neighbour who sniggered; the mutterer suddenly took a marker pen right between the eyes which burst open and covered half of his face in ink and left him with a stunned, slightly cross-eyed expression.

“If you have something to say, you brainless Kro-Magnon, you come down here and say it to my face. No? Maybe you should spend less time getting into drunken brawls and more time thinking about how you're going to explain to your parents how you wasted their money here; assuming they actually care and don't consider 2 weeks without having to put up with you good value for money. You're in the Space Program, start acting like it!”

She stormed out of the room, ignoring the sarcastic comment shouted after her and nearly flattening someone who was about to come in the door as she left. The time it took to get back to her room was a blur, but she remembered slamming the door hard enough to make the walls shake and to rattle her picture frame off its hook. She picked up the frame and was going to throw it across the room but realised what it was- the old, slightly faded Valentina name badge and Jeb’s IOU from after that dramatic Dynawing landing all those years ago, complete with a picture of her with the four astronauts taken on her phone moments before its destruction.

She could remember how incredible that day had been, how desperately she had wanted to follow in their illustrious footsteps, but the reality was rather different. Her anger gave way to a sense of hopelessness and she curled up on her bed and cried bitterly.

She didn’t know how long it had been but eventually someone knocked on the door. Probably Megan wanting into their room, or else it was another classmate with some spiteful comment; either way she didn’t want to see them and shouted “Go away!"

She was surprised when they knocked again, more insistently than before, so she went over and peered through the peep-hole. It wasn’t Megan, or another classmate.

It was Val.

She opened the door and Val walked in, pulled out a chair and sat down, but said nothing. Tina sat back down on her bed with her back against the wall and her knees pulled up to her chin.

“Am I being kicked out?”

“No, but you have a lot of explaining to do.”

“I, just...” Tina struggled to articulate her thoughts. “I’ve wanted to be here for most of my life, but now that I’m actually here it’s nothing like I expected. I feel like I’m stuck in a class a year below where I should be where nobody else knows anything at all about space or spacecraft. I know people who would sell kidneys to get into this program but these morons just goof around in the classes and get drunk every night instead of trying to learn anything. They have such a privilege being here and they don’t...” She groped for the right word.

“They don’t respect it, treat it like it’s all a big joke. This is astronaut training, not some college frat party!”

She didn’t realise she was shouting until she heard her voice echo slightly off the walls.

“I feel like there’s a problem with everyone else, which makes me afraid that the real problem is with me. What do I do?”

“If you keep going like this, you will eventually fail.” There was no condemnation in Val’s voice, which made the words hit home even harder. “Nobody can learn everything, and when you finally reach the point when there’s something you don’t understand, they will remember how you acted now when they needed help and will respond in kind. Unless you change your attitude towards them, you will inevitably fail and drop out.”

“But how? How can I get through to them if they don’t listen?”

“You can start by apologising to them. Some will accept it, some won’t, but that’s up to them. If whoever you’re sitting beside is struggling, offer to help them and take the time to explain the problem until they understand it. Not everyone builds suborbital rockets in their garden; for some of them all of this is brand new information. You have an advantage here, use it to build them up not knock them down. If they choose not to engage with you then that’s on them, not you. Space is not a solo occupation and you will end up working with people you dislike or disagree with, but learning to work with them is absolutely vital because in space even an minor mishap can be fatal.”

“Like Jeb?” Tina asked and Val laughed.

“Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. We may have our differences, but there’s nobody I’d rather have in that pod or cockpit beside me when things go wrong.”

“Thanks, Val.”

“Don’t mention it. You’re not the first Cadet who had difficulty adapting and you won’t be the last.” She looked around as if to check nobody was listening in before leaning in close and speaking just above a whisper. “Just between us, when we first set up out here I wasn’t much older than you are. I was an exchange student barely off the plane when I got sent out to this patch of nowhere, and for the first five days I cried like a baby every night from homesickness.”

“Really?" Tina was surprised, but hearing that even the great Valentina had struggled at first was also strangely comforting.

