KSK

First Flight (Chapter 106 - The Sage of Barkton)

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Thanks folks!

Lindemherz - Glad you're enjoying it and thanks for the comparison! After a quick bit of education-via-Google, I reckon "Wings of Honneamise" would fit the mood for a prequel to First Flight with the KIS exploding prototype rockets every other month and nobody taking them too seriously. Also looks like something I should track down and watch so cheers for that

Madrias - Not the easiest chapter for sure but that's a pretty good summary. :) Hopefully the next few chapters should make it all a bit clearer.

Commander - that's not a bad summary either. :)

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I admit I didn't quite follow the last little bit (though it's been awhile and maybe it's already been explained what's buried on the hill and I forgot), but overall a REALLY interesting chapter. I'm enjoying the Kermol sections just as much as the space flight chapters!

-Will

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Thanks folks!

Tripside - what can I say! Hope I can keep that up.

Will - Glad you're enjoying the Kermol stuff too - and yes that's the problem with posting this a chapter at a time, some of the earlier parts get a little buried (heh). The Seed is the chapter where we find out what's buried on the hill, although it was posted back in August. :)

Edited by KSK

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I've found the Kermol sections to be a nice change of pace from the usual Rockets and Explosions that go with a space story. Nothing wrong with either sides of the story, but the Kermol sections tell a story that can't be experienced with KSP as a game.

That, and I'm interested in seeing how much trouble happens...

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Next chapter is up.

A Journey Around the World

Jeb lifted the picture onto its hook and squinted as he tilted it from side to side, holding it carefully by the edges of its frame. Satisfied, he climbed down off the chair and stepped back to admire his handiwork.

“Not bad, Jeb," said Geneney, “Bill's photo from the Kerbal 1 is still my favourite though." He stepped into Jeb's office. “Kerbin from thirty kilometres, Kerbin from orbit and the far side of the Mün. What's next - Minmus from orbit?"

Jeb grinned. “Actually I thought a nice snap of you posing by the lander on Minmus would finish the set off nicely, Genie."

Geneney rolled his eyes. “I admire your ambition, Jeb - but believe me - I know exactly how much we need to do before we can even think about it." he said, scrunching his voice into a passable imitation of Wernher's gruff tones.

Jeb laughed. “With a voice like that you could be his long lost brother, Genie."

'Whose brother would that be?", said Wernher as he walked in and took a seat by Jeb's desk. “Oh nice - is that one of the high res images from the Muna 2, Jeb? A couple more of those on the wall and people might even start to believe that we're running a space program from here." He raised an eyebrow. “Although we do indeed have a lot to do before you can take that picture of Gene on Minmus."

Jeb had the sense to keep a straight face as Geneney blushed. “Speaking of which, Genie," he said, “how's the new Mark 2 capsule coming along?"

“Not much more than an engineering mockup at the moment, Jeb," said Joemy from the doorway. “Nothing you could stick on top of a booster but it's a good test bed for crew fit and function and the new environmental systems."

“Are we still on for a three kerbal crew?"

“Probably," said Joemy, “provided that we can fit all the electronic gear in too. The lower equipment bay is starting to look a bit crowded but Bill's working on that. Oh hey, Bill - we were just talking about the electronics for the Mark 2."

Bill slumped into a chair. “Talk to me about that, once we've got the Mark 1 working properly," he said. “Any chance of a coffee, Jeb?"

“Right behind you, Bill," said Jeb, “Still having problems with the radar then?"

“Oh the radar is fine, Jeb," said Bill as he poured himself a coffee. He added a lump of sugar, paused for a moment and added two more. “Edsen found some lighter weight parts in that heap of old avionics gear that Ornie brought over. No it's the computer that's giving us all the problems."

“A three sugar problem?"said Jeb, “We havn't had one of those for a while."

Bill sighed as he took a sip of the thick, sweet brew. “No we haven't,“ he said, “although the radar came close. But getting the computer to talk to the radar and the SAS, making a robust enough interface board to survive the launch and making the whole mess small and light enough to cram into a Moho capsule is very definitely a three sugar problem."

“We can give you more weight to work with," said Wernher, “The LV909 in the upper stage is more efficient than the 905, so we can handle a slightly heavier capsule for the same fuel load."

Bill stared into his mug. “That's something anyway. Thanks, Wernher."

Just then, Lucan stuck his head around the door. “Sorry I'm late," he said. “The last Whirligig run took longer than expected. What have I missed?"

“Three sugars," said Jeb.

Lucan grimaced. “Computer still causing problems, Bill?" he asked

Bill looked up. “Edsen and Neling got the radar working at last," he said, “but we're having problems integrating the computer with the radar, SAS and rate indicators."

 Lucan sat down beside him. “What if we pull the computer?" he said, “Will the radar play nicely with the rest of the capsule systems?"

Bill took another sip of coffee as he thought it over. “It should do," he said at last, “The computer takes data from the radar but isn't needed to control it. I should be able to rig up a reporter system so that Adelan can get rate, range and bearing data directly and hand off the calculations to Mission Control. It's a cumbersome way to fly though."

“Actually," said Lucan, “I don't think it'll be that bad. A couple of guys in the flight dynamics team have been figuring out some backup options. Visual navigation techniques, manoeuvre charts for flying manual rendezvous, that kind of thing. Theoretically we could just about do the whole thing by hand if we had to."

“Have you run these on the Whirligig?" said Jeb.

“We've had a couple of goes with the charts," said Lucan. “but the Whirligig isn't a good enough sim for the visual navigation procedures."

Geneney looked thoughtful. "It'll need some work," he said, “but using the backup options for a non-critical rendezvous would be a valuable test anyway and it would give Bill's team more time."

“Assuming that Adelan is willing, that sounds like a plan to me," said Jeb. “We'll need to have the computers working for Moho 5 and 6 though."

Bill nodded. “We will," he said, “and we'll have them working by then, Jeb."

“I know you will, Bill. Right, what's next?"

Geneney pulled a notebook out of his pocket. “I had a rather interesting phone call the other day from a Mr Lodan," he said. “Apparently he's the director of the Kerbin Space Agency..."

Jeb choked on his coffee. “The what!"

“That's about what I thought," said Geneney, “Director Lodan was remarkably non-specific about the details of his space agency but he did wonder whether we would be interested in joining his tracking and communication network."

