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Network Effect - A KSP Story [Ch2 - Wündertech]


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Been working on this one for a while, ever since I got the inspiration from the classic FTL Drive mod. So without further ado, I present:


Network Effect
Prologue - The Loophole

Wernher von Kerman cruised up to the gates of the Kerbal Space Corporation’s launch center in his rickety sedan. The automated security scanner flickered over his car, matched up his access codes, and allowed him through without a word. He let out a barely audible sigh as he swerved into the closest parking spot.
 

His hand hovered over the door handle. Pulling it would mean yet another day of pointless corporate “science,” researching trite ways to squeeze a few more percent of payload efficiency out of the tired old sat-lifter designs that KSC vehemently refused to overhaul. Endless tweaking of the same few dozen engine models, hoping against hope that this change or that might marginally improve their specific impulse or thrust. 
 

It wasn’t supposed to be this way… once, he and his team had been at the forefront of the United Kerbal State’s space race effort, racing along the bleeding edge of research and development. It was he who brought the nation’s extraplanetary ambitions from exploding trashcans with one open end to satellites, stations, and kerbed landings on the Mun. Back then, their expansion out into the untamed worlds of the System had felt like a guarantee, as certain as the sun rising in the morning.
 

Then came the falling public interest, the budget cuts, the privatizations… the stars receded, becoming as cold and distant as they had always been. The UKSR, their rival in the space race, had grown brittle and shattered. The Kerbal Space Center became the Kerbal Space Corporation, seemingly destined to do nothing more exciting than launch commercial satellites into LKO. Any grander voyages were decades off, even with the strides bigger companies like Space-K were making.
 

Why bother? He could retire now, live comfortably for his few remaining years. Never have to touch a lab table again.
 

But no. He couldn’t. There was always that little voice in the back of his head, reminding him of the ever-present chance that he could accomplish something meaningful with his time.
 

Wernher shook his head, popped open the door, and headed towards the R&D facility.
 

# # #
 

The first indication that something was amiss hit him immediately after he opened the door. The normally sedate atmosphere of the facility was practically buzzing with energy. Underpaid, overcaffeinated interns were zipping through the halls, visible only as green blurs if you didn’t focus on them. Voices poured out of the PA, with dozens of kerbals competing for dominance of the lone channel. Wernher adjusted his glasses and dived into the roiling tide, scanning left and right for familiar faces. The first few labs he entered - usually the busiest ones, dedicated to propulsion research - were abandoned, with only a few scattered experiments to suggest that the occupants had left in a hurry.
 

At an intersection, he took a left down the skywalk into the engineering department, only to narrowly avoid colliding with Bill Kerman as he emerged from a conference room.
 

“Wernher, where have you been?!” he exclaimed before Wernher had even regained his balance. “We’ve been trying to raise you all morning, but everything bounced!”
 

Wernher groaned. He had muted his hand terminal in a fit of early morning fog. “Sorry, Bill… technical issues.”
 

“Never mind that, man, we gotta get you to the high-energy labs!” Bill grabbed Wernher by the shoulders and steered them both in the opposite direction.
 

“The high-energy labs? What could possibly be going on there? They’ve been getting by on pocket change for the past decade!”
 

“Look, that didn’t matter! They’ve stumbled across something, something big. I can’t tell you more out in the open like this, but this is game-changing historical stuff.”
 

“How game changing?” ventured Wernher.
 

Bill stopped and looked him dead in the eye. “You know that interplanetary future you keep pining for?”
 

Wernher blinked. “Which lab?”
 

# # #


Wernher stepped into high-energy lab number two, directly behind Bill, and locked the door behind him. The lights were dimmed, and a small crowd was gathered around windows looking into a vacuum chamber. Inside, a jumble of electronics and some other technological bits he didn’t recognize sat on a test bench.
 

Off to the side, one of the brains in charge - Meisner - was sitting at a control panel. It was covered in blinking readouts, graphs, and status reports, all competing for visual dominance. Wernher’s eyes ached just from glancing at it. He looked away and elbowed his way into a prime viewing spot.
 

“So, what exactly am I looking for?” He whispered to Bill.
 

“Trust me, it’ll be obvious. Oh, they’re starting!”
 

Meisner switched on his headset and began to speak to no one in particular. “Beginning test number… four, on my mark.” The contraption on the test bed flared to life, dozens of scattered LED lights blinking on in unison. Two bands of hastily-shaped scrap metal embedded in the middle began to spin up in opposite directions, generating the occasional burst of sparks that arced strangely through the airless chamber.
 

Wernher looked around and noted that the lights, already dim, had gone out completely. Some incoherent screaming from an adjacent lab suggested the effect wasn’t limited to their immediate surroundings. The… thing in the vacuum chamber was clearly drawing massive amounts of power.
 

“Mark,” intoned Meisner. “Beginning sequence.” The spinning bands accelerated, their rust and pockmarks becoming barely-visible streaks. Sparks flew in a continuous stream, and Wernher heard the harsh pop of fuses blowing somewhere nearby. He leaned in close. What exactly was this thing supposed to d-
 

He was cut short by a blinding flash of light, forcing him to involuntarily shield his eyes. Had it exploded? No, he was very much unhurt, and there had been no “big kaboom,” as the kerbonauts from the glory days would have called it. He blinked away the spots in his vision, looked back into the chamber, and blinked again. 
 

The mystery machine had cleanly vanished, leaving nary a scorch mark or stray bolt - the only mark it left was a semi-spherical divot that had been magically carved into the bench. “Bill, what the hell did I just see?” hissed Wernher.
 

“It’s kind of a long story,” replied Bill.

“Just give me the cliff notes version, then.”

 

“Well… from what I can tell, Meisner’s team was working with their miniature particle guns, and accidentally discovered something. He calls it a ‘loophole in the universe.’ With the right mechanism, you can exploit it to remove mass from one location in space and instantly re-insert it at another, regardless of distance.”
 

Wernher let out a meep and resisted the urge to fidget with his glasses. “So what you’re telling me is that they’ve invented faster-than-light travel… using fifteen year old equipment and a budget smaller than the average kerbal’s childhood allowance.”
 

“That’s exactly what I’m saying. Although there’s still a few kinks they have to iron out… something about catastrophic molecular decomposition and unpredictable end states. Definitely not ready for store shelves, but give them a few days.”
 

