KSK

First Flight (Chapter 104 - Shoulders to the Wheel)

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Yeah, the last few chapters have been a change of pace and tone for sure.

Just finished the next chapter, which ended up being quite a bit longer than I expected. It's currently being edited and should be posted sometime this week. After that, I have rough outlines for the next couple of chapters and an even rougher outline for the rest of the story.

It's starting to feel close...

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12 hours ago, KSK said:

Yeah, the last few chapters have been a change of pace and tone for sure.

Just finished the next chapter, which ended up being quite a bit longer than I expected. It's currently being edited and should be posted sometime this week. After that, I have rough outlines for the next couple of chapters and an even rougher outline for the rest of the story.

It's starting to feel close...

Can't wait to read on, and I wish Just Jim was posting chapters of Emiko Station Volume 2 by now...

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Thanks both. :) 

Just as a bit of a heads up, there are probably going to be a few time-skip chapters coming up.

Mostly because there will be places (at least there are at the moment!) where the plot essentially becomes ‘thing you’ve seen before but repeated lots of times’ which, I’m thinking, won’t be terribly exciting to either read or write!

 

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And the next chapter is up...

Coming Home

Bill stuffed the end of his sleeping bag into its carry sack, slid the fastener closed, and pushed it ahead of him into the sanitation cabin. Wedging his feet under a pair of convenient restraints, he hooked it up to the nearest vacuum hose, checked the seal, then flipped a pair of wall-mounted switches. With a loud hiss and a crinkling of foil, the sack collapsed into a dense brick of plastic-wrapped fabric. Bill reset the vacuum lock and disconnected his, much compressed, sleeping bag.

Emerging into the main hub module, Bill took a last look around for any loose items before stowing his sleeping bag in his personal effects bag and zipping it closed. He stared around the hub interior, trying to imagine it rigged as a Starseed crew shelter module, full of acceleration couches and kerbonauts strapped in and waiting for the long burn out of Kerbin orbit. Then he shook his head and pushed off for the bridge module, personal effects bag clutched in one hand.

Bag safely stowed at the bottom of the access way, Bill pulled himself, hand over hand, up the ladder to the bridge, emerging to an upside-down view of Kerbin through the forward windows. He blinked at the sight of Calley's good-luck Eve capsule tethered to the window frame, its polished Kerm wood surface reflecting streaks of blue light from outside. Calley herself was busy unclipping herb tubes from the aft bulkhead and stowing them in her own personal effects bag.

"Hi, Bill."

"Hi, Calley," Bill pulled himself clear of the entry hatch and flipped himself over. "How is everything, James?"

James looked over from his seat by the Systems station. "Just about ready to button this place up and leave. Mission Control is running the final review as we speak."

"And Mission Control confirms a good handover of Tenacity systems. You're clear for capsule ingress and undocking - don't forget to lock the docking port on the way out."

James grinned. "We won't. Thanks, Nelton - Tenacity signing off." He switched off the radio, unbuckled his restraining harness and pushed himself clear of his seat. "Time to get suited up."

Bill drifted over to the nearby equipment locker and retrieved his helmet and gloves. Leaving the gloves floating in front of him, he slipped a finger under the upper band of his communications headcap and scratched his forehead, before settling the cap into a more comfortable position. Then he pulled his bubble helmet over his head and twisted it to the half-lock position on his neck ring. Finally, he wormed his hands into his suit gloves and locked them onto the wrist collars on his suit. Flexing his fingers, he turned to face Calley. "Check me."

Calley nodded, inspecting his suit seals and fittings. "You're good." By the time she'd donned her own helmet and gloves, James was ready to inspect them in turn, before attending to his own suit. Bill leaned forward to inspect his commander's gear, moving cautiously to avoid bumping heads.

"That looks fine, James."

"Thanks. My gear is already stowed so I'll lock up."

Bill nodded before flipping himself head-over-heels and disappearing feet-first into the access way. Calley waited for him to get clear before turning upside down herself and, pausing briefly for one last look at Kerbin from the bridge windows, disappeared after him.  James glanced across at the Systems status board and nodded in satisfaction before switching off the bridge lights and following his crew to the main airlock.

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

Eve 3's docking tunnel felt almost claustrophobic after Tenacity's spacious interior and James was glad to get to his seat without bumping into anything. He strapped in, plugged his suit into the capsule systems and twisted his helmet to full-lock, before flipping on the radio. "Flight, Eve 3."

"Go ahead, Three."

"All crew aboard. Tenacity airlock closed and locked. Capsule docking port closed and locked. All systems nominal."

"That's confirmed, Three.” James watched frozen vapour puff from the airlock pressure relief valves. “Airlock is vented. You're Go for undocking."

"Copy." James flipped a switch and waited for the rattle of docking latches to subside. A green light blinked off on the instrument panel and he tapped the translation controller, triggering a burst from Eve 3's forward thrusters. "We're clear. Falling back to manoeuvring distance."

"Radar is tracking," Calley added. "Range five metres." She watched the full circumference of Tenacity's docking port swim into view. "Range twenty metres. Out of residual plume range, radar in display mode V."

"Copy." James fired a second, longer, burst from the thrusters, one eye on the velocity readout from the radar, the other on his navball and rate indicators. "And there she goes."

Bill watched Tenacity retreat into the distance, the docked PAL spacecraft's robotic arm protruding from behind the larger hub and bridge modules. He glanced at his section of the instrument panel out of ingrained habit before turning his attention back to the view outside, hand twitching towards the camera secured near the capsule window beside him.

"Flight, Eve 3. Undock manoeuvre complete." Calley tapped out an instruction on her keyboard. "Before we get set up for the de-orbit, I'd kinda like a double check on our jettison manoeuvre."

"We concur, Three. Do you have the numbers in front of you?"

"Got them right here." Calley read off a string of digits from her computer display.

"We copy, Calley. Guidance confirms that's a good attitude."

"We like his attitude too. Okay, that's the jettison program entered.”

James glanced at the flight clock then at Bill watching Tenacity dwindling into the distance. With a small smile, he toggled his microphone. “We’re going to take five up here, Flight and make sure nothing’s floating loose before we orient for the deorbit burn.”

