KSK

First Flight (Chapter 102 - Telegraph Road)

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If you could find a model with a longer nozzle for the 909 that would be perfect but otherwise that sounds good. It's not explicitly covered in the story I don't think but let's have the 909 modified for vacuum operations and the 905 as a pressure fed atmospheric engine. I'd keep the actual stats reasonably similar though rather than going for the extreme differences that KSP currently has between atmospheric and vacuum engines. As mentioned before, think of the the Merlin engine - essentially the same engine used for both but the vacuum version has a larger nozzle.

LV and LVT engines are lifter engines through and through. :) All turbopump driven, all intended primarily for atmospheric use. For looks, the LV-T30 could use the current KSP model (but with gimbals added as you say). I haven't checked but if there are any differences between the LV-T30 and LV-T45 models then the '45 would be the one to use. The LV-T20 could use the same model for simplicity.

I'll have a think about the the LV series but if we don't find anything else, lets use the LV-15 model that you chose as a generic LV engine but just have different stats for the '15 and '20.

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If you could find a model with a longer nozzle for the 909 that would be perfect but otherwise that sounds good. It's not explicitly covered in the story I don't think but let's have the 909 modified for vacuum operations and the 905 as a pressure fed atmospheric engine. I'd keep the actual stats reasonably similar though rather than going for the extreme differences that KSP currently has between atmospheric and vacuum engines. As mentioned before, think of the the Merlin engine - essentially the same engine used for both but the vacuum version has a larger nozzle.

LV and LVT engines are lifter engines through and through. :) All turbopump driven, all intended primarily for atmospheric use. For looks, the LV-T30 could use the current KSP model (but with gimbals added as you say). I haven't checked but if there are any differences between the LV-T30 and LV-T45 models then the '45 would be the one to use. The LV-T20 could use the same model for simplicity.

I'll have a think about the the LV series but if we don't find anything else, lets use the LV-15 model that you chose as a generic LV engine but just have different stats for the '15 and '20.

Ok. And about the LV-9s....I'd have to edit the stats *somewhat* for the -905, since the -909 has practically no ASL thrust.

The LV-T45 is smaller, with smaller bell, ect. and has less thrust. I'll stick to the 'T30.

And ok, using the same model simlifies things for me a lot. Thank you. Once I'm done with all the KIS stuff, I'll get to work on Rockomax.

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Problem- the Moho 1 dosen't have enough fuel to reach orbit. Back to the drawing board.

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Problem- the Moho 1 dosen't have enough fuel to reach orbit. Back to the drawing board.

Problem with mine - My LV-905s are bugged. You cannot jettison the fairings, or use gimbal. Back to the coding board!

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Bad luck both - hope the redesigns are going OK.

In the meantime, have a little something to distract you...

Lightning

The Skyhauler lumbered through the night sky. Twin engined, squat bodied and built for range rather than aerobatics, the old transport aircraft had rapidly acquired the less than flattering nickname of 'Airhog' from border patrol pilots used to faster - and nimbler - machines.

Val hated it.

She glanced at the artificial horizon and hauled her aircraft into a fractionally tighter turn. The flight direction indicator drifted reluctantly around, bright white digits marching slowly past the red inverted V that marked the Airhog's nose. A thin smear of light from the Doreni port glowed sullenly on the real horizon, fainter patches of light from other towns dotting the coastline to the north and south.

"Vinenut three, Val."

She rolled level, tipping the aircraft onto its opposite wing in a stately bank; threading the needle between the patches of light. Staying out of conceivable searchlight range whilst getting close enough for the racks of passive sensors stuffed into the Airhog's belly to do their thing. Or so the flight planners said. Plotted on the navigation charts, their routes resembled the erratically bulbous contours of a fresh vinenut and one of the early reconnaissance crews had promptly labelled all their waypoints accordingly. The joke had stuck.

"Anything down there, Sig?"

"Picking up the usual harbour radars," her navigator replied. "Shouldn't be a problem at this range. Nothing bigger or pointed in our direction - guess the Doreni aren't bothering to throw money down the same gronnek warren as the Wakirans."

"Yet."

"Yet," Sigrin acknowledged. She snorted softly. "They'll probably just pay Rockomax to launch them a nice satellite instead."

Val sucked in her breath sharply. "They might. Or borrow that fancy mapping satellite from the KSA.You should kick that up the chain, Sig."

There was a thoughtful silence from the back seat. "I think I will," Sigrin said slowly. "It'd beat flying round in lopsided circles, that's for sure."

"With nothing else to do than limp away in a straight line if anyone sees us," said Val sourly. "Wish I knew what the Kerm is holding up the Humilisia airstrip. We could fly the Cloudrunners out of there in broad daylight and the Doreni couldn't do a damn thing about it."

"Still takes a lot of concrete to build a proper runway," said Sigrin. "Even if we don't care whether the Doreni are watching...ahhh here we go."

The ELINT system chimed twice in Val's ear. Behind her, Sigrin hunched forward over her instruments, streaks of light from the screens washing over her face, eyes flicking back and forth between the radar and infrared displays.

"Well - they're still there. They've shuffled them around a bit but I'm counting the same number - and same types - that BB reported. Patrol boats mainly with a couple of bigger vessels for variety. Better take a swing past vinenuts four and five anyway to cover the angles but I don't think we'll need another full circuit."

Val automatically checked her kneeboard as she eased the Airhog into a shallow climbing turn. The softly glowing figures simply confirmed what she'd already committed to memory. She glanced at the fuel gauges, nodded and shuffled back in her seat, trying to find a more comfortable spot.

"You sure, Sig? I was starting to enjoy the scenery up here."

Sigrin's snort echoed in her earphones as the Skyhauler droned onward through starlit Doreni skies.

-----------

Jerfun's breath smoked in the freezing air. Sand crunched under his boots, loose grains skittering across the ice-glazed walkway and trickling over the edge in thin, gritty drizzles. The air smoked hotter with muttered curses as one foot skidded on the frozen planks, throwing him hard against the safety rail.

Slowly, lifting his feet as high as possible in his stiffly awkward leggings and setting them with down with exaggerated care, Jerfun stepped into one of the low embrasures set into the log wall. From atop the palisade he stared down the road at the distant cluster of figures, black specks against the leaden evening sky. Silently, the guard passed him a pair of binoculars.

Seen up close, the figures were a curious blend of traditional and practical; grey woollen robes belted around the more usual Wakiran cold weather garb. One of the robed figures was carrying a grey pack, another twelve were toting larger, dark brown bundles. The remainder carried conventional mountain gear, most of them festooned with far more than a single kerbals-worth of equipment.

Jerfun's heart sank. "Have you seen any vehicles?" he asked quietly.

"No, Ambassador. They haul their own loads."

Jerfun leaned on the parapet to steady his hands, peering intently through the binoculars. The robed figures wore snowshoes, their companions were equipped with long, cross-country skis. Now that he was looking for them, both the sleds and the bundles of white fabric lashed to them were plain to see. Equally plain to see were the chunks of ice bobbing on the surface of the stream next to them. He straightened up.

"I'll hold the watch. Take word to the village, return with fuel, wood and two days supplies for forty."

"Supplies, Ambassador? For Kolans?"

Jerfun scowled. “Truly? They carry no flag - of Wakira or Kolus. And if we cannot let them pass then neither are we barbarians."

The guard nodded tersely. "My gun is yours, Ambassador." She unloaded her hunting rifle, presented the empty weapon and its ammunition to Jerfun, and turned away. The steady scrape of boots on coarse sand faded into the background as he automatically inspected the rifle, reloaded it and, snapping the safety catch on, propped it against the parapet within easy reach.

Slowly, the band of Walkers drew closer. Jerfun made his way along the walkway, speaking briefly to each of the guards, before returning to his own embrasure. He checked his rifle, watching the Walkers milling around the base of the palisade, then set it aside and cupped his hands around his mouth.

"What can I do for you, good kerbals?!"

There was a brief conference and then one of the grey cloaked kerbals stepped forward. Jerfun was unsurprised to see the grey pack on his back.

"We weren't told about this... roadblock, good kerbal!"  the stranger called out, the rounded consonants in his accent clearly audible. "May I ask its purpose?"

"Truly, a regrettable necessity," Jerfun answered. "But new villages require protection in these troubled times." Certainly against your like.

"Surely not against a group of Walkers and their companions? Come now, good kerbal, we merely pass through and our time-honoured journey is an urgent one."

“Good Ambassador," said Jerfun pleasantly. Along the palisade, the other guards reached for their weapons. "And truly your journey must be urgent if it has led you here."

"I fear that I don't quite understand...Ambassador."

"The Kolus border is several days away by foot," said Jerfun. "Were I in your party, I would be minded to verify the date on my maps."

There was a pause.

"May we request an escort through your Grove, Ambassador?"