“It takes a while to settle in when you first move away from home. You will feel lonely and you will feel homesick, those are normal emotions so don’t worry too much about it. Phone home as often as you like, even if it’s just to check in and you have nothing in particular to say, it can do a lot for your mood.”

Someone knocked on the door.

“That’s probably Megan, my room-mate.”

“Well, now’s your chance to apologise to her. Think of it as a prototype apology before deploying it to the whole class.”

“What am I meant to say?”

“Be honest, don’t make excuses and don’t try to blame someone else. And above all, don’t apologise unless you actually mean it. An insincere apology will only make things worse.”

A second, more insistent knock came from the door. Val stood up and headed over towards the door, then turned back to face Tina.

“And one more thing- fix that frame.”

“Fix it how?”

“Isn’t it obvious? You have Jeb’s note above my name badge! So much for me being your ‘favourite astronaut’.” Val aimed an exaggerated scowl at her.

“If I put the badge above the note it just slides down behind it!” Tina protested.

“Pah. You expect me to believe that?”

Val opened the door, still looking back into the room.

Fortunately.

It wasn’t Megan at the door.

It was several large tins of paint, raided from a store cupboard and swung in synchronised arcs to empty their contents on whoever opened the door. Apart from one which decided it wasn’t giving up its contents so easily and kept going, minus handle, and smacked into Val’s left elbow.

Most of the paint also hit her, but some missed and spattered Megan’s bed or the floor beside it.

The paint slingers let out a raucous cheer before walking unsteadily away, dishing out back slaps and high fives and making a racket, leaving a trail of paint spots on the carpet behind them.

“HEY!”

One of them turned round and replied “Ha! We got you g-uuurk!” The rest turned round as well and saw Val, one side covered in paint and a murderous look on her face, and ran. And tripped over each other, and the paint pots, and each other again, disappearing into a fire escape with a trail of painted footprints behind them.

“I take it back.” Val said, holding the door handle like she was trying to strangle it. “Those morons have got to go. Yesterday.”

She came back into the room, wincing and wiggling her left hand as if it had pins and needles.

“Aargh, pins and needles. Can I borrow your shower?”

Tina was still too shocked to reply beyond a small nod.

Val went into the bathroom and closed the door. Tina heard the shower start, then a continuous stream of muttering; she couldn’t make it all out, but what she could hear made blush brightly. When Val has said she knew a lot of swear words, she wasn’t kidding!

Someone knocked on the door. Wary of a second attack, Tina checked the peep-hole to see who was outside, then unlocked the door when she saw it was Megan. Who took one look at her paint-spattered bed and turned to Tina with a face like thunder.

“What did you do!?”

“It wasn’t me!” Tina protested. “Those morons tried to get me with tins of paint when I opened the door, but they got Val instead so they all ran off-“

“Val? As in the Val? Why was she here?”

“To tell me I’m an idiot and to stop being an idiot or I’ll never get to space. Then they threw paint over her and she went in there.” She pointed to the bathroom door just as it opened and Val poked her head out.

“I need more towels.”

Megan just stood and stared, so Tina had to get more towels from a box under Megan’s bed and hand them through the door.

“I thought you were kidding...” Megan eventually said. “It really is Val and she’s- wait, those were my towels!”

Tina shrugged. Megan threw a pillow at her face and missed; Tina threw one back and didn’t miss. Megan retaliated with a towel that unfolded in midair and covered Tina’s head, then tried to press the advantage but slipped on the wet paint on the carpet and they both collapsed in a heap on Tina’s bed laughing. Until Val stuck her head out again and cleared her throat loudly, making them leap apart while looking anywhere but at each other and both blushing furiously.

“Megan, is it? I need to borrow some clothes.”

“What’s wrong with her clothes?”

“She’s too small, you look about my size. I’ll get them back to you shortly.”

Megan opened a drawer and removed a small stack of clothes, neatly prepared for the next day, then handed them over and said “I thought you said she was the shorty.”

Tina stuck her tongue out at her.

