KSK

First Flight (Chapter 101 - A is for Acorn)

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Ho. Ly. flip. I missed 3 chapters! Sorry about getting so behind, I've been incredibly busy between being heading up Project Pathfinder and helping to moderate KerbalPowers (let me know if you are interested in either). So, I've gotten the next 3 chapters into the downloadable copy, and holy excrements this is getting huge. Volume III is now at 145,914 words, with the entire trilogy sitting at 352,543 words! Not even kidding, Volume III may necessitate another split in order to keep MS Word from flat out breaking under the size of the document, which is actually what necessitated me breaking the story into multiple volumes in the first place! Anyway, here's the download links:

First Flight Volume I

First Flight Volume II

First Flight Volume III

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On 12/1/2018 at 2:19 AM, KSK said:

I now know how the KSA plans to join their Starseed modules together. 

Spoiler - it doesn't involve Magic Magnets.

Toilet plungers and Ultra-Glue.  That's obvious.

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Next chapter is (finally) up...

Every Kerbonaut’s Friend

The old iron steps rang underfoot as Jeb emerged onto the roof of the Barkton Mission Control centre. For a moment he frowned at the unexpected figure leaning against the railing and then he rolled his eyes. "You can take the kerbal out of Mission Control but you can't take Mission Control out of the kerbal."

Geneney shrugged. "I didn't bring a repeater box up here. What more do you want?"

Jeb joined his friend by the railing. "Well that's something I suppose. Who's borrowing your chair?"

"Lucan."

"Makes sense." Jeb stared at the distant Eve booster on its launchpad. "How long have we got?"

Geneney checked his watch. "Ten minutes, thirty-two seconds, assuming they're not working a hold down there."

"Pad team are clear?" Jeb shook his head. "What am I saying? Feels strange not to be launching a crew aboard an Eve booster."

"Tell me about it." Geneney cast a glance at the ladder behind Jeb before shaking his head in exasperation. "Kerm knows what's got into me today. It's not like Lucan hasn't done this before."

Jeb laid a hand on his shoulder. "There's still time - we could always sneak in through the back door." For a moment he saw the temptation in Geneney's eyes before his friend shook his head.

"Lucan wouldn't mind but the rest of his team would be furious - and rightly so." Geneney scratched his ear. ”I've been meaning to do this for a while but events...well you know." He sighed. “Maybe one day there’ll be launches enough for a dozen flight teams at a time. Kerm knows there’ll need to be eventually.”

Jeb squeezed his friend’s shoulder. “Eventually yes. When the great and the good.” He snorted. “When the idiots that pass for the great and the good decide to stop fighting and start thinking. Until then, we carry on doing what we’ve always done.”

Geneney raised an eyebrow.

“Achieving the impossible, one step at a time, on goodwill and a shoestring budget. Only this time we’re bringing everyone with us - Kerm, kerman and kermol. Not to mention the KSA  - the rest of the KSA that is - watching our backs.” He checked his watch. “Spacecraft should be transferring to internal power about now.”

“Should be, yes.” Geneney cast another glance at the ladder before turning his back on it and fixing his eyes on the launchpad. “Final team poll, booster to internal, confirm engine status.” He gripped the railing. “Then it’s all up to the computer.”

“Guidance is internal, autosequencer running.” Jeb murmured to himself. He looked up. “Do you ever regret taking yourself off the roster, Genie?”

There was a long silence. “Sometimes,” Geneney replied at last. “If you’d pulled my name out of the basket for one of the later Moho flights, I think I’d have taken it. Not an Eve or Pioneer flight though - writing the rulebooks and building the flight teams for those was enough of a job.”

“And thank the Kerm you decided to take it. You always were our best systems guy.”

Despite himself, Geneney smiled. “The only kerbal in the team you trusted to keep everything in one piece once the rocket left the ground.” The corner of his mouth quirked upwards “I still haven’t forgotten that little pep-talk, Jeb.” His eyes took on a faraway expression. “And we’ve not been short of big days in the bunker either…” Abruptly he raised a hand, fingers outstretched before curling them one by one into a fist.

“Three…two…one…”

Fire blossomed over the launchpad, piercing brightness amidst a roiling cloud of smoke and steam.  An instant later, the crackling thunder of three LVT-30 and three LVT-20 engines rocked them back on their heels as the Eve booster sprang into the sky, soaring free of the launch tower and tracing a fiery path out across the Great Tranquil Sea, like so many rockets before it. The kerbonaut and the flight director watched it go, both wrapped in their own thoughts.

Jeb blew out his cheeks. “Looked good from here. Lets give it another few minutes, let them get through staging down there, and then I think we can slip in quietly and watch from the back.”

Geneney nodded. “That’s fair.” He paused to choose his words. “I’ve been thinking about putting myself back on the roster one day. As a colonist rather than a kerbonaut.” He smiled faintly at the expression on Jeb’s face. “If we ever get there, Duna’s going to be a gateway to the rest of the Kerbol system - and everything that we ever dreamed of doing out there. I’m thinking that Duna space traffic control is going to need its own flight director one day.” The smile became a self-deprecating shrug. “And how’s that for a crazy Interplanetary Society dream.”

Jeb blinked the dampness out of his eyes. “As a certain kerbal once told me - sometimes they’re the best ones. Think you could find room for me at one of the consoles?”

Geneney pretended to think it over. “Probably not. I don’t think I could face Guardian Elton’s disappointment. One of us needs to keep finding new places to show him after all.” He gave Jeb a sideways look. “and you could always pick up some new rocks for Bill whilst you’re out there?”

Jeb laughed. “He can pick up his own rocks.” He drummed his fingers on the railings, his expression turning serious. “Is one step at a time on a shoestring budget going to be enough, Gene?”

Geneney looked at him sombrely. “I don’t know. But I do know what they can carve on my sweetblossom pole, whether they plant it back at my Grove or in a dome on Duna.” He walked towards the steps, looking over his shoulder at the veteran kerbonaut.

“Tell the world we tried.”

————————

“Flight - Payload.”

“Go ahead, Payload.”

“Fairing jettisoned, Flight. Vehicle is Go.”

“Thank you, Payload. Booster?”

“Second stage engine is nominal, Flight.”