Mein gott,” said Wernher. “Are you dense, Bill? Lock the doors, put the local net into restricted mode. No kerbals or data will enter or leave this building until I say otherwise!”
 

“Woah, woah, Wernher, what are you doing? This may be a big deal, but we don’t need to lock down over it!”
 

“Just do it! This is the biggest revolution in transportation since our ancestors turned their roots into legs. The last thing we need right now is this news getting out, followed immediately by half of the country beating down our gate!”

Bill jumped, startled by the sudden outburst. “Y-yep, I’ll go take care of it right away. What are you going to do?”
 

“I’ve got some important calls to make,” he yelled back, already headed for the hallway. “The President, for starters. Followed by some old friends of ours.”
 

“The P-p-president?” he stuttered, but Wernher was already gone. Bill gulped and hurried off to the server room.
 

None of them realized it yet, but the fate of Kerbin and its inhabitants had been forever changed. The System was open now, the vast distance between the planets reduced to a mere statistic in this post-relativity world. 
 

And it was going to be the biggest, bloodiest gold-fueled colonial rush anyone had ever seen.

 

# # #

 

And that's the prologue! I'm almost done with the first chapter as well. In the meantime, constructive criticism is much appreciated - this'll be my first real shot at a proper long-form story.

Edited by OutInSpace
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Alright, here's chapter one - or the first part of it, at any rate! I don't want to try and squeeze too much into these posts, so I'll be chunking up each chapter and posting them in sequence after they're edited.

Chapter One - Roundup

Things began to move very quickly after that fateful morning test in the R&D facility. While Bill locked down the center and worked tirelessly to quell the confused mob of interns and underlings, Wernher had smashed up through the UKS’s chain of command and gotten his hands on a direct link to President Leon’s office in record time.
 

Leon, for his part, was not biting. “The KSC?” He shuffled through a pile of papers that an aide had dumped onto his desk. “The center of the national space program before it was privatized under the ESR Acts? That KSC?”

 

“The very same,” said Wernher. He leaned into the camera for effect. “Mister President, I was - I am - the director of research and development here. I was the one who oversaw practically every technological achievement of the Kerpollo missions.”

 

He was about to continue, but Leon interjected. “Yes, that’s very nice, but what the hell do you want? I had five of my staff practically shoving this link down my throat, and right now all I’m hearing is you bragging!” Wernher froze, his mouth half-open. He had a point. “You’ve got thirty seconds to give me a good reason to not drop this call,” he continued. “Starting now.”

 

Wernher sat bolt upright and looked straight into the lens. “Sir, a team at my facility has discovered faster-than-light travel. I’m here to request that you exercise your ability to re-nationalize the KSC as described in section nineteen of the Miles-Aerith Act.”

 

Leon frantically typed something into his computer. After a few seconds, he responded. “What? I’d hardly classify you as an entity crucial in maintaining national interests and secu - actually, no back up - did you say faster than light?”

 

“Yes, faster than light. I assure you I’m serious. And as for Miles-Aerith, we most definitely qualify now.”

 

“Oh, for... just cut to the chase!”

 

“Fine, I’ll be blunt. If you don’t take charge, it’ll only be a matter of time before some weasel sells this technology to our more ambitious global rivals. Then, while we’re busy trying to convince our doddering shareholders to give us two centi-roots to rub together for a probe launch, they’ll be colonizing the System for themselves. They’ll have all the resources and all the power that comes with domination of space, and we’ll be permanently stuck down here under a microscope.”

 

Now it was Leon’s turn to be startled. Wernher could almost see the gears turning in his head. The UKS used to have reams of plans for extraterrestrial expansion, but they had all fallen under the harsh light of budget cuts. Once upon a time, though, those plans had spoken of riches and power not unlike what Wernher was describing.

 

“Dammit, you’re right,” Leon conceded. “Alright, let’s say I bring the KSC back into the fold. What’s your plan after that?”

 

Wernher smirked. “I’m glad you asked.” He swiped a handful of personnel dossiers into Leon’s presidential inbox. “First, I’m going to need to reel in some people I used to know...”

 

# # #

 

Several hours later and halfway across the continent, Valentina “Val” Kerman was cackling madly as she swooped through the air three kilometers above the ground. The shiny synthetic fabric of her parachute whipped and billowed in the roaring wind, keeping her aloft despite gravity’s best attempts to pull her down. The supervisor back on the plane was yelling through her earpiece, but she was far too excited to pay him any mind.

 

With a twitch of her arms, she banked tightly and swooped over the top of a mountain, close enough to see the individual alpine flowers growing out of cracks in the rock. Her earpiece yelped in alarm, but she deftly swooped around a few outcrops and continued her flight without a scratch. The supervisor muttered something in a defeated tone and the line went dead, leaving Val alone with the wind and her thoughts. 

 

She banked again and flew towards one of Kerbin’s many lush grasslands. After tweaking her chute slightly to hold her on a steady and level course, she relaxed and looked up to take in the view. The endless fields and that deep pastel-blue sky were spread out before her, only interrupted by the occasional errant cloud and the Mun hovering over the horizon.

 

The Mun. She had been up there, once, fifteen years ago and twelve million meters away from home, with only a few centimeters of metal between her and the cold, silent nothingness. She had been the first Kerbal, alongside Jebediah, to reach out and walk on another world. For a few fleeting seconds, her mind rewound back to that fateful day.

 

“Pitching to retrograde. Distance to contact… five thousand meters. Jeb, what’s the word on the touchdown program?”   

 

She couldn’t see it, but she could hear Jeb punch several of the thick mechanical buttons that controlled the lander’s computer systems. A chime sounded, and he responded. “Program is running. Sensors are… shaky but working. Braking jets hot.”

 

“Okay… but keep your hands on the controls. If the sensors fail, you’re the only kerbal for several thousand klicks who can bring us down safely on manual.”

 

“Hey Valentina, you’re a pilot too, remember?”

 

“I specialize in orbital maneuvers. They pulled you out of the cockpit of a prototype fighter and into a lander sim.”

 

“Point taken. Status on your end?”

 

She glanced up at the readout. “Distance to contact is now four thousand meters. We should begin our suicide burn in about thirty-eight-point-two seconds. Oh, and before I forget…” She flipped a hefty toggle switch on the console and was rewarded by the mechanical chunk-chunk-chunk of landing legs deploying.

 

The remaining thirty-six seconds to the burn passed in tense silence, with both kerbonauts focusing intensely on their tasks.

