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Audacity: Memoirs of a Kerbonaut


jimmymcgoochie
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  • 3 weeks later...
4 hours ago, BekfastDerp13 said:

can't wait for the next chapter!

1 hour ago, obnox twin said:

Same here and take your time.

Me too :wink: but it's going more slowly than I'd like. The destination is clear, but the route to get there is not; still I hope to have it done by the end of the year, if not sooner!

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Posted (edited)

Chapter 17- The night is darkest before the dawn

A steel-grey sky hung over the Space Centre, providing a suitable backdrop for the sombre ceremony taking place between the Astronaut Complex, VAB and Spaceplane Hangar. Rows of seats were laid out on the tarmac, facing a raised stage with a simple podium in the centre, flanked by four small stands draped in the flag of the Space Program and bearing a picture of a smiling figure, wearing a spacesuit and standing in front of that same flag.

The first three rows of seats were filled with a mix of relatives of those four people, all the remaining members of the Astronaut Corps and senior figures of the Space Program; several high-ranking government ministers sat behind them along with a few military figures; behind that were the families of the remaining astronauts and at the very back, a single camera stood on a small pedestal. There were no journalists present, no news cameras or press photographers, and the lone camera feed wasn’t being broadcast anywhere, instead being recorded solely for the relatives of the four astronauts whose pictures sat on the stage.

“We are gathered today to remember those we have lost.”

Gene’s voice was utterly flat and didn’t echo at all, as if the buildings around were suppressing the sound out of respect.

“Their lives were not lost, but taken from us in an act of outrageous and unprovoked violence, and for that the perpetrators will be brought to justice; but we cannot, must not, allow that search to become one for vengeance.”

He looked down at his notes but couldn’t read them.

The silence was absolute- no wind noise, no squawking seabirds, even the air conditioning units on the roof of the Astronaut Complex had stopped their usual rumbling.

“They want us to be afraid, to give up everything we have worked for and admit defeat. Today I say this: we are not afraid, and we will never give up.

We are stronger than the forces that try to break us apart. In less than two decades we have accomplished more than anyone had dared to hope, travelled to destinations that previously were considered unreachable- the Mun, Minmus, now Duna and Ike- and inspired so many to dream that little bit bigger, to aspire to something better.

The United Space Program was created to give all peoples of Kerbin something to believe in, a bright light in a dark world. The forces of darkness believe they can extinguish that light, but all who travel in space know that the darker the surroundings, the brighter the stars become. We will go on for the sake of those we have lost.”

He looked down at the four pedestals and the four families beyond them, solemnly meeting their gazes.

“For Miltrey. For Gerzer. For Billy-Bobny. For Thombert.”

***

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“We have a pulse!”

“Blood oxygen’s coming back up!”

“Hold compressions.”

Natalia slumped into her seat, sobbing in relief. Gene started unfastening his seat harness to move over beside her but gave up on the idea when the plane hit a pocket of turbulence severe enough to lift everything not secured off the floor then slam it back down hard, spilling even more medical supplies.

The battle to save Val’s life was far from over, but now the medics were back on the offensive and continued their work to stabilise her condition.

Ten minutes of continuous turbulence later they arrived at the Yeager Space Centre, landing while pointing almost thirty degrees off the runway heading due to the crosswind and running over some runway lights as the pilots struggled to keep it on the runway. They taxied over to the base’s main buildings while everyone else prepared to disembark, but Gene climbed the ladder up to the cockpit to talk to the pilots.

“Get this plane refuelled and ready to leave. We need to get out of Estovus as soon as possible.”

“Leave!? There’s no way we can take off in this!” The pilot protested. “What we flew through to get here was a storm; what we’re in right now is a hurricane!

A car pulled up at the plane’s cargo ramp. Two people got out, struggling against the wind as they ran to, then up, the ramp and into the plane.

“Gene, I’ve got good news and bad news,” said Joeny. “The good news is that we’ve secured that mini-shuttle in one of the hardened hangars, so once this storm blows over we can have it shipped out to the KSC for inspection.”

“We also got the flight recorder data out of it along with audio and video footage from inside and outside during the descent,” added Wernher.

“The bad news is all aircraft, military and civilian, have been grounded by the Governor’s Office. Vice-Governor Marcus is holed up in a command bunker somewhere after some of his own troops- die-hard Dilgas loyalists it sounds like- opened fire on the Regional Parliament; it sounds like a significant part of Estovus’ military is either mutinying or trying to put down the mutiny; all the air forces are grounded by the storm, but if you tried to leave now there’s a chance of a rogue pilot taking off and chasing you.”

“That’s it- we’re leaving. Now.” The pilot stood and headed for the exit, followed somewhat reluctantly by his co-pilot who gave Gene an apologetic look as she passed by. There was an argument below as they climbed down the ladder to the deck of the hold, followed by someone stomping back up the ladder. Moments later Nat pushed into the cockpit, muttering darkly under her breath, and sat down in the pilot’s seat.

“Do it myself then, you cowardly-” a particularly loud roll of thunder drowned out the rest of that sentence, which was probably for the best.

“Do you even know how to fly this thing?” Wernher asked nervously.

“They’re all the same really- besides, I flew a VTHL SSTO to orbit and back, this’ll be a piece of cake.”

A huge bolt of lightning struck the control tower, knocking out most of the base’s lights. In the sudden darkness new light sources were revealed: hundreds, possibly even thousands, of people were massing at the perimeter gates trying to force their way in.

“Joeny, get your people somewhere safe; Nat, as soon as she’s clear get us in the air; Wernher, strap in and brace for some serious turbulence.” Gene wished he felt as confident as he sounded.

