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First Flight (Epilogue and Last Thoughts)


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And here's the rest of it.


Flight Elapsed Time: 2 days, 6 hours, 22 minutes.
274,000 kilometres from Kerbin.
On board Pioneer 1.


Wernher tapped the gauge. "Secondary evaporators holding," he reported. "Coolant flow through main evaporator A stopped. Thanks, Flight - looks like that's fixed it."

"Understood, Pioneer. Please give me a reserve coolant level check."

“I'm seeing a 20 percent margin, Flight."

In the couch beside him, Sherfel wiped her forehead and grinned. Over at the commander's station, James's face remained carefully impassive, but even in zero-gravity, the set of his shoulders told their own story. The drop in tension over the air to ground loop was palpable.

"That's about what we're seeing too, Pioneer." Geneney paused, and Wernher heard a mutter of background conversation. "OK, team, the bad news is that CapSys isn't too happy about that leaked coolant."

"And the good news, Flight?" said James quietly.

"Is that the Systems team have just dropped the answer off at my console. It's a bit...homely - .but it should do the job. Wernher, I want you to head down into the lower bay and retrieve that roll of sealant tape. Jim, Sherf, we're going to need the covers from your checklists and a couple of empty ration packs - the cleaner the better."

"On it, Flight." Wernher eased himself over the edge of his couch and swung himself gingerly into the space under the crew seating. Small and cramped back on Kerbin, the lower equipment bay felt much roomier in free fall. Wernher squeezed past the sanitation facility and twisted round to face the tool storage bin. Contents may have shifted in transit. Carefully, he slid it open, retrieved a roll of silvery tape, and just as carefully, slid it closed.

"Got the tape, Flight."

"Good. Pass it up to Sherf. CapSys is coming on loop to take her and Jim through the next part. In the meantime, I want you to unscrew the main hose from the sanitation bowl. Sherf - please confirm waste valves A and B are closed."

Wernher heard shuffling overhead.

"Closed, Flight."

The sanitation facility was designed to be repairable in flight. Wernher braced himself awkwardly against the bulkhead and fumbled with the first of two large butterfly nuts securing the outflow hose to the bowl. Above his head he could hear ripping noises and the squeaky rasp of sealant tape peeling off its roll. Grunting with effort, he leaned on the nut as best he could, and felt it shift slightly in his hands.

Must remember...to tell the capsule team... to grease these things before flight.

Muttering under his breath, Wernher managed to loosen the first nut. The second one was more tractable. He spun it free, carefully leaving it on its bolt and easing the two halves of the locking clamp apart. He held his breath, and carefully pulled on the outflow hose.

"Hose is free, Flight."

"Good work. Now I need you to tape the nozzle to the open end."

Sherfel popped her head over the edge of her couch and passed him the roll of tape and a creased cardboard cone with a ragged fringe of plastic bag poking from one end. "Tape the liner to the hose first, " she said, "Then push the nozzle over the top, and tape that on too." She watched Wernher tear off a length of tape. "Here - I'll do that if you stick our space-grade vacuum cleaner together."


Wernher and Sherfel surveyed their handiwork with pride.

"Couldn't have done better if we'd brought the parts with us, Flight," Sherfel said happily. "What's next?"

"Stow the nozzle in the bowl and strap in for the ullage burns," said Geneney. "FD has the attitude numbers."

Wernher nodded. "Good," he said. "Better than chasing the stuff all over the equipment bay."

"That's what we thought," said Geneney, "We'll try and put it all in range of your hose too."

Wernher waited until Sherfel was back in her own couch before pulling himself into his seat and strapping in. James glanced over at them, nodded, and took hold of the RCS controls.

"Yaw then roll, Flight?"

"That's affirmative, Jim. Yaw, negative-y translation pulse, roll, plus-z translation pulse."

James crisply worked the controls. Wernher felt Pioneer 1 shift around him, nudged by the fleeting bursts of thrust.

“Manoeuvre completed, Flight."

Wernher was already unbuckling his harness. “Access panel one, Flight?" he asked.

“Access panel one," said Geneney.

Wernher twisted four restraining latches out of the way, and lifted a square metal panel from its frame in the bulkhead. Working slowly in the confined space, he slipped the panel between the panel and the sanitation bowl, and peered inside the maintenance compartment. Shimmering, oily globs of coolant quivered near the bulkhead, but as far as he could see, there weren't any other spills trapped in the maze of plumbing and wiring looms. The globs quivered, rainbows of refracted light scurrying over their translucent surfaces.

“The ullage manoeuvre worked, Flight," he called. “Unstowing suction nozzle." He retrieved the hose and poked it cautiously towards the floating coolant.


Sherfel flipped a switch. “Waste valve A open," she reported.