 

Then the computer buzzed, and the engines roared to life, pushing them into their seats. The velocity meter on Val’s console ticked down, down, down, headed towards zero - until the engines suddenly cut. The computer let out a solitary angry beep.

   

“Jeb! The jets!”

 

“Radar altimeter is offline! Cables must’ve finally snapped from the acceleration!”

 

He lurched forwards and slammed the throttle wide open, shoving them back down. Val glanced at the altitude readout, but it was reading all zeroes. They were flying partially blind; everything now rested on exactly how much margin they had lost during the few seconds the engines were off.

 

The answer came a few seconds later in the form of a sickening crunch as the landing legs bounced off the Munar terrain. Not enough speed to kill them, but too much for a nice soft touchdown. The little lander bounced and span back up into the vacuum, rattling the two kerbals inside and forcing the engines to flame out from ullage. Val turned her head and saw the Munar regolith sliding by in the front window.

 

The front window. They were horizontal. That was definitely not good. Time slowed down, and she desperately tried to work the situation, fitting it into the frame of an orbital maneuver. She grabbed the RCS sticks and jerked the reaction wheel to bring them back to retrograde. A few hard taps on the thrusters killed their lateral velocity. Another orientation change and a short burn later, and the landing legs jolted against the terrain before softly settling into the fine Munar dust. Val let go of the sticks and collapsed back into her seat with a pained wheeze.

 

“Holy - Val, you just - what -“

 

“Jeb, please just let me have my panic attack in peace.”

 

Val snapped back to the present, where she was still lethargically gliding through Kerbin’s sky, staring up at the distant Mun. Oh, how she missed those glory days. Now she was stuck trying to fill the void with bland kerrestrial thrill-seeking that could never possibly live up to those moments out there. 

 

She shook her head in a futile attempt to clear the thoughts from her mind, and angled into a spiraling descent towards an unimportant patch of field far below. She had places to be, after all - a job to work, chores to attend to, and all the other usual culprits.

 

As the ground grew steadily beneath her, however, something out of the ordinary happened. An aircraft zipped by a few kilometers away, coming from the same direction as the mountaintop she had buzzed. It was clearly a high-grade supersonic jet, with four afterburning engines and delta wings. As she watched, it turned around in a tight curve, flared, and came to a smooth landing not far from where she was going to touch down.

 

Intrigued, she steepened her descent and soon came to a running halt right next to the jet. She was still dusting off her jumpsuit when the cockpit door swung open, disgorging a thin mechanized staircase and two kerbals in black suits and sunglasses.

 

“Valentina Kerman?” one of them said in a deadpan tone.

 

“Yeah, that’s me… wait, how did you know I’d be here?” She shied away from him involuntarily.  “And what do you want?”

 

“Unfortunately, I’m told that our reasons for collecting you are on a strictly need-to-know basis. Now, I’m going to ask you to come with us… or should we do this the hard way?”

 

Val gulped.

 

# # #

 

Edited by OutInSpace
Corrections ;)
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17 hours ago, OutInSpace said:

“Fine, I’ll be blunt. If you don’t take charge, it’ll only be a matter of time before some weasel sells this technology to our more ambitious global rivals. Then, while we’re busy trying to convince our doddering shareholders to give us two centi-roots to rub together for a probe launch, they’ll be colonizing the System for themselves. They’ll have all the resources and all the power that comes with domination of space, and we’ll be permanently stuck down here under a microscope.”

:0.0::sticktongue: Yes. This is definitely a story worth keeping an eye on.

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Glad to see people are enjoying the story! And don't worry, I'll be keeping it coming all the way through to the end - I've got the whole plot outlined ;)
Anyways, here's part two of chapter one!

Chapter One - Roundup II

A few hours later and a ways away, Jebediah “Jeb” Kerman was in the process of getting into a bar fight. He wasn’t exactly sure how it had started; his mind was too addled by drink for that to be possible. All he remembered was his third shot of the night, some snide comments from the kerbal sitting next to him at the bar counter, his vulgar response… and now they were both on their feet, ready to throw punches. 

 

The other kerbal grabbed an empty beer bottle off the counter and held it by the neck, waving it threateningly in Jeb’s general direction. “What did you say about me, you washed-up spaceship jockey?!” The other patrons murmured and turned to watch the show; someone called out for bets on the winner.

 

Jeb shrugged. “I meant what I said. Got a problem with that?”

 

“Wrong move, bud!” His opponent shattered the bottle against a nearby chair and took a long, arcing swing at Jeb. Too easy. He lazily strafed to his right, allowing the attack to swish by and leave a clear-cut option for a counterpunch. He brought his elbow down hard on the kerbal’s vulnerable back, eliciting a yelp of pain and the satisfying thump of a body collapsing onto the lacquered floor.

 

Jeb turned on his heel and kicked the shattered bottle away before leaning over his fallen opponent. “Who’s washed up now?” he sneered. 

 

The response was nearly instant. The kerbal twisted around and leapt back onto his feet. “Not me!” he spat back.

 

Jeb gave him a cold glare in return. “Hmmph. Since I’m feeling generous tonight, I’m going to give you one chance to back out of this before you do something incredibly stupid. Got it?”

 

Alas, ‘something incredibly stupid’ never came. In its stead, there was a sharp crack, and Jeb’s opponent convulsed and collapsed in a heap. The bartender had unceremoniously fired a stun gun at the troublemaker, bringing the encounter to a rapid and unsatisfying close. 

 

Jeb was just about to object when the bartender turned the gun on him, electricity already crackling between a fresh pair of electrodes. The faint but dangerous smell of ozone filled the air as he gestured towards the door. “Get out of here before I zap you too!”

 

“Alright, alright, sheesh,” replied Jeb. “I’ll leave.”

 

“And don’t come back!” was the only response.

 

The night air was fresh and just a little bit chilly. This far out in the countryside, away from all the large cities of the UKS, the night sky shone bright and clear. The circle of the full Mun slowly meandered its way through the twinkling stars, illuminating rolling hills.

 

Jeb got into his beat-up truck and started the engine, cylinders turning over for several seconds before catching and roaring to life. The check engine light burned bright on the dash.  Need to get that checked out, he thought. Maybe tomorrow. Hasn’t blown up on me yet. He gunned the accelerator, squealing out of the parking lot and onto the eastbound highway. Kolumbus was an hour away, thirty if he pushed it.