It took less than thirty seconds for Joeny to get back to the car along with the two pilots, then another fifteen seconds before they drove past the front of the plane and disappeared behind the nearest building. Nat started the engines and turned the plane around, heading towards the runway, when something hit one of the windscreens with a loud crack; at first they thought it was hail, but then they saw bright flashes over at the perimeter followed by more impacts and realised that they were under fire. The crowd at the gates had broken through and was now surging across the base towards them.

With no time to try and taxi to a runway, Nat lined up on the taxiway instead and gunned the engines well past their normal maximum thrust, trying to get enough airspeed to lift off before running out of tarmac, feet dancing on the rudder pedals to fight the crosswind trying to push them onto the grass and to an inevitable fiery crash. Against all odds the plane lifted off with metres to spare- then the nose dropped with a jolt and she barely managed to keep them airborne.

“What was that?” Gene asked, gripping the armrests with white knuckles.

“I think we snagged the perimeter fence with the landing gear,” Nat replied. “Hopefully we didn’t lose any wheels or bring any fenceposts with us.”

“Can we please go higher now?!” Gene yelped as they hurtled along at treetop height.

“I am going higher, we’re just flying uphill right now. Once we clear that ridgeline we should be OK.”

“Ridgeline!?”

A cairn made of small stones became a scattered mess of small stones in the jetwash as they just cleared the ridge, and then they were clear. Nat had to make a critical choice: fly higher into the storm clouds above, potentially exposing them to the full force of its power, but save fuel by cruising in the thinner air; or stay low, avoiding the worst of the storm but burning more fuel and leaving them vulnerable to downdrafts- and anyone who wanted to stop them.

She chose to stay low, knowing that the buffeting they were getting now would only get worse if they tried to climb through the clouds. Bolts of lightning lit up the sky like strobe lights; rain, sleet and hail battered against the windows and the skin of the plane in a continuous rattle, drowning out the engine noise; the artificial horizon never seemed to point straight for more than half a second at a time before veering to one side or the other as the wind howled around them.

Keeping the coast to their left, Nat flew north, then north-west towards the narrow isthmus that held Estovus’ largest island together. They skirted the easternmost edge of the mountains that Tina had had to avoid only a few days earlier

An alarm began sounding, but neither Nat nor Gene heard it over the relentless hail and rain battering the windows; it was accompanied by a flashing warning on the main navigation display, but neither of them looked saw that either.

The cause of the alarm was a relic of the plane’s military past- a radar warning system that had detected the tell-tale signals of a surface-based tracking radar pinging them. Aboard an Estovan Navy frigate sheltering in a harbour on the south side of the channel, the Azimuth was a bright dot flying low and fast over the water, defying the no-fly zone and any semblance of common sense in the process.

The message was relayed from the radar room to the bridge, then from there to the command bunker where Vice-Governor Marcus and his military chiefs were hunkered down, watching powerlessly as looting and violence spread in cities across the nation and significant numbers of their own forces abandoned their posts to join the rioters. The Chief of the Air Force asked permission to scramble an interceptor to try and make this rogue plane turn back and land, but Marcus denied the request- by now word of what had happened at Yeager Space Complex had reached them so there was no doubt what this plane was and who was on board so the potential ramifications of letting it go were immense, but the risk to any pilot who took off to intercept them was too high.

Unbeknownst to them, someone else in the bunker sent a message out to a friend who was a fighter pilot; that pilot slipped into a hangar, hopped into his EK-47 Gladius all-weather fighter and proceeded to put the “all-weather” part to the test by taxiing out to the runway and taking off, ignoring the frantic calls from the control tower ordering him to stop.

In the Azimuth’s cockpit, Nat and Gene still didn’t notice the radar warning alarm, nor did they notice when it changed to a higher-pitched and more insistent beeping as the detection system registered an active radar lock; but there was no ignoring the shrill klaxon and MISSILE LAUNCH in pulsing red letters on the primary display.

Nat reacted fast, throwing the plane into a dive then pulling up mere metres above the raging sea. Blinded by the chaotic radar reflections coming off the waves and the huge trails of spray kicked up by the Azimuth, the pursuing jet lost target tracking and the missile crashed harmlessly into the ocean. Undeterred, the pilot tried several different radar scan modes until he reacquired the target lock, then fired his only remaining radar-guided missile. The missile flew straight and true- for all of half a second before it nosedived straight into the sea.

Nat flew recklessly close to the coastline, dodging beaches and cliffs alike as she tried to break the radar lock. The pursuer followed suit, firing two heat-seeking missiles; Nat dodged one by diving behind a protruding headland while the missile crashed into it, while the other was distracted by a lightning-struck tree that was burning furiously despite the rain. Now out of missiles, the pursuing jet closed in to gun range and loosed a burst that sent tracers flying past Gene’s window.

“Everybody hold on!” Nat shouted, pulling up almost vertical. The pursuing jet copied the move, lined up for a gun burst that would chew the Azimuth’s left wing clean off- and fell for the classic jump-jet trick: Nat swivelled the two huge jet engines to vertical thrust, pushing the heavy jet “up” while causing it to slow down at an incredible rate; the fighter jet overshot, had to take evasive action to avoid a collision and flew directly through the powerful jetwash of the left engine. Almost immediately the pilot lost control as his left wing was pushed violently downwards, sending the plane into a spin just as it began to stall in its near-vertical climb; the jet went into a flat spin, completely out of control, the engines sputtering and dying as they were alternately starved and flooded with air and the fuel was pushed to the outsides of the tanks, severely limiting the supply to the engines.

