KSK

First Flight (Chapter 102 - Telegraph Road)

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Don't worry, KSK! We won't rush you! I can wait for the next chapter, it's not as if I'm obsessed with reading this one book. Ok, maybe a little bit...

Edited by VelocityPolaris

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No promises and it depends how much I get written tonight, but end of this week is starting to look likely. That's Sunday rather than Friday though. :)

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I didn't get quite as much time over the weekend as I hoped so this took a little longer than thought it would. However - the next chapter is up...

With a little help...

The chunky pencil zig-zagged erratically over the page, filling in the kerbal's head with enthusiastic green scribble. Joenie's tongue poked out of the corner of her mouth as she discarded the green pencil and picked up a brown one instead. The kerbal rapidly acquired a thick shock of hair and a pair of eyebrows, that in another era, would have been the height of fashion.

Gerselle watched her daughter proudly. Almost all in between the lines now, especially around the eyes. It's funny how she never scribbles over those..

"That's very good, Joenie. What colour do you want to make her dress?"

Joenie regarded the scattered colouring pencils thoughtfully. "Blue!" she exclaimed brightly, grabbing the nearest one to her.

"That's the yellow one, sweetheart. This is the blue, look - just like her boat."

Joenie set to work with the blue pencil. "Can I have milk, Mummy?"

"Of course you can, my love. Do you want it in the blue cup?"

"Blue cup!"

Gerselle decided that that probably meant yes. She took the jug out of the cooler, filled the lurid blue container that was Joenie's current favourite cup, and pushed the lid on. Running out of milk again. Can't keep up at the moment.

"Look, Mummy. Spotty leaves."

Milk sprayed across the floor as the cup clattered away into a corner. Gerselle skidded around the kitchen bench and rushed over to the table where Joenie was sitting. Her daughter pointed out of the window. "Green spots, Mummy."

Gerselle sagged into her chair, heart pounding. Green... yes definitely green. Not black. No black anywhere. She composed herself with an effort. “That's right clever girl - they are green spots." Her brow wrinkled. Green... green...water? Surely not after all that rain yesterday? Then her face cleared. Of course - Jonton!

"I think Daddy wants a drink too, sweetheart," she said, “Shall we take him a glass of water?"

Joenie clambered down from her chair and scampered over to her cupboard.

“In a minute, sweetheart - let Mummy clean up the..."

Resignedly, Gerselle watched the brightly coloured plates, bowls, and cups clatter across the floor.

"...milk first." She reached for the mop, nudging an errant plastic tumbler out of the way with her toe. Joenie rummaged happily through the cupboard, emerging triumphantly with a worn, and rather faded animal patterned beaker, complete with curly straw.

“This one, Mummy!"

“Well, isn't he a lucky Daddy, getting the curly straw cup. Let Mummy fill that up for you."

Icy water splashed into the beaker. Gerselle turned off the tap and screwed the lid on tightly. Who on Kerbin decided that a screw-fit lid with a straw was a good idea.. She bent down to offer it to her daughter.

“Can you carry the cup for Daddy?"

Joenie nodded solemnly, took the beaker in both hands and trotted off towards the sleep room. Gerselle followed her, keeping a watchful eye out for abandoned toys or other clutter lying in wait for an oblivious kerblet to stumble over. She opened the door, smiling as Joenie marched up to Jonton, holding the beaker out stiffly in front of her.

“Water, Daddy!"

Jonton looked puzzled for a moment, then shrugged minutely and smiled.

“Just what I wanted - thank you sweetheart. And I get the curly straw cup too!"

Joenie beamed at him. “Spotty leaves, Daddy. Mummy said Daddy want water!"

“Mummy was right," said Jonton. He took a long drink to hide his confusion. “but how did Mummy know I was thirsty?"

“Spotty leaves," repeated Joenie.

“Your leaves gave you away, dear," said Gerselle, “You'll be happy to know that you seem to be getting plenty of nitrates and minerals though."

Jonton threw up his arms. “What in the world are you..." Then his eyes widened, “Ohh - the leaf spots?'

Gerselle nodded, laughter dancing behind her eyes. “Good thing they only signal for water or nutrient conditions - I'm not sure I want to know if my husband is thinking lascivious thoughts about butterflies!"

Joenie looked up, “More butterfies, Daddy?" she said hopefully.

"No, no more butterflies, popkin," said Jonton, “It's too hot for them in summer." He looked at Gerselle. “Do my leaf spots really respond to my kerbal body too?"

Gerselle knelt down beside her sulky looking daughter. “Why don't you get your picture for Daddy?" She glanced up at Jonton. “It looks like it," she said, “Green spots for lack of water - but we just had rain enough to last a week, so it couldn't be the Kerm." She was interrupted by a loud knock at the door.

Joenie immediately perked up. “Adbas!"

Gerselle shook her head, “It's three more sleeps before you go to Adbas's house, sweetheart," but Joenie had already disappeared. She sighed and made her way to the kitchen, where she found Joenie bouncing up and down, frantically trying to open the front door.

“I don't think it's going to be Adbas, my love. Let Mummy open the door."

As soon as the door opened, Joenie dashed out to meet her friend, only to career into a bemused looking kerbal, and land on her bottom with a thump. Gravely, the kerbal bent down and offered her his hand.

“Hello, Joenie."

Joenie blinked at him, and let herself be pulled gently to her feet before scuttling behind Gerselle's legs. Gerselle ruffled her hair. “Don't be silly, sweetheart - you know Ferry." She looked apologetically at her visitor. “Sorry, Ferry - she was expecting somebody else."

Ferry chuckled. “Was it Adbas you were looking for then, Joenie?" He reached into his pack, and produced a large glass bottle full of pale golden liquid. “I'm a bit big to be Adbas, but I did bring some juice for your daddy. Would you like some too?" He grinned at Gerselle's raised eyebrow. “Fresh prickleberry juice - nothing stronger than that. First pressing was a mite late this year, but we still laid down a good cellar-full. Is Jonton in then?"

Joenie's eyes lit up. “Daddy had spotty leaves, and water in my curly cup," she said brightly, “I carried it and didn't spill any." She scuttled back inside calling out, “Daddy juice, Daddy juice!" at the top of her voice.

Ferry looked nonplussed. “Spotty leaves?" he said, “Is Jonton all right, Gerselle? Me and Fred haven't seen him for an age, and some of the other boys were saying much the same at the Pressing."

Gerselle stared at him wordlessly. “I think so," she said at last. “You'd better come in, Ferry."