"You may not. You may shelter beneath our palisade tonight and if you wish we can offer transport back to the border in the morning." Jerfun surveyed the loaded sleds beneath him. "We can spare you fuel for tonight and - in honour of your journey - spare you two days of supplies."

"That is... generous, Ambassador. Our thanks go with you."

"It is no more than any Wakiran," the emphasis on the last word was unmistakeable, "would do in my place. And no more than any honorable kerbal would do for a new Kerm. I have already sent word to my village for your supplies."

----------

Enely tightened the belt of his grey cloak, shivering in the salt breeze. He dipped his hand into the grey pack at his feet, reaching for the Kerm seed within; twining his fingers through its fibrous husk for reassurance. His companion Walkers stood around him; tough, weatherbeaten kerbals, hardened by a lifetime spent in the semi-arid wastes of central Wakira. Growing crops under such conditions, even desert adapted species like pepper cactus, taxed the determination and ingenuity of Kerm and kerbal alike. Those that did banded together in close-knit, self-reliant communities, usually remaining kermol for their entire lives.

The Bay of Dazj loomed on the horizon, choked with the boats and barges shuttling supplies and workers ashore from the small flotilla of transport ships anchored further out to sea. Flanking the bay, the twin volcanoes of Dazji Isle rose forbiddingly into the sky. Long dormant, the outpourings from their last eruptions had finally been sufficient to join them into a single island. Centuries of erosion had since carved out a spectacular natural harbour, each horn of the crescent bay guarded by a steep, cloud-wreathed peak. Further west, the Maldonian Archipelago tailed out in the jagged Pillars of Dunlin and a string of smaller volcanic islands; all uninhabited save for thriving seabird colonies.

Like an gigantic, broken eggshell, a half completed radome loomed above the eastern headland, the antenna inside motionless for the moment but pointed unerringly at the eastern Maldonian islands. Nearby, a cluster of dark grey buildings stood wrapped in forests of scaffolding, their concrete walls made with local black sand. A steady stream of vehicles trundled along the coastline between the building site and the harbour.

The younger Walkers watched in fascination as the Adelan Kerman's crew hauled the second of her two enormous skyfoil sails onto the deck and set about detaching it from the winch lines. The first skyfoil was already stowed on the opposite rail, runnels of water dribbling out of its folds and tubes and splashing into the sea below. The older Walkers and Enely paid no attention, instead staring impassively at their new home.

Ceded from the newly formed Forseti Confederacy towards the end of the Age of Sail, the western end of the Maldonian Archipelago had nominally belonged to Wakira for centuries, although for much of that time it had lain abandoned, save as a line on a map. Dazji Island itself was barely habitable, the twin volcanoes trapping just enough moisture from the prevailing winds that its thin soil could support a sparse collection of hardy grasses and low, thorny shrubs.

The deck thrummed softly underfoot and water suddenly churned around the Adelan Kerman's stern. Slowly she crept forward, cautiously edging towards her allotted berth at the bay entrance. Enely patted the Kerm seed one last time for luck and hoisted his pack onto his shoulders. The higher pitched whine of the ship's motor shifting into reverse was followed by a heavy splash and the clanking rattle of chain running through hawse pipe.

We're here.

Under the bosun's watchful gaze and blunt orders, the Walkers began boarding the ship's boats. Enely watched the deck crew wrestle back the heavy, folding cargo hatch and start unloading the hold. He recognised the bales of flat-packed shelters for the new village - my new village - but most of the other equipment and supplies were stowed in blandly anonymous crates, the stencils on their sides unreadable from where he stood. Suddenly there was a respectful tap on his shoulder.

“Keeper?"

He spun round to face the bosun. The older kerbal looked at him curiously for a moment then nodded. “Stern seat, Keeper."

“Thank you. And please convey my thanks to the Captain."

“Truly. You choose a harsh place to live, Keeper - I wish you and your Kerm good fortune."

“Thank you," said Enely quietly. He tightened the buckles on his pack, glanced around the deck and clambered into the boat, clutching the gunwale nervously. The davit arms swung out and down. Enely braced himself for impact as the Adelan Kerman's hull sped past but much to his surprise, the boat slipped into the sea with barely a jolt. The motor started and they purred away towards Dazji Island.

-----------

The siren wailed, numbingly loud even through the blockhouse wall. Val rolled off her bunk, grabbed her flight helmet and hit the ground running.

High volume compressors screamed to life, as the pilots sprinted for the hangar. A rapidly building roar joined the scream, both overlaid with a piercing banshee howl. Val burst through the hangar door into a wall of noise. She jammed her flight helmet over her head, glanced at the ominous shape of the Mark 3 fingrillin already slung under her aircraft and reflexively checked the hangar floor for debris. She raced past the starter-jockey sprinting clear of her aircraft, scrambled up the cockpit ladder and flung herself into the ejection seat.

The ground crew hauled the start-cart away. Val plugged in her communication leads, reaching for the canopy lever with her other hand, eyes racing over the instrument panel. The aircraft rumbled under her, like a gronnek straining to be let off its leash.

Hydraulics - check. Breakers - in. Caution panel - clear. MCL - off.

“Vanguard - comm check."

“Copy, Vanguard."

Speed-brake - closed. Flight trim system - check, altimeter - norm.

The flight control surfaces sprang to life; extending and retracting, flexing through their full range of movement. Inside the cockpit, Val's head swivelled back and forth, eyes intent. Satisfied, she pulled out the safety pins on her ejection seat, held them up to the canopy and stowed them.

Flight controls - check. Brakes on. Canopy down and locked. Seat armed. Defog and cabin temp - check

“Vanguard - ready for taxi."

“Chocks clear, Vanguard. Proceed to apron."

At the hangar entrance, an orange-jacketed kerbal lifted two circular paddles over his head and flipped their green surface round to face Val. She eased her throttle forward and released the brakes. The engine pitch rose a notch, deafening in the enclosed space.

“Vanguard is rolling." And the day I need a chaperone to get me out of here without clipping my wings is the day I quit flying.

Four Cloudrunner single-seater jet aircraft emerged from their hangars, waves of shimmering air rolling off their engines, the dawn sun gleaming from their prominent bubble canopies. Originally designed as high speed aerobatic and racing planes, the heavy torpedoes slung under their bellies added an air of menace to their lightly swept wings and gaping nose intakes. One by one, they surged forward onto the taxiway, swung lightly round, then catapulted down the runway, engines howling louder than the alert siren, hardly making it to the halfway marker before leaping nimbly into the air and vanishing into the clouds.

"Vanguard is airborne, four by four. What's the drill, Control?"

"No drill, Vanguard. The Doreni fleet slipped anchor at 06:00 this morning and, until further notice, are to be considered hostile targets. Your orders are to make best speed for Humilisia and provide air support for Commander Gusden."

"We're not going to get a lot of loiter time, Control."

"With luck you won't need any, Vanguard. If Gusden gets his way you'll either be too late for the shooting or just in time to buzz the beach barbecue he'll be throwing for our friendly Doreni neighbours. Until then, you're the big stick. Get in, drop the fish if and where you're told to and get out. Joker is grass on Humilisia."

"Understood. Vanguard out."

----------

Gusden scoured the horizon, shifting his weight from foot to foot as the cutter surged and swayed under him. Already, the salt spray was working its way under his headset, making it chafe uncomfortably against his scalp.

The Kolan fleet was drawn up in two parallel lines, facing east towards Doren. A skirmishing force of cutters led the way; all vessels abreast; their crews, like Gusden, searching the horizon for Doreni vessels. Behind them, a defensive formation of heavier torpedo boats stood off the Humilisian coast. Two picket groups circled the islands, keeping a wary watch for any flanking attacks.

"Eyes right!"

Gusden's head snapped round. A surprisingly small cluster of black shapes, just barely distinguishable as ships, were steaming into view. Gusden blinked, then realisation came crashing in.

"All crews - rotate the line! Centre pivot! End crews - watch for envelopment chances!"

The roar of marine engines split the air. Gusden nodded in satisfaction as the nearest cutters heeled over in opposite directions, churning the waves into foam as they swung round onto their new course. He tapped a button on his headset, shouting for his seconds in command but heard only faint voices over the din of engines. Swearing, he ran for the deckhouse, yelling orders as he went.

"Anchors?"

The responses were muffled but audible.

"Swinging south, sir! Line's holding!"

"Swinging north sir! Line's holding!"

Gusden scowled out of the window, watching the cluster of Doreni boats uncoiling across the distant water, racing south at flanking speed, then slowing.

Aye, that won't help you. Cut my line would you, ya crawling slasherns.

The reports rattled in in quick succession, both seconds in command crisply confirming the new heading for their halves of the skirmish line. Gusden opened his mouth to reply, only to be cut off by a flat crack echoing across the water, which was swiftly followed by a distant fountain of spray. He tapped his headset.