Wernher reached around the edge of the bulkhead, fingers probing for the waste disposal controls. The button slid into its housing with a firm clunk, followed by a whirr of fans starting up. The quivering mass of liquid trembled, stretched and ruptured into a shower of smaller globules which shot towards the makeshift suction nozzle. Most of them slipped neatly inside, others splashed off the surface, fracturing into yet smaller droplets. Patiently, Wernher chased them down, gently squeezing the cardboard cone to keep it open.

The last rainbow droplet disappeared up the hose. Wernher waited for thirty seconds before switching off the fans. Instantly, Sherfel toggled both switches on her console.

“Waste valve A closed. Venting through waste valve B." She glanced through the side window and was rewarded by the sight of a shower of silvery droplets streaming out from Pioneer 1.

“Venting completed. Closing waste valve B."

“Copy, Pioneer. Good work."

Under the couches, Wernher was busy replacing the access panel and reconnecting the suction hose. He stowed the stained and oily cardboard nozzle safely away in a waste storage bin and pulled himself back into into his couch.

“Pioneer 1, Flight. FD advises that you may want to check your velocity."

All three kerbonauts automatically looked at the computer readout on the central control panel.

Wernher's eyes shone. After two and half days of steady deceleration, Pioneer 1 was finally beginning its long fall towards the Mün. James smiled faintly. “We see it, Flight," he said. “What's our free return status?"

“Free return is Go, Pioneer. Flight dynamics are running the numbers for platform realignment, star sighting checks and MOI. Guidance are prepping your burn data for midcourse correction two."

“Understood, Flight. Standing by."


The RCS valves thumped shut. James released the controls and keyed his microphone. “Flight, Pioneer 1. Midcourse two executed. Board is green."

“Confirmed, Pioneer. Give us another ten for MOI burn data."

Wernher glanced out of the rendezvous window above his head and abruptly stiffened. “Oh my," he said softly. Sherfel glanced at him curiously, eyebrows lifting as she followed his gaze. “Ohhh. Jim, pull your head out of that checklist for a moment and look."

James looked up irritably. Then he caught a glimpse of blue out of the corner of his eye, and snapped his head round reflexively. His frown softened.

“Doesn't look like much from out here, does it?" he said wonderingly.

“Lonely, and terribly, terribly fragile," agreed Sherfel. She clicked her microphone on. “Flight, Pioneer 1. Be advised that we have a visual on you - and you're looking awfully pretty, but awfully lonely out there."

“Say again, Pioneer?"

“We've got Kerbin, Flight," said Sherfel quietly. “The whole planet framed in one rendezvous window."

There was silence from Mission Control, then Geneney pulled himself together with an audible effort. “You might want to get a picture of that, Pioneer," he said, “I think everyone back here could use a reminder of what they're squabbling over."

Sherfel sighed. “Still no news from the Twelve Pillars then?" she said.

“Not since their appeal for calm," replied Geneney, “But that's not stopping every politician and pundit on Kerbin from weighing in with their opinion. The journalists are having a field day."

“I can imagine," said Sherfel heavily, “Some heated opinions too, I bet."

“Just a few," said Geneney dryly. “Although you'll be happy to know that KBS are running stories on three kerbals who are - and I quote - "a shining example of kerbalkind at its best, that should give us all confidence that we can overcome this greatest of challenges." "

“Sounds like somebody is doing a decent job anyway," said James, "Who are they?"

Geneney chuckled. “I'm talking to them right now," he said, “How does it feel to be a beacon of the kerbal spirit?"

Wernher choked. James merely blinked. “Seriously?" he said.

“Seriously," said Geneney, “I'm guessing Leland found a friendly ear somewhere because KBS are suddenly running a lot of stuff on the space program, and especially on you three."

“The right stuff, I hope?" said Sherfel lightly.

“Let's put it this way," said Geneney, “Until yesterday, I'd never seen Jeb blush before."

“That takes some doing," laughed Wernher. “Hope somebody managed to record that, Flight."

“We did," said Geneney, “as well as the 'Engines and Engineers' interview with Hanbal and Ornie."

James's mouth twitched. He struggled for a moment and then burst out laughing too. “They managed to interview Hanbal?"

“And they'll be interviewing him again if Ademone has any say in it," said Geneney. “Once somebody at KBS had the bright idea of putting him in front of a chalkboard, he stole the show! The interviewer got so caught up asking his own questions that he barely had time for his script."

“Ademone had better hope the Institute doesn't try to lure him away from Rockomax," laughed Sherfel.

“Funny you should say that," Geneney replied. “Jeb sent them a recording of the interview, marked 'lecturer training material'.“ He paused. “Anyway - back to business, team. I've got the platform realignment numbers from FD and then we have a service module engine to check over."


“Platform reference set for MOI. Attitude is green, SME is good."

James glanced over at Wernher, who responded with a terse nod.

“Copy, Flight. Burn program loaded, SAS to AUTO. Tank pressures nominal, all valve controllers drawing power."

“We see them, Pioneer. Three minutes to loss of signal."

“Confirm MOI at LOS plus twelve, Flight?"

