KSK

First Flight (Chapter 106 - The Sage of Barkton)

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Next chapter is up.

Pre-emptive.

The chainsaw bit into the snow-crusted bark with a willing roar, chewing through the dense wood beneath. Jerfun's shoulders throbbed with the effort of keeping its blade level, his hands aching with cold and vibration even through his thickly padded gloves. He switched off the saw and slipped it carefully out of the trunk, before fitting two slim wedges into the cut and driving them home with practiced blows from his hammer.

The resinous scent of freshly sawn wood blended with the sharp nip of frost in the air as Jerfun slotted a felling bar into place, picked up his chainsaw with a grunt and set to work finishing the cut.

Last one of the day, thank the Kerm.

Long habit and careful routine made him take one last look to the sides and two looks down the drop line. Quickly, he stepped back and sideways, keeping one eye on the poised trunk, then took hold of the felling bar with both hands.

"Dropping!"

Slowly, majestically, the tree began to topple, spindly branches tilting against the leaden sky. The last sliver of wood holding the trunk together gave way with a resounding crack and seconds later it thudded into the forest floor amidst a great snapping and tearing of undergrowth. Jerfun picked up his loppers and began trimming. By the time Bureny arrived on her kaya, he'd reduced the bottlebrush tree to a single long log and a respectable bundle of firewood. The enormous woolly animal snorted as Bureny backed it up to the log, the warm, wet smell of fermented lichens on its breath overpowering the scents of sap and crushed bottlebrush needles. Bureny tossed a towline to Jerfun, who lashed it around the log and tied on the bundle of branches.

“Move on ya!"

The kaya lumbered forward up the steep forest trail, oblivious to the extra weight. Jerfun plodded along behind, one eye on the path and one eye on the tip of the log bumping over the frozen ground in front of him. As they crested the rise and stepped out onto the main road, Jerfun was breathing hard and the waiting lumber truck, grapple at the ready, was a welcome sight. He unhitched Bureny's mount from its load, heaved the bundle of branches onto the back of the truck and clambered thankfully into the warm, oily fug of its cabin.

Lumber trucks, Jerfun decided, represented the best of his people. Hard wearing, hard working and built for practicality not sentiment. And just like many a good northern Wakiran, they can also be an honest-to-Kerm pain in the ass. His teeth snapped together as the truck jolted over yet another pothole and lurched to a stop. The driver swore, shifted into reverse and slowly backed up.

The trailer sprang free, its suddenly shifting weight causing the truck to fishtail violently, one wheel lifting off the ground. Automatically, Jerfun slid across the back seat, throwing his meagre weight against the tilt. Calmly, the driver spun his wheel, the back of the truck swinging out in response and thudding back on to the road. He shoved the gear lever forward with a crunch, engine screaming in protest as it took up the load. The truck slowed, logs thudding ominously against the trailer and then began to creep forward around the pothole.

Further into the hills, the ride began to smoothen out and heaps of chippings began to appear by the side of the road, half buried in the snow. The road itself was a pitted patchwork of fill-ins and craters, gravel and hard-packed earth providing a temporary surface. Red striped marker poles stood out brightly against a landscape of whites and greys. As the road wound down through a cleft in the snow-capped hills, it was joined by a foaming, iron-grey brook. Jerfun nodded in satisfaction. Fresh water, good defensible territory and it's on our side of the border. We'll take the high ground here and in Conclave.

As if to mark his words, the truck grumbled to a halt with a squeal of hydraulics, belching a cloud of sooty smoke from its exhaust stack. The heavy, gated log palisade blocking their way was tall enough that the two kerbals standing guard on its parapet could comfortably look down into the exhaust stack if they felt so inclined, and thick enough to give the driver of most vehicles pause for thought.

Not, thought Jerfun, eying the guards, that they would get that far. The rough-and-ready barricade they were guarding stood in stark contrast to their conspicuously carried and thoroughly modern hunting rifles.

And anything that can put a charging scallan down cold will have no trouble with a set of tyres. Truly, we need more than logs to protect them but until the thaw starts logs will have to do.

The third guard peered through the cab window, nodded as she recognised Jerfun and waved them on. The truck rumbled smoothly through the gates and out into the wider valley beyond. Beside them, the stream burbled through a tunnel cut into the log walls and wound away out of sight.

A partially completed watchtower stood atop the hill on either side of the palisade. Jerfun watched a distant team of kayas dragging sleds of supplies and building materials up to one of them, leaving a broad swathe of trodden down snow and the occasional heap of dung in their wake a work gang of kerbals were busily digging out the compacted snow and marking out the boundaries of a new trail with wooden planks. The dung went on to a nearby trailer.

A similarly industrious scene greeted them when they finally pulled up at the new village site. Another gang of kerbals were methodically packing rounded stream-bed stones into a newly dug out road bed and filling in the gaps with gravel to create a crude but serviceable cobbled crossroad. A pair of broad, low slung log cabins faced each other across the street, each with an attached outhouse. Next door to one of them, a workshop spilled soft yellow light and paler yellow drifts of sawdust onto the cobbles. Jerfun nodded approvingly at the row of neatly turned and carved porch rails propped against the workshop wall. Pleasing to see a touch of civilisation in this back end of nowhere.

Further up the street and well away from the cabins, half a dozen lugubrious kaya stood by their paddock rail, backs into the wind; heavy, horned heads foraging under the snow, indifferent to the activity going on around them.

The driver's door slammed, the truck rocking as the driver clambered up behind the cab. Machinery whined to life, followed by the rattling of chains and the distinctive clunk of the grapple closing around a log. Jerfun watched it swing past the cabin door before setting its load down neatly by the workshop. He rapped sharply on the rear window of the cab, opened the door and jumped down, grabbing his rifle from behind his seat as he went. As he slammed the door shut and sprinted clear of the truck, he heard the grapple starting up again behind him.

A small, brick building with a galvanised sheet iron roof stood on a concrete plinth at the very centre of the crossroads. Jerfun unloaded his weapon, dropping the clip into his pocket. He reached under his jacket for his key, unlocked the heavy steel door and stepped inside.

The cloying scent of gun oil in a confined space assaulted his nostrils as he scanned the wall-to-wall gun racks for a space. Hardly enough room in here but I'm Blighted if we're spending more time hauling cement and steel until the thaw. He stowed his rifle on the nearest rack with a grunt and dropped his clip into its storage box. Then again, don't expect the Kerm is going to be doing much in this weather either. Should have this place locked down tight by the time it gets round to Seeding.

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

Rain beat against Lemdan's oilskins and trickled over his boots. Runnels of water ran this way and that over the heaving deck, glistening on the heavily varnished planks. In the distance, the Crater beacons gleamed in the dark, the square windows of the nearest ones shining against the night sky, the furthest ones twinkling like stars in the distance. Lemdan crouched by the binnacle, sighting the two brightest beacons across his compass. He grunted, checked the anchor line was still sliding freely in its blocks and retreated under the cabin roof.

Whilst it's name had changed numerous times over the centuries, the Crater had been a favourite port of call for seafaring kerbals since the Age of Sail and possibly long before. Historically, the enormous natural harbours afforded by it's forbiddingly jagged walls, had been the economic force responsible for cementing a loose alliance of Wakiran city states into Kerbin's pre-eminent maritime trading nation and eventually, Regionality. At it's height, the wealth and power of Wakira had rivalled even that of Doren, providing a crucial political counterbalance within the young Council of Twelve Pillars.