Ferry's nose twitched as he followed her into the kitchen. Cinnamon. Like Kerm wood but stronger. A thought struck him. Something wrong with the Kerm maybe - that'd explain why Jonton's been out of sight. It's a tough old tree though, can't be much it...A cold worm of doubt began to gnaw at him. Blighted fields, berries ripening late - and it is a very old Kerm. Pillars preserve me - what if... He shook his head firmly. Jonton's a good Keeper - he'll take care of it.

Gerselle saw his nose wrinkling. “Don't worry," she said, “the Kerm is safe. Jonton made sure of that."There was an odd catch in her voice. “It took a lot out of him. Please, Ferry - we'll explain later - just don't say anything in front of Joenie."

Ferry looked at her. I don't like the sound of this. “Of course I won't"  he said carefully. “No sense in getting her all het up too."

Gerselle turned away, took three plain glasses out of a cupboard and arranged them on a tray. They rattled briefly as she picked it up. Silently, Ferry held the door open for her.

------------

The overpowering scent of cinnamon in the sleep room brought Ferry up short. What in the world?. Hurriedly, he covered his mouth, barely managing to contain a colossal sneeze. Gerselle put her tray down and offered him a cloth.

“Thaaa...AAACCHOOO... thank you, Gerselle," He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, before blowing his nose. Joenie giggled at the loud trumpeting noise but Jonton looked at his friend in alarm.

“Are you going to be all right, Ferry?" he said, “I know it's a bit heavy but it doesn't usually take people this badly."

Ferry dabbed at his eyes with the one remaining dry corner of cloth. “I think so," he replied thickly. “Never known the Kerm to be this strong though." He smiled weakly. “Reckon a drop of prickleberry juice would go down a treat about now."

Jonton's eyes lit up. “First pressing?" he asked.

Ferry nodded. “Berries were late this season so the raw juice is a bit sharp. Interesting notes though - should be a good year once its aged." Carefully, he popped the lid off the bottle, and poured a generous measure into each glass.

Joenie waved her empty cup. “Can I have juice, Mummy?"

“Not the blue cup, sweetheart," said Gerselle, “it's had milk in. Why don't you go and choose another one?"

All three adult kerbals smiled as Joenie hurtled out of the door. Then Jonton coughed apologetically. “You couldn't bring a glass over here could you, Ferry? I'm a bit...encumbered."

Ferry opened his mouth to speak, and then blinked at the look on Jonton's face. “Sure," he said quietly, “I did wonder why you were half buried in Kerm leaves." He took a glass over to Jonton. “You can hold this, right?"

Jonton smiled. “Fortunately, yes." His hand emerged from the foliage and grasped the proffered glass. “A bit sharp you said?" He took a sip of the golden liquid and swirled it round his mouth thoughtfully.

Hmmm, yes. Stronger tannins than usual, good flavour balance, little bit chalky. Definite tang of...Oh dear - looks like I'd better do something about the soil borers.

Jonton held the juice in his mouth and inhaled deeply. His eyes widened.

Not just soil borers, rock worms too. And something else. He frowned, trying to tease out the delicate wisps of aroma. Some kind of fungus? I think those flavours are anti-fungals. Great Kerm, there's a whole history in this stuff.

Ferry saw the frown. “I told you it was a bit sharp," he said.

Jonton shook himself out of his reverie. "It is," he agreed, “but I think you're right about the ageing."

Ferry looked at him cautiously. “I don't mean to pry, Jonton, but...well something's not right here, and Gerselle said you'd been having a tough time with the Kerm?"

Jonton sighed. “I suppose it wasn't going to stay secret forever," he said reluctantly. “And for what it's worth, I'm glad you're the first to know, Ferry."

The Kerm leaves flicked to one side. Startled, Ferry jumped backwards and then went very pale.

Pillars preserve me! Wrapped around him...nonono - growing into him! What in the name of sanity?

He screwed his eyes shut, waited, and opened them again. They're still there. Kerm help me but they're still there!. The room began to sway around him.

“Ferry? Look at me, Ferry!"

Ferry looked at him muzzily.

“Stay with us, Ferry. Stay for dinner, and we can talk about this later, once Joenie's gone to bed."

The leaves snapped back into place, just before Joenie dashed in waving a cup. Ferry took a deep breath, pasted a smile onto his face, and retrieved the bottle of prickleberry juice.

-----------

All in all, thought Ferry, it had been a very pleasant evening. Gerselle's cooking was still as good as ever, and Joenie had been happily chattering away to everybody, and wanting to taste everything that the adult kerbals were eating. He smiled to himself; even the spicier dips hadn't fazed her, although the greenleaf and chicory puree had turned out to be a strictly one-taste dish.

Judging by the giggles and splashing from next door, bath time was going well too; perhaps a little too well if Gerselle's suddenly raised voice was anything to go by.

Their conversation was studiously light hearted, flitting from village news, to the current progress of the space programme, to the latest sporting events. Privately, Ferry thought that Jonton's talk of a Mün landing was rather far-fetched, although they both agreed that the Mün would be a fine place to host the Net-Ball Cup.

“Andbo Kerman had best look out," chuckled Ferry. “That kerbal can get some serious speed off the nets - he'd probably launch himself straight back into space if he was trying for a four-point-hang on the Mün!

Jonton snorted laughter into his coffee cup. “You'd need a net over the nets to catch him," he said.

“Oh yeh!," said Ferry, “Call it a six-point-hang if you manage to score from there!"

The door swung open, and a fluffy-haired, pyjama-clad Joenie scampered in, followed by a decidedly damp looking Gerselle.

“Night, night, Daddy!"

Smiling, Jonton leaned forward, “Night, night, sweetheart. Does Daddy get a kiss?"

Joenie stretched up on her tiptoes. “Mummy, help?"

Gerselle scooped up her daughter and held her out for Jonton to kiss goodnight.

“Night, night, Joenie."

As the door closed, Ferry could just make out Gerselle's resigned voice. “Wouldn't you like another book, sweetheart? We read Treebie's Tricycle last night." He glanced at Jonton out of the corner of his eye and wasn't at all surprised by the wistful look on his Keeper's face. Bet he doesn't get to read many bedtime stories from here. After a tactful minute or two, he cleared his throat.

“So...what happened, Jonton?"

“It's a long story," said Jonton sombrely. Donman's voice echoed in his memory: You may consider your unreserved cooperation to be a mandate from the Council “I'm not too sure where to start to be honest." He straightened up. “Do you remember the sunfruit field, Ferry?"

Ferry shuddered. “Not ever going to forget it," he replied, “Never saw anything like it in me life, and I hope I never do again."

Jonton nodded. “I'd never seen anything like it either," he said. “But as soon as I did, I knew that that's what the matter was." He paused. “Sorry, Ferry - that wouldn't make much sense. In the weeks before the sunfruit harvest, the Kerm seemed be getting worried about something, but I didn't know what. I spent long nights Communing, but it wouldn't - or couldn't - tell me what was wrong."