Bill looked around the scrupulously tidy cabin and frowned. Then his face cleared and, with a nodded thanks at his commander, he turned his attention back to the view outside.

“Understood, James. Once you’re squared away, I’ll have CapSys on-loop to run through the SPS pre-burn list.”

“Copy, Flight.”

Calley clicked her microphone over to the private crew channel. “I might take five myself. Could be a while until anyone gets to see this view again. To be honest, I kinda hoped we’d be welcoming the next crew aboard before they brought us home.”

James shook his head. “Not with everything else going on. I’m just thankful that we’ve got some clear water to splash into.”

“True.” Calley shivered. “Radioactives on the battlefield. That’s going to keep me well stocked with nightmares for a good long while.”

“You’re not the only one. Kerm knows what the Capital is like right now, peace treaty or no peace treaty.”

“Everyone rushing around with their…” Ingrained radio discipline made Calley pause. “Their backsides on fire, wondering what to do next.” She sighed heavily. “You’re right. Best that we’re not stuck on Tenacity waiting for them to sort themselves out.”

“Especially as they’ll probably be taking a hard look at the space program,” Bill said quietly. “And the White Cross Company.”

James snorted. “If they had any sense, they’d throw Lodan a proper budget line, let him get on with it, and count themselves fortunate.”

“I hope so.” Bill shook his head. “Anyway, shouldn’t we be setting up for deorbit?”

“Yes, we should.” James opened the air-to-ground channel. “Flight, Eve 3. We’re all squared away up here and orienting for retrofire. Bill is standing by for the SPS checks.”

“Copy that, Three.”

Kerbin slid out of sight, the view from the cabin windows fading from blue and white to midnight black and back again as James pulled Eve 3 through a stately backward flip which ended with the three kerbonauts facing backwards along their orbital path. Deft bursts of thruster fire rolled them upright to a vista of the oceans and continents of their homeworld unrolling beneath their spacecraft and out of sight.

“Lined up and ready, Flight.”

“Copy, Three. Flight Dynamics concurs and CapSys thinks you’ve got a pretty good engine up there.”

“That’s good to know. Please thank all the controllers and  groundside crews from us – they really got the job done.”

“Will do, James. Retrofire at T-plus twenty on my mark. Mark.”

As the minutes ticked away, the Eve 3 crew checked and rechecked their spacecraft systems, Bill keeping a watchful eye on the service module engine readouts all the while. James tightened his couch straps, watching Bill and Calley do the same from the corner of his eye. Then the familiar blue light glowed on the instrument panel.

“Go at sixty.” Calley pushed the PROCEED button, handing control over to the flight computer. A series of jolts pushed the crew into their seats, a burst from the service module thrusters followed, precisely on schedule, by a short burn from the main engine. The thrusters fired again, then everything went quiet.

“Residuals nulled, periapsis on the nose. Orienting to jettison attitude.”

Bill’s hands moved across the instrument panel. “Re-entry batteries online. External life-support and power OFF, SPS valves closed, SM gimbals locked.” He flicked a pair of switches. “Decoupler armed, backup pyros armed.”

“This is going to kick,” James noted. “Whenever you’re ready, Bill.”

Bill nodded and flipped back the guard from the SM-JETT button. “Jettisoning.”

The command module rocked and then steadied amidst a clatter of solenoids from the reaction control system. James nudged his hand controllers, yawing Eve 3 back onto a retrograde orientation. Freed from the bulky service module, the capsule’s movements were quick and precise. Calley turned to her side window, craning her neck as she searched for the service module. “Got it! Good separation.”

James toggled his microphone. “Flight, Three. Clean burn, service module clear.”

“We concur, Three. Punch a hole in the sky for us.”

The sky outside Calley’s window suddenly brightened as the computer rolled Eve 3 into a face-down attitude for re-entry. Far below, she caught glimpses of blue and green through the clouds, Kerbin expanding to fill her side window as the capsule curved out of orbit. Then the g-meter chimed in her ear and the view outside began to take on a hazy, luminescent glow. Beside her, Bill and James stared calmly at the instrument panel as the g-forces climbed and the sky outside shifted to yellow and then a fiery orange, shot through with streaks of flame.

I guess this is a walk in the park compared to coming home from the Mün or flying a tin-can capsule strapped to a set of home-made solid boosters. She forced herself to concentrate on her breathing as the weight on her chest steadily increased. Incandescent flecks shot past the window and the capsule began to vibrate as it ploughed through ever-thickening air. Calley closed her eyes and held on.

At last, the crushing forces began to recede, the fires outside fading to a dull red and then replaced by clear blue sky. Calley checked the altimeter and braced herself. With a loud crack from outside, the plummeting capsule began to slow. A second crack marked the departure of the drogues, followed moments later by a heavy thump as the main parachutes shot off their rails. She glanced to one side and was surprised to see a look of relief on Bill’s face. He caught her look and gave a half smile.

“Just like I remembered. Waiting for the mains to open is the worst part.”

“It always is,” James added. He toggled his microphone. “Flight, Eve 3. Mains deployed, passing through three klicks.”

“You’re coming straight down the line, Three,” Nelton answered. “Welcome home.”

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

The traditional splashdown celebrations were long over and Rockomax Mission Control was quiet apart from the air conditioning fans and the electronic hum of the few consoles still switched on. A handful of controllers sat behind them, filling out their mission logs and keeping a watchful eye on the telemetry feeds from Tenacity. Nelton sat behind the flight director’s console typing up her own report, when a muted jangle broke her concentration. She tapped the SAVE key on her keyboard and picked up the phone. “Ademone. How’s the journey going?”

“Quietly, although I imagine the train into the Capital will be busier tomorrow. The hotel is giving me the five-star treatment but I suspect that’s more to do with the complete absence of other guests than anything else.”

“No requests for autographs from the famous businesskerb?” Nelton asked lightly.

“I leave those for Jebediah. Are the crew down safely?”

“They are. None too steady on their feet but no worse than any of the Endurance crews.”

“Good. Anyway, I should go – I need to get this interview preparation finished for tomorrow.”

Nelton nodded. “I need to finish up the paperwork here too. Good luck and give my best to everyone if you get a chance to talk to them afterwards.”

“I will. Thank you, Nelton.”