Megan pulled the paint-spattered bedding off her bed and carried it off to find a replacement set while Tina fought to keep the spill on the carpet contained but eventually had to give up as the fumes were making her light-headed.

Val emerged from the bathroom with her injured arm still inside the T-shirt and a pained look on her face.

“Something's definitely not right, I'm going to head down to the medical bay and are you OK you look very pale maybe you should soigf rewnfr asv hhkf igisd-” the floor suddenly flipped sideways and everything went very fuzzy; the next thing she could remember was lying in a bed in the medical bay with a familiar looking young doctor shining a light into her eyes.

Lewis- no, Lewwise- was talking to her but it took a few seconds for the words to start making sense.

“...no signs of concussion, responding to stimuli-” He ran something sharp and spiky over the top of her hand and she snatched it away and glowered at him- “so I reckon it's probably just the paint fumes. How are you feeling?”

“Horrible headache and the left side of my face hurts. I always get a headache when there's wet paint around but never this bad.”

“So you don't remember trying to kiss me again?”

Tina recoiled in horror, blushing furiously, before noticing that he was grinning and attempting to glower at him again while shouting “I want a new doctor!”

“Sorry, you're stuck with this 'brainless Kro-Magnon'.”

“How did-” Tina's mouth dropped open in astonishment.

“I'm pretty sure the stonemasons working on the lighthouse heard that particular outburst.” He replied with an amused chuckle; Tina hid her face in her hands.

“Well, you're all clear now. Drink plenty of fluids and the next time you see a big puddle of wet paint, don't stick your face in it, OK?”

“I hate you so much...”

She climbed off the bed and took a few tentative steps to check her balance before heading for the door, only to almost get knocked off her feet as Val came charging through and thrust a medical chart into Lewwise's hands.

“Read this.” She said in a tone that invited no argument. Lewwise read it, got down to the bottom third then smiled and said “Congra-”

“NO!”

Val snatched the chart back leaving Lewwise staring blankly at the space where it had been before he suddenly yelped “Aagh! Paper cut!”

“YOU read it.” Val practically hurled the chart at Tina.

“I'm not a doctor!” She squeaked in protest.

“Read. It.”

So she read it. The top part was just basic information like age, height, weight (more than Tina had expected, but she kept that fact to herself), through the results of an X-ray on her injured elbow- no fractures, just bruised tendons and nerves that would take a week or two to be back to normal- and then at the bottom of the page were the results of blood tests-

“You're p-?”

“NOOOO!”

Tina dropped the chart with a startled yelp just as Val snatched it out of the air in front of her and turned back to Lewwise, thrusting her uninjured arm at him.

“Run those blood tests again.”

Tina quietly sidled towards the door as Lewwise was backed into a corner only for the door to open again and crash into her unprotected toes. A second, older doctor entered.

“Val! Oh, sorry about that. VAL!”

“WHAT?”

“We've run those blood tests three times and the results are exactly the same.”

“Then use a different blood sample!”

Tina hobbled towards the door and yet again it swung open straight into the same toes as last time; her eyes teared up and she let out a whimper as a third doctor piled into the increasingly cramped room; Tina recognised her from her last visit even though her eyes were watering at the pain shooting through her left foot.

“Carrie! Talk some sense into these people!” Val shot the newcomer a pleading look.

“Val, I think you should take a minute and calm down.”

“AAAAARGH! You're taking their side?!”

Tina spotted the shadow on the little window beside the door and just retreated before her toes got mangled a third time. She was about to make a comment about nobody knocking doors any more but she immediately squashed the impulse when she realised it was Director Gene and instead decided to hide in the corner and let Val draw all the attention. Gene and the three doctors were now effectively surrounding an increasingly desperate-looking Val and Tina had the distinct impression that someone was about to get trampled as Val made her escape.

“What's going on here?”

Carrie handed him Val's chart.

“They're wrong, Gene! There is absolutely no way that-”

“I think there's one way, Val,” the second doctor interrupted her and got a death glare for his trouble.

“As shocking as this may be to you, Derrek, I am fully aware of where babies come from and I'm telling you with absolute 100% certainty that you're wrong.”