 

He chose to push it, doubling past the speed limit. There were almost never any highway patrols out this late at night, allowing him to cruise towards the full Mun with impunity. He could spot the crater where they had landed fifteen years prior - legend had it that you might catch the twinkle of the lander’s retroreflectors if you looked close enough. It was silly, but even still, he stared…

 

Jeb watched as Valentina inhaled an aluminum tube of the ambiguously-named “fruit puree” before chucking it towards the waste cabinet, the reaction sending her into a slight spin. The surface of the Mun receded in the pod window as they shot upwards in their elliptical orbit, towards intercept with Bob and Bill in the service module. 

 

“Val? Time to velocity match?” he inquired.

 

“Oh, yeah, that,” she replied, tearing her eyes away from the snack cabinet and punching a few keys on the computer. “Fifteen seconds. Already programmed into the autopilot. After that, you just have to not screw up the docking, and we’re Kerbin bound!” She laughed as she strapped in, still not over the novelty of their voyage.

 

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Val. You couldn’t dock to save your life.”

 

“...Okay, that’s true. My pass rate in the simulator was ten percent.”

 

The computer beeped, and the lander’s ascent engine rumbled to life for the last time. After boarding the service module, they would ditch the lander in Munar orbit, where the gravitational siren song of the mascons below would eventually lure it to its demise.

 

The computer sounded again, and the engine cut out with a jolt. “Perfect timing!” chimed Val as the silvery hull of the service module slid into view. Bill waved excitedly through the window, and the RCS nozzles began to let out bursts of monopropellant that sparkled in the sunlight. Aligning for docking.

 

“Well,” Jeb murmured as he grabbed the sticks. “You only live once.”

 

They had to dock to the service module quickly. The trans-Kerbin injection window was fast approaching, and if they didn’t make it on this pass, the power cells could very well die on them before they reached home. These were some of the most important few minutes of their mission.

 

No pressure. None at all. A few taps here, one or two there, sending barely perceptible jolts through the cabin. The gunmetal-gray circle of the docking port creeped across the window  Occasionally Bob or Jeb would read out a correction for the other to execute. Val simply sat in tense silence.

 

“Alignment good,” said Jeb, squinting down the crosshair tube. “Same on your end?”

 

“Yup, positional and rotational alignment are a-ok. Bring her home, Jeb.” 

 

The easy part was over. Jeb flipped a switch, and the locking mechanisms whined to life. To complete the docking maneuver, he would have to perfectly slot the two spacecraft together, constantly correcting against their drifting vectors. Even a single degree off, and the hard lock would simply refuse to engage. Jeb eased onto the translation stick; the thrusters whispered, and they creeped forwards. The crosshairs began to diverge; he corrected with a slight diagonal tap, barely aware that he was sweating bullets.

 

Closer, now. The Mun and sun were almost completely occluded by the service module, making it difficult to see the crosshair target. Jeb squinted and made the best guesstimate-fueled correction he could, and let momentum do the rest. The port electromagnets snapped together, and a pleasant bing sounded. “Soft lock, check,” said Jeb. “Beginning hard lock procedure.” He removed the plastic cover from a hefty toggle and thumbed it. Hydraulics hissed, and a series of hollow clanks echoed through the hull as the system tried each latch, going around the port clockwise.

 

Each and every latch checked out green. The computer flashed an unceremonious ‘HARD LOCK SUCCESS’ message. To Jeb it may as well have been confetti.

 

Jeb snapped back to the real world, pulled out of his memories by the shrill cry of a police siren. He glanced at the speedometer and grimaced. Triple-digit speeding tickets were a financial nightmare, but trying to outrun a police cruiser on the open highway was an exercise in futility. With a resigned sigh, he eased onto the brakes and pulled over.

 

The cruiser slid to a stop in his rear-view, and the back doors swung open. Two kerbals in black suits and sunglasses stepped out in lockstep. Jeb rubbed his eyes and looked again. Nope, zero percent hallucination, one hundred percent federal agent. Not a good sign. He briefly considered running, but before he could even touch the door handle, one of the agents was rapping on the window, voice clear even through the glass.

 

“We’re going to need you to come with us.”

 

Jeb gave him a look of mock confusion, and discreetly shifted back into drive.

 

# # #
 

It was three AM in Core City, and Bob Kerman was deep in the grips of insomnia. The sounds of endless gridlock competed for his attention with the bickering from the next apartment over. He turned over in his bed and grumbled. The capital of the UKS may be a city that never sleeps, he thought, but that shouldn’t mean I get none as well! 

 

After several more minutes of trying fitfully to shut out the noise, he gave up and jumped out of bed. The kitchen was quiet and dark, only illuminated by the artificial light shining in through the windows. He made himself another cup of instant chamomile tea, and stepped out onto his thin balcony. Thirty stories below, traffic crawled along Barsoom Avenue. Towards the horizon, the jagged silhouette of downtown sliced through the sky, with the gargantuan Exalted Tower as its centerpiece. A massive screen covering its side beamed technicolor adverts out across the city, the light occasionally catching in the fog as flickering god rays.

 

Bob stared at nothing in particular and took a sip of his tea. The sky was invisible, blotted out by a seamless mat of clouds that reflected the yellow-orange of the city lights, but he knew that the Mun was full tonight. 

 

As if on cue, the Tower’s screen shifted to a new ad, featuring a children’s toy - a plastic rocket, packed with equally plastic kerbonaut minifigures and mission supplies. A cartoon Mun hung in the background of the image, floating in a sea of impossibly bright stars. “A space adventure, for just $19.99!” the tagline screamed. Bob snorted. If only it were that simple. What he’d give to get away from Kerbin again…

 

Kolumbia, this is KSC. Signal blackout in t-minus thirty seconds. Reacquisition in thirty minutes. See you on the other side.” 

 

Kerbin creeped beneath the Mun’s horizon, cutting off their link to home. The telemetry from Mission Control flailed briefly as the computer tried to make sense of the half-received bits, then zeroed out. They were alone, further from Kerbin than anyone had ever been.

 

Unfortunately, such isolation did not immediately translate to peace and quiet. Two kerbals stuck in a pod could annoy each other as much as an all of mission control. 

 

"Hey Bob, wanna play go fish?" asked Bill, eagerly holding up the pack of cards he had smuggled aboard.

