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Audacity: Memoirs of a Kerbonaut


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1 hour ago, jimmymcgoochie said:

Well, it comes after [REDACTED] which is right after [CLASSIFIED] happens, which follows on from [SPOILERS] that continues the [XXXXXXXX] between [:sealed:] and [TOP SECRET], which links back to the [403 FORBIDDEN] which in turn is directly related to what’s going to happen in the next chapters. Hope that clears it up :sticktongue:

I came to see a new chapter, but this works too. Guess I'll be handling KP now.

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22 hours ago, jimmymcgoochie said:

Well, it comes after [REDACTED] which is right after [CLASSIFIED] happens, which follows on from [SPOILERS] that continues the [XXXXXXXX] between [:sealed:] and [TOP SECRET], which links back to the [403 FORBIDDEN] which in turn is directly related to what’s going to happen in the next chapters. Hope that clears it up :sticktongue:

Considering how long that explanation was, I'm guessing its a far ways away. Can't wait though!

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 1/12/2021 at 4:42 AM, AeroSky said:

Considering how long that explanation was, I'm guessing its a far ways away. Can't wait though!

No, its purely to remove too many different spoilers.

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  • 3 weeks later...

At last, I've hammered this chapter into something resembling a finished state. Hopefully the next few will happen with a slightly shorter delay!

Chapter 14 – On a knife-edge

Ominous dark thunderclouds towered menacingly in the sky to the east of Yeager Space Complex, their tops painted red with the last rays of the setting sun. The Kestrel bumped and juddered through thermals and turbulence as it made its approach from the west before landing and taxiing to the main hangar building on the base.

As they disembarked from the plane, all eyes were drawn towards a cluster of floodlights surrounding a large low-loader truck with the prototype shuttle strapped to the back, covered by tarpaulins.

Two Kerbals were waiting at the edge of the aircraft apron: Joeny, the YSC’s head of operations, and Jedediah, the base’s lead engineer.

“Director Gene,” Jedediah spoke first, “you’ll be glad to hear we’ve recovered the flight data recorders from the shuttle and-“

“Jed, no offence, but right now I couldn’t care less.” Gene cut him off mid-sentence. “Joeny, get us transport to wherever they’ve taken Val and Tina and get me in touch with whoever is in charge of their care.”

“Gene, I really need to show you-“ Jedediah tried again, holding out a piece of paper with a graph printed on it, but once again Gene cut him off.

“Not now, Jed. Joeny, have you heard anything about the debris coming down from orbit?”

“We’ve had reports of something coming down out to sea, about a hundred klicks east of us, but nobody’s going looking for it in that storm. We also have a confirmed location for the Firebird’s engines- they’re on an uninhabited island off the west coast and a scout team confirmed no radiation leaks before securing them in place and clearing out before the weather closed in.”

“Gene-”

“Not now, Jed!”

“But-”

“I’ll deal with this,” Wernher intervened before Jed talked his way into a punch in the face. Joeny started making some phone calls, leaving the rest of them to stand around until something happened.

Gene made a quick call of his own to Walt, just to let him know that they’d arrived. Instead he was put on speakerphone with Walt, Bobak and Jayson who were all clamouring for answers.

“What should we tell Trailblazer?” Bobak asked. “They know something’s going on but as far as we know, they don’t know what yet.”

Gene thought for a moment, then looked at Natalia, then said: “Tell them everything we know, leave no details out, but lock out the flight controls before you do it; they’re still close enough that they could turn around and come back and I’m pretty sure at least three of them would be willing to try it.”

“I can’t think of anyone on that ship who wouldn’t be willing to try it,” replied Jayson. “What about everyone down here, though? How much should we tell them?”

“As little as possible. We can’t afford any leaks at a time like this, there’s too much at stake.”

Joeny was looking at him as if she had something to say, so he ended the call.

“We can take you over there by road, but things are getting dicey out there- there are protesters outside the gates and more gathering outside the hospital, plus you’ll be heading right into rush hour traffic.” Joeny said.

“Can’t we fly over there instead?” Gene asked.

“I called the hospital but they said we can’t use their helipad, it’s for medical emergencies only, and there’s nowhere else to land within ten kilometres of the hospital so you wouldn’t be any better off. It’ll probably be an hour’s drive to the hospital-”

“It can’t be!” Wernher interrupted their conversation.