Jeb saw Geneney’s shoulders relax as they made their way quietly to the back of the room. He glanced up at the main screen in passing, eyes automatically going to the altitude and velocity displays although the relaxed tones of the flight controllers told their own story. Lucan flicked them a look, nodded, then turned back to his console.

The altitude display crept upwards whilst the velocity indicator raced ahead. Jeb closed his eyes for a moment, picturing the glowing horizon bisecting his spacecraft window, the rocket stage behind him almost spent.

“Sixty seconds to SECO, Flight.”

Jeb’s eyes snapped open.

“Thank you, Booster.”

The velocity display hurtled upwards, the altitude display beneath it dipping fractionally as the spacecraft eased into orbit. The displays froze amidst a burst of activity from the Payload console, then the main screen flickered, the dotted orbital track returning as a solid green line.

“Flight, FD. Nominal parking orbit; patching in Tenacity tracking data.”

A second sinusoidal trace appeared on the screen, a stylised Kerm tree marking the position of the Tenacity bridge module. Observation module, Jeb reminded himself.

“Thank you, FD. Payload?”

“Lateral photovoltaics deployed, Flight. Deploying ventral array and opening manipulator bay doors.”

Jeb glanced to one side, smiling inwardly at Geneney’s silently moving lips as the flight director counted off the seconds. He turned back to the main screen just in time to see the orbital track display blink out and be replaced by a view down the Power, Assembly and Logistics spacecraft hull. Two curved doors, their inner surfaces mostly hidden by perspective, flanked a shadowed recess, a glimpse of curved white just visible inside.

“Manipulator to standby.”

A white, fabric-clad tube emerged from the shadows, pulling a cluster of other tubes with it. A chunky, disc-like hinge swung up and out of view, the tube cluster disappearing from sight behind the main tube as it unfolded towards the camera. Elongate shadows played over the spacecraft hull; they shrank over the lip of the open payload bay and were swallowed by the deeper shadow within.

“Manipulator unstowed, Flight. All set for the shakeout sequence.”

“Copy that, Payload,” Lucan replied. “Let’s get this tugboat up and running - we’re needed at the shipyard.”

——————

“Okay, Bill. Get the second one done and we’ll call it a day.”

“Understood.” Bill waited for the flow of air across the inside of his helmet to clear the fog in front of his face before checking that his air hose and tether were free from any obstructions. Hand over hand, he worked his way across the hub module, stopping every second hand-hold to reposition his lines. Finally, he pushed away from the hull then, straining against the stiff confines of his spacesuit, he slowly bent at the waist and hooked his feet under a pair of restraining bars.

Ahead, the twin protuberances of spoke adaptor no. 4 jutted sideways from the curving expanse of the hull, with only the sides of adaptors no. 3 and no. 5 visible through his helmet visor. For a moment, Bill let his arms rest, watching as they floated in front of him. The illusion of zero gravity was somewhat spoiled by the sight of a kerbal swimming past, dressed only in shorts and breathing apparatus. Bill sighed, gave the safety diver a thumbs-up and retrieved his power wrench from its holster.

“Undogging petal four.” Bill checked his wrench settings then, bracing himself against a nearby handhold, fitted it over the bolt securing petal four in place, and squeezed the trigger. He felt the tool twisting against his hands as the bolt began to turn. Muttering under his breath, he swapped his wrench for a looped cord, one end of which was tethered to his belt. He fumbled the loop over the bolt head then drew it closed. “These were a nice idea, Tomcas, but I’m not sure they’re going to be practical on orbit.”

“Yeah, James was having trouble with them too.” Tomcas sighed, “I’ll have a word with Roncott this afternoon - see if he’s got any bright ideas. Not that I don’t think you space-walkers couldn’t deal with the bolts but…”

“Anything to make the job easier,” agreed Bill. “I’ll give some thought to it myself, Tom. Anyway - this one’s tied on and ready.” The wrench grumbled in his hand and the bolt came free. Bill tucked it into a pouch. “Petal undogged - moving to pivot point.”

Eight triangular frames, or petals, ringed the edge of the hub module, each joined to it by a hinge and all but two of them lying flat against the hull.  Bill inspected the hinge of petal no. 4, and, satisfied, worked his way along to the blunt conical latching post at its tip. He took hold of the crossbar welded just behind the latching post and, gritting his teeth, pulled.

The combination of water resistance and working inside a cumbersome spacesuit made rotating the petal a demanding exercise, and Bill was sweating freely by the time he’d heaved it into position. Tomcas could hear the kerbonaut’s laboured breathing over the suit radio, followed by the rushing sound of a suit fan being turned up to full.

“You’re doing great, Bill. Take it easy for two. At least the manipulator will have you covered for this part, up in space.” He received a grunt in reply but exactly two minutes later, the fan noise diminished to normal levels.

“Moving petal to pre-latch.” Bill nudged the crossbar home, both eyes fixed firmly on the latching post as its tip slid into a matching recess on the mocked-up bridge module. “That’s a good coarse alignment.” Another nudge and the green indicator stripe on the latching post hovered on the lip of the recess. “Ready to latch.”

One of the safety divers swam up with a camera, careful to keep out of the kerbonaut’s field of view. Tomcas studied the image on his screen. “Looking good, Bill. Clear for preload.”

Bill gripped the handlebar set into the upper surface of the latching post, twisted it through a half turn and checked the indicator stripe, which had now disappeared. “Fine alignment confimed.” He twisted the handlebar through its remaining half turn. “Latched.”

“Good work, Bill. Run me through the tensioning sequence.”

“Bolts alpha through delta, clockwise. Six turns on the first go-around, eight on the second, four on the final pass.”

“Copy that. Alpha through delta clockwise, six by eight by four.”

Bill unclipped his wrench from his belt, fitted it over the first bolt and set to work.

Two hours and two increasingly sore hands later, Bill pushed himself away from the two Tenacity trainer modules and floated alongside them for a moment, inspecting his work. The triangular frame making up petal no. 4 was secured to the bridge module by four bolts, the handlebar at its tip back in its unlatched position. On orbit, he knew, the eight petals would reinforce the central, airtight connection made through the CORDS-3 adaptor, and hold the two sections ofTenacity fast. And one day, that same arrangement of CORDS-3 and petals would fuse two similar modules into the prow of an interplanetary spacecraft.