"Ranging shot! All crews - hold the line and hold your fire!"

The two lines of cutters, both now stretched out west to east, faced each other across the waves. A second shot smashed into the water, a third, then a fourth, all falling well short of the Kolan vessels.

"It takes more than wasted shots to rattle a Kolan!" Gusden shouted. "All ahead - steerage way!"

As if in reply, the Doreni line surged forward, trailing foaming V shaped wakes behind them. The Kolan line wavered, one boat after another breaking formation as more shots crashed into the sea around them. All, Gusden noted, aimed between his forces. A single shot flew the other way; one panicking Kolan crew returning fire.

"Hold your fire!" roared Gusden. "They are playing with you. Do not enga..."

Gusden watched in horror as another incoming shell ripped into a Kolan cutter, tearing into the deck and hurling equipment and screaming kerbals into the sea. Single shot one corner of his mind yammered. Not a volley - stray shot. Dimly, he heard himself issuing orders, bringing his own vessel about, powering ahead through the engulfing melee towards the figures bobbing in the water.

Deck guns thundered in a continuous barrage as the opposing battle lines dissolved into chaos. Cutters from both forces darted this way and that, chasing each other across the waves, jinking as best they could to throw off enemy aim. Fountains of spray marked missed shots; inexperienced gunners and fast moving targets ensuring that very few shells found their mark. Gusden hung tightly onto the cabin rail, bellowing orders into his microphone as he tried desperately to make some sense of the battle.

"Anchors - pull back and reform your lines! Pick your targets and cut across their bows - get both your popguns into the fight! And for Kerm's sake hold your fire for any vessel making a pickup. I don't care if they're Doreni or pink-skinned Dunans - you do not shoot at them!"

One of his crew dashed into the cabin, stumbling against the doorway as a wave caught the cutter amidships. Gusden wheeled round, catching a brief glimpse of bleeding kerbals sprawled on the deck, two of them missing legs, eyes rolled back into their skulls. Another of his crew knelt by them; tending to his comrades, seemingly oblivious to the gunfire raging overhead. Then Gusden finally took in the bloodless face and wide eyes of his aft gunner.

"Commander," he choked, "The north..."

Gusden's head snapped round. What in the seven smoking hells... He jabbed at his headset, gesturing to the gunner to get back on deck.

"Fingril line - sitrep!"

"In position but observing fire! Your orders sir?"

Gusden stared bleakly at the ordered line of Doreni reinforcements sweeping down on his forces. "East, half ahead," he replied. "Load all fingrillin tubes and stand ready to lay down screening fire."

-----------

A handful of burning boats dotted the sea. Pools of flaming fuel dispersed rapidly on the waves but not rapidly enough for the charred figures floating by the wreckage; some barely recognisable as kerbals. Gusden clenched his teeth, dry heaves wracking his body. He swallowed hard, acid stinging the back of his throat. Then he issued the order.

"All crews pull back to the islands. Flanking speed. Fingril line will provide covering fire."

The retreat, Gusden reflected, was a bitter tribute to all the kerbals under his command. The Kolan forces slipped neatly from the jaws of the Doreni trap, a single line-ahead roaring towards the comparative safety of the Humilisian islands and the waiting line of torpedo boats. His seconds in command joined him in bringing up the rear; the three cutters harassing the pursuing Doreni vessels, offering themselves as targets to buy the others more time.

The lead Kolan cutter fled through the line of repurposed fishing vessels. Gusden glanced fore and aft, gauging speeds and distances. Time for one fingrillin salvo before we're back to deck guns. He tapped his headset.

"Vanguard - ETA?!"

There was a brief pause then Val's voice crackled crisply in his ear.

"Ten minutes out sir, Orders?"

"We're falling back to the islands, Vanguard. Your weapon passes are westbound, repeat westbound. Target the command vessels - bulbous bows, twin radio masts at the stern. Two releases on the first pass, give them time to retreat, second pass only if required."

"Yes, sir. Vanguard out."

Gusden's spirits lifted briefly as the two cutters carrying his seconds in command raced past the advancing line of torpedo boats. The instant his own boat reached safety he gave the order. The response was immediate, keyed up kerbal gunners reacting instantly to his words. A wave of fingrillin arced out over the sea in a rush of rapidly expanding air and disappeared beneath the surface almost as one. Sweating deckhands struggled .to reload torpedo launchers as the ungainly vessels swung due west, trying to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the oncoming Doreni.

---------

Val hissed in dismay, hardly hearing the sudden oaths from the other Vanguard pilots. Wreckage strewed the sea beneath her, kerbals hanging grimly on to the shattered remnants of sunken boats. Other boats sped towards the wreckage, crews already throwing ropes over the side, glancing up only briefly at the Cloudrunners screaming overhead. Still other boats burned furiously, sending ugly plumes of oily black smoke into the sky.

"So much for the barbecue."

Val swallowed hard, bile rising at the back of her throat as she realised what she'd just said. Hands shaking, she toggled her microphone.

"Cal - you're with me. Ferl, Gil, take the second pass. Remember what the boss said - give them a chance to retreat before going in." Although they sure don't look interested in retreating she added silently, hauling her aircraft skyward. Sea and sky wheeled past dizzyingly, blood rushed to her head; then she was through the half-loop, rolling the Cloudrunner upright and searching for her target.

Twin radio masts. There - and there.

"Cal, break left. I'll go right." Val threw her aircraft into a tight, spiralling dive, levelling out at rock-throwing height above the waves. Steel glinted in the corner of her eye; the enemy guns swinging down and round to follow her, a sudden muzzle flash throwing shadows over her ejection seat. Then she was through, finger convulsing against the weapon release trigger, the Cloudrunner lurching under her as the weapon pylon sprang open. Val hauled back on her flight stick, her other hand wrenching the throttle hard against its stops, clawing for every last metre...

Gusden screwed his eyes shut against the sudden actinic glare. The cutter bucked under his feet; throwing him against the deckhouse wall. Black spots danced in front of his eyes as he squinted out of the window. One of the spots resolved into a tiny figure, flailing wildly as it tumbled through the air, trailing thin ropes behind it...

He sprinted for the deck rail, hand over his mouth.

Unnoticed, four aircraft flew overhead, heading due west, two of them still carrying torpedoes.

Edited by KSK

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If it's the last part that's conflustering, that particular story arc has been brewing for a while. See chapters: 34 - Uncharted, 39 - Stormclouds and 46 - Preemptive.

That's the problem with monthly updates (or thereabouts) - easy to lose track of the different plot threads in the interim. :(

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Gusden screwed his eyes shut against the sudden actinic glare. The cutter bucked under his feet; throwing him against the deckhouse wall. Black spots danced in front of his eyes as he squinted out of the window. One of the spots resolved into a tiny figure, flailing wildly as it tumbled through the air, trailing thin ropes behind it...

He sprinted for the deck rail, hand over his mouth.

Unnoticed, four aircraft flew overhead, heading due west, two of them still carrying torpedoes.

That was the part I found confuzzling.

.....wait I just figured it out. Mostly.

So Gudsen is throwing up....but what is it with the last line? Or is it another cliffhanger? :wink:

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Ahh, gotcha. Maybe a little opaque but:

"We're falling back to the islands, Vanguard. Your weapon passes are westbound, repeat westbound. Target the command vessels - bulbous bows, twin radio masts at the stern. Two releases on the first pass, give them time to retreat, second pass only if required."

They didn't need a second pass.

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Well, I have a worse problem- it seems nearly all my computer files were purged, along with my KSP files. Thankfully I have my saves backed up on dropbox so I me able to reconstruct what I lost.

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Ahh, gotcha. Maybe a little opaque but:

"We're falling back to the islands, Vanguard. Your weapon passes are westbound, repeat westbound. Target the command vessels - bulbous bows, twin radio masts at the stern. Two releases on the first pass, give them time to retreat, second pass only if required."

They didn't need a second pass.

Ahhh......didn't catch the "Passes are westbound" part. Thx.

- - - Updated - - -

Well, I have a worse problem- it seems nearly all my computer files were purged, along with my KSP files. Thankfully I have my saves backed up on dropbox so I me able to reconstruct what I lost.

Dang.......and to think yesterday my Minecraft Technic Launcher pooped out and decided to delete everything.....still not as bad as what you got cursed with!

(must be that this week is a bad week for PCs.)

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More slowly than I'd like but getting there. Next chapter is about 80% done in rough draft but will need some polishing up. Should get it out by the end of the week with luck.

On a different note folks, how are the mod and stockalikes going? Hope all the PC woes are but a distant memory now.

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More slowly than I'd like but getting there. Next chapter is about 80% done in rough draft but will need some polishing up. Should get it out by the end of the week with luck.

On a different note folks, how are the mod and stockalikes going? Hope all the PC woes are but a distant memory now.

PC problems are done, but....some IRL stuff is keeping me busy. I will resume work soon.