 

Bob sighed. No, he did not want to play go fish, and certainly not in microgravity. He had already watched Bill try and fail to play solitaire once, on the outbound transit - the cards had slowly scattered to the four corners of the cabin, in spite of his efforts to keep them in neat columns. Jeb had put a hard stop to the affair when the king of spades nearly got lodged in the scrubber intake.

 

"No, thank you," he replied, and turned to look for his paperback.

 

"What about poker?"

 

Bob rubbed his temples. "Bill, you don't even know how to play poker."

 

"Yes I do! You put all your money in a bowl, and then you, um…"

 

"That's what I thought. Besides, you’d hate poker - all luck and no skill." The orange cover of the paperback peeked out from behind a stack of protein cubes - jackpot. He pried it loose and flipped to his bookmark. "Now, let me read in peace."

 

"Aw, c'mon man. I'm bored as hell - nothing needs fixing, and there's nothing to do until Jeb and Val rendezvous with us. Just one game? Gin rummy? War? Uhh… blackjack?"

 

"Just shut up!" screamed Bob. He yanked the comms headset off its velcro hook, pulled it over his ears, and flicked off the squelch. The roaring hiss of cosmic background radiation pounded at his skull, blocking out everything else.

 

"Still better than listening to that cretin," he thought, and turned to the next page. Bill shrugged and began laying out his second attempt at solitaire.

 

Fifteen years later, back on an apartment balcony in Core City, Bob reflected that the extra cost of rent without a roommate was worth it. Stepping back inside, he drained the last of his tea and placed the mug in the kitchen sink, finally feeling his eyelids drooping.

 

He was just about to get into bed when someone banged on his door. Once, twice, three times. "Bob Kerman?!" 

 

Bob murmured something about disembowelment and stumbled over to the intercom. "Yeah, that's me… the hell do you want? I’m trying to sleep."

 

"This is the Secret Service. Please open up."

 

"The what." 

 

The voice let out an impatient sigh. “The Secret Service. Yes, that one. You’re going to have to come with us.”

 

“Um… let me get my clothes on.”

 

Bob flicked off the intercom before the agent could object, and scrambled for the fire escape.

 

# # #

 

A ways southeast of Core City, the Kerbal Space Center was buzzing with renewed life. Bill Kerman had worked through the night, helping lift the complex out of its corporate doldrums. The spaceplane hangar and astronaut complex were being dug out of mothballs, and he was personally assisting the R&D division in getting the research reactor back online. 

 

“Wrench,” he intoned, and held his hand out from under the coolant pump. The lab assistant plucked the requisite item out of his toolbox and placed it squarely into his palm. Bill drew his hand back in and began to tighten the bolts holding the microcontroller casing in place. It was spotted with rust and mold in a few places, but fortunately the board inside was unharmed. “Geez… how did it get this decrepit?”

 

“We had to shut it down ten years ago, after we went private and the cutbacks,” replied the assistant. “Of course, no one wanted to give us the roots for a proper decom, so they just ripped the fuel rods out and called it a day.”

 

Bill blanched. “They didn’t even bother to drain the water loops? This is a goddamn open core!” He glared at his dosimeter. Still green - all the nasty fission byproducts would have decayed by now. But still… he shook his head, and silently hoped that the UKS government would be more competent this time around.

 

The last bolt on the casing turned a few more millimeters, then stopped. Nice and tight; he double and triple-checked the fresh sealant before finally declaring it ready for operation. “Okay, you can fire it up now,” he called out.

 

The assistant made a noise of acknowledgement, and flicked a heavy toggle switch on the control panel above. The pump gurgled briefly as it wound up, going through its self-tests. After several long seconds, it fell silent. “All green!” cheered the assistant.

 

“Finally,” groaned Bill. “How are the fuel rods coming along?”

 

“They won’t arrive until tomorrow - they’re coming on a ship out of New Celeste. I think that’s everything, actually - I’ll have to check with my supervisor, but I think you can weasel out of here before he finds something to complain about.”

 

Bill slid out from under the pump housing and gave the assistant a grateful smile. “Thanks, kid. You should bolt too - we’ve been at this for twelve hours now.”

 

He laughed. “Are you kidding? They’re paying triple overtime and providing free coffee. Wernher must’ve really lit a fire under their collective behind!”

 

Bill rolled his eyes. “Suit yourself. Just try not to fall into the fuel pool when you crash.”

 

The horizon was just starting to glow a dim orange when Bill exited the reactor building, silhouetting the KSC’s miniature skyline. The entire complex bustled with activity, every window lit up, selling the illusion of a city. To the west, the Mun was just beginning to sink below the distant mountains, haloing the jagged peaks in dull white. 

 

Not too far to the side, in the foreground, the complex’s scale sculpture of the Kerbal XX rocket was still lit up with spotlights; a painted concrete spear, held aloft by a swooping crest of steel. Bill couldn’t help but mentally dissect the craft’s internals - the way each stage seamlessly transitioned into the next, the intricate tanks and lines feeding the ground-shatteringly powerful engines, the overclocked guidance IC’s that flew it to orbit and beyond. It was a shame that the model never flew after Kerpollo…

 

“Zero!”

 

A hundred meters below, six Kerbodyne Vector engines sparked and roared to life. The invisible hand of an angry god grabbed Bill and crushed him down into his acceleration couch; at the same time, the hull shuddered as the launch clamps released their grip. They were off.

 

“Liftoff! We have a liftoff, repeat, liftoff of Kerpollo 11!” Bill could just make out the sound of excited whooping through the tinny speaker. “Clear of the launch tower. Trajectory… nominal. Acceleration is rising as expected.” The first stage engines of the XX were rapidly putting on force as they burned through the rocket’s prodigious stores of liquid hydrogen and oxygen; they would approach close to six g’s before flame-out.

 

Jeb responded to mission control through the crush. “Everything looks good up here, KSC. ETA to gravity turn threshold… forty-two seconds.” Jeb was the mission’s primary pilot, but for these critical few minutes, he was simply nursing the computer readouts.

 

“Affirmative, XX. You’re approaching Max Q; integrity looks good from down here.”

 

Max Q - a pretty euphemism for the highest expected aerodynamic force on the vessel. When you were punching through the lower atmosphere this quickly, that number got pretty high. Bill had helped engineer the airframe with a healthy 60% margin, but if there was so much as one stress fracture…

 

Boom.

 

“Beginning gravity turn maneuver,” announced Jeb. “Pitching ten degrees east…” The pod shifted almost imperceptibly as the engines gimbaled, leaning them into Kerbin’s gravitational pull. 