Knowing he had very little room to catch the spin before hitting the water, the pilot tried desperately to recover, pulling hard on the controls and stamping on the rudder pedal while ramming the throttles wide open. The spin slowed, then stopped, his rate of descent began reducing as the nose came up above the horizon and the airspeed ticked up-

The radar warning in the cockpit of the Azimuth was abruptly silenced. For a moment, Martin thought he saw a fireball through the tiny window in the small side door of the cargo hold, but lost sight of it as Nat pulled them out of their own steep descent and kept flying due west.

Fifteen minutes later the hail had stopped, the rain was significantly lighter and the winds had died down considerably- and they were now outside of Estovus’ territorial waters and airspace. Nat began climbing, enduring several tense minutes of buffeting as they flew through the clouds, then they emerged into the clear night sky and the almost blinding light of the full Mun accompanied by multitudes of glittering stars.

They landed at the KSC seven hours later, the white walls of the VAB painted red by the sun rising behind them.

 

Next chapter: Chapter 18

Edited by jimmymcgoochie
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@jimmymcgoochie Welcome back and a happy new year to you :D Nice Chapter again and you let really do good work to let the "action-train" never stop :) I like i good old nice emergency evacuation from an airport before a rampaging mass storms it.... and i don´t think that rogue going pilot isn´t so far off the reality.

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  • 4 weeks later...
  • 3 months later...
Posted (edited)

It's taking (much) longer than expected to get the next chapter finished, but in the meantime here's a little something to keep you going.

 

Chapter 18 - The beginning of the end

“Today’s top headline: At least twenty are dead and over a hundred others injured after an armed mob breached the perimeter of Yeager Space Complex and opened fire, provoking a deadly response from the base’s military personnel; at least four soldiers are believed to have been injured, however the military is remaining tight-lipped about any casualties and communications in and out of Estovus are currently limited as Hurricane Camwise continues to batter the equatorial regions, disrupting power supplies and potentially severing undersea data cables.

In a related development, reports have confirmed that the Azimuth flying hospital, which left Yeager SC after taking fire and in defiance of the no-fly zone declared by Estovus Vice-Governor Marcus MacKerman, has arrived back at the Kerbin Space Centre with multiple Space Program personnel aboard, including Director Gene Kerman and astronaut Valentina Kerman, whose condition is still unknown following the destruction of the shuttle Dauntless in orbit and the dramatic events involving the late Governor Dilgas Kerman at Northill Hospital earlier today.

In other news, PayPass has joined the growing list of payment providers to block all transactions in ByteCoin following the wild fluctuations in the cryptocurrency’s value over the last week, thought to have been driven by the hacktivist group NullReferenceException-”

The TV abruptly went off, along with all the lights and the little heater above the door. Muttering darkly to himself, Desford left the cosy security hut and trudged towards the fuse box, pulling his flimsy jacket tighter against the cold wind.

Just as he thought, the breaker had tripped- again. It took both hands to force the lever back into the ON position and he briefly entertained the idea of duct-taping it in place before reluctantly concluding that his continued employment was more important.

On his way back to his nice warm hut, Desford stopped and looked at the ship anchored at the next berth along. Something about it looked wrong somehow, but he couldn’t quite figure out what. A sound from behind him made him spin around in alarm, but there was nothing there but shadows and a loose plastic bag blowing listlessly along the ground.

“You’re getting too old for this…” he muttered to himself, trudging back the way he had come moments earlier.

From a vantage point on top of a nearby warehouse building, Zero breathed a sigh of relief. The guard had been an unexpected complication, but no harm had been done. As soon as the guard turned a corner and disappeared from view, Beta emerged from the shadows and completed his exfiltration, disappearing into the night as Gamma and Delta had done moments earlier.

Over the next twenty minutes, Zero watched as the immense bulk carrier Zebulan Kerman sank ever lower into the water until water began pouring over the decks and into its cavernous holds, already almost full with over fifty thousand tons of coal. It hadn’t taken much to make it sink- opening the ballast valves and adding a few well-placed holes below the waterline had done the job- but it would take weeks to try and empty the ship so that it could be refloated and even longer to try and repair it; if it wasn’t just scrapped instead.

Zero remained in position as the mooring ropes that held the ship in place were strained to breaking point; some ropes broke, while others tore the mooring bitts out of the concrete. The sounds drew attention and soon the dock was swarming with people who could only watch helplessly as the huge ship came to rest on the harbour floor, only the top few levels of its superstructure remaining above the water. The ship’s crew were discovered inside a nearby shipping container on the dockside, many complaining of headaches and with prominent bumps on the backs of their heads but otherwise unharmed.

Zero was still there when the Children of Kaia released their latest video, claiming responsibility for the ship’s sinking and warning that more would follow until fossil fuels followed their ancient origins into the history books.

It barely even made the news. Those networks that covered the story tended to tack it onto the end of whatever they were saying about the ongoing Dauntless saga, an afterthought of little consequence rather than the headline news that the destruction of the world’s second-largest coal carrier should have been.

Any lingering doubts Zero had had were brushed away at that point. The old game, that Zero had been so adept at playing, was over; this was something new, with far higher stakes and far more dangerous.

And deep down, Zero knew it was a game the Children were going to lose.

 

Next chapter: Chapter 19

Edited by jimmymcgoochie
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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 3 months later...

It's taken a lot longer than I expected, but Chapter 19 is here at last!

Spoiler

This thread is quite old. Please consider starting a new thread rather than reviving this one.

No, I don't think I will...

Chapter 19 - The road to recovery

Tina woke up screaming, thrashing against the bedsheets that had tangled around her.

Martin quickly moved over and wrapped his arms around her, pinning her arms to her sides until the panic subsided and she stopped fighting; a technique he and Jeanette had developed after numerous bruises and scratches from Tina’s flailing limbs.