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Also, I'm having trouble with the LV-905....although the -902, the LV-1, and the LV-15 are looking good. Once I sort out the LV-905 issues, I might start working on a Kerbin 1 capsule.

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Another journey begins... Next chapter is up.

Through the Eyes of a Child

“That's perfect thanks, Ferry. How about you, Gildas - can you see the screen all right?"

Gildas blinked shyly at Jonton and nodded his head.

Anlie ruffled his hair. “It's only Jonton you big silly. When was the last time you were shy with Jonton?"

Since I've been spending all my time hiding in a Kerm tree, thought Jonton. He smiled at Gildas. “It's okay. Tell you what, Gildas - I think Joenie needs some help with the cushions. Would you like to go and find some for her?"

Gildas looked up at his mother.

“Of course you can," said Anlie. “Go on, go and play with Joenie. I'll come and get you when the spaceships are on."

Gildas's eyes lit up and he scuttled out of the room. Anlie shook her head wryly. “Good thing it's not far to Barkton. I'm going to lose that one as soon as he's old enough to go kerman."

“Definitely," agreed Ferry. “We'll be watching him on the television, flying real Mün rockets instead of cardboard ones." He propped himself against Jonton's trunk. “We cut a window hole in the side of a big cardboard box and drew lots of buttons and whatnot on the inside. He spends hours lying under it, flying his spaceship. Couldn't believe it when I found a sheet of newspaper draped over his little table one morning with a photograph of the Mün facing the window."

Anlie smiled. “Those pictures you ordered from the KIS museum were the best birthday present you ever thought of," she said,

Ferry craned his neck, looking up at Jonton. “Bought a couple of prints from the Muna 2 flight and fixed 'm back to back in a nice light frame," he explained. “One of Kerbin, the other of the Mün - figured they'd look a bit better than an old newspaper."

Jonton grinned. “Here's to kerbonauts, young and old," he said.

Ferry lifted his mug of prickleberry juice in reply, when there was a sudden knock at the window. Jonton looked up and saw Fredlorf grinning at him, arm in arm with Enemone and followed by two kerbals that he didn't recognise. He waved at them all and thumbed a button on his pedestal. The verandah doors rumbled open and Fredlorf stepped inside.

“Afternoon, Jonton."

"Afternoon, Fred. Hi Enny, hello...Alemy? Kerm, I'm sorry - I didn't recognise you there for a minute."

A brief flicker of curiosity passed over Alemy's face as he looked at the face buried in the Kerm leaves. "Expect I've changed a bit in six years, Keeper," he replied, inclining his head politely. He put his arm round the quiet, dark haired kerbal beside him. "Jenrie, this is Keeper Jonton, Keeper - this is my partner, Jenrie."

Jonton smiled at the simple but classically elegant silver torc around Jenrie's neck. "Welcome to the Grove," he said warmly. "If I might ask for the Kerm, what name have yourself and Alemy chosen for this visit?"

Jenrie dimpled slightly as she glanced at Alemy. "Kermol, Keeper," she replied firmly. "For a little while."

"Well that sounds like the perfect reason to celebrate!" called a voice from the window. "Please tell me you brought something decent to celebrate with, Fred? I've had enough prickleberry juice in the last four months to last me a lifetime."

Ferry looked up. "Afternoon, Meleny," he said equably. "Bit early in the afternoon isn't it? What will our new villager be thinkin'?"

Meleny grinned. "She'll be thinking it's her last chance before Alemy starts taking her down to the kerblet clearings of an evening."

Alemy and Jenrie both blushed deep green. Ferry rolled his eyes. "Give the poor kerbals a day or two to find their way around first, Meleny?" he suggested.

Meleny batted her hand at him, gesturing out of the window. "Just thought they'd want to take advantage of all this fine weather," she said cheerfully. She patted her stomach. “Mind you, a bit of frost in the air can work it's charms too - can't it dear?"

Thombal coughed. “It seems so," he said dryly.

There was a chorus of congratulations from everyone in the room. Joenie popped her head around the door inquisitively, arms full of cushions. Her eyes lit up at the sight of Meleny who hastily flung her arms out to catch the hurtling kerblet.

“Careful, Joenie - careful! Mind my tummy."

“Meleny's had a baby, Joenie," said Anlie, “So you can't cuddle her too hard or you'll squash...him? Her?"

“Her," Meleny smiled. “Pouched her last night."

Joenie stopped wriggling. “Can I see the baby?" she asked.

“She's sleeping now," said Meleny gently. “She needs lots of sleep to help her grow but you can see her when she's bigger."

The door creaked open and Gerselle came in carrying a large tray. She barely had time to set it down before Joenie bounded over, grabbed her hand and dragged her over to Meleny, calling out “Baby, baby, baby!"

Gerselle raised her eyebrows, then hugged her friend in delight at the answering nod. “That's wonderful news!" she exclaimed. “Have you chosen a name for...?"

Meleny hugged her back. “Her," she said, “Katisa Kermol."

“Your mother would have been so pleased," said Gerselle softly. She smiled, “And Adbas will be so excited to have a little sister!"

“Can Katisa be my sister too?" said Joenie.

Gerselle opened her mouth to speak but Meleny just laughed. “Of course she can, Joenie," she said. “She'll love having a big sister to play with. Now - how about you and me go and help your mummy bring everything through from the kitchen?"

-----------

Anlie wedged a cushion behind her back. “So, what is it that you do, Jenrie?" she asked, “or rather, did?"

Jenrie put her mug down. “Project management for Stratus Ltd.," she said. “Helping to set up the new production facilities near Foxham. We subcontracted CMB Construction for most of the building work." She put her arm around Alemy. “Which turned out to be one of my better decisions."

"Foxham's on the east coast isn't it?" asked Thombal. "Has the Humilisian conflict..."

"Not us," said Jenrie. "But I have two friends working at the medical centre." She lowered her gaze. "They were on-shift when they brought the injur...injured sailors back from the islands."

Ferry cleared his throat. “Stratus make parts for the space program don't they?" he said. "Pretty sure I've seen your logo on a couple of the rockets launched out of Barkton."

Jenrie nodded gratefully, “High pressure tanks mainly," she said, “We started supplying them to the KIS for the Moho flights and finished a trial contract for Rockomax just before Pioneer 1." She spread her hands. “Suddenly we had to build the new factory to keep up with demand."

“Stratus Ltd - putting kerbals on the Mün." said Alemy. “Tell them about Halnie's new group, Jen!"

Suddenly animated, Jenrie leaned forward. “Halnie was our original business development manager for space systems," she explained. “She still runs the KIS account in fact, but she's just been made Director of our new Portable Systems Division too - and their first contract was to design and build a life support backpack for the Mün walkers!"

“I would definitely keep that quiet if I were you," said Ferry, “Unless you want to be pestered with questions from a certain kerblet of ours!"

“And ours," said Meleny from the door. “Is there anywhere I can put this out of reach of small fingers, Jonton?"

Jonton eyed the bottle of citrus wine appreciatively. “I can look after that," he said. Water cascaded into the bowl on top of his pedestal. “Just put it in the wine cooler here. "He glanced at the wall clock. “And speaking of tiny fingers, we'd better round them up. Show's about to start."

Anlie got to her feet and leaned around the door. “Gildas!" she called, “Spaceship time!"

Adbas and Joenie hurtled into the room in a thunder of small feet and flung themselves at their parents. Gildas ran in after them and flopped onto his cushion, frantically shushing the other two kerblets. Ferry waited until all three were settled down and a plate of snacks put in front of each, then flicked on the television.

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

“Hello and welcome to this very special episode of Engines and Engineers. With me in the studio today are two kerbals who need no introduction to any followers of kerballed spaceflight."

“Kerke Kerman was one of the Rockomax Corporation's first test pilots and flight-qualified the R1 capsule with fellow pilot Jondon Kerman. He flew into orbit aboard the Next Step for its historical joint flight with the KIS's Eve 1 spacecraft. He's taking a break from training to be with us today - training for the command seat on Pioneer 3."

“Bob Kerman is a founding member of the Kerbin Interplanetary Society and flew on the Kerbal 1 alongside Bill and Jebediah Kerman. He is the chief engineer for the KIS and Rockomax's Munar lander development program and he's been chosen as a crew member for Pioneer 7. Good kerbals, please put your hands together for Kerke and Bob Kerman!"

Bob took a sip of water and smiled at the enthusiastic applause. Across the table, Kerke looked cool and relaxed despite the heat from the studio lighting. As the applause died down, he nodded minutely at Bob.

“It's a pleasure to be here, Tom."

“The pleasure is all ours, Bob. Now, I know there's one question on everyone's mind - how is everything up there?"

“Better than we dared hope to be honest, Tom. We had a pretty ambitious set of tests scheduled for Pioneer 2 but the crew have done a fantastic job in working through them. Especially Tommal, who volunteered to sleep in the lander for the first three nights on orbit."