“Anytime.” Nelton put down the receiver and turned back to her report.

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

President Obrick stared impassively over his desk at the four kerbals seated opposite him. His aide, Corsen sat off to one side, pen hovering over his stenography pad.

“Before we start, I would remind all present that anything they say will be placed on the public record, thereafter to be deemed accurate and inviolable. Any false statements, whether purposeful or inadvertent, shall constitute a betrayal of this Council of Twelve Pillars; punishable, consecutively, to the fullest possible extent by law, in each of the six Regionalities of Kerbin. Is this clearly understood by all present?”

Corsen made a brief notation on his pad, watching and listening as each of the four indicated their assent, then looked up at the President. “I, Corsen Kerman, aide to the Presidency of Kolus, do hereby confirm the understanding of all present.”

“Very well,” Obrick folded his hands in front of him. “Kolus thanks Lodan Kerman, director of the Kerbin Space Agency; Ademone Kerman, company manager, Rockomax Corporation, and Geneney Kerman, Flight Director, Kerbin Space Agency, for their written reports. Kolus recognises the attendance, as ordered, of Jebediah Kerman, non-executive director of the White Cross Company, former owner and company manager of the Jebediah Kerman Junkyard and Spacecraft Parts Company.”

“Good kerbals, the business before this Council concerns a potential abuse of executive authority in the management and oversight of recent Kerbin Space Agency activities. The Council has formed a preliminary opinion on this matter based on the aforementioned written reports. You have each been separately summoned to these chambers to provide a verbal testimony of the events surrounding the suspected abuse, which testimony shall be added to those reports.” Obrick turned to face Corsen. “If you would bring them in, please.”

“Of course, Mr President.” Corsen set down his pad and crossed the office, shutting the door to the anteroom behind him with a quiet but definite sounding click. He returned with four soberly dressed office staffers, each of whom remained carefully expressionless at the sight of the four figures sitting in front of Obrick’s desk.

“If you would follow me please, sir.” The first staffer led Lodan out of the room. The others looked straight ahead, past their President.

“Ma’am?”

Ademone stood up and followed her staffer out of the room.

“This way please, sir.”

Geneney pushed back his chair without comment. Jeb watched him go.

“Follow me please, Mr Jebediah.”

The other nodded wordlessly, not bothering to ask the staffer to call him Jeb. He followed the staffer out of President Obrick’s office and along a corridor to a plainly furnished meeting room. A jug of water and three glasses, along with a tape recorder, rested on a nondescript laminate table next to a tape recorder. Another kerbal sat at the far end, pen and stenography pad at the ready. Jeb eyed the minimalist office chairs with resignation.

“Take a seat please, Mr Jebediah. Can I offer you a coffee or a djeng before we start?

“A djeng please,” Jeb answered. He turned his head a fraction, half expecting the interview clerk to be making a note on his pad. The other favoured him with a professionally neutral look before setting his pen to one side. Jeb sighed inwardly and stared at the tape recorder; hands folded on his knees. The frosty silence was broken by the return of Obrick’s staffer with two mugs of steaming djeng. She set one mug down in front of the clerk and the other in front of Jeb, who sipped it cautiously. His eyebrows rose and he took a longer drink, before setting the mug aside and sitting up straighter.

His interviewer reached under the table for her briefcase and pulled out a slim sheaf of papers, stapled together at one corner. She glanced at the topmost sheet before slotting a cassette into the recorder. After introducing herself, Jeb and the clerk for the record, she sat back in her chair and stared at the veteran kerbonaut for a second.

“Let’s start at the beginning,” she said at last. “When were you first made aware of Director Lodan’s intentions?”

Jeb thought for a moment before reeling off a date. “It was the day after Geneney and I communed with Guardian Elton.” He saw a flicker of something cross his interviewer’s face. “Are you…?”

“Yes. We’re aware of who – and what – Guardian Elton is. Please continue, Mr Jebediah.”

Jeb nodded. “We were summoned to an urgent meeting at the Kerbin Space Agency’s Alpha site. Director Lodan asked me to summarise our Communion with Elton and then presented his plan – although by his own admission it was more of an idea at that stage…”

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

“…and did Director Lodan indicate whether there was any legal basis for his plan?”

Geneney took a sip of coffee. “He did. He advised us that Special Orders 41 and 42 were still in force. Everyone at the meeting was aware of those Special Orders from a previous meeting with the Director, so we knew what they implied.”

“And how did Director Lodan know that the Special Orders hadn’t been rescinded?”

“He mentioned a contact in President Obrick’s office although he never told us the name of his contact…”

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

“Why didn’t he tell us?” Ademone looked at her interviewer levelly. “In case we ever found ourselves in this very situation, I expect. Director Lodan was very clear that the responsibility for his actions was his alone and he did not want them to jeopardise the Kerbin Space Agency in any way.”

“But if he was acting under two lawful Special Orders then surely acting on those orders would not jeopardise anything?”

“No,” Ademone agreed. “However, Director Lodan advised us that, as a practical matter, his authority to execute them was extremely limited, particularly on the scale required to restart Project Starseed…”

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

“…Very well.” Geneney looked uncomfortable. “To the best of my recollection, his exact words were: “If anyone chose to dispute it, I strongly suspect that both Special Orders would be annulled and the KSA Director would find himself behind bars for the rest of his natural life.””

“And did this concern you?”

“Of course it did.”

“Then why did you choose to continue working with Director Lodan?”

“Because it was clear that he was well aware of the legal risks and intended to do his utmost to keep the KSA on the right side of the law…”

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

Jeb gave his interviewer an incredulous look. “I don’t believe that Director Lodan has ever been reckless in his entire life.”

“You said that he was risking spending the rest of his life behind bars? One might characterise that as recklessness.”

“He was taking a risk, yes. He wasn’t being reckless.” Jeb paused. “If you’ll excuse the obvious analogy from a former kerbonaut, spaceflight is a risk but we don’t do it recklessly. We train, we plan ahead, we try and limit the risks as far as we can.” His face clouded over. “Although we don’t always see them before it’s too late…”

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

“…no, he certainly wasn’t reckless. He never is.” Ademone’s face was impassive. “I’m not a legalist but I believe that Director Lodan knew he would be acting within the letter of the law but was concerned that he may not be seen to be acting within the spirit of the law. That was a risk he wanted to avoid if all possible.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t think he wanted anything to stand in the way of Project Starseed.”