Behind the transparent bubble of his spacesuit helmet, Bill’s eyes lost their focus. Then he shook his head and, deliberately turning away from the EVA trainer, he signalled one of the safety divers, making two chopping movements with the flat of his hand. The diver swam up and hooked a set of weights onto his belt. Bill drifted slowly to the bottom of the pool, knees bending automatically as he came to rest. He set off in a gliding lope, coasting from foot to foot across the tiled floor to the lift. Settling himself, he thumped the oversized push-plate that was the lift’s only control and, moments later, emerged dripping wet from the training pool.

———————

It was, Bill thought, almost like the old days. The Mission Control bunker, filled with the earthy scent of overheated bodies and stuffed with as many kerbals as could fit inside without encroaching too noticeably on the flight controllers at their consoles. He glanced over at Jeb and Geneney standing side by side with Director Lodan and smiled to himself. Not quite like the old days.

James and Calley, his crewmates for the first Tenacity assembly flight, stood by his side, eyes fixed on the main screen, and its image of the Tenacity hub module crawling towards them, continents and clouds drifting past behind it. Puffs of vapour spurted from the sides of the screen and the hub module stopped, then rotated by an almost imperceptible amount. Numbers chattered past on one of the telemetry screens.

“Flight, Guidance. PAL alignment is Go.”

“Thank you, Guidance. Payload?”

“Go for final approach, Flight.”

“Understood. Take us in.”

The hub module began to edge forward again. A shiver ran down Bill’s spine at the sight of the eight furled petals around the docking adapter ring, identical from this distance to the mock-ups he’d been training on two days earlier. Vapour puffed out and the hub module slowed to a near standstill, crawling down the screen towards them.

“Soft dock confirmed, Flight…”

The bunker fell deathly silent. The screen juddered and then stilled.

“And we have a hard dock!”

Bill’s breath gusted out. He wiped his forehead on his sleeve before looking up to find several of the engineers around him doing exactly the same. An excited buzz of conversation filled the room, not quite loud enough to drown out the status reports from the consoles. Calley flashed him a quick grin, James stood motionless, eyes still on the main screen.

“Flight, Guidance.”

“Go ahead, Guidance.”

“Guidance mode docked, Flight. Go for RCS checkout sequence.”

“Thank you, Guidance. Let’s start with the roll thrusters.”

——————

Sunlight glinted from the antique brass key in its glass fronted cabinet, the reflection catching Halsy’s eye. The Director of the Berelgan Institute looked up from his desk, brow furrowed in concentration. He saw the key on its stand, sighed and turned back to his work. Before him lay a ring binder, open at two grids of yellow squares, each one marked with a reference code and each a different shade to its neighbour. A handful of the squares were annotated with the names of various soil-dwelling species.

Halsy flipped open another ring binder, riffling through its contents until he found the page he was looking for. Running his finger down a list of species names, he found two that had been marked on the yellow grid and crossed them out. Then he turned to an already marked page and ran his finger down it, eyes flicking between list and grid.

By the time the clock on his office wall chimed mid-morning, Halsy was more than ready for a break. He pushed back his chair and got to his feet, tucking both folders under his arm. Locking his office door behind him, he walked down the corridor until he came to a door sporting a temporary cardboard nameplate. Checking his watch, he knocked on the door and waited for a reply.

“Come in.” Obrett looked up from the papers arrayed on her desk, most of them headed with the seal of the Accident Investigation Department. “Oh - good morning, Halsy. Is it that time already?”

Halsy nodded. “I thought I’d bring him the latest concordance data to look over.”

Obrett smiled. “Mallas is keeping busy I see.” She stacked her papers together and put them in her desk drawer. “Has he managed to send any data from Jonelle’s - Guardian Jonelle’s I should say - Grove yet?”

“Not yet. When I spoke to him last, I understood that she and Joenie hadn’t quite mastered the use of Joenie’s eyes for long enough at a time.” Halsy chuckled, “It wasn’t a long chat. Then he was straight down to the lab to pick up more sample cases and equipment and back on the next train to the Capital.”

Obrett pulled her office door closed and followed Halsy along the corridor and out of the laboratory building. “It sounds like he’s enjoying himself out at Barkton.”

“Oh Kerm yes. From what he was saying, he’s Communing with Guardian Elton almost every day, the experiments are going well, and I rather think he’s enjoying the family time in the evenings. Not to mention his time spent teaching Joenie.”

Obrett smiled again. “Yes - they got on well when she came to visit with Jonton. An engaging kerblet - and bright for her age.” She shook her head ruefully. “Not to mention caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Thank the Kerm she’s young enough to take it in her stride.” Obrett gave Halsy a sideways glance. “You should offer her a scholarship once she’s finished with compulsory schooling. She’d be an invaluable addition to the xeno-ecology team.

“The thought had crossed my mind. She’d only be a couple of years younger than our first year undergraduates - such things are hardly unprecedented.”

“And by then, Jonelle should have grown up enough to let her go.”

Halsy climbed into one of the campus minivans and waited for Obrett to get in. “That’s a good point. I wouldn’t fancy the task of telling a sapient Kerm that her Keeper was going to be away for weeks at a time.”

Obrett sighed. “We can only hope she’ll be studying in more peaceful times. Having Joenie able to fly home for the weekend would make it much easier for both of them.”

The journey out to the former planting site, passed in silence, both kerbals wrapped up in their own thoughts. Halsy parked at a polite distance from the new Grove and retrieved his ring binders from the back seat. The grass was springy underfoot and the air was scented with resin and just a hint of cinnamon, as he and Obrett walked up the path to Erlin’s hut and knocked on the door. They heard footsteps and then Gusemy opened the door and beckoned them inside. Halsy took one look at the other’s carefully composed features and stopped dead.

“What’s happened?”

“I… think. I hope… You’d better come on through.”

As they entered the sleep room, Halsy was relieved to see Erlin’s kerbal body sitting by his trunk and swathed in leaves and healing vines as normal. “Morning, boss. Brought the latest Project results for you.” His voice sounded brittle and forced in his own ears.

