KSK

First Flight (Chapter 104 - Shoulders to the Wheel)

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At this point, it sounds like jeb will have the last laugh: since such a massive amount of personal, materials, and expertise is needed, it would be stupid to let the companies to continue to compete. It would make sense to combine KSA, KIS, and rockomax as soon as possible.

Now we just need a background story for Kerbodyne (considering the ... LARGE presence that they will have in the market).

Watch this space. :) Although Kerbodyne might not make an appearance for quite a while.

OrtwinS - yeah it hurts me too. Early versions of the story had the KIS getting a bit more adventurous before Gene had 'that talk' with Ademone but in the end I figured that you could only carry the 'built in a junkyard' theme so far. Fear not though, I have plans for the KIS - they're not out of it yet. And yes - thank goodness any solutions to the current problems will involve such a straightforward approach. :D

Lindemherz - thank you very much! Glad you liked it and again - watch this space!

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Thanks for another great chapter. The whole Kermol side of the story is what takes this from being just another fanfic to a deeply interesting and enjoyable story. I look forward to seeing where this goes!

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Certainly picking up steam, but given they're thinking space program expansion... what specifically are people... er, kerbals, thinking of? Is the current theory that there are habitable planets in the Kerbol system? Similar to the thoughts here early on that Mars might be harsh, but habitable? Have they managed to get any spectral images of Laythe yet? Knowing there is oxygen (oxium?) in the atmosphere might spur them into attempting to go there, even if they do eventually find you can't just land and take your helmets off :D Brrrr!

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even if they do eventually find you can't just land and take your helmets off :D Brrrr!

Why not? It's a consistent 2 degrees. I go out in similar weather without any special protective gear. (Assuming its in C. In F, you'd probably want a scarf.)

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Why not? It's a consistent 2 degrees. I go out in similar weather without any special protective gear. (Assuming its in C. In F, you'd probably want a scarf.)

The atmosphere's supposedly not breathable by kerbals though, at least according to the science text in-game. Can't speak for First Flight canon but in TNF I'm going with sulphur dioxide levels just slightly too high for kerbals to breathe safely... or so they believed until they realised their probe had landed right next to a volcanic vent.

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Hi, all. This is my first post on the forums, and I supposed I would start it by praising what is arguably the best KSP fanfic on these forums. All in all, this is awesome. I especially liked the dynamic worldbuilding, especially the (as of now) last chapter. In other words, GIVE US THE NEXT CHAPTER, KSK! :)- Jeb

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The atmosphere's supposedly not breathable by kerbals though, at least according to the science text in-game. Can't speak for First Flight canon but in TNF I'm going with sulphur dioxide levels just slightly too high for kerbals to breathe safely... or so they believed until they realised their probe had landed right next to a volcanic vent.

Yeah, I've heard conflicting things on what was planned for Laythe by Squad, and with the science data a little conflicting with the temp figures... well I just assume it's not quite habitable without some kind of filtration or something.

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The atmosphere's supposedly not breathable by kerbals though, at least according to the science text in-game. Can't speak for First Flight canon but in TNF I'm going with sulphur dioxide levels just slightly too high for kerbals to breathe safely... or so they believed until they realised their probe had landed right next to a volcanic vent.

:D I can see the collective face-palming at the KSC when they finally figured that out.

There's no real canon yet, although obviously it's going to crop up over the next few chapters. I suspect I may have to play a little fast and loose with in-game science and planetary descriptions though to make everything work.

Thanks Jeb and welcome to the thread! There's a lot of good stuff on this forum, so that is praise indeed.

Next chapter is in progress - I did intend to get quite a bit more done today but a couple of days of unseasonably good weather dried the garden out enough that I could actually do something with it without churning the grass into mud. So yeah... that took priority today. Looking out of the window it seems that normal meteorological service is about to resume, so that's one less bit of real life to get in the way of moar writing. :)

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Cool! Don't know how far you'd got before but the chapter listing on page 1 of the thread is up to date if that helps. Alternatively, the whole story (apart from the last chapter) is up on my forum blog.

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:D I can see the collective face-palming at the KSC when they finally figured that out.

There's no real canon yet, although obviously it's going to crop up over the next few chapters. I suspect I may have to play a little fast and loose with in-game science and planetary descriptions though to make everything work.

Thanks Jeb and welcome to the thread! There's a lot of good stuff on this forum, so that is praise indeed.

Next chapter is in progress - I did intend to get quite a bit more done today but a couple of days of unseasonably good weather dried the garden out enough that I could actually do something with it without churning the grass into mud. So yeah... that took priority today. Looking out of the window it seems that normal meteorological service is about to resume, so that's one less bit of real life to get in the way of moar writing. :)

It'd be even more interesting to see the variations in expectations as they do the research on Laythe. From telescopes. From initial probes. From more advanced, atmospheric sampling probes. Then final Kerballed survey. Ups and downs of whether the scientists think people CAN live there at all.

"There's Oxium there!"

"Yay!"

"The percentages are off, odd minor constituents... might not be feasible to process it to breathe even!"

"Booo!"

"Well, good news is there are places the contaminents are low enough to deal with...."

"Yay!"

"But it's bloody cold!"

"Booo.... er, Snowmen? Yay?"

"Hmm... *sniff sniff* Yeah, we can breath *cough* this... *Cough*"

"JEB PUT THAT HELMET BACK ON!"

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Well wherever the KSP is going, they're gonna need a bigger ship. Luckily Jeb and his team are happy to oblige!

Next chapter is up.

Project Eve

“Three, two, one and... shutdown!"

The thunder from the test stand stopped. Jeb waited for a minute or two before cautiously removing his fingers from his ears.

“How they looking, Wernher?"

The rare smile on the chief engineer's face told him all he needed to know.

“Balanced propellant flow to all three engines, Jeb. Minimal off-axis loads across the main thrust assembly - and the flight control system caught those and responded perfectly!

Jeb studied the strip charts on Wernher's console. “Interface and cabling to the test stand held up well too," he said, “Remind me to tell Hando when we get back. So we're going with the three engine configuration then?"

