KSK

First Flight (Chapter 99 - The Needs of the Many)

Recommended Posts

Perfect timing, I just caught up reading after a >year break, I log in to comment, and observe a new chapter has been added while I had dinner :D

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
15 hours ago, KSK said:

Joenie peered into the eyepieces, forehead furrowed in concentration as she turned the focus knob. “There they are! Ewww, that one’s ugly. And that one’s only got a tail. Why is it still wriggling if it’s only got a tail?”

Aaaaand here we see the birth of a scientist. :D

 

15 hours ago, KSK said:

One of the entertainments provided for all the kerblets that came to watch, was an, umm, bouncy castle and the more I thought about, the more that castle seemed to have the, um, properties we needed.

Now if they’d just put it on the other end of the booster, like a certain up-and-coming Bond villain, they could recover it and save even more launches. :sticktongue:

 

Another great read and a wonderful cap to the weekend, too. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Aaaaand here we see the birth of a scientist.

But she is going to be a Keeper.  So maybe the birth of a new class of Scientist-Keeper.  Someone who uses Kerman technology to help live a Kermol lifestyle. 

(Or you could argue that she is the second Scientist-Keeper, since Jonton was arguable conducting an experiment when he planted an extra Kerm cutting).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Aaaaand here we see the birth of a scientist. :D

Now if they’d just put it on the other end of the booster, like a certain up-and-coming Bond villain, they could recover it and save even more launches. :sticktongue:

Another great read and a wonderful cap to the weekend, too. 

:)  Glad it worked. 

And yes - the birth of a scientist indeed! As the saying goes: if it's green and wiggly its Biology. If it smells bad and explodes, it's Chemistry. If it doesn't work, it's Physics.

I cannot tell a lie - the notion of inflatable Starseed components has been in the back of my head for a while (for pretty much the reasons discussed in-universe in the last chapter) - but the bouncy castle analogy does owe more than a little to a certain alleged (and not-at-all-boring) Bond villain.

3 hours ago, AVaughan said:

But she is going to be a Keeper.  So maybe the birth of a new class of Scientist-Keeper.  Someone who uses Kerman technology to help live a Kermol lifestyle. 

Hang on to that thought...

;)

19 hours ago, OrtwinS said:

Perfect timing, I just caught up reading after a >year break, I log in to comment, and observe a new chapter has been added while I had dinner :D

And it's great to have you back!  Hope you enjoyed the catch-up.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This whole thing has to be put in a bound copy and sold on Amazon when finished.  Just to make it complete.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, Bottle Rocketeer 500 said:

cacti

According to Mirriam-Webster, cactuses, cacti or just cactus (one sheep, many sheep; one cactus, many cactus) are acceptable plurals. In-universe, it would more likely be cactusa, or possibly cacta, if somebody was showing off by using the Old Kerba plural form.

Given that Joenie is still quite young and therefore likely to use the same plural that she's been taught for most other nouns, I'm going with cactuses. :) 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Cactae-_-

Nasty....whaguggle... cough you've got there.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Aaaand done reading (only took me about 3 weeks) . Very enjoyable. Wonder if the two sorta separate kerman/kermol plot lines will become one. 

I also now realize I have to find something else to read.... 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, qzgy said:

Aaaand done reading (only took me about 3 weeks) . Very enjoyable. Wonder if the two sorta separate kerman/kermol plot lines will become one. 

I also now realize I have to find something else to read.... 

Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for the ‘likes’ along the way! Seeing a new reader picking up First Flight and sticking with it is always a treat.

If you’re looking for another Kerbal story to read and haven’t already read it, I can highly recommend @JakeGrey‘s sequel to First Flight, The Next Frontier. I can’t link to it directly as it’s not forum friendly (for reasons of language and general themes rather than anything terribly explicit) but it’s not hard to find.

Outside of that, if you haven’t read @CatastrophicFailure‘s collected works then do it. Do it now. :) And after that (if you’re still scratching that Kerbal fanfic itch) then you might want to take a peek at the stickied Fanworks Library thread. It’s gathering dust of late but the links should still all work.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, KSK said:

Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for the ‘likes’ along the way! Seeing a new reader picking up First Flight and sticking with it is always a treat.

If you’re looking for another Kerbal story to read and haven’t already read it, I can highly recommend @JakeGrey‘s sequel to First Flight, The Next Frontier. I can’t link to it directly as it’s not forum friendly (for reasons of language and general themes rather than anything terribly explicit) but it’s not hard to find.

Outside of that, if you haven’t read @CatastrophicFailure‘s collected works then do it. Do it now. :) And after that (if you’re still scratching that Kerbal fanfic itch) then you might want to take a peek at the stickied Fanworks Library thread. It’s gathering dust of late but the links should still all work.

I'll have to take a look the Jake Grey's. Saw it mentioned in the thread a couple times but haven't checked it out yet. I think I'll go do that when I find a bit of time. 

Already been through all of @CatastrophicFailure's stuff as I think he can attest.... (unless he added moar? That would be nice to find.... ). 

I'll take a look too though at the library. Thanks for the suggestions! 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, qzgy said:

Already been through all of @CatastrophicFailure's stuff as I think he can attest.... (unless he added moar? That would be nice to find.... ). 

I think you’ve seen all that’s worth seeing, except maybe Ussari Space Program. :D

We now return you to your irregularly scheduled First Flight, already in progress...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
55 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

I think you’ve seen all that’s worth seeing, except maybe Ussari Space Program. :D

We now return you to your irregularly scheduled First Flight, already in progress...

Hmm. I was on that too for a while. Time for a re-read!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Laying the Keel

Bill pulled into the sole reserved parking bay in front of the White Cross Company head office and switched off the motor. Lodan retrieved his briefcase from the passenger footwell and climbed out of the car, closing the door behind him. He looked around the modestly sized parking lot, taking in the handful of cars scattered amongst the double row of tik-tiks and sighing inwardly at the collection of kerbonaut plushies perched on handlebars or dangling from rear view mirrors.

Bill locked his car with the click of a button on his key fob and glanced across the road. Lodan followed his gaze, his eyes narrowing as he took in the larger, and conspicuously empty, parking lot. “It’s unusually quiet for the time of day.” 

Bill’s voice was level, only the sudden tightness along his jaw giving him away. “We’re still on double shifts, Director. It’s going to be a quiet meeting too, I’m afraid.”

Lodan frowned. “More requisitioning?”

“Yes. It seems we’ve finally drawn the attention of somebody in the border security forces. Camrie managed to cover for last week’s…diversions of our regular deliveries but this week has only been worse. We’ve been running supplies to emergency barracks and field hospitals. Military only naturally -  we must prioritise after all.” The veiled anger in Bill’s tone told Lodan all he needed to know.