Lucan looked across at him. “I'd say that we might be," he said, “What does it involve?"

“As far as I could work out, free access to three tracking and communication stations," said Geneney. “The first one has just finished testing - that's down by the Koluclaw mountains. I'm not quite sure where the others are - Mr Lodan did mention place names but they didn't mean much to me."

Lucan scratched his ear. “Another station out by the Koluclaws, would be useful," he said. "Between that and Sigbin and Doodie's station, it would improve our orbital coverage quite a bit. Are you sure you didn't recognise those other names, Gene?"

“Afraid not," said Geneney, “but I think they were supposed to be placed equidistantly around Kerbin, or as near to equidistant as they could manage."

Jeb sat up straight. “Now that would be helpful," he said. “Even better coverage for orbital spacecraft but more importantly - proper communications and tracking for Mün bound craft."He scowled. “There has to be a catch here somewhere."

Geneney shrugged. “Mr Lodan did say that his facilities were for 'the further development and free use of any and all spaceflight efforts on Kerbin."

“Sounds like a pompous bureaucrat to me," muttered Jeb, “This is a government organisation if I ever heard one."

“Probably," said Geneney, “but any money we can save on comms facilities is money we can spend on new hardware. And frankly, I'll take whatever help we can get right now."

“Help?" said Jeb, “Genie - we've got more money now than we've ever had thanks to you. The Moho 4 is going to be more of a flying billboard than a rocket ship. That new deal with Stratus was a masterpiece and I can't believe you talked Zaltonic into taking out that sponsorship deal and giving us free batteries for the rest of the Moho flights. We've even got some of the Probodyne money left! I know that we can always use more funds but is it that much of a problem right now?"

“Yes," said Geneney, “it is. Look - the Moho booster can put a single crew capsule into orbit with enough consumables for maybe a day. With a bit of tweaking and a lot of weight shaving, it'll put a probe into orbit around the Mün or possibly Minmus if we pare the payload back to the bare essentials. For anything else - we're going to need a bigger rocket."

“How big is big?" said Jeb.

“Clustered LVT-20s in the main stage, plus more of the same or scaled up Trashcans for the strap on boosters. For the second stage we might get away with a 909 but we'll probably need to use another LVT for that as well."

Jeb's face fell. “Seriously, Genie - seven, maybe eight T-20s?"

“Yes," said Geneney, “Using engines and parts that we have right now, that's about the minimum we need to put a Mark 2 into orbit with a very basic service and propulsion module. The good news is that a slightly downsized version would also let us put a decent sized probe around the Mün, Minmus or possibly even Duna or Eve. Roncott and Camrie have also been doing some preliminary design work on a new probe chassis."

Jeb sighed. “I can see where this is going. Fine, go ahead and see what Mr Lodan is offering."

“If it makes you feel any better, Jeb," said Geneney, “I'm a bit suspicious about this myself. I can't believe that a new space agency would simply spring up out of nowhere and build a Kerbin wide space tracking network unless they were planning to do something with it."

Lucan laughed. "Maybe you can pick up some business for us, Gene."

Jeb finished his coffee and put his mug down. “OK then. Gene has a word with Mr Lodan and in the meantime, we go ahead with Moho 4 without the flight computer. Anything else?" He looked around his office but nobody else spoke up."

“Thank you, everyone."

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

Adelan jerked forward against her harness and narrowly managed to avoid bumping her head on the hatch wheel as the first stage engine shut down. A light blinked off on her control panel as the decoupler ring fired, pushing the spent stage away from the rest of the Moho 4. Seconds later she was pushed back into her seat again as the second stage engine lit with a reassuring rumble. She caught a brief glimpse of the midnight blue sky outside the hatch window before turning her attention back to her instrument panel.

“Flight, Moho 4. Second stage ignition confirmed. Altitude and velocity are green."

Lucan's voice echoed in her ear. “Copy that, Moho 4. Trajectory is nominal - you're flying straight through the window."

Not the best choice of words after that staging. “Understood, Flight."

Adelan kept a wary eye on the booster status displays as the Moho 4 continued it's long climb to orbit but the tank pressures and engine temperature stayed firmly within their expected limits. Apart from the steady vibration from the engine it was almost like a simulated launch in the Whirligig.

Yeah and its about now that the Booth Crew like to throw something into the works. Keep on top of it Adelan.

"Moho 4, Flight. Forty seconds to loss of signal. All systems are Go. Good luck."

“Thank you, Flight. See you on the next orbit."

The radio crackled and fell silent. Twenty seconds later the second stage engine shut down and the capsule shuddered as the final decoupler ring fired to push the empty second stage away. The reaction control system fired automatically, nudging the capsule further away from the lazily tumbling rocket. As the capsule pitched down into the correct orbital attitude, Adelan's breath caught in her throat as a blue glow filled the capsule interior and she took her first proper look outside.

I don't think you're in the Whirligig any more, girl.

The flight plan for the first orbit was simple. Monitor capsule systems, enjoy the view and wait to re-establish contact with Mission Control. Adelan spent most of it with her face pressed up against the hatch window watching her home roll past beneath her. From this height it was almost impossible to get any sense of depth. Continents and oceans appeared flat, spread out before her like a fantastically detailed map. Towns and cities were clearly visible as irregular sprawls of densely packed shapes that flowed across their patches of landscape like amoebae, creeping around hills and insinuating themselves into the gaps between rivers. Away from the cities, a mosaic of fields and farms marched across the land broken up by forests and moors and ending in a ragged fringe near the mountains. The regular dots of Kerm groves covered farmland and moors alike.

Kerbol dipped below the horizon as the capsule sped out over the ocean. Streamers of crimson and cerise light washed through the clouds and all too soon, the capsule was plunged into darkness.

Then, as Adelan's eyes adjusted, the stars came out around her.

The softly glowing band of the Great River dominated her view but even from this perspective she could recognise some of the constellations; the Octopus, the Minor Fishes and the Little Snake, the Cookpot, the Plough and the Ship. Around and far beyond the familiar patterns from her childhood, uncounted shoals of new stars littered the sky.

They all look very different today, she murmured to herself as the capsule raced onwards.