“Too many nights I'd say," said Ferry. He finished his coffee. “I remember that part too - you looked like you hadn't slept for a month when I came to get you that morning."

“I felt like I hadn't slept for a month," said Jonton. His leaves rustled agitatedly. “The Kerm was scared, Ferry. I tried asking it about the sunfruit, but even thinking about them just sent it into a blind panic. No matter what I tried, I just couldn't get it to understand what I was asking."

He bowed his head. “Thirty-seven Kerm couldn't understand - but I thought that thirty-eight might be able to."

Ferry choked. “You thought what?" he spluttered. “Tell me you didn't do it, Jonton, Please tell me you didn't!"

Slowly, Jonton shook his head, “I wish I could," he whispered. “I planted one more tree, Ferry. Just one more - but that was enough."

Ferry listened in revulsion, and then a mounting horror, to Jonton's description of the black-spotted leaves, the shattered Kerm, and his desperate attempt to save it. The horror grudgingly gave way to a feigned, and then a genuine pity, as Jonton recounted the struggle to hold onto his sanity, and the realisation that surrender was the only way to ensure the survival of Kerm and village alike.

“Well that part worked at any rate," said Ferry lamely. “The village I mean."

“It's getting better," agreed Jonton, “but it's going to take an awful long time yet before I have everything worked out."

“Before you have everything worked out?" said Ferry, “I thought the Kerm looked after the fields, not the Keeper?"

“But that's what I was trying to tell you," said Jonton patiently, “There's no difference any more - it's just me." He pinched the bridge of his nose. “If it helps, think of me as a Kerm of thirty eight trees and one kerbal."

Ferry stared at him. “How does that feel?" he said at last. Kerm, but you're coming out with the cliches here, Ferry. he thought sardonically.

“Old," said Jonton. “Like a lily pad floating on a deep pond. Like an ancient kerbal on a raft, in the middle of a stormy sea. Like one of those pictures of Kerbin drifting in space." He rubbed his eyes. “I'm not explaining this very well am I?"

“Not really," admitted Ferry.

Jonton sighed. “I'm old, Ferry. Or, if you like, the Kerm was old and now I am old. Vast wells of memories, the experience of hundreds and hundreds of years spent tending the land, not to mention shared memories from all the Keepers before me. The memories are all mine, or they will be once I can make some sense of them. The experience...well I'm trying to absorb that as quickly as I can for the sake of this year's harvest!"

He looked at his friend thoughtfully. “I think I can give you some idea of what it's like. How do you walk, Ferry?"

Ferry paced up and down. “Like this," he said.

Jonton smiled. “Yes, but what makes you walk. How do you walk?"

Ferry frowned. “Leg muscles pulling on tendons, pulling on bones, making my legs move," he said at last. “If you're being picky, my brain passes nerve impulses to my muscles to make them move."

“And how does that work? Where do those nerve impulses start. How do you decide to start them?"

Ferry's mouth opened and closed as he grappled with the question. “I don't know," he said, “I just do."

“Exactly." said Jonton, “You just do. Now imagine that instead of just getting up and walking, you have to consciously control every single step - if you'll excuse the pun - of moving one muscle of one leg. Now think about moving the whole leg, then both legs together in harmony. Not to mention the hundreds of other tiny posture changes and shifts of weight that keep you balanced while you're doing all this."

He looked at his friend wryly. “That just begins to describe what it feels like to look after the fields. Thousands of little tweaks and balances that were instinctive for the Kerm - and that I'm learning from scratch. Some of it's starting to get a bit easier, but I don't really have much of a muscle memory for it all yet - so to speak."

The door creaked open and Gerselle padded into the room. She caught Jonton's eye and raised a finger to her lips. Jonton smiled. “How many Treebies did it take tonight?"

Gerselle laughed softly. “Only three tonight. It was the extra drink of water, the second moss room stop and all the toys wanting to say goodnight to Mummy that took all the time. Sorry, Ferry - kerblet talk."

Ferry shook his head. “Not a problem, Gerselle - I was kilometres away anyway."

Gerselle nodded in understanding. “Jonton explained everything then?"

“He certainly tried to," said Ferry. “I still haven't made up my mind whether he's a hero, an idiot, or just plain criminally reckless." He looked at them both. “I'm not the only one wondering where he's been for the last few weeks either."

Jonton glanced at Gerselle. “I know," he said quietly.

“They're going to ask me."

“I know that too - and I don't want you to cover for me, Ferry."

--------

The early morning sun shone through the Kerm leaves outside, dappling the kitchen wall with shifting blotches of light. Fragrant djeng steam mingled with the smell of wildflowers from the garden and the sweetly aromatic scent of stewed fruit cooling on the stove, lulling Gerselle into a half doze. She smiled at the distant clatter of blocks from the sleep room that heralded the collapse of another masterpiece of kerblet architecture.

All this, and an evening off too. A whole evening free from kerblet and Kerm. Her eyes crinkled.Free from my little Kerm anyway.

The quiet was broken by a sudden knock at the door and almost immediately afterwards by the patter of kerblet feet and the all too familiar cry of “Adbas! Adbas!" Gerselle groaned, put her book down, and went to investigate.

“No, sweetheart. you're going to see Adbas tonight. Please let Mummy through." She picked Joenie up, and opened the door.

“Morning, Gerselle. We're here to see Jonton."

Gerselle stared at the crowd of kerbals on her doorstep. All of them seemed to be carrying something, including Fredlorf, who was holding a large and efficient looking saw. Her eyes widened.

“No! You can't. Whatever you do to him, you can't cut him loose!" Frantically, she searched for Ferry in the sea of faces. “Tell them, Ferry! If you cut him loose, he'll die!"

Fredlorf stared at her, dumbfounded. “What in the world are you babblin' about, girl? We aint about to do any cuttin' on Jonton."

Gerselle gaped at him. “B...but the saw?" She gestured feebly over his shoulder. “And everything else?"

“Figgered we'd help him with a little building work is all," said Fredlorf, “Least we could do for the kerbal - world needs more Keepers like that."

“Oh," said Gerselle faintly, cheeks flushing dark green.

“Aye," said Fredlorf, “Told us everything, Ferry did. Yer Jonton's a damn hero, if you're askin' me."

There was a general murmur of agreement.

Gerselle blinked. “Um, you'd all better come in then. I shall let Jonton know you're here to see him.

