KSK

First Flight (Chapter 100 - Remembrance)

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5 hours ago, KSK said:

:D

Working on it. I got a bit stuck with the next part so I did my usual unblocking trick and skipped ahead a chapter. That one is going OK so far and I plan to spend most of this afternoon on it. Soooo - probably going to be a while before the next update but it'll be a double-bill!  In the meantime, the next two chapters are called (in order):

  • Children of Kerbin
  • Shrinking the Ellipse

Free internet points to anyone who guesses the general theme for either. :) 

An elderly Kerb's contemplation of his own mortality in a changing world?

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Kerbed mission to minmus? Mission to Duna? Another incident with the Kerm.

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On 29 March 2016 at 4:01 PM, KerbMav said:

Do you use/did you ever link a political map of Kerbin?

Sure! I use a modified version of this one. Young Kolus is of course, Wakira, named to go with the ocean it borders. Old Kolus is simply Kolus. The border between Firesvar, Kolus and Wakira is slightly different, such that there is a point where both borders meet - which is where Val is currrently commanding the Kolus air border patrols. The yellow peninsula doesn't exist as a separate regionality but is part of Kolus. There are probably a couple of other discrepancies too but those are the main ones.

Thanks for the guesses - I'm flattered by CatastrophicFailure's suggestion - that sounds pretty deep! Bev, all of those things will come to pass - but not quite in the next couple of chapters. :)

Edit:  First draft of Shrinking the Ellipse is done although it still needs a readthrough and polish. Moving on to Children of Kerbin.

 

Edited by KSK

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:D 

He could have taken an assumed name (and lied horribly about his age) to get into the kerbonaut corps. Little details like that wouldn't stump the wee kerb for long. :)

 

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Thanks Adam! Glad you're enjoying and thanks for posting.

On a related note - next chapters are up! The first is a bit shorter than I intended but I think it says everything I wanted to say and hopefully it'll make up a little for the many other chapters that spun out for far longer than I intended. Such as the one that follows it. :)

 

Children of Kerbin

The liberation turned out to be easier than any of them had expected. 

Admittedly, the site for the seed bank had been well chosen; the north-eastern promontory was both sufficiently remote from the major Spierkan population centres and close enough to a neighbouring economic redevelopment zone that one more construction project had gone largely unnoticed. Even then, the cover story had been impeccable, the renovated cold storage facility for the local fishing villages being politically popular, easy to hide one more freezer room in, and conveniently located to receive the occasional small shipment of Kerm seeds. 

Security had been another matter of course, although to be fair they’d had limited options. A cold store and its contents were valuable enough not to be left wholly unguarded but even so, excessive security around what was essentially a fish warehouse would almost certainly have attracted too much attention to be worth the trouble. In the end, they’d decided to rely on additional physical measures and discreet reinforcements to the Kerm freezer, rather than increasing the numbers of guards around the building. 

Besides, finding enough acceptable guards would have been a challenge in itself.

Even before the politically disastrous Maldonian annexation, Confederacy sympathies had mostly lain with the President’s - and Chief Ambassador Aldwell’s - strong pro-Kerm stance. The resulting Wakiran skirmishes, the raft of new Veiidan trade tariffs, and the heightened border tensions with Doren, had only served to cement that stance in the public mind. 

The figure chuckled sardonically. Yeah, us politically neutral types are rarer than greenback herring these days. With good reason. He glanced at his companion who stared back at him expressionlessly, breath fogging in the oppressively chilly, fish-scented air. Both kerbals knelt and heaved open an access panel in the floor, exposing cable runs, pipes and a pair of subtly modified junction boxes.  

Two keys slipped into place and turned as one. With a faint click and a hiss of escaping gas, a section of wall panel slid open, revealing a shallow steel rack holding half a dozen white plastic trays, which were swiftly emptied into a pair of heavily insulated backpacks. Working with exaggerated, fastidious care, the figure knelt again and placed a small laminated card in the very centre of the open doorway before he and his companion calmly walked out of the freezer room, through the warehouse reception and out into a pleasantly warm Spierkan evening.

The bemused fisher-kerbs, who found the card the next morning, puzzled over it for a moment, before shrugging their shoulders and handing it in to the guard at the front desk, not noticing the sudden tightening of her expression when they explained where they’d found it. She waited until their van was safely out of sight before locking the front door and racing down to freezer room four.

The open wall panel told it’s own story. The guard turned and sprinted for the nearest phone. Behind her the card landed face up on the polished concrete floor, displaying a circle bisected by a wavy line. A stylised kerblet smiled from one side of the line, facing a stylised Kerm seed on the other. And underneath the circle were printed three words:

Children of Kerbin.

——————

A door slammed and at long last, the truck in front rumbled through the checkpoint. Corrod hastily swallowed his mouthful of djan, jamming the half-empty packet into his door tray and flicking off the radio. The traffic light overhead turned green and Corrod obediently edged his own vehicle into the inspection bay. In his wing mirror the queue of assorted trucks and wagons stretched back as far as he could see. A grey-uniformed kerbal tapped on his window.

“Import permits please.”

Corrod retrieved a stack of forms from the passenger seat and, wordlessly, handed them over. The Doreni flipped through them, scrawling an illegible signature across the bottom of each page before stamping the top page twice, tearing it off and handing it back.

“Manifest please.”

Corrod clenched his jaw, passing a second, much thicker, stack of forms through the window with exaggerated courtesy. The border official merely glanced at him before continuing to peruse his paperwork. “Step out of your vehicle, please sir. I need you to unlock your trailer.”

“May I ask why?” said Corrod pleasantly.

“Routine inspection, sir.”

“I have a lot of cargo to inspect.”

“I’m aware of that, sir but I must insist.”

Corrod ground his teeth. “Very well,” he said. “Will you need me to open all the containers too?”

“Your cooperation would be appreciated, sir.”

Corrod stared at him flatly before climbing out of his truck cab and pointedly slamming the door behind him. Two more officials were waiting for them behind his trailer, one wearing an oddly shaped device strapped across his chest, a stubby wand on a curly black cable plugged into its side. The other was restraining a large and enthusiastic guard-beast on a leash, which snuffled at him as he walked past. It’s handler pressed a cloth pad over its nose and for a moment Corrod thought he could detect a faint breath of cinnamon. Resisting the urge to pat the creature on its furry head, he undid the long row of buckles holding the side curtain of his trailer closed. Sensing the three pairs of eyes crawling across his back all the while, he hauled the curtain open, not caring whether the rattling hid his muttered oaths or not.

The guard-beast sprang onto the trailer and began nosing around the double row of containers strapped to it. Corrod climbed up behind it and walked slowly down the rows, opening the inspection hatches on each container as he went. Hopping off the tailgate he stood silently to one side and watched one of the officials scramble awkwardly onto the trailer behind him and poke his wand into the nearest hatch, studying a screen on his device as he did so. Carefully, he closed the hatch again and then, to Corrod’s bemusement, methodically subjected each container to the same peculiar inspection.

Finally the official clambered down from the the trailer and whistled sharply for his guard-beast. Catching Corrod’s eye he jerked his hand across his chest and pointed at the trailer curtain. Corrod nodded and began closing up his truck. None of the three officials offered to help.

“Your manifest, sir. Thank you for cooperating with Doreni border security and have a safe onward journey.”

Corrod stared at him expressionlessly then turned away and climbed back into his cab. As he started the motor and drove off, the next truck in the queue rumbled to a stop beside the inspectors.

——————

“Oh Kerm. Ed - are you seeing this too?”

“That cluster of returns heading north-east? Yep, I see them.”

“What are you thinking - Forseti?”

“Reckon so. Nothing big due from Doren and they’d be calling in first anyway. Likewise any private vessels, unless they’re being more than usually stupid.”

Gilbin sighed and picked up his microphone. “Attention, unidentified vessels. This is Gilbin Kerman of the Wakiran Coastal Service. You are approaching Wakiran designated waters; please set your transponders to VTS and respond on channel zero seven.” He covered the microphone with one hand. “Better send the contact up the chain, Ed, if they’re not for turning.”

Edbur looked up from his keyboard. “Already on it.”

Gilbin nodded. “Attention, unidentified vessels. This is the Wakiran Coastal Service. You will shortly be in violation of Wakiran designated waters; please adjust your course immediately and set your transponders to VTS, repeat VTS. Be advised that failure to comply will be treated as an act of aggression.”

“Dammit, Ed, I thought this sort of thing wasn’t supposed to be happening any more! Home amongst the stars, everyone uniting behind the Council - all that good stuff?”

“Guess they missed that broadcast,” said Edbur. “Not that surprising given that they don’t seem to have a  working radio on board. We going to call in a patrol?”

“No choice,” said Gilbin heavily. “If they are Forseti we’ll have to escort them back to port. Like it or not, we’ve got to keep Doren sweet until the CoastGuard line is finished, so we can’t dump the problem on them. Likewise we can’t let them go north unless you want to tell Command why they’ve suddenly got Firesvar breathing down their necks as well as Kolus.” He glanced at the radar, swore to himself and picked up the microphone again. “Attention, unidentified vessels! You are now in violation of Wakiran designated waters. Be advised that we have armed patrols en-route. You will adjust course immediately and return to your port of origin otherwise you will be fired on.”