Modern day Wakira was still a political and economic force to be reckoned with although its influence had declined since the Age of Sail, especially with the advent of air travel. Nevertheless the Crater harbours remained the busiest seaport in the world, their network of radar stations watching over the constant traffic of hundreds of, predominantly sail-driven, merchant vessels.

At the southernmost tip of the Crater wall, rain spattered off the windows of one station, the ceaseless drumming unnoticed by the three kerbals inside. Two of them sat in front of a large radar screen, their faces lit from beneath by its soft green glow. The Harbourmaster stood at the back of the room listening intently.

“Course I'm in the right place! Yer think I can't take a bearing on a pair o' beacons?"

“I'm not doubting you, Captain," replied Edbur wearily, “it's just that we can't see you from here either."

“You want mebbe I should point my torch at yeh? Pretty sure I could find yeh, even if you cannot find me."

“It might just come to that, Captain," sighed Edbur, “but please could we try one more observation before we call it a night?"

“If yeh think I'm getting any closer to these cliffs at night, lad, yeh've got another think coming!"

“Actually, Captain, we're thinking that you might be too close to the cliffs already. If you wouldn't mind, please could you sail one kilometre further west and heave to."

The voice on the other end of the radio sounded suddenly amused. “No need for heaving to, lad - I'm not in my sailing hauler tonight, nor my raft for that matter."

The other radar operator turned to look at Edbur, eyebrows raised. “Come on, Ed - he's not going to be in our shadow."

Edbur rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. “He's not," he said, “but I want to get him out of all that surface clutter around the cliffs."

“That's not going to help much in this weather."

Edbur counted to three under his breath. “I know that Gil but I'm starting to run out of ideas here. "He gestured at the shifting patterns of speckles on the radar screen. “If we can at least get rid of the rock returns, we might just have a chance of picking him out of the rest of that junk."

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

The last metre of chain clinked dully against the fibreglass hull. Lemgan hauled the anchor over the side, folded it and stowed it neatly under a bench with the coiled anchor line. He took his place behind the wheel, glancing distastefully at the idling diesel motor mounted on the stern. Swinging the wheel hard over, he opened the throttle, wincing as the motor roared.

Noisy damn things. Wouldn't want to be runnin' out of battery on a night like this though and least this weather is keepin' the reek away. Lemgan glanced at his compass. Not too shoddy. Got a while till the tide turns and I'm doubtin' they'll need me exactly due west anyway. Right, that should do it.

Lemgan eased the throttle back, locked his wheel and made his way forward. Cleating the line securely, he unfolded the anchor again and dropped it over the side, paying it out hand over hand. Easing the boat into reverse, he rested his hand on the line for a moment then, satisfied that nothing was dragging, switched off the motor. For a minute he stared entranced at the ragged, phosphorescent wake trailing back towards the cliffs. Hordes of tiny nightfish dove in and out of the froth, feeding on the churned up plankton; their scales glinting in the luminous glow.

Reluctantly he went back to the cockpit and picked up his microphone. “Lemgan here. Anchor set - any sign of me yet?"

“Not yet, Captain," Edbur replied. “Not even with your wake to point the way." He sighed. “Maybe that's the answer. Forget about the radar, build a chain of watchtowers and have their crews look out for wakes."

“Wouldn't work," said Lemgan. “If I was that dead set on smuggling Kerm seeds, I'd charter a boat, give it a reason to be close to shore so yer watchers are expectin' it, then row a dinghy in after dusk. Wouldn't work around these parts but if the coast was kinder and ah was really desperate, ah'd swim. Either way there's be no wake givin' me away."

“I suppose so," said Edbur. “I think we're done for tonight, Captain. The Harbourmaster conveys his thanks and bids you safe seas on the way home."

“Understood," Lemgan replied. “Signing off."

Static poured out of the speaker. Silently, Gilbin leaned over and switched off the radio. “Well so much for that idea," he said. “If the powers-that-be want a coastal surveillance system it's gonna cost them."

The Harbourmaster cleared his throat. “Are you suggesting that we could use some other sensors?" he said. “Infra-red perhaps?"

“Not a bad idea," said Gilbin, “but radar will do jus' fine. Pickin' out a small target is easy enough in good weather and can even be done in this muck."He gestured dismissively at the window. “Problem number one is that yer standard traffic management antenna isn't built for the high gain, narrow beamwidth system that yer need for the job and problem number two is that a narrow beamwidth antenna isn't exactly set up for scannin' large areas. Which means a lot of expensive new stations if yer want to watch the whole coast."

He glanced at Edbur. “Which is a waste of time in my not-so-humble opinion. Tryin' to watch the whole coastline to stop one kerbal in a rowin' boat?"

Edbur stirred. “It's not the single seed carrying kerbal we should be looking for," he agreed. “but everything else you need to start a new Grove. Any ship big enough to carry that would be easy enough to spot."

“Unless, as the good Captain pointed out, it was there for wholly legitimate reasons," said the Harbourmaster heavily. He threw up his hands resignedly. “Even so - unofficially - I'm inclined to agree with you. Nevertheless, the powers-that-be have not so politely requested that I investigate all options." He looked at Gilbin. “I would be much obliged if you could draw up an engineering summary of your high gain system. Equipment requirements, numbers of stations - everything."

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

Gusden stared out to sea, elbows resting on the newly poured harbour wall. Below, a similarly clean, concrete jetty slashed an angular weal across the incoming tide, the blocky new buildings strewn across the wharf speaking more to urgent need and raw functionality than any kind of aesthetic sense. A squad of converted coastal cutters rode at anchor, deck guns reflecting the cloudy sky in sullen gunmetal grey. Across the bay, the old lifeboat station nestled into the cliffside, its launch ramp stained in shades of algae, rust and trailing seaweeds.

“Approaching target zone. Weapon hot."

“Copy that, Vanguard. Clear for release."

Neilbin shivered at the matter-of-fact radio chatter. He raised his binoculars to his eyes, settling his gaze on the dark bulk on the horizon.

The aircraft banked hard, dropping into a spiralling dive before pulling out into a series of sluggish S-turns. It rolled wings-level, a glinting speck falling away from its belly as it raced towards the ship, then pulled up and commenced a slow, wide circle of its target.

A fountain of spray erupted, completely obscuring Neilbin's view. He twisted the focus dial on his binoculars, trying to see through the turbulent whiteness. The spray smashed down, scattering debris across the waves and obscuring what remained of the ship. He scanned the wreckage, trying to piece together what had just happened, when the radio crackled again.

“Clean release and tracking. Weapon impacted amidships." Neilbin thought he heard the pilot's voice shake. “Hull is gone, repeat gone. Nothing left on the surface but flotsam and precious little of that."

Solemnly, he lowered his binoculars and looked soberly at Gusden. “A successful test I'd say, Commander. I presume it was a realistic one?

Gusden shook his head. “Not really - in fact we went out of our way to make it as unrealistic as possible. Extra reinforcement on the hull, fuel tanks drained so that they couldn't contribute to the blast. It was a stationary target of course but we don't have any way of steering it remotely and I'm not in the habit of shooting live ordnance at my own troops. Besides the manoeuvrability tests were mostly successful, once we'd worked the kinks out of the guidance system."

Neilbin raised his eyebrows. “Go on?"