The interviewer turned over a page of his notes. “So, he started a grassroots campaign?”

“A volunteer movement inspired by the original Kerbin Interplanetary Society.” Ademone steepled her fingers in front of her.

“Didn’t that seem a rather far-fetched plan?”

“Nelton – my head of flight operations – certainly thought so. But, as Director Lodan pointed out, the Kerbin Interplanetary Society managed to parlay one successful suborbital flight into an audacious enterprise which managed to put the first kerbals into orbit. That enterprise only worked because it was able to attract considerable numbers of skilled volunteers for little more than food, lodgings and the chance to fly into space…”

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

“…we all build them; we all fly them. It was our old motto.”

“But in this case, food was the key element of Director Lodan’s plan?”

Geneney nodded. “Yes. It was a simple proposition at heart. The Kerm crisis had left most of the KSA’s subcontractors with spare capacity. We offered to help them get back to full production by ensuring that their workers were fed and helping to smooth out their logistics. In return, they would set aside some of that new – and otherwise un-needed – capacity to help restart Project Starseed.”

“And were you aware that your larger subcontractors were also engaged on government contracts?”

“We suspected that they were from the additional security on their premises but we understood that they wouldn’t be able to confirm or deny anything.”

“And you didn’t foresee that your plan might create a conflict of interest for your subcontractors?”

Geneney sipped his coffee. “We didn’t want to interfere in any ongoing contracts, which is why we only asked that they set aside un-needed capacity…”

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

“…that’s correct. It was obvious that they were contracting for the government but naturally they couldn’t say anything about it, so we didn’t press them. However, it was just as obvious that they had a lot of spare capacity – when I asked, I was told they were only fully operational for three days a week.

“What would you have done if they had been at full production?”

Jeb spread his hands on the table. “I honestly don’t know. Stratus were a key link to the rest of our supply chains. We would have found a way eventually I hope, but it would be been a lot harder and a lot slower.”

“I see.” The interviewer made a note. “Let’s move on to the White Cross Company…”

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

“…not involved directly but yes, it was set up by Director Lodan, Jebediah and a number of his former Interplanetary Society colleagues, to provide an independent seed checking service for farmers and agricultural companies.”

“As a volunteer only service?”

“Yes.”

“It grew very fast for a volunteer service.”

“They were providing a valuable service for free.” Ademone kept her expression carefully neutral. “I understand that they also managed to tap into popular sentiment amongst the kermol, many of whom were only too glad to be helping with Project Starseed…”

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

“…and so, you’ve started building a new space station?”

Geneney rubbed his eyes. “That’s correct. It’s constructed entirely from test modules for Starseed and is providing an invaluable testbed for the orbital construction techniques that we’ll need to build the real colony ships.”

“I see.” The interviewer stacked his notes together and glanced over at the stenographer before turning back to Geneney. “Thank you for your testimony, Mr Geneney. Before we conclude, do you have any further comments you wish to add to the public record?”

“I do.” Geneney leaned forward. “I mentioned that Jebediah and I had communed with Guardian Elton. He made a personal pledge to us that when kerbals make the voyage to Duna, we will take with us the knowledge of turning desert to soil fit for growing Kerm.” The veteran flight director took a deep breath. “I do not wish to second-guess Elton but it was clear to me that he is a firm supporter of Starseed. Maybe we should try and find out whether any other Kerm feel the same way…”

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

“I do.” Ademone’s face lost its carefully neutral cast. “The KSA, led by Director Lodan, has managed not only to alleviate a considerable amount of hardship caused by the war but to unite kerman and kermol behind Project Starseed. If we are ever to get to Duna, we will need all the unity we can get…”

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

“I do.” Jeb looked his interviewer in the eye. “Director Lodan and I have had our differences in the past but I can say right now that if he was a kerbonaut, I would be glad to fly with him. If he ever became a flight director, I would trust him as far as I trust Geneney and for the same reasons. If we’re to find a way out of the Kerm crisis, we will need such beacons of the kerbal spirit as Lodan Kerman.”

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

“I believe you’re the last one to arrive, sir.” Corsen held the door open. “Please take a seat.”

Jeb nodded and followed him into the anteroom. Morning sunlight poured in through the windows, illuminating three figures sitting in a row. Lodan looked up, gave him a brief nod before returning to his contemplation of the far wall. Jeb noted the KSA director’s clean-shaven chin and freshly pressed suit and felt himself relax fractionally. Beside him, Ademone looked tired but unruffled, hands folded in her lap. Only Geneney showed any signs of strain; the bags under his eyes and the dishevelled hair at his temples, telling their tale of a sleepless night.

The clock on the wall chimed and the door to Obrick’s office opened, the Kolan President framed in the doorway. “Good morning. Please come through.” He waited for everyone to settle into their seats before taking his place behind his desk. “Your testimonies have been reviewed and considered in short Council by the Pillars of Kolus, Wakira and Doren. We found them consistent with the written submissions of Director Lodan Kerman, Ademone Kerman and Geneney Kerman. It was noted that the testimonies of Ademone Kerman, Geneney Kerman and Jebediah Kerman were found to be broadly consistent although there was disagreement over some precise details. The short Council deemed the discrepancies to be minor and indicative of independent recollections of the same events.”

Obrick surveyed the impassive figures in front of him. “The Council finds the detailed KSA accounts provided by Director Lodan Kerman to be scrupulous and thorough. The Council also finds that Director Lodan’s actions pursuant to Special Orders 41 and 42 to be proportionate and reasonable. The Council therefore voted unanimously that neither Special Order shall be rescinded at this time, subject to the continued good judgement and transparent reporting of Director Lodan Kerman, who is hereby cleared of any allegations of executive misconduct or abuse of authority.”

“Thank you, Mr President.” The KSA director’s imperturbable expression was given away by the suddenly relaxed set of his shoulders. “On behalf of the Kerbin Space Agency, I would be grateful if you could convey my appreciation to Council for their prompt review of our case.”