Wernher nodded. “Now that we've fixed the flow rate problem, I don't see why not. Three T-thirties in the core stage, T-twenties on the lateral boosters and a fourth on the upper stage. It should be enough, Jeb."

Jeb scratched his head. “Just about - if it'll hold to the ascent profile. Are you sure we've got enough thrust vector control with triangular symmetry?"

“According to Lucan and Neling we can do it with just the standard gimbals," said Wernher, “Which is good. I never liked Seelan's steerable fins idea - too many extra moving parts for my liking and too many complications if one of them fails mid-flight."

Jeb retrieved his mug of coffee from a nearby console and took a swig. “I didn't hear any squawking this time either," he said, “Did the propellant balancing fix that too?"

“Screeching," said Wernher patiently. “No, that was Malmy's new injector design. Not much to it in the end but enough to detune the combustion chamber away from that new resonance mode." He shrugged. "Higher chamber pressure, hotter operating temperature - something was bound to crop up."

Jeb laughed. "It wasn't so long ago that you'd have been tearing your hair out over a problem like this," he said, "We've come an awful long way since the LV-1 old friend." He glanced at the monitor admiringly, "And it has to be said - that is a brute of a thrust assembly. Can't wait to see what it looks like with the rest of the booster on top!"

The bunker door banged open and Ornie hurried in, cheeks glowing. He bent over double, gasping for breath and then straightened up with an enormous grin on his face.

“Ornie!" exclaimed Jeb, “How did it sound from the stands?"

Ornie cupped one hand to his ear. “Sorry, Jeb?" he said.

“I said, HOW WAS THE...Oh very funny Ornie."

Ornie laughed. “Awesome! The bits I could see through the smoke at least. And that sound - whoooo boy! Not loud enough to hurt but plenty loud enough to shake the soles of your feet." His eyes glowed with enthusiasm. “Aint nobody gonna be listening to the band when that rocket goes up!"

Wernher grinned at him. “And that was just the T-thirties," he said, “Throw in the T-twenties too and it won't just shake the soles of your feet!"

“Actually we'd best be careful about that," said Jeb, “Maybe have somebody at the gate handing out ear plugs or something." He saw the look on his friends' faces. “I'm serious guys - we can't have people going deaf - really deaf that is - every time we launch an Eve booster!"

“Probably not," conceded Ornie. “Hey - that's a pretty good pitch though. 'The rocket so powerful you need earplugs to watch it.' We could print the KIS logo on the plugs and sell them as keepsakes."

“Or print parts on them," said Wernher. "“LV-T30s, fuel tanks, Eve capsules maybe. Collect the set and build your own mini foam rocket."

Jeb blinked, “I think you've both been spending too much time with Genie," he said dryly. “I'm not saying its a bad idea mind...but we should also have a bunch of plain ones to give away for free."

“No, you're right, Jeb," said Ornie reluctantly, “Selling protective equipment would look a bit tasteless." He frowned. “I like Wernher's idea of collectable parts though. I think I'll have a word with Bob; he likes quirky games, maybe he can think of something."

Jeb put down his mug. "Speaking of which," he said, "he and Genie should be back from Rockomax in an hour or so. Lets go unload the stand."

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

Wernher watched nervously whilst Ornie backed up his truck up, guided by Jeb's hand signals. Watch it...watch it... steady Ornie. And hold it... HOLD IT!.

Ornie's tow-bar stopped mere centimetres from the test stand support leg. Jeb was already swinging the crane into place above the cluster of rocket engines. Wernher wiped the sweat off his forehead and ran forward to hook the chains onto the thrust assembly struts. He checked the propellant valves before carefully unclipping the fuel and oxidiser lines and coiling them neatly around the storage drums. Finally he unplugged a thick bundle of cables from the side of each engine and tossed them to one side.

"Ready, Jeb!"

The winch whined into life, accompanied by the rapid clanking of chains through pulleys. Wernher clambered onto the back of the truck and began calling out instructions;

"Left a bit, Jeb... more...more...Looking good. Forward, forward and... there! OK, lower away."

The engine bells dropped slowly towards the waiting cradle. Wernher caught the edge of the nearest one. "Hold it, Jeb - need to line this up. OK, that's got it - down another half metre... and stop!"

The three rocket motors settled gently into place. Wernher unhooked them from the crane and set to work lashing them onto the truck bed, oblivious to the chains dangling just above his head. Jeb hopped down from his seat and began unplugging the cables from the test stand.

"Are we taking the engines over to the Tent, Wernher?"

"Back to the VAB today, Jeb. According to Ordun, his team will have have the first stage superstructure ready for mating to the thrust assembly by tomorrow.

"Works for me," said Jeb, " I'm never that happy leaving unfinished parts in the Tent anyway. That's good work from Ordun's gang too." He paused. "VAB?"

"Ordun's nickname for the warehouse," said Wernher, "He seems to think 'Vehicle Assembly Building' sounds better."

Jeb sighed. "Why call a spade a spade when you could call it a Manual Earthmoving and Manipulation Tool", he said. "Still, 'Vehicle Assembly Building' is one of his better names."

"Vertical Assembly Building would be even better," said Wernher wistfully. "The Tent more or less worked for Project Moho but a proper hangar to build the Eve boosters in would really help."

Jeb dropped the cables onto the back of the truck. "One day," he said, "Maybe if Rockomax take up Genie's proposal."

Wernher thumbed the tail lift button. "You really think they'll go for a Munar program?" he said.

"No idea," said Jeb frankly, "CORDS is going well but whether that'll be enough for Ademone's board?" He held up his hands. “I have no idea."

"CORDS was worth doing whatever happens next," said Wernher, scrambling up into the cab after Jeb. “Especially after Bob managed to persuade them to give us a spare docking adapter to test our prototypes against."

“That was Bob?" said Ornie, “I figured it was Gene sweet talking Ademone." He pressed the starter button and the truck hummed into life. Gingerly, he pushed on the accelerator, one ear alert to any unexpected noises from the back.

Jeb laughed. “Gene's a fair diplomat too but he's got nothing on Bob. I swear you could drop that kerbal into a meeting of the Twelve Pillars and he'd come out an hour later telling you all about how President Chadwick hasn't seen his youngest for two weeks because he's been working late on a new bill, that President Enemone's been at a diplomatic conference in Wakira and she couldn't tell him much about it but it sounded stressful..."