“I look forward to talking them over with you,” Erlin replied. “But we have some results of our own to go through first.”

Halsy felt his heart begin to pound. He turned to Gusemy and was answered by a nod.

“It happened this morning. Just as Enely described it - a soap-bubble membrane and a quiet voice behind it calling for help.”

Obrett looked at him solemnly. “How long do we have?”

“A few days yet. They called in a medical team before trying to awaken Elton, remember?”

Halsy cleared his throat. “I’ll get back to my office now and let Chief Ambassador Donman know that we have need of that same team again. I’ve already been advised that they’ll be given priority transportation.”

“Thank you, Halsy,” Erlin replied quietly. He turned to Obrett. “I already know Gus’s answer but…”

Obrett’s throat constricted. “Of course, Keeper. My answer also remains unchanged.”

——————

“Sweet Kerm above…” The voice was almost reverential.”

“Easy, Payload. It’s going to get a lot bigger than that before we’re done.”

“And the real thing will be more impressive yet,” murmured James. Bill glanced at him in surprise before turning back to the main screen, which was showing the outer ring and recessed hatch of a CORDS-3 docking adaptor, both gleaming in the sunlight.

“Sorry, Flight.” Payload entered a command on her keyboard and a sequence of indicator lights lit up on her console. “Confirming capture program loaded. Docking probes extended and ready.”

“Thank you. Guidance?”

“Spacecraft alignment is Go. RCS to FINE, auto-reverse loaded.”

Lucan’s knuckles turned white on the arms of his chair although his voice remained calm. “Copy, Guidance. Take us in.”

“That’s affirmative, Flight.”

On screen, the aft end of Tenacity’s observation module crept closer. Bill held his breath as the docking port rim slipped out of sight, the view from the PAL spacecraft camera hidden by the hub module and its array of petals and spoke adaptors.

“Inside the capture zone, Flight. Standing by for contact.” A set of red lights on the payload controller’s console flipped to amber and Bill blew out his cheeks in relief, accompanied by a stifled grunt from James.

“Contact! Coarse alignment confirmed.” The amber lights turned green. “Ready to latch!”

RCS OFF!” came the call from the Guidance console. “Auto-reverse disengaged.”

The image on the main screen barely quivered as the two spacecraft sections touched and then held. A susurrus of murmured comments rippled around the bunker, the tension in the room still palpable despite the, reassuring glow from the latching lights.

“All latches at pre-tension, Flight. Fine alignment confirmed.” There was a long pause. ‘“Initiating hard dock.”

Aboard Tenacity electric motors hummed into life, extending a ring of solid bolts from one CORDS-3 adaptor into waiting receiver nuts on the other. Successful contact of all sixteen bolts triggers the final tensioning sequence, pair by pair tightening up step by step in a carefully choreographed sequence. At last, sixteen pressure sensors report a correctly loaded joint and a signal flashes back to Mission Control.

“Flight, Payload.” The voice was studied, with a deliberate calm that fooled nobody, least of all Lucan.

“Go ahead, Payload.”

“We have a hard dock, Flight. Tenacity is…

The pent-up tension broke with a roar of applause that drowned out the end of the controller’s report. Across the room, Bill turned to his crewmates and three green hands clasped in quiet triumph at the sight of two joined Starseed modules and one PAL orbital tug, soaring through space, against a glowing, green-and-blue horizon.

Edited by KSK

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Wow, "posted 57 minutes ago". Must've been only a few before I started reading.

 

Ur really good at keeping me hungry for more and mad about the expected waiting period for the next chapter.

Edited by DualDesertEagle

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14 hours ago, KSK said:

And how’s that for a crazy KIS dream.

Either I'm missing some knowledge on English, or the word KIS should be something else.

 

Great chapter as always!

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33 minutes ago, superstrijder15 said:

Either I'm missing some knowledge on English, or the word KIS should be something else.

 

Great chapter as always!

Thanks! 

KIS - Kerbin Interplanetary Society, although it’s been a while since they were mentioned in-story. :) Might change that part for clarity  - cheers.

13 hours ago, DualDesertEagle said:

Wow, "posted 57 minutes ago". Must've been only a few before I started reading.

Ur really good at keeping me hungry for more and mad about the expected waiting period for the next chapter.

Thanks!

Hopefully that waiting period will be a bit shorter from now. Still got to fit writing in around the day job though so there are limits. :)

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Ok, now the chat has really crashed to a halt, the last post being from 12/10/18...

 

I sure hope this doesn't mean that the readers are losing their interest due to the long waiting periods.

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Never!

But when there is nothing new to talk about ... better than talking nonsense. :D

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20 hours ago, DualDesertEagle said:

12/10/18...

I thought for a moment 'Wait, I'm pretty sure I've seen first flight stuff since september...'

Also, god bless email notifications!

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6 hours ago, KerbMav said:

Never!

But when there is nothing new to talk about ... better than talking nonsense. :D

That's probably true.

 

I was just worried that there were people who had dropped out coz they couldn't bear waiting any longer. 

I'll keep checking this thread from time to time, hoping each time I'll be greeted by the next chapter.

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27 minutes ago, DualDesertEagle said:

I was just worried that there were people who had dropped out coz they couldn't bear waiting any longer. 

I'll keep checking this thread from time to time, hoping each time I'll be greeted by the next chapter.

I dont think so, I think I agree with kerbmav's thing.

Nothing there to really talk about so why clutter the thread?

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41 minutes ago, DualDesertEagle said:

That's probably true.

I was just worried that there were people who had dropped out coz they couldn't bear waiting any longer. 

Trust me, I have the same worry. Although, unfortunately, I just have to put it out of mind as one of those things that I can't do much about. I'll own up to a certain amount of procrastination at times (although it's never quite gotten to out-and-out writer's block) but when all's said and done - I'm writing this in my spare time on top of a full time job, a marriage, and sundry other commitments, so it can and does take a back seat to other life events.

I'm also pretty sure that this particular boat sailed a long time ago, as folks disappeared from the forum for other reasons or, as you say, get hacked off with the slow update pace and leave the thread. That is a shame and it makes me appreciate the good folks that are still following along all the more.