“Testing the life support systems, Bob?"

“Absolutely, Tom. We couldn't fit a full duration test into the flight plan - the lander is designed to support two kerbals for a two day stay on the Mün - but we reviewed the consumables data on day four and all the systems had worked as planned. Incidentally, to answer your question from last week's show, the lander uses the same air scrubber cartridges as the main capsule, so we we have redundant supplies in case of an emergency."

“That's good to hear, Bob. So what else have you been testing?"

“Just about everything we can think of, Tom and few more things after that. Kerke can take us through the details but basically we've simulated almost a full Munar landing whilst staying in Kerbin orbit. Kerke?"

Kerke cleared his throat. “That's right. We had three primary objectives for Pioneer 2. Firstly, and most importantly, we wanted to practice docking the Munar lander to the CSM - that's capsule and service module. Secondly we wanted to flight test the lander as a standalone spacecraft. And finally, we've been checking that the navigation and flight control systems on either spacecraft can handle the complete stack."

“So am I reading this right, Kerke - you tested the engine on the lander whilst it was docked to the rest of the ship? Why would you need to do that on a real Munar flight?"

“Well, hopefully we never will, Tom. The main reason for doing it was so that we could test a complete thrust pattern for the Munar descent. If we'd tried that with the lander alone, it would have ended up in some crazy high orbit, but because the lander was pushing all the extra mass of the CSM, the orbit wasn't affected nearly as much. But we were also testing an emergency option - if something went wrong with the service module engine on a Munar flight, could we get the crew back from the Mün using the lander engine alone?"

“Like a lifeboat?"

“Exactly. And the answer looks to be yes - we can use the lander as a lifeboat if we had to."

"Well, that sure is a relief to me, Kerke, and I'm guessing it's a relief to everyone watching." Tom looked towards the camera. "We'll be talking more about the lander engines after the break - including the all new, deep-throttled descent engine. But right now, we have some footage for you from the very first part of the flight."

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

Jonton glanced at the three kerblets sitting on the floor. Joenie and Adbas were staring raptly at the screen and Gildas had shuffled so far forward that Jonton was surprised he could still see everything.

The bottom of the picture was filled by Pioneer 2's blunt conical prow, gleaming against an azure blue sky streaked with iridescent white clouds. Dead ahead, a shining white tube hung in space, it's hollow tip pointed towards the camera and shrouded in shadow. The picture drifted this way and that, the kerbonauts making final course corrections as the two spacecraft swam ever closer together.

The end of the booster stage loomed over the watching kerbals, the dark maw of the docking adapter reaching out to engulf the end of the capsule. The camera shook briefly then steadied to reveal the two vessels snugged neatly together.

“...on a Munar flight, the spacecraft would now be ready for trans-Munar injection and the crew would spend the next two orbits checking over their systems and setting up for the burn. What you're about to see would normally happen after TMI, once the spacecraft was on its way to the Mün..."

The tapered end of the booster split into four immense segments, each pivoting smoothly back and out, to reveal an ungainly looking heap of equipment inside. Jonton peered at the screen in confusion.

“...protects the docking mechanism during TMI. You can see sections of the brace at the tips of the shroud sections. Those are hydraulically actuated - the engineers didn't want to risk explosive detachment this close to the docked capsule - each powered by two Roncott actuators driven by an open-loop hydraulic system..."

Fredlorf scratched his head. “They're plannin' to land on the Mün in that? Or on that?"

Gildas bounded over to the television and started prodding at the screen excitedly. “The kerbonauts sit in there, with the big engine behind them! The little engines are for steering... this is the radio. There's one of the legs! Look, look!"

Fredlorf grinned at Ferry. “Glad somebody knows what its all about," he said. “Yeh could probably make one fer him out of a coupla tin cans and a cardboard box. Probably fly about as well as the real thing too."

“It can't fly," said Gildas, “There's no air on the Mün so it's got rockets to land."

Jonton burst out laughing. “You listen to the lad, Fred - he'll set you right." He turned his attention back to the television which was now showing a starry sky and a very much smaller spacecraft in the middle of the screen.

“...jettisoned the descent stage and started a series of manoeuvres to rendezvous with the CSM."

Thombal tapped his earpiece. “And we've just had confirmation from Mission Control that the lander, with kerbonauts Neling and Tommal Kerman aboard, is on final approach to the waiting CSM. He turned to the camera. “We're now going live to the Pioneer 2 .capsule and kerbonaut Calzer Kerman..."

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

"That's one lean, mean flying machine you've got there, Pioneer."

"Yep, we stripped this hot-rod all the way back to the metal. Looks like we forgot to pack a heat shield though - thanks for the ride home."

"Copy that, Pioneer. Good to see you too."

The view through the camera jogged sideways, tipped back and forth and then settled. Calzer tapped it, noting the blinking light on its cover. "Flight, Calzer. How does the TV look."

"Squared away, Calzer. We can just about count the rivets."

The lander slid closer. Originally designed as a single piece shell, the crew compartment had been through several weight-saving redesigns and now resembled a flat, circular can studded with antennas, thrusters and other equipment housings. Incongruously, an ordinary aluminium ladder - available at almost any hardware shop - stretched from just below the crew hatch to beyond the protruding ascent engine nozzle.

"Flight, Pioneer. Beginning inspection manoeuvres."

Calzer stared intently out of the capsule window as the lander spun slowly about its axis. Looks good so far, fingers crossed... ah... "Pioneer, Calzer. Give me a plus forty yaw please."

Shadows drifted over the rear of the lander, pooling in creases and folds of crumpled metal. Calzer cursed under his breath then glanced guiltily at the communications panel. "Pioneer - give me a minus ninety yaw."

Slowly the lander pirouetted around. Calzer keyed his microphone, keeping his voice carefully matter of fact. "Okay, Flight, I'm seeing some buckling on the commander-side staging mounts. The thermal shield is a little creased up but be advised that I am not, repeat not, seeing any damage to the gimbals."

"Flight, Pioneer. That's consistent - we haven't noticed any off-nominal RCS response under thrust. If there is any gimbal misalignment, the flight control systems have been coping."

"Copy, Pioneer. We'll review the TV footage and flight control telemetry but right now, Lander and Guidance confirm. Please proceed with docking at your convenience."

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

A sombre Thombal turned away from the screen and towards the two kerbonauts seated opposite him. "Crumpled mounts, damage to the thermal shielding - that can't be good can it, Bob?"

"Well, like Geneney said, Tom, we're going to be reviewing the TV images and telemetry downloads very carefully indeed, but right now, I don't think this is anything that should give us too much concern."

Kerke nodded. "The RCS valves are quite loud from inside a spacecraft - you quickly get a good feel for how much they're working during manoeuvres. If the guidance systems were compensating for damaged engine gimbals, the crew would have definitely picked up on the altered thruster firings.

Bob rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "From Calzer's report, my immediate thought is that the decoupler between the two lander stages didn't separate cleanly, transmitting an offset load to the ascent stage. If that's right - and until we've reviewed the spacecraft data it's simply too soon to say for sure - there are any number of ways we can work around that."

"So you don't think this will affect the Pioneer 3 flight plan."

"I hope not, Tom but it's just too soon to tell. If we need another Kerbin orbital test-flight before sending another Pioneer to the Mün - that's exactly what we'll do."

-----------

Jonton smacked his lips and rolled the water around his mouth appreciatively. The pleasant smell of fresh coffee drifting in from the kitchen tickled the back of his nose but, for once, failed to elicit even a momentary twinge of regret. Oh, that's much better. Maybe a trace of root rot left if I tried hard, but I really think that's fixed it.

The sleep room door swung open and a thoughtful-looking Joenie wandered in. Jonton watched her fondly as she walked up to his trunk and brushed her hand over it. Solemnly, she rubbed one of his leaves between finger and thumb, then sniffed them, nose wrinkling at the pungent cinnamon aroma.

“Daddy?"

“Yes, popkin?"

Joenie scowled at him. “Daaaaddy! You promised you wouldn't call me that when I went to school!"

Jonton kept his face straight with an effort. "I did, didn't I. Sorry pop...Joenie."

Joenie glared at him for a moment before curiosity got the better of her again. “Daddy - why are you always talking to your tree?"

Jonton blinked. “Whatever do you mean, Joenie?"

"Alby-at-school's daddy has a tree but Alby says he doesn't talk to it all the time like you. And mummy has a tree but she doesn't talk to it very much at all. Why do you talk to your tree all the time?"

Oh Kerm. “It's a bit complicated, sweetheart," Jonton said carefully, “Do you remember when the tree was sick?"

Joenie nodded hesitantly. Jonton smiled at her. “And I remember that you were big and brave and told the tree to stop hurting me." He paused to gather his thoughts. “I had to talk to the tree for a long time to help it get better. And by time it was all better, I'd been talking to it for so long that I was part of the tree myself."