 

“Max Q,” reported the radio. “Fifty seconds to flame-out.” Valentina let out an audible sigh of relief; the most dangerous part was over. Bill glanced at the accelerometer. 4 g’s and rising. Soon the first-stage tanks would be drained and shucked, with the second stage boosting them the rest of the way to orbit. 

 

“20 degrees and holding. Preparing for stage separation.” That was Bill’s cue to shift his hand over to the pyrotechnics switchboard; no one at KSC was willing to entrust this sort of thing to the computer, so the job fell to him.

 

The Vectors burned their last few thousand kilograms of fuel and dropped silent, the sudden lack of acceleration causing them to bounce against their straps. “Flame-out,” said Jeb. “Stage sep on my mark…” 

 

Bill opened the bright red protective cover and hovered his finger over the button. “Ready,” he called back.

 

“Mark.”

 

Bill pressed the button. Eight explosive bolts detonated, cleanly breaking the rocket away from the depleted first stage. 

 

Or, at least that was what should have happened. Instead, an angry buzzer began to sound, accompanied by a tight voice on the radio. “XX, the interstage fairing is caught. One of the secondary bolts was a dud.” Bill gulped. That was bad news - while still in their protective shell, igniting the second stage engines was officially a no-go. Even now, he could feel his stomach lurch as they began to tip downwards. They had maybe ten seconds before the deviation was irreversible and they nosedived into the ocean below.

 

No time for caution, then. He hit the release on his straps and lunged forwards, flying past Jeb in the free-fall of the cabin and punching the second-stage ignition key against all reason. The triple Skipper engines rumbled to life, sending him tumbling back down into his couch. Milliseconds later, the rocket shook with a BANG, but continued to fly. “Returning to nominal gravity turn trajectory,” gasped Jeb. “Interstage is… clear.”

 

The radio scratched, and Gene Kerman shouted. “Holy - XX, did you just - “

 

Bill depressed the talk button on his headset. “Blast away the interstage with the second-stage engines? Yes.”

 

“God dammit, you just made me spill my joe all over my keyboard! Oh, and CAPCOM has fainted dead away. Friggin’ wonderful.”

 

“Get a paper towel,” interjected Bill. “We’ve still got a mission to fly.”

 

Bill was rudely yanked back to the present by the distinctive scream of high-power jet engines. A few hundred meters away, a supersonic air force transport was coming in to land on the complex runway. That was odd; they weren’t expecting air deliveries for another day, and certainly not from a military craft. He tore his eyes away from the sculpture and jogged over to the offramp.

 

When he arrived, the jet had already powered down and the passengers were debarking. Two kerbals in black suits and sunglasses stepped out first. Bill slid backwards a few steps; nobody liked being close to a federal agent. However, they seemed to pay him no mind, and he turned his attention back to the jet. Someone inside was shouting angrily.

 

“Hey, is this the KSC? What - why the hell did you drag us here? Hey, I’m not moving until - ow!” Bill frowned. That voice sounded familiar. “Alright, alright, I’ll go.” A few seconds later, Valentina came stumbling down the stairs and onto the tarmac.

 

“Val?!”

 

“Bill! Nice to see a friendly face! Do you have any idea what these creeps want?”

 

“Nope. We’ve got some stuff going on, but I wasn’t aware that you were implicated of all kerbals.”

 

“They didn't just snap up me. Jeb and Bob are still in there.”

 

“Wonderful. I guess we’re getting the proverbial gang back together.”

 

“You don’t say. Oh, here they are!” Bob stepped out of the jet, followed by Jeb and a third agent. “Hey you two! Bill’s here as well!”

 

Jeb, who had been looking vaguely sullen, perked up immediately. “Finally. Do you know any more than we do?”

 

Bill shrugged. “Like I told Val, there is something happening, but you three were never mentioned. I guess maybe Wernher was too busy to tell me.”

 

Jeb frowned. “Define something.”

 

“Can’t, it’s probably classified down to the punctuation by now.”

 

“That would explain the feds,” murmured Val.

 

A few moments later, Bob jerked and snapped out of his fugue. “Oh, uh… hey Bill. Oo, is that the spaceplane hangar?” He laughed wildly and stared at the ATC tower.

 

“Don’t mind him, he hasn’t slept for a bit. Have you got any coffee?” asked Jeb.

 

“Yeah, there should be a big pot in the R&D break room. If you don’t mind the line, that is.”

 

Val grinned and clapped Bob on the shoulder.. “C’mon, let’s get some stims in your syst-”

 

One of the agents stepped in. “Sorry, but we'll have someone get that for you. We’ve got orders to take you to the admin building straight away.” He pushed his sunglasses down and glanced at Bill. “That includes you. Thanks for coming to us, by the way… makes our job a lot easier than it was with these three. Now, follow me, please.”

 

Bill groaned, threw his hands up in defeat, and followed. The others were not far behind, trailing him on the long and winding path to an uncertain future.

 

No turning back now.

# # #

And that's it for chapter one! Chapter two coming Soon:)

Edited by OutInSpace
Corrections ;)
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2 hours ago, OutInSpace said:

Glad to see people are enjoying the story!

It's a wonderful story! You've got me hooked and then some.

Spoiler
2 hours ago, OutInSpace said:

I've got the whole plot outlined ;)

Woah, you actually plan your stories?

 

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9 hours ago, Misguided Kerbal said:

Woah, you actually plan your stories?

Yessir! Although it's really just several pages of bullet points in something resembling chronological order :p

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44 minutes ago, OutInSpace said:

Yessir! Although it's really just several pages of bullet points in something resembling chronological order :p

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and no story plan survives contact with the page. Don’t be afraid to go off on tangents or ditch an idea if you think it’ll benefit the story and leave room to add in new ideas, because you’ll almost certainly think of new ideas while writing. (I still think of new ideas for a story I stopped writing a decade ago!)

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  • 2 weeks later...
Posted (edited)

Chapter 2 is here! It's a good thing I have a lot of free periods this semester that I can use for writing ;)

Chapter Two - Wündertech

The admin building’s conference room was packed to the gills with everyone who was anyone at the KSC. Wernher was at the head of the room, scratching out diagrams and equations onto an oft-used chalkboard, while the rest of the crowd milled about impatiently, waiting for whatever mystery event would trigger the beginning of the meeting.