The rest of the morning whirled past in a blur of kerbals, sawdust and noise. Under the watchful eye of the village joiner, two serious looking young kerbals measured up Jonton and Gerselle’s sleep room, before setting up a pair of workbenches outside and setting to work with saws and planes. After a brief consultation with Gerselle, Fredlorf led another pair of kerbals outside, all three equipped with spades, pry bars and other tools. Meanwhile, a steady stream of volunteers trudged up their garden path, carrying pieces of timber, rolls of fabric, tins, sections of pipe and much else.

Gerselle spent most of the morning chasing Joenie from room to room, trying to keep the over-excited kerblet out from under everyone's feet. Eventually, she gave up, and after a hasty conference with Jonton, went to fetch Joenie's coat.

“Come on, sweetheart. Let's go for a walk and leave these nice kerbals to their work."

The younger of the two joiner's apprentices looked a little disappointed at that. Joenie glanced at her mother, and then carried on playing with the long curly wood shavings piling up around her. Gerselle counted to five under her breath.

“Joenie - if you put your coat on like a good girl, we can have honey crackers from the shop."

For a moment she was roundly ignored, but then Joenie looked up inquisitively.

“Crackers?"

“That's right," said Gerselle, “Honey crackers from the shop. And then, if you're a really good girl, we can go find your favourite place by the river before we go to Adbas's house for tea."

Joenie's face brightened at the mention of her friend. “Sticks, Mummy?"

“Of course we can play stick races - but only if you're a good girl."

Joenie grabbed a handful of shavings and bounced to her feet, holding her arms out. Deftly, Gerselle slipped her daughter's coat on and buttoned it up.

"Why don't you let Mummy carry the shavings?" she said.

Joenie shook her head firmly. “Mine!"

“Fine," sighed Gerselle, “Come on then, sweetheart. Let's go."

-------------

By the time Gerselle came home later that afternoon, most of the volunteers had left. She found Fredlorf, Ferry and the older crafts-kerbals sitting around Jonton, sipping mugs of djeng and looking quietly pleased with themselves. Gerselle stared around in delight. The afternoon sun shone through a pair of sturdy looking sliding doors, which opened onto a spacious verandah. Inside, a slender pedestal supported a shallow stone bowl within convenient reach of Jonton. A tap arched over the bowl, and the pedestal had been cunningly shaped to include a shelf for storing mugs.

Ferry got to his feet. “C'mon lads. Time to let these two have the place to themselves for a bit."

Gerselle shook her head, “Don't be silly - we're not in a hurry and you're all welcome to stay for dinner - it's the least we can do for all this work!"

“It's kind of yeh, Gerselle," said Fredlorf, “but we was jus' finishing up. Can't speak fer the rest of these loafers, but my Enny will be wonderin' where I've got to anyhow." He grinned. “Jonton'll jus' have to show yeh his new toys all by himsel' "

Ferry saw Gerselle's uncertain look. “Anlie and Gildas will be expecting me too," he said. “Besides, I owe you two a dinner as it is!"

One by one, the other kerbals made their excuses and filed out. Gerselle politely showed them to the door, thanking them again for all their work. As Ferry left, Gerselle caught his eye and flashed him a brief, wordless look of gratitude. Ferry glanced around and then quickly dipped his head in acknowledgement. As the last of her unexpected guests disappeared around the bend in the path, Gerselle closed the door and went back to her new sleep room.

Jonton watched her examine the new doors, run a finger around the edge of his water bowl and then stare out at the new verandah, rocking back and forth on her heels.

“They even motorised the doors for me," he offered quietly. He thumbed a button on the pedestal and the doors rumbled softly open. Gerselle nodded.

“It's...I don't know what to say," she said.

“Beautiful work?"

“Yes."

“Just blends into the old room?"

“It does."

“Makes you feel like a fraud?"

Gerselle looked at him. “That more than anything," she said. “How much did you tell Ferry?"

“Everything," said Jonton heavily. “Apart from the bit about our warring Kerm, the bit about our history, and the bit about Donman's visit."

Gerselle nodded slowly. “That certainly explains Fred's attitude. As far as they're all concerned, you're the hero Keeper that would have sacrificed himself for the village."

“And not the idiot that caused it all in the first place," said Jonton bitterly. “I bet Ferry glossed over the Rule of Thirty-Seven breaking too."

“Jonton?"

“Hmm?"

“What did you mean by 'our history?'“

Jonton frowned. “Kerbal history. Everything I showed Donman." He buried his face in his hands. “Oh hells. The night that Donman came - I promised I'd show you everything." He looked up, red eyed.

Gerselle blinked. “I remember you and Donman talking a lot about Kerm memories. The shards of course, and 'your kerbals'..." She frowned. “You never did explain that part."

Jonton took a deep breath. “Do you trust me, Gerselle? After all this - do you still trust me?"

Gerselle stared at him. “Yes," she said at last, “Even after all this - I do trust you."

“Enough to Commune with me?"

Vivid memories flashed before her eyes, of Jonton thrashing and screaming. “Will it hurt?" she asked.

“I don't know," said Jonton quietly. “All I can do is promise to make it as painless as possible."

Gerselle nodded. She walked over to the bed, lay down and braced herself. She heard the doors rumble closed and then sensed the faint rustling of leaves behind her. Tentatively Jonton lowered them towards the back of her head, brushing them gently over her hair.

Instinct took over.

Hundreds of tiny hairs rippled outward from the leaf surfaces. Tiny trains of electrical impulses raced along them, triggering elaborate biochemical cascades deep within. At their tips, microvesicles burst open, spilling out complex molecular keys to unlock the way through skin and membranes. Glycoprotein chains twisted about each other, tightening, contracting, steering the leaf hairs through microchannels in bone and brain.

Hair after hair slipped into place. A fleeting connection formed, wavered and then rapidly strengthened.

Steady...steady...

A soothing white light filled Gerselle's mind instead of the expected barrage of scents and sounds. Emotional currents churned the light into nebulous tendrils, like morning mist in the forest. A fleeting fear, reassurance, then a growing confidence. And suffusing them all..."

Love.

Unconditional love.

Tears flowed un-noticed over her cheeks and dripped onto the sheets. Oh, Jonton... it's still you. Kerm or kerbal, it's still you.. For a moment she wondered what Jonton was feeling and then, joyfully, she realised that she knew. And she knew that he knew that she knew.

The bond intensified.

The mists brightened, swirling away into darkness. Briefly, they flowed along edges and Gerselle felt the pain of barely healed mental scars -and then, faintly, the poignant ache of scars long gone and buried. The darkness rippled around her, swiftly replaced by a grainy, washed out grey. A picture formed, faded by age, of a tree and a group of strangely coarse looking kerbals.

Edited by KSK

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Finished reading ch24 (I know I know I should hurry up :P). I'm going to guess this has something to do with the rockets? Or perhaps this has happened in the past and is what led to the last great extinction?