The lights on the instrument panel dimmed as the first faint rays of light from Kerbol filtered through the clouds below. The radio crackled and buzzed and then she heard Sigbin's familiar voice.

“Moho 4, Wakira Station. Come in, Moho 4."

“Wakira Station, Moho 4. Peaceful morning, Sigbin."

“Peaceful morning to you too, Adelan. We're tracking you in a one six two by one eighty eight orbit. Barkton will confirm timing for the first burn but in the meantime we've got some thrusters to warm up."

“I have the checklist, Wakira. Standing by."

Adelan set to work, setting switch positions and watching for warning lights as she brought the reaction control system online.

“My board is green, Wakira. Please confirm."

“Our board is green, Moho 4."

“Horizon scanners are good. Starting IGU check."

The navball attitude and direction indicator on Adelan's control panel shifted slightly as the guidance system updated the gyro positions in the inertial guidance unit, aligning them with the capsule axes.

“Platform is good, Wakira, Re-orienting to local horizon."

“Go ahead, Moho 4."

Adelan took hold of the hand controller and nudged it gently to one side. There was a quick rattle of solenoids as the reaction control rockets fired, slewing the capsule slowly round. She watched the navball intently as it drifted round and then fired a second burst from to bring the capsule to a halt. Deftly she twisted the handgrip a fraction, triggering a second set of control thrusters. The capsule spun about it's axis. Flame puffed out of the thrusters again and it stopped.

“Wakira, Moho 4. Oriented to horizon, roll and yaw control is good."

“Copy that, Moho 4. Standby for handover to Barkton Control."

“Thank you, Wakira. Have a good day down there - looks like it's going to be a scorcher."

“Tell us about it. Wakira Station out."

The capsule was silent for a moment and then Lucan's voice crackled over her headset.

“Moho 4, Flight. How's it looking up there, Adelan?"

“Beautiful view from here, Flight. Capsule systems are good, platform is aligned, RCS checks out in roll and yaw."

“Understood, Moho 4. Everything looks good from here too. We'll confirm RCS in pitch and then we're Go for catch up. According to the flight dynamics team we can proceed as planned with an orbit raising burn at MET one-four-two minutes followed by circularisation at MET one-nine-one dot thirty minutes."

“Copy that, Flight. Apoapsis to two one zero kilometres and then circularise at the start of orbit three. Do you have the burn times?

“Affirmative, Moho 4. Stand by."

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

Four tongues of fire lit up the darkness over Kerbin, although nobody on the surface would have been able to see them. The matt black flanks of the capsule remained hidden in the dark, although yellowy white light sparkled off thruster housings and antennas. Inside the capsule, Adelan settled gently into her seat. Then the thrusters flicked off and she bobbed back up against her harness.

An observer on the ground would have been extremely hard pressed to spot the Moho 4 as it crossed the terminator on its way up to the highest point in its orbit. Even with quite a powerful telescope, the small, dark, swiftly moving capsule would have been next to impossible to find. Fortunately, the KIS tracking station did not rely on optical tracking and the kerbals sitting at their consoles in Mission Control knew exactly when the craft was supposed to pass overhead. Even so Edsen was relieved to see his screen light up with data at the expected time.

“Flight - we have reaquisition," he reported.

He pushed his headset back and scratched his sweaty scalp. In the background he could hear one side of the ground to air dialogue as Lucan ran through a systems check with Adelan. According to the altitude reading on his console, the Moho 4 was near to apoapsis. Right on cue, it's velocity suddenly increased and then settled at precisely the pre-calculated value in the flight plan.

"That's a good burn, Flight."

“Copy that, Edsen. Let's see if we can find that satellite." Lucan turned back to his console. “Moho 4, Flight. We're Go for radar acquisition. Estimated distance to the Kerbin 1 is no more than three hundred kilometres."

Aboard the Moho 4, Adelan reached out and flicked a toggle switch. In the capsule nose, Bill's rendezvous radar came to life, sweeping the space in front of the spacecraft with its electronic gaze. The reflection from the metal sphere was weak but it was enough. Adelan smiled broadly as she thumbed the microphone switch.

“Flight, Moho 4. I have a lock. Range one-five-eight kilometres, bearing three dot six radial in, two dot two normal.

The satisfaction in Lucan's voice was unmistakeable. “Good work. Edsen is working the next burn. Stand by.

Several orbits later, the satisfaction had given way to frustration.

“This just isn't working, Flight! Maybe an onboard computer or more comms uptime would do it but trying to run the manoeuvre when I'm out of touch for most of each orbit is just impossible. It doesn't matter how close I get, the damn thing just slides past at a different angle every time!" Adelan paused. “Sorry, Flight."

“Judging from the language that I've been getting from the press loop, I think we can trust Leland not to write that down. We gave him a good interview with Edsen's team too. Okay, take a break and get set up for Objective Two on the next pass."

“Copy that, Flight. Speak to you in an hour or so."

Adelan's headset crackled and then fell silent as the Moho 4 flew over Barkton's radio horizon. She stretched as best she could in the cramped confines of the capsule and then reached for the squeeze bottle clipped to the wall. The water was tepid but still wonderfully refreshing after nearly five hours of flying. She set the bottle floating by the window, pulled a foil package out of it's clip on the wall and ripped it open. Looks like one of Ornie's compressed ration bars. Oh well, better than nothing. As she bit into the bar, her eyes lit up at the wholly unexpected taste of sweet dried sunfruit pieces and chocolate chips. I take it all back. Ornie - I think I love you!.

Washing down the end of the fruit bar with a last mouthful of water, Adelan clipped the bottle back to the wall and stowed the empty foil package. Then she reached under the control panel and retrieved a coil of crinkled silvery tubing fitted with a blue adapter plug and locking collar on each end. She fitted one plug into a socket on her spacesuit, twisted it and heard it click into place. Then she twisted the locking collar in the opposite direction and felt it click into place too.

Suit locked, suit lock locked.

Adelan uncoiled the umbilical and plugged the other end into its socket in the arm of her seat. The tubing was stiff and drifted awkwardly around her in the zero gravity environment of the capsule. She pushed it to one side as best she could and twisted the second collar into place.