“Gil?”

“Yeah?”

“What happens if they’re not Forseti?”

Gilbin gave him a long look. Edbur stared back at him grimly then turned back to his keyboard. The atmosphere in Radar Outpost One suddenly felt very chilly.

——————

Two lines of patrol boats swept in from the east, the low afternoon sun sparkling from their wakes. Cursing deck gunners scoured the horizon for contacts, eyes hidden behind mirrored shades. The Wakiran flag fluttered from their sterns, white diagonal slash clearly visible against a green background. 

A cluster of dark specks on the horizon resolved themselves into a loose formation of vessels unhurriedly steaming to the northeast. The Wakiran boats swung wide, skirting around the invaders, then coming at them again from the west, out of the sun. Deck officers peered through binoculars, searching in vain for any identifying marks or signals. The captain of the largest Wakiran vessel frowned as his third hailing attempt met with nothing but static. I don’t know who you are my friends, but it’s time you woke up. “Warning shot - maximum range.”

A single flat crack from the deck gun echoed across the waves. Seemingly indifferent, the unidentified vessels steamed steadily onwards. The captain grimaced. “Helm - stand by evasive. Gunners - second warning shot. Across their bows.”

Two shots whistled overhead. Abruptly, the loose formation broke apart, the air suddenly heavy with the roar marine engines at full throttle, punctuated with flat thunder of gunfire. Fountains of water erupted around the Wakiran forces.

“Evasive action! All crews - return fire!”

On board one of the unmarked boats a grim-faced figure watched the battle unfold. Satisfied that the enemy patrols were fully engaged, he raised one hand and brought it down in a short, chopping gesture. His helmskerb reacted instantly, swinging the boat round due east and making best speed for the Wakiran coast. Behind them, twin columns of smoke rose into the sky, two Wakiran vessels stopping to pick up the survivors, the others scattering in pursuit of the fleeing invaders. He closed his eyes briefly. They did well. We will mourn them later. He stepped over to the chart table, studying it intently for a moment. “Bring us round; east by north-east.”

The boat sped onwards, slipping around the fringes of the Wakiran radar line, its captain calmly watching the oncoming cliffs. “Make your course due north. Stand by decoys.” Another chopping gesture and the deck crews released their net. A cascade of decking fragments, fittings and spare equipment, tumbled over the side, swiftly followed by the contents of an oil barrel. The deck officer studied the dark slick and floating debris with satisfaction before heading forward to the main cabin.

“Decoy deployed, Captain.”

The figure turned to face him. “Very good.” A gesture at the chart. “The cliffs will hide us from the remaining radar stations. By nightfall we’ll be headed for Firesvar.“ The figure patted the insulated box by his feet, the bisected-circle emblem on his shoulder clearly visible for a moment. “Where our mission will truly begin.”

——————

Enely drew the worn square of cardboard from his pocket and rubbed his thumb over the embossed gold seal. Just hope these things don’t have an expiry date.

The check-in assistant watched the stooped figure approach, pack slung over one shoulder, clutching a glinting something in his other hand. Her eyebrows rose at the sight of his dusty green-trimmed collar and rose still further at the wrinkles around his eyes and weary expression on his face.

“Can I help you, Keeper?”

Enely looked up. “I’m not sure,” he answered. “Do you have any seats on the next flight to Barkton?”

“Let me check that for you, Keeper. Do you have a ticket or will you be purchasing one today?”

Enely pushed Donman’s token across the counter. “I think I have a ticket,” he said. “I was told to present this but it’s been quite a while since I was given it.” He looked at her apologetically, “I hope it’s still valid?”

The assistant shut her mouth with an audible click. “I expect it will be,” she said faintly. “Please, one moment, sir.” She reached under her desk, pulled out a ring binder and quickly flipped through it, before picking up the phone and dialling a number with a trembling finger. “Yes, I’ll hold. Hello? Yes, the number is zero one four, two zero nine, one four six. It is? T-thank you very much. Good day to you too, ma’am.” She turned back to Enely. “If you could wait one moment, sir, I’ll have somebody take you straight through to the priority lounge. Your flight will be leaving in thirty minutes.” A sudden shy blink. “And on behalf of Trans-Kerbin Air, I wish you all fortune at your journey’s end.”

Well that certainly worked. Enely smiled at her to cover his confusion. “You’re very kind - thank you.”

Another assistant bustled up. “Can I take your bag, sir? If you’d like to follow me please.”

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Shrinking the Ellipse

The cradle slid over to the next section of wall, revealing the lower half of a freshly painted tilted-rocket logo, flames underlining the familiar text. Jeb leaned against his car door, smiling faintly at memories of a drainpipe and a very much smaller signboard hidden behind an old bed sheet. An empire so humble in fact that most of you were probably blissfully unaware of it, he murmured to himself. I think that rocket has long since flown. He watched the organised chaos enveloping the assembly and fitting warehouse for a moment. It’s been a while since the old junkyard days. Might  even be time to think up a new name. He grinned. But not until Lodan has had a chance to admire our shiny new sign.

A truck edged past him, carefully backing a laden flatbed trailer through the main gates. A crane swung into position overhead, lowering a complicated bundle of chains into position. Kerbals clambered onto the trailer, unbuckling thick restraining straps from a plastic shrouded pallet, reaching for dangling carabiners, making them fast. The foreman jumped up onto the trailer, checked the fittings then, stepping back, raised a portable radio to his mouth. The drooping chains slowly tightened, then lifted, hauling the heavy machine tool effortlessly into the air, swinging it clear of the trailer and setting it down next to the others. A second team of kerbals set to work unfastening the chains.

Scaffolding criss-crossed the gap between the Assembly and Fitting building and the KIS’s newly acquired warehouse. Shouting kerbals, most of them dressed in dark blue coveralls with CMB stitched in yellow across one pocket, struggled to make themselves heard over the steady din of hammering, scraping, and construction machinery. Jeb waved at the few workers he knew as he walked past. One of the CMB workers turned to see what was happening, eyes widening as he recognised the kerbonaut. A cheer went up, swelling as it rippled over the scaffolding, head after head swivelling round to watch Jebediah Kerman walk past.

Grinning, Jeb flashed the crowd a quick double thumbs-up before making his way to the kerbonaut training building. The warehouse doors were wide open, a small procession of engineers wheeling computers and other electronic equipment in on steel trolleys. An electric hand-truck rumbled past, carrying what looked like a modified Eve capsule on a wooden pallet. Jeb spotted Calzer standing by one of the doors, deep in conversation with another kerbal.

“Morning, Calzer.”

Calzer looked up. “Afternoon, Jeb. You met Geoff yet?”

“I don’t think so,” Jeb stuck out a hand. “Jeb Kerman - pleased to meet you.”

The other hesitated for a bare instant before shaking hands. “Geofkin Kerman, Steadler Engineering.” 

“Please thank your team for pulling this together on a short schedule,” said Jeb. He swept his arm out, “We’re having to pick up the pace a bit and we couldn’t do it without a proper training facility. Speaking of which, Calz, how did the integrated sims go this morning?”

“Not bad,” said Calzer. “Lucan’s all settled in over at Foxham and I’m thinking Sherf lit a couple of fires under everyone at Alpha site because they got their share of the set-up work done double quick.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” chuckled Jeb. “Training session go alright?”

Calzer waggled a hand back and forth. “I’ve seen better but considering that Tommal had to step up and replace James at the last minute, it went pretty well. Their other pilot, Fredner, seems like a solid sort - he’ll work well with Lucan I think.”

Jeb frowned. “Jim still not shaken that virus?” He looked at Calzer thoughtfully. “Can I grab an hour with you tomorrow morning? Time we started up a reserve crew rotation too I think, now that we’ve got the hardware.” He turned to Geofkin. “Another reason that we’re very glad to have Steadler on board. Hasn’t much mattered up to now if one of the crew was out sick for a couple of weeks. But now…”

Geoff nodded. “Waste anything but time, Director Lodan said.”

“Exactly,” Jeb agreed. “And on that note, it’s about time I did some work today. I’ll see you good kerbals at dinner - if anyone needs me before then, I’ll either be wedged into a brand new Whirligig capsule or buried under a pile of hydraulics. Pleasure to meet you again, Geoff.” And with a brisk wave, Jeb set off in the direction of the simulator room.

—————

“I tell you, Genie, there hasn’t been this kind of buzz around here since Kerbal 2!” Jeb shovelled a forkful of meatcake hash into his mouth, grimaced and reached for the ketchup bottle. “Pains me to admit to it but Lodan is certainly making things happen!”

“Who knew all that bureaucracy would be so good at organisation,” said Geneney straight-faced. 

Jeb made a face at him. “Depends if it’s Institute bureaucracy.” He shook his head with grudging respect. “I’m betting Lodan can push pens with the best of them but at least he isn’t trying to micromanage the whole thing to death.”

“Says the kerbal who wouldn’t go near a monthly report with a two metre strut,” said Geneney dryly. “You might get a distinctly single-digit reply to that from the Accounts team too.”