“That's confirmed, Pioneer. Ignition at FET six eight dot two zero dash one five."

The three kerbonauts checked their instruments. Wernher wriggled his shoulders, trying to dislodge the droplets of cold sweat gathering at the base of his neck. He rolled his head to one side.

“Hey - I've got nothing out here. No stars, just blackness!"

“Copy that, Pioneer," Geneney said calmly, “Looks like you found the Mün. One minute to loss of signal, all systems Go."

“Thanks, Flight." replied James, “We'll see you right back here in a couple of hours."

“We'll hold you to that, Pioneer. Twenty seconds."

Wernher clenched his jaw as Geneney counted down the last few seconds. He sensed Sherfel restlessly scanning the navigation panel beside him.


The air to ground loop faded into static. James switched off the radio. “Right on time," he said with satisfaction. “Twelve minutes to get squared away for Munar orbit insertion."

Wernher fought to keep the impatience out of his voice as he read off the engine settings for the third time. He does have a point. We only get one go at this. Beside him, Sherfel checked and rechecked the navigation panel, fingers shaking on the keyboard.

“Three minutes to ignition. Crew strapped in for burn?"

“Navigation station ready."

“Engineering station ready."

At sixty seconds, a blue light started flashing on Sherfel's panel. She took a deep breath, held it, and pushed the PROCEED button. Beside her, James watched the mission clock intently, hand hovering over the manual ignition controls. The clock clicked over from nineteen to twenty minutes.

"Fifteen seconds."

“Ten seconds."



The service module engine lit. Pioneer 1 shuddered briefly and Wernher glanced nervously at the engine displays. James lifted his hand carefully away from the manual controls, slowly and deliberately resting it on the side of his couch.

“Forty seconds in. How are we looking, Wernher?"

“Looking OK. Tank pressures holding, helium drop is on the curve."

“Not getting any more shaking anyway," said Sherfel.

“No," said James, “Gimbal settings from the ground weren't quite right is all. Nothing the computer couldn't handle. Two minutes in."

“Two?" said Wernher. “Feels like double that."

“Longest two minutes of my life," said Sherfel. She grunted. “Heaviest too."

“Only point three two gee," said James. “Three minutes in."

Pioneer 1 soared into the Munar dawn, engine bell glowing a baleful red in the vacuum. Grey light spilled through the capsule windows, adding a ghostly overlay to the cabin lights. Wernher kept his eyes firmly on the engine readouts.

“Minor fluctuations in helium pressure. Propellant levels good."

James reached for the engine shutdown button. “Thirty seconds to go. Twenty..."

Three pairs of eyes watched the mission clock tick upwards.



Sherfel's fingers raced over her computer keyboard. “Delta-v within predicted limits." A broad smile lit up her face. "and we have a periapsis! Two two five by one six two!"

James blew out his cheeks. “Made it," he murmured, “we actually made it." He shook his head. “Time to safe the SME, then we can take a look outside." He smiled. “Our good flight director has given us the traditional KIS sightseeing orbit, but after that we've got a lot of photography to fit in."


Pioneer 1 drifted serenely along its calculated path, a tiny, twinkling outpost flying over the slate grey plains and shadowed craters of the Mün. It's wide eyed crew pressed up against the spacecraft windows, gaping at a vista both familiar and utterly alien.

Viewed from low orbit, Kerbin's ancient satellite was pockmarked with thousands upon thousands of craters; from barely visible cosmic pinpricks, to colossal scars gouged out of the surface and surrounded by great rays of ejecta blasted out from deep within the Munar crust. The landscape was brutally sharp, with no atmosphere to wear down the mountains, blunt the crater rims, or shroud them both behind a blurred veil of gases.

Suddenly the unrelenting grey horizon was broken by a glimmer of azure light. A small blue-green marble climbed into the sky, a radiant jewel hanging in the infinite midnight. Girt with snowy white clouds and cloaked in soft, diffuse sunlight, Kerbin slowly rose above the Munar mountains.


Geneney sat helplessly at the flight director's console. The flight dynamics team were gathered around Lucan's console studying the data from the abandoned Kerbin departure stage. The other controllers stared at blank displays or screens full of static. The main tracking screen showed a stylised image of the Mün, sitting in one loop of a dotted figure-eight.

Jeb paced up and down behind him, alternately staring at his boots and scowling at the mission clock. At the back of the control room, Leland tapped his microphone, the faint clicking of fingernail on steel a tinny counterpoint to Jeb’s footsteps. Don fiddled half-heartedly with his camera, his gaze also fixed on the mission clock.

A muttered word from Lucan sent the rest of his team back to their console. He pulled on his headphones, his microphone picking up the faint rasp of the headset rubbing against his scalp, and broadcasting it throughout the room.

“Flight, FD."

“Go ahead, FD."

“Five minutes to prime reacquisition, Flight."

“Copy, FD."