“and that it's Ambassador Aldwell's old mum's birthday next week and maybe we could wish her happy birthday from orbit if we happened to be flying at the time..." added Wernher.

Ornie steered around a large hummock of grass and started at a sudden rattle from the trailer. The truck rolled to a stop and he hopped out. Jeb and Wernher heard the grumbling wheeze of tailgate hydraulics followed by the tapping of boots on steel and a disgusted snort. The tailgate thumped shut and Ornie clambered back into the cab clutching a handful of cables.

“Yours I believe," he said acidly, passing the cables over to Jeb and starting up the truck again. For a moment, there was silence apart from the whine of electric motors and the rumble of wheels over turf. Then Ornie chuckled. “Ambassador Aldwell's old mum," he said. “Maybe the Eve 1 crew should give her a wave as they fly overhead."

“If Bob gets to go, he could serenade her from orbit on Beauty," said Wernher.

“Beauty?" said Ornie.

“His lucky guitar," said Jeb, “And don't knock her, Wernher - it was Beauty more than Bob that got us that docking adapter."

Wernher raised his eyebrows.

“Yep - turns out that one of the Rockomax engineers - Hanbal I think his name was - is into the same kaya-scaring racket that Bob likes. Next thing I know, he's invited along to a lunchtime jam session and it's all we can do to get them back to work in the afternoon. Even then the conversation is one part rocket engineering to one part obscure music." He shook his head. “I'm positive Bob makes half of those bands up."

Wernher smiled. “That sounds like Bob," he agreed.

“That's not the end of it," said Jeb, “They gave him a tour of their factory floor - which was pretty impressive by the way - and Bob spots a tank valve on a workbench. I didn't catch what he said to Hanbal but it didn't seem to go down too well. So Bob just sets to work stripping down the valve. He picks out a couple of pieces and asks if he can rework them a little. I think Hanbal is getting curious now, so he tells Bob to go ahead. By the time Bob's switched off the mill, he's starting to attract a crowd, by the time he's rebuilt the valve, every engineer in the place is standing round his bench watching."

Ornie pulled up at an intersection and waited for the road ahead to clear. “I don't get it," he said, “You're not tellin' me that a factory-full of engineers hadn't seen another engineer tweak a valve before?"

“Of course not," said Jeb, “but you're forgetting that Bob went up on the Kerbal 1, which makes him a kerbonaut too - or close enough. I didn't ask but I got the impression that the Rockomax flight crews tend to keep to themselves. Having Bob turn up and start bending metal turned out to be quite the ice breaker."

“I've known pilots like that," said Ornie. “Most of 'em are just regular kerbals but there's always a handful that think they're a touch above the poor greasebuckets that actually build the planes. You run this place the right way, Jeb."

Jeb shrugged. “I can see some sense in having a separate kerbonaut corps," he said. “I bet it makes organising the training a lot easier for one."

“I agree with Ornie," said Wernher quietly.

Jeb looked uncomfortable. “It does seem like the fairest way to do things," he said. “And speaking of which, that looked like Bob's car out the front. Time to go inside and select our next kerbonauts."

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

Jeb stood by his office door, waste paper basket in one hand and surveyed the warehouse floor with pride. Maybe Ordun has a point. A spaceship parts company should have a Vehicle Assembly Building, rather than a plain old warehouse.

Ordrie and Adelan were busy installing RCS thrusters around the base of the Eve 1 capsule. Through the open hatch Jeb could see Edsen perched on the edge of the centre couch sorting through a tangle of multicoloured cables. Lowise stood patiently by the opening holding a tray of tools, tags, cable ties and other assorted components and Jeb recognised a half assembled evaporator resting on a nearby bench.

Looks like the forward thrusters are finished already. And all the space inside compared to the old Kerbal 1! or a Moho. Yeah, we're finally building an honest to Kerm spaceship here.

Showers of sparks filled the air at the other end of the warehouse as another team of kerbals put the finishing touches on a great skeletal cylinder. Fuel tanks, photovoltaic panels and an an entire LV909 engine were stacked neatly on the equipment racks behind it. Seelan and Wilford stood behind a long workbench, each assembling an RCS thruster block under Malmy's watchful eye.

The elegant, gleaming Rockomax docking adaptor on its test stand took pride of place in the middle of the warehouse floor. A pair of steel rails led away from the stand and parked on the other end of the rails was, what looked to Jeb, very much like an old camera dolly with the distinctly less elegant bulk of the Eve 1 docking port securely fixed to it's upper platform.

Don't remember seeing that before. Wonder where we scrounged it up from. Actually, on second thoughts, I don't want to know.

Bill peered into an eyepiece set into the side of the docking port and delicately adjusted a crank handle. He nodded to himself, took a firm grip on the large lever poking out of the trolley next to him and gave the two kerbals standing behind it up a thumbs up. Straining against the weight, they rolled Bill and the docking port slowly down the track towards the waiting adaptor.

Jeb held his breath.

Bill applied the brakes with a brief squeal of metal on metal. The dolly crept down the rails towards its target and then, with a whisper of highly polished surfaces sliding past each other, the tapered probe protruding from the port slid smoothly into the adaptor. The rapid fire ripple-bang of docking latches slamming shut echoed around the warehouse, completely masking the gentle thump of wheels hitting chocks. Bill jumped off and joined the other two members of his team next to the adaptor. Try as they might, the three kerbals couldn't roll the dolly back up the tracks.

A cheer went up as Bill retrieved a portable gas cylinder and plugged it into the back of the port. He turned the valve and Jeb jumped at the sudden angry hissing roar that rattled the office window behind him.

What the...!

The wall of metal rolling past his office window brought him back to Kerbin.

Oh right; just the damn sand blaster. That's a point though; better call the tank team in too.

He strolled over to the outside door and poked his head out. The two kerbals cleaning the enormous sections of fuel tank were too intent on their work to notice him. One of the kerbals helping to wheel out the next section of tank from the main engineering shed spotted him and waved. Jeb waited for the howling din of sand against aluminium to stop and went out to join them, still clutching his wastepaper basket.