“Consider it done.” Only a long career in political negotiations kept Obrick from smiling at the looks of naked relief from Jeb and Geneney. “As you will be aware, the Wakiran Pillars have tendered their resignations following the Site D incident. Until such time as their replacements can be elected or appointed, the Council will be unable to take a definitive decision regarding Project Starseed. However, the Pillars of Doren, Wakira and Kolus consider the ongoing construction of Space Station Tenacity to be prudent and reasonable. This office will be in contact with Director Lodan’s office to discuss budgetary matters and other considerations.”

Obrick regarded them over the rims of his spectacles before standing up. “We look forward to seeing further progress on Tenacity. Until then, good day to you, good kerbals. Corsen will be able to assist with travel arrangements for your return journeys.”

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

Jeb jerked awake and peered blearily through the windscreen of Geneney’s car, the stress of their Twelve Pillars hearing and nearly a week of travel, finally catching up with him. He retrieved a flask from the footwell, unscrewed its cap and grunted at the trickle of lukewarm coffee that dribbled into his cup. Outside, the outskirts of Barkton were just coming into view. “We should give Elton the news when we get a minute.”

Geneney signalled left and pulled off onto the exit ramp. “We should. After the thousand and one other things on the list.”

“Yep.” Jeb yawned hugely. “Kerm. The first thing on that list needs to be a good two nights of sleep.” He downed the tepid coffee with a grimace and glanced at the sleeping bags and box of supplies on the back seat. “Hope it doesn’t come down to camping in the VAB – that’s one piece of nostalgia I could do without right now.”

“I’m just glad to be going home. The rest of it hasn’t really sunk in yet.”

Jeb glanced at his friend. “No,” he agreed. “Me neither.” He squirmed in his seat, trying to find a comfortable position, as Geneney drove them through the old KIS suburbs, past the rows of slightly worn looking wood-and-brick housing, their gardens now unkempt and overrun with weeds, and through to the squarer, industrial buildings that marked the beginnings of the Space Centre proper. He yawned again as they pulled up outside the gates, blinking in surprise at the sight of his keys still hanging from the handles. Then his eyes suddenly narrowed. “Looks like we’ve got company.”

Geneney eyed the brightly lit museum windows. “Yes,” he said tightly. “Kerm, I could really do without this tonight.” He opened the car door and climbed out, Jeb following closely behind. Shoving the gates open, he stalked down the path to the museum.

“H-hold it right there!”

Geneney froze at the sight of the rifle barrel swinging towards him.

“T-this is KIS property. You’d better leave now before we call the authorities.”

He heard a snort beside him and Jeb stepped out of the shadows. “Yes, it is – and I should know. Who in the name of the…”?

“Jeb?” The voice sounded startled. “Pillars preserve me it is! Put the gun down you fool – they’re back!” The museum door crashed open and figures piled out. “Geneney too! Great Kerm above – they are back!”

 “Hold it, hold it!” Jeb raised his hands for silence. “First things first – who on Kerbin are you good people and what in the name of my mother’s Grove are you doing here?”

A burly, heavyset kerbal stepped forward, rifle pointed out the ground. “Eldrin Kerman at your service.” He gestured at the group standing around him. “And we’re the rocket-spotters – or what’s left of us, with the war and everything.”

Jeb looked at him. “Eldrin… Eldrin. You used to be a regular down at Jorfurt’s, yes?” He snapped his fingers. “You were waiting outside the medical centre after Pioneer 4.”

Despite himself, Eldrin beamed. “I surely was and I’ve still got the signed poster in the den.” The smile disappeared. “We spotted your keys on the gate not long after you left. Thought we’d just keep an eye on the place for you but then we found your museum and… well you’d better come inside.”

“Sure. Lead on.” Jeb followed Eldrin, Geneney and the rest of the rocket-spotters close behind them. He glanced at the displays still arranged just as they’d left them, and then he stopped dead in his tracks, seeing the spotlessly clean signboards and exhibits for the first time. The glass fronted display cabinets with their collections of spacesuits and other equipment gleaming in the light. The floor had been swept and even the walls looked freshly scrubbed.

“We don’t get many folks stopping by,” Eldrin noted. “But we try to keep the place in good shape for those that do.” He ducked his head, flushing slightly. “Keeping the faith, you could say.”

Jeb blinked, for once, lost for words. “I…I don’t know what to say.”

“I do.” Geneney stepped forward. “Was anyone here ever a member of the KIS?”

Eldrin shook his head. “No, sir. Most of us aren’t that technically minded – never thought we could offer much.”

“Things have changed a bit since the KIS days.” Geneney’s gaze swept across the assembled rocket-spotters. “I can’t tell you the work will be glamorous - I can’t even promise you that you’ll get anywhere near a rocket – but right now we need all the help we can get.” He swept his arms out, flicking his fingers at the meticulously clean museum around them. “And it’s plain that nobody here is afraid of hard work.”

“We can promise you one thing though,” Jeb added. “We’re keeping a book of everyone who helps us out. Doesn’t matter whether they’re trucking beans, mopping floors and making coffee, or bending metal for Starseed modules – everyone’s name goes in. And that book will be on the first flight out to Duna, if we ever get that far.” He snapped his fingers again. “I’ll be right back.”

Geneney stood back by the door, letting the rocket-spotters talk things over amongst themselves without being overheard. Then Jeb rushed in, clutching a sheet of yellowing paper. “Looks like these good folks stopped anyone from looting the offices.” He walked over to the Eve 1 exhibit and smoothed out the paper over the capsule hull. With a shock, Geneney saw his name and seven others scribbled at the top of the sheet:  Jeb, Gene, Bob, Bill, Wernher, Lucan, Richlin and Ornie.

“I’ve got the sign-up sheet right here, good kerbals. If any of you want to join us, you’d be more than welcome because we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Edited by KSK

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1 hour ago, Kerballing (Got Dunked On) said:

Aww... yeah! Great chapter, would like but can't because forum techs haven't fixed it YET

Seconded, another excellent job :D.

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That was quick - thanks both!

Next chapter is underway. Only a couple of hundred words but hey - a couple of hundred here, a couple of hundred there, pretty soon you're looking at a real word count. :) 

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When I read the part about the 3 getting ready to leave Tenacity I caught myself half-expecting them to be captured and held hostage by enemy military after splashdown. Glad to see things are apparently going the opposite way.