To his surprise, Gusden grinned. “A Wavedancer class racing dinghy makes a fine test target. We did trials with diesel motors to begin with, then electrics. Doesn't make a lot of difference actually, the acoustic sensors can pick up propeller noise almost as well as engine. We're still working on sailboats but between you and me, I think that's just the research team showing off. I can't think of anything wind powered that could out-run or out-manoeuvre a Mark II fingrillin."

Neilbin blinked. "One with a dummy warhead I presume?" he said dryly.

"Of course," said Gusden, affronted. "Dye cannister with a - very small - explosive charge to rupture it." He grinned again. "The pilots set up a leaderboard at one point; seeing how long they could last before getting a faceful of dye turned into quite a competition." He caught Neilbin's expression. "And yes - safety goggles were mandatory for all test runs."

"Go on then," said Neilbin neutrally, "Who was your paint-torpedo racing champion?"

"You'll get to meet her in a few minutes," said Gusden, pointing over Neilbin's shoulder. "She's just coming in to land."

---

By the time the two kerbals reached the airstrip, the small single-seater spotter plane was parked neatly by its hangar, wheels chocked and jet engine powered down. Neilbin stared curiously at the empty torpedo pylon welded incongruously to its underside. He squatted down, measuring the gap between pylon and runway by eye.

"Right. Getting off the ground without smacking it off the concrete is the real trick."

Neilbin got to his feet. "Why not hang them under the wings instead?" he asked.

A derisive snort rattled off the hangar walls. "Does sitting up there like a stuffed wagga, picking bullets out of the canopy sound like a good plan to you? Everyone else on this patch of wind and scrubland can please themselves but I plan to get in fast, drop the fish and get out faster. And trust me - hanging one bodged together bomb rack off this plane makes that quite difficult enough thank you."

"Torpedo," said Gusden mildly, "Not bomb. And it's hardly the engineers' fault if one hotshot ex-racer can't handle anything sportier than a Skysprite."

"Hah - a Skysprite would leave this pair of wings and worry on the runway. Seriously though, boss - fast and low is going to work a whole lot better than evasion."

"Just so long as you can pull up in time at those speeds, " said Gusden. "But we can work this at the flight review and before that we have a guest to show around our patch of wind and scrubland. Valentina Kerman - meet Envoy Neilbin."

Valentina gave Gusden a cursory glance and then, warned by Gusden's scowl behind the Envoy's back, stuck out a hand. "Pleased to meet ya. Call me Val."

Gusden studied the young pilot thoughtfully, remembering the tremor in her voice from the damage report. Not quite as hard headed as you want to appear I don't think. Trim under her baggy flight suit, sleek black hair cut racer-short, Valentina stared back at him through frank copper-brown eyes. He shook the proffered hand. "Pleased to meet you too, uh, Val. So - where do we start?"

Edited by KSK
Spacing, punctuation, typos - the usual snafus.

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Another great chapter! :) I've made of point of bookmarking this thread, so I check it literally every time I come onto the forums. :D

I love how you've already managed to give Val some character in just this chapter alone, even though she was only introduced properly at the very end. Please never stop writing these! :D

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Anyone been compiling the chapters into an eBook friendly format?

Me - sort of. I'm writing the main copy in Pages and I can apparently export it as an epub file. I'm writing other bits in an unholy mishmash of text editors (depending which device I happen to be on at the time) but it all ends up in the Pages version in the end. That's my excuse for any formatting snafus and I'm sticking to it. ;)

Another great chapter! :) I've made of point of bookmarking this thread, so I check it literally every time I come onto the forums. :D

I love how you've already managed to give Val some character in just this chapter alone, even though she was only introduced properly at the very end. Please never stop writing these! :D

Thanks! I've got a story arc planned for Val that I hope you'll like. She's going to be fun character to write I think. :) More generally, I've got the rest of Part 3 plotted out now and a sketch of what Part 4 is going to look like. So there's a bit to go yet - but I do have an endpoint in mind and an epilogue planned out to round things off. :)

@VelocityPolaris, I must confess that I'm not familiar with Macey's stuff, although I have heard a lot about it. Sounds like this would be a good time to find out - thanks for the heads-up!

Edited by KSK

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Hi Meve12,

Thanks for reading and dropping by to comment, although at this stage, I'm afraid the only real answer I can give is... possibly.

Cheers.

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This is the one thing that nags me - First Flight has basically become The backstory to KSP for me, but I also always disliked military conflict on Kerbin, it just does not fit into this particular setting for me, although do play games involving war, crime and all kinds of violence too.

So I hope for a 2010-like solution for this one.

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Thank you so much for writing this! It's definitely encouraged me to A: Play more KSP & B: Put my own fanfic on hold for the moment. I obviously won't be better than you coming from a position of no experience, but I shouldn't be so much worse that I make people's eyes bleed.

I especially like how you've connected the Kerman/Kermol and related that to the spaceflight story - the tonal shifts between the jokes and the oblique references to nuclear war (I think?) add to the realism of your characters. Real people don't just have one tone, and your characters are close enough to be realistic to me.

It probably says something about my overall experience with the game that I can't even conceive of 10.4 k/s Delta V, much less how one would get all that fuel into orbit xP The real Apollo program is just so impressive.

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Hey, KSK, I made some Kerm references in my AAR here. I hope you don't mind- but if you do, I'll remove them post-haste.

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It's cool but thanks for checking - it's appreciated. :) Nice AAR by the way!

KerbMav - me neither, and I'm finding the 'escalation' plot thread quite challenging to write for that very reason. Taking the story in this direction definitely wasn't something I did lightly.

BurningLegion - you're more than welcome and thanks for the kind words! Looking forward to reading your fanfic whenever you decide to release it - and 'better' is always in the eye of the reader, so I fully expect there'll be plenty of people here that prefer your work to mine. Incidentally, First Flight pretty much is my experience, apart from one other short fanfic for another game. :)

I know exactly what you mean about the Apollo Program! I mean, I always thought it was awesome but the more I've read up on it as research for various bits of First Flight, the more incredible I've found it. Like yourself, I've also found that KSP makes a pretty sobering comparison, although it's been fantastic for giving me a qualitative feel for the Apollo flight plans. Even fairly small stuff like knowing what's involved in circularising an orbit has made a huge difference.

Next chapter is ticking along nicely after an abandoned first chunk which sounded good in my head but really didn't translate well onto paper. I'm taking a day off on Monday and basically plan to find a cafe somewhere, take my tablet and keyboard and spend the day writing. :)

Edited by KSK

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KSK liked my AAR... KSK liked my AAR. KSK liked my AAR.KSKlikedmyAARKSKlikedmyAARKSKlikedmyAAR.

KSK liked my AAR.

*jumps off the window screaming in joy*

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:)

Next chapter is up.

Diplomacy

“Nine...eight...ignition sequence start."

Hanbal sensed rather than saw the sudden flare from the test stand. Eyes fixed on his console, he watched the precisely scripted sequence of telltales and pressure gauges spring to life. Outside, the light blossomed into a fierce orange glare that sent shadows dancing and flickering around the corners of the room.

Pressures looking good. Come on baby, come on.

The orange glare dimmed briefly then rapidly intensified into a searing yellow-white fury. The window edges cast knife-edged shadows over Hanbal's head. Heavy ear defenders protected him from the worst of the noise but they couldn't wholly blot out the awesome, staccato thunder that threatened to blow reinforced glass over his console. He barely heard the last seconds of the countdown.

“Two...one...and zero. Engine running! Full thrust!"