Geneney picked up his coffee cup, and promptly set it down again. Empty. Just like the last time I tried. Leland noticed his fidgeting, put two and two together, and handed his microphone to Don. He disappeared into the Press Room, returning with a steaming mug of thick, elderly coffee. Noses twitched around the room, as he carried the mug over to the flight director's console, and set it down within easy reach. Geneney gave him a grateful thumbs up and turned his attention back to the screens.

“One minute to prime, Flight."

“Thank you, FD."

The seconds trickled away. Then every console in Mission Control lit up amidst a clamour of voices.

“Flight, FD. We have telemetry!"

“CapSys here - they're back, Flight!"

“...best view from Wernher's window. Can you roll..?"

“This is Propulsion - receiving engine status!"

“Kerm but that's pretty! One for Jeb's wall..."

“Flight, Pioneer. We're getting a lot of comm noise here."

Geneney leapt to his feet and punched the air. Unnoticed, his headset cord ripped free of the console, flapping around his neck like a high tech cravat. He grabbed his mug and hoisted it in a toast to the flight controllers, an ear-to-ear smile lighting up his face. A huge cheer went up as Jeb bounded forward and pulled the flight director into a great bear hug.

Aboard Pioneer 1, a series of pops and crackles echoed across the air to ground loop, followed by Geneney's cheerful tones.

“Pioneer 1, Flight. Welcome back guys - how does the Mün look from up there?"

“Big, grey, and beautiful, Flight," Sherfel called out. “Especially with old Kerbin on the horizon over there!"

“Wish I could see that, Pioneer!"

“Wernher's taking the holiday snaps as we speak. We'll make sure to keep one for you!"

“Better make that two - Jeb's already jabbering on about his office wall."

Sherfel grinned. “Copy that, Flight."

“Make that three, Pioneer - KBS are looking excited too."

“I'm pretty sure we can get a couple more on the next orbit," said James dryly. “Flight - what's our SME status?"

“Propulsion team are looking over your telemetry as we speak, James," answered Geneney. “Flight dynamics are checking your TKI update - we'll send you the comparison data once we have it."

“Any updates to MOI-2?"

“Negative. We're still aiming for circularisation on orbit three. The rest of the flight plan is unchanged: press interview on orbit two, photo-reconnaissance on orbits three through five, including plane shifts, TKI on orbit six."

“Understood, Flight. Tell KBS we're sorry about the TV camera."

“Not your fault, Pioneer. We'll have a look at it once you get home."


After the first leisurely orbit of the Mün, the Pioneer 1 crew settled into a steady routine of monitoring the capsule systems, surface observations, and photography. Looking back on their journey, Wernher would remember their one meal break as 'the most surreal picnic of my life', bobbing against the capsule window, ration pack in one hand, staring out at the Munar surface. James would talk about the relief of completing every orbit with a systems check from Mission Control. Sherfel's lasting memory was of the Far Side. On one side of the Mün, three kerbals in their own tiny world. On the other, and hundreds of thousands of kilometres away, everything and everyone else that she'd ever known.

But all of them spoke of the engine. As Wernher would put it many years later. “None of us ever mentioned it on the flight. Me least of all - I mean, I designed the thing, and helped to build it. What could I say after that? Besides, there wasn't any point - if it fired, it fired. If it didn't, we had our backup options, and if they failed too, then that was it. I don't think that stopped us thinking about it though, and I know I was always pretty relieved to get a good telemetry check from Gene on each orbit. I guess I don't need to say that I was even more relieved when we didn't need the backup options on orbit six."


James squeezed the last of the creva stew out of his ration pack and chewed it thoughtfully. He glanced at the comms panel, checking that the air to ground loop with Mission Control was switched off, then turned to face his crew.

“Wernher," he said at last. “Now that we've finally got some downtime, perhaps you could answer a question for me?"

Wernher looked at him quizzically. “I can try," he replied. “What is it?"

“TMI," said James slowly, “I saw your face when Jeb came on-loop - it looked like you were expecting it?"

Wernher shrugged. “I wasn't told either," he said, “but Jeb's been working towards this flight since he was a student at the Institute. If he wasn't up here himself, not a single kerbal in the KIS would have begrudged him the flight director's seat, Gene least of all."

Sherfel blinked. “How old is Jeb?" she asked.

“He was nearly nine years out of the Institute when we launched the Kerbal 1," Wernher said quietly, “and that wasn't yesterday."

For the first time that Wernher could remember, James looked genuinely impressed. “That's a long time," he said softly. “And when his dream flight came up, he still didn't pull the boss slot."

“No," said Wernher. “We would have given it to him, but Jeb's always been scrupulous about fair crew selection. You wouldn't have guessed it from my tutorial group, but he's grown up to be one hell of a leader. I doubt anybody else could have kept us going long enough to see the Kerbal 1 fly."

“You were Jeb's tutor?" exclaimed Sherfel.

Wernher nodded. “And supervisor for his final year project."