Supply locked, supply lock locked

She forced her hands into her stiff spacesuit gloves and secured them at the cuffs. Finally she put her helmet back on, snapping it into place on the neck ring of her suit. The suit gloves were too restrictive to let her cross her fingers, so she tapped the edge of the control panel for luck and toggled the cabin air supply switch to EVA. As cool air began to flow over her face, she switched her headset from CAB to SUIT and waited.

-----------

“Wakira Station, Moho 4. Come in, Wakira."

There was no reply. Adelan checked the switch positions on the communications panel and tried again.

“Wakira Station, Moho 4. Come in, Wakira."

She heard a faint buzz from her headset and then Sigbin's muffled voice in her ear.

“Moho 4, Wakira. You're very faint, Moho 4."

Adelan twisted the volume dial up to full.

“I've boosted volume to maximum, Wakira. How do you read?"

“Not great but enough to do the job."

“Understood, Wakira. Environmental systems are Go for EVA. Requesting capsule systems check."

"Copy that. Your board is green and you are Go for depress."

Adelan reached out, flipped open a protective cage on her control panel and jabbed the button underneath with one padded forefinger. Immediately air began to vent from the capsule and her suit began to swell as the cabin pressure dropped. As the pressure fell below ten percent of normal, she closed the vents and re-caged the button.

“Wakira, Moho 4. I'm opening the hatch."

The wheel was stiff and cumbersome to operate with gloved hands but Adelan eventually managed to turn it far enough to withdraw the locking bolts and push the hatch open. She released her seat harness, took a firm hold of the hatch frame and then slowly and carefully stood up on her seat and pulled her head and body hrough the doorway into open space.

There was absolute silence over the air to ground loop. Sigbin shared a worried look with Doodlie and keyed her microphone again.

“Moho 4, Wakira. Do you read me?"

“Loud and clear ,Wakira! You can't see me but I'm waving at you guys!"

Doodlie slapped his forehead and pressed a switch on his console. “Don't bet on that, Moho 4. How about another wave for the camera?"

A small television screen lit up and Doodlie's jaw dropped open. Sigbin glanced up too and promptly sat back in her chair with a thump. The curved surface of the Moho 4 filled the bottom of the screen. For the first time ever, the capsule hatch was open in flight and a space suited figure was leaning out of it and waving at them. Behind the capsule, the bright backdrop of Kerbin lit up the entire scene. The image was good enough that Sigbin could just make out clouds and the edge of the Wakira coastline.

“Oh wow..." she said softly. “Moho 4, is that view as good as it looks?"

“Probably even better, Wakira!" came the exuberant reply. “The view from the capsule window is spectacular enough but this... this is something else! I tell you, Sigbin - every kerbonaut that we send up needs to see this."

“I don't suppose Jeb has any spaces left in the roster has he?" said Doodlie wistfully.

“Not for Moho flights," said Adelan, “but we'll need plenty of new pilots for the new three kerbal capsule. We all build them - we all fly them guys."

At that moment, both Doodlie and Sigbin decided that they would be taking a trip to Barkton in the not too distant future.

“It's a tempting thought, Adelan. Wish we could watch you out there all day but you're about out of range. One minute to loss of signal and transfer to Barkton Control."

“Understood, Wakira."

Adelan waited as the radio crackled into static and back again.

“Moho 4, Barkton. Come in, Moho 4."

“Do I have to, Flight?"

There was a pause and then a chuckle. “Not yet, Moho 4. We've got you right on camera and you've got a lot of people down here cheering at you. From the expression on Jeb's face, I think you're giving him an idea or two as well!"

“The boss is watching this too, Flight?"

“We're all watching this Moho 4. Everyone here at the junkyard and I don't know how many others around the world. You're headline news, Adelan!"

“Too bad I can't do much more than wave at the camera, Flight."

“That's good enough for us. We'll get to more complex EVAs in time but right now - you're making us proud here, Moho 4."

Adelan was suddenly very thankful that her face was obscured by a reflective visor.

“Uhh, thanks Flight. I just wish that everyone who helped put me up here could see this too. Flying the capsule is already pretty special but EVA... it's just me, Kerbin and the whole wide universe, Flight."

For a moment, there was silence from Mission Control.

“Copy that, Moho 4. I hate to bring us back to the flight plan but how's the suit holding up?"

“I'm as snug as a kerblet in its pouch, Flight. Thermal control is excellent, mobility is good, environmental systems are nominal. Feels great to be able to stretch my arms without worrying about knocking into anything important."

“That I can imagine, Moho 4. The Kerbal 2 was a bit cramped too but I only had to spend twenty minutes squashed between Gene and the capsule wall." Lucan paused. “OK, Moho 4, I've got a roomful of people here confirming your suit status report. How do you feel about staying outside for the extended thermal systems evaluation?"

Adelan smiled behind her visor. “I'd be happy to, Flight," she said.

The Moho 4 soared around the night side of Kerbin. Adelan tucked her gloved hands under the hatch wheel and watched the lights unroll beneath her. Her suit radio had long since fallen silent, leaving her to contemplate the view in peace. Enjoy it while it lasts girl she told herself You're probably the only kerbal who'll ever get to do this without having Mission Control in their ear the whole time. She glanced down and checked the suit readings on her chest. This is crazy. I'm a hundred miles into space, flying in the shadow of Kerbin and it feels like I'm tucked up in bed. Wonder if Mission Control could rig up a hammock next to the hatch? Something to lie back on and watch the stars go by.

The stars faded away as Kerbol crept over the horizon, bathing Adelan and the Moho 4 in sunlight once again. Adelan sighed and prepared to climb back inside the capsule. Then she grinned. Might as well stay out here a little longer and finish the orbit first.

Sigbin had to work hard to keep her voice sounding properly matter of fact. “Moho 4, Wakira. We're seeing a problem with your hatch bolts. Please confirm locking status."

The voice from space still sounded a little faint. “Wakira, Moho 4. Locking status is nominal. Recommend you check external camera systems."

Sigbin raised her eyebrows at Doodlie, who shrugged and flicked the camera back on.

“What the...! You're still out there, Moho 4?"

“Uh, it's in the flight plan, Wakira. Extended thermal systems evaluation on the suit."

“Well yes, yes it is. But running the extended evaluation first time out!"

Adelan's voice was soothing. “Relax, Wakira. Suit status was confirmed by Barkton before the EVA extension. Besides - I had enough light from inside the hatch and enough air in my helmet to get back inside if need be. I was just taking a nice easy journey around the world."