“No, really, the traffic is going to be really bad-“

“What? I was talking to Jed. There’s just no way that this data is right.”

“The shuttle’s onboard telemetry, the biometrics in both suits and the tracking data all concur.” Jed replied, slightly defensively; that tends to happen when one of the world’s top scientists questions your data. “Peak deceleration during re-entry was negative four point six three gravities.”

“Four and a half negative gees!? That’s impossible!” Exclaimed Natalia in horror.

“Is that bad?” Martin asked.

“Negative gees are extremely dangerous- all the blood gets pushed to your head and you can burst blood vessels in your brain.” Gene replied.

“The last person who pulled more than -3g was Eugen van der Kerman over forty years ago,” Jed chipped in.

“And what happened to him?” Jeanette asked.

“Um, well, he sort of, um, died…”

“Those spacesuits are designed to help you resist G-forces though, right?” Martin asked as Jed tried to sidestep behind Joeny, fleeing from the multiple death glares being aimed in his direction.

“Positive gees, yes; negative gees, not so much: there’s only so much you can do to restrict the blood flow to someone’s brain without that becoming a problem of its own. The best they can do is about a 20-25% reduction, which would take them down from 4.6 to 3.6- which is still bad, but any reduction is a good thing.”

Two cars with Space Program livery pulled up at the edge of the aircraft apron and Joeny ushered everyone towards them, except for Wernher.

“I’ll stay here and go over the shuttle and its telemetry with Jed; if I find anything that seems important for the doctors to know, I’ll give you a call.”

Gene nodded to him as he climbed into the first car with Natalia, while Jeanette, Martin and Sasha took the second.

The trip from YSC to the nearby city of Tenbridge (which actually had eleven bridges) took just under an hour, the pair of cars battling through a crowd at the gates of the YSC, heavy traffic on the roads to and in the city itself and an even larger crowd outside Northill Hospital (which was neither in the north of the city nor on a hill) comprised of camera crews from every news outlet imaginable, a great variety of protesters with a bewildering array of signs and placards, and plenty of confused commuters caught up in the chaos.

The crowd pushed closer to the little convoy as they tried to reach the entrance, but two lines of police and hastily set up metal fences at the sides of the road kept them from surrounding the cars. Flashes from cameras and smartphones alike went off all around like a pyrotechnic display and one overenthusiastic photographer tried to lean over the fence to press his lens against one car’s window, hoping to get pictures through the tinted glass, but instead ended up dropping his camera under the car’s wheels where it was promptly reduced to a small pile of splintered plastic and shattered electronics.

Armed police checked their credentials before letting them in the main entrance. Once inside they had to go through metal detectors and their bags were searched, even going as far as taking Sasha out her carry chair- she immediately woke up and started wailing her displeasure- to check nothing was concealed underneath her.

They were met by a flustered looking doctor who introduced himself as Dr Philbo Kerman IV and hurried them to a waiting elevator, where a second doctor was waiting.

“Who of you are here for Valentina and who for Martina? They’re both on different floors right now so if you’re here for Valentina then get off at floor 4 and my colleague Davlos here will give you all the information we have.”

When they reached level 3, Gene and Natalia followed Dr Davlos down a corridor that was signposted “OR 1-6” while Tina’s parents stayed with Dr Philbo and headed up to the ICU on level 7.

“Before you see her, I have to warn you that what you’re going to see will come as a shock to you.”

Not words that either of them wanted to hear.

“Tina’s condition currently stable, but very serious: we’ve had to put her in an induced coma; she almost drowned in sea water and we’ve put her on an ECMO machine to oxygenate her blood while we try to clear her lungs before inflammation or infection takes hold; she has second and some third degree burns on her head and the backs of her hands and forearms; there is substantial damage to her left eye and some damage to her right eye; we’ve already stopped seven aneurysms in her brain and are constantly monitoring in case any more blood vessels burst. It will be a few days before we start thinking about waking her up, and it could be munths or even years before the full extent of any neurological damage becomes fully apparent.”

Martin and Jeanette stood silently, trying to process what they had just been told.

“If you’re ready, I can take you to her now.”

They approached the room with some trepidation but weren’t allowed in- they had to look in through a window, which was completely opaque when they arrived but turned transparent at the flick of a switch, and then they saw her.