Hanbal held his breath. Come on, come on, come... One of the pressure gauges flickered, held, then spiked wildly, setting off a cascade of warning lights and shutdown indicators. He slapped his hand down on the prominent - and extremely sturdy - manual shutdown button, just as the noise from the explosion rolled over the bunker. Hanbal pounded on the button with his fist, shoved his chair back from the console and stalked out of the room.

Outside, all that remained of the SK2-C were twin fans of dirt, debris and twisted splinters of metal gouged across the prairie.

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

“Ten percent, ten percent...throttle up. Smooth transition. Flow rates good."

Ornie checked his engine status indicators. “I see them. Descent engine at full thrust. Throttle control in auto-one." He glanced over the rest of the control panel, sighed and took a swig of coffee.

“You've got as much chance as any of them," said Wernher softly

Ornie set his mug down on the control panel where it rested neatly in the gap left by a missing gauge. “I know," he said. “One in twelve ain't bad odds either." He stared at the test stand. “Still reckon I'd want the crasher stage for my landing though. Use a proper high thrust engine for the brakin' burn an' a proper low thrust engine for the landin' rather than trying to cram them together into one piece. No disrespect intended."

“None taken," Wernher said equably, “Since you well know that I agreed with you and Bob at the beginning. Jeb's right about those Muna photographs though. They're just not good enough to pick out a smooth landing site, however long Neling spends poring over them with a magnifying glass. Even if they were, I wouldn't take large bets on being able to hit that site reliably."

Ornie looked at him wearily. “I know, I know. And Gene's right too - stagin' anything that close to the Mün is just adding its own lot of problems to a busy checklist. I'd just feel a lot happier if we weren't resting the Munar landing on a design that we borrowed from an old lawn sprinkler." He glanced at the engine indicators. “It wasn't even the latest model sprinkler for Kerm's sake!"

Wernher's mouth twitched. “It doesn't sound very promising when you put it like that," he conceded, “and I certainly wouldn't want to build anything bigger than the 909 around a conical impingement injector." He gestured at the roaring test stand behind its blast shields and shrugged. “But it does work."

“So far," said Ornie. There was a long silence. “OK, coming up to pitch-over. Throttling down in three...two...one..."

The engine noise dropped to merely very loud, rather than deafening. Wernher stayed tactfully silent as he watched his deputy's hands reaching for non-existent switches and buttons, unfocused eyes staring past the test stand at a private vista.

“Auto-one holding, good radar return, delta-H nominal," Ornie murmured to himself. He shook his head, deliberately resting his hands on the edge of the console with a small, embarrassed grin. “Sorry, boss - kilometres away."

“Nearly four hundred thousand kilometres I make it," Wernher said gently.

“About that," said Ornie. He reached for the engine controls. “Ready for the abort to orbit test?"

Wernher nodded. Ornie threw a switch. “Throttle to manual..." He jammed a lever forward and the engine responded with a willing bellow. Wernher watched the simulated propellant level readouts drop to zero and right on cue, the engine coughed and fell silent.

“Ascent engine armed...abort stage...ignition."

Wernher raised his eyebrows at Ornie's astonished look. Ornie opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it and then burst out laughing. “I tell you what, boss - let's scrounge some simulator time once the Booth Crew have 'em set up properly - and get this piloting stuff out of both our systems."

“Better not get it too far out in case you end up being picked," said Wernher checking his watch. “Speaking of which, Jeb should have found that wastepaper basket by now. And I don't care whether you're picked or not - I'm still going to want a hand stripping down that engine afterwards."

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

Jeb unfolded the piece of paper and looked up at the assembled - and impatiently waiting - Kerbin Interplanetary Society.

"I'll do this the traditional way round," he announced. "The bad news is that Genie's just lost one of his best Guidance controllers for Pioneer 2. The good news is that she's gonna be right up there, running the guidance systems in person. Congratulations, Neling!"

Geneney glanced at Bob. A flicker of disappointment crossed the other kerbal's features, as he watched Jeb dip his hand into the drift of paper slips at the bottom of his wastepaper basket and drew out two neatly folded squares.

"The first crewmember for Pioneer 3 is...Seanan. And for Pioneer 4, I give you...Malmy."

Seanan blinked shyly at the rest of the capsule and life support team. "Guess somebody else is going to be doing the evaporator redesign," he murmured.

“Good timing there, Malm!" Ornie called out. “We've got your descent engine all shined up for you!"

Jeb grinned. “We're gonna need more of those lawn sprinklers." he said cheerfully. “Gene and I have been talking with Ademone and it seems that Rockomax are in for a couple more flights than we thought!"

Bob sucked his breath in sharply. Geneney crossed his fingers silently behind his back. The babble of excited voices rose to a clamour as Jeb lifted his hands for silence.

“So if you lot'll let me get a word in edgeways, we've got another three kerbonauts to pick!"

The clamour subsided to a buzzing anticipation as Jeb's hand dropped towards the basket.

“The first crewmember for Pioneer 5 is...Lucan! And for Pioneer 6 it's gonna be..."

Jeb unfolded the small square of paper and smiled. Geneney saw his friend relax minutely and uncrossed his fingers.

“Bob."

The warehouse exploded. Bill grabbed the younger kerbal round the waist and hugged him, much to Bob's astonishment and the astonishment of everyone else around them. The jostling, raucous crowd of well-wishers parted to let Geneney, Wernher and Lucan through. Jeb clenched his fist exultantly under the table. Beaming, he lifted the basket high over his head and rattled it for attention.

“And last - but hopefully not for long - the first crewmember for Pioneer 7 is..."

Jeb's eyes narrowed fractionally. What in the..." He glanced up and saw Geneney staring steadily back at him. Oh. He dipped his head respectfully and cleared his throat.

“is Bill! We'll have a bottle of '78 citrus waiting for you when you get back, old friend!"

Jeb gathered up the remaining paper slips and stacked them on the table in front of him. The clamour of enthusiastic voices died away, replaced by a steady ripping of paper as he methodically tore a sheet of paper into twelve pieces.

“Like Gene said right at the start,"he said quietly, “we we need experience for these flights so we're picking commanders from all the kerbonauts who have already flown." Jeb gathered the ragged slips of paper together and laid them down in a second, much smaller stack.

“Twelve slips for twelve pilots," he said. “You all know who you are, we all know who you are and I'm betting that I could walk out of here, speak to any two kerbals on Barkton high street and they would know who you are." Jeb paused. “So none of you have anything to prove. You, more than anyone, know the risks and if you decide that the Mün is a risk too far - well I for one wouldn't blame you."

Jeb pointed at the smaller stack of paper on the table. “So I'm gonna ask you all to get in line and sign one of those. If anyone doesn't want to go, all they need to do is write "no" on their paper. Once we're done, I'm gonna burn all the slips so that nobody - me included - will ever know if you chose not to go or if you were just unlucky."

Jeb dropped his name into the basket and joined the rest of the crowd. Everyone watched solemnly as, one by one, eleven kerbonauts approached the table, wrote something on one of the slips and dropped it into Jeb's basket. Finally, it was Wilford's turn. He thought for a moment, nodded resolutely and wrote a single, short word on his paper.

“Thank you everybody." Jeb shook the basket vigorously, closed his eyes and pulled out the first slip. His eyebrows rose as he read it.

“Don't remember signing my name in block capitals. Whoever wrote this - I appreciate the sentiment but..." Jeb drew another name from the basket and his eyebrows climbed past his hairline.