“Since when did we have an Accounts team?”

“Since we started sub-contracting with CMB and the rest,“ said Geneney. “Not to mention putting out tenders for booster manufacturing. And before you ask, no, Rockomax couldn’t take up the slack. Ademone’s got enough on holding up her end of Pioneer, along with everything else.”

Jeb slowly stirred ketchup into his hash. “How did Wernher take it?”

“Pragmatically,” said Geneney, “But then I’m only tendering for the Minmus probes. Anything with a capsule on top still gets built here.” He grinned. “We owe the Probodyne team a round of drinks too, next time we’re over at Alpha. Turns out they were having problems with their landers - they were very respectful when they asked Wernher for help.”

Jeb laughed. “That would help.”

Geneney nodded. “And he came through for them too! Brushed off the old LV-1 plans, adapted it for pressure-feed instead of turbo-pumps and rigged it up with one of those toroidal tanks that Seelan was playing around with. No need for landing legs - Minmus gravity is low enough that it can land on the tank. Put a minimal instrument package on the top - basically just a seismometer and a radio - and there you have it. Probodyne are calling them buttons and Wernher reckons an Eve booster should be able to lob a decent sized comsat and a handful of buttons into Minmus orbit.”

“Excellent,” said Jeb, swallowing another mouthful. “Should have a decent early warning system up  and running by the time we get a crew out there. Reckon we’ll need another controller to watch for outgassing?”

“That’s the plan,” answered Geneney.”

Jeb pushed his plate away. “Who won the tender by the way?”

“Kerbodyne Space Projects Ltd,” said Geneney, “Not a company I’d heard of but Ademone’s worked with them before and was happy enough with their work. They’re basically the old Steadler propulsion department who struck out on their own when…”

“Steadler decided to focus on capsules,” finished Jeb. “Sounds like they’re worth keeping an eye on. It’s not that long since Steadler reorganised and if they’ve gone from a standing start to contracting for Rockomax in that time…” He nodded. “Definitely worth watching.”

—————

“Got them both,” reported Bobrie. “Orbiter systems look good, lander’s on it’s way down.”

“Propulsion looking good,” Ferlan called out. “Valves, line heaters and helium pressure are Go.” He scanned his console, eyes flicking between the flight clock and the engine readouts. “Coming up on engine relight.”

Germore checked her own console, watching the altitude and velocity indicators flicker past. One green light came on, then a second. The velocity indicator began to slow and Ferlan confirmed what she already knew.

“Ignition confirmed, Autopilot on and holding.”

Germore tapped a button, patching her console readouts through to the main screen. The three controllers - and the cluster of Probodyne engineers crammed into the Deep Space Operations Centre behind her - watched them unblinkingly. I don’t know which is worse. Waiting minutes for any telemetry at all, or watching the whole thing in next to real time. She stared at the rapidly unwinding velocity, altitude and fuel readings, mentally following the lander along the trajectory she’d calculated weeks before. Any time now.

Bobrie’s quietened tones matched her thoughts. “Approaching pitchover…”

The attitude indicators abruptly shifted and there was no disguising the relief in Bobrie’s voice. “Terminal descent initiated. Autopilot is green.”

Germore heard more than a few gusty sighs of relief from behind her. Somebody started to applaud then stopped in embarrassment. The fuel quantity light glowed a sudden green on her console, matching the autopilot and thrust status lights beside it. Fifty metres. Down point six. Forty metres…thirty. Haven’t hit anything yet. Twenty metres. Germore unclenched her fists. If the engine gives up now, we’d just bounce. Ten metres…

The three lights winked out. 

“Touchdown!” Bobrie pushed her chair back from her console. “Solid contact on all three legs!”

“Engine shutdown confirmed,” Ferlan reported. “Safing RCS. Overpressure valves open.” He turned to Germore and Bobrie. “And we’re on the Mün!”

“Let’s see if it was worth it,” said Germore calmly. “Beginning start-up sequence.”

Probodyne OCTO v. 1.105.
Vehicle designation:  Unity 1-L
KCOM.……..OK
BIOS………. OK
MEM1………OK
MEM2………OK 
>Loading surface operation modules…..
SOM_chksum…..OK

>Starting PLST sequence…..
CBatt…..…….82%
PV-A…………DEP
PV-B…………DEP

Germore felt herself relax as the familiar litany of system module reports scrolled up the screen.

XRPS_dat…….OK
CAM_con……OK
CAM_pow……OK
CAM_dat…….OK
>System set.

Behind her, the applause began in earnest.

——————

“Yaw manoeuvre complete,” Lucan held his breath for a long half-second. Then the computer display flickered, new data filling the screen. “Landing radar on-line!”

“Copy, Pioneer.” Lucan was certain he could hear a faint undercurrent of relief in Nelton’s voice. “FD requests a delta-H check.”

“On it, Flight.” Lucan tapped out the command. “OK, Delta-H absolute is negative three hundred. I read plus forty off-plan.”

“FD concurs, Pioneer. Convergence?”

“One moment,” Lucan worked the computer. “Abort guidance matches primary, Flight. Or near enough. Suggest we re-check delta-H at pitchover minus two.”

“Confirmed, Pioneer.”

“We’re feeling the RCS down here, Flight,” said Tommal calmly. “I figure the computer knows which way it’s going. Throttle holding steady in auto-one, electrics are good, capsule systems in the green.”

For a minute, Lucan stared at the stars outside the lander window, feeling the muted rumble from the descent engine through the soles of his feet. Then he turned back to the instrument panel. “Pressures looking good, propellant gauges on the line. Ready for the delta-H check, Flight?”

“Go ahead, Pioneer.”

Lucan fought to keep the relief out of his voice. “Copy. Absolute is negative one-fifty and we’re a whole five metres off-plan.”

“We hear that, Pioneer. Don’t look now but FD just cracked a smile.”

“Going to ride this rocket all the way down,” said Tommal. “Standing by for throttle-down.

“Thirty seconds, Pioneer.”

“Be good to see where we’re going again, Flight. Here we go… throttle at fifty-five…starting pitch-over. Give me a sighting angle please, Lucan.”

Lucan watched the Mün slide back into view. “Twenty degrees, Tom.” He stared at the craters, trying to fit the view from the window with his mental image of the training map. Beside him, Tommal shuffled his feet in their restraints, knees bending slightly as he peered along the sighting grid.

“And the computer has it, Flight! Trajectory team nailed us right to the tip of the Arrow!”

“Got some comm noise here, Pioneer,” said Nelton dryly. “Say again, please.”

“Gateway craters dead ahead, Flight. We’re coming down right on the tip of Jeb’s Arrow - left to right, three little craters, just as neat as you like!”

——————

Triangle. Left to right. Germore stared at the screen, tracing arrows in the air with one finger. Got it! Her hands raced across the console. Panoramic selected, tilting up, slew angle…Come on, come on. Who built this hunk of junk anyway?

Oh, right.

The image slid past, streaking in places, breaking up into rough blocks in others. It stopped, sharpened as the data stream caught up with the camera movement, and then tipped up ever so slightly. A small boxy shape appeared in the top corner, falling towards the cratered grey plains below.

Not falling - slowing!

“Great Kerm above - it’s them!” Bobrie sprang to her feet, an incredulous grin lighting up her face. Across the Deep Space Operations Centre, heads snapped round at the sudden outburst. With a small, satisfied smile, Germore tapped at her keyboard, centring the camera on the descending Pioneer 5, before silently crossing her fingers under the console. On the screen, a faint haze began to play around the base of the spacecraft.

—————

“Forty metres, down one dot five, forward point five. Plenty left in the tank.”

Tommal’s eyes flicked from navball to horizon and back. Calmly he tapped the throttle control, coaxing a fraction more thrust from his descent engine.

“Thirty metres, down one, forward velocity nulled.” Lucan glanced out of the window. “Tip crater right where we want it. Kicking up some dust.” A warning light glowed on his instrument panel. “Twenty-five metres, quantity light on. We’re good, Tom, we’re good.”

Dust swirled outside the cabin. Tommal peered through the window, willing his hands to hold steady, searching for landmarks through the clouds. He eased back on the attitude controller, tipping his spacecraft level.

“Fifteen metres. Down point five. Bring us on in, Tom. Ten metres, down point two. Fi…contact!”

Nelton slumped in her chair. Just like the training, she thought dimly. Just another integrated sim.

“…descent engine arm off. ATO is in.” The radio crackled. “Flight, this is Pioneer - and we’re down on them dusty plains, Flight!”

Nelton hauled herself upright. “Copy that, Pioneer - we see you down. Excellent work!”

“You too, Flight. We owe the trajectory team a big one - outstanding navigation, just outstanding.”

“Lander just gave you the all-clear, Pioneer. Looks like you’ll be kicking up some of that dust yourselves.”

—————

Lucan knelt on the cabin floor, legs bending reluctantly in his stiff pressurised suit. He shuffled backwards, looking down through his knees as best he could without bumping his helmet on the ascent engine cover.

“Feet clear, Lucan. Left a bit…easy does it - watch that backpack.” 