Sherfel caught the shift in his voice. “Sounds like there's a story there," she said, checking the flight clock. “And we've got a couple of hours before the next systems check. I could use something to pass the time."


The canteen doors swung shut. Wernher looked curiously at Jeb Kerman, sitting alone at a nearby table, prodding an unappetising mush of tubers, beans and greens around his plate. He walked over and sat down by the younger kerbal.

“Mind if I join you, Jeb?"

Jeb laughed hollowly, “Sure. There might even be some stew left if you're unlucky."

Wernher's face fell as he took in the empty canteen. “Oh well,“ he said, “Looks like sandwiches again. Anyhow - what's up, Jeb? Not like you to be sitting here on your own."

Jeb looked moodily at his tutor. “Final year project." he said briefly, “Still can't think of anything to do."

“I thought you were helping Bill with his stability augmentation system?" said Wernher.

“Yeah, I thought about that," said Jeb, “but I want to build something, Wernher. Not a mockup for a wind tunnel, not a chunk of circuitry to plug into a test sim. I want to take something outside and see it fly."

“Ahh," said Wernher carefully, “I think I see the problem."

Jeb pushed his plate away. “Yeah. I don't think a hobby shop plane is really going to cut it. What about you, Wernher? How are the jet intakes working?"

Wernher glanced around surreptitiously. “Variable geometry pre-cooling intakes," he said absently, "Theory looks sound, if I can build a light enough heat exchanger." He looked at Jeb thoughtfully. “I've been working on a side project though." He got to his feet. “C'mon. I think you need to see this."

The two kerbals crossed the main quadrangle of the Kerbin Aeronautical Research Institute and headed for the large blocky building of the Jet Propulsion Department. As they walked, Jeb tried to keep up with Wernher's muttered monologue.

“So anyway, I figured that if you can't get enough air through the intake at that altitude, then why not store it onboard. Or if not air, then something that would do the same job. Then I realised that you could power the whole aircraft like that - and with a much simpler engine. Just a pair of turbo-pumps, a combustion chamber and a nozzle really, although getting the details right was tricky. I thought about solids for a bit but they're not very controllable."

Jeb choked. “You seriously thought about propelling an aircraft with fireworks?" he spluttered.

Wernher looked around frantically. “Shhhhh," he whispered, “Yes, fireworks basically, but a bit more refined." He pulled a key out of his pocket and unlocked the side door to the JPD. They hurried down the corridor to Wernher's workshop.

“What's all this whispering and secrecy for?" asked Jeb.

Wernher gave him a sidelong look. “Well partly it's because I'm not really ready to show this to anyone yet," he said, “but also, I've ummm borrowed one or two things from the lab to build the D1."

“D1?" said Jeb.

“Demo 1," said Wernher, stuffing equipment into two large bags. Jeb spotted a pair of gas cylinders and what looked like a tripod stand. “Not a very original name I admit, but nice and anonymous. OK, that's everything - let's go!"

“Wernher - what on Kerbin is wrong with the Institute test range?"

“I told you, Jeb - I'm not ready to show this to anyone yet. You're only getting a sneak peek because you were looking so damn miserable in the canteen. Right - here we are."

Jeb wiped the sweat from his forehead. The Institute buildings were safely out of sight, hidden by the hillside and a small copse of trees. The ground underfoot was hard packed and rocky and Wernher was having trouble setting up his tripod.

“Ooof, OK that's far enough. Test rig next."

Jeb looked at the spindly contraption. “Hold on." he said slowly. “Isn't that..."

“Borrowed!" said Wernher, “And I haven't done anything to it. Well, nothing that I can't undo anyway. Right - propellant tanks next." He hung the gas cylinders on the makeshift test stand. Jeb raised his eyebrows as he recognised the name of a well known brand of camping gas stencilled on the side of one of them.

“Stove gas, Wernher?"

“Yes, yes, stove gas and nitrous oxide. OK, propellant lines are secure, just need to plug in the control box..."

Jeb eyed the finished article skeptically. The D1 seemed to consist of an oddly shaped nozzle attached to a metal ball which was studded with bits and pieces of equipment. Two thin hoses connected the ball to the gas cylinders, and the whole unlikely contrivance hung from the tripod on a rather expensive set of strain gauges. Cables trailed from various points into the control box in Wernher's hands.

“Are you sure about this, Wernher?"

“Perfectly sure. Here we go."

Jeb glanced around for the nearest rock to hide behind as Wernher started mumbling to himself.

“Valves open...gas generator on..."

A small flame appeared at the tip of a tube.

“Pumps spinning up - and ignition!"

Jeb heard a sharp metallic clicking from the depths of Wernher's contraption, jumping backwards as a gust of flame shot out of the nozzle with a whump of exploding gas. With a steadily building roar, the gust quickly focused into a bright blue flame. Jeb laughed.

“It even sounds like a camping stove, Wernher."