“We ran the tests three times-”

“So run them again!” Val spun round with her arm still outstretched and nearly backhanded Derrek in the face (and to Tina, she looked slightly disappointed at missing). “And this time I'm going to be standing right beside you the entire time-”

“Are you suggesting that I faked the results? That I contaminated your sample to try and get you pulled from Trailblazer?”

“That's not what she said, Derrek-”

“Stay out of this, Carrie!”

“Oh, now it's her fault too?”

Val and Derrek were now squaring up to each other, their faces barely a hand span apart and both were shouting loud enough to make the windows rattle.

“You're pulling her from Trailblazer!?” Gene asked Carrie incredulously. “With barely four weeks to departure you want to ground the mission's second-in-command?”

“I don't want anything; it's a medical necessity. And it's happening whether you like it or not.” Carrie snapped back.

“Excuse me?” Gene and Carrie started facing off too. “I have the final say on any and every decision affecting crewed missions and I'm not about to pull our most experienced pilot- and the most famous female astronaut in the world- from our first interplanetary mission just because a doctor writes a sick note she doesn't even want!”

“Parthenogenesis.” Lewwise said without warning and to nobody in particular. Everyone stopped shouting and stared at him with bewildered expressions and he wilted slightly under the pressure.

“Parthenogenesis. Spontaneous pregnancy without the need for a male. It happens sometimes in zoos with an all-female population.”

There was silence for a second, then everyone started shouting at him at once.

“Just how the flarp-”

“-lizards are not the same thing as Kerbals-”

“-utterly preposterous-”

“-more logical explanation than that-”

“-right there in the Charter-”

“-got drunk one night and-”

“HEY! Did you just-”

“-supposed to explain that to the public-”

“FOR THE LOVE OF KERM WILL YOU ARTZOSKAS STOP SMASHING THE FLARPING DOOR INTO MY FOOT!!!!!!”

Everyone turned and stared at Tina in utter astonishment; that tends to happen when you start screaming at full volume and an octave higher than usual, with tears streaming down your face. Nobody was more surprised than Bob, who had followed the sounds of the argument and had just hit Tina's foot with the door for the third time; he retreated without saying a word and closed the door quietly behind him before disappearing down the corridor at a run.

Carrie looked down at Tina's foot and did a double take- her sock was covered in blood and one of her toenails was now detached from its corresponding toe and lying on the floor. Gene looked at her, obviously trying to figure out where she had come from and how long she had been there.

“Kerm?” asked Derrek; “Flarp?” asked Lewwise; “I don't think you should say 'Artzoska' again,” said Val, looking slightly embarrassed; “Actually, Artzoska is a type of cheese.” replied Lewwise. “Unlike what you said last time...”

Derrek disappeared out the door as Carrie helped Tina hobble over to the bed and eased the sock off her injured foot while Tina grabbed fistfuls of the bedding and made whimpery noises.

“That's gone right through to the bone, you're going to need stitches.”

Lewwise took one look at it, turned very pale and then bolted for the bathroom- which required considerable effort as there were five other people in his path.

“I don't think you've broken anything, but this one is dislocated so we'll need to-”

CRUNCH

“SҐДLЇЙ'S ӺLЏӺҒҰ SLЇPPԐЯS!!!”

Val looked at her in horror.

“Exactly how much of what I said did you hear through that door?”

“All of it?” Tina's voice wobbled noticeably, but the pain was distinctly lessened.

“You are a terrible person, Valentina, taking an innocent young mind and corrupting it so profoundly.” Carrie rebuked Val as she applied a temporary bandage, who looked suitably ashamed; until Derrek returned wheeling a portable ultrasound machine and she glowered suspiciously at him.

“For the last time-!”

“Then we won't see anything, will we?”

“Fine. If it gets you to drop this ridiculous idea, do it.”

“Can you do that somewhere else?” Carrie asked as Val swung her feet up onto the bed and nearly kicked both Carrie and Tina in the process.

“No. I want as many witnesses as possible.”