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

Astronomers all over Kerbin spotted an unusually bright shooting star passing overhead that night. The more astute ones noted its almost perfectly equatorial heading and realised what they were watching. Some of them even waved as it blazed overhead, silently wishing the pilot a safe landing.

Minutes later, a dark speck sailed through the sky and out over the Great Tranquil Sea. An orange ribbon snapped out behind it, pulled taut and broke away as two orange discs burst into view. The Moho 4 was coming home.

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

I'd like to dedicate this one to Colonel David Randolph Scott; Apollo 15, Apollo 9 and Gemini 8, a great astronaut who never did get to take his walk around the world.

 

<< Chapter 24:     Chapter 26>>

Edited by KSK
Assorted typos, punctuation fails and paragraph changes.

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They all look very different today

When I saw this I thought that something bad would happen. Good thing it ended differently than the song.

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Your descriptive tales just keep getting better. Keep up the great work KSK! I admit the description of infighting with the Kerms is telling. It's not just Humanity (or Kerbality) that goes at it tooth and claw against one another. Sometimes nature has it's own way to find a balance. Perhaps there's a reason why this is the first seed in a long time.

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Will - Glad you're enjoying the Kermol stuff too - and yes that's the problem with posting this a chapter at a time, some of the earlier parts get a little buried (heh). The Seed is the chapter where we find out what's buried on the hill, although it was posted back in August.

Aha, thank you very much; I now grok everything. :cool:

Love this story!

EDIT: Just read the latest chapter. Great work as usual!

-Will

Edited by wminsing

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First female Kerbin in space also the first to do an EVA.

Lucky girl, and hopefully gong to get to do more for the rest of her career than be a propaganda pinup piece.

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Aha, thank you very much; I now grok everything. :cool:

Love this story!

EDIT: Just read the latest chapter. Great work as usual!

-Will

But... you can't change the story! *grins* Grokking can mean a lot of things... and in fact did. Ever read the original tale? Heck they even mentioned it in 'We Didn't Start The Fire'. The fact that a scifi story got into that and it WASN'T Starwars I find impressive! :) (EDIT: Um, actually when was that song written? Was it before 1977? I felt it was after that but I'm not really sure)

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First female Kerbin in space also the first to do an EVA.

Lucky girl, and hopefully gong to get to do more for the rest of her career than be a propaganda pinup piece.

:) You saw her machining pusher rods for the decouplers in one scene, so she's a pretty solid machinist / engineer too although she probably won't be in line for another flight any time soon purely beacuse of the number of volunteers who havn't flown yet!

Minor aside - Camrie was the first female Moho pilot although I didn't make much of it:

From "Project Moho"

“The pilot for Moho 2 is... Camrie!â€Â

The logistics and design team went wild. Jeb could see Roncott bouncing up and down, thumping Camrie on the back in delight. He drew out another card.

From "Two's Company"

Camrie slowly put down her wrench. “Roncott - you might want to try using those eyes of yours for a change. Being a little more polite to the boss wouldn't hurt either.†Roncott jumped to his feet flushing dark green in embarrassment. “Oh my. Oh goodness I'm sorry sir!†Jeb waved dismissively, “Just call me Jeb. But seriously, who are you guys?"

Maybe I could have made a bit more of Camrie's flight. Going up on a rocket takes guts at the best of times but even more so when the one before yours was less than a complete success (although Mission Control managed to salvage Jeb's flight.)

edit: The Moho pilots really were picked at random. I still have the envelope full of paper slips somewhere! In the end I got a pretty good mix of established, new, male and female pilots although I was strongly tempted to put Jeb back because having him take the first flight 'at random' didn't look particularly believable :) In the end I thought it would be fun to have that 'Fixed! Fixed!' moment during crew selection and also having Jeb go up first let me put some stuff in about leading from the front, so it was all good.

Edited by KSK

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You see? Even in a random draw Jeb manages to find a way to be First with a capital 'F'. This is the way of things, you shouldn't question such serendipity!

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Next chapter is up.

Circles

Enley glanced at the altimeter, sighed and pulled the throttle levers back to their shutdown positions.The bone shaking howl of the twin C7 rocket engines faded to a sullen mutter, hiccupped and then cut out completely. Outside, plumes of white streamed out of the engine nozzles and were swiftly whipped away to nothingness by the hypersonic slipstream.

Enley clamped his lips together and blew sharply into his oxygen mask. The pressure on his eardrums subsided but he still couldn't hear anything through his heavy flight helmet. The fuel gauges showed a healthy reserve left in both propellant tanks and for a moment he was sorely tempted to try an engine restart and see just how high his aircraft could take him. The sluggish response of the control stick as he eased out of his zoom climb came as a sharp reminder that this would probably be a bad idea.

Enley checked the altimeter again and cautiously eased the Skyhawk into a shallow bank. He relaxed his grip on the control stick but the aircraft didn't respond and his eyes widened as the artificial horizon tipped past 60 degrees. He pushed the control stick hard over, feet dancing on the rudder pedals as he fought for control. Beads of cold sweat popped out on his forehead, as the bank angle fluttered perilously close to vertical.

At the last possible instant the control surfaces held, flipping the Skyhawk back over in another snap-roll.The aircraft see-sawed across the sky, ailerons flip-flopping up and down and rudder flicking from side to side. The nose dipped sharply and it plunged downward, wings still rocking wildly. Enley gritted his teeth and hauled back on his controls For one agonising moment the Skyhawk refused to respond and then, centimetre by centimetre, the nose began to rise. Blinking the sweat out of his eyes, he released the back-pressure on the stick and let the aircraft settle into a shallow dive.

The utter blackness outside the cockpit canopy faded into a chilly indigo sky, lit from beneath by an iridescent blue glow. For a fleeting instant Enley marvelled at the spectacular view of Kerbin spread out before him. Then his eyes flicked back to his instruments and he gave his full attention back to the task of putting his aircraft back on the ground in one piece.

The control stick began to feel more positive in his hands as the Skyhawk's flight surfaces bit into the thickening air and he warily began a descending turn. This time the bank held steady at the commanded twenty degrees. As he swooped down through fifteen thousand metres, Enley allowed himself another glimpse of the view outside. Only not quite and all of it at once, he murmured to himself. Those crazy KIS guys sure got that bit right. Got some guts too, to try a stunt like that with nothing but a tin can and a parachute.