Wernher's only response was to point at the strain gauge assembly. Jeb leaned gingerly forward.

Hey - not bad." Then a thought struck him. “Wernher - you designed this for high altitude flight right? How high is high exactly?"

Wernher shrugged. “Whatever you like, provided there's still enough air for the wings."

“What about a vacuum?" Jeb raised his hand. “Yeah, yeah, can't fly in a vacuum I know,  but the engine should still work right?"

“It should work better in a vacuum," said Wernher slowly. “but why a.... oh you can't be serious, Jeb?"

Jeb's eyes gleamed. “Oh yes I can, Wernher. I think we need to give your camping stove a new name and I'm thinking that LV-1 has a nice ring to it."


“Launch Vehicle One, Wernher. Launch. Vehicle. One!"


Wernher unclipped his water bottle and took a long drink. “And that's how it all started," he said. “By the time Jeb finished his final year project, he'd already founded the Kerbin Interplanetary Society and started work on a new LV-2 engine. He even put together a relatively conservative research proposal - complete with a raft of anticipated benefits for other Institute research programs - for a sounding rocket based on it. Unfortunately, the KIS also had a tendency to be... vocal about critics of our spaceflight ambitions, which the Institute rather took exception to. Eventually of course, we were kicked out for wasting Institute time and resources on “overgrown toys and ridiculous flights of fancy." '

“But you kept going?" said Sherfel quietly.

“We did," said Wernher. “We pooled all our money to start up the junkyard business, partly to fund our experiments, and partly to get hold of some parts and raw materials." He grinned. “Once we were established, Geneney had the bright idea of bidding on the Institute's recycling contract. I'm sure at least one of the senior professors was highly amused to see us reduced to hauling Institute scrap, but most of our best early stock - including our first pressure suits - was basically recovered from Institute dumpsters."

James shook his head. “And you managed to build a crewed sub-orbital spacecraft out of it."

“It took a lot longer than we expected," said Wernher ruefully. “Not surprising really, given what we had to work with. But we made it. The Kerbal 1 flight was a success, Bill had the presence of mind to take his camera, and the rest you know about." He rolled his shoulders. “Anyway, enough storytelling - we should probably check in with Mission Control."


“You're flying straight through the window, Pioneer. Good luck."

“Thank you, Flight. Hope the service module is flying through a different one."

“That's confirmed, Pioneer. No need to check your mirrors."

Pioneer 1 sped towards Kerbin. The booster stages which had lofted it into orbit almost seven days ago were long since gone, as was the Kerbin departure stage which had launched it towards the Mün. Now, shorn of its service module too, kerbalkind's first ever Münship was reduced to its barest essence - a small conical capsule and its three crew.

Inside, Wernher stared back at the thin sliver of Mün still visible through the rendezvous window, the steadily increasing glow from Kerbin's atmosphere making it harder and harder to see.

Odd colour though, I expected it to be bluer somehow.

Sherfel's urgent voice broke into his thoughts. “Jim - we're getting plasma!"

“Already?" James looked up from his instruments. “Kerm! Way earlier than normal. Hang on to your seats - this could get rough!"

The glow intensified. A faint, high pitched scream at the edge of hearing, scraped across Wernher’s nerves. Pioneer 1 plunged onwards, carving a luminous tunnel through the first wispy traces of Kerbin's atmosphere.

The capsule creaked and rattled, the contents of various storage lockers shifting under the building g-forces. Outside, the glowing plasma started to take on a yellowy orange tint. Wernher grunted at the unaccustomed pressure pressing him into his couch.

Oof - only point two gee. Remember the centrifuge, Wernher - remember the centrifuge!

After nearly a week in serene silence, the roar of capsule slamming into atmosphere was painfully loud. Wernher narrowed his eyes and focused on his breathing, shock-heated air casting a ruddy orange glare over the capsule interior. The capsule itself twisted and turned in a precise, computer controlled ballet, lifting slightly to ease the forces crushing the kerbonauts into their couches, then dipping back into the rapidly thickening air. Flames shot past the window, riven with incandescent flakes and chunks of burning heat shield. James glanced at them uneasily. Hope those aren't as big as they look. Cold sweat pooled under his arms. Hope they don't look that big for Tommal either. The capsule shook, blurring his view of the instrument panel, and the angry hiss of static filled his ears.

The reentry fires began to recede, fading to a dull orange, shot through with occasional bursts of flame. Wernher watched the altimeter unwinding at tremendous speed as Pioneer 1 plummeted through the sky. The static in his ears began to fade, replaced by James's voice.

“Flight, Pioneer 1. Come in, Flight."

“Flight, Pioneer 1. Come in, Flight."

Wernher's headphones crackled, broken snatches of words chasing their way through the static, accompanied by what sounded like distant cheering.

“Flight, Pioneer 1. Come in, Flight."

“Pioneer 1, Flight! We're reading you loud and we're reading you clear!"