“Don't you think you're being a little bit unreasonable?” Derrek asked.

“No!” There was a slightly hysterical edge in Val's voice now.

“Val,” Gene said softly, “talk to me, not as your boss but as your friend. What's going on?”

Val broke.

She curled up on the bed, buried her face in her hands and cried until her whole body shook with each sob. To Tina, it was eerily reminiscent of what she had done a short while earlier but she had never imagined it possible that the same thing could happen to someone as confident and self-assured as Val. Carrie moved round to the other side of the bed, behind Val's back, pulled a blanket from under the bed and spread it over her.

Val looked up at Gene with big, pleading eyes.

“Don't take this from me.” Her voice was a hoarse whisper nobody in the room had heard from her before, and it scared them all a little bit. “Please. It's all I have left.”

“You know that's not true, Val.” Carrie tried to reassure her.

“Nate said no.” The memory brought a fresh wave of bitter tears. “I thought it was what we wanted, but when I asked...” She couldn't speak for a while, overwhelmed by emotion. “My parents won't even look at me any more; my whole family acts like I never existed and the few friends I ever had are the same; I lost most of my savings and my entire pension fund in the market crash last year; Duna has been my dream ever since I saw the first images from Vanguard 3 on the news as a child. It's the reason I came here in the first place, and now it's all I have left; don't take that away from me. Gene, don't let them take it away.”

“I'm sorry, Val, but the radiation exposure would be too high for a ten minute suborbital hop, much less a five year interplanetary mission.” Carrie said. “Add in microgravity and we're going to have enough trouble as it is with fully grown adults, much less a-”

“Don't say it!” Val flinched away from her and curled up even tighter.

“Val, nothing you say now will ever go beyond this room.” Gene looked around and everyone else quickly nodded in agreement. He pulled over a chair and sat beside the bed, offering a hand which Val clung onto like a scared child in a crowd. She took a few moments to gather her thoughts, then she told them everything.

***

When I was thirteen, my family ran out of money. Too many mouths to feed and not enough food to go around. The local landowner had plenty of money and a nephew who needed a wife to start his own family. They called it a 'dowry' but everyone knew the truth: he bought me. It wasn't remotely legal, but when you have that much power over people you are the law...

It took all of five hours for my new 'husband' to show just how cruel and sadistic he really was. To him I was just an object to act out all his twisted and depraved fantasies on, and he enjoyed making every day of my life more miserable than the last. The only thing that made life bearable was the idea that some day I could escape and join the Space Program. I hacked the computer- the password was password123- and set up a secret admin account he couldn't access then while he was out working I read everything I could find online about rockets, planes, spaceships and anything remotely related to going to Duna; he never caught me using it but there were a few close calls.

He wanted a son to continue the family bloodline- because a mere girl just wouldn't do- and he was so happy when he found out I was expecting. Until the day I woke up in the middle of the night with the worst stomach cramps I had ever had and when the doctor arrived in the morning he said it was over. Nothing I could have done, just one of those things.

As soon as the doctor left 'he' dragged me out of the shower by my hair and threw me down the stairs, then just went off to work like normal and left me there bruised and bleeding on the floor; I could barely walk for three days. Then it happened again, and again, and again- six times in three years, that I know of- and each time it happened the violence got worse. The doctor said stress was making it worse, but how could I not be stressed knowing what had happened before and what 'he' would do to me when it happened again? There were times when I very nearly ended it all, but I always chickened out before I did anything and I hated myself even more afterwards.

Until finally everything went right. The doctor came round and everything was fine, he did the scan and there it was, that tiny little smudge that was a tiny little person growing inside me. Six munths and the longest night of my life later little Dianna was born and she was absolutely perfect. As soon as I saw her, I knew I would protect her with my life.

But the moment 'he' saw her, I knew I would have to. We ran to the doctor's car and as we drove off 'he' came running with a hunting rifle and started shooting at us. It was only after we were gone that I realised I was hit and losing blood fast. I told the doctor to take the baby away, as far away as possible, and to never tell anyone where she went. The next thing I remember is waking up in hospital two days later and being told they had done a hysterectomy to save my life. As soon as 'he' found out what that meant- no more babies, ever- 'he' just turned and walked away and I never saw 'him' again.