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Great stuff as ever. I laughed harder than I probably should have at Gerselle's reaction to Fredlorf carrying a saw.

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Great stuff as ever. I laughed harder than I probably should have at Gerselle's reaction to Fredlorf carrying a saw.

:)

Thanks - and thanks to everyone else who commented on the last chapter. Commander - that's the kind of comment that keeps you writing! Engineer of Stuff - with a name like that, I'm really happy that you like the non-engineering parts of the story too. :)

Briansun1 - There's no hurry, take your time. For sure you can read them faster than I can write them! Which chapter 24 are you on by the way? - I've run a few of the chapters together in my blog version of the story, so the numbering is different from the forum thread version. Assuming you're reading from the thread, Chapter 31 (Echoes of Time), is really the key one and should make all the kermol/Kerm parts a bit clearer.

Cheers,

KSK.

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Finished reading ch24 (I know I know I should hurry up :P). I'm going to guess this has something to do with the rockets? Or perhaps this has happened in the past and is what led to the last great extinction?

OK, so it is kind of a great extinction thing.

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:)

Thanks - and thanks to everyone else who commented on the last chapter. Commander - that's the kind of comment that keeps you writing! Engineer of Stuff - with a name like that, I'm really happy that you like the non-engineering parts of the story too. :)

Briansun1 - There's no hurry, take your time. For sure you can read them faster than I can write them! Which chapter 24 are you on by the way? - I've run a few of the chapters together in my blog version of the story, so the numbering is different from the forum thread version. Assuming you're reading from the thread, Chapter 31 (Echoes of Time), is really the key one and should make all the kermol/Kerm parts a bit clearer.

Cheers,

KSK.

And you are right. It did explain alot.

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Perhaps I missed it but wtf is"Right of Conclave"?

It's mentioned at the end of chapter 30 (The Cords that Bind) and described (well a slightly unorthodox version is described) in chapter 32. Basically it's the twice yearly right of any kerbal at all, to be heard in person by the Council of Twelve Pillars (the effective ruling council of Kerbin).

You can use your Right of Conclave for anything, so theoretically you could use it to grumble about noisy neighbours, or the outrageous price of sapwood at your local pub. In practice, a) most kerbals treat their Right seriously and only invoke it for suitably big reasons, and B) after a while, a kerbal who blatantly abuses their Right, will be heard (since they have to be) but not necessarily ever heeded.

It's also quite possible for groups of kerbals with a common complaint to invoke their Right jointly, which is helpful for making sure that the Twelve don't spend their entire time in Conclave.

Edit: There are various factors that keep the number of kerbals requesting their Right within reasonable bounds in any given year.

Firstly, as mentioned, most kerbals are quite civic minded (and pragmatic), so tend to treat their Right with respect rather than 'wasting' it on trivia. Invoking it can also be quite a daunting concept - if you were given a private audience with President Obama (or David Cameron for all the Brits reading this), what would you talk about? For many, the idea that they have this right is more important than actually using it regularly.

Finally, kerbal bureaucracy is fairly adept at filtering requests for Conclave and diplomatically handing them off to be dealt with at a more appropriate level of government. Ultimately of course, they're obliged to respect the Right of their citizens, but simply being listened to and taken seriously by government is enough to pacify most kerbals.

Edited by KSK

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Great stuff as ever. I laughed harder than I probably should have at Gerselle's reaction to Fredlorf carrying a saw.

Second! Also I finally caught up. Yay.

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Next chapter is up...

Stormclouds

The vivid images of Barkton faded back to soft white light, and then to the familiar green canopy of the sleep room ceiling. The leaf hairs retreated, leaving faint biochemical trails behind them. Repair cells crawled blindly towards the trails, spinning out a scaffold of protein filaments as they went. Cells in nearby tissues began to spring back into place, migrating towards the growing scaffold, plugging the breach.

Gerselle sat up, scratching her head. Big Kerm or little Kerm - they both itch just the same. She walked over to Jonton's water bowl, poured herself a mug of water and emptied it in one long swallow. Refilling the mug, she sat down on their bed and gazed wonderingly at her husband.

That was...incredible. Although if it wasn't for the Communion...

Jonton smiled. “Just telling you wouldn't have been the same would it?"

She wasn't sure if Jonton had seen the question in her eyes, or whether he was listening to some last lingering echo of their mental bond.

“I'm not sure I would have believed you,"she answered. “Some parts maybe, but memories of the Stone Age?" She shook her head. “But I could feel it's truth."She sipped her water and then turned to Jonton, a sober expression on her face.

“How long have we got, Jonton?"

“I don't know," said Jonton. “I can remember the order and flow of events very clearly, but the time between them is hard to judge." He held his hands up helplessly. “I'm trying to pin it down, love. Years I think, decades I hope, but beyond that..."

Gerselle pinched the bridge of her nose. “The last Kerm crisis was the driving force behind the Age of Sail," she noted, “but we don't have anywhere else to run to this time." She snorted, “Not on Kerbin anyway, but we're not leaving anytime soon."

“Probably not,"Jonton agreed, “It would surely be something though - kerbals truly taking the Kerm to new lands." For a moment he looked wistful. “An Age of Fire to match the Age of Sail." Then, he shook his head. “No - I think you're right, love. If there is a way out of this, it needs to be on Kerbin."

Gerselle nodded. “It does. We're going to need a plan - and that's going to be up to you, Jonton Kermol."

-----------

The fishing boat rode at anchor, rocking gently on the evening tide. The placid water rippled like a sheet of oiled silk, mirroring the setting sun in a glowing orange streak that stretched away to the horizon.

Inland, the mountains of Humilisia were silhouetted against the flaming sky. Dusk lent a false perspective to the landscape, hiding the rocky beach and the scrubland behind it, and masking the woodlands in the shadows. Instead, the jagged peaks seemed to enfold the cove on all three sides.

On deck, willing hands unrolled nets, rigged block and tackle, and readied the winches. Below decks, their shipmates heaved barrels and other, much larger containers up from the hold. Some of them were painted a bright phosphorescent green and knocked hollowly against bulkheads and gangways alike. Once on deck, the containers were carefully laid out on the nets, before being strung together into a loose raft. Finally, a gang of sweating kerbals deposited the spare anchor onto the net and made the end of its chain fast.

The first mate inspected the couplings. Satisfied, he called out an order. The winches whined, pulling cables taut over pulleys, gathering the net into a mighty sling and swinging it out over the rail. Another terse order and the sling descended rapidly towards the water, slowed as it broke the surface and then stopped.