Surrounded by machines and monitors that provided a continuous background of hums and whirs, beeps and hisses; covered by tubes and pipes, wires and cables; her entire head covered in bandages with wires sprouting out across her scalp and converging like a technicolour ponytail at the back. Surrounded by all that, she just looked so… small.

It was a shocking sight, one which Jeanette couldn’t bear to look at for more than a second before turning away and bumping Sasha’s carry seat, which woke her up again and provided a welcome distraction.

“Are you Tina’s parents?”

They turned to find a second doctor with a medical chart in her hands.

“I’m Dr Wenlan, the neurologist assigned to Tina’s case. We’ve just received the full results of her MRI scans and there’s something I need to discuss with you.”

They followed her into a small consultation room at the end of the corridor.

“One of the neurosurgeons here has been pioneering a new stem cell treatment for neurological damage caused by strokes and brain haemorrhages and after looking over Tina’s case he thinks he may be able to help. By taking existing neural stem cells from here-“ she pointed at a small smudge on the MRI scan- “and injecting them into the sites where the damage is greatest, we believe that Tina’s prognosis can be greatly improved. However, I do have to stress that this doesn’t guarantee that she will recover and the procedure itself carries significant risks-“

“Do it.” Jeanette interrupted her.

“Don’t you think we should talk about this first?” Martin asked.

“Did you ever meet my aunt Sally?”

“I don’t think so?”

“She was amazing: never stayed still, always doing three or four things at once, had a laugh that could rattle the windows and a smile so big it was like her whole head was splitting in half. She never let anything slow her down- not breaking her hip, not lung cancer, not even when uncle Jim died- until she had a massive stroke and ended up paralysed on the left side of her body. It affected her mind too, but not nearly as much as suddenly being completely dependent on other people to do the most trivial of things like washing or dressing herself. She used to make the most incredible traybakes, but she was left having to eat liquidised food because she couldn’t chew or swallow properly. To see someone so strong and independent so utterly broken like that was heart-breaking.

There were times when we saw little glimmers of the old Aunt Sally, but that just made the bad times seem worse. Both my brothers couldn’t bear to see her like that and they stopped visiting her. She survived for nearly two years before she had the second stroke; when the paramedics arrived all she kept saying was ‘Let me die’, and the next day she did.

If there’s any chance, no matter how small or how dangerous, that we can spare Tina that same fate, I’ll take it. Without hesitation.”

The room was silent for several seconds before Dr Wenlan cleared her throat loudly. “I’ll go over and tell them to start preparing.” She said a bit too quickly, then almost ran out of the room.

“You scare me sometimes, Jean.” Martin said quietly.

“It was just seeing her like that, it reminded me of the day she was born. She was so small and so weak that they didn’t think she’d last the night, but she pulled through then and she’ll do it again now.”

Sasha’s stomach rumbled loudly and she began whimpering. Martin swooped in and picked up the carry seat before Jeanette could.

“I’ll deal with her and try to chase up some food for us too. Cup of tea and a biscuit?”

“Yes please.”

He headed off down the corridor and disappeared around a corner. Jeanette walked slowly in the other direction, back towards Tina’s room. She stood outside the window for some time before pressing the button to make it see-through, then willed herself to look through it. Silence stretched out for what felt like hours before she pressed the intercom button and spoke quietly.

“I don’t know if you can hear me, Tina, but if you can, just know that I will never give up on you. I’ve been fighting for you since before you were born, through every triumph and every tragedy, and I’m not about to stop now. You’ve been through so much already and maybe you feel like giving up; well don’t you dare give up now, Martina Dorothy Kerman- you’re stronger than you think and I know you can get through this too.

Stay strong, my little miracle.”

She didn’t notice it, but one of the numbers on the EEG nudged ever so slightly higher.

***

There was more bad news in store downstairs as Davlos explained Val’s condition to Gene and Natalia.

“In a way, it’s a good thing that her oxygen ran out; because of that her metabolism was already slowing down before she ended up in the water, so she didn’t breathe in much water. Unfortunately, that’s the only good news I have: almost every internal organ was damaged by what looks like severe crushing injuries, the most significant of those being her liver, kidneys, spleen and pancreas; she’s continuing to bleed internally despite our best efforts to find and stop them; we’ve replaced her blood volume twice and are continuing to give her an artificial blood substitute because the blood bank is running out; her pelvis is shattered and three vertebrae are broken in her spine, most likely with significant damage to her spinal cord.”