“The relief efforts?”

“Not a bean nor a rotten cabbage, Director.” Bill’s voice shook. “Our quality control network is quite definite about that. Nothing for the refugee centres - not a single truck.” He banged the office door open, gesturing curtly for Lodan to lead the way.

Keeping his features composed with an effort, Lodan crossed the deserted reception area and walked through into the office proper before waiting for Bill to join him. “Perhaps we should do something about that,” he offered quietly. Bill shook his head.

“Not if we want to see any hardware in orbit this side of the next Minmus eclipse, Director. That’s the worst part.”

“Yes, it would be.” Lodan sighed. “I presume we’re meeting in the end room?”

“We are.” Bill stalked past the double row of empty office cubicles and busied himself with the coffee pot standing on its table in one corner of the communal area. Lodan followed him at a discreet distance and took his place at the meeting table. He studied the trophy wall, eyes sliding over the elaborately detailed cardboard cutout depicting the Starseed bridge module and focusing on the neighbouring hub module framework and its attendant cloud of other cardboard components.

A drawn-out, throat-clearing noise broke his reverie. Bill brought the steaming pot over to the table and poured Lodan a cup, just as Camrie entered the room and sat down with a thump. “Good afternoon, Director. Sorry I’m late.” She poured herself a coffee and took a long drink. “We’re short handed today - Jeb and Gene send their apologies - the Kerbodyne negotiations took longer than they hoped for and they’re still on the road. Bob and Ribory are out at Foxham but Seelan agreed to stand in for them.” 

“Figured my boys could fill up a swimming pool without me watching over them.” A dour-faced Seelan sat down opposite Bill.

“I’m sure we can manage,” Lodan said calmly. “I’ll brief Geneney myself and he can update Jeb.” He gestured at the trophy wall and out of the corner of his eye saw Bill add a third sugar to his coffee. “As for Ribory and Bob, their immediate tasks are clear.” He bent down and snapped open his briefcase, taking out a legal pad and a pen. “Let’s get started. Bill?”

Bill bowed his head then straightened up. “The first bridge module passed all its flight-qualification tests and final checkout and preparations for launch are almost complete. If all goes to schedule, the module will be mated to the booster by the end of this week, with the first launch attempt set for the following week. The hub module redesign has been approved and now includes separate mounting points for the inflatables and their supporting trusses. However, diverting resources to the redesign has meant that construction work on the second bridge module is progressing more slowly than anticipated, although Bob’s team and Ribory’s team have both been working around the clock to get things back on track.”

Lodan made a note on his pad. “How far along is the second bridge module?”

“Welding on the main pressure hull and forward gangway is finished,” said Bill. “Work on the primary structures for airlock, docking adaptors, and observation ring is underway.”

Seelan frowned. “All hands to the pump just to get the first couple of prototype modules built? We need to speed this up.”

“We do,” agreed Lodan, “but not by having everyone working around the clock, all the days of the week. As Probodyne found out to their cost, that’s a highly efficient way of guaranteeing an accident.” He glanced across the table. “As I’m sure Bill will recall.”

Camrie rubbed her eyes. “Having Kerbodyne on board should help a lot. Steadler are still being cagey but Gene thinks they’re coming round and Jeb’s asked Shervin to have a quiet word with their CEO.” She saw Lodan’s raised eyebrow. “He and Gene persuaded Shervin and Halnie to visit Guardian Elton.”

“Ahh.” Lodan made another note. “I imagine we can count on Stratus’s continued support then. And I concur - any assistance that Kerbodyne can lend will be most helpful, not to mention Steadler. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I would speak to them myself but Keller can be stubborn under pressure. Under the circumstances, I think Shervin’s efforts will be more persuasive." Lodan put his pen down. "In the meantime, what does the White Cross Company need from me?"

"Better communications," Camrie replied instantly. She pointed at a map of Kolus on the wall which was decorated with sunburst arrangements of pins and thread, the centre pin of each sunburst connected to Barkton by thread of a different colour. "Setting up local head offices helped to smooth out and coordinate our efforts across Kolus but now that we're expanding into Wakira and starting to think about expanding into Veiid..." Camrie held up her hands. "I'm used to working on a shoestring, Director. Kerm only knows that I've been with the KIS for long enough. But lending aid to a trans-Regionality network of supply chains is stretching that shoestring dangerously close to snapping. If we could just..." To her surprise, she saw a faint smile cross Lodan's lips.

"Access the KSA Spacecraft Tracking Network? I think that is an eminently sensible suggestion." Camrie opened her mouth, then closed it as Lodan continued. "We have limited assets in Veiid, as I think you know, but excellent links to Wakira due, in no small part, to both the KSA and Rockomax starting their own tracking networks there." A thoughtful look crossed his face, before he shook his head. "Additional kerbosynchronous satellites over Veiid would be helpful but I can’t see an immediately obvious way of commissioning them without drawing undue attention from the Finance Committee.” Lodan regarded Camrie over the rim of his mug. “I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime, I believe that discreet use of the repairs and maintenance budget should be sufficient to cover any minor updates required for you to access the existing network.”

Camrie put her mug down. “I’ll need a map of all the Wakiran ground station sites. Bill?” 

Across the table, Bill nodded, as Camrie began to tick off points on her fingers. “I’ll have a word with Sigbin and ask her to get in touch with our Wakiran office. I should speak to Doodlie too once we’re up and running - he’s got good friends at the local Groves who might be able to help with food donations.” She looked at Lodan. “Your Gamma tracking site is away from the worst of the fighting but the mountains won’t be any use as a local head office location. Toralba will be close enough though and it was on my list of possible sites anyway. Do you known anyone at Gamma who could find - and run - an office there?”

“Not personally,” said Lodan, “but I shall make enquiries.” He frowned. “Come to think of it, Fercan might know. She’s got good contacts at Beta and Gamma and as our chief telecoms engineer you’ll be liaising with her for your communication requirements in any case.”

“Ribory knows Fercan better than I do,” said Bill, “but we have at least met. I’m happy to be her point of contact at White Cross until the Pool is operational. After that I’m scheduled to be back on full-time flight training with James and Calley.”

Lodan’s gaze flicked over the trophy wall. “That schedule might be somewhat flexible,” he noted, “but for now, I think that sounds like a plan. Camrie?”

“Works for me, Director,” Camrie replied. “Thank you, everyone.”