It had been nine days since their airborne escape from Estovus and they were all exhausted: the nightmare recurred every time Tina fell asleep, leaving her badly sleep-deprived and terrified of falling asleep as well; any time she did fall asleep, she invariably woke again within an hour screaming and thrashing, always with the same dream- floating over Jool, the appearance of the odd little moon Bop and the unspeakable terror that seemed to live on its surface- and at first requiring a change of bedding until they made the difficult decision to have her wear what amounted to an adult nappy to avoid ruining the sheets several times a day, a decision that merely added to Tina’s misery.

Martin and Jeanette were also beyond tired as both Tina and Sasha kept waking them at all hours of the day and night, wrecking their sleep patterns and leaving them short-tempered and irritable as a result; throw in Jeanette’s broken ankle, Martin’s bad back and jet lag all round and the whole family were close to breaking point.

“I’m sorry,” Tina whispered, but Martin shook his head.

“It’s not your fault, Tina. You have nothing to be sorry for.”

He helped her out of the bed and over to the bathroom then waited outside while she cleaned herself up in the shower, emerging about ten minutes later wearing a scratchy hospital dressing gown, matching scratchy hospital slippers and a plastic shower cap to cover the bandages that still covered her eyes.

“Better?” He asked.

“A bit,” she replied after a long delay, the words coming out only with a lot of effort.

Four days ago, Tina had completely lost the ability to speak. She could still think of the words to say but somewhere between her brain and her mouth they got lost, leaving her distraught for the twenty hours it had lasted; she had recovered slightly since then, but progress was slow and she struggled to say more than a couple of small words at one time. This difficulty had only added to Martin and Jeanette’s worries, yet another thing they wanted desperately to help her with but about which they could do nothing but watch.

“Hungry?”

Tina nodded and held her fingers up close together; then her stomach let out a loud rumble and the gap widened considerably.

“How about we get you dressed, then we can get some food, hmm?”

He waited outside the room while she got dressed and then they headed in the general direction of the hospital canteen, moving slowly as much because of Martin’s bad back as for Tina’s lack of balance; another symptom that was improving, but slowly.

They passed a small staff room where it sounded like Sasha was the star of the show. She spotted her sister and shouted “EEEAAA!”, arms out expectantly towards her, but Tina hesitated- they’d had barely any contact with each other since before the crash and on previous occasions Sasha had acted as though she was afraid of her. A bit of fatherly encouragement and Tina approached; Sasha leaned forwards, planted a big wet kiss on Tina’s cheek- and promptly lost interest in favour of one of the nurses who had bright blue hair, which of course she managed to grab a fistful of and found it very amusing as everyone tried to make her let go.

Tina’s stomach rumbled again, even louder than before.

“How about we get you some lunch?” Martin said to Tina. He looked at the clock on the wall and added: “If you can still call it lunch at eight, that is.”

They made their way down to the cafeteria on the ground floor and discovered that lunch was finished- but dinner was just starting.

“So, your options are: 1) lasagne, 2) leek and cheese quiche, 3) mushroom pie or 4) fish and chips.”

Tina held up a single finger.

“Good choice. Two lasagnes coming right up. Drink?”

“Water.”

They shuffled slowly along the line of food counters, collecting two plates of almost hot lasagne, two slices of slightly stale garlic bread, two empty plastic cups to fill up at the water cooler in a corner of the room, two sets of cutlery and a handful of paper napkins, then found a table to sit at. Tina ate slowly despite her stomach’s protests, more because she didn’t trust herself to not vomit it all back onto the plate than to enjoy the flavours of undercooked rubbery cheese, overcooked crunchy pasta sheets and bread that someone might have glanced at while holding a clove of garlic.

When Tina was done chasing the last few fragments of food around her plate, they stood and left the cafeteria, heading back to her room. Tina yawned in the lift, which set Martin off, which somehow turned into a “who can yawn in the most ridiculously exaggerated way” contest that Tina won hands down. Jeanette and Sasha were waiting outside the room and the parents swapped daughters and helped their respective charges into their pyjamas, something which neither offspring was particularly happy about.

Martin and Sasha came back into the room once Tina was in bed. To everyone’s surprise, Sasha immediately leaned forwards, arms outstretched, shouting “EEAA!” again and again insistently until Martin handed her over to Tina.

Sasha cuddled in between Tina’s body and right arm, with her head resting on Tina’s shoulder; Tina wrapped her arm around her, and she responded by grabbing her big sister’s thumb with her fingers. Within seconds both were fast asleep, and both slept soundly until the morning.

When Tina woke up, she felt different.

Part of it was because she’d slept through the night without a single reoccurrence of the nightmare, but that didn’t explain everything. Maybe Sasha had something to do with it? She was still there, lying on one side of the bed and still asleep (for now…), but how-

Oh.

“Well, look who’s finally awake.” Jeanette said. “Did you have a nice little nine-hour nap?”

Nine hours?!

“Typical teenager, lying in bed until lunchtime.”

Tina stuck her tongue out at her.

“Feeling any better?”

“Much.”

“Good- here’s hoping there are many more nights like it to come.”

Sasha woke up, blinking groggily.

“And sleepyhead number two is awake too.”

Mum moved to lift Sasha, then stopped.

“You appear to be leaking.”

Tina sighed. “Again.”

“I completely forgot about that. We should probably tell the doctors about that so they don’t get very confused; as long as you’re OK with that?”

Tina nodded.

“Good. I’ve put some clothes in the bathroom for you, once you’re dressed we can head down for some food.”

A quick shower and a change of clothes later Tina was ready to go for breakfast- or more likely brunch- but before they could head to the hospital cafeteria there was a knock at the door, which Mum opened to reveal a harried-looking doctor.