All three of them knew that last point was the death knell of Val’s career in space- and with it her lifelong dream of walking on Duna.

“We won’t know the full extent of the damage until she wakes up, but the neurologist assigned to her case says it’s unlikely that Val will ever be able to stand again, much less walk.”

Gene pulled out his huge brick of a phone and began dialling a number, but was stopped by a horrified Davlos.

“You can’t use that thing here! It’ll wreak havoc with all the equipment and monitors!”

Gene gave him a withering glare.

“If it’s that bad, why does the entire hospital have a wi-fi network?” Davlos had no answer to that.

He continued dialling and called Joeny back at the YSC.

“Joeny? It’s Gene. Get anyone who’s blood type O-negative to Northill Hospital as soon as possible, we need more blood.”

“I’ve already got a list together, so we’ll be leaving imminently.”

“How many people do you have on that list?”

“Right now, forty, but we can call in over twice that number if we have to; we’ve also got some blood reserves in storage in the medical centre here that we can send to you by air if we can access the hospital’s helipad.”

“Nice work. Gene out.” He ended the call. “Doctor, can you arrange clearance for a private aircraft to access the helipad? I’ve got some fresh blood and a lot of willing donors to top up your blood bank ready to fly in if they can use it.”

“I certainly can! But how big is this helicopter? The pad is rated for 12 tons.”

“Hmm, I didn’t think of that.”

He redialled Joeny’s number and she picked up after the first ring.

“What kind of aircraft are you planning to send here? The pad is rated for 12 tons.”

“Shouldn’t be a problem, we’ve got two Gyrfalcon-class rotorcraft which are nine tons each with a capacity of six each. I’ll send the blood in the Blue Jay, it’s a lot faster, then everyone else will travel in by road. Assuming they can get through the angry mob outside the gates, that is.”

Gene relayed the information to Davlos, who in turn passed it on to the team in charge of the helipad. Just as he finished, his pager went off with an update from the OR.

“I can take you through to see Valentina now; she’s still in surgery and you won’t be allowed into the OR, but you can watch from the observation room.”

They headed to the observation room and both Gene and Dr Davlos went in, but Natalia stayed back, waiting to gauge Gene’s reaction before going in herself.

After a long silence, he turned to her.

“I don’t think you want to see her like this; it would be better for you to remember her as she was.”

“I have to know. Maybe I’ll hate myself for doing it, but I have to know.”

She ventured forwards to the window and the first thing she noticed was a metal bowl with a kidney in it; or at least, something that had once been, and was still vaguely recognisable as, a kidney. Her face went incredibly pale and Davlos just managed to catch her as she fainted.

“Keep her legs elevated, I’ll find a bed for her.”

Davlos headed out, returning within a minute with a wheeled hospital bed and an orderly who lifted Nat up onto the bed without any apparent effort. Something pinged on the floor and Davlos spotted something shiny rolling across the floor- and immediately stepped on it to stop it rolling under a chair.

Davlos’ eyes widened in horror when he held up the now square-shaped ring.

“I am so, so sorry about that.”

“It was already like that,” Gene reassured him. “It’s not the first time that’s happened today.”

Davlos made an attempt to fix the ring’s shape, but his attention quickly changed when he saw the words engraved on the inside surface. He looked towards the door as Nat was wheeled out, then down towards Val in the OR below, then handed the ring to Gene.

“Might want to keep that quiet, otherwise things could get all kinds of ugly around here.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Gene immediately challenged him.

“Politics.”

“Politics?”

Davlos smiled wanly.

“It’s election season here in Estovus- has been for nearly a year now- and it’s the most bitter and acrimonious contest in decades: the left have moved further left, the right have gone further right and they’re both fanning the flames to make their supporters hate each other; misinformation is everywhere and nobody wants to deal with it for fear of being accused of bias; so far there have been six political rallies cancelled by bomb threats, two campaign buses set on fire and one political campaigner is in this very ward right now under continuous armed guard after being run over by a car in a politically motivated hit and run. It won’t stop after the votes are tallied either- the incumbent, Governor Dilgas, has already started filing legal challenges before the polls have even opened and his predecessor and challenger, former Governor Romana, has spent the last week making accusations that Dilgas is trying to rig the election in his favour by changing the voting system mere days before the votes are supposed to be cast. Unfortunately you’re stuck between the two- Romana’s lot hate the Space Program as a hideous waste of time and money that could be better used solving problems on the ground, but Dilgas’ lot hate the Unification and everything associated with it- including the Space Program and equal rights legislation- and he’s promised that if he wins, he’ll pull Estovus out of the Union entirely.”