It was a big hospital in a big city so pretty soon someone put the pieces together and realised what had happened to me. I got bounced between a few places until one day I just left, took any train or bus I could find towards the Space Centre and finally turned up here with nothing but the clothes I was wearing and told them I was four years older than I was, and they believed it. I could barely believe it- no ID, no qualifications, no experience but just like that, I was in the Space Program like I had always wanted to be. The rest, you already know.

And not a day has passed in the seventeen years since that I haven't wished I could trade everything I have now for just one more day with Dianna.

The room was absolutely silent. Tina, Carrie and Derrek were all crying and even the usually stoic Gene was struggling to hold back the tears.

“Have you told anyone about this before?” Carrie broke the silence.

“Why would I tell anyone?” Val whispered back.

“You don't have to suffer in silence or carry this terrible burden by yourself. I think you'd gain a lot from proper counselling.”

“I don't need a shrink!”

“You gave away your only child; that alone would get you three munths of grief counselling, never mind everything else that happened to you.”

“It might not be the only one, though,” Derrek interjected.

“Your tests are wrong. I can't- I physically can't-”

“Not necessarily. You've been launched into space more than any other woman alive, pulled more G-forces and spent more time in microgravity too. It's not a stretch to say something could have shaken loose inside you and if that happened and the results are accurate, your life could be in danger.”

“He's right.” Carrie agreed. “If that little embryo has latched onto the wrong place, it could cause all sorts of complications even in someone who still had all the components in place. We need to be sure one way or the other.”

Val nodded weakly, either recognising the logic or just too exhausted to argue any further. Derrek brought the ultrasound machine over and began the scan, although he was clearly having some difficulty with it.

“The last time I did one of these was in med school, and that wasn't as recently as I like to think.” He said as ghostly grey shapes moved across the scanner's screen forming weird monochrome blobs.

“There it is!” Tina exclaimed suddenly and Derrek flinched, immediately losing the image. He tried to find the same angle again, angling the sensor in different directions-

“There! Right there!”

Derrek and Carrie squinted at the screen, seeing only smudges and smears.

“Where?”

“Right...” Tina leaned forwards and tapped the screen which produced a yellow box where she had touched it and which somehow stayed focussed on the blob despite the image moving.

“There.”

“How did you see that?” Carrie asked her, realising she was right. “All I saw was a bunch of blobs.”

“I saw my sister in one of these last year, a little peanut-looking thing with a tiny little heartbeat in the middle.”

“I'm getting old,” Derrek sighed, rubbing his eyes with his free hand. “I would never have spotted that.” He flicked a switch on the scanner and it began making little tap tap tap noises in time with the fluttering pulse on the screen. Val was utterly transfixed by it, staring at the screen with a mix of wonder and terror on her face.

“What happens now?” Gene asked. “You said there could be complications?”

“It can't ever grow enough to survive on its own. If we leave it there, it could start growing around blood vessels and nerves and that could potentially be fatal. We really don't have any other option than removing it.”

A wordless cry of anguish escaped from Val's mouth as she curled back up and let out a series of choking sobs that shook her whole body. Tina hobbled to the other end of the bed and sat down before lifting Val's head and put it on her lap; Val responded by wrapping her arms around Tina's waist and clinging on tightly while Tina tried to comfort her.

“I saw a thing on the news a few weeks ago about some researchers who managed to transplant embryos into a surrogate mother. They were only doing it with lab rats but they said they wanted to start Kerbal trials soon.” Tina said after a while.

“I actually know one of the researchers involved in that study,” Derrek responded. “If you give me five minutes, I can call him up and see how far they've progressed.”

Gene looked at him and mouthed “Really?”

“I can't just do nothing,” he replied, quietly enough that Val couldn't hear him. Gene nodded and Derrek left the room, pulling the ultrasound trolley with him. The entire time he was gone nobody said anything at all, each increasingly unwilling to break the silence as it grew longer and longer. It was almost a relief when Derrek returned and they all looked at him expectantly.