“Sorry for the intrusion,” he said, his voice betraying his stress. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m in a real hurry so I’m going to get straight to the point. Dr Frolie told me you have symp-lac, is that true?”

“Sorry, who are you?” Mum replied.

“Dr Geofdos, from the NICU. I’m only asking because you might be able to save my patients’ lives. Our entire supply of infant formula milk just got recalled because it may have been contaminated; we’re trying to get hold of some alternative supplies but there was already a shortage before this and now it’s proving nearly impossible to find any via the proper channels.

If you have any formula milk to spare, we’ll gladly take it, but what we really need is the real thing. There’s a pilot program due to start next munth, but the hospital board has given us permission to start it early and skip most of the red tape around recruiting extra people. If Frolie was right, you’d be a perfect candidate-”

“I’ll do it.”

“Are you sure?” Mum asked and Tina nodded.

“I, can…” The words weren’t coming, but then she realised they didn’t have to. “I can.”

“Sick and tired of being sick and tired?” She gave Tina’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “Go for it. I’ll probably come over there later myself.”

“Great!” Geofdos sounded relieved. “I’ll grab a wheelchair and we can get going- time is of the essence.”

Less than a minute later he was back, then he proceeded to wheel Tina through the hospital at what felt like blistering speed. She lost her sense of direction after the first turn, was convinced she went up in one lift, over a bridge of some sort (judging by the sounds of rain battering the windows and an ambulance that seemed to go directly under her) and then down again in a second lift immediately afterwards, and then they arrived in a place that was full of noise- children, medical equipment, irritatingly cheerful songs that could only be from TV shows aimed at children. Further down the corridor the sounds changed from young children to babies and toddlers.

“I think I’ll try you with one of our special patients. She’s small but very loud when she wants to be, and right now she’s right at the top of the priority list.”

They entered a room that smelt of babies and antiseptic, a rather unsettling combination. This room was much quieter, a lot less of the typical baby sounds and a lot more noises from medical equipment and machinery.

“This little one is incredibly lucky to be alive: her parents were in a horrendous car crash last week and her mother died shortly after we delivered her- but it was rather too soon for her. We still haven’t given her a name yet, so you can do that if you want- but there’s really no pressure,” he must have seen her worried frown at the thought of having so much responsibility.

They stopped beside what felt like a warm plastic box.

“Now, don’t take it personally if she starts screaming the moment you touch her, she does that to everyone.”

He guided her hands through a narrow opening in the side of the incubator to something incredibly small that started a thin, feeble wailing as soon as she touched it. Surely that can’t be a baby, it’s far too small!

But no, that was her: only just bigger than Tina’s hand and barely two hundred grams even including the little knitted hat keeping her head warm, this baby was absolutely tiny. She scooped her up carefully into her hands, moving very cautiously in case she somehow damaged this frail little thing, and all the while the baby kept up her feeble mewling.

“You’re allowed to breathe,” Geofdos said. “I’ll let Nurse Mauwig here help you get her in position and then we’ll see how she reacts.”

Just like with Sasha, Tina was irrationally surprised by how warm the little baby was against her skin. For a few moments she was unsure what to do, but then instinct kicked in and the baby responded, her cries silenced almost immediately. Geofdos and Mauwig exchanged incredulous looks.

“Wow.” Geofdos sounded genuinely impressed. “She always cries when anyone touches her. I’ll give it a minute to see if she stays settled, then I’ll need to move you to another room.”

Tina felt herself relaxing as the seconds ticked by.

“I think she’s happy now. I’ll move these two out to the waiting room, you can go and look for more volunteers,” said Mauwig.

“I’ll come back later to check on you, alright?” Geofdos said and Tina nodded. “If you need any help in the meantime, just shout- there are plenty of people around here to give you a hand.”

Mauwig wheeled Tina out of the antiseptic-smelling room, down a corridor and into a room with a TV playing in the corner, where she left them. There were other people in the room, but Tina quickly tuned their conversations out along with the noise of the TV; her awareness shrank down to the tiny life cradled in her arms and she lost track of her surroundings until she heard the name Valentina and tried to focus on her surroundings again.

Someone was channel-hopping, watching each channel for a few seconds before clicking over to the next.

“-promising a full investigation into the cause of the contamination, which police sources say is being treated as malicious-”

click

“-carries the momentum through the Hyperbolica and towards the line, what’s the time? It’s a one fifteen flat and that’s pole position!-”

click

“Can Thompberry’s dastardly plan be stopped!? Will our heroes make it in time!? Find out next time, on *thunderclap* THE SAGAAAA OF EMIKOOOOO STATION!ion!ion!

click

“-into the final furlong, Admiral Fluffy still has the lead but That’s The Last Time I Eat Picked Eggs is gaining and Who Invited This Guy puts on a burst of speed and it’s a three-way race at this point can Admiral Fluffy hold on-”

click

“Wait, go back!” A child’s voice interrupted the channel surfing.

click

“-photo finish because that was too close to call-”

click

“-as we begin IntAir Flight 2319’s Countdown to Catastrophe-”

click

“Nevergonna Give! You! Uuuuup! Nevergonna-”

click(!)

“-and Governor-Elect Harvey have both appealed for calm after another night of violent protests across Estovus-”

click

“-faster in the first sector, faster in the second- OH! Big crash ahead and it’s Arcazon who’s gone into the barriers!”

“No, no! Put Emiko Station on!” The child piped up again.

“I want Peppy the Plane!” Another child said.

“Emiko!”

“Peppy!”

“EMIKO!!!”

“PEPPY!!!”