Gene paled slightly at that last revelation. The Unification was the landmark event of the last century, bringing the entire world back from the brink of an almost inevitable nuclear war that could have ended civilisation. To even consider going back to that world was unthinkable, but support for the Unification had been waning for years as memories of the pre-Unity chaos faded and a worldwide surge in nationalist views had made the unthinkable not only thinkable, but popular.

If Dilgas really did repeal the Unification Treaty and send Estovus off on its own path, other Regions would inevitably follow and the whole system would come crashing down- closely followed by the Space Program itself as its funding evaporated.

“Dilgas has spent his entire tenure so far railing against anything related to the Unification, but the Equal Rights Act is his biggest target; his supporters are the biggest bunch of sexist, homophobic, xenophobic bigots you’ll ever come across so they cheer him on every time he does it. If they found out Valentina Kerman- probably the biggest symbol of the Unification and everything it stands for- had the audacity to pledge her affections to another woman… They’d tear the whole hospital apart trying to find her, and when they did, they’d tear her apart, and Natalia, and young Tina upstairs, and you, and anyone else they didn’t like the look of or tried to stop them. Estovus is this close-” he held his fingers a mere centimetre apart- “to a full-blown civil war and this could well set the whole thing off.”

A minor commotion drew their attention as Natalia emerged from a room further down the hallway, ignoring the protests of a junior doctor. “I’m fine,” she snapped at him without looking back, “I don’t need some teenager with a stethoscope telling me what I should do.”

She made a beeline for Davlos, who took a half step backwards as she approached and fixed him with a slightly less severe scowl. “What’s our next move?”

“For now, we wait.”

“Bah, I knew you’d say that.” Nat started pacing back and forth across the corridor. “I can’t stand this standing around waiting, I need to do something. You said you need more blood? Take mine, we’re the same type.”

“Nat, we can’t do that,” Gene said softly.

“Why not?” She challenged him. “My blood is as good as anyone else’s.”

“You know why…”

Nat looked like she was going to argue the point further, then remembered what he meant, let out a frustrated sigh and returned to pacing.

“There must be something we can do for her.”

“Anything that can be done is already being done. She’s in the care of the best trauma surgeons in Estovus.”

She continued pacing, growing more and more agitated with each passing second until, for the third time that minute:

“I have to do something! I have to do something, I can’t, just…”

She suddenly turned and unleashed deafening cry half way between a shout and a scream, accompanied by a powerful kick to the nearest chair, lifting it almost a metre in the air and cracking the plastic seat base almost completely in half. She snatched the chair out of the air and hurled it down the corridor where the now terrified junior doctor was forced to scurry out of its path, then just stood, hands tightly clenched into fists, her whole body trembling with tension.

Davlos just stood, mouth hanging open in shock, but Gene approached, put his arm around her shoulder and gently guided her back to her room, then just waited.

He had had more than his share of dealing with distraught relatives both in his time as Director of Operations and as a mission controller during the old pre-Unification Space Race: he had watched two friends strap into the Horizon Chaser and the Sunrise Seeker only to vanish in enormous fireballs when they became the second and sixth failed orbit attempts during the Space Race, then had to deal with the grieving families who had just watched their loved ones incinerated in full view of the entire world; he had walked among the smouldering wreckage of Woomerang after the catastrophic fuel fire that had ravaged the complex for two whole days, impervious even to thousands of tons of fire-retardant foam dropped by air, where dozens had perished in the inferno, then stood at the memorial services and funerals repeating the same useless ‘sorry for your loss’ to the victims’ husbands and wives, children and parents; had dealt with the relatives of every victim of every incident in his tenure as Director, from plane crashes to industrial accidents to an employee walking off the VAB roof after losing their job minutes earlier.

Now all he had to do was sit in silence as Nat sat or lay on the bed, only her ragged breathing indicating anything was wrong, as her emotions boiled over. There was no wailing or screaming, no pounding the walls or disassembling the furniture, just a deep silence as the tension slowly seeped out of her body over the course of several hours.

