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First Flight (Epilogue and Last Thoughts)

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Hey folks,

I just want to say thanks for all the comments on the copy editing - all points of view are very much appreciated. I also figured this would be a good time for some general comments of my own. :)

I've always welcomed constructive feedback on this story and that's not going to change. I also count myself lucky that constructive feedback is exactly what I've received from a number of sources both on and off-thread.

For future reference though, I think it would be best if on-thread feedback was limited to either general points, e.g. 'That's out of place for such-and-such a character', or 'that technology doesn't really fit with the rest of the story', or very specific points, like Patupi's humorous aside about the tarmac above. (Regardless of the intent behind the comment, it made a good point and yeah - using a more generic term such as asphalt would work better!)

Line by line copyediting is appreciated but I'd prefer to take that off-thread. If I may use Dux's latest re-working as an example, there are some places where I think the editing has shifted away from the tone or the mood I wanted to create. I'm happy to discuss that sort of thing but on-thread is not really the place. I think a detailed breakdown of why-I-wrote-what-and-what-I-was-trying-to-achieve would spoil things for everyone else reading, in the same way that a joke isn't really a joke by the time you've repeated it three times and then explained the punchline too. :)



Edited by KSK
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like Patupi's humorous aside about the tarmac above. (Regardless of the intent behind the comment, it made a good point and yeah - using a more generic term such as asphalt would work better!)

Actually, I thought you'd already considered that and did have a 'Mac Adam Kerman' somewhere in the history. *chuckles* Shows what I know!

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Actually, I thought you'd already considered that and did have a 'Mac Adam Kerman' somewhere in the history. *chuckles* Shows what I know!

:D I may have to write Billybobmacadam, noted construction engineer in somewhere.

Now Rockomax and KIS - they've both got big plans ahead. But first...

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I had no idea what the 'tarmac' meant.

In my defense: I've not been raised in an English speaking country, nor have I ever visited one.

But please, as long the words are generally accepted English continue to use them. I learn every day. :)

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What he's referring to is that the word 'Tarmac' comes from Tar-Mac Adam, what the guy who first invented it called his product.

Yup. It's only a minor detail and there are probably other examples I've missed along the way but I'm trying to avoid terms based on real names. Obvious example is the Kelvey Belts rather than using a kerbalised version of Van Allen and there was some stuff in the last but one chapter about using frequency shifts for tracking rather than referring to the Doppler effect.

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I had no idea what the 'tarmac' meant.

In my defense: I've not been raised in an English speaking country, nor have I ever visited one.

But please, as long the words are generally accepted English continue to use them. I learn every day. :)

That's OK, it isn't English... It's Scottish! :P

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hope everyone is having a great holiday season!

Next chapter is up although it's not terribly festive...


Jonton floated in the void. Visions of the Mün danced through his head but much to his surprise the Kerm was ignoring them. He could sense it flitting around in the darkness but apart from one fleeting brush against his mind, it seemed curiously reluctant to make contact.

Odd. Then again I suppose it's only the Mün. Perhaps I'm not being clear enough.

Jonton cast his mind back to the launch. Thousands of kerbals watching a slim metal shape in the distance. The flames and thunder of liftoff as the rocket engines blazed into life. The roiling plume of smoke as the booster climbed high into the sky and disappeared out of sight. He could only imagine the view as the spacecraft soared out of Kerbin's atmosphere and into orbit but he vividly remembered the awe inspiring pictures of his home from high orbit. Everything he had ever known and everywhere that he had ever been, wrapped around a cloud girdled sphere and set floating in the blackness of space. He remembered the images of the Mün rushing towards the camera, bigger, sharper and more beautiful than any astronomer's picture taken from Kerbin.

There was a flicker of interest from the Kerm as it skittered towards him. It brushed against his mind and for a moment, Jonton thought it was finally going to merge. Then something distracted it again and it fled out of range. With an effort, Jonton pushed away his mental images of the Mün and focused on the void around him, slowly and deliberately clearing his mind and allowing himself to sink into placid receptivity.