“Enough shouting, you’ll scare the babies.” Someone else (their parent maybe?) interrupted the shouting match.

“She started it!”

“Did not!”

“Did too!”

“Nuh-UH!”

“Uh-HUH!!”

“NUH-UH!!!”

I’ve seen a political debate a lot like this, Tina thought to herself.

“Look at that- it’s six o’clock! You know what that means…”

“Lunch time!” The children chorused, their argument of moments earlier forgotten already.

“What’ll we have then? We could have… soup?”

“Soup time!”

“We could have… sandwiches?”

“Sammiches time!”

“We could have… broccoli?”

Tina heard a door close, cutting off the exaggerated vomiting sounds and leaving her with just the TV and the sound of a dozen adverts- an eclectic mix of hearing aids, over-50s life insurance, a commemorative coin for some historic battle or other, two sets of sports trading cards, a multi-platform MMORPG game and a very shouty used car salesman with an annoyingly catchy jingle.

She could hum the jingle perfectly well, but words still eluded her. Weird.

The baby started whimpering and for a moment Tina was lost- did that mean she was finished, or needed winded, or something else? Her left arm was going dead just because of the way she was holding her so it would probably be a good idea to move her, but at the same time she didn’t want to disturb her and make her start crying, which would probably make them take her away, which made her feel strangely protective of this little baby she’d only just met five minutes ago. It was an odd experience, but not unpleasant- far from it.

“How are you getting on?” Doctor Geofdos asked from behind her as he entered the room.

“Good. Um…”

“Need a hand?” He must have sensed her discomfort. “Trying to figure out the logistics but not quite sure where to start?”

Tina nodded, relieved. Geofdos came over and talked her through how to move the baby from one arm to the other.

“Have you given her a name? Don’t worry if you haven’t, you really don’t have to-“

“Emiko.”

Where did that come from?

“Emiko? Sounds familiar, but I can’t quite remember why. Alright then.”

Tina tried to say something, anything, to take back that terrible suggestion, but her words just wouldn’t travel from her brain to her mouth.

“I’ll leave you and Emiko in peace, just holler if you need anything.”

Great. Now you’ve gone and ruined this poor baby’s life by naming her after a TV show you haven’t even seen. Nice work.

Time passed, people came and went, the TV kept up its incessant background noise- and that stupid jingle kept coming back, burning itself into her brain.

Stupid shouty car man and his stupid catchy jingle.

A smell began wafting up from the baby’s direction, but just when she started to worry about that particular issue someone else in the room noticed and waved a nurse over, who whisked ‘Emiko’ away and returned her a few minutes later, clean, un-smelly and screaming her outrage at being so rudely separated from her new best friend. She soon calmed down again and even fell asleep right there in Tina’s arms.

Someone had turned the TV off and the room was quiet…

She woke up with a start, causing Emiko to start whimpering until she shushed her back to sleep. Someone had propped a cushion behind her head; thanks, whoever you are.

“EEEAAA!” Sasha shouted the moment she saw her.

“How are you doing?” Mum asked moments later, sitting down beside her.

“Emiko.”

Stop saying that before it sticks!

‘Emiko’ made a noise and Sasha reacted in almost comical surprise, looking around to see where it had come from.

“I talked to Doctor Geofdos outside, apparently you’re some sort of baby whisperer. Can we see her?”

“Sure.” She thought for a moment. “How…?”

“I’ll get her.” Mum understood exactly what she meant. She came over and expertly scooped the little baby out of Tina’s arms. “Well, look at you! Aren’t you just the cutest little thing? Too bright? Maybe that’s why you were happy in there with Tina, hmm? Shh, there now, that’s better.”

Sasha clambered onto Tina, her greater size and weight coming as a shock. Mum sat down beside her again and Sasha was immediately transfixed by the sight of the tiny baby in her arms. She reached over and-

“Ah ah, no!” Mum warned her and she retreated. “We don’t want you getting sick, now do we Emiko?”

“…ee-oh?” Sasha repeated the unfamiliar word.

“Yes, her name is E-mi-ko.”

“Ee-oh!”

Tina sighed. Looks like that name has stuck. Stupid TV. And stupid brain for not letting her talk properly.

She stayed with ‘Emiko’ almost until midnight, until she almost fell asleep in the chair whilst sitting beside her little incubator and had to leave to go to bed. Despite some trepidation from Tina- and her parents- the nightmares stayed away again and she woke the next morning feeling more refreshed than at any time since her impromptu trip to space.

Every day she went back, and every day she became more and more convinced that little Emiko recognised her, cooing happily when she came each morning and crying bitterly if she ever left. She liked to curl up with her head resting on the top of Tina’s sternum, under her T-shirt where it was dark, warm and she could feel Tina’s heartbeat, and would usually fall asleep there. There was always someone on hand to help out with all those baby-related tasks that are so much easier when you can see what you’re doing, but they were always patient and helped Tina do much of the work herself, something that helped her own mood almost as much as it helped keep Emiko calm.

After five days Geofdos was thrilled by little Emiko’s improvement: she was gaining weight, her breathing was much stronger and she could now tolerate being picked up for short periods without crying, though she still greatly preferred Tina’s company. Tina’s condition also improved as her speech gradually returned and her sleep pattern returned to normal, untroubled by nightmares.

On the sixth day Dr Suzon, an ophthalmic surgeon, arrived to perform the first of several surgical operations to restore Tina’s sight. She explained the procedure’s objectives and the potential risks, but despite her reassurances Tina barely slept that night as her mind tried to think of all the worst-case scenarios and then combine them in new and awful ways.