Right now, it's looking like my recent change of job was a good move. Can't tell you what it's like leaving work of an evening and actively looking forward to going back the next day. On the other hand, I drastically underestimated how much of a time-suck selling a house (and finding another one) would be.

It's also fair to say that the next chapter has been kicking my ass a bit. It's one of those ones where I could sum up the significant events in a couple of lines, said significant events are definitely moving the plot forward (but I'm not sure how interesting they are as such) and... well they aren't especially cheerful. On top of that, its a chapter where I don't know anything about the stuff I'm writing about and I want to get the details at least plausible, if not actually right.

So yeah.

Anyhow, for those that wish, here's a small (and definitely first draft) spoiler which should hopefully give you an idea of what I'm talking about. And for those who have been following other fics on this forum over the years - there's a bit of a shout-out and clue in there as well...

Spoiler

 

“Mister Landorf, you have the bridge.”

Landorf saluted. “I have the bridge, ma’am.” He waited for the captain to step down from the command platform, before assuming her place behind the annunciator grille. “This is Lieutenant Landorf. I have the bridge.” He watched his commander turn and leave before directing his attention to the battle raging outside. “Signal both squadrons. Assume formation kappa, bearing zero-eight-seven, all ahead flank.”

The captain strode through her ship, offering a word of encouragement to a crewmember here, a gesture of thanks to a junior officer there, the expression on her face radiating nothing but complete confidence. Knowing better than to enter the Tactical Operations Center whilst the ship was under fire, she reached under her collar, withdrew a finely carved Kerm wood charm from around her neck and hung it from the door on its silver chain. Then she left for the foredeck.

 

 

Edited by KSK

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I've had email alerts on this thread for years, and will read what you write until the end even if that too should take years. Amazing story and very well written. 

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1 hour ago, GalFisk said:

I've had email alerts on this thread for years, and will read what you write until the end even if that too should take years. Amazing story and very well written. 

Same: I never go on the KSP forums anymore except to look at the stories I have an email subscription for

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@KSK take all the time you need, we, the readership, remain as always, all ears. :D

But you are not allowed to quit. :huh: If you dare quit I’ma resurrect RJ, Sir Terry, and a most-unhappy-at-being-disturbed-during-his-celestial-cribbage-match-with-C.S.-Lewis Mr. Tolkien and come find you and there will be words, sir, there will be words, ya dig?  ಠ_ಠ

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19 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

@KSK take all the time you need, we, the readership, remain as always, all ears. :D

But you are not allowed to quit. :huh: If you dare quit I’ma resurrect RJ, Sir Terry, and a most-unhappy-at-being-disturbed-during-his-celestial-cribbage-match-with-C.S.-Lewis Mr. Tolkien and come find you and there will be words, sir, there will be words, ya dig?  ಠ_ಠ

Can't interrupt a man's cribbage match...

On a serious note - thanks folks. I'd say more but... yeah. Thanks.

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It has been many months since I last played KSP, and probably many years since I last signed in to the forums.  I started reading this story probably somewhere in 2013 (I think, although I could be wrong if it is not that old, sorry!).  I at least remember that I read it on a tablet I owned about four generations of broken tablets ago, so it was a while.  I have been getting periodic email updates and have enjoyed thinking about the story between chapter releases.  Please keep going.  I know there are a lot of us here who aren't posting after each chapter, but I'm definitely waiting for each new one to come out.

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I just binge-read this over the course of a day and it is just... wow... I can't wait for the next chapter!

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*Blinks*

Those are the kind of things that make it worthwhile. @mstachowsky - it was indeed 2013 when this story started, which is more than a bit scary. Very glad indeed that you’re still here - and I don’t think anyone writing an episodic story can ask for more than their readers enjoying thinking about the story between episodes!

@fulgur - wow, that is some binge reading! Glad you’re enjoying it - and the next chapter is finally taking shape!

On that note, I’d like you all to raise a glass, tip a hat, or otherwise show appreciation to @CatastrophicFailure for injecting some much needed vim into the process, being (as always) a very excellent sounding board for ideas, and generally kicking this one into life!

Not to mention being a good friend over a trying couple of years.

Edited by KSK

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On 2/5/2019 at 3:05 PM, KSK said:

On that note, I’d like you all to raise a glass, tip a hat, or otherwise show appreciation to @CatastrophicFailure for injecting some much needed vim into the process, being (as always) a very excellent sounding board for ideas, and generally kicking this one into life!

 Not to mention being a good friend over a trying couple of years.

D’aww, shucks. :blush:

But I guess that means I can say, I have seen...

. . . And it is Glorious:o

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 I just hope it can live up to that billing...

 

Humilisia Falls

The Lapwing long range search and reconnaissance plane dipped its wing and turned north onto the final leg of its sweep. Its pilot glanced at her chronometer and made a note on her kneepad. She lifted her eyes to the horizon again and a sudden torrent of icy water coursed down her back.

The threat warning receiver shrieking in her ear jolted her back to her senses. Instinctively, she rolled inverted, hauling back on her control stick and sending the Lapwing plummeting towards the sea. Feet dancing over the rudder pedals, she broke left, then sharp right, bracing herself for the juddering clang of cannon fire punching through her fuselage. She rolled upright, pulling the Lapwing out of its crash dive and banked sharply southwest, craning her neck in search of pursuing aircraft.

Nothing. She flicked the Lapwing into an aileron roll, rapid-scanning the skies around her for the enemy, then jammed the throttle lever against its stop, thumbing her microphone toggle as she raced for Humilisia and safety. “Greenfields, Picket One. Reporting hostile contact at waypoint Echo-Three. Multiple surface vessels but no bandits, repeat no bandits.”

“Reading you, P-One,” came the clipped reply. “Approx number and location?”

“Estimate twelve major vessels, on the horizon, bearing zero-seven-five. No clear escort count. At least one hostile radar contact. Search mode, no-track.” The pilot paused. “Didn’t stick around long enough to confirm.”

“Copy that. Make best speed for home - we’re clearing a space for you on Greenfield A.”

“Understood. Best speed for Greenfield A. Picket One out.”