I would if I could. Lucan dropped a little lower, bending at the waist, feet fumbling for the topmost ladder rung. 

“Almost there…you’re looking good. There you go!”

Clutching the chunky ladder rungs tightly, Lucan climbed down hand-over-hand. He felt a brief moment of panic, foot sliding past a missing step before hitting the ground with a thud. For a long minute he hung onto the ladder, heart pounding so loudly in his ears that he half-expected a warning call from Nelton. Then, exultant grin hidden behind reflective visor, he opened his hands and took a step back.

His boot print was razor sharp, a perfect impression stamped into the powder-fine regolith. Lucan stared at in fascination then, unseen by the watching millions, shook his head and tottered over to Tommal.

“The long lope that Jeb and Jondun used works pretty well,” said Tommal. “Don’t worry - plenty of time in the schedule for getting our Mün legs.” He squeezed the stubby, fabric-wrapped cylinder in his hand, watching the spring loaded feet and cross-pole snap out. “But first, I guess we’d better face the camera.” He pushed the flagpole firmly into the regolith, rocking it back and forth and then twisting it as hard as he could to wedge it in place. The two kerbonauts shook hands and turned towards their spacecraft. Tommal cleared his throat, the familiar whispering of a suddenly live microphone suddenly filling his helmet. 

“Today we stand not merely on the Mün but on your shoulders. You, the countless kerbals who trained us, watched over us on the journey, built our magnificent spacecraft, and most of all, made the Pioneer Program possible with your support and enthusiasm. And for that, we can never thank you enough.”

There was a click and then a storm of applause filled his ears. “Nice speech, Pioneer,” Nelton called over the noise “And to the two kerbals on top of the heap - we’d do it all again!”

“We know it, Flight,” Tommal said simply. “OK, I’m starting the recon loop.”

“The good people at Probodyne say they left you a toy-box to play with too,” said Nelton. “Let us know if you see it.” She paused. “And they pass on their congratulations for the landing - apparently it looked pretty good from where they were sitting.”

From where they were sitting, muttered Tommal to himself. “Hope they managed to set the toy box down nearby, Flight,” he said. “Too much walking is going to eat right into the schedule.” He rounded the lander, stepping into the shade. “I don’t believe it!”

“That sounds good,” said Lucan. “I think.”

“Better than good!” said Tommal. “Kerm, is that pretty! Can’t be more than a couple hundred metres away - just around the crater rim, neat as you like!”

“Copy that, Tom,” said Nelton, “We’re patching Alpha Station in now. Time to do some Munar prospecting - and maybe a bit of science on the side.”

——————

The first thing Lucan noticed on waking, was the aching in his fingers. The second was the crude hammock that he was lying in. He blinked the sleep out of his eyes, vaguely aware that something around him was creaking and popping. Liquid gurgled through a pipe next to his ear and a fan blew a tepid stream of metallic smelling air over his face. Gradually his eyes adjusted to the gloom, taking in the metal walls illuminated by firefly lights and softly glowing patches. Light crept into the room around a pair of window blinds, oddly lambent for daylight, reminding him more of…

Munlight!

Lucan jerked in his hammock, remembering at the last minute not to sit up too suddenly. Automatically he glanced over at the flight clock just as a burst of music filled the cabin.

“Ohhhh they're gonna walk. Gonna walk. Gonna walk on the Mün…"

“Good morning, Pioneer. Sleep well?”

“Like a kerblet in its pouch, Flight,” replied Tommal below him. “These hammocks make a pretty good bed in one-sixth gee.”

“Could just use a good hot bowl of natas and a smoky sapwood to set us up for another fine day on the Mün,” added Lucan cheerfully. “But I’m sure we can rough it on ration cubes and water.”

“Just as long as they’re not the spicy ones,” said Tommal, “Doubt the environmental systems can handle the uhh… after-effects of any more of those.”

“I’ll keep those for the EVA then,” Lucan laughed. He retrieved two ration packs from the mesh bag stuck to the wall behind his head and tossed one down to Tommal. “Sunfruit surprise suit you?”

“Suits me fine,” said Tommal. “How’s Fredner doing up there, Flight?”

“Sleeping like a kerblet too, Tom,” said Nelton. “We’ll wake him up once we’ve chased you two out the door. By the way, you’ll be pleased to know that the plane correction burn went as planned - FD confirms that he’ll be right where you need him this afternoon.”

“That’s good to know, Flight,” Tommal said around a mouthful of ration cube. “Any update on the EVA.”

“No changes, Tom. Probodyne got some good data from yesterday’s samples and recommend we just keep with the planned procedures.”

“Works for me,” Tommal stowed his empty ration pack and swung his legs gingerly out of his hammock. “Time to suit up.”

Lucan lowered himself from his own hammock, rolled them both up and secured them to the cabin wall. He retrieved Tommal’s life support pack, checking the water and oxygen gauges on the back and held it out for Tommal to wriggle into his chest harness. He watched his commander unplug himself from the lander systems and connect up the hoses from the backpack to his spacesuit, mentally ticking off items on the checklist as they went. “Let me just check those hoses, Tom. OK, they’re locked in tight. Ready for your helmet?”

Tommal nodded. Lucan lifted his helmet into place and locked it onto his neck ring. Tommal looked down and twisted a pair of control knobs on his chest. “Fan started. O2 and CO2 levels nominal. Water flow on minimum.” He shrugged his shoulders, settling the backpack into place. “Right, let’s get you set.”

Ten careful minutes later both fully-suited kerbonauts stood awkwardly in the confined lander cabin. Lucan checked his gloves one last time before un-caging a switch on the instrument panel. “Flight, Pioneer. Opening de-press valve.”

“Copy, Pioneer.”

The cabin pressure gauge dropped past the egress mark and a soft chime sounded in both helmets. Tommal knelt down and carefully eased the hatch open. “That worked better the second time, Flight. Exiting cabin.”

“Don’t lock the door on the way out, Pioneer.”

Tommal chuckled, legs already out of the hatch. “I can see the headlines now, Flight. ‘Munwalking kerbonauts break into own lander.’ OK, found the first rung. Lets get to work.”

——————

“Left a bit, Lucan. Watch the antenna. OK, lock bracket, check power switch, plug in the umbilical…”

Germore drank her coffee and listened to the two voices from the Mün. On the main screen, Pioneer 5 stood by the crater rim, an incongruous kerbal-made object amidst the rugged grandeur of the Munar plains. She smiled to herself, drinking in the view and watching the almost surreal sight of two tiny figures at work by their spacecraft.

“That’s got it, Flight. Antenna is tracking freely. My locator is on.”

“I’m on too, Flight.”

“Picking you both up loud and clear.”

“Well alrighty then. On my way to sample point one, second traverse. Lucan has the tray and is heading for Unity.”

“On my way, Flight!” 

Germore’s smile broadened into a delighted grin at the suited figure loping towards her and waving at the camera. Uncaring who might see her, she waved back enthusiastically before the figure moved out of camera shot. 

“Getting toasty in here, Flight - gonna turn up the cooling for a minute. These gloves really weren’t built for this kind of close-up work. C’mon you sla…bs of plastic. Get in there would you.” The figure bounced into sight carrying a fan shaped, ridged plastic tray, which he set down in front of the Unity lander. Lucan paused for a moment and adjusted it’s position slightly, before unclipping a long handled tool from his belt and using it to drop a clod of regolith into one of the tray channels. “Pioneer, Unity. Ready for scoop test?”

Germore cleared her throat and toggled her microphone with a trembling finger. “Alpha copies. Loading test program.” Text scrolled up her console screen, accompanied by a row of rapidly flickering lights. “Checksum matches. Starting test.”

Unity 1’s sample arm swivelled round, unfolded, then dipped towards the tray. The scoop tip pulled back, dragging through the regolith sample, piling it up against a stop that had been placed there for that very purpose. The arm folded back on itself, tip curling upwards and inwards, then swung clear. Lucan skirted around the tray, careful not to scatter any dirt on it, then inspected the scoop contents.

“Pioneer, Unity. Sample capture confirmed.”

“Thanks, Lucan. If you could empty the tray first, I’ll get rid of this.”

“Will do, Unity.”

“Good work both,” said Nelton. “How are you doing, Tom?”

“According to the map, I should be right about at the first stop, Flight.”

“Understood, Tom. Science team have your bearing. Unity?”

Germore glanced at her console. “Unity has a bearing. Standing by.” She tapped out a command and her console screen promptly blanked out.

>beacon_trace loaded
>listening…
>listening...
>listening…

“Copy that, Flight. Copy, Unity. Transmitting ranging ping.”

>ping received
>extracting timestamps
>range 231m

Germore pressed a key, saving the data for later analysis. “Unity reports range two three one.”

“Thank you Unity,” said Nelton. “OK, Tom, we’ve got a fix on you.”

“Understood, Flight. I’ve got a couple of pretty good sized boulders here. Going to see if I can break a chunk off one of them, maybe do a little sampling underneath it.”

“Science team are saying they’ll make a geologist of you yet, Tom. Go ahead.”