“Ohhh-kay. Looks like we've got a sudden outbreak of Jebs on our hands. He cleared his throat. “This is...generous of everyone but I'm just gonna keep drawing these till I find a real name."

Wilford glanced surreptitiously at his fellow pilots. Ornie's shoulders were shaking, Ribory had her hand over her mouth and the rest were unsuccessfully to keep a straight face. He raised his hand.

“Uh, boss. I don't think you're going to find anything but Jebs in there."

Ornie's guffaw startled a pair of roosting swifts from the upper reaches of the warehouse roof. He cuffed Richlin on the shoulder. “You too?"

Richlin's face cracked into a broad grin. “Yup. You, me and everyone else by the looks of it!"

Stubbornly, amidst mounting laughter, Jeb pulled one slip of paper after another out of the basket. For a long minute he stared at twelve copies of his name in twelve different scripts, before lifting his head to face the eleven kerbonauts.

“I don't get it."

Wernher sighed. “For a smart kerbal you can be amazingly dense at times, Jeb," he said. He gave the kerbonauts a lopsided grin. “OK folks - if you think we're building three Mün rockets for this dunce to fly, I suggest you think again. Which flight did you want to send him on?"

“I can't speak for the rest of 'em," said Ornie, “but Pioneer 4 was the one I had in mind."

Richlin and Wilford nodded vigorously. The other kerbonauts murmured their assent.

Wernher looked slightly taken aback. “Pioneer 4. The first..."

“Landing attempt?" Ornie interrupted. “Yep - sounds about right."He turned to face a flabbergasted Jeb. “Close your mouth, son, or you'll be catchin' flies as my mother used to say. You see boss, everyone builds 'em and everyone flies 'em is a fine system - couldn't ask for a better one if y'askin me - but there's one thing you're forgetting. Someone had to start building them before anyone could fly 'em."

Ornie looked Jeb squarely in the eye."I'm remembering me and Richlin sharing a beer with six crazy characters who'd just finished sinking most everything they had in the world into their first halfway proper rocket." Ornie jabbed a thumb over his shoulder at Bill, Bob and Lucan. “And I'm mighty glad to see them finally getting their chance to fly a real one! But even back then one especially crazy character was jabbering on about landing on the Mün - seems only right that he should get the first chance to do just that."

Jeb's jaw hung open. “I...I don't know what to say," he mumbled hoarsely.

“And that's another first right there," added Geneney, rolling his eyes. "More likely you're just gonna be flying another lander around Kerbin for a week, Jeb. If you ask really, really nicely, I might trust you to dock it too."

Jeb summoned up a feeble grin. "Suits me, Gene." The grin faded, replaced by a familiar determined expression. "But if I do get the chance, I won't let you down. Anyway - enough of me - we've got another two commanders to pick!"

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

The lingering smell of charred paper followed the rest of the Kerbin Interplanetary Society out of the warehouse door. Jeb stared at the guttering flames in the bottom of his wastepaper basket, rolling a tiny, tightly wound tube of paper between his fingers. Good decision, Gene - nobody's gonna be concentrating on precision work after all that. Afternoon on the beach is the best plan. He sighed, unrolled the tube and read it again:

Bob > Lucan > Bill > Geneney

Calzer and Neling, Ribory and Bob. Couldn't ask for better Munar crews if we'd picked them by hand, old friend. Not to mention Malmy. But if we do find a way to launch another set of Pioneers, you'll get to fly one of them - I promise you that. Jeb touched the curl of paper to the fire and watched silently as it burned.

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

"Well they did say we couldn't miss it," Tommal commented.

Sherfel watched the oversized signboard roll past. "No," she agreed. "Big enough to make the marketing team blush. Except maybe for Hadcott - I don't think that kerbal has any shame. Relax, Tom - this road looks too new to have any lumps or bumps in it."

Tommal's eyes flicked back and forth to the road surface. “Probably," he agreed, "but after driving all this way I'd be grumpy if we broke anything with only three kilometres to go."

“With the amount of padding James wrapped them in?" said Sherfel. “We could have dropped them in by parachute and they'd have been fine."

Tommal shrugged. “Even so. Hey - that's more like it!" He pointed through the windscreen. “Will you look at the size of that thing!"

Sherfel stared at the giant radio telescope on the hillside, before lowering her gaze to the main administration building surrounded by its carefully maintained grounds and clusters of outbuildings. Antennas twinkled in the sunlight and as they drove closer she could make out dozens of kerbals bustling from building to building. They pulled up at a set of bollards that blocked their way and Tommal wound down the window to confer with a serious looking kerbal in a gleaming white booth. The smell of fresh paint drifted through the open window.

“Good afternoon. Tommal Kerman from the Rockomax Corporation - we were told you'd be expecting us?"

The security guard consulted a clipboard.“Special delivery for Probodyne?"

Tommal nodded. “That's right."

“Carry on past the main car park, sir. Probodyne is the second unit on the left - you won't miss it."The guard thumbed a button on the booth wall and the bollards sank smoothly into the road.

“Thank you." Tommal wound up his window and cautiously drove forward over their steel rimmed sockets.

I think we could have found our way here without any help Sherfel thought to herself. The Probodyne buildings had quite obviously been built to the same design as the other outbuildings - and it was equally obvious that Probodyne had outgrown them some time ago. A row of large temporary cabins surrounded the largest building on two sides, each with a bundle of cables snaking out of one wall. The cables plugged into yellow and black striped .junction boxes, ruler-straight lines of earth marking the buried cables that linked them to the central building.

A huge steel scaffold stood between two of the smaller buildings. Fully ten metres high and twice as long, it towered over a surreal concrete sculpture of plateaus, steps and angled ramps. Spindly frameworks of different designs, adorned with varying numbers of articulated legs, hung underneath.

Tommal's eyes lit up. "There it is! Or the engineering model anyway."

A giant four-legged metal beetle squatted on a bed of sand and gravel in front of the scaffold. Antennas and clusters of sensors protruded from its matt grey carapace and a long jointed proboscis sniffed at the ground in front of it. The yellow-hatted kerbal standing next to it hurried over to greet them.

"Hi - I'm Sidbo! You must be from Rockomax? Come on in and meet the team!"

Tommal and Sherfel followed the enthusiastically chattering Sidbo towards the main building.

"We thought we'd be trying the Hope probes out at Duna first but the transfer windows didn't work so we built them for a Laythe mission instead. Nothing like aiming high, right? The flight profile isn't what we'd hoped for either - not enough delta-V for the perturbation at Jool and orbital insertion at Laythe - not with an off-the-shelf launcher. Which is why we needed you to make a thicker heatshield for the aeroshell because this baby will be coming in hot! Shame about the orbiter but we should still get some good data on the fly-by. Anyway, here we are."

Two kerbals were waiting for them in the foyer. Cartoon bedecked partition walls divided the sides of the room into open cubicles stuffed with computer screens, electronic test stands and other equipment that Sherfel couldn't begin to recognise. The central space was strewn with sack chairs and low tables, each overflowing with catalogues, scientific journals and other technical publications. Framed papers from various journals decorated the far wall, including a poster sized article from Astronomical Proceedings. Sherfel's eyebrows rose as she read the title:

"Composition and dynamics of the Minmusian atmosphere?"

"Preliminary dynamics naturally," said the taller of the two kerbals, "although from the spectroscopy data, I’d venture to suggest that the composition is a settled question." He rubbed his hands together, "We're rather hoping to write a follow up on the Laythian atmosphere in a year or so, if all my clever colleagues manage to butter up their computers the right way! I'm Dunney by the way and this is Jernie."