————————

The ammonia jet blasts down a hundred metre, aluminium pipe. The pipe and it’s surrounding water jacket are sunk into solid rock and designed to cool the ammonia from nearly two and a half thousand degrees, absolute, to a mere eight hundred or so degrees, absolute. At the bottom of the pipe, the jet is split four ways and diverted into a set of industrial-sized vortex separators where any entrained particulates are flung out for collection and analysis. A  set of chilled sand filters removes any residual particles before the, now substantially cooler, gas streams are recombined and drawn through a series of cold traps to condense the ammonia. Any remaining gases are removed for analysis and, if necessary, storage. Finally, the recovered liquid is distilled - the baking desert air is especially helpful for this - to save as much as possible for the next test, leaving nothing but a mildly radioactive ammonia brine behind.

————————

“The erosion rates are holding steady and the particle sizes are still consistent with ablation-deposition rather than spallation.”

Wernher peered over Hading’s shoulder at the orderly set of graphs taped to his desk. “Looks like the erosion is staying low -  and relatively even too, which is reassuring.”

“No obvious hotspots or mass flow outliers,” agreed Hading. He rolled his eyes at Wernher’s muttered reply. “You grumble about the stand instrumentation after every test, you know?”

“As you never fail to remind me. Calculations and inferences are all very well but I’ll be a lot happier once we get to take that reactor to bits and have a proper look at it. All the same, that carbonitride coating is looking good.”

Hading shrugged. “We’re running with ammonia as a coolant. It was the obvious place to start.”

“Which is another reason why I’ll be happier once we can do a full inspection. If that coating is self-healing then it’s going to give everyone a lot more confidence in the flight articles.” Wernher gestured at the graphs. “Now that we’ve worked out the control drum synching and upped the propellant flow to something acceptable. I think we’ve got something we could use for Starseed if we absolutely had to. It wouldn’t be ideal - the Mark 2 would a lot better - but we’ve got enough data from the month-by-month burn tests to put in front of Gene.”

“We’ve got the restarts down cold,” Hading agreed. “And the temperature cycling results on the spare fuel modules are looking promising enough that you might even persuade me that the data from the ground tests is telling us something about flight conditions.” He leaned back in his chair. “ I really want to put the whole thing in a cryochamber though. Take the engine bell off, build a recirculation and cooling loop for the propellant and just put the reactor through it’s paces in a cold-soak environment.”

“For that,” Wernher said dryly, “we’re going to need a bigger fridge.” He tucked his hands behind his back and stared at the ceiling. “Although if we extend the cooling jacket on the test stand… strip out the spare coolant loop from the air conditioning…” 

“And risk a riot from every other kerbal in the team?” Hading shook his head. “We’re not upgrading the stand with the equipment we’ve got on-site or are likely to get in the near future.”

“No. So we just keep plugging away at the test fires, until the KNSA decides to do something.” Wernher stretched, his back popping loudly in response. “Sorry. It all helps though. We’re validating your new neutron transport codes with every test and the more burns we can get out of this thing, the more round trips we can do with a single ship. Speaking of which - we should join the rest of the team. Don’t want to be late for the launch.”

They emerged from the air-conditioned gloom of the main test bunker into the blast-furnace heat of the morning sun. The KSA radio broadcast had already started and Wernher cocked his head at the sound of Nelton’s voice requesting an update from one of her controllers. “Ahhh - excellent. Just enough time to get a drink before lift-off.” He donned his sunhat and joined the throng of kerbals clustered around an outsized ice bucket. Grabbing a dripping bottle of water Wernher perched on the end of one of the gnarled cactus logs that served them as outdoor benches. He took a long drink before holding the ice-cold bottle against his forehead. Behind him, the steady call-and-response cadence from the Rockomax Space Centre drifted over the desert sands.

——————

Watch now as the Rockomax Type 6 booster, complete with its outsized payload fairing, soars into the afternoon sky. See it arc out over the Northern Ocean, followed avidly by hundreds of watching eyes, until it disappears out of sight. 

Hear the commentary from Mission Control, the controllers doing their best to project an air of detached competence. Just another launch, another day working for the KSA.

Hear the tension beneath their familiar phrases. A momentary stutter here, a report snapped out just a little too promptly there.

Because this is not just another launch. This is a rocket built against all the odds. A rocket built despite war and loved ones lost, despite hunger and rationing, despite supply chains and trade routes almost crippled by fear. 

A rocket for all the people of Kerbin.

Young and old. 

Engineers and agronomists. 

Kerman and kermol. 

The quiet heroes across the world who stood with Lodan Kerman and the Kerbal Space Agency in their hour of greatest need.

No. This is not just another launch.

———————

Appropriately, given her duties, the bow lookout aboard the Shield of Kolus was the first to spot the unusually shaped cloud. For a split second she froze, fearing an airborne attack, but when the oddity showed no sign of movement she lowered her binoculars and signalled the officer of the deck.

“Unidentified aerial object dead ahead, sir. No movement, no aircraft sighted!”

The officer of the watch felt his commander’s eyes on his back as he picked up the phone. “Tactical. We have a UFO dead ahead high. Are you seeing anything? No? Thank you - please send Hankin up to the bridge.” He squinted at the cloud. “Nothing on radar, ma’am. I’m calling this a tentative AP.”

“It certainly looks like a cloud,” the captain agreed. She turned her head as her meteorology officer hurried onto the bridge, boots ringing on the steel flooring. “Ah, Mister Hankin.” She gestured at the sky. “Your analysis please.”

Hankin studied the cloud, eyes narrowed. Then his face cleared. “Dispersing high altitude hypersonic vapor cone, ma’am. KSA launch out of Foxham I expect.” 

The corner of his captain’s eye twitched. “Thank you, Mister Hankin. Radio, please confirm with Fleet Command.”

“By your orders ma’am.”

The officer of the deck’s eyes widened. “How the Kerm did they manage that? And what on Kerbin are they launching? We would have heard about any new assets going up.”

“Indeed. A civilian payload then.” The captain fought to keep her voice level. Hankin frowned. 

“Surely all the civilian launches are on hold? The logistics alone with all the seed inspections going on…” His voice trailed away. “Hold that. Didn't they send up a test flight a few months ago? You don’t think…?”

“I think it takes more than a war to stop our fellow Kolans,” said the captain. The steely pride in her voice carried across the bridge. The radio operator broke the sudden silence.

“Fleet confirms launch out of Foxham. Flight path outside of our theatre of operations so we weren’t advised. Fleet are not aware of the payload at this time, ma,am.”

Well that settles it. “I expect we’ll be informed if and when the KSA report an operational spacecraft. Thank you, Radio.” The captain turned to her officer of the deck, who took an involuntary step back at the expression on her face. “I have no idea how they managed it, Mister Jenfry. But by all the Kerm and the first Grove, it’s finally happening!”

——————

See the SK1P engines flame out, the strap-on boosters around the core stage falling away in a perfect cross. Watch the exhaust plume from the colossal main engine, the SK2-M “Mainsail”, fanning out in a great golden plume. Hear the crack of explosive bolts as the core stage finally falls away, it’s fire spent.