“You folks ready to take a break?"

“Just getting started, Jeb," grumbled Seelan, “We were figuring on getting both these sections finished before the weather closed in."

Jeb squinted up at the sky. “Looks like it's going to stay clear for a while yet,"he said. He rattled the basket and grinned. “You sure you don't want to take a quick break?"

Seelan glanced down at the jumbled heap of folded paper scraps and her eyes lit up. “Well why didn't you say so in the first place?" she said. “Wouldn't want to deprive any of the boys here of a chance to actually fly this machine they're cleaning up!"

“Wouldn't want to deprive you either, boss," replied Jeb. “Why don't you stow your gear and I'll see you inside in ten minutes."

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

Jeb glanced at the pressure gauge hanging from the Eve 1 docking port and was pleased to see that both dials appeared to be holding steady. He jumped up onto a convenient workbench and waited, one eye fixed on his office door. One by one, the members of the Kerbin Interplanetary Society broke off from their work and drifted towards him. The older ones recognised the wastepaper basket and a buzz of anticipation swiftly spread around the vehicle assembly building.

At last, the office door closed behind Seelan's team. Jeb surveyed the crowd and was relieved to see Bob and Geneney standing in a huddle with Wernher and Lucan. He cleared his throat and the room fell silent.

“My friends, the last time I stood here, we stood on the edge of new age for kerbalkind. We had just taken the first steps into space with the Kerbal sub-orbital flights and the two Kerbin satellites. Looking back they were small steps indeed but they gave us the confidence to embark on bigger and better things. We built new and powerful rockets and with them we launched the first ever kerbals into space - and brought them all home. We built the first ever kerbal-made object to orbit the Mün - and kerbals across the world watched it live on television!"

“So where do we go now? My friends - that I cannot tell. But I do know that we won't get there in a Moho capsule. Fortunately we're building something a lot bigger."

The basket in Jeb's hand shook slightly.

“And once again we will need brave volunteers to fly our new ships. To be pilots for Project Eve."

Geneney stared at the half assembled capsule whilst Jeb rattled through the details. Not that they're anything new but Kerm do they sound impressive when they're all rolled together. A three kerbal capsule with separate service module for long duration power and life support. Built in flight computer for guidance, navigation and burn control. Separate reaction control systems for on-orbit maneuvers and re-entry stabilisation. And a proper engine in the back for 'advanced orbital maneuvers.'

A faint smile tugged at his lips. Even if the old showman carefully avoided any mention of where we plan to be orbiting. With specs like this though, I'm sure most of them have worked that out already. Dammit but I hope Ademone can convince her Board! Plan B is fine as it goes but even with paying passengers to help the cashflow it's going to take a long time to build our own Kerbin departure stage, let alone a lander.

The sudden hush broke Geneney's reverie. Jeb gave the basket one last shake, dipped his hand inside and pulled out a folded scrap of paper.

“The first pilot for the Eve 1 flight is.... Roncott!"

The logistics team went wild amidst some good natured ribbing and comments about bin-stuffing from the other engineers around them. It's true, thought Geneney, First Camrie, now Roncott. Although he's not looking terribly happy about it.

“The second pilot for Eve 1 is.... Ribory!"

Geneney breathed a sigh of relief. That's a bit of luck. Jeb's just picked the flight commander if I have any say in things.

“And the final pilot for Eve 1 is...Calzer!"

The rest of the Booth Crew grabbed hold of Calzer and hoisted the dazed looking kerbal into the air.

That's a good team. Not sure about Roncott but he's flying with a solid commander and a good systems guy.

Jeb grinned at the celebrating kerbals. “OK, folks! Like I said - we're not sure exactly how many Eve flights we're going to launch, so I'm only picking one more crew today!"

He slowly unfolded the slip of paper.

“The first pilot for the Eve 2 flight is...Ornie!"

Geneney stuffed his fingers into his ears as every kerbal in the building rushed forward to congratulate the new kerbonaut. Richlin pounded his friend on the back in delight.

“The second pilot for Eve 2 is...Ordrie!"

The crowd cheered. Ornie pushed his way through the throng and shook Ordrie by the hand.

“And the final pilot for Eve 2 is... Wernher!"

The propulsion team gathered round the chief engineer to celebrate but their initial exuberance was slowly replaced by uncomfortable silence.

Oh.. dammit no! I don't want to spoil Wernher's day but we can't risk him and Ornie on the same flight. If we lose the Eve 2 it would gut the entire program.

Wernher caught Jeb's eye and raised his eyebrows a fraction of a millimetre. Jeb nodded solemnly and gestured for him to step forward.

“Thank you, Jeb," said Wernher, “but I'm sure Ornie will do a fine job of representing the propulsion team." He took the scrap of paper from Jeb's hand and dropped it back into the basket.

“Are you sure about this?" Jeb murmured under his breath.

“Quite sure," said Wernher quietly.

“I don't know about you, Jeb," Geneney called out, “but I reckon we've just selected the first Eve 3 pilot."

A rumble of approval spread through the crowd and a relieved smile spread across Jeb's face. “Fine idea, Genie - fine idea!" he said. He fished Wernher's paper back out of the basket and held it aloft.

“The first pilot for the Eve 3 flight will be Wernher! And now, the final pilot for the Eve 2 is... Edsen!"

“Excellent news," shouted Ornie to general laughter “Just who we need to keep us pointed in the right direction!"

“That's easy for you to say, Ornie," Lucan called out. “You're not going to be the one sitting in Mission Control without our best trajectory guy to lend a hand!"

Wilford watched the meeting break up amidst laughter and good-humoured comments. All except our first Eve pilot, he thought. He strolled over and tapped Roncott on the shoulder.

“It's a lot to take in isn't it?" he said quietly. “Don't worry, Roncott; you'll do just fine."

Roncott nodded dumbly.

“Honestly," said Wilford. “When you get a minute, go ask Jeb about the night before the Moho 3 flight. I was seconds away from bailing out myself but thank the Kerm I didn't!" He looked at the younger kerbal solemnly. “Like I said - you'll be fine. But if you have any problems at all; training, late nights... anything, just give me a call. C'mon, lets go grab a coffee."