The winch operator released a cable. The sling sagged, spilling its contents into the sea in a great splashing rumble. The anchor sank without trace, swiftly dragging the containers beneath the surface. The mate peered over the side, nodded and held up one finger. The winch thrummed, pulling the dripping net back on deck.

All that could be seen of the raft were the green barrels, soaking up the rays from the setting sun, and bobbing gently on the evening tide.

----------------

Lodan gazed around the grassy hollow. The control tower was still visible over the hedge, but that was the only sign of the busy airfield nearby. Birds chirped and whistled in the stillness and thin streaks of cloud were the only thing to mar the perfect blue sky.

At the bottom of the dip stood a row of tall wooden poles. Some of them were wrapped in a dense profusion of neatly trimmed sweetblossom vines. On others, the vines had only started to take hold and the underlying trellises could be seen, winding their way upwards. The one nearest to him was bare - dark brown latticework standing stark against the stripped white pole. A loose semicircle of benches had been arranged around it.

Here and there, small knots of soberly dressed kerbals stood talking amongst themselves, their murmured words barely audible even in the hush. Others sat on the benches, staring at the ground, lost in their thoughts. Lodan sat down on an empty bench, well away from everyone else. A few of the bystanders looked at him curiously, but mercifully, none of them showed any signs of recognising the KSA director.

One by one, a steady trickle of other kerbals made their way down into the hollow and took their places on the benches. Lodan looked up at a sudden clinking noise, and saw two of them carrying a small casket, followed by a third dressed in formal robes and carrying a pair of spades, crossed in front of her chest. Lodan sat up straight, eyes fixed on the small procession as they made their way to the pole. Silently, the last few groups dispersed and took their seats.

The robed officiant cleared her throat.

“Good kerbals. We are gathered here today to celebrate the life and mourn the passing of Enley Kerman. He was kerbal, and as he came forth from his Grove, so in the presence of us all, shall he return to his Grove."

The officiant knelt and presented the spades to the two casket bearers. Solemnly, they began to dig out a small trench at the foot of the trellised pole. Slowly, the officiant got to her feet. She withdrew a carved wooden figurine from inside her robes and held it up to the crowd.

“Like us all, Enley was a child of the Kerm. And though his body was not returned to us, this poor marker shall stand in its stead. For it too is of the Kerm, and also of Enley's Grove."

The two casket bearers put down their spades. The officiant stepped forward, knelt, and gently placed the figurine into the trench. The two bearers opened the casket lid and tipped out its contents. A cascade of rich, red soil tumbled out, a splash of colour against the darker earth of the hollow. All three kerbals stepped back and bowed.

Everyone on the benches, Lodan included, lowered their eyes. The rhythmic thudding of spade against earth punctuated the silence.

“Thank you."

“Enley meant many things to each of us. He was a dear colleague, an inspirational instructor, a beloved friend. If anyone here today wishes to speak, to share their memories of him, we would be honoured to hear your words."

A tall, sandy haired kerbal stepped forward. The officiant smiled at him, and handed him a round, waxy seed. Silently, the kerbal planted the seed beneath the trellised pole, then turned to face everyone.

“Good kerbals. My name is Lars, and I am Enley's brother."

“Ever since he was a kerblet, Enley was fascinated by making things fly. Paper darts, kites, model airplanes, anything he could get his hands on. His sleep room always used to smell of glue, wood shavings and something else that I could never identify. I just remember that it tickled my throat and made me cough."

“We all knew that Enley would go kerman, and we were enormously proud - and not at all surprised - when he won his place at the Institute and went on to earn his first pilot's license. I still remember that day - and the first time he took me flying..."

Lodan watched as family members, fellow pilots and the occasional manager or other colleague from C7, all stepped up to plant a sweetblossom seed and share their recollections of Enley. There was a final minute of silence, and then, one by one, everyone filed out of the graveyard, leaving him alone on the bench.

He jumped at the tap on his shoulder.

“Director?"

Lodan peered up at a stern faced, grey haired kerbal.

“Al Kerman, head of C7 Special Projects division."

Lodan stood up and offered his hand. The two kerbals studied each other for a moment. Involuntarily, Lodan's eyes dropped to the lapel pin on Al's jacket. Al followed his gaze.

“Aye, Director," he said, “I'm too slow for modern aircraft but I tested my share back in the day. Walk with me, sir?"

More of an order than a request thought Lodan. “Of course," he said aloud. “Please - lead on."

Silently, they climbed the shallow rise leading out of the graveyard. Lodan glanced at Al's set expression and felt uncharacteristically nervous. Better say something Lodan. This happened on your orders.

“We lost a good kerbal today," he offered quietly.

Al didn't look at him. “You didn't lose anyone," he said, “but C7 lost a damn fine pilot."

“How did Enley die?"asked Lodan, “If you don't mind talking about it?"

“Loss of command authority during RCS transition, engine flameout, flat spin, airframe compromised under aerodynamic load," said Al flatly. “Neither pilot nor aircraft recovered."

“I'm sorry," said Lodan. He grimaced in disgust. Thought you were better with words than this, Lodan. “Truly sorry," he said at last.

Al's expression was blank. “We know the risks," he said, “Days like today are the worst, but you can never fool yourself they're not going to happen." He glanced sideways at Lodan. “And you can spare me the canned speeches, Director. Enley knew exactly what he was getting into - as far as he was concerned, the risks were worth it too. He competed hard for that assignment, and believe me, the C7 test pilots ain't easy competitors. Especially the Skyhawk pilots."

The two kerbals crested the rise and set out across the airfield towards the main hanger.

“Enley had ambitions far beyond the Skyhawk programme," Al continued. Sub-orbital is one thing, but everyone here knows that being the first kerbal to fly into orbit is the real prize."

Lodan blinked. “But kerbals have already flown into orbit," he said.

“No," said Al, “They haven't." He held up a hand. “Not disparaging the kerbonauts, Director. They do good work once they're up there, and there ain't a one of them that wouldn't be welcome on this airfield. But being fired into space on top of a stack of fuel tanks is not flying."

“I presume," said Lodan carefully, “that piloting the Steadler Lifting Body wouldn't be flying either?"

Al snorted, “Not even if they get it to work," he said. “That...vehicle, is a long string of accidents waiting to happen, and it still needs a rocket to get it off the ground. No, Director. Runway to orbit and back - that is the only proper way to fly into space."

“A tall order," said Lodan.

“It is," agreed Al, “but possible."He unclipped his name card from his jacket and pushed it into a slot in the hanger door. Lodan heard the distinctive clunk of heavy locking bolts withdrawing and the door swung open a centimetre. Al led the way inside, pulling it closed behind him, with an equally solid clunk. A pair of red lights on the door frame winked out.