—————

No sooner had the pressure warning light blinked off, than Lucan unlocked his wrist cuffs and pulled off his gloves with a sigh of relief.  He and Tommal busied themselves unplugging hoses and reconnecting their spacesuits to the cabin environmental systems, before shucking out of their life support backpacks. Quietly, Lucan set about securing the sample boxes and loose equipment whilst Tommal piled up the backpacks and other EVA gear, for disposal.

After their initial exuberance, conversation with Mission Control became steadily more businesslike as Tommal and Lucan worked through their checklist. Surplus gear was thrown overboard,  communication systems were checked, guidance and radar systems were double checked, engine readouts were scrutinised by Mission Control and kerbonauts alike. As their preparations for lift-off continued, Lucan’s acknowledgements and comments grew increasingly terse. Tommal glanced over at Lucan in concern, but he carefully avoided making any comments over the air.

“Copy that, Flight. We’re Go to proceed in twelve thirty seven, we get ascent engine armed, abort stage, ignition - and that’s it.”

“That’s affirmative, Pioneer. Up to orbit for a rendezvous with the Fredner Express and a leisurely cruise back to Kerbin.”

“Sounds good, Flight.” Tommal clicked off the air-to-ground loop and turned to his copilot. “Reckon we did a solid job of work out there, Lucan. Got everything we came for, left a bunch of extra samples for Probodyne to scoop up and poke at, once we’re gone, proved out the trackers. We done good.” He saw the look on his co-pilot’s face. “That engine’s gonna fire. Damn thing only has about four moving parts in it, including backups. You’re gonna press that button, that decoupler will pop right off and then we’re out of here. Leisurely cruise back to Kerbin, just like the good lady said.”

“And what if it doesn’t?” Lucan said flatly.

Tommal gestured at the ascent engine cover. “Then I open a can on that can, apply a little percussive maintenance to the motor, we wait for Fred to swing past again and catch him on the second time around.” He shrugged. “And if that don’t work neither, we take a long look at that magnificent view out there, pop the hatch and go out with a smile. Not much else we can do.”

Lucan nodded slowly. “I guess not.” He straightened up. “And those moving parts were built by the best kerbals in the business. They won’t let us down.”

Tommal clasped his shoulder briefly. “No they won’t - neither parts nor kerbals. Now get your game face on - Nelton’ll get nervous if we don’t speak to her before the lift-off.”

The minutes dragged past. Lucan stared fixedly at the mission clock, shuffling his boots securely into their restraints.

“T minus two minutes on my mark, Pioneer… Mark.”

“Marked, Flight. Proceeding at sixty.”

Lucan stared straight ahead, counting down the seconds in the silence of his own head. He saw a flicker of blue from the corner of his eye, saw Tommal reach across the instrument panel in response. “Forty seconds, Flight. Pioneer is Go.”

Twenty seconds. Twelve. Ten…nine…eight…

The explosion kicked through the soles of his feet, followed immediately by a burst of fire from the RCS thrusters. Then the ascent engine lit.

“Ignition - and lift off!” Tommal flashed him a quick smile. “Ascent engine at rated thrust, tank pressures nominal.”

Lucan squeezed his eyelids together briefly, blinked hard and then automatically tapped out a command on his computer keyboard. “Flight, Pioneer. Primary guidance is green. Abort is aligned.”

“Copy that, Pioneer. See you in orbit.”

Edited by KSK

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Great work as always!

...Wait. The LV-1 was a turbopump-driven engine? Who is making these miniature turbopumps??

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Heya Skykooler.  Haven't seen you on this thread for a while - glad you're still reading along!

Short answer - Wernher made them, albeit with the resources of Kerbin's premier aeronautical research institute to draw on. He was a jet engine designer originally so would have been used to working with turbomachinery.

I confess that I didn't think too deeply about this at the time, but if you want a little retrospective justification:

Wernher's background with jets probably coloured his thinking about rocket propulsion, his early engines were all turbopump driven, he never really trusted solid fuels (that much we do see early in the story) and the idea of pressure-feeding the propellants never really occurred to him. Even if it had, he probably wouldn't have had time to do much work on them at the Institute before he, Jeb and the rest of the fledgling KIS got kicked out. Outside of the Institute, the KIS were more concerned with building something that worked rather than research for research sake. What worked for them at the time was turbopumps.

The LV-1 was more of a technology demonstrator than a flight-worthy engine, simply because it was too small and it's thrust-to-weight ratio was too low. The larger LV-2 and LV-3 engines, developed by Wernher and Jeb as part of Jeb's final year project, were enough (barely) to get a couple of sounding rockets off the ground. The early KIS engines were all plagued by power issues to a greater or lesser extent, right up to the LV-15 used on the Kerbal and Kerbin boosters.

For comparison, here is a Goddard P series rocket, which were the first of his to use turbopumps. In First Flight terms, that would be about an LV-3 equivalent. The pumps were essentially home-made - Goddard did approach a commercial company to make them but they weren't interested in producing such small pumps. Throw the resources of the Institute at the problem and making LV-1 sized pumps looks at least vaguely plausible. :)

 

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41 minutes ago, KSK said:

Outside of the Institute, the KIS were more concerned with building something that worked rather than research for research sake. What worked for them at the time was turbopumps.

"Personally, I liked the university.  They gave us money and facilities, and we didn't have to produce anything.  You've never been out of college!  You don't know what it's like out there. I've worked in the private sector.  They expect results."

"For whatever reasons, Ray, call it 'fate', call it 'luck', call it 'karma', I believe that everything happens for a reason.  I believe that we were destined to get thrown out of this dump."

"For what purpose?"

"To go into business for ourselves."

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Excellent as always, tho with each new success for the characters, I'm getting worried that when something does finally go wrong, it's gonna go really wrong!

I'm reminded of the line from Armageddon about sitting in a thing with a million parts each made by the lowest bidder. Perhaps the KIS's success is because they've specifically avoided this?

 

Also, is a "guard beast" anything like a roast beast?

grinch-roast-beast.jpg

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

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Hi, everyone! This is my first post on this thread, but I have to say I still have to read page 24+.  As of that point, great job KSK with mixing rocket science with culture.:D

Edited by GKSP
layout fix

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19 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Excellent as always, tho with each new success for the characters, I'm getting worried that when something does finally go wrong, it's gonna go really wrong!

I'm reminded of the line from Armageddon about sitting in a thing with a million parts each made by the lowest bidder. Perhaps the KIS's success is because they've specifically avoided this?

Also, is a "guard beast" anything like a roast beast?

 

Exactly so. I'm not saying that things won't go wrong but KIS management have all worked on the production line (such as it is), at some point, which has kept any 'us and them' mentality to a minimum whilst avoiding Go fever. KIS rockets launch when the engineers are happy, end of.

It's perhaps a little cynical but the 'we all build them, we all fly them' approach has also helped a lot. Nothing helps keep your mind on quality control like the sure and certain knowledge that you or your mates could be going up on the rocket that you're building. :)

From way back in chapter 17:

Jeb took a swig of coffee. “All I can say is that everyone building Moho 3 is sweating the details at least as much as the flight control team." He looked at Wilford thoughtfully. “I was watching Ribory and Seanan building the heat shield for Camrie's flight. Everything looked fine to me but Ribory had obviously spotted something. She drilled out the entire section of shield that she'd spent the last two hours on, picked up that caulking gun and just set to work again." Jeb swirled his mug absently as he went on. “I saw Ordun machining the mounts for the Moho 3 wiring looms  and they were a work of art. Then he polished them just to make sure. I was curious because these were loom mounts for Kerm's sake - there was no need to make them to those tolerances, never mind shine them up to the point where you could use them as a mirror. Ordun just looked at me. 'There's a bunch of things that could go wrong with this machine, Jeb' he said 'but I can tell you that none of them are going to happen because of parts that I've made.'"

That's no guard beast incidentally, but it does look like a fine haunch of baked creva or perhaps roast kaya. :)

Edited by KSK

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Thanks GKSP and welcome to the thread!

Good to hear that you've gotten as far as page 24. f I'm reading that right, then I think you've got some of my favourite parts still to come - hope they work for you as well. :)

Edited by KSK

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Why haven't i found this thread before?

Same with GKSP, new to this thread here, only on page 4 but i can already tell that the rest will be good...

Good Great job KSK! Keep up the good work! :)

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9 hours ago, Atlas2342 said:

Why haven't i found this thread before?

Same with GKSP, new to this thread here, only on page 4 but i can already tell that the rest will be good...

Good Great job KSK! Keep up the good work! :)

Thanks!

Welcome to the thread - glad you found us and hope you enjoy the rest of the story. :)  The next chapter is chugging along. Probably won't be quite finished by the weekend but it should be getting close to it.

 

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Well I think that's a personal best. Tried playing a little KSP tonight and after a couple of hours I'm afraid my overwhelming reaction was 'I waited a year for this?'

I got me an uglier, buggier, even-less-logical game, with a UI that frankly makes my eyes hurt and parts that don't work. The performance may well be better but that's a moot point if I can't care about playing for long enough for that to become a factor. Likewise I could wait for the mods to catch up and try and wrestle the game into something vaguely fun to play but you know what - I've got better things I could do with my time.