Edited by KSK

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Don't remember seeing that before. Wonder where we scrounged it up from. Actually, on second thoughts, I don't want to know.

Heh heh heh. Why do I get the feeling that kerbal rocvket scientists will have a reputation not unlike British squaddies?

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'Found lying on the side of the road' my a*s :) Maybe found somewhere, but they aint saying where

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:D Thanks folks! This is giving me some ideas for a paragraph or two further down the line...

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This is one awesome story!

I could seriously just read chapter after chapter of nothing but the everyday life of kerbals building rockets, tending groves or just hanging around. The world you've build is really vivid and living. No matter what you do, never give up writing, you have talent.

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'Found lying on the side of the road' my a*s :) Maybe found somewhere, but they aint saying where

I'm sure it was found lying next to the road. It's purely coincidence that this was but minutes after they lost a small paper bag full of petty cash a block away.

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:D

To Creature - thanks very much! Comments like that... yeah I don't think any writer could ask for more than that.

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And Jeb starts thinking about the VAB we all know and love.... Excellent job, as usual!

Or, more likely, to it's pre-V0.21 predecessor.

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It'd be interesting to see the development, and the need for more headroom, forcing the newer, boxier design later :)

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Hey folks,

Sorry about the silence on this thread lately. I got a bit stuck on the planned chapter - one of those places where I knew how I wanted it to go but was having difficulty finding the right words. Sooo - I decided to backtrack a little, shuffle some events around chronologically and wrote this instead.

Next chapter is up...

Uncharted

“It sure looks like one. Let me get a better look."

Kirman lay on his stomach and leaned out over the river bank, trying his best to ignore the stench of rotting grass. Below him, the sapling jutted out from its cleft, its roots pushing up ridges in the shallow sandy soil. The rings of glossy green trefoil leaves around its stem rustled in the breeze.

Kirman wrinkled his nose. Cinnamon. That settles it then. He stood up and brushed the worst of the mouldering vegetation off his robes. Jenburry looked at him expectantly.

“Definitely a Kerm sapling. Trefoil leaves around the stem and it smells of cinnamon."

Jonburry swatted a stray bitefly away. “That doesn't make any sense," she said, “Unless one of the nearby Groves was re-grafting a tree and the cutting just blew away. But no Keeper would be that careless."

“It could have been carried here by the river I suppose," said Kirman. “Or maybe a stray twig washed ashore and sprouted?"

“In this soil?" said Jonburry skeptically, “Besides twigs don't 'just sprout', else we'd see stray Kerm all over the place after a storm."

Kirman frowned. “I'm sure I read something about it in the Archives," he said.

"You can check when you get back to your Grove," said Jonburry, “But forget how it got here - I want to know why it's the only thing around here that isn't dying."

Kirman shaded his eyes and peered across the river. “Everything looks fine on that side," he said slowly. “Maybe somebody dumped something nasty around here? It would explain why the damage is relatively contained - the river would stop it spreading to the other bank?"

“Dumping?" said Jonburry skeptically. “Doesn't seem likely - and it doesn't explain why it's not attacking the Kerm either."

Kirman shrugged. “Maybe Kerm are just tougher," he said. “They do grow pretty much anywhere after all." He bent down to tie his boot lace. “Anyway - we should get moving. Afternoon's wearing on and we still need to figure out how widespread the damage is."

The two kerbals set off across the brown, wilted plain. Skeletal bushes dotted the landscape; the few leaves left on them blotched and dappled with a rich variety of moulds. To the south, a dense belt of woodland wound away into the distance, its leafy canopy interrupted here and there by the familiar tip of a Kerm tree.

At least the sickness hasn't spread back to the forest thought Kirman, We should warn the nearest Groves though, in case it gets any worse.. He stared around in dismay. Whatever's causing this it's showing no sign of petering out yet.

Biteflies buzzed around them, the faint breeze blowing across the river doing little to keep them away. Kirman flapped his arms irritably and rummaged in his pockets. Yeah, didn't think I'd brought the bug repellant. Shouldn't be any need for it on a day like today.

“Hey, Jonburry - don't suppose you brought any bug repellant? Damn things are eating me alive."

Jonburry gave him a baleful look whilst she brushed a cloud of smaller specklebugs away from her eyes.

“Does it look like it, Kirman."

Kirman shook his head. “Not really, no. Come on - the quicker we find the edge of this mess the better."

The end of the dead zone was as abrupt as it's beginning. Kirman and Jonburry climbed a shallow rise and stopped in astonishment at the sudden expanse of greenery laid out before them. Jonburry scratched her head.

“I think that does it for your toxic spill idea," she said. “The cut-off is just way too sharp."

Kirman retrieved a pair of sample containers from his belt and took a soil scraping from each side of the line.

“You're probably right," he agreed, “but lets wait till we get these back to the lab." He waved at the forest line in the distance. “Same curved edge as on the other side. It certainly looks like something is spreading out from a central point, poisoning everything as it goes."

Jonburry looked around. “This is a pretty straight stretch of river bank," she said thoughtfully. “We should be able to find that centre point." She unhooked a square metal plaque from her belt and consulted the dial set into its surface.

“That's odd. According to the step counter, the halfway point was right about where we stopped to look at that Kerm sapling."

Kirman looked at his watch. “That sounds about right," he agreed. “Which means that... oh." His eyes met Jonburry's. “C'mon, Jon - it's not the Kerm that's doing this."

“It would explain why it's the only thing in that wasteland that isn't dying," said Jonburry grimly.

“But it makes no sense," said Kirman, “Why would a Kerm decide to kill everything around it? Especially this close to other Groves."

“Nothing about this makes sense," said Jonburry. “Simple enough to to test though - we just dig up the Kerm, move it somewhere else and see if the land around here recovers."

Kirman shook his head. “Easier said than done," he said. “It depends how well developed the roots are. Roots aren't the only thing either - if the sapling is causing all this..." He gestured helplessly, “all this, then it must already have an extensive fibre network in place. If we break too many of the fibres... it would be like carrying you to a new home but cutting off your fingers, poking your eyes out and breaking your nose on the way."