 

Moments later, the double doors at the rear swung open, and six new kerbals entered - two federal agents, and four civilians. One was clutching a large, steaming thermos with a wide-eyed look, while the other three all looked vaguely peeved. Wernher turned around at the sound of the doors and brightened up considerably. “Finally! All four of you, grab a seat. We’re starting. And hold your questions till the end, Bob!”

 

The lights dimmed as they slid into the few remaining open chairs, leaving only Wernher and his scribblings under a spotlight. “Right, let me cut straight to the chase. For the uninformed, Mesiner’s high-energy team has recently invented a device that we’re officially calling the ‘superluminal spatial translation engine’ -”

 

“- Annnd I’m going to stop you right there,” blurted Bob, emboldened by caffeine. “FTL? Wernher, really? What’re you going to tell us next, that you’ve cracked Unified Theory?”

 

“Actually, we have. But we can discuss that later. Now please, shush.” Bob gaped in response, which Wernher decided was close enough. “As I was saying, the superluminal spatial translation engine - or, to simplify, just the Drive. We’re still not exactly sure how it works, but I’ve been able to deduce the basics.” 

 

He picked up a stick of chalk and drew a straight line on the chalkboard. "This line is the universe as we know it. Three spatial dimensions and one temporal, bound by well-known physical principles. Unfortunately, these principles are generally not conducive to convenient space travel - relativity binds us to sublight speeds, classical mechanics forces us to waste considerable energy mucking about with orbits, and so on." He slashed two points onto the line. "Getting between any two points normally requires us to take the slow, expensive Euclidean way. But the Drive sidesteps all that."

 

"The Drive folds the space between two points," - he drew a second line, this one folded back on itself - "creating a multiply-connected metric that features a zero-distance path between them." He scratched out a single dash, crossing the folded line. "Any matter within the fold will be instantly displaced to the opposing point in orthodox spacetime, regardless of distance, while still being fully compliant with existing physics." He set down the chalk and turned back to the crowd. "Additionally, we believe the fold can be engineered to modify the direction and magnitude of the transiting matter's vector, allowing direct arrivals into a stable orbit. Any questions?"

 

"It can't possibly be that easy," objected Jeb, used to R&D's style of presentation. It was always about how great the rocket design was, right up until they got to the part where it spewed neutrons or melted small asteroids.

 

“Correct,” shot back Meisner, taking the stage. “While the Drive may be pure wündertech, to use Wernher’s vernacular, there are still certain limitations to what it can and cannot do.” He turned around and wrote out a set of eye-watering equations.

   

"Firstly, the spacetime distortion created by significant gravitational fields causes fatal interference with the distortion produced by the Drive, causing an uncontrolled collapse that produces immense tidal forces within the fold. This is why our test rigs stopped sending telemetry the moment they jumped. They were, ah... misted."

 

He cleared his throat before continuing. "In practical terms, this means that its use is limited to jumping between points in high orbit; we've already determined that the safe distance for Kerbin is about five thousand kilometers, for example."

 

"Now, on its own, this doesn't change much. The real rub lies in getting the Drive to take you where you want to go - without knowledge of the metric of your desired destination, calculating the parameters for a safe targeted fold would require incomprehensible computing power."

 

"So, we need beacons. Satellites in high orbit around useful bodies that broadcast all the up-to-date metric data required to jump to their location. The only caveat to this strategy is that a precise gravitational survey of the beacon's primary will be necessary to calibrate it - precise enough that it can only be done by on-site kerbals."

 

Wernher jumped back into the spotlight. "And that's where you come in, Jeb... and Bob, and Val, and Bill. If we're going to go out and lay these roads, then we need a kerbed crew to perform landings on every target body to gather the required calibration data. Now, we can’t force you to suit up and strap in… but you’re the only trained crew we’ve got, and this is a historical opportunity.” He sighed and pushed his glasses up. “So. Any bites?”

 

“We get a ticket back off this mudball? Hell, Wernher, that’s all you had to say. I’m in,” replied Jeb.

 

“What are you doing?!” hissed Bob. “For all we know we’ll come out the other side reduced to chunky salsa!”

 

Jeb shrugged. “I’ve flown more dangerous missions. Stop being such a wuss, Bob - someone has to take the risk.”

 

“I assure you, it’s perfectly safe if you don’t violate any gravity perimeters,” added Wernher. “And we’ll be doing a battery of biological tests before we send any kerbals through a fold.”

 

Bob glowered briefly, but Wernher had never wronged them during the glory days. Why would he start now? “Sign me up,” he relented.

 

“Excellent, that’s half. Bill? Val?”

 

Val shuffled in her seat, clearly unsure of what to do. “I - I don’t know…” She had long been considering settling down, but a second opportunity to touch the stars was tempting. Too tempting. She took a deep breath and slammed her palms down on the table, blurting out her response before she could rethink it. “Actually, I do know. I’m in.”

 

All eyes turned to Bill. The final piece of the four. The room was silent, the air thick with anticipation.

 

Bill grinned and cleared his throat. “You better believe I’m onboard!” he declared proudly. A few kerbals sighed and slumped back in their seats, inexplicably relieved. “What, did you think I was going to dramatically decline and ruin the moment?”

 

Wernher looked away sheepishly. “...Maybe a little.”

 

“As if,” replied Bill. “I’ve been dying to work on a real rocket for over a decade. None of this shoddy sat-slinger nonsense.” He clapped his hands together excitedly. “When do we start?”

 

Val punched him in the shoulder. “Slow down there, mister engineer! We all need to get some sleep before we do anything else.”

 

“Precisely what I was about to suggest,” noted Wernher. “Everyone’s bone-tired, and even stimulants stop working past a certain point. We can’t keep the complex under lockdown for much longer. Everyone just needs to go home and decompress.”

 

“And blab to every news site on the net about the Drive, I’m sure,” groaned Meisner. “It’ll be the hottest scoop of the century.”

 

“Don’t worry, I’ve already got Walt working on our plan to go public. He should have it ready by tomorrow. Any more questions?”

 

Silence.

 

“Alright then. Meeting adjourned.”

 

# # #

 

Wilbas Kerman was a nobody at the KSC. A third-rate janitor, hired by a faceless corporate HR rep who sorted by “lowest requested salary,” he spent his days half-heartedly mopping the shiny tile floors of the under-utilized R&D building. 