“Thank Kerm for that. Standing by for drogues."

With a loud crack, the altimeter slowed its frantic spinning, the capsule twisting slowly from side to side. Then a heavy thump signalled the release of the main chutes. Pioneer 1 jerked and swayed, slowing to a graceful descent as the parachutes unfurled. A huge, unabashed smile of relief spread over Wernher's face at the familiar, but never more welcome, announcement from Mission Control.

“Flight, Pioneer 1. We read you on the mains. Welcome home!"


<< Chapter 43:     Chapter 45>>

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You really manage to keep the atmosphere of this, and the whole feel of NASA style communications. Building the first rocket at their university? OK, institute. :) Still, nice touch. You still didn't say how long it's been since then, or even between Kerbal 1 and the Pioneer.

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You really manage to keep the atmosphere of this, and the whole feel of NASA style communications. Building the first rocket at their university? OK, institute. :) Still, nice touch. You still didn't say how long it's been since then, or even between Kerbal 1 and the Pioneer.

Thanks! It was nine years (give or take) from first rocket to First Flight:

Sherfel blinked. “How old is Jeb?†she asked.

“He was nearly nine years out of the Institute when we launched the Kerbal 1,†Wernher said quietly, “and that wasn’t yesterday.â€Â

Kerbal 1 to Pioneer - yeah I'm being deliberately vague about that. :) Partly because bits of the current story don't quite add up at the moment, although they can be fixed by tweaking the timeline a bit. I won't be retconning the current version but for personal satisfaction, I may go back over the whole story once I'm done and re-write where necessary.

Mostly though, I'm reluctant to nail down the timeline for story reasons. 'Space-program-in-a-shed' is fun, and I've tried to make it vaguely plausible (once you've gotten over that initial suspension of disbelief anyway), but I think that fitting that part of the story to a particular timeline is inviting deeper scrutiny than it can really handle. :)

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Wait, ten thousand delta-V to get to the Mun? Or am I misunderstanding that?

Trans-lunar injection burn for the Apollo launch required "3.05 to 3.25 km/s (10,000 to 10,600 ft/s) of delta-v, at which point the spacecraft was traveling at approximately 10.4 km/s (34150 ft/s) relative to the Earth." (emphasis mine); I presume that's what they're talking about.

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Spot on. I've scaled the Kerbin-Mün system on our Earth-Moon system since the beginning, rather than deal with in-universe explanations for game scaled physics, but I guess this is the first chapter where the distances become obvious. 274,000 km is approximately correct as well (although the flight elapsed time is a bit of a guesstimate) given that Pioneer 1 is a couple of hours out from the Mün's SOI at the start of the chapter. Interestingly, when scaled to the Earth-Moon system, Minmus is only just within Kerbin's Hill Sphere and may be slightly outside it. :)

Briansun1 - thanks! Sorry to leave you hanging with a teaser before, but I wanted to get that last bit of KIS background in before adding a summary to the cast list.

Yukon0009 - I don't know what to say. Thank you very much.

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Thanks both. Czokletmuss's work is a high bar for comparison so that means a lot to me. The next couple of chapters are also going to be tough ones to write, so the encouragement is very much appreciated.

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 4 weeks later...

Happy Easter, or Spring Break as the case may be!

Next chapter is up.


"... and we'll be bringing you more on this story as it develops. It's ten o' clock and this is Capital Radio."


Lodan switched off the radio, turned out the light and burrowed down under his bedcovers. Thirty seconds later he was fast asleep.

He awoke to the sound of birdsong and leaves rustling outside his window. Sunlight stole around a gap in the curtains, casting a narrow white fan across the bed. Blinking muzzily, Lodan sat up and stared at his alarm clock in astonishment. Then he leapt out of bed and dashed for the moss room.

The face peering back at him from the mirror was distinctly careworn around the edges with more new wrinkles around the eyes and corners of its mouth than he cared to contemplate. The eyes though, were brighter and more alert than they had been for weeks. They clouded over briefly, then stared back at him with new resolve.

I'll brief Aldsen first thing. I owe him that much.

Lodan scraped the last of the stubble off his chin. He briefly considered leaving his nascent moustache to grow out but eyed the grey-streaked bristle covering his upper lip and shook his head. More toothless old kermol than dignified leader. Two brisk strokes of his razor later it was gone.


The shadow covering most of Aldsen's jaw was only marginally darker than the bags under his eyes. He tapped a button on his keyboard, freezing the scrolling text on his screen, then swivelled to face Lodan.

“You always were a hopeless liar, Director," he said without rancour. “That line about following instructions without asking questions was just a little too casual to be true."

Lodan froze. “You knew?" he asked quietly.

“That you were hiding something? Yes - but I had no idea what." Aldsen scrubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands and looked at Lodan wearily. “It was Capital News's little thunderbolt that you were carefully avoiding wasn't it? Please don't tell me it was anything worse."