“Won't the fibres grow back?" said Jonburry quietly.

“I don't know," said Kirman. “As far as I know, nobody has ever tried transplanting a rooted Kerm sapling before."

Jonburry ran her fingers over the step counter. “But if we're right, we can't leave it here either, “ she said.

Kirman blew out his cheeks. “No," he said reluctantly, “no we can't. And we'd better re-plant it well away from other Groves too; we can't risk it attacking other Kerm."

“That's a long way upriver then," said Jonburry. “Not the best land for planting but better than leaving it here."

Kirman nodded. “I'll go back and get another sample from near the sapling," he said, “Just in case it's not the Kerm and there is something toxic spilt there. Either way my report to the Ambassador will recommend that we move the sapling upriver."

Jonburry hooked the step counter back onto her belt and shivered as the gathering wind blew around her robes. “So will my report to the Envoy," she said. “Let's hurry up with that last sample, Kirman; I can smell rain coming."

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

Gerrigh plucked the muddy, fibrous fragment out of the hole and stood up grimly.

“Casing. Or what's left of it. That's no cutting, Obrett - this sapling grew from a seed."

Obrett sighed. “In a strange sort of way I'm glad to hear that," she said. “At least that old Keeper wasn't foolish enough to plant another sapling in his Grove."

“No," said Gerrigh, “but he did manage to miss a new Kerm seed sprouting here."

“To be fair, it must have been buried somehow before it would germinate," said Obrett. “I'd be astonished if it was planted deliberately. What does surprise me is that nobody spotted the new Kerm shoot before it was too late."

Gerrigh began kicking soil back into the hole around the Kerm stem. “So what happened here?" he said, “Did you manage to find anything in the Archives?"

Obrett ran her fingers through her hair. “Nothing helpful," she said at last. “The older Records are hopeless - completely illegible where they haven't faded completely. A lot of stuff about the Law of Thirty-Seven of course but nothing to explain why the Law was written or what happens if it's broken."

Gerrigh stared around at the devastated fields full of sickly, dying crops. “I think we just found out what happens," he said bleakly. “What we don't know is how."

“We can guess," said Obrett. “Look at the zone of dead vegetation around the sapling - it's almost perfectly circular." She gestured at the rest of the village. “But the rest of the damage is scattered all over. Almost like something exploded."

“Go on," said Gerrigh intently.

“I think the new Kerm triggered some kind of reaction from the Grove Kerm. Something that disrupted its control over the surrounding plants and caused them to die." She blinked. “It sounds crazy but I think this circle is a Kerm battlefield."

“And the explosion?" said Gerrigh.

Obrett shivered. “That was the end of the battle," she said. “Remember what the old Keeper kept saying Gerrigh; “The sparks are coming... they're still coming... they're going to kill us all...“

Gerrigh looked at her in sudden horror. “I've no idea what the sparks are," he said “but if you're right then it sounds like that Keeper was in communion with his Kerm at the very end." He blinked hard, “and died trying to defend it."

Obrett nodded solemnly. “I think so too," she said. She braced herself. “I also think that one of us needs to try communing with it again."

The wind whistled mournfully through the abandoned village, stirring the weeds that peeped between every flagstone. Away from the fields, the Grove trees swayed against a steel grey sky. Most of the hut windows around them were shuttered but apart from the occasional creaking hinge, the village was unnervingly quiet. Of course it is, thought Obrett irritably, It was evacuated not abandoned. You're just walking through an empty village not a ghost town.. Even so, the stark silhouette of the Kerm tree growing through the centre of the Keeper's hut, looked distinctly ominous set against the scudding clouds.

Gerrigh lifted the latch and cautiously pushed the hut door open. The two kerbals stepped inside. Obrett sniffed at the air and sighed with relief.

“What?" said Gerrigh.

“It smells clean in here. A bit stale and a lot of cinnamon but nothing rotten."

Gerrigh nodded. “I guess the medical team cleaned up the poor Keeper's hut before they left. Come on - lets get this over with."

He led the way out of the kitchen towards the sleeping room. He pushed the door open, coughing as the thick, cloying smell of Kerm leaves caught unpleasantly in the back of his throat, As far as he could tell, the tree looked normal. Its leaves were still but clean, unaffected by any of the assorted blights afflicting the crops outside.

Obrett eyed the bed and waiting leaf cluster with trepidation. Gerrigh gave her a sympathetic look. “I hate to say it," he said softly, “but if ever there was a job for a Keeper..." 

She nodded, swallowed hard and walked over to the bed. She brushed her hair back from her scalp, closed her eyes and lay down under the leaves.

Gerrigh bit his lip as he watched the leaves curl around Obrett's head. So far so good - I think. Suddenly Obrett's knuckles tightened on the bed frame. Her feet twitched and Gerrigh heard her breathing go suddenly ragged. She held still for another couple of seconds before whipping her head free of the leaves and bolting for the door. Gerrigh winced at the loud retching noises filtering through the wall.

When Obrett came back she was pale and shaking. Gerrigh slipped off his overjacket and draped it round her shoulders.

“Come on," he said, “we can talk about this somewhere else."

Back in the kitchen, Obrett poured herself a mug of water and sat down at the table. She pulled Gerrigh's overjacket tightly around herself, took a long drink and looked up.

“We were right."

“About the battlefield?" said Gerrigh. “So... you managed to speak to the Kerm?"

Obrett shook her head. “That wasn't a Kerm, Gerrigh. I don't know what it was but it was ruined; smashed beyond healing or repair." Her voice rose. “I held on as long as I could but the fragments, oh sweet... the poor mangled fragments. And the voices - the unending torrent of voices!"

Obrett took a deep breath. “Sorry. Just give me a minute."

Gerrigh gulped his own water. His mug rattled as he put it down. “So what do we do?" he said.

“We salvage what we can from the village. Then we burn the entire Grove to the ground; branches, trunks, stumps, roots, fibres - everything. Then we plough the ashes into the soil."

Gerrigh's jaw dropped. “You can't be serious," he said weakly.

Obrett wiped her eyes. “Not yet," she said. “A better Keeper than me might be able to help but I doubt it. I think the only thing we can do is put whatever's trapped inside those trees out of its misery. Come on Gerrigh - I need to get out of here."