——————

The bow lookout aboard the Shield of Kolus swore as the swathe of dark specks on the horizon resolved themselves into an orderly formation of ships. She dropped her binoculars, shot a glance at the compass by her waist and signalled the officer of the watch.

“Vessels closing! Bearing one-two-seven. Escorts only, estimate two Doreni flotillas.”

The officer of the watch swung round to face his commander, just as the phone by his side warbled the high pitched tone that told him what he already knew. Raising his hand in apology, he picked up the handset.

“Yes - we have a visual on one-two-seven. Any flankers? Thank you.” The snick of the handset settling into its cradle echoed across the bridge.

“Tactical confirms, Ma’am. Doreni fleet closing off the port bow.”

The captain didn’t need to consult her navigation officer or her charts. “Radio, please signal Fleet Command. We have a confirmed second Doreni fleet and are moving to engage. Pride is on the line with us, Tenacity and Defiance squadrons to flanking speed, southeast hook.”

“By your orders Ma’am.”

For a moment, unseen by the rest of her bridge staff, a bleak look flickered across the captain’s face. Then her hand slapped down and the mournful honking of the alert klaxon sounded across the ship.

“All hands to battle stations. All hands to battle stations. This is not a drill.”

——————

Halsy’s nose wrinkled as he watched the medic snip another clump of hair from the side of Erlin’s forehead, before dabbing more foul-smelling depilatory onto his exposed scalp. The aseptic reek of rubbing alcohol did little to clear the air, and he saw his former boss’s nose twitch in response.

“Can’t do much about it I’m afraid, Professor,” the medic said. “Just one more to go and we’ll be done.”

Erlin raised a silent thumb in reply. The scissors snicked shut just above his left ear, a cold dab of cream following them.

“And that’s the last one. Can I get you a drink of water?”

The an-Kerm shook his head fractionally, the leaves swathing his head rustling in response. “No - thank you.”

The cloying aroma of surgical adhesive added its own note to the overladen air. The medic threaded an electrode pad through a gap in Erlin’s leaves and pressed it into place against his scalp. Obrett and Gusemy lay on their beds beside his trunk, elasticated EEG bands already wrapped around their heads, skeins of multicoloured wires emerging from the napes of their necks and snaking across the floor to an equipment trolley parked by the hut door.

Halsy gave Erlin a reassuring look, not trusting himself to speak. Then he turned his attention to the monitors on the trolley and the second medic watching over them.

One of the screens flickered, the dense array of lines scribbling their way across it fuzzing into spiky noise. The medic reached behind it and reseated one of the cables linking it to the rest of the equipment on the trolley. The screen flickered again and cleared, the EEG display coming into sharper focus. “I’ve got a clear signal from both bands.” The second medic peered over the top of his monitors. “How do they feel?”

“Tight but not too bad,” Gusemy replied. Obrett nodded in agreement.

The first medic taped a bundle of multicoloured leads to Erlin’s neck before hooking them up to a box attached to the an-Kerm’s belt. He retrieved a lead from the floor and plugged it in. “Thank you, Professor.” He turned to his colleague. “How’s everything looking?”

“Looking fine,” his colleague answered. “Nice clear signal and the Professor’s traces are very similar to how I remember Jonton’s being.” He smiled at his three patients. “Which is a good sign I think. Just try to relax and start whenever you’re ready.”

He watched Obrett and Gusemy both take a deep breath before lifting their heads to the waiting leaf clusters. Their EEG readouts shivered and then flared into white noise.

—————

Aboard the Shield of Kolus the officer of the deck flinched as the sky lit up behind the Pride, accompanied by the gut-wrenching thunder of enemy gunfire. He clenched his fists in triumph as the Kolan vessel sailed on, seemingly untouched. Then she shuddered and rolled hard to starboard, superstructure disappearing beneath the waves and exposing her keel. Foam swirled around her, flushing out debris and bodies alike.

Gouts of water belched up from the stricken Pride of Kolus, driven by the last of the trapped air escaping her hull. Then she slid beneath the waves, leaving the officer of the deck on her sister ship slack-jawed with horror. Swallowing hard, he turned to his captain, the stony expression on her face matching the solid lump in the pit of his stomach. He ran through the numbers in his head, ranges, speeds, enemy dispositions, and waited for his commander to confirm what he already knew.

“We can buy them time.” It was a statement not a question. “Punch through the Doreni lines, turn their strength in on itself.”

And hope the other poor seffleks escape before their shield breaks. “Yes ma’am.” For a fleeting instant, he saw his own resignation mirrored in his commander’s eyes. Then she straightened her shoulders and turned to the radio operator.

“Signal Tenacity and Defiance.” Her voice cut effortlessly through the clamour raging across the bridge. “All vessels are to break off the engagement and make best speed for Humilisia. They are to regroup off North Point and lend what assistance they may to Commander Geroly.”

The captain raised her hands for silence before leaning forward and pushing a prominently domed, button. A drawn-out two tone whistle sounded across the ship, before giving way to the static hiss of an open microphone. She leaned forward, speaking directly into the annunciator grille set above her head.

“Signal Fleet Command, priority zero. Message begins. Second fleet falling back. Tenacity and Defiance regrouping at designated location. Shield executing option kappa.”

A heartfelt, hastily muffled oath sounded across the ship-wide channel followed, mercifully quickly, by the controlled calm of officers issuing orders and sailors running to obey. The captain allowed herself a moment of steely pride in her crew, roiling emotions hidden behind an impassive mask.

“Mister Landorf, you have the bridge.”

Landorf saluted. “I have the bridge, ma’am.” He waited for the captain to step down from the command platform, before assuming her place behind the annunciator grille. “This is Lieutenant Landorf. I have the bridge.” He watched his commander turn and leave before directing his attention to the battle raging outside. “Signal both squadrons. Assume formation kappa, bearing zero-eight-seven, all ahead flank.”

The captain strode through her ship, offering a word of encouragement to a crewmember here, a gesture of thanks to a junior officer there, the expression on her face radiating nothing but complete confidence. Knowing better than to enter the Tactical Operations Centre whilst the ship was under fire, she reached under her collar, withdrew a finely carved Kerm wood charm from around her neck and hung it from the door on its silver chain. Then she left for the foredeck.