Sherfel smiled. "I know, Professor. It's a privilege to meet you."

Dunney waved his hand. "Did you all hear that? A privilege no less and this from a Mün voyaging kerbonaut! Our good friends at Rockomax must be going up in the world if they can afford to employ couriers such as these."

Sherfel laughed. "We were heading to Barkton in any case, Professor - it was the least we could do."

"That's Dunney if you please - and they're surely not sending you to the Mün again?"

“No, it's Tom's turn this time," Sherfel answered, gesturing at her colleague. “I'm just sneaking in a visit to a couple of friends before helping out with the simulations."

"Pioneer 2 is only going to Kerbin orbit anyway," said Tommas, "Flight testing the Munar lander, squeezing any problems out of the vehicle assembly sequence, that kind of thing." He turned to a wide eyed Sidbo and smiled. =“We're not the ones going to Jool and Duna."

"An excellent point, " said Dunney. "Why don't we go and unload the heat shields that our distinguished guests have so kindly brought us and then we can do the guided tour if they have time."

"We can make time," said Tommas, "I don't know about Sherfel but I'm itching to get a closer look at that Laythe lander you've got outside!"

---------

"Geneney! Jeb!"

Jeb spun on his heel to see a pair of smartly dressed kerbals crossing the road behind him. He frowned. "Nelton? Ademone? What on Kerbin are you doing here?"

Ademone raised her eyebrows. "It's good to see you too, Jeb. Hello, Geneney - has the good Director summoned you too?"

"Summoned is a good word for it," said Geneney equably. "I don't suppose you have any idea what this is all about?"

Ademone shook her head. "No. Although it's obviously more significant than we thought if yourself and Jebediah are here as well."

Nelton's scowl matched Jeb's. "It had better be," she said. "There are many, many things I could usefully be doing right now and almost none of them involve sitting in a meeting room."

Geneney held the door open for everyone. "It would have been nice to say hello to Sherf and Tommal before we left, " he agreed. "Do you think they've invited anybody else?"

"Just the four of you, Geneney." Lodan stepped forward, hand extended in greeting. "If you could come this way please - we have a lot to discuss and I don't intend to take up more of your valuable time than I can help."

Geneney looked around approvingly at the plainly painted corridor and minimalist, institutional green carpet tiles. Briskly, Lodan led them up an echoing, white stairwell, along another, equally austere, section of corridor and stopped outside his office door. Geneney squinted at the small, brass nameplate fixed to one corner, catching a glimpse of neat black lettering before being ushered inside.

The welcoming aromas of fresh coffee and hot snacks greeted them. Geneney sniffed appreciatively. "Doreni Blue, Director?"

Lodan looked at him in surprise. "Indeed. I have lemon, anise or bru..." He saw the hastily masked expression on Geneney's face. "Ahh. Black, I presume?"

Geneney nodded and poured himself a cup. "Mountain spring water shouldn't need lemon to make it drinkable," he said, "and I wouldn't dare sully your Doreni porcelain anyway." He closed his eyes and raised the cup to his mouth, inhaling the bitter, slightly spicy steam before taking a tiny sip and blissfully rolling the hot black liquid around his mouth. His eyes snapped open to find Jeb, Nelton and Ademone staring at him dumbfounded.

“Superb. If you go anywhere near this with the anise, Jeb, you're walking home. It'd be like drinking one of Jorfurt's brews with ice." Geneney looked at Lodan, who was looking slightly taken aback. “How on Kerbin did you move the cups without disturbing the glaze?"

Lodan smiled faintly. “Boiled raf husk," he said, “The only thing I could find that was soft, odourless and resilient enough. Even then, I didnÃ't risk transporting them until the road was finished - but perhaps we should discuss this later." He gestured at the chairs set around the fireplace. “I propose a working lunch. Please help yourselves to refreshment and we'll make a start."

Lodan waited until everybody had filled their plates before tapping the table for attention. “I'll get straight to the point," he said. “Under Special Order 41 of the Council of Twelve Pillars, the Kerbin Space Agency will be tasked with overseeing a far-reaching expansion of all spaceflight activities. Under Special Order 42, the Director of the Kerbin Space Agency has been granted requisition powers on any necessary resources or personnel to enable that expansion."

There was silence as everyone absorbed Lodan's matter-of-fact announcement. Then Ademone saw Jeb's face darken and hastily stepped in. “Two Special Orders together is...unusual," she said carefully. Beside her, Geneney nodded agreement. “In fact," she continued, “I'm not sure if I've ever heard of such a thing before. Would you care to explain, Director?"

Across the table, Nelton winced but Lodan was either oblivious to Ademone's tone of voice or choosing to ignore it. “Certainly. I trust you will all remember the Capital News bulletin the evening before the Pioneer 1 launch?"

Four heads nodded slowly.

“Nothing about that story was remotely new. In fact - for reasons I'll come on to - the link between Kerm and Blight had been known for some time..."

---------

“My understanding is that the Council are still debating the necessity for Part 3 and that a significant minority is still hoping for a result from the Berelgan. But if we are ordered to go ahead, then we'll have whatever resources and funding we need. Which is cold comfort since we will not have anything like the time we need. Nevertheless, as failure will manifestly not be an option either, we will all do what we must." Lodan rolled up his maps and nodded politely at Ademone. =“Does that answer your question?"

Jeb shook his head in disbelief. “Well thank the Kerm for Ambassador Jerfun! Or were the great-and-wise Council actually planning to tell the rest of us mere kerbals about any of this?" He glanced at Geneney. “Better check the fine print on this one, Gene, because I'm betting that's gonna stink too."

“The Council," Lodan said evenly, “were planning to do exactly the right thing. Evaluate the evidence, make a plan and implement it. All that... idiot Ambassador has managed to achieve is to stir up a global panic and make everyone's job far harder than it needed to be."

“And what a wonderful idea that turned out to be!" retorted Jeb, “Even if the Council had managed to keep everything quiet until they had a plan - which was never going to happen - did they seriously expect everyone to meekly follow their plan and not to panic?"

Lodan's eyelid twitched. "Of course not," he said, “only the rational majority. And better that than an irrational, uninformed majority clamouring for answers that nobody could give!"

“And still can't!" said Jeb, “I don't suppose it occurred to anyone to ask the 'uninformed majority' or their ideas?" He snorted. “Of course not. So all that patronising prevarication has got us exactly nowhere."

"With respect," said Lodan tightly, “the Council has sought opinion from all over Kerbin. The foremost experts on Kerm..." The expression on Jeb's face brought him up short.

“Experts," said Jeb sardonically, “don't cope well with challenges to their expertise." He leaned forward. “The Institute was so stuffed full of experts that it could barely move. Exactly one of them had the vision to see past the inside of his own head - and he's just flown back from the Mün in a spacecraft that he designed and built himself!" Jeb jabbed a finger at Lodan. “Go ask the "experts"about your precious Part 3 - I guarantee that none of them will give you answer worth half a..."

“Which is why there's a conspicuous lack of Institute staff here today," snapped Lodan. “In case you hadn't noticed!" He leaned forward and knocked JebÃ's finger to one side. “So why don't you sit down, shut up and saw that chip off your shoulder before it tips you over!"

“So what do you think, Ademone?" asked Geneney quietly.

Ademone shrugged. “Part 1 is a stop-gap and Part 3 is desperation. I think we'd better hope for some answers from the Berelgan."