The two kerbals put their mugs on the draining rack, turned around and left. Gerrigh closed the door behind them, stopped and pulled a small paper packet of his pocket. He shook it and Obrett dipped her head in understanding. “Of course," she murmured.

Gerrigh knelt and pushed his fingers into the soil, making a row of indentations next to the hut wall. He opened the packet and then stopped dead. No point really. He closed the packet again and went back inside, emerging a moment later to join Obrett by the gate.

“No point planting sweetblossom vines in this soil," he said briefly, “I've left them on the table. Whatever happens to this village and whoever is responsible for it - hopefully they'll understand."

Silently, they turned to face the hut, folded their hands together and bowed their heads in remembrance of the departed Keeper. Over their heads, the Kerm leaves rustled in the chill wind.

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

“The performance numbers are impressive Hanbal but are they realistic?"

Hanbal rolled up his diagram and tapped it on the edge of his workbench. “They are," he said, “The one big unknown is the plate assembly; most of the rest are scaled up versions of our current parts."

“We don't have a use for anything that size," Ademone pointed out, “Even if you can get it to work."

Hanbal cocked an eyebrow at her. “Not yet," he said, “Not until anyone needs to put any serious mass beyond LKO. But if...when that day comes, Rockomax will be ready for them. Think better, think bigger - it's what we're all about, Ademone; says so right on our company logo."

Ademone stared impassively at her chief of propulsion. It could be the dawn of a new era or we may get to the Mün and never go back - it doesn't matter. What matters is that we tried. “Very well," she said at last. “Consider Project Windjammer authorised." She raised a hand. “Proof of concept only Hanbal; this is not a full scale system development project. I want to see detailed designs, I want to see critical component prototyping and testing. Then we'll think about taking this to the next level."

“Understood," said Hanbal. He nodded at the bespectacled kerbal hurrying towards them. “Hi, Lars."

“Hi, Hanbal," panted Lars. “The Director is here, ma'am - I've shown him up to your office."

Ademone frowned. “The Director?"

“Director Lodan, ma'am. I know he doesn't have an appointment but he did say it was urgent."

Surely the KSA have mastered the use of telephones. “I'm sure it must be urgent if the good Director came to see us in person," said Ademone. “Thank you, Lars. Please excuse me, Hanbal."

“Of course, Ademone. Mustn't keep the KSA waiting."

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

Lodan ambled around Ademone's office peering at the assorted memorabilia on display. Pictures of the Mün and Kerbin from space adorned the walls and two glass fronted cabinets held a selection of carefully labelled spacecraft parts and assorted tools, including a large wrench mounted in pride of place. A small display screen rested on Ademone's desk, cables snaking down to the much larger data terminal on the floor.

The display stand of old mortars and other fireworks, each conspicuously marked with the letters SFC in a bold jagged script, made an incongruous counter to all the high technology. Puzzled, Lodan squatted to inspect them more closely.

“Don't worry - they're empty."

Lodan stood up. “I'm glad to hear it," he said. “but why?"

“Just a reminder," said Ademone. “This is a pleasant surprise, Director. Please take a seat."

Lodan removed his jacket and hung it neatly on the back of his chair. “We're both busy kerbals, so I'll get straight to the point," he said, “I need a satellite launcher as quickly as possible."

Ademone looked at him. “I presume there's a reason why we couldn't discuss this by telephone?" she said.

“There is," said Lodan. “Perhaps I should rephrase my request. I need a satellite launcher as quickly and discreetly as possible."

“Rocket launches are quite noisy," said Ademone dryly, "and our launch manifest is full for the next few months."

“I'm pleased to hear it," said Lodan, “although I have no idea how you manage to fit in such an active program of research and development launches around your commercial schedule."

Ademone raised her eyebrows. “Not as active as we would like," she said, "but as it happens we might have one scheduled soon."

“Excellent," said Lodan blandly. “I don't suppose it would be capable of launching, say two tons to a polar orbit?"

“That would be one of our... larger research launchers," said Ademone carefully. “We have more BA-CA boosters in production of course but they're currently reserved for commercial use and extending the production run would be expensive."

"The KSA can cover any reasonable expenses," said Lodan. “When would the launcher be ready?"

“Would two weeks be acceptable?"

“Quite acceptable," said Lodan, “Reconfiguring the payload and delivering it to the launch site will take about that long in any case."

“Then I think we can meet your request," said Ademone."

Lodan drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair, deliberately avoiding Ademone's eyes. “It sounds like your satellite business is going well," he said at last, “If I may ask though - do you have any other plans in progress?"

Is it just me or does the good Director sound worried?. “We have the CORDS program with the KIS," replied Ademone. “and I believe our research teams have some ideas for expanding the Endurance orbital station."

Lodan perked up. “CORDS?"

“Common Orbital Rendezvous and Docking Systems," said Ademone. “Our joint development program, including on-orbit testing, for interoperable spacecraft systems."

“Good... good,"said Lodan. He smiled, “I imagine that the KIS and Rockomax do things rather differently."

Ademone nodded, “We do, but credit where credit's due - the KIS are nothing if not pragmatic. CORDS has actually been a lot easier - and a lot more productive - than I expected."

“And after CORDS?" said Lodan casually.

“We have no current plans for further collaboration," said Ademone.

“Rockomax might not have any plans," said Lodan, “but after speaking to Jebediah and his team, I'd be astonished if the KIS don't." He looked at Ademone thoughtfully. “What if the KSA was to offer its assistance?"

Ademone looked at him narrowly. “Exactly what kind of assistance did you have in mind?"

Lodan's eyelid twitched. “Financial assistance," he said. “I'm sure my research teams would be delighted to get access to some Rockomax hardware for a suitable consideration. A sponsored development program perhaps, with upfront payments."

Ademone's chair scraped across the floor as she stood up. “I think we're finished here, Director,“ she said coldly. “Rockomax has no interest in accepting bribes, however well intentioned."