Smell the tension in Mission Control as the second stage engine ignites, the moment of truth fast approaching.

And now, see the sunlight. Watch the halves of the oversized fairing tumble away from the speeding rocket, revealing the spacecraft beneath. A spacecraft which is but one part of a vastly craft, itself a precursor of a still larger vessel to come. A vessel conceived through a melding of ambition and dire need unmatched since the Age of Sail.

Along the horizon the rocket speeds. Following Kerbin’s curve, continents and oceans falling away behind it. The engine nozzle flexes, wobbles, suddenly deprived of the fiery torrent keeping it taut. 

Silently, the rocket stage is set free. A pause. Then sparkling trails of frozen vapour nudge it end-over-end, before the last of its essence is vented into space. Soon it will meet a glorious end, stretching a trail of shooting stars across the sky. 

Leaving the spacecraft it once carried to finally spread its wings. 

Nacelles along its flanks split open like cocoons, revealing the butterflies beneath. Hinged panels of wires and shining silicon unfurl, turning slowly to face the sun. Deep within, batteries begin to charge, life-giving energy coursing through a myriad of systems.

Now hear the roar! Hear the thunder of jubilation, blended with no small amount of relief, at the sight of four lines of text on a screen.

> boot up sequence complete
vehicle designation: Tenacity
vehicle type: Starseed test module

> system set
 

Edited by KSK

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
14 hours ago, KSK said:

But by all the Kerm and the first Grove, it’s finally happening!

Indeed it is.

 

tenor.gif?itemid=8737149

And not a moment too soon.  :D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've been away for almost 6 months and actually hoped to find a little more of the story to catch up on. But still, exciting as always! Keep it up!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 8/19/2018 at 6:56 PM, DualDesertEagle said:

I've been away for almost 6 months and actually hoped to find a little more of the story to catch up on. But still, exciting as always! Keep it up!

Thanks for coming back!

Aye - real life and my first major gaming binge (BattleTech) for many years, have slowed things down a bit lately. However, I've finished the BattleTech campaign so my stompy robot craving has largely been assuaged for now. :) Real life is set to get a bit easier too, so hopefully I'll be picking up the pace a bit with First Flight.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Just now, Lo Var Lachland said:

The prologue link in the OP is broken. Please to fix. 


Yeah, it's a […]/threads link. They turned off the redirects a few weeks ago; guess they couldn't spare the map in the forum database?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Just now, 0111narwhalz said:


Yeah, it's a […]/threads link. They turned off the redirects a few weeks ago; guess they couldn't spare the map in the forum database?

Apparently...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Should be fixed now. The Prologue link is a bit redundant though really, given that the OP contains the Prologue.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hey folks,

A bit of news before we start in on the next chapter - I have a new job! Which means I'll be spending my notice period (the next three months) running around like the proverbial blue bottomed insect trying to get as much work as I can finished up, squared away and generally ready for the next person to pick up and run with. Oh yeah - and I'll probably be moving house in the near future too.

I'll still be plugging away at First Flight too but progress is likely to be (even) slow(er) for a while. :) 

The good news is that I have a nice two week break planned between jobs and after that, once the dust settles a bit, I should have a dramatically shorter commute and, to begin with at least, shorter hours at work. All of which should add up to more regular First Flight updates.

And without further ado, have a little something for the weekend...

 

Through the Gate

“What are you doing, Nie?” Adbas watched Joenie put her trowel to one side and begin packing sand into the thin, rectangular trench she’d just dug out.

“Making worm traps for Jonelle.” Joenie blew her hair out of her eyes, ignoring Adbas’s shiver. “So we can help the zeneckologists…“ She frowned. “Something like that. Zeneckologists at the Berelgan Institute with their experiments.” 

“The where?”

Joenie pressed another handful of sand into place. “The Berelgan Institute. It’s supposed to be really famous. They wanted Dad to help with one of their Kerm trees, so I had to go too. It’s even further away than the Capital so it took ages to get there on the train and it was really boring.” Joenie brightened up. “We stopped at the Capital though and got to see the Grand Gardens and all the cactuses that uncle Enely told me about. They were pretty neat.”

Adbas shook his head. “You’re getting weird, Nie.” He sat down by the edge of the worm trap. “How is making a sandpit going to help all them famous zeneckologists?” He frowned. “And how come they want you to help? You’re still at school. You en’t even a grown-up yet.”

“Because I can talk to Jonelle,” said Joenie. She scowled. “And it’s not a sandpit - it’s a worm trap. The sand just goes around the outside, I’m going to swap all the middle bit for clean soil to keep the worms in, so Jonelle can show me what colour they are.” She saw the baffled look on Adbas’s face. “When I talk to Jonelle, she shows me all the different worms and bugs and stuff in the soil and they’re all different colours. Dad said that if I was a Kerm they’d all smell different but kerbals aren’t very good at smelling, so Jonelle shows them to me in different colours instead.” Joenie rubbed her forehead, leaving streaks of mud behind. “Something like that anyway. Dad tried to explain it better but it was kind of confusing.”

Adbas tried gamely to keep up. “And the sand is going to stop the worms escaping?”

“Yeah, probably, but mostly it shows Jonelle where to find them. I guess sand smells different to soil too, if you’re a Kerm tree.” She saw Adbas flinch and sighed. “Jonelle’s not going to hurt you, Ad. She wants to talk to you too - I’ve been telling her all about you, how you’re my best friend and everything.”

Blushing, Adbas turned away to hide his face. “She…she really wants to talk to me?” he asked. “She won’t spike me like she spiked your dad?”

Joenie shook her head. “Promise.”

Adbas stared at the Kerm branches waving in the wind above Joenie’s home, torn between curiosity and apprehension. Then his face fell. “Can’t. Dad said I wasn’t to go near your Kerm…Jonelle,” he corrected himself hastily. He threw Joenie a guilty glance. “I’m allowed in your hut but I shouldn’t even be going in Jonelle’s room unless Mum’s there too.”

Joenie dropped another trowel load of sand into her trench and began flattening it out. “I’ll ask your Mum. I bet he wouldn’t mind you talking to her if your Mum was there too.”

“He would,” said Adbas. “He doesn’t say anything but I don’t think he really likes Mum being too close to Jonelle either.”

“He could come and meet Mallas - he’s one of the zeneckologists - when he comes to visit. He could watch Mallas talking to Jonelle - that’ll prove she doesn’t spike,” anger flitted over Joenie’s face, “people any more. He’ll have to let you talk to her after that!”

“Maybe.” Adbas sounded doubtful. “Suppose we can try.”

——————

Mallas unfolded himself from the bunk bed and sat up, a slightly dazed expression on his face. “Sweet Ker…Pillars preserve me but that was… he was…” He shook his head. “I see what Joenie meant about a sense of humour.”