It was rather anticlimactic in the end, over within an hour with no problems or complications and the reassuring news that her right eye had sustained less damage than initially thought and was healing faster than predicted. One more operation in a few days’ time and she would probably be able to see again, though it would take a while longer to be able to read.

Still groggy from the anaesthetic, she spent most of the day asleep, waking at just after 7 o’clock and immediately feeling irrationally guilty for abandoning little Emiko for that long. Worse still, she wasn’t allowed in to see her to prevent any residual anaesthetic still in her system from potentially harming Emiko.

She was over there first thing the next morning though; well, second thing after breakfast, but that goes without saying.

About half an hour later, Dad arrived with someone else behind him.

“You have a visitor.”

“Who is it?” Tina asked.

“It’s Nat,” said Nat.

“Na-ta-li-a.” Tina was frustrated by how long it took her to say that simple word.

“They told me you’re having some trouble talking.”

Tina nodded.

“Words are… they get lost. It’s…” Come on, mouth, get it together! “Getting better. Slowly.”

“That’s good to hear. How about your eyes?”

“This one…” She pointed at her right eye and made a so-so gesture with her hand. “It should work soon. The other,” she gave a thumbs down. “They want to give me a, a…”

“A camera they took right out of a smartphone and made into a bionic eye,” Dad joked to fill the silence. “I keep telling her they won’t include the flash, but she won’t listen.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Martin.” Nat replied. “They’ll give her one with a built-in heads-up display, thermal imaging, gyroscopic stabilisers…”

“Eye roll.” Said Tina.

“Did you just say ‘eye roll’?” Nat asked.

“Well, I can’t do it, so I say it instead.”

“And she says it a lot.” Added Dad. “Along with ‘sidelong look’, ‘confused blinking’ and her most popular one, ‘blank stare’.”

“How’s Val?” Tina asked.

“She’s hanging in there. They keep tweaking her life support to see how she responds, so she has good days and bad days, but they’re happy with her progress so far.”

“But how is she?”

Nat sighed.

“They’re pretty sure her spinal cord is severed in at least two places, possibly three. She’s missing her right kidney, her left spleen, just under half her liver and they’re also worried about internal bruising, hypoxic brain injuries…” She sighed again. “But she’ll get through it. I know she will- she’s too stubborn to let this beat her.”

“How about you?” Martin asked.

“Oh, tired, stressed and still hoping that this is all a cheese-fuelled nightmare that I’ll wake up from at any moment. They keep telling me that stress is bad for the baby, but I just tell them that almost getting murdered is a whole lot worse and I’ve got plenty of things to be stressed about. My doctor said I should try a massage; I lasted about two minutes before I nearly broke the poor girl’s fingers and that slightly spoiled the mood.”

“Hey, Nat. How are you?” Jeanette said as she came into the room, nudging Sasha along with one of her crutches to keep her moving. Nat ducked down to say hello, but Sasha completely blanked her and crawled over to Tina’s leg where she sat tugging insistently on her trouser leg saying “EE-OH!” repeatedly.

“OK, OK, she’s here.” Tina said as she brought Emiko out into the light. Emiko wasn’t happy about it, but for once she didn’t start crying.

“So this is the little friend Martin was telling me about,” said Nat. “Aren’t you a cutie? Can I...?”

“She’ll cry,” Tina warned her. “She cries for everyone else but me.” She handed her over to Nat and within a few seconds Emiko’s lower lip started trembling.

“Shh, it’s OK, it’s only me.” Nat tried to comfort her. “You are just the sweetest little thing, aren’t- oof, right in the pancreas. And watch those elbows, will you?”

“I know the feeling,” said Jeanette. “The last two munths with Sasha, it felt like she was trying to punch her way out, plus she got hiccups every night just when I was about to go to sleep.”

Nat’s phone rang, which was enough to set Emiko crying; Nat handed her back to Tina and rummaged in her bag to find the phone.

“Hello?” Martin and Jeanette watched as Nat’s face changed from worry to something more like exasperation. “Another one? Tell them what we told the others and send them on their way.” She hung up and sighed.

“What’s that about?” Martin asked.

“You haven’t heard? Apparently that ‘Me-nome’ company had a massive database failure that meant a lot of people’s results got sent to the wrong people. I’ve had six- seven, now- people turn up claiming to be Val’s long-lost relative.”

The look that passed between Martin and Jeanette spoke volumes.

“Did I miss something?” Nat asked.

“You look like you need a coffee,” Martin said. “My treat.”

“Actually, I…” Nat started to object, then realised what he meant. “I’d love a coffee, thanks.”

“Jeanie, you coming?”

“Only if tea’s on the menu.” Jeanette replied, scooping Sasha off the floor and carrying her squirming and protesting out of the room.

Tina hadn’t been paying attention to the conversation and didn’t realise they were leaving until after they were gone. Emiko had stopped crying and possibly fallen asleep, but there was no way for her to tell without waking her up again.

A man entered the room with two children (Tina assumed they were his), one of them sobbing quietly. They sat down in the same row of chairs that Tina was sitting on, but the other child quickly got bored and started wandering around the room.

“Don’t touch it,” the man said.

“But it hurts,” the crying child replied.

“I know it hurts, but if you keep poking it, it’ll just hurt for longer.”

“But it hurts now…”

“Will chocolate make it hurt less?”

“Uh-huh…”

Tina couldn’t help smiling at that. The crinkling chocolate wrapper immediately attracted the other child’s attention and they trotted over.

“No, Dillon, this is for your sister.”

“But I’m sick too!” Dillon protested, letting out a very fake cough that fooled nobody.

“Lizzy, can Dillon have one of your chocolate buttons?”

“Hmm…”

“Pleeeeeeeease?”

“OK.”

“What do you say?”