Inside was a bare, concrete block corridor, harshly lit by fluorescent strip lights. The far end was blocked by another security door, which opened to Al's name card.

To Lodan's surprise, the door led out into an enclosed yard, which was largely occupied by an extremely heavy looking test stand. An jet engine was mounted on it, it's nozzle shrouded by a long, tapered steel drum. Heavily insulated pipes connected the drum to a nearby cryogenic stand. An equally heavy duty fuel lines emerged from a concrete wall near the stand and connected to an opening in the engine casing.

Al was watching him. "So what do you think, Director?"

“I'm not entirely sure," said Lodan slowly. “It looks like a jet engine - which I suppose makes sense - but why are you injecting cryogens into the exhaust?"

“We're not," said Al. “The jet is just a convenient way of producing a lot of very fast, very hot gas. The cryogens are for cooling the heat exchanger. Tell me, Director - have you heard of the Wernher cycle?"

Lodan shook his head. “I recognise the name of course,"he said, “but I suspect I'm thinking of a different kerbal."

For the first time that afternoon, Al allowed himself a faint smile. “Actually, I don't think you are," he said. “Before he turned his attention to rockets, your Wernher was an Institute expert in high altitude, hypersonic propulsion. The Wernher cycle was his proposed design for an extremely high performance, dual mode hydrogen engine. At low to medium altitudes it was a normal air breather, but at high altitudes it would switch to an onboard liquid oxygen supply. Wernher designed it for extreme range, extreme altitude flight - effectively the same sub-orbital regime that we're pursuing with Skyhawk - but theoretically it was capable of orbital velocities."

“Theoretically?" said Lodan.

Al nodded. “It was an elegant design, but the practicalities of building it...were substantial. The main problem was that to make the engine light - and efficient - enough, the intake air had to be cooled. And nobody could ever figure out a way of doing that without making the engine unworkably complex or impracticably heavy. So the Wernher Engine joined the long and dusty list of Institute designs that only worked on paper."

Lodan knew a prompt when he heard one. “Until now I presume," he said dryly.

“Until now," agreed Al. “We've got a long way to go, but the hard part - the intake cooler - works! We can fire that jet engine directly into our heat exchanger - and what we get out is cold enough to freeze your hand solid." He motioned Lodan over to an inspection hatch in the side of the drum. Lodan peered in, and could just make out an elaborately shaped block of fine tubing.

“Ice build up was a huge problem," said Al. “We need the tubes narrow to give us enough surface area, but it doesn't take much to block something that size. Figuring out how keep them clear was the key breakthrough." He kept his face carefully neutral. “A confidential breakthrough."

Lodan shrugged. “Naturally," he said. “But you'll pardon me for not getting too excited about your supposed solution to a problem that has so far eluded the Institute's finest."

Al's face darkened briefly, but his voice remained even. “You're very welcome to view our test footage, Director. It should be convincing enough."

-----------------

The streamlined metal forms looked sleek, deadly and, to Neilbin's eyes, deeply and profoundly ugly. The heavily modified vessel in the dry dock was only marginally less ugly; a fishing boat with pretensions to being a warship. The newly armoured hull squatted sullenly on its supporting blocks, whilst kerbal work crews swarmed over it, loading supplies, painting the outboard weapon tubes and working on the newly installed fore and aft mounted deck guns.

Neilbin shook his head. Doesn't matter how much sauce you add - you'll never turn herring into bluefish. But it's not like we have much of a choice.

Beside him, Gusden sighed. “We've refitted the engines too," he said, “but she's never going to be the fastest thing afloat."He gestured at the shells on their rack. “I just hope those will swing it, if it does come to a fight."

“The fingrillin," murmured Neilbin, “A fitting name."

“The Fingrillin Mk2 torpedo," corrected Gusden. “Modern take on a very old design. And just like the fish they're named after, they can swim off and defend their slow, lumbering old mother." He shook his head. “Short of building something new from scratch, it's the best we can do."

Neilbin grimaced. “Coastal cutters and re-jigged fishing boats," he said. “It's not much of a defence if Doren decides it does want Humilisia."

“It'll have to do," said Gusden grimly. “We do have one advantage, Envoy - we got there first. There aren't too many places to land on those blasted islands, and a fingrillin or two should handle any landing craft nicely."

“Let's hope it doesn't come to that," said Neilbin sadly.

“Agreed," said Gusden, “We're stepping up the supply runs though, just in case. Luckily for us, the albacore are shoaling at the moment, so the Doreni shouldn't notice a couple of extra fishing boats around Humilisia. Using that cove as a harbour shouldn't raise any eyebrows either, although the skippers still keep both eyes on the horizon when dropping off the goods."

Neilbin shuddered. “And then the colonists retrieve them after dark."

“That they do," said Gusden heavily, “Cold, wet, hard work, but there's no other way I can think of doing it without getting the Doreni all curious." He grinned savagely. “If it's any comfort, I've issued a standing order to hang a couple of barrels of something suitably warming on the supply rafts."

------------

Kilometre after kilometre of fields rolled steadily past, and Gusemy began to wonder just how large the Berelgan really was. Most of the fields were carefully laid out grids, tiled with hundreds of variations of a single crop. As far as Gusemy could see, there were fields devoted to every food plant he knew - and a good few that he had never seen in his life.

Some of the tiles were obviously different to their neighbours, even seen from a speeding car. Others were apparently identical, although Gusemy presumed that the differences would be more obvious from up close.

Hmph - or maybe not, he thought. Hard to tell what a tuber looks like unless you go digging. Even harder to tell what it tastes like.

Interspersed between the grids were other, more normal looking fields. Others had seemingly been left to fallow, if the proliferation of weeds and wildflowers were anything to go by. Still others had obviously been deliberately planted, but not with any sort of rhyme or reason that Gusemy could see. Small copses of trees and the occasional low roofed building broke the monotony, and hedgerows large and small festooned the landscape, marking out roads and separating one field from the next.

Not many Kerm though for somewhere this size.

The glint of sun on glass caught his eye. About time! Hmmm, next right, then first left.

The turning to the left was marked by a large brick archway, turreted and crenelated, although Gusemy suspected that they were intended for decoration rather than defence. The old fashioned wrought iron gates were open and the gatehouse was empty. Gusemy drove through unchallenged.

The road twisted and turned through a patch of woodland, before emerging into open pasture. Long horned creva stared placidly at him as he passed by, the soft purr of his car not loud enough to startle them. Ahead of him was a cluster of grand old buildings, built in the same style as the gate and surrounded by elaborate formal gardens and incongruously modern glasshouses.

Huh - no Kerm at all here.