Jonton chuckled. “You must have made a good impression. He’s normally more reserved with kerbals he hasn’t Communed with before. But yes, he can be positively droll at times.

“With everything he’s seen and experienced?” Mallas didn’t attempt to hide his awe. “I guess you laugh or cry.” He smiled weakly. “Especially when you’ve been living side by side with us kerbals for so long. We’ve done some pretty ridiculous things over the centuries it seems.” 

“The Age of Sail fashion for hanging-basket hats is my favourite,” Jonton agreed.

“I don’t think I saw those,” said Mallas. He stared at the expanse of Kerm trunk making up one wall of the sleep room. “Does Jonelle share her…father?” He saw the other’s reassuring nod. “Father’s sense of humour?” 

Jonton grinned. “When it comes to that sort of thing, Kerm are more similar to kerbals than they’d like to admit. Most of the time Jonelle is just confused by Elton’s jokes and when she’s not confused I get the very strong sense that she’s just exasperated by them.”

Mallas chuckled as he got to his feet. “I guess embarrassing parents are universal amongst sentient species.” A thoughtful expression crossed his face. “And I’m not sure if that’s reassuring or depressing.”

“A bit of both I think.” Jonton thumbed a button on his water pedestal and the verandah doors rumbled open. “Anyway - those worm traps we discussed? From Elton or Jonelle’s perspective they ought to work but we’d all welcome your advice before we start the experiments.”

Mallas sat down on the verandah step and began lacing up his boots. “Provided the soil is reasonably healthy they should be fine. What are you using?”

“One part local clay, two parts clean sand, two parts sterile compost.” Jonton adjusted his poncho and bent down to tie his own laces. Mallas frowned.

“Steam treated?”

“Steam treated then vacuum sealed,” said Jonton. “Best I could do without storing it in the fridge.” He looked up. “I’ve made a test trap and checked it with Elton. It looks fine - enough microorganisms to support the cultures you wanted but not so many that we won’t be able to pick out them against the background tapestry.”

“Elton will know what he’s doing,” said Mallas, shooting Jonton an embarrassed look. “But even so, do you think he’d mind if I ran some plates before we started - just to get an idea of what bacteria you’ve got?”

“Be our guest. I can’t imagine he’d mind and Joenie will probably be interested in the plates too.” As Jonton watched Mallas retrieve a handful of stoppered sample tubes from his pocket and set to work, it occurred to him that the scientist probably never left home without them. 

“That should do it.” Mallas tapped the edge of his final tube, dislodging the last crumbs of soil from its rim, before thumbing the stopper into place. “So what’s the plan now?”

“Ferry’s joining us for lunch in an hour or so and then he’ll be giving us a lift up to Jonelle’s Grove.” Jonton disappeared inside the lean-to shed abutting the back of his hut and returned with a  wheelbarrow full of sand, a pair of trowels and a couple of lumpy looking bags resting on top. “I thought we’d put the rest of the morning to good use and dig out another couple of traps.” Jonton gestured at the array of garden canes and string pegged out next to the test trap. “I’ve marked out the plots already.”

Mallas swung his legs over the edge of the verandah and dropped lightly to the ground. “Works for me. How deep do you want them?”

“About half a metre should be fine. It’s better if you scrape the soil away in layers rather than digging too far in one go - much easier to spot any Kerm fibres that way.” Jonton saw Mallas’s apprehensive look. “Don’t worry - you can’t miss them this close to his trunk. Any actual roots will be much further down, so anything that looks like a root will be a fibre. We’ll start by digging out a trench around the edges, pack that with sand, then make a start on the middle. More sand at the bottom, soil on top.”

Mallas nodded, hitched up his poncho and squatted down by the corner of the nearest plot. Then, swallowing hard, he began to scrape gingerly at the soil. Jonton watched him for a moment then, satisfied, knelt down by the opposite corner of the plot and picked up his own trowel.

Kerbol was high in the sky, Elton’s leaves casting dappled sunbeams over the ground, when Ferry walked around the side of Jonton’s hut to find Mallas and Jonton brushing themselves down, satisfied looks on both their faces. A rectangular stripe of sand marked out a plot of earth, one side of which had been dug out into a shallow trench. As Ferry drew closer he saw that the bottom, and one wall of the trench had also been lined with sand. Jonton picked up his trowel and tossed it into his wheelbarrow, Mallas following suit.

“Excellent timing, Ferry, “Jonton called out. “We were just thinking it was time to eat!” He walked up the steps onto the verandah and, with a groan, bent over to take off his boots. He waited for the others to remove their own footwear before padding into his sleep room and through to the kitchen. Crossing over to the fridge, he began pulling out an assortment of plates and bowls. “Take a seat, folks - I’ll be right with you. Lunch is nothing fancy I’m afraid, just cheese and salad.” 

Jonton flipped open the bread bin and took out a cloth-wrapped loaf. “Bread was fresh baked this morning though. It’s not a patch on Anlie’s but it’s not too bad if I say so myself.” Piling everything onto a tray, he walked over to the kitchen table and began setting out lunch. Presently, the only noises to be heard were the clink of knife against plate and the quiet munching of hungry kerbals.

“It tastes pretty good to me.” Mallas buttered another slice of bread before crumbling cheese over the top and taking a bite.

“Not quite as good as Anlie’s,” said Ferry tipping a hand back and forth. “My wife,” he added, seeing Mallas’ questioning look. “But you’ve surely been listening to her.” He folded his own laden slice into an impromptu sandwich and chewed on it thoughtfully. “So what do you do at the Berelgan?” he asked Mallas, swallowing the last mouthful.

“I used to work on Kerm microchemistry,” answered Mallas. “Trying to figure out how Kerm do what they do on a molecular level. These days though - like nearly everyone else at the Berelgan - I’ve been drafted into the xeno-ecology team for Project Starseed.  He grinned. “Which sounds pretty fancy but basically, we’re trying to work out how to recreate a functional Kerban soil from scratch on Duna. Ideally without having to ship too much raw material out there to get things started.”

“Ahh,” said Ferry. “Which is why you came all the way out here to speak to Elton. Reckon he’ll have forgotten more about making proper soil than you’ll be able to figure out in a dozen years.”

Mallas nodded. “Probably. From what he was kind enough to show me in Communion, I’ve no doubt that, given time, he could show us exactly how he’d solve our little problem in as much detail as we could ever want. The problem though, is that he can’t tell us what we actually need to know. And that’s really why I’m here.”