The Skyhawk began to vibrate in the denser air. Enley scanned his instrument panel and nodded to himself as the altimeter unwound past ten thousand metres. Working his controls in short, precise movements, he rolled the Skyhawk to the right in the first of a planned series of wide S-shaped turns, designed to bleed off his excess speed before final approach. Far below, a vast expanse of forest whipped past in a supersonic blur.

Enley soared over the thinning forest canopy and across the surrounding grasslands. The edge of the forest was ragged with straggly clumps of trees spilling haphazardly onto the plains. As he shot past, he was startled by a sudden glimpse of smeared out muddy brown amidst the greenery. He pulled the Skyhawk round for the last time, easing into a shallow dive to maintain airspeed as he lined up on the distant runway.

The final pass over the trees was lower and slower and Enley blinked in surprise as he flew towards an enormous semicircle of wilted and browning vegetation stamped into the grass at the edge of the forest. Looks like someone's making themselves a new field - but I don't see any signs of life. And what... no that can't be right.

Enley frowned. Smack in the middle of the dying vegetation was neat semicircle of rich iridescent green. From this angle, the whole thing resembled nothing quite as much as a thick, muddy rainbow carved into the grass.

What on Kerbin could make plants grow in such neat lines. Maybe I'll have a word with John-B back at base. He's not long out of his Grove - maybe he would know.

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

The sail flapped in the stiffening breeze, beating against the rigging with the flat slap of canvas against rope. Lemdan pulled on the sheets, expertly trimming the sail until it just caught the wind and billowed out with a sharp crack. The heavy rope squeaked against a gleaming brass cleat as he made it fast, rocking back on his heels as his vessel lurched into motion. Almost keel-less, it was about as manoeuvrable as a kaya on a frozen pond but fortunately the light breeze was blowing dead aft, bringing the faintest whiff of salt from the Wakira coastline with it and providing almost perfect sailing conditions for the small, square rigged raft.

This close to the sea, the river Wak was still broad enough that even such a clumsy vessel as a raft was unlikely to hit anything. Lemdan pulled the tiller line smoothly around another cleat, dropped a neat hitch over one end and pulled it tight. He pushed his broad brimmed cap back on his head and surveyed the river with some satisfaction.

A string of similar rafts trailed behind him, their captains less alert to the changing wind than he had been. Further ahead he could make out a number of the larger rafts edging ahead with their sails bulging and their pennants jauntily snapping in the breeze. He nodded to himself: Anything more than this breeze will tip 'em right over. Wouldn't want to pole one of those damn whales either, never mind take one over the rapids.

The tree-shaded river banks were lined with kerbals waving brightly patterned flags printed in the colours of their favourite raft. Small kerblets splashed happily in the shallows under the watchful eyes of their parents, whilst the older ones played with a colourful assortment of toy rafts. Some were painted in official team colours but as far as Lemdan could see, most of them weren't much more than hastily lashed together collections of sticks and string. He smiled and watched one of the bolder youngsters shin up a tree, climb out onto a convenient branch and plunged into the river with a yell and a mighty splash. Several of the erstwhile rafters quickly realised that it was better to drench than be drenched and soon the air was filled with spray, hurtling green bodies and shrieks of glee!

Some of the bolder spectators had taken to the water themselves, swimming or darting around the slow moving rafts on flat bottomed bodyboards. Lemdan kept a wary eye on the closest swimmers in case they decided to hitch a lift. Doubt they'd tip me over but one of 'em would slow me down fer sure.

One of the swimmers began to circle around behind him. Lemdan sauntered over to the centre of the raft and nonchalantly lifted his marlinspike off its hook. He propped himself against the mast and set to work unpicking a knotted hank of rope. The swimmer took the hint and backed off to a more respectful distance.

Further ashore, crowds of kerbals strolled amongst a host of tents and an eclectic throng of smaller booths and stands. One particularly large marquee was emblazoned with an enormous stylised sailing raft that proudly proclaimed its owner to be an official supplier of the 24th Annual Wak Race. Kites fluttered from tent poles and a haze of charcoal smoke, liberally flavoured with the appetising aromas of grilled meat, toasted breads and hot baked corn, hung in the air. Lemdan leaned out over the edge of his raft and cupped his hands around his mouth.

“Ho there!"

The nearest boarder looked up. Lemdan fished a coin out of his pocket and held it out at arms length.

“If yer goin' to be followin' me upriver, you can make yerself useful. I'll have a bucket o' corn bites an' a bluefish skewer. Salted not smoked and mind yer don't drop it! Rest o' the coin is for delivery!"

He flipped the coin over the side. The boarder grinned, snatched it out of the air and paddled swiftly towards the bank. Lemdan watched as the small damp figure hauled itself out of the water, pulled its board out onto the shingle and disappeared into the crowd, emerging with a shiny white bundle, clutched in one hand. The boarder casually tossed his slender vessel back into the river and waded out after it, carrying his prize high over his head.

Lemdan raised his eyebrows as his impromptu deliveryman set out across the river. Not too bad - cuttin' me off at the bend and aimin' across me bows instead o' chasing along behind. Lad's got some water sense.

With a quick flick of his feet, the boarder darted in and grabbed the edge of Lemdan's raft. He shoved the shiny white bundle safely up onto the logs, tipped Lemdan a mocking salute and paddled away downriver. Lemdan retrieved his parcel, ripped open the thick waxed paper and sighed as the rich smell of tangy pepper sauce, toasted pine kernels and salted bluefish filled his nostrils.

-----------

By time Lemdan had finished his lunch and stowed away the empty wrappings, the last of the tents were drifting slowly astern. Up ahead, a lazy looping bend of the Wak river marked the first real challenge of the race. He unlashed his tiller, seized hold of the sheets and peered intently at the shallows by the inside bank. No rocks, not seein any eddying worth mentioning. Should be plenty deep enough for this old lump 'o lumber..

He pushed the tiller away, deftly working the sheets to bring the raft sluggishly about. Careful, careful - keep 'er out of the irons. Not goin' fast enough fer any proper sailin here'. The raft cut neatly across the bend, missing the bank by no more than two or three metres and edged back out into open water. Not too shoddy if I do say so meself.