It's been a while since I've needed to do this.

Despite his best efforts, the Kerm still refused to come any closer. Its mental presence scuttled around, hyper-alert, agitated, trying to sense in all directions at once. Jonton extended a gentle query out towards it and it recoiled as if stung, leaving behind a metallic tang of cold fear. Jonton jerked away. Fear? A lord in its own domain, master of its surroundings and old when my grandfather's grandfather was a kerblet. What on Kerbin could a Kerm be afraid of?

There was no reply. Jonton paused and then, feeling more than a little bit ridiculous, he tentatively reached out with a new set of thoughts. A Kerm sapling trembling in the night, a kerbal rushing towards it and then Jonton himself, embracing the sapling, patting its slender trunk and murmuring to it, in the same way that he would soothe a fretful Joenie.

There, there big fella. You tell your keeper all about it.

For a moment it seemed to be working. The agitated flitting stopped and the Kerm warily circled him, gradually coming closer. Then something spooked it and it scuttled away again. This time he caught a brief jumble of sensations. Shapeless forms in the dark. Untasted things, sensed but never caught. The struggle for control against a barrage of conflicting and confusing signals. And pain - many, many kinds of pain. Here, the sudden sting of a shaving blade nicking skin. There, the scorching fire of acid along fibre. Still elsewhere the dull aching throb of countless tiny presences chewing on roots, slowly but surely sapping their vitality.

Jonton reeled backwards. Pain! What could possibly hurt a Kerm?. His shock was blasted away by a building consternation. What would dare to hurt a Kerm.? The consternation peeled away and was swiftly replaced by a cold fury. More to the point - who or what would dare to hurt my Kerm. He reached out again with an image of a scowling kerbal standing defiantly in front of a sapling, ready to ward off any threat.

Let. Me. Help.

The Kerm stopped dead in its tracks and then hurtled towards him, it's mind unfolding towards his. The desperate merging was far far more violent than Jonton was accustomed to. Instead of the usual mild disorientation, his senses melted like wax before a blowtorch, swirling together into a discordant whirlpool that scoured out the deepest recesses of his mind. He tasted the sickly sour colours of the room around him and he screwed his eyes shut to block them out. The rustling of the Kerm leaves around his head rippled like velvet, the creaking of the bed under him rasped like sandpaper against his skin. Then the familiar cinnamon scent of the Kerm leaves bloomed in his mind like an iridescent rose, drawing him helplessly forward.

The rose shattered. Minute fragments of stem and petal exploded outward, becoming nothing more than firefly sparks in the darkness. The sparks gambolled around him and everywhere they touched they ignited a new spark. Some of them traced out branching patterns in the darkness, others were scattered in small clumps that darted and danced through the branches. Still others lurked in the background or stood poised, quivering with a restless internal energy.

All the while, a raging flood of memories and knowledge swept through Jonton's mind. Bruised and buffeted, it was all he could do to keep his head above the torrent, let alone reach out to grasp any of the sparks or examine them more closely as they raced past. If he had been able to, his kerbal mind would have dimly grasped at the reality of the legions of chemicals, sense fibres, tiny insects and other symbionts stretched out before him in all directions. Paralysed by detail, his kerbal mind would have drowned in the deluge of data.

Fortunately he was now far more than a kerbal and he had no need to examine the sparks. In the back of his mind he knew what each of the myriad of lights was, what they could do and how they fitted in to the whole. He was intimately aware of exactly where each of them was at any given moment in much the same way that he knew he could catch a ball without needing to consciously decide where his hand was or exactly how to curl his fingers around their prize.

Then the Others attacked.

New lights intruded on his awareness, forming their own patterns and disrupting his carefully arranged constellations of sparks. The new patterns twisted and turned, morphing fluidly from one form to the next. Instinctively, Jonton moved his own sparks to counter, blocking the foreigners or seeking to snip them off at their source. They rolled smoothly away out of reach, shifting like leaves in a breeze, their movements turbulent and difficult to predict.