Like finishing up First Flight  - because writing about KSP is way more fun than going through the stress and irritation of playing it. 

Bleh.

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Pretty much. 

Started a career game, launched a couple of rockets, decided to build a wee plane to go do a couple of Kerbin observation contracts. Cobbled together a plane out of the appalling mishmash of parts that the first Flight tech tree node gives you - Tier 1 cockpit and fuselage, with an air intake thats functionally useless with those parts, and a Tier 0 engine and undercarriage. Seriously? Whatever I did, the wretched thing just turned donuts on the runway until it wobbled out of control and exploded.

Considered starting a sandbox game, remembered that there's naff all to do at any destination once you get there and decided that I couldn't be bothered. Did not finish the session with 'wow that was a fun session of puzzle solving - maybe I'll solve it tomorrow' feeling, so much as a 'welp that's two hours of my life that I'll never get back' resignation.

I've got enough stress and irritation in my life at the moment. I do not need more of the same from my 'entertainment'.

 

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Sympathies, man.

Me, I'm waiting on mods and dealing with computer problems; not to mention, I still have the rest of my screenshots from my old game to organize, upload and describe.  ("Soon" :P )

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Sorry it's been a while - next chapter is up...

 

Journeys

“Horizontal velocity looking good, Flight. Almost there…almost there…and shutdown. Engine off, engine arm off. How’re we looking, Lucan?”

Like we’ve got one less thing to worry about, thought Lucan. “Ninety five kilometres by seventeen, Flight,” he reported. “No quantity light on the ascent engine but the gauge is hovering right around empty. RCS propellant within expected levels.”

“Understood, Pioneer - that’s good to know. Please switch to three way comms.”

Lucan flipped a switch on the instrument panel. “Copy, Flight. Everyone receiving us?”

“Loud and clear Pioneer. Fredner, how do you read?”

“You’re a bit fuzzy, Flight,” replied Fredner. “Picking up Pioneer just fine. How’s it going down there, guys?”

“Not bad for a flying bag of charcoal, Fred. Hope you haven’t cleaned up specially, because this is one filthy spacecraft.”

“It certainly is,” said Lucan. “You could maybe pack a clothes brush for the next crew, Flight.”

“Noted, Pioneer. CapSys is wondering how much dust you’re getting on the instrument panel?”

“Not enough to matter, Flight. Nothing seems to be working its way behind any of the dials. Keeping the spare gloves bagged until the last minute sure helped - they didn’t get a chance to get junked up like the EVA gloves.”

“Copy, Pioneer. FD has a circularisation update for you. No changes to attitude, delta-v fifteen dot five metres per second.”

“We’ll take that, Flight, said Tommal. “Pretty close to our first-pass calculation.”

“Got them on radar now, Flight,” Fredner announced. “I make their distance to be three hundred seventy kilometres, closing at one twenty two metres per second.”

“Agreed,” said Lucan, “Three hundred seventy, closing at one twenty two.”

“Forty second to loss of signal, team. Good luck.”

“Thanks, Flight. See you on the next pass.” Tommal waited for the expected rush of static before flipping his radio back to a direct link to the Pioneer 5 capsule. “You still with us, Fred?”

“Way ahead of you, Tom, just like always.” Fredner paused. “So what was it really like down there, guys?”

Tommal stared at his microphone for a moment. “Spectacular,” he said at last. “The flying matched up pretty well to the sims in the end but that gravity…nothing could match up to that. The training team did their best but that harness just isn’t the same. All of you feels light and when you take a jump - you just keep going and going and going.”

“That scenery too,” said Lucan, “which is not something I thought I’d get excited about, especially after listening to Jeb and Jondun go on about it. But yeah - even without Kerbin hanging in the sky, it really was like walking on another world.” He laughed. “Which sounds pretty stupid put like that but I can’t think of a better way of describing it. How about you, Fred? What was it like being the lone explorer?”

“Peaceful,” said Fredner wryly. “Definitely the best thing about the Far side - not having Mission Control in your ear the whole time.” His voice shifted subtly. “Actually, that’s not true. Being on your own did make it different. Kerbin somewhere over there, you guys on the surface somewhere down there. And Kerm knows what else out of the window. Stars by the thousand, most of them prob’ly with their own planets, even if we can’t see them, maybe even other life on some of them. We’re not really so far out here, guys. Just barely paddling in the shallows.” He coughed. “But enough of this. You two had better get set up for circularisation.”

Tommal checked his navball. “We’re good. Attitude all zeros. SAS holding steady.

Lucan tried to ignore the unwelcome queasiness in the pit of his stomach. Busy with the lander computer, he didn’t notice Tommal’s quick glance. “Burn program loaded. Delta-v, fifteen dot five on RCS. Guidance on primary.”

“Sixty seconds,” said Tommal calmly. He flicked his microphone over to their private channel. “These old RCS thrusters are even tougher than that ascent engine, Lucan. We’re gonna be fine.” He flipped back to the air-to-air loop. “Go at twenty.”

The reaction control system fired for a handful of seconds, its meagre thrust still more than sufficient to propel the lightweight lander - fuel expended and barely more than a cabin -  and its two occupants. Lucan’s feet settled against the cabin floor and then, as quickly as it began, the burn was over. Lucan stabbed out a command on his keyboard. “Ninety-five by ninety-three dot seven,” he said in relief. “How does that compare with you, Fred?”

“You’re not quite with me,” Fredner answered, “but the shaping burn shouldn’t be more than a metre per second at most. Quick dab of the thrusters ought to do it.”

—————

“You weren’t fooling about that bag of charcoal!” Fredner exclaimed, peering down through the lander hatch into a hazy dark-grey cloud. “Dust bags coming through!”

Lucan stepped into his bag, stripping off his filthy spacesuit amidst a shower of debris. Pulling the drawstring closed, he passed the bag up to Fredner, who stowed it under the navigator’s couch in the capsule. Lucan emerged from the lander to find his crewmate waiting for him with a squeeze tube of water and a pack of wipes, both pleasantly cold.

“Stowed them both next to the outflow pipe from evaporator A.” Fredner reached into the open access panel and retrieved another squeeze bottle. “Flight thought you’d both appreciate a cold one after a hard day’s work on the Mün.” 

Lucan took a long drink, sighing with pleasure as the chilly globules splashed over the roof of his mouth. “Certainly do - thanks, Fred. Why don’t I get that access panel back on, whilst you stow Tom’s suit.”

Fredner grinned at him. “That was the plan.” He pulled himself over to the hatch. “You about done in there, Tom?” A bagful of spacesuit drifting towards the hatchway was his only answer. Deftly he snagged it from midair, manoeuvred it under the commander’s couch and passed Tommal his squeeze bottle. Tommal raised his eyebrows at the chilled bottle and the sight of Lucan twisting the access panel latches closed. He opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it and contented himself with a swallow of water.

“When you two have finished putting my spacecraft back together, you might want to check the high-gain alignment before reacquisition time.”

“Already checked,” said Fredner, “Should be picking them up any time now.”

“…ight, Fr…r. Co…n….ner.”

Fredner ignored Tommal’s pointed expression.

“…Fredner. Come in, Fredner.”

“Pioneer, Flight. Both prospectors safely on board!”

“Copy that, Pioneer. Got a lot of smiling faces down here.”

“Three big ones up here too, Flight,” said Fredner. “Okay, I’ve got Lucan here looking for TKI updates, so I’m going to hand you over to him, whilst I head back and help Tom with the lander.”

“Understood, Fred. Please remind Tom to leave the lander computer in REMOTE for the de-orbit and seismometer calibration test.”

“Will do, Flight.” Fredner unplugged his headset and lowered himself into the equipment bay. Working in companionable silence, he and Tommal began to unload the lander, pausing occasionally to consult an equipment list taped to the wall. Finally, he poked his head through the lander hatch for last, long look around the dusty cabin. He nodded to himself, fitted the hatch back into place and pulled the locking lever closed with a clunk. Lucan looked up as Fredner climbed into his couch beside him, settled his headset into place and reached for the environmental system controls. “Pioneer, Flight.”

“Go ahead, Pioneer.”

“Hatch secured, Flight. Tom’s squaring everything away down in the equipment bay. Ready for re-press test?”

“We’re ready, Pioneer.”

Fredner flipped a switch. The cabin pressure gauge edged upwards, accompanied by a more insistent drone from the environmental system fans. “Overpressure holding at fifteen percent, Flight. Vent after jettison?”

“CapSys confirms, Fred. Lucan has the attitude data for the jettison manoeuvre, to be followed by a five second plus-z from the RCS.”

“Five second plus-z,” Fredner repeated. “Got it, Flight. Looks like we’re about to lose you, so we’ll get set up for jettison and see you on the next pass.”

“Speak soon, Pioneer.”

——————

Pioneer 5 disappeared over the Munar horizon, the radio link to Mission Control crackling and then cutting out precisely as Tommal and his crew expected. Shortly afterwards four puffs of flash-frozen vapour appeared at the join between capsule and lander cabin, before the two spacecraft drifted apart, the lander slowly tumbling as it went. With a brief burst from the service module thrusters, Pioneer 5 pulled away. Unseen lights sprang on across the lander’s instrument panel and, the autopilot systems checking the tumble with short rattling pulses from its manoeuvring thrusters.