“Names,” interjected Jonton. “Elton will find it quite difficult anyway to unpick exactly what he does to keep his soil balanced - most of it is so familiar as to be instinctive.” He saw the sudden comprehension in Ferry’s eyes and smiled. “Exactly. Muscle memory, and centuries of it at that. But even when he does unpick it for us, he only knows the soil biota as bundles of scents. We’ll see those scents as different colours of course but that’s not much help either.”

“No,” said Ferry slowly. “I can see that.” He gestured at Mallas. “If your xeno-ecologists want to know what’s knocking your soil bacteria out of balance, then having Jonton here tell you that it’s all down to the little blue worms, isn’t going to be that helpful.”

“Exactly,” agreed Mallas. “We need a concordance. A reference book to cross-reference all the different Kerm colours against species names.” The corners of his eyes crinkled in amusement. “Which is going to be interesting to compile given that we don’t even know if different kerbals see the same species in the same Kerm colour.”

Ferry blinked. “That’s… not a problem that I’d have thought of,” he said.

“Me neither,” confessed Mallas. “But fortunately, Professor Erlin did. If Jonelle is willing, then we’ll be able to have her and Elton run the same set of test plots, which’ll give us one comparison.” An unreadable expression flickered over his face. “In time, Kerm willing, we may have a second… if Erlin’s Kerm awakens safely.”

Ferry stared at his plate, a troubled look on his face. “How is Professor Erlin?” he asked at last.

“Very well,” said Mallas, mopping his plate with a chunk of bread. “Better than that actually - I haven’t seen him so animated for months.” He blinked, “In a manner of speaking. Not the best choice of words there. Anyhow, he’s the same as he always is when he has a new problem to work on - a mix of enthusiasm and frustration, although it’s mostly been enthusiasm lately.”

Jonton leaned forward, an intent look in his eyes. “How’s he finding his Grove management?”

“I think he’s finding it a lot easier than he expected from talking to you. I’ve been speaking to Gusemy and ‘sleep on it and it’ll be fixed in the morning’ is becoming a bit of a standing joke between them.” Mallas saw the look on Jonton’s face. “Is that a good thing? It sounds like a good thing.”

“I think so,” Jonton replied. He leaned back in his chair. “The same thing happened to me when I was an-Kerm. Things would get fixed and I couldn’t remember fixing them. At the time I assumed I was just getting better at Grove management - that I was starting to get things done without thinking too much about them. A sign that I was becoming a proper Kerm if you like. But it turned out to be a sign that Elton was taking over my duties.”

Mallas’ eyes widened. “So Erlin’s Kerm… already?”

“It sounds like it. Tell Gusemy to look out for any odd changes in Erlin’s behaviour. It was coffee with me - I went right off the stuff until just before Elton awoke, then suddenly had a craving for it.” Jonton paused. “Tell him to look out - or listen out - for anything unusual during Communion too. Enely described it as a kind of giant shimmering bubble, with something - or someone as it turned out - behind it, calling out for help.”

If anything Mallas’ eyes grew wider. “I will, Keeper. Gusemy and Obrett - they’ll know…know what to do?”

“Obrett is a Keeper and Gusemy knows Erlin better than anyone. They should make good strong anchors.”

———————

“Mallas!” Joenie hurtled into the kitchen and grabbed the slightly bemused scientist by the hand. “I’ve been making worm traps for the experiments - come and look!”

“Let Dr Mallas have a minute to sit down first,” said Jonton with amused tolerance. “Before we drag him off to look at even more sandpits.” He gave his daughter an innocent look, which Joenie didn’t even bother to roll her eyes at.

“No, no, that’s quite all right,” said Mallas with a grin. He reached into his pocket and handed Joenie a handful of sample tubes. “It’s about time I taught you to take proper soil samples anyway. You can help me prepare the bacteria cultures later if you like?” 

Joenie nodded enthusiastically.

“Bacteria cultures? That sounds awfully dangerous to be doing at home.”

Mallas looked up. “Not with the right equipment.” He held out a hand. “Have we met?”

“Meleny Kermol.” Meleny shook the proffered hand. “What equipment would that be - surely you didn’t manage to pack a whole laboratory into your suitcase?”

Mallas laughed. “Just a box of agar plates, the wire loops to go with them, and a pipette. Plus lab coats and disposable gloves of course. Jonton was kind enough to lend me Joenie’s old bottle warmer, which’ll make a fine portable incubator. Apart from that, all we’ll need is boiled water and household bleach for disinfecting everything after use and wiping everything down. We won’t be doing anything fancy.”

“And they’ll be doing the experiments in my hut,” Jonton added. “Not in the kitchen here. You and Adbas would be welcome to join us if you liked?”

“I would be interested too, if another assistant was needed.” Enely got up from the kitchen table. “Enely Kermol. It is good to meet you Dr Mallas. How is Professor Erlin?”

“He’s doing very well thank you. In fact, after talking to Jonton over lunch, I think he’s doing better than I imagined.” Mallas glanced at Joenie who was trying to swing from the back door handle. “But perhaps we should talk about this later.”

Enely smiled as he followed the other’s gaze. “That might be best,” he agreed. “If you give me a minute, I’ll come and help finish the trap that we were digging out before you arrived.”

“And I’ll put the coffee on,” said Jonton. “And share the good news with Meleny.”

————————

Later that afternoon found Enely helping Meleny with the washing up whilst Jonton and Mallas sprawled on sack chairs watching Joenie rearranging her collection of sample tubes yet again. Adbas was curled up in his own chair, buried in a book, with a mug of rapidly cooling hot chocolate on a table next to him.

Mallas stirred and reached for his own mug of djeng, a pensive look on his face. “an-Kerm can still see,” he said suddenly. “even if they’re effectively in permanent Communion. Or so I understand from talking to Erlin. So I can imagine how he would be able to compare the colours he’s ‘seeing’ through his Kerm senses with the actual colour chart he’s seeing through his eyes. But how does that work for everyone else?”

“With difficulty,” answered Jonton. “It took Elton and I quite some time to get the hang of it but after a lot of practice we’re at the point where we can both share my eyes, and see through them, during Communion. What I haven’t quite worked out yet is how to hold both images - the outside world and Elton’s mindscape - in my head at the same time, but I’m sure we’ll get there.” He drained his mug. “I was going to give Joenie her first lesson with Jonelle tonight but that can wait.”

Mallas sat up. “Don’t feel you have to put them off for me,” he said. “I’m quite happy to talk cactuses with Enely for as long as Meleny will let us. To tell the truth, I wouldn’t say no to a lesson or two myself but from what you were saying in the car, I think Elton would find it easier to teach a stranger.”

Jonton looked at him apologetically. “Jonelle is getting a lot better but she’s still a bit unsure about Communing with anyone apart from Enely, myself or Joenie. Anyway -  lessons are for the morning. We’ve got a bottle of rather good two-year old prickleberry juice laid down that I’ve been looking for a reason to open, or a jug of prickleberry cider in the fridge, if you prefer something with a little bit more of a kick. I’ve got a Tiles set if you play, or we could challenge your lab assistant,” Jonton waved a hand at Joenie, “and her friend to a season or two of River Race.”