That gave him time to try and process his own emotions, which were bubbling just under the surface. He could still remember the first time he saw the young Valentina, just stepped off the bus with nothing but the change from the bus fare, the clothes she was wearing and a dream of one day flying in space. He had immediately taken a liking to the timid but talented girl and had watched with almost fatherly pride as she outperformed cocky young Jeb, wiping his usual smug smirk off his face in the process, then overcome her inherent shyness to start tutoring the other Cadets when they were struggling.

And then there was that infamous day, when the rivalry (if such a thing can be so obviously one-sided) between Jeb and Val had come to a head: trying to rattle his usually calm rival, Jeb had flown recklessly close only to be caught by a rogue gust of wind and the two planes collided, with both suffering critical damage- Jeb’s jet lost half its right wing while Val lost her tail and one elevator. To everyone’s disbelief, most of all Jeb’s, Valentina had wrestled her wounded plane back into proximity with Jeb’s and managed to crash the two planes together again in such a way that they were able to stay airborne and limp back to the runway, but only by working as a team and co-ordinating their movements. Nobody could understand how Val had done it: the simulators said neither plane was airworthy after the first crash, that the second collision would be impossible to predict, much less plan and execute, much less plan and execute with a crippled plane and almost no control- but all she could say was that she had seen the whole thing clearly in her mind as soon as the collision happened.

It was only after the planes had landed that Jeb noticed the edge of his front canard, torn and jagged from the first collision, had been pressing directly against Val’s neck after she joined their planes together and was mere millimetres away from severing her karotid artery. That experience had a profound effect on Jeb- although his behaviour barely changed in public, behind closed doors he became the ultimate team player, an exceptional commander who could get the best from any mission crew, which in turn led to him being chosen to both command the mission to, and be the first to set foot on, the Mun.

For nearly seventeen years Val had been a public face of the Space Program, simultaneously tackling the accusations of sexism in the Kerbonaut Corps (which had stubbornly stayed male-dominated despite several initiatives to the contrary) and the suggestions that space travel should wholly and solely be the domain of men. Seventeen years of flying more missions, longer missions, more challenging missions; piloting the orbiters on two Mun landings before leading the final landing herself, then commanding the first landing on Minmus and a further two orbiters after that; flying on every Dynawing ever made- Dynamic, Daring, Discovery and, yes, Dauntless- a record that nobody else had could ever claim since Dynamic crashed twelve years earlier and-

It hit him like a freight train.

Great, choking sobs wracked his whole body, his attempts to contain them only making them louder as they burst forth, each one like a thunderclap in the enclosed space.

Three more names etched into the memorial pod outside the VAB: Gerzer, Miltrey, Billy-Bobrim. All under thirty years old, all with families and friends left behind to somehow try and carry on.

And Valentina. Deep down, Gene knew.

Knew that there was no hope, that no matter how good the doctors were or how advanced their treatments and techniques, they couldn’t save her.

Knew that his last conversation with her before the mission, where she told him this flight would be her last, had become horrifyingly prophetic.

Knew that the plans for her to become the permanent head of the Astronaut Corps, overseeing training and recruitment, as well as leading the outreach programme, were now worthless.

Knew that young Tina, whose life now balanced on a knife-edge, whose first flight into space would now certainly be her last, would never recover.

Knew that she would never stop blaming herself for failing to save her lifelong hero, when the mission was doomed from the moment it was conceived and she was completely unprepared and untrained to do it- but had very nearly succeeded nonetheless.

Knew that her life, too, was effectively over- he hadn’t heard all the details, but the damage to her eyes alone would be more than enough to prevent her ever flying to space again, and having a lifelong dream shattered like that would probably break her. If the negative G-forces hadn’t done that already.

And most of all, he knew that it was all his fault. He chose Val for that mission, a chance for three relatively inexperienced Kerbonauts to learn from the expert, to give Val one last orbital flight almost as a consolation prize for not going to Duna as planned, to recycle the old KST with a new mission and balance up the Kopernicus expedition after one probe was damaged by- of all things- a micrometeor strike.

Now the miraculous life growing in Natalia’s belly would never meet its true mother; now young Sasha would grow up without her big sister and would soon forget she ever had one.

All. His. Fault.

NO.

The voice seemed to come from everywhere at once.

You are not to blame for this, Eugene Kerman, but someone is. Find them. Leave no stone unturned, pursue every lead.

FIND THEM.