The two spacecraft flew on around the Mün. Then, with another flicker of hidden lights, the lander cabin pivoted in space, aiming it’s thrusters along an invisible line. The thrusters came on - and stayed on, slowing the fragile metal shell, breaking the delicate balance between speed and gravity, and letting the Mün claim it once more. As the crew of Pioneer 5 began their final orbit, the spacecraft which, mere hours before, had brought two kerbals back from the Munar surface, began it’s final journey.

——————

“Gimbal drives are Go on pitch, roll and yaw. Tank pressures nominal, all valve controllers drawing power.”

“Thank you, Fred. How’s our guidance, Lucan?”

Lucan unclenched his fingers from the edge of his keyboard and quickly scanned his checklist again. “Burn program loaded, platform aligned for TKI. Gimbal angles set for ignition. SAS in AUTO, RCS propellant levels safe above reserve and balanced across all quads.”

“And the spacecraft alignment is green,” finished Tommal. Correct end pointing forward, he added silently, eying Lucan’s taut expression and whitened knuckles. “Six minutes to ignition. Everyone strapped in for the burn?”

“Navigation station ready,” Lucan said briefly.

“Engineering station ready,” added Fredner. “Not looking forward to getting squashed after floating around this tin can for so long.”

Tommal grunted. “You’re in for some real fun then, once we get back to Kerbin.” He ran his eye over the instrument panel. “Three minutes to ignition. Proceeding on blue light at sixty and if we don’t get a light we’re going with backup plan B.  Engine stop, SME override ON, SAS to HOLD. We reestablish contact with Mission Control, check the systems and go for the manual burn on orbit TKI plus two.” He paused. “Not that we’ll need it. We’ll be catching the first train home.”

Lucan watched the flight clock count away the seconds.

“Blue light!”

The reaction control thrusters nudged him in the back.

“We got ullage…”

The service module engine slammed him into his couch.

“Ignition! Clean start - tank pressures good, chamber temperatures holding nicely.”

“SAS report please, Lucan,” said Tommal calmly. 

Lucan’s eyes darted to his computer display and rate indicators. “Attitude holding,” he said. “Minor excursions in yaw but they’re damping. Pitch and roll are good.”

“Chamber pressures steady,” added Fredner. “Burning at one minute.”

Lucan stared fixedly at the velocity readout. Twenty-two-forty, twenty-three-forty… come on… Cold sweat pooled at the small of his back. Twenty-four-forty…

“Burning at two minutes,” said Fredner. “Twenty five seconds to go.”

Twenty-five-forty. Twenty-six…forty!

“Shutdown!” Tommal called. The thrusters clattered. “Residuals coming out…done.”

Lucan blew out his cheeks, letting the tension drain from his body. “And thank the Kerm for that.” He cracked a small smile which rapidly split into an ear to ear grin. “We did it! First train home, one stop only - the Great Tranquil Sea!”

——————

The train creaked and juddered its way to a stop, threatening to spill the contents of the luggage racks over the carriage floor. Enely shouldered his pack, patted his pockets to check for anything missing, and stepped onto the platform. This far down the line from Barkton, the station was barely more than a pair of platforms and a waiting room. Greenery ran riot; the colourful vines trellised up the outside wall enthusiastically competing with the profusion of blooms bursting through a nearby fence. Enely mopped his brow on his poncho sleeve and looked around for the exit.

The next carriage along disgorged a group of chattering kerbals, some of them struggling to squeeze their backpacks through the train doors. Enely caught snatches of conversation, frowning at the occasional unfamiliar word, the local Kolan accent still very strange to his ear.

"...well there is a bus but it's only a couple of days on foot. We'd planned to just walk it - you'd be welcome to join us. What's that? Oh - riverside's the quickest way - nice and shady in this heat. Good swimming too in places. Yes - yes, me and Tivie came this time last year - met most of this sorry bunch along the way!"

Enely heard laughter accompanied by other, mock indignant, comments aimed at Tivie's partner, followed by a mumbled question that he couldn't quite make out.

"Oh, Kerm yes. Expect we'll all be back here next year too, sooner if we can manage it. Communing with the Sage..." The voice fell silent for a moment. "The story - our story - would be enough by itself but with Jonton telling it..." Enely's ears pricked up. "Television is the nearest I can get to it - except you're right there in the picture, smelling the fish and salt air, feeling what it was like to really be there. Sometimes I could almost feel the cobbles under my feet, the wind on my face..."

Hesitantly, Enely approached the group. "Um, excuse me." 

The other spun round to face him, raising his eyebrows at the darker skinned, weather-beaten figure in front of him. "Can I help you...?"

"Enely. I'm sorry to intrude but I couldn't help overhearing. Did you say you were on the way to see Jonton?"

"Well not in so many words but yes. Yes we are."

"You mentioned a Sage," said Enely carefully. "Is that the same person as Jonton?"

The other kerbal looked at him quizzically. "That's right. Jonton Kermol, otherwise known as the Sage of Barkton."

Enely nodded. "I think I'm looking for him too. Do you know where I might find him?" He saw the curious looks around him. "A friend told me I should meet him but he's not from around here and his directions were rather vague. " He smiled, "I am fortunate to find others going the same way."

"You're not the first lost pilgrim we've met along the way," came the cheerful reply. "Fairly got a name for himself, Jonton has - we've met all kinds on the road this year." He looked at Enely frankly. "You've come quite a ways too, if I'm any judge of accents. Southern Wakiran?" He stuck his hand out. "But I'm forgetting myself. Calfrey Kerman - call me Cal!"

Enely shook hands. "It is good to meet you, Cal. You were nearly right about my accent too. I'm from mid-Wakira originally - a small Grove on the edge of the Hazachi desert."

Calfrey whistled. "Your folks sure picked a tough row to hoe there." He settled his pack onto his shoulders. "Day's a wasting though. We can show you to the bus stop if you like, though you'd be welcome to join us. It's a couple of days walk to Jonton's Grove but I don't reckon a little walking is going to worry a Hazachim."

"No," agreed Enely. "And that would be most kind - thank you." He picked up his own pack. "I'm ready when you are."

——————

"So, Enely - what on Kerbin do you farm next to a desert? Can't think much of anything would grow well there."

Enely watched a pair of birds flitting over the river. "Cacti mainly," he said. "Malkaball is our staple crop but we grow pepper cactus too, as well as kerbahusk and a couple of others. Although if we could eat speargrass then we'd never lack for food - it's all our Kerm can do to keep it out of the fields. It's not even any good for brewing." He looked at Cal solemnly "If you really want to go blind of course, it's up to you. But there are many quicker and less painful ways of doing it."

Cal laughed. "Something must eat it. Have to admit though, I never thought of farming cacti. Guess I've seen too many films - I always think of two, maybe three cacti in the middle of a load of sand."

"Oh no," said Enely, "You should see the malkaball fields when they're ready for harvest. Hundreds of brown balls all lined up in rows. Looking very much like the real thing but neater."

"The real thing?" said Cal curiously.

Enely stared at his feet, flushing slightly. "It works better in the Hazachim dialect," he explained. "You know about mallek of course. Four legs, humps, bad temper. Malka is our word for bad tempered, so most of the time we just call the mallek, malka." He glanced at Cal's puzzled expression."So a malkaball is a small brown ball that..."

Cal hastily covered his mouth, stifling laughter behind a cough. "Sounds appetising," he said at last. "Do they taste as good as they look?"

"Much better than they look," said Enely. "Bake them in a sand pit with the right spices and they're actually quite sathy."

"Sathy?" asked Cal.

Enely frowned. "How to explain?" He scratched his neck, working a finger under his poncho. "It's like the word Kerm. Lots of different meanings depending on how and when you say it. He tugged at his backpack straps letting a trace of irony creep into his voice. "This pack is sathy, especially in this heat. The meal I had on the train was quite sathy all things considered. And this view," he swept out his arm. "All the green, no sand, or mallek in sight. That is definitely sathy."

"Well then," said Cal, "That gravel spur looks like a sathy enough place for lunch. What do you reckon folks?" he called.

Everyone agreed that the spur would indeed be a fine place to stop for a, much overdue, lunch. Packs were doffed, blankets and towels spread out on the ground and parcels and bottles unearthed. In short order, a party of hungry kerbals were sprawled companionably by the river, making serious inroads into their provisions. Enely sat cross-legged on his towel, munching a greenleaf roll and staring at the river banks in fascination. Clouds of insects hovered by the water's edge, to the obvious delight of the tiny iridescent birds that darted back and forth, eating their fill. 

A green lump, which Enely had assumed to be a rock suddenly fired out a long sticky tongue that snapped back into its mouth coated with dark specks. Other creatures hooted and squawked, hidden amongst the trees. A large hairy something, poked its nose out of the undergrowth, seemed to sniff disapprovingly at the green skinned figures sitting on the gravel and retreated amidst a crackling of disturbed foliage. Enely sighed contentedly and took another bite of greenleaf. He was startled from his reverie by a sudden splash and a shouted "Come on in - the water's lovely!" Two more of his companions threw themselves into the river after their friend and set to splashing as much water over her as they could. Sparkling droplets filled the air, scattered through with the green and blue wings of the bolder birds.