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Likes are still broken, so here's Netflix ripping off @KSK's IP...

Spoiler

rdKuUSc.gif

 

He had healing vines before they were cool.  -_- And quasi-sapient trees.

SPOILER: The little mogwai thing is ok. Sort of.

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:) 

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Yeah, you're not the only one to make that comment. More space stuff to come in the next couple of chapters. 

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Like! Ooh, since the forum is down I can give you many likes! Like like like, like like like!

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:)  Thanks folks.

Speaking of breaking the system, after an unexpectedly productive weekend, the next chapter is done. It's a fairly short one at just under 3.5K but still - it's done. Just needs an editing pass to try and catch any obvious snafus before sending it on to The Editor for the sanding and polishing.

No promises on actual posting date though since I've no idea how busy @CatastrophicFailure's schedule is right now. In the meantime, I'll be rolling on with the chapter after next.

Edited by KSK

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9 hours ago, KSK said:

No promises on actual posting date though since I've no idea how busy @CatastrophicFailure's schedule is right now. In the meantime, I'll be rolling on with the chapter after next.

Wait, what? Have I missed a PM somewhere? :confused:

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Not at all, although one should be on its way reasonably soon. :)

I just blitzed the first draft of the next chapter so want to give it a read through and check that I've put at least some of the right words in an approximation to the right order before sending it on.

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On 9/23/2019 at 9:18 AM, KSK said:

I just blitzed the first draft of the next chapter so want to give it a read through and check that I've put at least some of the right words in an approximation to the right order before sending it on.

This made my day :D

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:) 

We aim to please. Next chapter is up.

Shoulders to the Wheel.

“Great Kerm above – where did this lot come from?”

Joemy peered around his companion’s shoulder, his nose wrinkling at the smell of new paint. Judging from the rows of filled-in holes in the wall, the room had been full of shelving at some point but was now occupied by a row of bunks, each fitted with an olive-green footlocker and made up with brown woollen blankets. Opposite the bunks, sack chairs were arranged around a low table and a bookshelf sporting a collection of paperbacks and a Tiles set, stood in one corner.

“Fridge, cooker, coffee pot…actual coffee, djeng, sapwood bars, bread. Hey – they’ve even stocked the fridge some.” The White Cross shift leader, emerged from the kitchen area. “This’ll do. Beats the Blight out of a camp bed, and sandwiches with day-old coffee from a flask for breakfast. Stick a lamp on the shelf there and I might even call it cosy, even if the blankets look a bit military surplus.”

“They probably are.” Joemy sat down on one of the beds. “They’ll be warm enough though. He emptied his pockets out into the footlocker beside him. “Might as well leave these here.” He inspected the key, noting the number stamped on it and the matching number painted on the locker. “Better than having them rattling around my pockets all day.”

“Good plan.” The shift leader chose a bed and began unloading her possessions into her locker. Reaching around her neck, she undid her torc and carefully put it away. “Hang on.” She disappeared into the kitchen area and returned with a handful of sapwood bars which she dropped into her poncho pocket. “Bit of a treat for the crew.”

“We can make them some decent coffee for their coffee break too,” Joemy agreed. He checked his watch. “And speaking of which, we’d better get the tables set up for the first shift.”

The high-pitched yowl of a masonry drill greeted them, as they left the bunkhouse to find a pair of yellow-hatted workers fixing a metal framework to the wall next to the door. A public telephone, less its coinbox, lay on a nearby cart. Joemy winced and waited for the noise to subside.

“That’ll be handy for phoning ahead whenever a truck goes out.”

“It’ll be nice in the evening too,” the shift leader answered. “I miss my little Samely – and his father too.”

Joemy gave her an embarrassed look. “I should have thought of that. Anyone with a family gets to use the phone first of course.” He eyed the line of trucks already queuing up to get into the inspection post, searching for a white van amongst them. “Ah – looks like first shift are on time. C’mon – we’d really had better get set up."

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

Lucan helped himself to a bottle of smoky sapwood and took it and a glass back to his place at the table. Nodding politely to the various operations managers already in their seats, he popped the top off his bottle and studied his copy of the agenda. The boardroom doors opened and Halnie and Shervin walked in, talking quietly. They each poured themselves a coffee and took their places at opposite ends of the table. Shervin took a slim folder out of his briefcase and cleared his throat for attention.

“Let’s make a start. Sig, what have you got for us?”

Lucan listened as Sig and then the other operations managers summarised their teams’ work for the month. Over half of them finished with a washup report on their particular project and Lucan frowned slightly, mentally adding up the freed-up production lines and workers. Shervin saw his frown and inclined his head briefly.

“Thank you, Sean. Lucan?”

“Transport links to Foxham and the northwest have opened up considerably in the last few weeks mostly due to faster turnaround times at the major inspection posts and improved communications between posts. However, we are starting to see our trusted trader network taking root which we expect to lead to substantial further improvements.” Lucan took a sip of his drink. “For those that aren’t aware, under the trusted trader scheme, a White Cross employee travels with his or her shipment of goods and verifies its clean seed status at any other inspection post on the network, without the need for a second inspection. It’s taking time for individual posts to buy into the idea so it’s fair to say that the network is rather patchy at the moment but we are seeing signs of progress.”

Lucan glanced around the table. “We’re also starting to roll out a tiered inspection service. Foodstuffs, essentials, war relief supplies and, naturally, Starseed shipments are still inspected for free, but we’re starting to charge a fee for any luxury or non-essential goods. As you can imagine, we’re being fairly cautious with our pricing and any revenues are being ploughed straight back into our inspection facilities, for example, setting up dedicated sleeping and catering areas at the inspection post for White Cross personnel.” He paused at the sight of one operations manager’s upraised finger. “Yes, Sean?"

“Where were they sleeping before?”

Lucan looked at him. “Mostly on camp beds or air mattresses wherever they could find space. Some of them chose to stay at home and drive in every day but it’s hardly a fun commute.”

“No, I can imagine. Thank you.” Sean scribbled a note on his pad.

“Last but not least,” Lucan continued, “We’re seeing quite a sizeable uptick in government spending on civilian inspection infrastructure which is having a useful knock-on effect on our catering logistics here.”