It was all that Jonton could do to defend against them. Any counterattacks that he managed to contrive were repelled with ease as tiny filaments of light insinuated their way into his patterns and blew them apart like smoke. As the attacks swirled in from all directions in rapidly growing numbers, he reflexively burrowed into his sheltering link with the Kerm, willingly submersing himself within it.

Jonton's senses blurred and he remembered facing such attacks before. Deftly he parried, turning aside a first, then a second and then a third and fourth together. Filigrees of sparks slipped out, drawing the enemy towards him as they flickered just out of reach. The filigrees stuttered, collapsing into a simpler form as the Others spun aggressively towards them. Then the simple form flowed out into a myriad of silvery traces, each one melting away in the nick of time, leaving confusion and discord in their wake. Jonton swiftly spun out new webs. Coldly and efficiently, he encircled the faltering Others and crushed them without mercy.

The attacks became more complex but Jonton had seen their like before and knew how they were constructed, knew the timing of their waves and how to interrupt and confuse that timing. There was a moment of panic as he failed to recognise one particular sequence but it was poorly formed and after a brief struggle, snuffed out.

Encouraged by his momentary lapse in concentration, the Others swarmed against him in increasingly random patterns. Most of them were easily dispatched but others were not, wriggling through his outer defences before he could regroup and check their progress. Memory and experience began to give way to analysis and impromptu tactics hastily thrown together and hastily executed. For a while they held the line, Kerm experience and instinct allied with kerbal quick thinking and adaptability.

It wasn't enough. The enemy patterns smashed against them and pain flared in the darkness as, one after another, Jonton's sparks began to flicker and go out. Too close. Cannot see (ha) the wood for the trees With a tremendous effort, he wrenched his mind free and leapt towards the surface. He swiftly surveyed the battle and dived back downwards.

This is a fight we cannot win

There was no time for an orderly retreat. As the Others flooded through his defences, Jonton broke all his patterns and fell back. A river of glowing motes flowed away from the battlefield, its edges whipped into a luminous froth as individual motes tried to avoid the enemy forces. Fire stabbed through Jonton and the froth became tattered and insubstantial as more and more motes were overwhelmed and consumed. An older and wiser part of him took over, rallying the stragglers and forming them up into a last desperate diversion. It was barely enough. The last of the main body slipped out of reach but seconds later Jonton screamed in agony as the diversion was ripped apart and devoured.

The Others swirled towards him. Grimly, Jonton set out a dense pattern of defending sparks. No subtlety, no thought of counterattack, just layer upon layer of interlocking forces holding each other up in an impenetrable barrier.

No further. This space is mine.

The end was as sudden as it was unexpected. The enemy patterns stretched out towards him and then they just fell apart. Jonton stared in disbelief at the milling crowd, too weary to take advantage of the confusion. As he watched helplessly, the Others formed their own defensive formations, separated from his own by a thin, invisible barrier.

He could sense the Kerm disengaging from his own thoughts. Slowly, the sparks lost their overtones of meaning and became a mere display of lights in the darkness. As he rose higher and higher away from the battlefield, their brilliance faded, becoming nothing more than the random bursts of noise conjured up by squeezing his eyelids tightly together.

Jonton sat bolt upright in bed, his head full of a great sense of relief, sadness and a swiftly fading nightmare.


Gerselle sat up in bed and frowned as she tried to bring back the dream. She remembered the triumph of freedom and a hard fought victory against an oppressive foe but after that she could recall little else apart from staring at the enemy across a thin invisible line. Gerselle yawned. The Kerm seemed to be contented enough so presumably the confusion wasn't all that important. Besides, there would always be another night.