 

Then something changed. The halls suddenly bustled with activity, the lights dimming and flickering in time with some power-hungry experiment. The intercom had squealed to life, announcing that the entire complex had been put into lockdown. Something was up. He stowed his cleaning cart in the custodial closet and slinked around, peeking into lab rooms and offices, looking for something out of the ordinary.

 

Soon, he found it. One of the high-energy labs was about to begin a test, a scrappy contraption just barely visible inside the vacuum chamber through the crack in the door. The kerbal at the control station shouted out a stream of jargon and began the test. The mystery device jumped to life and spun up, the lights dimming and finally failing entirely.

 

Then it vanished in a flash of light, leaving nothing behind. Immediately, a flock of eggheads rushed to a monitor bank spitting out reams of data. Wilbas caught snatches of their excited conversation - “superluminal,” “paradigm shift,” and most tantalizingly, “top-secret.” One of them turned and began to walk towards the door, sending him scurrying away.

 

Back in the custodial closet, Wilbas booted up his work tablet and requested access to the local net’s filesystem. An angry red lock appeared, with authoritative block text next to it declaring that he needed administrator credentials to bypass the temporary restrictions. He stared at the prompt blankly for a few seconds, shrugged, and tried the first combination that came to mind.

 

admin, admin. 

 

The lock turned green and vanished in a puff of pixels. ACCESS GRANTED shone briefly in its place, before a lengthy list of folders populated the screen. He blinked, shocked at the poor network security, before composing himself and beginning to sift through everything.

 

Buried within eleven subfolders, he found what he was looking for. A loose agglomeration of scribbled notes and scanned blueprints, all revolving around “the Drive.” An unprecedented faster-than-light propulsion system, invented mere hours ago by Meisner Kerman, head of the high-energy division.

 

Yes, this’ll do nicely, Wilbas thought. He gingerly placed a dataslip onto the tablet’s screen, copied the files over, and logged out of the system just as quickly as he had entered. The slip was stuffed to the bottom of his cluttered pocket, like a precious jewel buried in trash. He fiddled with it momentarily and wondered - how much I can get for the key to the stars? 

 

The lockdown was as trivially easy to bypass as the network security. He merely drove up to the gate and convinced the half-awake guard that the admin building was in dire need of more Citrus Fresh™ industrial disinfectant, weaving in vague hints involving angry executives. In no time at all, he was out and cruising towards the closest freeway. 

 

Several hours later, night had finally fallen. Wilbas pulled off at an empty rest stop and slinked over to a bank of payphones. After verifying the lack of security cameras, he picked up the handset and dropped a few quarter-root coins into the slot. The dial tone sounded briefly, then a click as someone picked up. “Operator speaking, how can I help you?”

 

“Hello, yes, could you connect me to, ah… the embassy to the People’s Republic of East Kerbin in Core City?”

 

“Certainly sir. One moment.” Wilbas heard the muffled clacks of a keyboard, then another click as the call was shunted into a long-distance line. It wasn’t particularly late in Core City - surely someone would pick up…

 

# # #

 

On the opposite side of the world, it was early morning in Shimin, the sprawling capital of the People’s Republic. Alkin Kerman, the nation’s minister of technology and science, was just settling into his corner office for another day of hard work when his desk phone started ringing. He swore loudly, casting aside his half-unpacked briefcase to pick up the call. 

 

“Alkin?” came the tentative voice of the floor secretary. 

 

“Yes, I’m here. What do you want?”
 

“Apologies, sir, but you’ve got a call from our embassy in the UKS. It’s urgent.”

 

“The hell do they want?”

 

“They won’t tell me much, sir. Just that someone is supposedly looking to sell some new tech he copied.”

 

Alkin squeezed his eyes shut and tried to resist the urge to punch something. At least he had brushed up on his Kerblish recently. “Fine. Put them through.”

 

The line dropped dead momentarily before buzzing back to life, the audio taking on the unmistakable deadness that resulted from being squeezed through an undersea cable. 

 

“This is Alkin Kerman, minister of science and technology for the PREK. Before you say anything, I’m not a goddamn pawn shop for every tidbit of data that comes out of your country. Tell me what exactly you’re looking to sell.”

 

“An FTL drive.”

 

Alkin suppressed a laugh. “Faster-than-light travel? Forgive me, but that’s a pretty tall order, and I’m going to need some proof up front.”

 

“I have a dataslip with everything, including some test recordings.”

 

Really.” He flicked over to the secretary. “Could you set up a two-point file transfer?”

 

“Certainly, sir. Sending the information to your computer now.”

 

“Thank you.” He switched back to the mystery informant. “Okay, I’ve just started a transfer link. Just enter in this code - “ he rattled off a long string of digits “ - and drop the videos in.”

 

“Okay, one second… Got it. Sending now.” A handful of files materialized on Alkin’s desktop; the antivirus swept them and marked them as clean. He opened the first one and watched, first with incredulity and then with amazement, as the thing at the center of the feed spun up and vanished in a blinding flash.

 

Intrigued but still unconvinced, he ran the file through a program that checked for the telltale signs of composited visual effects. After a few seconds processing, it spat out a negative result. 

 

As incredibly unlikely as it was, it seemed that this was real. He grinned and navigated to elsewhere on his computer, picking up a file with the innocuous moniker of Form.ddoc and dragging it into the transfer window. “Good news, you’ve succeeded in convincing me that you aren’t completely insane. You should be receiving something to fill out momentarily - once you’ve done that, we can discuss an actual deal.”

 

The informant yelped in excitement. “I’ll complete it right away! Just as soon as it opens - huh, it says file corrupted. Could you send it again?”

 

“Of course,” replied Alkin, barely hiding the smirk in his voice. The informant, whom he now knew was one Wilbas Kerman, had gobbled up the schmuck bait without a second thought. On Alkin’s screen, a new window popped up, displaying the contents of Wilbas’s phone. Too easy. He navigated to the dataslip directory and initiated a cut-and-paste of everything to his desktop, wiping the source clean.

 

“Hey, where’d everything go?!” blanched Wilbas. “What did you do?!”

 

“Thanks for the tip, Wilbas. Have a nice life.” Alkin unceremoniously dropped the handset back into its cradle and turned back to his briefcase. There was work to do.

 

Several thousand kilometers away, an angry kerbal screamed fruitlessly into a payphone, a zeroed-out dataslip crushed under his boot.

 

And thus there were two.

 

# # #

 

More coming soonish!

Edited by OutInSpace
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