“Excellent. Thank you, Lucan.” Shervin stood up. “What Lucan has been good enough not to tell you, is that we’re also seeing a sizeable uptick in new government orders for Stratus hardware.” He offered his managers a faint smile. “Which is why I’m pleased to hear quite so many washup reports this afternoon. I’ve prepared a summary of those orders, if you good kerbals could pass them around.”

Even knowing what to expect, Lucan sucked in his breath at the length of the order sheets. He clenched his fist under the table, listening to the sudden commotion around him. A loud knock from the other end of the table interrupted the hubbub.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, Shervin, but these look a lot like spacecraft parts to me?”

“They should do,” Shervin agreed.

“In fact, they look a lot like some of the space station parts we built for Jeb’s outfit.”

“I believe that’s the general idea, yes.”

“And the government is paying for them?”

“That’s what the purchase orders say.”

The manager’s face split open in a sudden grin. “Well, finally!”

He was answered by a half grin from his vice-chairman. “Indeed. Halnie?”

Halnie got to her feet. “Thank you, Shervin.” She waited until everyone was paying attention. “The Portable Systems Division has also received a substantial order for our new construction fabrics and a heads-of-terms from Director Lodan’s office for a manufacturing and technology transfer contract. We’re still reviewing those terms but, essentially, the KSA are requesting a full-size demonstration article for our inflatable spoke concept, with a flight test article to follow. Assuming that all goes to plan, Director Lodan suggested that an additional sixteen flight articles would be required.”

Shervin walked over to the corner of the boardroom and returned with a roll of laminated paper and a set of carved geode paperweights. “If you wouldn’t mind, Lucan?”

“Not at all.” Lucan helped to unroll the laminate and weigh it down at the corners, revealing a cutaway diagram of Tenacity. He looked at Shervin, who inclined his head. “Okay, this is the Tenacity space station – or what it will look like when its finished. As you’ll know, we have two modules on orbit, the Bridge module here,” Lucan jabbed a finger at the diagram, “docked to the Hub module here.”

Everyone huddled together to get a better look as Lucan continued. “Each of these spoke modules consists of two lattice girders section linked by a knuckle module in the middle and capped with an outer knuckle here. The midpoint knuckles provide windows and attachment points for Halnie’s inflatable modules here and here, and two of them will have auxiliary docking points to help with construction. The endcap knuckles will anchor the spokes to the rim sections. Eight spokes at two inflatable modules a pop equals sixteen in total.”

“And more along the octagon edges?” one of the managers asked.

Lucan shook his head. “No. They will be for Starseed but Tenacity will just have more girder sections which will serve as testbeds for experimenting with different cargo modules and how best to attach them.” He pointed at the Hub module. “As you’ve already noticed, most of the parts we’re ordering from Stratus are duplicates of previous KSA orders. We’ll be using them to finish outfitting the second Bridge module which will attach to the Hub here for extra living space and for balance.”

“Balance?”

Lucan grinned. “Balance. It’s a long way to Duna and a long time to spend in zero-g and still be fully functional when you get there. So, we’re going to be running some artificial gravity experiments aboard Tenacity.” He pointed at the cutaway diagram. “These parts here, here, here, and here are basically scaled up versions of our standard reaction control thrusters, complete with the same monoprop tanks that we’ve been ordering from you since the start of the space program. All four of them together should be plenty to set Tenacity into a nice, controlled spin.”

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

“At least we’re not starting from scratch this time around.” Jeb leaned back in his chair. “Some new faces for sure but far more old faces than I was expecting too.”

Geneney put down his mug. “Not to mention the fully tooled-up production line under the dust sheets. The LV-T20 line should be up and running by the end of the week, we’ll be started on a set of laterals by the end of next week.”

“What about the capsule? Bill?”

“As James would say, that’s the long pole right now.” Bill scratched his head. “We pulled the pressure hull for Pioneer 8 out of storage, so we’re not quite starting from the beginning, but most of the subsystem components are still sitting in a warehouse somewhere, the location of which is presumably a closely guarded secret.” Bill couldn’t quite conceal the curl of his lip. “I spoke to Lodan about it and he’s doing what he can.”

Jeb nodded. “Did you manage to give any more thought to the expanded seating arrangements?”

“It should be reasonably straightforward although I’d like to run through the calculations again with Ribory.” Bill inspected his glass of iced djeng. “If we strip out the sanitation facilities and cut the storage lockers down to a minimum, we shouldn’t have any problems fitting in a fourth couch. We might,” Bill waggled his hand from side to side, “be able to fit in a fifth but it would be tight and I’m not too happy about what it would do to the centre of mass.” He raised an eyebrow at Geneney. “I’d prefer not to touch the entry and descent code if I can possibly avoid it.”

“Good point,” Geneney agreed. “Can we put together a crash team to look at this before Eve 4?”

Bill winced. “I never did like that expression. If we can, we should, given that we’re starting from a bare pressure hull anyway.”

“Bob is going to be too busy training,” Jeb noted, ticking the names off on his fingers. “Lowise is overseeing the tankage line recommissioning, Ribory is filling in for Bob back at Foxham.” He thought for a moment. “Seanan?”

“Just the kerb for the job.” Geneney jotted down Seanan’s name on his notepad, drew a circle round it and added ‘Capsule 2.5’ underneath.” He looked up at Jeb, throat constricting around his next words. “I don’t suppose…Wernher?”

Jeb shook his head. “Not yet.”

“How is he?” Bill asked quietly.

“Physically, he’s fine. Mentally – he’s about where I was, I think.” Jeb leaned forward. “I haven’t forgotten about taking him to meet Elton and I still think that’s a good idea - goodness knows it was for me. But not quite yet.”

“If he wants to talk about anything…?” The question hung in the air.

Jeb smiled. “He already knows. Maybe we’ll take an evening out and do what we used to do back in the old KIS days. Find some tyres to sit on, grab some cans from the fridge,” Jeb jerked a thumb at his desk, “and swap crazy ideas whilst the sun goes down.”

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

Toralba International Airport, Camrie thought, was almost as misleading a name as Balcabar International Airport, given their size and the minimal facilities at either. Minimal civilian facilities she corrected herself; for all the months since the ceasefire, there had still been a disconcerting number of fighter aircraft and military transports at Balcabar. 