"You joining us, Enely?" Cal stood over him, wearing nothing but an eye-watering pair of shorts that somehow managed to clash with everything else around them. He saw Enely's hesitant expression. "How about a paddle then - bit of cold water is right sathy on the feet." 

Enely laughed. "You're getting the hang of it," he said, "but what is 'paddling'?"

Cal looked at him nonplussed. "What's paddling? Well, I guess you wouldn't get much of a chance on the edge of a desert." He pointed at his feet. "It's this - walking in the water. Nothing like it after a hard morning's walk."

Enely nodded slowly. "I can imagine that. I'm afraid I didn't bring any paddling shorts though."

It was Cal's turn to laugh. "Oh these are just for swimming later. Just take your boots and socks off, maybe hitch up that poncho a little - you'll be fine."

Inwardly, Enely shrugged. He unlaced his boots and arranged them neatly by his towel with his socks stuffed in the tops. From long ingrained habit he quickly glanced round to fix his position, then followed Cal into the river shallows. The gravel crunched underfoot, pleasantly massaging the soles of his feet and, he decided, Cal was quite right - the cold water was most sathy on the feet. He waded out up to his knees, feeling the slow-moving river gradually washing the aches and tension out of his legs. Then he stopped and turned to watch the others cavorting in the deeper water.

"Coin for them?"

Enely jumped, the sudden movement splashing water over the hem of his poncho. "I'm sorry, Cal - you startled me."

"You did have a real thousand metre stare going there," said Cal quietly. "Everything alright, Enely?"

Enely sighed. "Not really," he replied, "but they're better than they have been for a long time. Thank you, Cal."

"I'm not sure what I did but you're very welcome to it," said Cal.

"That's the point I think," said Enely. "You didn't need to do anything but you did." He looked at Cal. "Wakira is not a quiet place at the moment. Too many borders and too little trust. My Grove got caught up in the fighting." He saw Cal wince in sympathy. "Things happened that I don't really want to talk about - and probably shouldn't talk about if I did - but, if you'll excuse the expression, there's nothing left for me there now. As I told you, a friend suggested that Jonton might be able to help although I don't know how."

Enely dragged his toes through a patch of mud. "I like Kolus. It is a strange place and a wonderfully alive place after my Grove. But it is not home." He took a deep breath. "Which is why it is good to be reminded that there are still good and kindhearted kerbals in this world, even in such times as these."

Cal stared awkwardly at his feet."I think we mostly are still," he said. "Kerbals, that is.  Somebody would have helped you at that railway station if we hadn't happened by." He looked at Enely nervously. "Anyhow - this paddling is something you need to work up to. Time we were getting back on the road."

——————

The sun threw shadows from their feet as Enely's tired but excited group of companions approached the marquee field. Enely noted the overflowing strips of flowers around its edges, their colours muted in the lambent afternoon light. But before he could ask Cal or Tivie about them they were greeted by a cheerfully no-nonsense kerbal, who quickly sized them up, and her young son. 

"Good evening and welcome to our Grove! Marquees only tonight, I'm afraid - our spare rooms are all taken. They're not much but they'll keep the rain off your head and we can give you your own bit of space, privacy screen if any of you need one, and a bite to eat or drink. Moss rooms are round the back under the square tents if you need to freshen up. For anything else, just speak to anyone in a straw hat and tell them Meleny told 'em to sort you out!"

Cal stepped forward with a smile. "Canvas over our heads and a space to stretch out will do us fine, Meleny. Anything after that'll be yellow clover on the stew. I'm Cal by the way."

"Pleased to meet you, Cal. Head on in and make yourselves at home."

"Thanks, Meleny. Come on folks - lets go find ourselves a space."

Inside, the marquee was pleasantly dusky, lit only by a handful of portable electric lanterns. Enely's nose twitched at the scents of old canvas and woodsmoke, the fainter resinous tang of newly sawn timber catching in the back of his throat. A row of pallets stretched down either side of the enclosure, each with a pillow, a folded blanket and a small trunk at its foot. A small group of kerbals sat in the central space, a Tiles set laid out between them. Others lay on their pallets reading by lantern-light.

"Let's take the far end," said Cal softly, "Half of us one one side, the rest on the other. There's a bite to eat out the back once we're unpacked, unless my nose is lying to me."

Enely waited for the others to take a pallet before shrugging out of his pack and choosing a space for himself. He emptied his possessions onto his bed and set about re-folding his clothes and placing them carefully into the trunk. A minimal wash bag and mess kit followed them. A few treasured or items were taken out, inspected and stowed away inside his poncho, along with a leather coin purse, then Enely stood up, finger combing his hair into place.

"Light traveller huh," said Cal, closing the lid on his own trunk. "C'mon - lets go find that bite to eat. Rest of the unpacking will go easier with a full stomach."

"If we're lucky, he'll be just about done by the time we're leaving," said Tivie, standing up herself. "My partner is the world's worst packer," she explained to Enely, ignoring Cal's mock-wounded look. "Takes forever and he always manages to forget something."

"Well it's a good thing that I always go hiking with the world's most organised kerbal then," said Cal cheerfully, slipping his arm around her waist and steering her deftly towards the marquee opening. Outside a camp kitchen had been set up under an awning and Enely's stomach rumbled at the smell rising from a large pot. He looked around in embarrassment but Cal and Tivie had already joined the dinner queue and were waiting, bowls in hand, by a long table.  Enely went over to join them.

A smiling kerbal took his bowl and filled it with a generous ladleful of thick stew before sprinkling it with small yellow leaves and adding a hunk of dark bread. Enely thanked him politely, looking around for his friends. A radio chattered away in the background, Enely caught snatches of conversation about parachutes and welcoming somebody home, much to the evident and noisy relief of a large group sitting around a nearby table.

"Ah yes - the Munwalkers," said Cal. "Saw the launch on television before we set off - incredible sight, just incredible. Forgot they were coming home today but it sounds like they're back in one piece. Wonder if they'll be going to Duna too?"

"Probably," said Enely, inspecting his dinner. The stew seemed to consist of some kind of white bean, mashed up and mixed with sliced mushrooms and shredded green vegetables, and topped with yellow leaves. He shrugged and picked up his spoon, eyes widening slightly as he took his first mouthful. "This is...very good."

Cal swallowed his own mouthful. "Yep. Good old white bean stew. Can't go wrong with it." He tore off a piece of bread, scooping up more stew with it. "The Kolan Klassic, my mother used to call it." He chewed his bread approvingly. "Whoever baked this, Mum wouldn't have kicked them out of the kitchen either. 'Spect we'll be waiting a day or sobefore seeing the Sage but I don't think that's going to be much of a hardship."

——————

The boat rode at anchor off the coast of Firesvar; no harbour in sight but close enough to shore for protection from the worst of the ocean swells. Its crew moved with quiet purpose, filling backpacks with supplies, taking inventories of tents, camping gear and other materials and lowering them into the waiting dinghies. Finally, all was ready. The Captain nodded at his chosen companions and, one by one, they scrambled over the side into the dinghies, the fabric swaddled tools - and weapons - on their backs thudding dully against one another. Ropes slipped free, gloved hands shoved hard against varnished planks and the landing craft edged away from the larger boat, waves slapping softly against inflated rubberised fabric. 

A hand signal and four pairs of oars dipped into the water with barely a splash. The vessels glided soundlessly through the night, the scant sound from the oars hidden by the noise of wind and wave and occasional lonely seabird. 

A sudden gust of rotting seaweed and the rattle and hiss of wave-dragged shingle marked their distance to the shoreline. A last powerful stroke from the rowers and both dinghies hit the beach with a crunch of pebbles against fabric. Their crews leapt clear, seizing grab handles and carrying their now cumbersome craft swiftly up the beach towards the waiting caves. The narrow entrance to one hid a much larger interior and the Captain quietly ordered them to leave the dinghies there. He trekked a short distance along the beach, checking that the cave mouth was sufficient to hide its contents from casually prying eyes, before rejoining the rest and leading them inland at a jog.

By the time they reached the trees, the sky was beginning to lighten, the trills and whistles from unfamiliar birds greeting them as they plunged into the forest. The first crimson fingers of dawn found them in a clearing, quietly putting down their burdens. The Captain pulled a white insulated box from his pack, the circular design on its lid cast into sharp, cerise-tinged relief as he set it on the ground. Reverently, one of the waiting kerbals unwound the blanket from the spade he was carrying and handed it to her leader. 

Working swiftly, the Captain dug a hole, measuring its depth against the spade handle. He opened the box and gently lifted out a small fibrous gourd, releasing a puff of chilly, cinnamon laced vapour into the morning air. Carefully, he placed the gourd in the hole, packing earth around and over it before tamping it down with his spade. He stood, accepting a bottle from another of his companions.

The rising sun sparkled from a handful of water - the traditional gift to a new Kerm from its Keeper.

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