Jonton waved at Joenie before tapping the side of his head. “I've got arms and legs and a head and eyes." He rustled the leaf cluster next to Joenie's hand. “And now I've got a trunk and branches and leaves too."

Joenie leapt back from his trunk as if it were suddenly hot to the touch.

“It's okay, Joenie, it's okay!" Jonton held out his hand and wiggled his fingers at his daughter. “I can wiggle my leaves just like I can wiggle my fingers. Look I can wiggle these leaves, or these ones, or these ones."

Joenie watched wide-eyed as the leaves above Jonton's head slowly wafted back and forth. She pointed a trembling finger over his head. "Those ones, Daddy - wiggle those ones."

Jonton craned his neck towards the ceiling. “These ones?" he asked, flexing the nearest cluster that he could see.

“Not those ones - the other ones!"

“These ones?"

“No! The other ones. Stop teasing me, Daddy!"

“I'm not teasing you, sweetheart," said Jonton, “I just can't see where you're pointing." A thought struck him. “Am I hot or cold?"

“Cold!"

“How about now?"

Joenie giggled. “Getting warmer, Daddy,"

“What about...these ones?"

Joenie bounced up and down, blowing on her fingers. “Hot, hot, hot!" she exclaimed.

“Ah-ha," said Jonton, “You meant these ones?"

Joenie nodded happily, then suddenly scrunched her face up in thought. “When I helped Mummy plant all the red flower seeds, she told me that they would grow boots to drink water with. Do you have boots, Daddy?"

Jonton smiled. “Roots," he said gently, “Not boots. I do have lots of roots though - the beetles keep tickling them. "He took hold of Joenie's hand and quickly ran the fingers of his other hand up her arm. “Like this."

“Tickly beetles?" Joenie giggled.

Jonton nodded. “Tickly beetles. And when they tickle me I have to talk to them and tell them to stop. They don't understand Kerba though, so I have to talk to them with smells. Do you remember your birthday butterfies?"

Joenie rolled her eyes. “Butterflies, Daddy. Only kerblets call them butterfies."

“Butterflies," Jonton corrected himself solemnly. “I talk to them with smells too. With the right smells, I can ask them very nicely to sit on my branches and wait for you to come and say hello to them. The tree is teaching me to talk to lots of other animals too."

“Do the animals talk to you?" asked Joenie.

“A little bit," said Jonton. “They tell me when they're hungry or scared and sometimes they can tell me where they've come from and where they're going. The tree is teaching me how to make sure all the animals that live in the soil live in the right places to make all the plants grow properly.

“Tree school!" exclaimed Joenie in delight. “I'm going to kerbal school and Daddy's going to tree school."

Jonton laughed. “I suppose I am, sweetheart, " he said. “I suppose I am."

“Could I go to tree school too?"

Jonton's jaw dropped. “I...I don't know," he said. “Maybe - if we ask the tree nicely." Hastily he dug back through his memories. Pre-Age of Madness...group Communing...did kerblets...? Something stirred in a deep and distant corner of his mind. He prodded at it tentatively but the memories seemed curiously blurred, almost soft as they skated away from underneath him, leaving a lingering echo of happy anticipation in their wake.

<small kerbals good><not Kerm><good, not danger>

Dimly, he felt something tugging on his arm.

“Daddy?"

Jonton shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. I guess that's a yes. I'll need to be even more careful than I was with Gerselle though. “Uh - yes you can, sweetheart. I think that would make the tree very happy. I tell you what - how would you like to go to tree school right now?"

Joenie's eyes lit up. “Talk to butterflies?"

“Oh not yet, popk...Joenie. That's too difficult - youÃ'll need to learn lots before you can do that. And you're not the only one, he muttered silently. “Lets start with talking to me." He saw Joenie's puzzled look. “Without any words," he added. “Can you get me a big fat pillow from the bunk beds and put it on top of the pillow on Mummy's bed? Then I want you to lie on the pillows so that your head just touches those leaves."

Joenie grabbed a pillow, flung it on the bed and flung herself after it. She squirmed under the leaf cluster, reaching up curiously to touch it. Jonton gathered himself.

“Stop touching the leaves please, Joenie. I'm going to rest them on your head now and they might tickle a little bit."

“Like the beetles, Daddy?"

“That's right, sweetheart, just like the beetles. Now I want you to pretend you're watching a beetle and keep very still in case it runs away." Jonton took a deep breath and lowered his leaves around Joenie's head, gently probing for a connection. Joenie flinched as the leaf hairs brushed against her skin, then lay very still.

“Good girl."

Hair after hair slipped slowly into place. Jonton reached out through them, hyperalert to any response. A fleeting connection formed on the very edge of his awareness and he froze. Gently...gently. The connection wavered and then held. Faintly, Jonton sensed white light, curiosity and trust layered over fear.

“It's all right, Joenie," he whispered, “it's all right..."

“Daddy?"

The bond intensified. Images swirled past him: a kerblet racing through a cornfield amidst shrieks of laughter; a procession of kerblets walking through a doorway, the rest of the building an indistinct blur; a bright airy room, colourful pictures on the wall, toys and books scattered over low tables; a picture book seen up close, with a voice murmuring in the background. Jonton let the images wash over him, allowing himself to sink into placid receptivity, reluctant to touch his daughter's mind any more than necessary.

“Daddy??"

“I'm here, Joenie. Now I want you to remember something nice and I'll see if I can guess what it is. Don't tell me about it though - just think about it."

Jonton sensed a blurry image of a pile of cushions and a kerblet leaping off a bunk bed into the middle of them. The bunks rushed towards him then skittered past him before the image abruptly whirled around and he found himself staring down a vertiginous drop. A moment to catch his breath and then the world plummeted upwards exploding into a shower of cushions and muted giggles.

Let it go. Let it go.

“I see you... playing with Adbas."

A burst of excitement and enthusiasm bubbled over the link. “Now you think of something nice, Daddy."

The cushions faded away, replaced by a dark, horizontal line against a woven grey background. A tousled head peeped over the top, blinking sleepily. Two hands appeared, lifting the kerblet out of it's pouch and holding it out.

“Is that Meleny's baby?"

The image receded, woven background becoming an ordinary poncho wrapped around...

“Mummy!"

“That's right, sweetheart. That was the first time Mummy took you out of her pouch and let me hold you. Now - who do you think this is?"

The image blurred briefly then snapped back into focus. A blue poncho had replaced the grey one, the outstretched arms now holding a bald and distinctly grumpy looking kerblet. Jonton sensed puzzlement washing over the link.

“I don't know, Daddy."

“Well, who do you know that always used to wear a blue poncho?"

“Grandma?"

"That's right. So if that's Grandma then..."

“Daddy! Baby Daddy. Why do you look so cross, Daddy?"

“I think I was probably asleep, sweetheart, and didn't like being taken out of Grandma's nice warm pouch."

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

The house was suspiciously quiet, Gerselle thought to herself. She poked her head around the sleep room door. “Jonton - have you seen Joenie this morning?" Then she saw the small figure lying on her bed and froze.

What are you doing Jonton Kermol!

Just then, Joenie chuckled to herself. “Silly Daddy," she murmured, “Silly Daddy eating soil."

Gerselle's eyebrows shot up. She walked over to the wall of bunks and, slipping quietly into the nearest space, lifted her head up to the waiting leaf cluster.

It took longer than normal for Jonton to respond and when the white light faded, she found herself standing in front of a radiant young kerbal dressed all in green. A semicircle of beaming Witnesses stood behind her, all dressed in their best and some discreetly dabbing the corners of their eyes. Further in the background, Gerselle sensed a much larger crowd of well-wishers. She looked around but received only a vague impression of dozens of happy faces.

A pair of hands reached out and placed a golden torc around the young kerbal's neck. Hesitantly, she stepped forward and the image dissolved into a blur of warm green skin, silky dark hair and rustling fabric, all overlaid with a melange of musk and flowers. A welter of emotions poured down the link: happiness, relief, joy and overwhelming love, some bright and immediate, others tinged by a subtle incomprehension.

“Gerselle."

“Jonton? Joenie?"

“Mummy! Look at Grandma, Mummy! Daddy said I could see Grandpa too!"

Jonton sensed her unease. A smooth current of reassurance rippled over her together with an image of a familiar kerblet head on a pillow, with a cluster of Kerm leaves just barely brushing against its skin.

Gerselle caught the faint, pleading undercurrent. “Did he, sweetheart? Well, how about we all go and see him?"

Edited by KSK

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Couldn't help but notice the references to the Apollo 13 mission in the fixes to its various shortcomings. Intercompatible scrubber cartridges, checking to be sure the lander's engines will work when attached (and figuring just how well)...

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Busted - at least as far as the air scrubbers go. :) Not the first little nod to the Apollo program in this story either.