Outside, the wind knifed across the deck, enveloping her in salt spray and the stench of expended munitions. The gunfire, a steady thunder from the bridge, crashed against her ears in an unrelenting, deafening barrage. Staggering, she pushed on to the forward observation post, bracing herself momentarily against the rail before standing ramrod straight, shifting her weight in perfect time with the rolling warship. Slowly she turned to face the bridge, dipping her head in silent salute. Then she turned away, both arms thrust skyward, upraised fingers stabbing a gesture of defiance at the Doreni vessels that would be recognisable anywhere across Kerbin.

———————

Halsy tucked his trembling hands behind his back, staring fixedly at the chaotic patterns sprawling across all three monitor screens. One medic moved from patient to patient checking pulses and noting eye movements before moving on. Two of the three monitors settled into a set of steadier rhythms, punctuated by spiky bursts of activity.

“Okay, here we go.” The second medic’s shoulders lowered slightly as he sat back in his folding chair. On screen, two of the wildly fractal waveforms on Erlin’s screen brightened, shimmered and shifted, each mirroring a trace on one of the other screens. The medic nodded in satisfaction. “They’re in. Rapport time on the long side but that’s consistent with Elton’s awakening too.” He smiled at Halsy. “I’d pull up a seat, sir. This might take a little while.”

———————

The Shield of Kolus sailed into the teeth of the Doreni forces, her captain seemingly heedless of the murderous barrage shredding the skies around her, the continuous din of the smaller cannons all but drowned out by the soul-splintering crashes from the enemy’s main guns. Surrounding the Shield in perfect formation, her escorts replied in kind, most of their shots landing wide of the mark, their captains relying on speed and whatever evasive manoeuvring they could afford for defence, rather than any attempt at counter-battery fire.

The Kolans sailed onwards, driving suicidally close to the largest enemy vessels, the geysers of spray fountaining around them abating slightly as the flanking Doreni gunners held fire for fear of hitting their own forces. The Shield slowed, her stepped main turrets turning to bear on the enemy, her helmskerb matching speed as best he could with his Doreni counterpart, her For several long minutes, the two warships traded shell for steel-clad shell before the Shield broke away, cutting across the stern of the Doreni flagship before swinging hard to starboard for another pass, her escorts fanning out to engage the rapidly closing, smaller enemy vessels.

Gouts of smoke and fire erupted from the Shield’s main guns as she turned, the broadside punching gaping holes across the Doreni destroyer’s flanks and reducing a pair of her smaller guns to twisted, blood-spattered, wreckage. The ferocious answering salvo scythed across the Shield’s bows, smashing her forward battery and ripping open her superstructure. An explosion blew out her forward deck, launching the captain high into the air. Reaching the top of her arc, she watched her ship begin to turn, bringing her rear turret to bear. There was a confusion of smoke and fire, then she hit the water and everything went black.

“Damage report!”

“Main guns out of action, sir. Rear turret is still there but the turret drives and fire control system are offline. Starboard superstructure guns are gone, portside magazine hoists are shot to Kerm and back.”

Landorf nodded grimly. “Down to the last then. Time for everyone to get off this boat.” His hand slapped down on the domed button and again, a two tone whistle, followed by a static hiss, sounded across the ship.

“Now hear this, now hear this. All hands abandon ship. Repeat. All hands abandon ship.”

Landorf shut off the intercom and crossed over to the helmskerb’s post. “Mister Jenvis, I have the wheel.”

Down in the Tactical Operations Centre the radar plot officer snorted. “Ditch into that?” He pointed at his display. “I’d sooner take my chances with the Lieutenant.” He turned to his watch officer. “Permission to open the small arms locker, sir?”

A rumble of approval swept around the Centre. The watch officer shook his head. “Denied. That’s my job.” He raised his voice. “Set the security charges. All hands follow me, eyes forward. Anyone following the Lieutenant’s orders shall not be impeded in their duty.”

———————

From the bridge, Landorf allowed himself a moment of anger as the lines of sailors marched out onto what remained of the foredeck, eyes front, rifles shouldered. He locked the helm before circling the empty bridge, eyes scanning the waves for life rafts.

Not a single orange shape could be seen.

A flicker of mingled relief and shame burned at the back of his mind. You poor, poor seffleks. What do we do to deserve the likes of you. He strode over to the helmskerb’s station and seized the wheel, glancing at the engine speed indicator which was still reading full ahead. He spun the wheel, nodding in grim satisfaction as the horizon obediently began to slide past. Then, gritting his teeth and taking a tighter hold of the wheel with his other hand, he slid the engine speed director up to flank speed, the increased thrumming under his feet accentuated by a clattering and banging of loose plating and the muffled crashes of equipment breaking free within the bowels of his ship.

————————

Halsy fidgeted in his chair, casting sidelong glances at the EEG screens. “It’s been too long,” he muttered. “You must be able to tell something from out here.”

The second medic summoned up a patient look. “I’m afraid not,” he said gently. “At best, we can pick up the general mental state of a kerbal and we simply don’t have any reference points for an-Kerm electroencephalography. If it’s any comfort, Professor Erlin’s traces look very much the same as Jonton’s did before Elton awoke - same fractal patterning, same nested waveforms. What those waveforms mean though is anyone’s guess.” The medic coughed. “And I say that as something of an encephalography specialist.”

“Their vital signs are well within normal,” the first medic added. “Slightly elevated pulse, no signs of respiratory distress, no tremor or adverse neuromuscular reactions.”

Halsy nodded and sat back in his chair, eyes fixed on his friend and his two companions.

————————

“What in the seven smoking hells are they doing?” The Doreni captain grabbed a pair of binoculars from his lookout and trained them on the oncoming Kolan vessel. What he saw would fuel his nightmares for the rest of his life.

It wasn’t the sight of the ruined Kolan ship still afloat and bearing down on him, despite the utterly ruined superstructure and the fires raging unchecked amidships. That merited no more than a grudging respect for the engineers and shipwrights who’d designed her.

Part of it was the sight of the bloodied and vengeful kerbals lining what remained of the decks, brandishing their weapons and screaming defiance. Even then, a small and detached part of him hoped that he would be doing the same were their situations reversed.