“He said they'll do it. But- and this is a big but- he also said the odds of success are about 10% at best.”

“Those are some pretty long odds,” said Gene.

“If I was in space and something went horribly wrong, and you had a 10% chance of bringing me back alive by doing something but a 0% chance by doing nothing, would you take it?” A small spark of the Val they all knew and loved had reappeared.

Gene didn't even hesitate before responding with “Yes. Absolutely.”

“Then I have to try. Long odds are better than none.”

“Can you think of anyone who could be a surrogate?”

“Maybe Natalia. Possibly. If you had asked me a few weeks ago, definitely, but we haven't even spoken to each other recently and I don't want to scare her off for good.”

“Do you think she'll do it?”

“If I told her what I just told you, maybe; or she'd run away and never come back. I'm not sure about anything any more.”

“Long odds are better than none.”

Val managed a weak smile. “OK, I'll call her.”

“You don't have to do it right now-”

“There's no present like the time.” She thought for a moment. “Or something like that.”

Derrek handed her his phone and she dialled a number, but while it was ringing she lost her nerve and handed it to Gene instead.

“Hello?”

“Is this Natalia Kerman?”

“Yes. Who is this?”

“I'm calling on behalf of Valentina.” Full name, formal voice- Gene was getting serious.

“Why? What's going on? Has something happened? Is she alright?”

“I think this would be better explained face to face. How soon can you get to the Space Centre?”

“Where exactly?”

“We're in the medical wing of the Astronaut Complex. It's well signposted from the transit hub-”

“I'll be there in five minutes.” Click.

Gene was left staring at the phone, not entirely certain what had just happened.

“Who did I just talk to exactly?” He asked Val.

“I thought you'd recognise her. Nate's one of the test pilots, handles most of the heavy lifters and such. Flew the MX-33 prototype last Munth?”

“Ah yes, now I remember.”

Gears were spinning in Tina's mind, disparate pieces of information suddenly falling into a coherent whole.

“Well, since we have a few minutes, maybe we can have a little chat about that little outburst this afternoon.”

It took a second for Tina to realise he was talking to her. In an instant her mouth was dry and her palms were ridiculously sweaty.

“For those of you who missed it- and I would be very surprised if you did- I have an audio recording of the event so you can get caught up.”

He pulled his own phone out of his pocket, sat it on the bedside table beside him and started the audio clip playing.

To quote a rather excellent turn of phrase she had read on the internet, Tina's face didn't just go red, it went right past red without so much as a wave, barrelled through the infrared, thumbed its nose at microwaves, and wound up somewhere on the FM radio band.*

Please let the floor open up and swallow me right now.

A strange running battle was being fought between two opposing impulses: on the one hand, she was cringing so much that her toes were trying to curl up; on the other, her foot was mangled and the slightest movement sent pain throbbing up to her brain, cancelling out the previous toe-curling until she heard another cringe-inducing sentence from her recorded self.

Gene didn't seem angry though. On the contrary, he was rather amused by the whole thing. Carrie was deeply impressed by her verbosity, Derrek was gawping at her in open-mouthed amazement and Lewwise finally emerged from the bathroom just in time to hear the phrase 'brainless Kro-Magnon', thought it was directed at him and started crying. Tina thought Val had started crying again too but then realised she was actually laughing, which triggered a strange conflict of emotions as while it was good she was laughing, she was laughing at her; this conflict combined with the running battle from the previous paragraph were threatening to cause another 'tina_kerman.exe has stopped responding' incident- wait, paragraph?!

 

P}♪ДЙPLӺԐ%SҒ↕Ї♂Я5Ұ[email protected]Ї”ЏӺáß]▀☺ ╚

 

NullReferenceException: Object not set to an instance of a variable

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tina_kerman.exe has stopped responding

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Or was that all just her imagination?