The rest of the flight, including the part about checking how well the lander engines could move the complete stack was lifted from Apollo 9 though. I think the main reason for trying it in real life was pretty much the reason I alluded to in the story - NASA wanted to check the descent engine for a full mission thrust pattern and the only way of doing that without sending Spider into a really high orbit, was to fire it when attached to the whole spacecraft. I'm not sure if it was also a deliberate test of the lifeboat concept but it definitely came in handy for Apollo 13.

Edited by KSK

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Bev7787 said:
Its back!!!

Like a bad penny. :)

Next chapter is up. Sorry it took quite as long - after the last one, I had intended to start getting them out a bit quicker but life is getting in the way at the moment.

Under Pressure

For a long minute the gentle susurration of unfolding leaf clusters was the only sound in the room. Then, gradually, it was joined by the rustling of ponchos, the occasional popping joint and the creak and rattle of wooden bunk frames as their occupants clambered stiffly off their beds. Patbro watched kerbal after sombre kerbal retrieve their footwear, murmur their thanks to the figure by the Kerm trunk, and file quietly out of the room.

"Could you do me a favour and open the drapes, Pat?"

Pellucid light trickled through the window, doing little to disperse the gloom inside. Patbro watched the verandah doors rumble open, letting in a cleansing breeze. He ran his fingers through his hair, staring out at the grey afternoon sky, the crisp air refreshingly cold on his face and neck. A sudden splash of water on stone caught his attention; he turned round to see Jonton taking a deep draught from an earthenware mug, before wiping his lips with the back of his hand.

"That's better - thanks. Got a spare mug here if you want one?"

Wordlessly, Patbro studied his friend, noting the streaks of grey at his temples and the thinning skin pulled tight over newly prominent cheekbones. Deep nests of wrinkles at the corners of his eyes and an oddly distant gaze, completed the picture. He nodded.

"I could use one after all that. You've turned into a half-decent public speaker though, Jonton - how often have you told that story now?"

Jonton handed him a mug of water. "I've lost count to be honest," he said, "Especially over the last month. People are still trickling in from Kallahat and Barkton, we're starting to see more and more from Foxham and last week we had a pair of Firesvarn turn up - Kerm only knows how they heard about it all." He rubbed his eyes. “That's one figure of speech I really need to lose."

Patbro reached for the light switch. “Ker...Pillars but it's gloomy out there. Mind if I put these on?"

“No, go on," said Jonton. He gave Patbro a lopsided grin.“That's one thing that this Kerm definitely does know - light is always good. Shame we can't migrate - I could just do with upping roots and heading somewhere sunny. Forseti maybe, or the Maldonians."

Yellow-white light flooded the room, chasing away the drab view outside. Jonton's face seemed less drawn and haggard in the comforting brightness and Patbro swore he could see the an-Kerm straightening up slightly, head turning towards the bulbs. "Forseti would be nice," he agreed. “Even with their heatwave." He sat down on Jonton's bed, raising his eyebrows at the cartoon-covered pillows scattered under the Kerm leaves.

“Didn't figure you for a Twelve Riders fan, Jonton."

“Oh, those'll be Joenie's," said Jonton, “You were saying about a heatwave?"

“There's quite a lot of pillows here, Jonton," said Patbro.

“Well yes," said Jonton, “She's only little - her head can't reach the leaves without them."

“That's what I was afraid you were going to say."Patbro said slowly. He laced his fingers together nervously behind his head and stared up the ceiling. “Sorry, Jonton - all this is taking some getting used to." He looked at his friend soberly. “I'd keep quiet about Joenie if I were you. Sharing your Kerm is bad enough but sharing it with a kerblet..." His voice trailed away.

“I'm not sharing anything," said Jonton impatiently. “I am the Kerm. And communing with kerblets was old before the Age of Madness."

“Yes," said Patbro. "Exactly."

“Oh come on,†said Jonton. “Communing with kerblets had nothing to do with it. A lot of mistakes were made but that wasn't one of them." He lifted his hands defensively. “Besides, I was careful. I only communed with Joenie after a lot of practice. She's still my daughter, Pat - I haven't changed that much." He stopped at the sudden crumpled expression on Patbro's face.

“What is it, Pat?"

“My daughter," said Patbro thickly, “And my Kerm. Tivie... she found it's seed. I..I heard the stories about you - came here to find out if what they're saying about the Blight is true." He cleared his throat. “S-sorry, Jonton. Was hoping you'd have a different story, or an answer or..." Patbro swiped the back of his hand across his eyes. “Or something."

“Actually," said Jonton slowly, “I might." He looked at Patbro. “At least I hope I have. It could still be dangerous though - I'd understand if you didn't want to risk.."

“She found it a week ago," said Patbro quietly. “First thing I did was go to Barkton and check the satellite maps - there aren't any single sites left for hundreds of kilometres, maybe further. Everywhere else has been zoned for overlapping Groves."

Jonton nodded. “The nearest site used to overlap with my range," he said, “But not any more."

Patbro's eyes widened as Jonton quickly described how he'd learned to watch over the land around his Grove and his struggle to relinquish control over even a small part of it.

“We'll need to be careful, but the poppy line should be enough of a marker."

“And there won't be any overlap?" said Patbro hoarsely. “No Blight, no sparks, no..."

“No, “ said Jonton softly. “No sparks, no struggle. Tivie's new Kerm should have all the room it needs."

----------

“Upside-down?" Lodan looked disbelievingly at Dunney. “How the Kerm did they manage to install the blighted thing upside-down?!"

Dunney dropped his creased and rumpled jacket on the seat of the chair and dropped himself on top of it. The smell of sweat and unwashed clothing clung to him like a miasma and the bags under his eyes spoke of far too many sleepless nights.

“An infelicitous design choice compounded by too many late nights of adrenaline and coffee, multiplied by Kerm knows how many weeks of work without a day off," he said wearily. “We managed to catch the other slip-ups but one finally got through the post-assembly checks. Frankly, I'm astonished it's the first one that got through."

“But..."

“The instrument packages are modular. Power connectors on one end, data connectors on the other. Put them on a standard chassis and you can build whatever payload you need in short order. Testing and troubleshooting is nice and straightforward - just keep on swapping out modules until you find the duff one." Dunney sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Until you drop one in upside down and short the main power supply through the IO bus. That just gets you a bang, a couple of crispy circuit boards and about three weeks work straight down the Wak."

“How..."

“When we get a minute to breathe we'll redesign the connectors. For now we're just painting yellow warning stripes on the sparky end of each module. Before they're assembled I might add, to stop some sleep deprived engineer painting the wrong end of a finished one. Was there anything else, Director?"

“I was just going to ask how long it's been since you got any sleep yourself?" Lodan said mildly.

“What day is it?"

“That's about what I thought, "Lodan poured a glass of iced water and slid it across his desk to Dunney. “I'd offer you coffee, but under the circumstances I don't think it would go down too well."

Dunney grunted in agreement. Lodan looked at him thoughtfully, steepling his fingers over the bridge of his nose, before resting them on the edge of his desk. “I remember," he said carefully, “thinking long and hard before setting up Probodyne as a semi-autonomous KSA department. In the end I thought it was the right decision, and that putting yourself in charge of it was also the right decision." He looked directly at Dunney. “I still do."

Dunney finished his glass of water in one swallow. “Well that's something at least. But would you get to the point. Celestial mechanics - least of all launch windows to Duna - wait for no kerbal."

Lodan opened his mouth, then closed it again. “Very well," he said at last. “As of this minute, I am rescinding Probodyne's autonomy. I am closing down all Probodyne manufacturing facilities and suspending your staff pending two full nights of sleep and one compulsory day of rest and relaxation. Once I am satisfied that all members of staff are in a fit state to return to work, your autonomy will be reinstated. I trust my point is made clear, Professor."

Dunney lunged to his feet, planting both hands squarely on Lodan's desk and leaning towards other kerbal. “Quite clear - Director! And don't you ever..." He pulled up short at the sight of Lodan's raised eyebrow.

“Ah - reinstated you say?"

Lodan just looked at him. Dunney sat down again and picked up his glass before noticing it was empty and putting it down. Quietly, Lodan refilled it and leaned back in his chair.

“Point made, Lodan, point made." Dunney sighed. “We can make up the time. Rework the schedule, run extra night shifts..."

“Or we can bring in some more staff," said Lodan, “I'm quite certain that Jebediah or Ademone will be able provide some help in that regard." He saw the look on Dunney's face and sighed. “I know it's not ideal, Dunney but I'm sure they can send you one or two kerbals capable of holding a soldering iron and following instructions. Rockomax do have a very large satellite team of their own and even the KIS managed to put a probe around the Mün."

“Right - and we're going to be putting two in orbit around Duna."