Geneney nodded. “Likewise. But if they don't - or can't - find them?"

“Then Part 3 will be the least worst option," said Ademone heavily. “Although I'm not convinced that the Council knows quite what it's asking for."

Jeb and Lodan scowled at each other before pointedly sitting back in their seats and turning to face the others. Geneney reached for a djan and crunched it thoughtfully.

“What about those requisition powers?" he said at last "Will your Board go for that?"

“A Special Order wouldn't give them much choice," Ademone pointed out, “But they would certainly question the need for such a drastic measure when a perfectly ordinary subcontract might have the same effect." She looked at Lodan. “Is there any particular reason why the KSA feels the need to have quite that level of oversight?"

Lodan gripped the edge of the table. “Because," he said, “Part 3 is too big for the KSA to risk having its subcontractors indulge in such pointlessly dangerous stunts as sending prototype crewed spacecraft around the Mün. I had hoped that Rockomax could temper that kind of foolishness from the KIS but apparently not." Lodan glared at Ademone. “For Kerm's sake - what were you thinking?! Strand those kerbonauts around the Mün and all the public enthusiasm for your space program would have vanished like Spierkan mist."

Geneney shot Jeb a warning look. "We didn't though, did we. Strand them I mean. And thanks to KBS News, our public support is running at an all time high." He spread his hands. "It was a calculated risk, Director but one that all three kerbonauts and both mission control teams were willing to take.

"Small risks too, compared to anything we'll need to take for Part 3," said Nelton soberly. "Real-time flight control teams will work for Munar missions and Minmus missions but for anything further afield, the crew will effectively be on their own for most of the flight."

Lodan absorbed her words unblinkingly.

"For now," added Geneney, "we have a sequence of test flights planned intended to minimise the risks of the eventual Munar landing." He ticked off the flights on his fingers. "Pioneer 2 - Kerbin orbit test of the complete Pioneer spacecraft, lander included. Pioneer 3 - full flight test up to Munar descent orbit including emergency abort options. If - and only if - we complete our test objectives for both flights, then we make the first landing attempt with Pioneer 4."

"And which lucky kerbonaut gets to fly that," muttered Lodan.

"Jondun, Malmy and Jeb," answered Geneney. He held up a finger. "And before we go any further, Director, you should know that the eleven other candidates for the commander's seat all independently voted to give the flight to Jeb. You might want to think about that for a moment."

"Jondun is one of our most experienced test pilots, " said Ademone quietly, "and my Head of Propulsion has been very impressed with Malmy throughout the lander development program."

"We know the risks, Director," said Geneney, "so let us take them for you. If our Munar program is successful then you can present Part 3 as not only feasible but inevitable. And if we fail then the KSA stays clear of any public backlash. Frankly, Director, the very last thing I would do right now is exercise Special Order 42."

Lodan looked at him thoughtfully. "I'm waiting for the other Mün boot to drop, Geneney. What does the KIS expect to get in return?"

"Independence," said Geneney frankly. "All or nothing, Director. If the KSA is going to requisition us, it requisitions us the way we are."

"And keeps the meddling government out of Jebediah's hair," said Lodan dryly. "Even if they are bankrolling his dreams."

"Exactly," said Geneney unperturbed, "We get to dream and the KSA gets half of their crewed spaceflight division at a stroke. If I could make a bold suggestion, Director, I would also venture that Rockomax's crewed program, would make an eminently sensible and highly complementary second half, under a similar arrangement." He smiled. "Much as it would pain Wernher to admit it, Rockomax are the premier space engineering company on Kerbin at this time, particularly for heavy lift. They have the experience, the facilities and the organisational structures already in place..."

"So why fix what isn't broken," interrupted Jeb.

Lodan favoured him with a wintry smile. "Indeed. In which case, why do I also need the KIS?"

"Because we're not broken either," said Geneney, "And we work well with Rockomax. On our own we managed to compete with them - we launched a satellite and Rockomax launched a bigger one. We launched a kerbal into space, Rockomax launched two at once. Rockomax sent a probe to the Mün but we put one into Munar orbit. And so on." Geneney paused. “But working together we sent kerbals to the Mün."

"And much as it pains me to admit it," said Ademone, "I think the KSA would be... ill advised to break up a media friendly team of volunteers with such an obvious track record. Even if they also managed to turn one of our best kerbonauts into a drilling fool."

Nelton grinned at Geneney and Jeb's suddenly bewildered expressions. "The heat shields for Hope 1 and Hope 2," she told Lodan. "For various reasons the fabrication team was short staffed, so James volunteered to help. Made a fine job of them too but got a reputation for being happiest when he was drilling out defective cells."

Geneney laughed. "I'll be sure to let Ribory know," he said, "She'll be delighted to hear it." He turned to a stony-faced Lodan. “We all build them - we all fly them. It's our motto, Director and it's also the literal truth. When Sherfel and James were training for the Pioneer 1 flight, they had the good grace to go along with it. Sherfel ended up coordinating our multi-site training simulations, James ended up building sizeable pieces of the heat shields for Pioneer 2."

Geneney sipped his coffee. “Every single one of our kerbonauts - and every single member of their flight control teams, myself and Jeb included - had a part to play in building and designing their spacecraft. More importantly, they had a part to play in building their colleagues' and more often than not, their friends' spacecraft. It's taken us years to build that kind of teamwork and team spirit, Director and I hope you'll agree that both would be significant assets to a space agency tasked with meeting a very large challenge in a very short time."

In reply, Lodan walked over to his desk and picked up the phone. "Tomass, could you hold my calls please. Yes, for the rest of the afternoon. Please convey my apologies to Dunney and ask him if he would be so kind as to reschedule to tomorrow morning. Thank you."

He poured himself another coffee and sat down at the table. “Very well. My phone is at your disposal, good kerbals. Please make any calls you need to, take a break if you require one and then make yourselves comfortable. I think it's time to talk details."

Edited by KSK

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I'm guessing part 3 is duna exploration/relocation of Kerm seeds

In the semi-official sequel-by-a-different-author The Next Frontier, someone mentioned that the crisis had been resolved by the discovery that sentient Kerms could accept much smaller separations than sub-sentient ones, allowing them to plant enough new trees on Kerbin to handle this seeding; this was discovered before after the crisis had fast-tracked Duna and Lathe colonization programs, but before they actually tried to do mass migrations of Kerm seeds. D'know if that's how it's actually going to go down, though.

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Thanks for the shout-out, Mac!

(Yes, I still check the KSP forums. I'm not very active at the moment because I don't have a PC that can actually run KSP right now.)

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@KSK: You might want to think about going back over your earlier chapters and touching up the editing; I'm in the middle of a reread now, and I'm noticing a lot of issues in the early stuff that you've fixed in the more recent work: questions without question marks, missing or misplaced commas, and, most irritatingly, multiple characters speaking in the same paragraph.

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@KSK: You might want to think about going back over your earlier chapters and touching up the editing; I'm in the middle of a reread now, and I'm noticing a lot of issues in the early stuff that you've fixed in the more recent work: questions without question marks, missing or misplaced commas, and, most irritatingly, multiple characters speaking in the same paragraph.

I know. Not to mention general style issues. Plus - and this seems like as good a time as any to fess up - a fairly large plot inconsistency in "The Seed" when it comes to planting Gerselle's Grove. I think it'll be quite an easy fix but in the meantime, yes, I do need to do a general re-read and edit on the whole story.