A bigger part was the sure and certain knowledge that someone still stood amidst the inferno, giving their ship direction and purpose even at the end.

But most of all, it was the silent few standing motionless amongst their comrades. The ones with the walled-up eyes, rifles raised and ready, seemingly aimed directly at his heart.

“Collision alert! Evasive action!”

His helmskerb needed no such prompting, already spinning her wheel hard to starboard. The Kolan vessel turned with them, shedding loose armour plating into her boiling wake as she heeled over. Then she straightened up, her crew still screaming from the ruins of her decks. Then, with a catastrophic lurch and a rending screech of steel on steel, she struck home, bows ploughing up and over the now-listing Doreni ship. Those Kolan sailors who hadn’t been thrown free by the impact, stormed aboard, weapons at the ready, even as the two mortally wounded ships began to take on water.

———————

The second medic raised a hand and leaned forward, studying Erlin’s monitor intently. “Thought I saw a blip….” He leaned back, a broad smile breaking across his face, and beckoned Halsy forward. “And there we have it.”

Halsy’s knees threatened to buckle under him. On the screen, the baroque, nested waveforms had disappeared and three perfectly normal sets of EEG traces whisked quietly across the screens in front of him. “Boss… thank the…” A thought struck him. “What about the Kerm?”

“No way of telling for sure.” For the first time since the Awakening had started, Halsy heard a note of tension in the other’s voice. “But it hasn’t been showing any signs of distress. No excess cinnamon or undue branch movement. So it’s probably fine.”

“Or…” Halsy didn’t need to complete the thought. “Although…” He gestured at Erlin’s body sitting by the Kerm trunk, and Obrett and Gusemy lying on their beds. “I can’t imagine any of them would still be in Communion if it was.”

There was a muffled groan from one of the beds and Gusemy sat up, massaging his forehead. He peeled the EEG band off his head and dropped it on his pillow. He accepted a mug of water from the medic and downed it in a single swallow. Then he turned to face Halsy and the other medic and the awestruck expression on his face left no room for doubt.

“His name is Obrinn.”

—————————

The Tenacity of Kolus and the Defiance of Kolus sailed north, at the head of a ragged flotilla of warships. The captain of the Tenacity listened stony-faced, to the tired-sounding voice crackling from his radio.

“You’re speaking to him. We lost Commander Geroly during the retreat. Forget about North Point, captain; we’re to rendezvous at the port, evacuate as many civilians as we can, and get them to Kolus. Orders from Fleet Commander Gusden’s lips to our ears.”

Despite himself, the captain’s shoulders stiffened. “By his command. We’ll see you at the port - Tenacity out.” He scrubbed his forehead on the back of his uniform sleeve before turning to his bridge officers.

“You all heard the Commodore. We’re picking up our people and going home. Now lets get to Humilisia before the bjedla Doreni do.”

—————————

A grey-robed figure stood on the dockside, one arm wrapped around the shorter figure by his side, watching a steady stream of dinghies shuttling kermol villagers out to the waiting warships. Orderly queues stretched along the waterfront, kerbals wearing the clothes they stood up in and not carrying anything that couldn’t fit into a poncho pocket. Parents with the youngest kerblets or pouch-bound kerblings were allowed one small pack between them, with most of the kerblets clutching a favourite toy in one hand and holding tightly to their parent’s hands with the other. The older children stood around wide-eyed, staring at the heavily armed, steel-grey ships riding at anchor just beyond the harbour, makeshift white flags flapping from their masts.

Sailors kept the lines moving, the suppressed tension in their movements vying with their reassuring words and air of competence. Some of the youngest kerblings, sensing that something was wrong with the strangers, had retreated into their pouches, their thready wailing adding to the general air of quiet desperation.

“It’s okay sweetheart. It’ll all…”

His partner pressed a finger against his lips. “Don’t. Don’t say it.”

He looked at her helplessly. “I wish I didn’t… didn’t have to…”

“I do too, my love. But you’re the Keeper.” She pulled him into a fierce hug. “And I’m so proud of you for it.” Her shoulders began to tremble. “So, so proud.”

He glared at the approaching soldiers through red-rimmed eyes, cradling his shaking partner in his own trembling arms. The soldiers stopped at a discreet distance, a warning glance from their sergeant enough to close their mouths.

She unwrapped her partner’s arms from around her and stepped back, despair held at bay for the moment. “I think they’re waiting for you, my love. You’d better get going.” She looked him straight in the eyes. “I’ll be al… I’ve got a boat to catch.” She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. “Go!”

He nodded wordlessly, kissed her back, and walked away. The sergeant saluted him as he drew near, carefully ignoring the other’s rumpled, tear-blotched clothing. “Good to have you with us, sir.” He passed the Keeper a rifle. “If you’d like to come this way, we’ll get you kitted out before we head  back to the village.”

Edited by KSK

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1 hour ago, KSK said:

aileron roll

THANK YOU for using the correct terminology!

 

And DAMN YOU for making me so hungry for the next chapter :sticktongue:

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27 minutes ago, DualDesertEagle said:

THANK YOU for using the correct terminology!

And DAMN YOU for making me so hungry for the next chapter :sticktongue:

:)  Thanks - on both counts. No barrel rolls to be seen here - no sir.

Next chapter is plotted out. And if you liked the last one, I've got a sneaking feeling that the chapter after next may appeal too...

:ph34r:

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Glorious. Glorious, indeed, as much as tragic. 

But very Glorious. 

“Get as close as you can, and engage those Star Destroyers Doreni ships at point blank range!“

And of course, “Madness? THIS! IS! KOLUUUUUUUUUUS!

tenor.gif?itemid=10500651

They fought in the shade that day. :(

...and then the strings come up..

giphy.gif

Which brings the question of what’s next? An overwhelming counterattack to cries of “remember the Shield!” or the Return of... a more civilized age?

 

And also, apologies from a certain editor who kinda flaked... :blush:

 

 

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40 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

And also, apologies from a certain editor who kinda flaked... :blush:

Not a problem - I get the impression that said flaking was due to circumstances outside of a certain editor's control. 

As for what's next - gahhh. So many fine sci-fi memes to draw on but so many spoilers to reveal in the process!

The Wheel will weave as the Wheel wills...

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