A drystone marker post pointed the way to the car park. Gusemy shrugged inwardly, pulled up in the nearest space and got out of the car. His nose wrinkled at the earthy smell of creva dung, and other less identifiable rural smells. I guess you get used to it in time. Checking his map, he locked the car door and set off towards the largest of the brick buildings.

Erlin was waiting for him on the steps. “Ambassador Gusemy - welcome to the Berelgan."

Gusemy grinned. “Don't you Ambassador me, Erlin - or should I say Professor Erlin! Congratulations on the new post." He flicked his fingers at the glasshouses and surrounding gardens. “Quite a place you've wound up in. I had no idea it was so big."

Erlin chuckled. “Most of it is agricultural research, crop development, that sort of thing. Different world entirely. Us poor lab scientists are mostly confined to the house and gardens."

“I feel for your suffering," laughed Gusemy, “But what's a botanist doing stuck up here? I thought agricultural research was your department?"

“Oh it is," said Erlin, “but there's a limit to what you can do in the field. Most of my work is in Kerm micro-ecology these days, trying to unpick exactly how they direct and control their soil environment." He grinned. “I'm more a chemist than a botanist these days - and you remember how good I was at chemistry."

Gusemy stared around in mock horror. “I'm surprised to see everything still in one piece," he said.

Erlin laughed good-naturedly. “Can't do too much damage with LC preps or a gas chromatograph," he said. “Making coffee is about the closest I get to wet chemistry. Speaking of which, you look like a kerbal in need of coffee, especially after that drive. Come on in."

As he followed Erlin through the maze of corridors, Gusemy reflected that the old fashioned manor house buildings were concealing very modern - and extremely well equipped - laboratories. For all Erlin's talk of chemistry, I'm not seeing many glassware-and-bottle labs either.

“I was wondering about that on the way up," he said, “The Kerm I mean. There didn't seem to be very many around for a place this size?"

Erlin looked at him. “There aren't," he said. “This is the Berelgan after all." He raised his eyebrows at Gusemy's puzzled look. “The original Institute was intended as a place to study botany away from the Kerm. Started in the Age of Sail, I believe, although there's nothing left from that era. Fortunately - from a scientific point of view - it's remained largely Kerm free ever since, making it one of the few places on Kerbin where we can study them properly."

Gusemy's expression cleared. “I suppose that makes sense," he said, “Negative controls and all that."

Erlin pushed open his office door. “Precisely," he said. “Now - on to more important matters. Black or white?"

--------------

Erlin put down his empty cup with a happy sigh. “That's better," he said, “Nothing like a little caffeine to get the brain moving." He eyed Gusemy thoughtfully. “And that little conundrum you sent me, took a whole lot of coffee to work through."

Gusemy sat bolt upright. “You found an answer?!" he exclaimed.

“Of sorts," said Erlin, “The last Seeding was several hundred years ago after all, and even the Berelgan archives get rather patchy when you go that far back. But, as far as I can work out - thirty to forty years."

Gusemy's mouth dropped open. “From beginning to end?" he asked faintly.

Erlin nodded. “I'd expect a normal distribution," he said. “Slow ramp up, exponential growth, hitting a peak about 20 years in, then tailing off. Probably some outliers still seeding after forty years but not many." He studied Gusemy's suddenly bloodless face curiously, and then comprehension dawned.

“You've found one haven't you?"

Gusemy couldn't speak for a moment. “More than one,"he muttered hoarsely. “That is, definitely one, and - we think - proof of more." His voice shook. “Have you been following news of the Blight?"

“We have," said Erlin, “and that is a whole other conundrum. Frankly, we've no idea what's behind it."

“Other Kerm," said Gusemy harshly. “We had one of our accident investigation teams sent out to the first Blighted village. They found fragments of seed casing and a new Kerm sapling, smack in the middle of the worst of the Blight. The village Kerm was still alive - after a fashion. According to the team Keeper, it's mind was smashed - utterly insane."

Erlin stared at him in horror. “Oh hells," he said, “That would explain all the dire warnings. The archives are very definite about keeping Kerm apart, but I couldn't find out why. And if we're seeing this much Blight this early..."

Two terrified pairs of eyes met over the table.

“Oh hells."

-------------

The image froze. Lodan re-wound the tape and hit the play button. Once again, the screen displayed a view of fog streaming through a maze of tubing. Lodan watched the lower left corner of the screen intently. No glitch. I'll get somebody to take a proper look at it before we go any further, but it looks genuine to me. He paused the tape again and turned to face Al.

“Consider me convinced," he said. “What happens now?"

“Prototype engine construction and testing," said Al. “Then I prepare a dossier for the C7 Board, setting out the case for Skyhawk airframe integration and sub-orbital flight testing. After that we wait and see if the Board see fit to authorise the project."

“And if they do?" said Lodan.

“If the sub-orbital testing works, I prepare a second dossier, making the case for orbital airframe prototyping."

Lodan retrieved a card from his pocket. “Give me a call if the time comes to prepare that first dossier," he said. “The Kerbin Space Agency would be extremely interested in the practical applications of an air-breathing rocket engine."

Edited by KSK

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Well this is getting interesting. I assume that this is the beginnings of the RAPIER?

Yup, although it probably have a different name in the story. I get why Squad called it the RAPIER, but it's kind of a clunky acronym. Admittedly, I'm struggling to think of anything better myself :)

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I spotted three words early on that made me smile. "Age of Fire" I half wondered if I'd see that reference.

As for your jet-rocket-hybrid, I'll start spinning some wheels and see if I can roll up an acronym for you. Any particular theme you'd like, or just go with the flow?

EDIT: Scratch that last line. I've spent an hour letting the smoke out of my mind and still haven't come up with anything workable.

Edited by Madrias

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Hey folks,

Madrias - keep an eye out, those three words might crop up again somewhere ;)

If you could think of a sword themed acronym (as a riff on SABRE and RAPIER), that would be most excellent. Don't worry about it though! I know I've been trying and haven't come up with anything that's not horribly contrived or just plain tangential to the actual technology. Those chaps at Reaction Engines pinched the best acronym already I think, and I don't want to copy it in-story. :)

Engineer - yeah the RAPIER is a decidedly non-trivial bit of engineering. SABRE (for Synergistic Air Breathing Rocket Engine - told you the best acronym had gone!) is the real life version and it's at about the same stage of development as the C7 one in-story. Lots of information on Wikipedia and the Reaction Engines Ltd websites if you're interested.

Also, if anyone hasn't guessed already, my version of Kerbin and its muns, is approximately scaled to the Earth-Moon system, so SSTO craft in-story are a very different proposition to building them in-game. However it's a lot easier to insert realistic sounding numbers and spaceflight details into a story if you can look them up in the NASA archives. :)

Edited by KSK

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