“Only if you’ve got a spare table to leave the board set up on. Can’t fit a proper game into anything less than five seasons.” Mallas grinned at Jonton’s surprised look. “At least one of the student huts at the Berelgan has an almost permanent River board set up in the living room. One team got bored and wrote their own expansion rules after deciding that twenty season games were just too short. I’ve lost track of where they’re up to this term.”

“Well then,” said Jonton, rubbing his hands together. “Old ‘uns vs young’uns it is. Maybe your experience can beat Adbas’s luck with weather cards!”

—————— 

Joenie gulped down her glass of milk and stuffed the rest of a sunfruit roll into her mouth before following her father into the sleep room. Quivering with anticipation, she flung herself onto the spare bed and wedged a pillow under her head, barely noticing the faint tickle of leaves against her scalp as the room around her vanished into the bright whiteness of Communion.

Jonton propped a large square of blue cardboard against the foot of Joenie’s bed then knelt by his daughter’s side, checking to make sure it would be visible from where she was lying. Satisfied, he lay down on his own bed, settling into position under Jonelle’s leaf cluster. No sooner had her leaf hairs burrowed beneath his scalp than he sensed Joenie’s excited mental chatter and behind it, a vast confusion. He emerged over Jonelle’s mindscape and immediately felt the confusion shift into relief as the young Kerm focused her attention on him.

<it is early Jonton. Why are you and Joenie here now?>

We have guests staying with us. Jonton sent an image from the previous evening; warm yellow lamp light, Joenie and Adbas with the four adult four adult kerbals, all sitting around the River Race board, drinks and snacks close at hand. I wanted to talk with you before they wake up for breakfast.

<that is Dr Mallas. Joenie talks a lot about him> Swirls of puzzlement licked at the edges of Jonton’s mind. <you met Dr Mallas when you went to help other kerbal not be like Gerselle. Why is he here?>

Jonton noticed the mindscape around him turning grey and, with an effort, pushed his thoughts of Gerselle to one side. That’s a long… never mind. Elton has spoken to you of travelling to other worlds.

<yes. Kerbals go there to plant Kerm but only find bad soil. Daddy will tell kerbals how to make better soil.> Jonelle paused <Joenie says that Daddy will help you name soil creatures. Joenie wants to name soil creatures too but I don’t understand how to help her>

Has Joenie told you about the worm traps?

<Yes. I have found the empty places near my trunk that Joenie made. It is a wrong name though - more than worms are needed to make good soil.>

I know, Jonton replied gently. Worm trap is just a kerbal name for them. Dr Mallas will help us put different creatures in each trap, so you can find them and show them to Joenie. He reached out with an image of a large book, open at a page of numbered squares, each square picked out in a different shade of blue. The page flipped over to reveal a grid of green squares, then again to display a grid of brown squares. Then you and Joenie will match the creature’s colour to the right square on this chart.

The mindscape rippled and swirled, lightning flickering in the distance as Jonelle thought things over. <I can show Joenie the creature colour but I can’t show her the squares. How will she know them?>

That is why we are here now. The colour chart will be on Joenie’s bed. She must learn to see the outside world whilst talking to you, Jonelle - and she can’t do it by herself.

<I need to help her?>

Yes. Jonton turned to face his daughter. Joenie - how do you know where I am right now? 

Joenie frowned. I just do. It’s like…like… I don’t know - I just do.

Jonton nodded. Maybe if I told you what it always feels like to me. If we were sitting at the kitchen table and I asked you which way your feet were pointing, would you need to look at them before telling me?

No - because they’re my feet. I’d just…know. Joenie’s face cleared. That’s it. That’s just what it’s like! 

And how about Jonelle? She’s all around you, she can show you all sorts of things about what she’s thinking - but how can you tell what she’s feeling?

Joenie scrunched up her face in thought. I don’t know. Jonton sensed the frustration radiating off her. I just do! 

The mindscape shimmered into a view of an endless riverbank, ripples on the water catching the sun as they rolled slowly by. Jonton sent a flicker of gratitude to Jonelle and received the barest thread of acknowledgement in reply.

That’s a good image, Jonelle. When I commune with Elton, my link with him always reminds me of lying on your stomach in a sunbeam. You can feel the warmth and with a bit of practice you can tell where it’s shining on you although you can never actually see it. But if somebody could hold a mirror for you and hold it in just the right place, you could look over your shoulder and find it.

Jonton paused. This next part is really important. Jonelle, I want you to be a mirror for Joenie  - and Joenie must never be the mirror for you. You’ll see why in a minute. Joenie - I want you to just try and relax. Jonelle - I want you to find your link with Joenie and share it with her in the same way that you’d share your tapestry. Can you do that for me?

<I do not know. Will try>

Jonton watched Joenie sprawl out on the riverbank, fingers laced behind her head as she stared up at the clouds. Out of her sight, the waters twisted and turned, one moment a mighty river looping across the mindscape in great serpentine coils, the next a foaming brook galloping over a rocky bed, the next a delta of a hundred branching channels winding their way through mud and reeds. Abruptly, they reared up into a fantastical waterfall, an impossible twisted knot between soil and sky. Jonton heard a cry, then, just as abruptly, the waterfall collapsed back into a expanse of gently rippling water, meandering across the mindscape. 

Joenie sat up, rubbing the back of her head. Jonton took her hand and held it for a long moment.

Did you see anything? 

Joenie bit her lower lip. I don’t know. I thought I saw a blue square but then it vanished. I thought I heard voices too. She frowned. I could definitely smell coffee - and it felt as though I was lying on something soft.

Jonton smiled. You are. You’re lying on your bed remember? That was excellent both of you - much, much better than I expected. The first time I tried that with Elton, I didn’t see or hear a thing. He bowed towards Jonelle’s presence, then turned back to Joenie, a serious expression on his face. Just for a second there, Jonelle was your mirror, reflecting your Communion link with her - your own senses - back at you. With practice, you’ll be able to hold that reflected link for as long as you like and even let Jonelle use it, so that she can see through your eyes too. 

Jonton gripped his daughter’s hands. And that’s why you must always, always let Jonelle be the mirror. You have five senses - maybe six depending how you count them. Jonelle has thousands. If you tried to be her mirror, it would be like rolling over to look at the sunbeam on your back and staring right into the sun.

Joenie blanched and Jonton pulled her into a hug. I’m sorry sweetheart - I know it’s not a nice thought.