Rose tinted dawn sunlight poured in through the windows washing over her bed and illuminating the interior of the shelter with a soft pink glow. Behind her, the Kerm sapling occupied much of the space in the small hut, finally growing tall enough that she could sleep in a proper bed beneath its leaves rather than on a bedroll.

Gerselle laced her fingers behind her head as she stared up at the pointed ceiling. At the rate the Kerm was growing, it would soon be time to build a larger hut - one with a hole in the ceiling for its trunk to pass through. She smiled. After that it would be time for a proper four roomed Keeper's hut, with it's own sleeping area and maybe, just maybe a bathing pool, if the communal pools could spare enough sweetmoss.

Speaking of which, it was probably time to collect Joenie from Meleny's. And speaking of Meleny, she really ought to visit the carpentry shop this morning and see how they were getting on with her chair. She'd carefully saved all the leaves dropped by the growing Kerm and woven them into a little net bag to tuck under the seat. Not quite the same as making the whole thing from Kerm wood but the leaf bag would add a little more padding and according to Jonton, furniture made from the first shedding of a Kerm was supposed to be lucky. Hopefully it would be a suitable thank you gift for all the many hours of babysitting over the last few months.

Gerselle stretched, threw back her covers and prepared to face the new day.


Jonton groaned at the insistent tapping. Once could be ignored but twice meant that he should probably go and see who was at the door. He glanced at the clock on the wall and fought against the urge to pull the covers over his head and go back to sleep. For Kerm's sake it was only just after dawn.

“Keeper? Are you there, Keeper?"

Of course I'm here. Where else would I be at this ridiculous hour of the morning. He clambered out of bed, struggled into a rumpled poncho and blearily made his way to the door.

The kermol's jaw dropped. “Great Kerm above Keeper - you look awful. Is everything all right?"

Jonton decided not to trouble him with the details.

“Bad dreams and very little sleep, son - but apart from that I'm fine."

The kermol looked worried. “You are still able to help with the sunfruit harvest, Keeper?"

Jonton swore to himself. Of course - the harvest. I knew there had to be a reason. “Of course," he said. “In fact I could just do with a nice juicy bunch of sunfruit to wake me up a bit."

The kermol laughed. “I'm sure we can find a spare one, Keeper," he said cheerfully.

Jonton forced a smile in reply. “I hope so," he said. “Do come in for a minute, while I find my boots."

It took rather longer than a minute for Jonton to bathe, find a more reputable looking poncho and then find his boots. Privately, Ferry thought it was well worth the wait. The Keeper still looked tired, no doubt about it but the awful, wild eyed, stained and disheveled figure at the door had gone. He waited for Jonton to swallow his last mouthful of greenleaf roll and then got to his feet.

“Wagon is just outside, Keeper. Old Fredlorf is driving, so the ride shouldn't be too bumpy!"

The tractor started up with a whine, as Ferry helped Jonton up onto the trailer. He made sure the Keeper had found himself a seat amongst all the empty crates, then turned and thumped the elderly driver on the shoulder.

“Get 'er moving Fred - quicker we start the quicker we're done."

Fredlorf released the brakes and the tractor pulled away with a jerk that rattled all the crates in the back and rattled Ferry's teeth in his head. He looked apologetically at Jonton. “Sorry, Keeper. Old girl needs a bit of maintenance I'd say. Either that or Fred's driving isn't all it's cracked up to be."

Jonton managed a terse nod in reply before taking a very firm grip on the edge of the trailer, as it lurched down the road towards the sunfruit fields. It was an early spring morning but still close enough to winter to give the air a chilly bite. The first few hillflowers peeped through the frosty ground, covering the side of the road in erratic tufts of yellow and purple. As the fresh, pine scented air cleared Jonton's lungs, the accumulated stress of weeks of nightmares, slowly began to dissipate. The sun rose and the first birds of the day sang a cheerful greeting from the treetops.