“-what I've been saying to the Board ever since we started Rising Stars: it should be wholly and solely for young people with a genuine interest in space and who aspire to joining the Space Program itself, teaching them everything they need to know and learn to meet the astronaut selection criteria. Instead, we've ended up with an administrative nightmare full of spoilt brats whose parents bought their admissions and a drop out rate that averages in the high 80s. The scholarships are barely adequate and the more of them I try to give out, the more the program costs to run so the entry fees go up and then the costs of the scholarships go up too. Well, not any more.”

Tina was sure she had missed some part of what Gene had said but didn't dare ask him to repeat it- what was that phrase Dad was so fond of, something about a gift from a horse's mouth?

“Surprise test time. Anyone who fails gets sent home first thing tomorrow. Drunken parties into the small hours are one thing, but physically attacking one of my best astronauts is too far.”

Tina extricated herself from the bed- not an easy task as Val seemed to have dozed off and she didn't want to wake her- and started limping towards the door behind Gene.

“You need to get that seen to first, no sense in you hobbling around like that all day.”

“I'll do it,” Carrie said half a second before Darryl could.

“And someone get those door guards back on these doors! I don't care if it scuffs the lino and the cleaners complain, it's too dangerous to have those gaps under them.”

“Not it!” Darryl got in first. The task would therefore fall to Lewwise, who was still sniffling and looked rather dejected.

The door flew open and someone with almost fluorescent pink hair came hurtling through at a near run.

“Val! Are you alright? What's hap-”

She was so focussed on Val in the bed that she completely overlooked Tina and managed to stand on her foot. Her injured foot.

***

On the top floor of the lighthouse, one of the stonemasons put down his tools and turned his head from side to side looking puzzled. “Did you hear that?” His colleague looked up, listened for a few seconds, then shrugged and returned to his work. ”Ah well, must have been the wind,” the first mason said before he too returned to the task at hand.

*It took a solid ten minutes of forum trawling to find that quote! Credit to @CatastrophicFailure, who is also responsible for some of the more, erm... interesting turns of phrase that have appeared in the last few chapters (although I made one of them up myself in a similar style). I should probably stop ripping off all his stuff and write my own now...

Chapter 10

Edited by jimmymcgoochie
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2 hours ago, Kerballing (Got Dunked On) said:

I AM CRYING XD

At first I was DYING, then I realized that it is impossible for this text to garner that reaction from my body, so I settled with just dying CRYING.

Edited by Dirkidirk
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  • 2 weeks later...
On 7/5/2020 at 3:46 AM, Kerballing (Got Dunked On) said:

Yes this is accurate. Also I am stealing that exclamation, @jimmymcgoochie. with or without credit.

I already stole borrowed the idea so go ahead. I might reuse it later too.

1 hour ago, Dedjal said:

Please write more

I am :wink: but it's the day-to-day details that are causing the biggest hold-ups right now. I don't want to call it "filler" because it will serve a purpose (or a few) but there's a big difference between coming up with big, broad-brush ideas and actually turning those into a coherent story.

 I have a nice little story arc for the next few chapters all laid out and ready to go.

Spoiler

Spoiler alert

Spoiler

No, really

Spoiler

Why are you still going?

Spoiler

I already said SPOILER ALERT and put it in lemme check- 1, 2, 3, 4- 4 spoilers, so I have to assume you actually want me to spoil it for you

Spoiler

Not all the characters you've seen so far are still in the story in a few chapters' time :0.0: but that's all I have to say on the matter :sealed:

 

 

 

 

 

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19 minutes ago, jimmymcgoochie said:

I don't want to call it "filler" because it will serve a purpose (or a few) but there's a big difference between coming up with big, broad-brush ideas and actually turning those into a coherent story.

 I have a nice little story arc for the next few chapters all laid out and ready to go.

Oh goodness, ain’t that the truth. You can have the broad brush idea, you can have all the detailed notes, plot outlines, chapter summaries etc. that you like but turning all that into an actual piece of story is something else again.

At least that’s how it was for me. Good luck with the next chapter and I look forward to reading what you come up with as and when it appears!

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