“I'm not proposing to put them in front of a console and help you fly them." said Lodan patiently. “Just to help you build them. I know as well as you do that we can't afford to miss the next launch window - and I can't afford to burn out my scouting party either."

The corner of Dunney's mouth twitched. “ Plenty of time before the Eve launch window opens," he said, “Especially as I decided to skip the one before that." He lifted a finger warningly as Lodan opened his mouth. “I trust you'll agree that scouting out Eeloo is not an immediate priority?"

“No," said Lodan, “No, you're right of course." He sighed. “Go on - go and tell your team to take tomorrow off. And if I catch anyone on the assembly floor tomorrow, you can let them know that they'll be suspended indefinitely."

----------

Wispy trails of ice crystals streaked the sky overhead, like a gauzy veil cast over the world.

Far below, the grasslands and conifer forests of northern Kolus were gradually giving way to tundra. Even so, fingers of cultivated land still sprawled into the wilderness, in a patchwork of irregular fields, dotted with the inevitable Kerm Groves. On the western horizon, the very tallest peaks of the Northern Range shouldered their way through into the sky; their massive granite ramparts draped with folded bastions of dense white cloud.

Val swallowed the last mouthful of pressed sunfruit bar, made a face at her water bottle and hooked her oxygen mask back over her face. The less time I spend in a wetsuit, the better. Though it might cushion this damn seat a little.

The waypoint indicator chimed and clicked over from three to four. Val glanced at her kneeboard, nodded to herself, and eased the Cloudrunner into a gentle bank. Rolling her wings level, she pushed the control stick forward, nudging her aircraft into a shallow descent towards the distant mountains.

According to the historical records, kerbals had inhabited Kenar Vale since the Age of Sail and probably long before that. Sheltered by the eastward curling tip of the Northern Range and watered by mountain streams, the valley was both fertile and well defended from the elements. Iskenar had begun as a small mountain community sheltering in the natural cave formations at the back of the valley. The city had long since outgrown its roots, although the original cave dwellings were still in use and a popular destination for the more adventurous kerbals from the southern reaches of Kolus.

Some fifty kilometres outside the city and situated at the mouth of the valley, Iskenar airport had been deliberately built at a safe distance from mountains and the often turbulent winds around them. Built from local greystone like the city itself, the roofs of its sculptured buildings planted with plots of grass and wildflowers, it blended seamlessly into the surrounding landscape. From the air, only the surrounding network of roads and runways saved it from almost invisibility.

The Cloudrunner swooped down the outermost runway, flared gracefully and touched down with the barest jolt. Partially deployed airbrakes folded all the way out as the nose wheel kissed the tarmac. The little aircraft braked rapidly, swung smoothly around and rolled back up the runway, brakes and flaps retracting into its wings. With a final, expertly judged tap on the wheel brakes, Val turned the Cloudrunner's nose into the wind and shut down the engine.

There was a sudden, deafening silence. Val removed her flight helmet, scratched her head and stretched as best she could in the confined cockpit. Then she reached down and pulled the canopy release lever. A freezing wind swirled through the cockpit, cutting through her sweaty flight suit like a knife and plastering the suddenly icy fabric against her skin. Cursing, she jerked the canopy shut again, and twisted the cockpit heater up to full. She scowled through the fogged up plexiglass, shivering as the clammy suit moulded itself to her legs.

A pair of headlights appeared at the far end of the runway, dazzlingly bright as they raced towards her. Val blinked as the olive green car screeched to a halt and a figure leapt out, barely recognisable as a kerbal under its greatcoat and furred cap. She braced herself, pulled the lever and threw herself out of the cockpit, grabbing her windcheater as she went. The metal ladder stuck unpleasantly to her gloves as she scrambled clear of her aircraft and ran for the car. Her escort thrust an armful of heavy woollen fabric at her before dashing over to the Cloudrunner.

Val hastily pulled on the greatcoat and turned to see the stranger closing and locking the cockpit canopy before swinging easily to the ground. He jogged over the car and gestured at the door nearest to Val before jumping into the driver's seat and slamming his own door shut behind him.

"Welcome to Iskenar, Commander. Good to have you here."

Val snorted. "Wish I could say the same."

There was a chuckle from beside her. "Even on this pleasant autumn day without any snow falling?"

"Only because it's too damn cold," Val muttered, hunching down in her seat. "What's the weather report from the border?"

"About the same, Commander. We've been lucky."

"And the squadron?"

"The last of them flew in yesterday. Mountain rescue pilots mainly and more used to choppers than fixed wings. Most of them do hold a dual license but they'll be out of practice and none of them have any..."

"Combat experience," said Val bleakly.

"No. Officially we're to be a reconnaissance team of course but if the situation does go Humilisian on us..." he shrugged. "That's why they asked for you, Commander."

Val glanced at him, taking in his creased and weatherbeaten face and the insignia on his collar. "What's your take on it, Sergeant?" she said at last, staring out of the window.

"Messy ma'am. The Wakirans have been pi... sorry - disappointed - with us ever since that idiot Keeper tried to take a shortcut through their mountains. Firesvar hasn't made any overt moves yet but we think it's only a matter of time."

Val closed her eyes. "Great. Just great. Is the armaments and refitting team on site yet?"

"Waiting for us in the hangar. I'll be flying them, and the last of their gear, out in the Airhog tomorrow."

"It sounds like you have everything in hand, sergeant."

"I try, ma'am. Fuel truck is on its way - you'll just about have time for a coffee and a - well it'll be hot, ma'am, that's about all I can promise - whilst you're waiting to get airborne again."

----------

Geneney stared into his empty cup, the Doreni Blue coffee sitting heavily in his stomach. "We're doing our best," he said at last. "Making the lander lighter and stronger hasn't been easy. And the last thing we need is a repeat of the Pioneer 2 result - or worse - in Munar orbit."

"I know that - and for what it's worth, I agree." A flicker passed over Lodan's face."But without the inspiration of a Munar landing to prop it up, the colonisation program is going to look impossible. How long, Gene? If Pioneer 3 goes to plan, how long before Pioneer 4?"

Geneney caught the pleading look in Lodan's eyes and bowed his head to hide his shock. "Six months at the earliest," he said. "Realistically, more like eight. The hardware shouldn't be a problem - booster assembly is going well, the capsule is almost ready for final outfitting, and Ademone is confident that KDS4 will be finished in the same timeframe."

He looked up to see the KSA director's usual imperturbable expression firmly back in place. "The training and flight planning is another matter though. I've barely started roughing out the contingencies and aborts list, Nelton and I are starting to think that we'll need an actual trainer vehicle for the landing, rather than simulating it in the Whirligigs, and the trajectory team still haven't got a good handle on the mascon problem." He paused. "Sorry, mass..."

Lodan's lips twitched. "Mass concentrations? I'm familiar with the term - the Probodyne team have made quite sure of that." He shook his head at Geneney's hopeful expression. "Not as far as I know, Gene but I'll check."

"That would be helpful," said Geneney. He pinched the bridge of his nose. "To be honest though, it's a small problem compared to the rest."

Lodan nodded. "Could you send me an outline?" he said. "A memo would do; I don't need the details, just something I can put in front of the Council to give them some idea of what's involved."

"I can do that," said Geneney carefully, "but I can't promise them a landing for Pioneer 4. They do realise that, don't they?"

Suddenly, the desk phone rang. Lodan reached out to pick it up. "Direct line," he said briefly, "I'd better take this."

"Lodan." He paused. "Both separated and deployed? Excellent - please pass along my congratulations and thanks to the whole team. And Hope 1 and 2? Very good. Indeed but it's always reassuring when the universe decides to agree with us. Yes, he's with me as we speak, so if you wouldn't mind. Yes, I'll come over to Probodyne once we're finished. Thank you, Dunney."

Lodan put the phone down and for the first time that afternoon, permitted himself a small smile. "Hope 3 and 4," he said. "Both completed their injection burns to Duna and separated from their boosters on schedule. My thanks to your team as well, Gene - having Bill to help made things considerably easier."

“Glad we could help." Geneney looked at him soberly. “Between you and me, unless Duna turns out to be a complete disaster, it's going to be our best hope, whatever we get from the Laythe probes. But back to the Mün - the Council do understand that we can't guarantee a landing on the first attempt don't they?"

“That's what they'd tell you if you asked them in public," said Lodan. “In private...well that's my problem not yours. Just promise me you'll give it your best shot, Gene?"

Pleading and then a deep, deep weariness flickered briefly in Lodan's eyes. Geneney swallowed hard, biting back a pointed comment and doing his best to project a firm reassurance.

“Of course, Director. You have my word - the Kerbin Interplanetary Society will not let you down."

Edited by KSK

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I'd almost forgotten about this over the summer...

On that note, where was that list of people neames again?

Edited by briansun1

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Hey Briansun!

Good to have you back and yep - the story has grown a bit over the summer. List of names is here.

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