The crates tilted to one side as the tractor chugged around the final bend and pulled up by a sturdy wooden gate. Fredlorf hopped down from the driver's seat, lifted the latch and pushed the gate open. Jonton heard the hinges creaking faintly over the hum of the tractor engine. He pulled on a pair of thick canvas gloves as Fredlorf scrambled back onto his seat and took hold of the steering wheel. He couldn't tell whether the brakes had warmed up or whether Fredlorf was a little more awake now but this time, the jerk was barely noticeable.

Jonton flipped open the lock on his shears and grunted as he worked the handles back and forth. As he reached for the oilcan, Ferry gasped and then swore loudly.

“Stop the wagon, Fred - stop the wagon!"

Jonton looked up. He was just about to ask Ferry what the problem was, when he saw the rows of sunfruit vines and the problem became all too clear.

The wilted brown vines drooped listlessly and the few berry clusters that Jonton could see were shrivelled and thickly blotched with a leprous black fungus. Weeds choked the ground around the vines, spotted here and there with mushy brown puddles of rotten sunfruit flesh.

Ferry stared at him in shock. “What in the name of... what happened here, Keeper," he said shakily. “Never seen anything like this in my life."

Jonton just stared mutely over his shoulder at the ruined vines. Fredlorf shuffled round in his seat and looked at them grimly.

“S'pose we'd better see if there's anything left to harvest," he said, “although it looks like this is going to be one helluva short day of picking." The tractor started up again, the sound of it's motor breaking the strained silence.


“Well I'll be a son-of-a-gronnek!"

Jonton and Ferry looked up at the sudden oath from the driver's seat.

“Looks like this morning won't be be a total waste but just look at those kerb-blighted vines! One plant is dead and gone, the one right next to it is green and flowering. What in the name of the first Kerm happened to this field?"

Ferry grabbed a crate and jumped down from the trailer.“Don't ask me Fred," he said, “but I reckon we should grab any good fruit that we can before they catch whatever killed the rest of them off."

Jonton shook his head, picked up a crate and jumped down on the other side. Fredlorf switched his motor off and came to join them. All three kerbals set off down the rows of sunfruit, snipping bunches of succulent golden berries off the vines with practised ease and dropping them into their crates.

By mid morning, they had picked one unsullied patch of vines clean of berries and despite Ferry's pessimism had found a second patch at the far corner of the field. The morning frost had long since melted in the morning sun and three kerbals were sweating under their ponchos as they stopped to take a drink. Fredlorf leaned against one of the tractor wheels and stared thoughtfully across the field.

“If I didn't know better," he said, “I'd swear that somebody was playing a joke on us. Look at that line of healthy vines - damned thing is curved."

“That's what I thought," said Jonton slowly. “It's almost like a Year's End field sculpture but I can't believe anyone would do that to living plants with fruit still on them."

Ferry snorted. “It's not even a very good field sculpture," he said, “Look at it - all you'd need to do is mark out one circle at one end of the field, another circle at the other end of the field and then stamp down everything in the middle where the the two circles cross." He scratched his head. “That's not quite right though - far as I can tell the centres of two circles would need to be outside the fields. Okay that's a bit clever then - keeping the ropes taut over the fence would be tricky."

Fredlorf brightened up. “Well if you've got that right, there should be a couple more clean patches in the other corners," he said. “Still going to be a sorry looking harvest but I'll take what I can get after seeing that Kerm-forsaken mess this morning."

Kerm-forsaken.... A cold hard lump settled in the pit of Jonton's stomach. He fixed one eye on the centre of the field and then traced a line out beyond the field. His other eye caught glimpses of sunlight sparkling off the village stream, followed the banks of the stream back across the grasslands and then settled on a dreadfully familiar hilltop.

A hilltop where he had once buried a seed.


<< Chapter 23:     Chapter 25>>

Edited by KSK
Fixing tags.
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Had to re-read that chapter a few times, but if it means what I think it means, somebody is in trouble. My mind might not be as sharp as I'd like, but I couldn't help but try to piece together the situation.

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