She tapped her foot, waiting for her travel case to drop into the collection rack. Around her, the handful of passengers who’d braved the flight stood waiting for their luggage, some concealing their impatience better than others.  A tan leather suitcase dropped into the rack to her left with a thump and an elderly, balding kerbal stepped forward to collect it, a sober-looking business suit visible under his fur trimmed overcoat. Camrie gave him a curious glance before a thump from the rack in front of her caught her attention. She retrieved her case and headed for Arrivals.

After having her papers checked by two of the Wakiran Border Security soldiers at the security gate, Camrie emerged into a small, and slightly worn around the edges, arrivals lounge and stopped to get her bearings. The placard bearing her name under the White Cross Company logo was the first thing to catch her eye, closely followed by the cheerful looking kerbal holding it in one hand and waving to her with the other.

“Camrie! You made it!” Sigbin dropped the placard and hugged her. “How was the flight?”

“Tiring but I got here in the end.” Camrie looked around the lounge. “Are we in a hurry?”

“Not at all. I’m parked in short stay rather than pickup.”

“In that case, if you’ll excuse me for a moment, I could do with freshening up.” Camrie disappeared in the direction of the moss room and emerged damp around the collar but looking noticeably less rumpled

“I suppose a coffee would be a stretch?”

“Looks like it. This place could definitely do with freshening up too.” Sigbin wrinkled her nose. “We’ll get you one back at the office.” She propped the placard over one shoulder. “Let me take that bag.”

Traffic around the airport and seed inspection post was light and it wasn’t long before Sigbin’s runabout was purring along the main lakeside road towards Toralba, with the rugged Lorelan mountains providing a spectacular backdrop against the afternoon sky. Toralba itself nestled between two great lakes; the two waters, from which it took its name. As they approached the outskirts of town, billboards began to appear along the sides of the road, emblazoned with political slogans and the names and faces of the three Wakiran presidential candidates. Camrie was unsurprised, but still disappointed, to see that few of the slogans had anything to say about Project Starseed.

The traffic began to get heavier and Sigbin clucked her tongue in annoyance. “Kerm – I’d forgotten all about the rally. We’d be better off taking the side-roads I think.”

Camrie eyed the ‘Wilbeth for Wakira’ pennants flapping from the cars in front. “A candidate Wilbeth rally I take it?”

“Unfortunately.” Sigbin veered off up a slip road before turning right at the next junction. “Pompous windbag makes all the right noises but doesn’t have an original thought in her perfectly coiffured head. Luckily her opponents are more progressive.”

Camrie stared at the clumps of placards adorning the roadside and the posters in the windows as they drove through a residential area. “That doesn’t seem to be putting many people off.”

“No.” Sigbin made a face. “Feels like this campaign has been going on forever. I know we didn’t have much choice but, Kerm there’s a lot of time and energy being spent on electioneering that could be put to better uses. Still, only another two months and a bit to go.” She turned off into a modern looking office park and pulled up in front of a modestly sized building. “And here we are. Afternoon shifts aren’t due back for another half an hour, so we’ll have time for a coffee first.” She led Camrie in through the main entrance and up a flight of stairs into an open-plan office.

Camrie glanced over the wall maps and scattered whiteboards with lists of names and schedules scribbled on them, before coming up short at a large signboard sporting a handful of cardboard cut-out spacecraft components. Sigbin nodded to herself and went over to join her. “Those ones were sitting in a warehouse throughout the war – it was only last month that freight restrictions to Kolus eased up enough that they could get shipped out to Foxham.” She straightened one cut-out and stepped back from the wall. “But just you wait. We’ve got plenty more cards cut out and ready to put up once we get confirmation from Rockomax. The real deals will be going up on the next rocket.”

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

The payload mounting frame, its cargo of Tenacity spoke module sections already secured in place, stood in the centre of the factory floor between the two halves of its payload fairing. Joebal Kerman, Rockomax’s head of electrical and environmental systems, stepped back to survey his team’s work and nodded in satisfaction.

“That’ll do it. We’d better fence them off though in case the President wants to go poking around. Mr Lanrick would have known better but I don’t know what this new fellow will be like. Especially after he’s spent today down at Barkton getting the hands-on VIP tour from Jeb and his crew.”

His assistant nodded agreement. “I’ll have some signboards made up; ‘actual flight hardware’ or something similar. I’ll put the latest shipment of parts from Wakira out on display too. I’m not sure how much they’ll mean to him but they should look impressive and Ademone is keen to emphasise Wakira’s contribution to the programme.”

“That makes sense. If we get a move on, we can have that ready by the time she gets back from the test stand.”

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

Heart in her mouth, Ademone watched the crane lower the massive thrust assembly into place, the oversized bell nozzles of the five SK2-M Mainsail engines pointing squarely into an equally oversized flame trench and water suppression system. Hanbal’s team went to work securing the assembly to its test stand and disconnecting it from the crane, whilst the head of propulsion systems himself looked on. She shivered, picturing the rest of the colossal booster assembled on top: five Skipper engines in the second stage with a single, comparatively puny SK1-G ‘Poodle’ engine for the final boost to orbit and on-orbit manoeuvring of the vast quantity of construction materials the Type 7 was designed to launch.

Danfen, her head of structural engineering saw the shiver and nodded. “If she gets off the pad, she’ll be quite the sight.”

Hanbal snorted. “If we manage to light off all five of those beasts together on the stand, it’ll be quite the sight too.” He turned to face Ademone. “Which isn’t going to happen by tomorrow, new Wakiran President or not.”

Ademone gestured at the test stand. “I’m sure that will be quite impressive enough, especially if we show President Dunlock the pad side footage of a Type 6 launch for comparison.” She raised an eyebrow at Hanbal. “And I quite agree that we should keep the initial test-fires private in case anything untoward happens.”

Danfen chuckled. “You’ll have quite a job keeping those tests private. Five Mainsails at full throttle – they’ll be able to hear that from Barkton.”

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Thanks!

That's really good to hear. It was (by intent) a bit of an 'and time passes' chapter, so I'm glad it was still enjoyable!

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