He sat upright with a startled yelp, but Natalia barely stirred from her slumber. When did she fall asleep? She was still awake the last time he looked and that was only a few minutes-

The clock on the wall read quarter to three. Quarter to three!? He’d been asleep for nearly four hours!

Already the strange dream (was it even a dream?) was fading, but the dull ache in his chest had changed to a cold, hard fury. Not his fault. He hadn’t fired that rocket at the Dauntless, but someone, somewhere, had. Someone had murdered three of his Kerbonauts and one former instructor turned corporate test pilot and left a close friend and a young Cadet fighting for their lives. Someone was to blame for this, and Gene was going to find out who it was.

Even if it killed him. Or them. Or both.

He stood up, the broken, haunted look gone from his face and an expression of steely determination in its place, squared his shoulders and moved to open the door-

Which opened a split second before he reached it, jarring his knuckles and sending strange sensations shooting up his arm. Dr Davlos was on the other side of the door and apologised profusely when he realised what had happened.

“I have good news and bad news.” He noticed Gene’s alarmed expression and quickly continued: “The good news is Valentina is out of surgery, the surgeons believe they’ve stopped the bleeding and identified most of the damage so they can come up with a plan for moving forward; for now she’s been moved to intensive care so we can monitor her condition round the clock.”

Gene moved to the bed to try and wake Natalia. He put one hand on her shoulder and gently shook her. “Nat, wake up.”

Nat half-opened one eye, looked at him for a second, closed the eye again- then both eyes snapped open and she nearly catapulted herself right off the bed.

ВЯЕZНЙЕVS ТФЕИДILS don’t scare me like that!”

Gene wasn’t sure what a ВЯЕZНЙЕV was, or even if it was a noun or a verb, and he didn’t particularly want to know either. Davlos just stood, mouth agape, before recovering and repeating his news.

“And the bad news?” Gene asked.

“Governor Dilgas just arrived outside the main entrance and is about to head up to the ICU,” said Davlos, and was immediately bounced against the door twice as first Natalia then Gene charged out the room and towards the stairs.

“Wait!” He wheezed at their rapidly receding backs. “I wasn’t…” He headed towards the stairs too, occasionally coughing or wheezing as he tried to get air back into his lungs after taking two successive elbows in his midriff.

Nat and Gene flew up the stairs two or even three at a time, burst through the doors on level 7 straight into the first rays of the rising sun, charged down the corridor while trying to blink the floating spots out of their eyes and hurtled through the main reception of the ICU, only to skid to a screeching halt- literally, the floor had just been cleaned and was still damp- in front of two absolutely enormous armed security guards who blocked the doorway towards the ICU rooms.

“You’re not allowed in,” said Guard 1.

“Nobody is allowed in,” said Guard 2. “Governor’s orders.”

An obnoxiously loud BING-BONG announced the arrival of an elevator full of six Governor’s Guard Service agents in matching black suits and dark sunglasses, followed by Governor Dilgas himself flanked by another two GGS agents. The two guards stood up straighter when he appeared, producing two soft cracks as they put matching dents in the ceiling tiles.

“Governor Dilgas, sir.” Said Guard 1.

“We have secured the area as requested, sir.” Said Guard 2.

“Excellent work. I’ll make sure your supervisor hears of this. That will be all.”

The two guards attempted to salute but only succeeded at smacking each other in the face. They stood for a moment, blinking, then walked unsteadily towards the open elevator doors and disappeared as they closed.

Dr Davlos finally caught up with them, thoroughly winded. Dilgas immediately turned his attention on him.

“You are the doctor in charge of Valentina’s care?”

“Yes,” Davlos wheezed.

“I’ll be taking full control over Valentina’s care. Any decisions that need to be made, will be made by me and only me.” He aimed a contemptuous look at Gene and Nat.

“You have neither the right nor the authority to do so,” Gene retorted.

“Oh, but I do.”

Dilgas snapped his fingers and a GSS agent produced a brown envelope from inside his suit jacket, handing it to Davlos who opened it and read the piece of paper inside it.

“By order of Justice Arnold Kerman, Estovus Supreme Court, and in accordance with the relevant laws, Governor Dilgas Leslie Kerman-“ someone sniggered in the background- “is granted full and overriding power to determine any and all medical decisions for the treatment and care of one Valentina Anastasia Kerman, on the grounds that he is-“

Davlos choked, eyes bulging at the words on the page, then continued with a strain in his voice:

“-her lawfully wedded husband.”