A Kerm tree appeared on the river bank, branches extended to shade the two kerbals <it is not. I will not let Joenie be burned>

I know you won’t, Jonton replied simply. I trust you, Jonelle.

A wave of pleased surprise, tinged with pride, swept over them <we will try again?>

Jonton shook his head. Tomorrow morning. He raised a finger. It’s a surprisingly tiring exercise - a little bit of practice every day to build up your strength is better than keeping on trying for too long and hurting yourselves. He let go of Joenie and stepped back with a smile. Besides - coffee and voices? I think it’s time we joined everyone else for second breakfast.

————————

“Test confirms engine start.”

The air hose automatically disconnected from the Starhawk’s fuselage and was promptly winched aboard the heavily armoured service vehicle parked alongside it. The crewmember in the back checked that the aircraft tow cable was also safely aboard before thumping on the safety partition separating her from the driver’s cab. The driver saw her upraised thumb and peeled away from the gleaming spaceplane poised at the end of its runway. He swung his vehicle round in a wide circle, past the yellow-and-black striped blast deflector behind the Starhawk, before coming to a halt on the taxiway, engine still running, ready to assist in case of an emergency.

“Test is rolling.”

Val scanned her instruments, hands automatically checking the connections between her pressure suit and the cockpit systems. She worked her shoulders, settling her flight helmet into place, it’s built in ear defenders not quite able to muffle the idling J404 turbofans behind her back. A flicker of movement caught her eye and she glanced up to see the Starhawk start down the neighbouring runway, its mirror-polished fuselage reflecting the grey, overcast sky. 

“Copy, Test - you’re clear for take-off. Chase?”

“Standing by.” Val braced herself against her ejection seat and took a firmer grip on the controls. Ahead, the Starhawk began to accelerate, the watery blue hydrogen flame from its MACE air-breathing rocket engine flickering and blurred by its superheated exhaust. The experimental aircraft lumbered down the runway, its canards and short, knife-edged wings barely able to haul it off the ground before it ran out of asphalt.

“Test is airborne.” The pilot’s unruffled voice sounded clearly in her headset.

“Chase is rolling.” Val advanced her throttle to take-off power, the shriek from her own aircraft’s engines climbing to a full-throated howl. She released the brakes and the Osprey leapt forward, with a surge of power that pressed her into her seat. The runway whipped past in a blur before falling away effortlessly behind her. “Chase is airborne.”

Val pulled the nose of her aircraft up into a climbing turn, feeling the anti-G system in her flight suit kneading her legs. The landing gear retracted with a thump, as she completed her circle and levelled her wings, eyes already scanning for the Starhawk. 

“Test, Chase. I have a visual.” Val reached forward and flipped a switch, a diamond arrangement of four amber lights on her instrument panel lighting up in response. “Camera on.” The four outer lights flicked to green, followed a second later by a fifth centre light. On the radio panel, another row of green lights began to stutter. “Camera tracking and I’m receiving telemetry. Control - how do you read?”

“Five-by-five, Chase. Test - you ready to fly?”

“That’s affirmative, Control. Ramjets open - initiating phase two climb-out.” Aboard the Starhawk, valves opened within the MACE, injecting vaporised hydrogen into the rapidly increasing flow of bypass air from the pre-cooler intake. Blue flame erupted from the ring of auxiliary burners around the two main engine bells, hurling the prototype spaceplane skyward.

A warning tone sounded in Val’s headset, the uppermost tracking light on her instrument panel turning from green to amber. She eased back on her control stick, pulling the Osprey into a steeper climb, and slid the throttle up to full rated thrust. Twin contrails burst across the sky as the two advanced aircraft screamed up through eight thousand metres. 

For a moment, the ranging bars on her tracking display slowed, then they began to spin past again, the Osprey unable to keep up with the rapidly climbing Starhawk.

“Control, Chase. Opening the gate.” Val pressed her throttle lever forward, feeling it catch against its detent before pushing it down and through the gate into afterburner. Raw jet fuel sprayed into the J404s’ exhausts, blazing, hard-edged flames erupting from their nozzles. The surge of acceleration shoved Val back into her ejection seat, an exultant grin lighting up her face. “Chase confirms two good cookers!” 

“Copy. Test?”

“Passing through twelve klicks. Handling is nominal, fuel consumption on the curve, air speed indicator coming up nicely.”

Val checked her own airspeed indicator, glanced at the tracking display and pushed the throttle lever all the way forward. The J404s responded with a will, hurling her aircraft into the darkening sky at over twice the speed of sound, afterburner gulping down fuel at a fearsome rate. Her eyes flicked from altimeter to fuel gauge to tracking display and back again, grin replaced by an intent expression.

“Chase is holding.” 

The Osprey broke through twenty kilometres, now beginning to fall behind the speeding Skyhawk. The bright glow of Kerbin’s atmosphere gleamed from the trailing edges of its wings as it tore up through twenty-five kilometres, horizon curving away in all directions beneath its upwardly tilted nose. Then a warning light glowed amber on her instrument panel, accompanied by a two-tone chime in Val’s headset.

“Joker fuel. Throttling back.” Val felt the control stick loosening under her hand, the Osprey’s control surfaces losing purchase on the rarefied air as it coasted up past thirty kilometres. “Chase is on the ceiling. Returning to base.”

“Copy, Chase. Test?”

“Test is Go. RCS stable in roll. Intake pressure dropping to critical.” The pilot paused and Val sensed the wistfulness beneath the clipped reports. “Too bad I’m packing ballast and not LOX.”

“We hear you, Chase. Bring that black box home in one piece and we’ll see what we see.”

Val eased the Osprey into a shallow dive and began a leisurely turn back towards the C7 airfield, keeping half an ear on the running dialogue between the Skyhawk pilot and Control.

“MACE auto-shutdown complete. RCS is stable in pitch and yaw. Orienting for re-entry test.”

“Copy, Test.”

“Descending through thirty klicks. Vehicle attitude is nominal.”

RCS disengaged, airspeed and intake pressure looking good for MACE restart.”

“Go ahead, Test.”

For a moment, Val’s finger hovered over the push-to-talk button set into her control stick. Then she blew out her cheeks and shifted her hand out of temptation’s reach. Adding her own message of good luck would be a gross breach of test protocol, not to mention a possible insult to the other pilot. 

“…coolant loop is stable…igniters to auto…restarting fuel pumps…”

“MACE restart complete. Setting throttle for best endurance. See you on the ground, Control.”

“I hear that, Test. Fine flying.”
 

Edited by KSK

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, KSK said:

Val felt the control stick loosening under her hand, the Osprey’s control surfaces losing purchase on the rarefied air

EXCELLENT description right there, the same thing happens when u get close to stalling in an ASK-21 (glider).

 

Damn, it feels great to know exactly what someone's talking about through own experience!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.