The river glimmered in the afternoon sun. Sunbeams speared through a patch of shallow water, casting a lambent glow on the gravel beneath, whilst around the raft, surface ripples glinted in an ever shifting mosaic. Along the river banks, the tall trees and wildflower mats of the deep forest were gradually giving way to shorter hardier trees, shouldering their way through a dense carpet of bracken and thorny, blossom-speckled shrubs.

The afternoon wore on and the sun sank slowly towards the horizon. The low sunlight turned the river into a blinding mirror, forcing Lemdan to squint hard as he tried to pick out his course. He grumbled to himself and pulled his cap down firmly over his eyes. It didn't help.

Suddenly he heard raised voices. Blinking furiously he tried to see where all the commotion was coming from. Thankfully the sun chose that moment to disappear behind a particularly tall tree and Lemdan saw the pilots on the lead rafts all gesticulating wildly at something.

Lemdan's gaze instinctively dropped to the water's surface, although he couldn't imagine how any halfway competent river pilot could fall overboard in these conditions. His eyes darted to and fro, frantically searching for a bobbing green head. Then it struck him that all the other pilots were pointing at the river bank and not the water. Puzzled, he followed their gestures and nearly fell overboard himself.

A vast swathe of wilted grass stretched out as far as he could see. The few hardy shrubs that still dotted the landscape looked sickly and blighted with a faint haze of insects buzzing over them. Lemdan wrinkled his nose at the suddenly soured air. Behind the stench of rotting grass, he could just make out darker scents of... something. Something that smelt powerfully wrong, although he couldn't quite work out why.

Lemdan stared around in dismay as he floated on. The dismay turned to bewilderment as he spotted what appeared to be a perfectly healthy sapling jutting out from a nook in the river bank. He frowned. Much like the smell, there was something he couldn't quite identify about the lone survivor but at the same time it looked awfully familiar. Something about the shape of the leaves and the way they clustered around the stem.

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

Halby strode through the Veiidan woods with his tool belt clinking and jangling around his waist. Around him, the undergrowth was flattened and bent after the recent spring storms and several of the smaller trees were leaning over at odd angles with their roots protruding from the soil. Halby paused to paint a white cross on one particularly fine leatherbark to mark it for the cutting crews that would follow him.

A huge fallen sapwood tree blocked his path, its roots reaching into the sky like gnarled fingers. He ducked under it making sure not to touch the sticky sap still trickling down the grooves in its trunk. Underneath the forest floor was dank and slimy underfoot. Halby cursed as one foot skidded in the muck and grabbed at the nearest branch to steady himself. He wiped his boot on a tuft of sickly yellow grass and nearly gagged at the combination of bruised foliage and stagnant black mud. Dear Kerm but that's awful.

Halby bent down to retie his boot lace and was startled to see other clumps of the same yellow grass dotted over the forest floor. He pulled the can of white paint out of its holster and aimed it at the fallen giant. Still plenty of sap in that one. Should be worth saving.. Then he paused and took a closer look. He drew his knife and tapped the hilt against the trunk.

Instead of the clear tap tap tap of steel against hardwood, he was rewarded with a dull thudding sound. Reversing the blade, he cautiously jabbed it into the bark. The blade slid effortlessly through and deep into the unnaturally spongy wood underneath. He frowned and pressed down on the handle. A large chunk of wood tore out of the trunk, ripping the rotten bark away as it went. A cloud of spores exploded into the air and Halby flung one arm over his face to protect himself.

What in the hells?!

Halby grabbed a second can of paint from his belt and viciously sprayed a bright red cross on the sapwood trunk. Just in case. Would take a real bug-wit not to spot something was wrong but that amount of rot would catch anyone by surprise.

The further Halby went into the forest, the more uneasy he became. The trees around him were encrusted with moss and lichens, even on the dry side of their trunks. Thick skeins of mistletoe ran wild over their branches, streaming down in great gauzy sheets that rustled in the breeze. A cloying smell of mildew and rot hung over everything. Fighting down his rising nausea, he pressed on. Need to get to the bottom of this. Doubt anything is worth cutter time though. He pushed through a particularly thick curtain of mistletoe and emerged into a murky clearing.

There was a sudden crunching sound underfoot. Halby looked down in trepidation and leapt backwards with a startled cry. The floor of the was alive with trail after trail of ants, termites, woodlice and other creatures that he didn't even recognise. In places the leaf litter churned and rippled as waves of insects marched past. The few remaining tree stumps in the clearing were coated black with tiny writhing forms.

Then Halby lifted his gaze and his mouth fell open. Right in the very centre of the clearing was a tall slender sapling. It was tall enough to have started growing its first lateral branches and the second ring of leaves around it's stem were well developed. It's leaves were bright glossy green and perfectly formed. They rustled in the dank, fetid air.

It can't be. It can't be...

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

The emergency team stared around in horror. The village itself seemed to be largely intact but the surrounding fields and orchards were ruined. Most of the villagers wandered aimlessly, or sat outside their huts gazing blankly into space.

The hut door swung open and the medical team emerged, carrying an elderly kerbal on a stretcher. Sallow skin drooped off his emaciated frame in slack green folds and his eyes rolled wildly in their sockets as he thrashed against his restraints.

“They're coming! They're coming!"

One of the medics held up a syringe and raised his eyebrows. The senior doctor shook her head sharply and bent closer to the old kerbal, murmuring into his ear. Whatever she said only agitated her patient still further. Specks of foam spattered against his chin as he screamed.

“The sparks are coming! They're still coming! They're going to kill us all!"

-----------

Jonton's hand shook as he turned off the television and turned to face Gerselle. Her face was pale and drawn and her fingers trembled on the arm of her chair.

“Sparks. I didn't see any sparks."

Jonton's eyes twitched at the memory. “I did," he replied quietly. “What did you see instead?"

“I saw a great black wall," Gerselle said. Her voice quavered. “It was suffocating me, trapping us away from the light, crushing us into our prison."

“That makes sense,†said Jonton slowly. “You were the new Kerm, trying to take your own ground. You didn't care that some of it was already taken." He grimaced. “We barely managed to hold you off. I don't think that poor fellow was as lucky."