“Thank you, Lizzy.”

“Good lad- I said one, Dillon!”

“They were stuck together, it’s not my fault!”

“Ah, the old ‘they were stuck together’ chestnut, like I haven’t heard that one before.”

Tina heard footsteps running from one side of the room to the other, then returning and stopping in front of her.

“Hello.”

“Hi?” Tina couldn’t tell if he was talking to her or not.

“What happened to your face?”

“Dillon!”

“What? You always say, ‘If you don’t understand something, ask’, so I asked.”

Tina laughed and the father let out a sigh that was more amusement than annoyance.

“Oh, you’re your father’s son, all right. Sorry about that.”

Tina was about to reply when a doctor came into the room and said, “OK, Lizzy, it’s time for your X-ray.” Lizzy started crying again, Dillon asked “What’s an X-ray? Can I have one too?” and then they were gone and Tina was alone with Emiko once more.

A while later, Mum, Dad and Nat came back.

“If you’re feeling up to it, Darryl wants to come and see you tomorrow,” said Mum.

“Who?”

“Darryl.”

“Who?”

“Darryl.”

“Just repeating the same name to me won’t magically make me know who it is.” Tina snapped. She sat for a moment surprised at what she had just said, then burst into tears, a strange experience with one eye half-missing and both eyes covered with bandages.

Mum and Dad sat down on either side of her, Mum scooping little Emiko into her arms so she could lean into Dad and sob into his shoulder.

“Tell your old Dad what’s wrong, hmm?” Said Dad.

“I’m broken,” she choked out.

“Broken?”

“I can’t see, I can’t speak, I can’t stand without feeling like I’m about to fall over, I couldn’t even sleep for weeks, I can’t think straight half the time, I just…”

Dad tried to reassure her.

“Val is alive because of you. Nat is alive because of you. Emiko is alive because of you.”

“She’s named after a TV show because I couldn’t talk properly!”

“You’re looking at this all wrong, Tina,” said Nat.

“You got launched into space with zero warning, performed an impossible EVA rescue with no training and no real plan, flew an unstable prototype shuttle through a hard re-entry, pulled more negative Gs than anyone in history with re-entry plasma blasting through the windows right into your face, landed that shuttle in the ocean, nearly drowned trying to drag Val out as the shuttle sank, shrugged off brain haemorrhages like they were nothing, woke up from an induced coma, got shot in the face… did I forget anything?”

“There was that fighter plane that tried to shoot us down,” said Martin.

“That was more me than her, but fine. After all of that, you’re still here, you’re still living and breathing, walking and talking- and yes, you’re not doing all of those things as well as you used to, but considering you should have died about twenty times over I’d say you’re doing fantastic.”

“Easy for you to say,” Tina replied, but it was clear Nat’s words had had an effect.

“The entire world knows what you did up there, Tina. You’re a hero in the eyes of billions of people.”

“A bit of an exaggeration,” said Mum.

“No, really. All the newspapers and TV stations are arguing about pretty much everything except for the fact that Tina is absolutely and unquestionably the bravest person on the entire planet, bar none.”

“I was literally scared- uh, witless, the moment that airlock door opened and I barely avoided projectile vomiting across the helmet visor the whole time. Sound ‘brave’ to you?”

“The first time I flew on a Dynawing, I tossed my guts up in the van driving out to the pad and they had to turn back to get new pressure suits for the entire crew. Actually, that was the first time I ever flew with Val, she was commanding that mission. She probably has all kinds of stories to tell about the early days when she did the first EVA by anyone, ever…”

She took a rather shaky breath.

“Sorry, it just sneaks up on me sometimes. My point is, bravery isn’t not being afraid, it’s overcoming that fear. So maybe you were scared witless and maybe you only just kept your breakfast from spattering across the inside of your helmet, but you still did the most ridiculously dangerous and difficult EVA in the history of spaceflight and brought Val back with you.

 

“All I ever wanted was to go to space, to be like Val; but now that I’ve actually been up there… I don’t know that I could ever do that again. Or that they’d even let me, because let’s face it, I’ll probably never pass the medical tests with a missing eye and a leaky brain. If that’s gone, then what?”

“Are you kidding me?” Dad replied. “Johnbro and Desdas practically hired you on the spot on the flight back from Darude, never mind all the other companies that would be climbing over each other to give you a job.”

Nat joined in.

“If that nuclear engine on the Firebird was anything to go by, they could turn that into a plane that could fly continuously for munths at a time- just imagine what that could do if you dropped one into the atmosphere of Eve, or Jool, or Huygen. Or use the original engine you designed to fly around on Laythe with an ISRU system to make the methane.”

“Or adapt the technology to something right here on Kerbin,” added Mum. “Hydroelectric turbines, more efficient jet engines on planes, propulsion systems for ships- is she sleeping?”

“I think she is,” replied Martin, looking down at the head resting on his shoulder. “Pass me that cushion and we’ll leave her in peace.

***

This again.

Jool below her, Bop before her, but this time Sasha was strapped to the front of her in the baby carrier thingy.

The moon closed in, the monster on its surface reared up-

And oh so gently reached out a tentacle the size of a skyscraper to just in front of Sasha, who oh so gently grasped it with both hands and planted a little kiss on the tentacle’s tip.

When she woke up, both the dream and all memories of the nightmares before it were gone as if they’d never happened.

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On 10/1/2022 at 4:11 PM, jimmymcgoochie said:

“-into the final furlong, Admiral Fluffy still has the lead but That’s The Last Time I Eat Picked Eggs is gaining and Who Invited This Guy puts on a burst of speed and it’s a three-way race at this point can Admiral Fluffy hold on-”

 

wait a minute

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