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53 minutes ago, Misguided Kerbal said:

Wow... amazing work. Just one thing that I noticed, you might want to check your autocorrect. Jeb is spelled as 'Jed' for the whole story. 

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Why cliffhanger :mad:

 

If you’re talking about Jedediah in that last chapter, that’s deliberate. Jebediah is currently hurtling towards Duna aboard the Trailblazer.

Spoiler

Why cliffhanger? Because otherwise I might not write the next chapter, and people might not wait another three months (wow, was it really that long?) for the next chapter.

 

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1 minute ago, jimmymcgoochie said:

If you’re talking about Jedediah in that last chapter, that’s deliberate. Jebediah is currently hurtling towards Duna aboard the Trailblazer.

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Why cliffhanger? Because otherwise I might not write the next chapter, and people might not wait another three months (wow, was it really that long?) for the next chapter.

 

Ah, I see. It is a little confusing though, but it makes sense.

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6 hours ago, jimmymcgoochie said:

Equal Rights Act is his biggest target; his supporters are the biggest bunch of sexist, homophobic, xenophobic bigots you’ll ever come across so they cheer him on every time he does it.

No. Please don't bring back the memories. I'm still trying to get over his incompetence.

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8 hours ago, GuessingEveryDay said:

No. Please don't bring back the memories. I'm still trying to get over his incompetence.

That’s half the reason it took so long. I originally had this idea back in September but between then and finally writing it all... Of all the times to do a bit of world-building by writing about the fictional political situation of an alien civilisation, I just had to pick now.

Bah, politics!

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6 hours ago, GuessingEveryDay said:

I want to see what happens to Dilgas. Will someone punch him in the face?

Same. Let me do it

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Just now, Mikenike said:

Same. Let me do it

Or maybe everyone will take a turn. And it will turn out that Dilgas ordered the repair mission to be sabotaged, and the world will turn into chaos, while Trailblazer looks back at the world in shock, and prepares to start a colony on Duna similar to The Dunanian, on a wider scale.

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17 hours ago, GuessingEveryDay said:

Or maybe everyone will take a turn.

Airplane 1 snap out of it flashbacks intesify..... I would also like to say that I hope that in some way/shape/form that Trailblazer is reintroduced. Maybe Jeb comes back and beats the world out of Dilgas. I also hope that he doesn't kill Val, or Tina (obviously not however, cause the whole story is a memoir of her time as an Kerbonaut. I expect a recovery story from Val..... She looses something, but slowly relearns how to use it.

@jimmymcgoochie, you wanna throw in forum members as a joke/cameo?? Would you be willing to do that??

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I don’t usually do spoilers, but I can confirm this: Trailblazer is the single most expensive object ever made at this point, is currently hurtling away from Kerbin at several kilometres per second (I haven’t fired up JNSQ recently to check the precise numbers) and the next transfer window is years away; it’s going to Duna no matter what.

I may need to make a tactical edit to Chapter 11 to clarify the timeline a bit.

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2 minutes ago, jimmymcgoochie said:

is currently hurtling away from Kerbin at several kilometres per second (I haven’t fired up JNSQ recently to check the precise numbers) and the next transfer window is years away; it’s going to Duna no matter what.

*Jeb laughs at this attempt. Then states, "If someone's hurt, especially someone I'm close to, I'll waste all the fuel getting back to them, so stand aside."*

Also, two questions. Are you gonna put a forum member into the storyline as a cameo? And when can we expect the next chapter?

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On 2/9/2021 at 8:34 AM, Mikenike said:

Also, two questions. Are you gonna put a forum member into the storyline as a cameo? And when can we expect the next chapter?

I volunteer, but Jokes Aside still that chapter was a freaking mazing

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1 hour ago, Souptime said:

I volunteer, but Jokes Aside still that chapter was a freaking mazing

No, I volunteer, and I am not joking about it. But yes, I agree it was amazing.

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  • 4 weeks later...
  • 4 weeks later...

Wow, almost a year since I started this story already! And we're still in lockdown :(

Next chapter is nearly 9000 words long so far and will no doubt get even longer, however it might still take a while because, without spoiling anything, it's going to be

BIG

so I want to make sure it's just right.

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On 5/9/2020 at 5:04 PM, jimmymcgoochie said:

and at least one laser that could shoot through solid metal plates.

hmmmm you mean this?

g7Mv142.png

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