Gerselle's voice shook. “Did you see the rest of the village? It was ruined, Jonton - just ruined! Whatever that Keeper was fighting must have been a lot closer to his grove."

“I don't think there's much 'whatever' about it," Jonton said grimly. “He was seeing sparks - he had to be fighting another Kerm."

“But how?" said Gerselle, “We planted my Grove too close to yours but mine was the first new Grove in..." Her eyes widened in horror.

Jonton nodded. “Yep. I don't know how they missed it but one of the trees in his Grove must have dropped a seed too." His fingernails dug painfully into his palms and his voice turned bitter. “A new Kerm, right in the middle of his Grove. He never stood a chance."

Gerselle's voice was very small. “I wonder if any other Kerm are starting to seed?"

“I don't know," said Jonton, “I've been trying to ask my Kerm but just the mention of another seed sends it into a panic. I get a lot of memories of sparks but one memory feels much the same as another to me. I don't know whether it's talking about the fight with your Kerm or fighting between all Kerm."

“What are we going to do? A few dozen seeds would be bad enough but if every Kerm on Kerbin decides to drop one!" Gerselle threw her hands up helplessly.

Jonton took a deep breath. “I do have one idea," he said, “but I don't like it. If we can't make our Kerm understand, then we need to make them capable of understanding."

Gerselle frowned. “I don't follow you."

“One Kerm tree on its own is barely intelligent," said Jonton.“Thirty-seven knitted together aren't quite intelligent enough. But thirty eight or thirty nine might be."

“No!" said Gerselle. “Jonton you can't break the..."

“Law of Thirty Six?" said Jonton. “That's what I thought too. The thing is, Gerselle, I can't find any reason why that law was ever written. Even the oldest records just take it for granted, just like they take so much else for granted. We follow the law blindly because it works - but we don't know why!"

“It's there for a reason, Jonton! It comes up in the Records time after time. Why bother doing that if it wasn't important?"

“The Records are like that, Gerselle. Old facts repeated again and again. For goodness sake, the Records insist that you should never plant leatherbark and sweetleaf together in the same Grove! Try telling that to my great great grandfather."

“The Records also insist that Groves should be planted a days walk apart, Jonton. That turned out to be pretty important wouldn't you say!"

Gerselle suddenly lifted her hand and cocked her head but there was no sound from the next room.

“I thought I heard Joenie, “ she said quietly. “I don't like this plan, Jonton. It's just too dangerous."

“Nor do I," said Jonton, “but I honestly can't think what else to do. We need answers Gerselle and we need them badly."

“The Conclave?"

“That was my first thought. But you know as well as I do how long it takes to gather the Chief Ambassadors. How many more seeds will fall in that time?" His voice shook. “And we all own the same Records anyway. I hate to say it but I don't think they'll have any more idea what to do than we do."

Gerselle was silent. “One extra tree, Jonton. One extra tree - and if anything goes wrong we burn it to the ground and beneath."

 

<< Chapter 25:     Chapter 27>>

Edited by KSK
Typos, tags and one bad word.

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To quote Czoklemuss... Dun dun dunnnnnn!

Very nice atmospheric plot development. Love the way you peel this out, and at the same time introduce some aircraft. Are we going to see SSTOs taking some of KIS' thunder in the near future?

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A solution just occurred to me. What if the invading plants were transplanted and taken to Laythe or Duna? I mean, it would be expensive, and it would take decades, maybe centuries before the 'evacuation' completed, but it seems to me a better solution than killing Kerm, which for some reason strikes me as sacrilegiously bad idea.

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A solution just occurred to me. What if the invading plants were transplanted and taken to Laythe or Duna? I mean, it would be expensive, and it would take decades, maybe centuries before the 'evacuation' completed, but it seems to me a better solution than killing Kerm, which for some reason strikes me as sacrilegiously bad idea.

The space program has a fair old way to go before they can seriously contemplate that as a solution, unfortunately. Besides, I can't believe no Kermol has ever had to deviate from the instructions to accommodate conditions on the ground before.

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Although in theory you could transplant Kerm seeds off planet... well, how on Kerbin would you know if they'd survive in an alien environment? I don't think they'd be willing to risk Kerm seeds off world before testing with other plant life first.

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Although in theory you could transplant Kerm seeds off planet... well, how on Kerbin would you know if they'd survive in an alien environment? I don't think they'd be willing to risk Kerm seeds off world before testing with other plant life first.

Grow the seeds in a centrifuge in LKO! :)

-Duxwing

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Okay, now I'm on the edge of my seat waiting for more.

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Although in theory you could transplant Kerm seeds off planet... well, how on Kerbin would you know if they'd survive in an alien environment? I don't think they'd be willing to risk Kerm seeds off world before testing with other plant life first.

Off-Kerbin Kerm seeds were the first thing that occurred to me when we were introduced to the Kermon way of life.

Since the Kerm seed we saw first was the first in a very long time (so long they had to check the archives to confirm it actually was a seed), I expected a plot like this:

- Kerm-tree-hive mind becomes a ware of spaceflight and new places to go

- Groves make new seeds that specificly want to grow off-planet.

- Kermon and Kerman combine forces to colonize the solar system.

- first kerm saplings in zero G as life support enhancers

- second kerm wanting to grow on the Mun, etc.

I figure'd the enormous growth power within the seed would be enough to adapt a small patch of foreign soil to something more life-worthy. Starting a multi-century long process of terrakerbin-forming.

That was before we learned about the deep mental connection required between Kerm and Kermon though.

I'm still suspecting something similar to this. But my old ideas don't fit with our current knowledge.

I do get the impressing the plot has been planned far ahead, which is a a very good thing.

Too many fanfics died the slow and painful death of improbable plot twists, ass-pulls and extreme deviations of previously stated 'facts'. All due bad (not) planning/writing ahead.

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Amen! I like the way KSK is developing the plot and the planning does show through. *sits on seat and stares at screen, willing the next episode to come up* No pressure, promise! ;)

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Not going to contribute, for obvious reasons :) but I'm loving the discussion here! Thank you all - especially OrtwinS's and Patupi's last comments.

Patupi - I'd go grab some food, maybe take a comfort break while you're waiting. :D The fan works library needs a bit of love next but the next episode of First Flight shouldn't be far behind!

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