Edit: In the meantime, as and when I get time, I'll run through the early chapters and fix the more egregious punctuation and paragraphing snafus, as well as standardising on italics for characters thoughts. I don't want to start retconning stuff at this stage, so no wholesale editing but improving readability would be good.

Edited by KSK

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@KSK: One thing that's really bugging me as I reread this - where the heck is the money coming from? The Kerbal 1 and 2 and the Kerbin 1 and 2, okay, I can sorta see those being done by a group of enthusiasts using lots of volunteer labour, free parts from the junkyard, and probably a pretty hefty portion of Jeb's personal income. But the later stuff? The Mohos? Just building the command bunker would be, conservatively, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sure, lots of volunteers to keep costs down, and probably some public donations - but it's really straining suspension of disbelief that they could keep going like that without some sort of public support.

Rokomax, on the other hand, could do what they were doing, if you make some hefty assumptions about how large a corporation they are. But the references to a board implies it is a publicly traded company; by definition and law, they have to act in the best interests of their stockholder's money. The first few launches, for publicity, would be reasonable, but they keep pouring money into it with nil prospect of a return on investment. Sure, they might be planning to sell satellite launch services in the future, once the space economy kicks in - but you don't show anything suggesting they are thinking about that. And even if they were, they've gone pretty deep in the hole for a very long-term and uncertain return.

Basically, both parties are acting more like public projects, which have budgets, rather than private concerns, which need income. Which makes for a lovely space race narrative, but not for a lot of sense.

Now, for Rokomax, this is easy enough to solve. After the second or third successful launch, have corporations start approaching them about satellite launch contracts. They don't actually have to launch any payed contracts at this point; the contractees need time to develop the satellites they want launched anyway. Rokomax just needs a clear revenue stream to justify continuing investment.

KIS is harder. They do not - cannot - have the money reserves to pay for what they are doing out-of-pocket, no matter how much they might be willing to do so without care for whether they will ever earn it back. They need funding - a wealthy backer in the vein of Larry Page or Elon Musk, lots of scientific grants, a huge public donation campaign, or simply public funds. Of those, public funds or a wealthy backer are the most plausible, but they would also warp the story around them.

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Mainly because I see the kerbals as not being terribly acquisitive and their global economy as being fairly socialist.

Kerm controlled agriculture is tremendously efficient and almost entirely green. I expect night soil is used as fertiliser but otherwise there's no real need for pesticides, herbicides or artificial fertilisers. So quantity of food is not a problem and much of the environmental degradation associated with intensive agriculture is avoided too, so clean water isn't so much of an issue either. I've also tried to paint the kerbals as being pretty environmentally aware (again because of their history with the Kerm), so kerbal overpopulation is at least implied to be a non-issue.

Social mobility between kerman and kermol is high, not least because all kerbals necessarily go kermol for a short time if they wish to reproduce and (as touched on in 'Echoes of Time') relationships between the two castes are cordial, which makes food distribution quite fair and efficient. So any individual kerbal will normally have easy access to the basics of civilised life - food, water, shelter, the company of other kerbals - and any kerman who's seriously down on his or her luck can go kermol without fear of stigma.

So Kerbin is a nice place to live but it's also far from perfect. The various Regionalities are at peace but operate on a 'trust but cut the cards' level. I recall mentioning in one chapter that the Doreni in particular had something of a political reputation. The kerbal government (as mentioned on a number of occasions) is seen as slow and bureaucratic, which leads to frustrations and ill-advised courses of action arising from those frustrations.

Anything other than the basics needs to be paid for of course and so the kerbals do have companies, corporations and a market economy. However the social safety net provided by the Kerm tends to moderate the gross excesses of a market economy. At the end of the day, kerbals choose to work to buy nice things - they don't have to work to put bread on the table.

So they have a lot more free time to volunteer for 'rule of cool' projects such as a junkyard space program. :)

It also means that any kerbal captains of industry who consistently pay themselves a large and undeserved bonus are likely to come in the next morning and find that half of their workforce have gone kermol overnight. As a result, the kerbal economy includes a much higher percentage of non-profits and partnerships than the human economy - if a company is paying it's bills and paying its employees it's seen as doing well. If it's making a modest profit on top of that, it's doing very well. And remember that good pay for a kerbal can be relatively low since it doesn't have to be a living wage.

Net result, wage costs on Kerbin are a lot lower and so the cost of doing business on Kerbin is also lot lower. Combine that with modest profit expectations (and relatively restrained shareholder expectations (if such exist) ) and kerbal companies can be much more a vehicle for organising large numbers of kerbals to do something amazing rather than a vehicle for making vast amounts of money.

Even so, the KIS and Rockomax will need funding as you point out.

Rockomax funding largely comes from their satellite business, where they have government and corporate customers. I tried to imply this with references to new communication satellites and during the CORDS negotiations, Ademone revealed that they'd received a government contract to launch a Melvey Belt mapping probe.

KIS funding is more precarious and comes from a grab bag of sponsorship deals, Space Centre rents (it makes for an extremely prestigious conference centre, especially if the KIS can provide a couple of tame kerbonauts for your event), entry fees on launch days, commercial rents on launch days, sundry other enterprises such as their spaceflight museum, and private donations. They do also enjoy a high level of public support (which helps to generate those private donations), the kerbals in general have sustained a much higher interest in their space program than humans managed to - witness the kermol village gathering around its TV set to see the first images of the Mun, and all the KIS pennants etc. on display when James and Sherfel came to Barkton.

TL: DR - My version of Kerbin is probably more idealistic than realistic but I have tried to avoid making them too Space Elvish.

Edited by KSK

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He actually thought this through. Who would have guessed?! :wink:

PS: I want to apply for kitizenship ...

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That covers Rokomax well enough - though, if you're doing any serious work on the earlier chapters, I think you should definately try to work in at least a couple references, in the Rokomax sections, to them being concerned about the commercial aspects of the venture. Maybe just Ademone mentioning they signed a satellite contract, and one of her people says they don't have the capacity to do a commercial launch yet, and she replies that's okay because the payload isn't ready either; just the fact that the contracts are coming in means the board will continue to fund the exploratory and research programs. The parts between the start of Project Moho and the first meeting with the KSA (where they first propose CORDS) are the problem area.

For KIS, I'm afraid it still doesn't jive. Even with 100% volunteer labour, there's still materials, equipment, and manufactured items to consider, and a low-intensity economy like you described can only do so much; such an economy would have less demand for such things, but would also produce less of them as a result.

At the very least, a few more references to the fact that they do have income sources would be good; them having to clear out of the VAB at some point because it's been rented out to someone, or someone commenting on what the new, larger grandstands mean in terms of increased ticket sales. Another thing that would make sense and would help keep things plausible if you mentioned it: an economy like that would lend itself easily to business dealing being affected by influence and emotion, i.e. you give better prices to people you like or because you're in a good mood; why not? You can afford it. So a world-famous media darling like the KIS might well find the prices people ask of them dropping a lot, simply because people like them and want to help them, and are willing to indulge such whims over hard-headed business practicality. "Right, six pallets of self-sealing stem bolts. They'll be ready next Friday. Delivery where? Wait, that Jebediah's Junkyard? Right, I'll put a rush on it, and we'll have it to you day after tomorrow. No, no, no extra charge - I wouldn't want to be the one to delay your next launch, is all! Say, if we're headed all the way out there, we might as well fill up the truck; anything else you wanted to add to the order, which we'll waive the delivery fee on?"

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