Lodan pulled out an envelope from his jacket pocket. “It's not a bribe," he said quietly. “Each and every payment going to Rockomax will be properly accounted for and included in the KSA quarterly reports to President Obrick's office." He pushed the envelope across Ademone's desk, the ornate seal of the Council of Twelve Pillars clearly visible. “Please - go ahead and open it. I believe you'll find President Obrick's letter of authorisation to be quite in order."

Ademone's eyes widened. “That would have been a better way to start this conversation," she said. “But why...?"

“The secrecy?" asked Lodan. “I can't discuss specifics yet Ademone but the KSA has...plans and we're going to need contractors. From what you've just told me, your CORDS program is something we would need anyway, so we're content to treat it - and any immediate successors - as a light touch, confidential opportunity for Rockomax to demonstrate its capabilities." He cocked his head. “I don't require detailed costings of every last nut and bolt but I do expect reasonable outline proposals and budget estimates. Collaborative proposals will be looked on particularly favourably."

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

Gerrigh squirmed in his chair, trying to find a less uncomfortable place on the hard wood. The meeting room had very obviously been designed to resemble a kermol hut; round with a scattering of thin rugs on the plain wooden floor and most of the solid, practical furniture likewise constructed from plain woods. Tall pots of flowers or leaf decked branches stood around the outside of the room and what pictures there were on the walls also favoured leaf and flower motifs.

I appreciate the effort and it sure beats steel and glass kerman minimalism but somebody should let them know that the overly woodsy look went out a couple of years ago too.

Gusemy and Neilbin were both listening intently to Obrett's report. A shadow passed over the ambassador's normally cheerful face at the description of the ruined Kerm. All four kerbals bowed their heads in tribute to the dead Keeper.

“Thank you Obrett, “ said Gusemy quietly, “and Gerrigh - please rest assured that the vines will be planted as soon as we can."

He sighed. “In the meantime, I'll pay a visit to the Berelgan. I know some people in their botany department who may be able to help that Kerm."

Neilbin completed the unspoken thought. “And find out what they know about Kerm seeds."

“Yes," said Gusemy heavily, “and find out what they know about Kerm seeds. I'll need to warn Conclave too of course..."

“Before any more seeds fall," said Neilbin soberly.

Gerrigh cleared his throat, “Forgive me, Envoy but what do we do if any more seeds do fall."

Obrett jerked forward in her seat. “We plant them as far away from any other Groves as we can!"

“Yes," said Gerrigh, “but where do we plant them? On the Koluclaw mountains? On the beaches? We're pretty boxed in here."

“Humilisia," said Obrett.

Neilbin looked at her incredulously. “You can't be serious," he said, “Doren would never stand for it."

Gusemy snorted. “So tell me something new. Doren has no territorial claim over the archipelago; their Ruling Council can hardly complain if we start a new Grove or two on the larger islands."

“Since when has lack of due cause ever stopped Doren from complaining about anything?" said Neilbin. “Besides, I've been to the Humilisian islands - they're nothing but mountains and scrubland. Fine for a wilderness holiday but hardly fertile ground for new Groves."

“Which is another reason why they can hardly complain. We're not depriving them of anything they would actually care about."

“If their Kerm start seeding too, they'll care about those islands for exactly the same reason that we care about them, Gus!"

Gusemy scrubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. “I know," he said quietly, “I don't like this any better than you do, my friend but we don't have many options."

“The Doren mainland must surely have space for new Groves, Ambassador?" said Gerrigh, “It's the biggest regionality on Kerbin after all."

“Hopefully," said Gusemy, “We just don't know."

“Envoy," said Obrett, “you said the Humilisian islands were mountainous? How mountainous exactly?"

Neilbin looked at her. “The largest island is almost a ring of mountains," he said. “The southeast corner is a bit less rugged but apart from that." He shrugged.

“Good," said Obrett. “It sounds quite easy to defend."

Neilbin's jaw dropped. “Defend!" he spluttered. “We're not going to war with Doren!"

“I hope not," said Obrett, “but if the Doren Groves start seeding, we could be dealing with some very frightened kerbals." Her voice hardened. “Trust me on this, Envoy - one broken Kerm is enough to frighten anyone. Too many broken Kerm and the Doreni are going to demand action from their Council. I will defer to our own Council of course but in my opinion, if we go to the Humilisian islands we should be prepared for the worst."

Edited by KSK
Assorted bbcode fails

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Okay, color me impressed, I can almost see how this is going again.

I'm thinking that they're going to try spreading the Kerm, only to find there's Kerm everywhere from, as I'd call it, "selective displacement". You know, the "this fell in my lap, and I'm not ready to be Keeper. I'll take it somewhere far away from here and get rid of it." situations. Of course, because of the situation, there's few places to put those new Kerm seeds where they can't cause chaos.

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It's like, what do you do with a bunch of new babies... that spew toxic waste? (I know a lot of parents might say there's not much difference.) Cultures here on Earth have found various... methods to dispose of their unwanted children, but kerbal culture - the present one(s), at least - don't seem inclined to consider such options. That leaves finding new land. Anywhere.

In the long-term, I think the best solution will be a program of deliberate uplift, with Keepers who are as prepared as possible to help their Kerms through the explosion of consciousness at the 38-tree mark. Some will fail, of course; but some will succeed. (I keep thinking of the fungus-based neural network of Planet, from Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, which always self-destructed on the brink of critical mass; it required human assistance and mediation to finally achieve full, stable sapience.) But that may be more than the kerbals are prepared to handle at the moment; they're already dealing with one massive paradigm shift, looking seriously upward for the first time in their history.

On a less apocalyptic note, I was pleased to see what I assume is the genesis of the trusty Mainsail. :)

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Well a windjammer wouldn't get too far without its mainsail(s). :) Glad somebody spotted that!

And yeah SMAC was definitely an inspiration for First Flight, although hopefully that's still 'inspired by' and not 'ripping off'. You might remember this quote too;

"Observe the Razorbeak as it tends so carefully to the fungal blooms; just the right bit from the yellow, then a swatch from the pink. Follow the Glow Mites as they gather and organize the fallen spores. What higher order guides their work? Mark my words: someone or something is managing the ecology of this planet.

Lady Deirdre Skye, "Planet Dreams"

Does that sound vaguely familiar? :)

Edited by KSK

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