Lodan laughed humourlessly. “If you had anything worse in mind, I'd hate to hear about it," he said. He lifted a stack of computer printouts off the nearest chair and sat down. “So what brings you into the office this late in the evening?"

“Figuring out a way to fill out the missing numbers on our map data," Aldsen replied, stifling a yawn. He waved at the gridded charts plastered across the walls of the main MIR laboratory. “Bottom right for current Kerm count, bottom left for additional supportable Kerm, I'm guessing?"

“That was the eventual plan," Lodan said. He shook his head in disgust, “Once I was...."

“Allowed to tell everyone by the Twelve?" said Aldsen calmly. He raised his eyebrows at the look on Lodan's face. “Hopeless liar, remember. Only the Council could get you to even try."

Lodan opened his mouth, then closed it again, contenting himself with a terse nod. Kerm save me from logical subordinates. "So, what do you have for me?" he asked at last.

In reply, Aldsen tapped another key, waited a moment and then turned his monitor round. Lodan didn't recognise the section of Kerbin filling most of the screen but the terrain was rugged with the edge of a mountain range in the top right corner and a ragged spear of foothills bisecting the rest of the map. Aldsen typed in a command and a contour plot rapidly overlaid the image. Fascinated, Lodan leaned forward, finger hovering over the screen as he traced out the curve of one hilltop.

“Impressive. Are they to scale?"

“They wouldn't be much help if they weren't," said Aldsen. “And to answer your next question - stereo imaging. Took a while to re-orient the satellite properly but once we had, we took a complete backsight image set. The maths isn't too bad - you just need a lot of computer time to extract the elevations - but good image alignment is challenging."

“I can imagine," said Lodan. “Do you have elevation data for the whole map."

“Not yet," said Aldsen. “Kolus is finished and we did get quite a lot of Firesvar done before Germore's probe arrived at Minmus. Since then we haven't had as much free machine time, although I believe Firesvar is almost finished now."

“I think we're going to need more computers," muttered Lodan.

Aldsen nodded. “That would be helpful. In the meantime." He tapped in another command. There was a noticeable pause and then clusters of grey dots started appearing over the map. Another pause and each dot expanded, their edges bulging or withdrawing amoeba-like, as they flowed around the contour lines.

“We used a fairly arbitrary Grove size on the original mapping project,†said Aldsen. “It seemed like a reasonable short-cut at the time since we were primarily concerned with total numbers rather than area covered. I spent rather a lot of last night finding the proper size to use and calibrating the system to use that size. In the end it wasn't too bad - Groves are actually surprisingly regular."

Lodan studied the map. “This valley here is almost all occupied but there's some space on the other side of that ridge. "He looked at Aldsen hopefully. “I don't suppose...?"

Aldsen smiled faintly and tapped a key. Immediately, a sprinkling of green blobs spattered across the map, blocking out most of the remaining space. The computer beeped and flashed up a depressingly low number in the bottom left corner of the screen.

Lodan looked at it thoughtfully. “You've set it up for zero overlap between Groves?" he said.

“Yes," said Aldsen. “I assumed that any new Groves will be planted to avoid further Blight - and besides, it made the fitting algorithm a lot easier to write."

“But one could set it up for a limited amount of overlap?"

Aldsen looked shocked. “Yes - but the Blight!"

“Not if the overlap zones were properly placed," said Lodan impatiently. “Put them along rivers, on rocky or low grade land. “ He poked a finger at the blank spaces around the green blobs. “We're wasting a lot of space here, which we can scarcely afford."

Aldsen tipped his chair back as he considered the problem. “Difficult," he said at last. “Rivers wouldn't be too bad - we can do a feature recognition pass and extract those. I've already built in a contour density filter so picking out cliffs and suchlike is doable. Recognising soil types though." Aldsen looked dubious. “Not sure if that would work. Not reliably anyway. And then cooking up a best fit algorithm to glue it all together?" He shook his head. “Possible, Director but not probable I would say. And we could waste an awful lot of time trying to make it work."

Lodan nodded. “Which we may not have. I think we're going to need a lot more computers and a lot more kerbals to use them." He straightened his shoulders.“Until then, the Minmus imaging program is officially on hold. All computing capacity in this lab - and any spare capacity outside the lab - will be allocated to completing the elevation map and populating it with correctly scaled Groves. From there, we'll do this the old-fashioned way."

“How much time do we have?" said Aldsen quietly.

“Nobody knows for sure," replied Lodan grimly. “The best guess we have from the Berelgan team is thirty-five to forty years, with new Seedings peaking at about twenty years from now."

Aldsen's chair lurched forward with a crash. “Forty?!" he exclaimed. “And all the Kerm are going to be Seeding?"

Lodan's eyes had lost their early morning shine. “Yes," he said, “Age doesn't seem to be a factor so far as we can tell from the Berelgan records. The Berelgan team are trying to find a way of close-planting new Kerm without triggering the Blight but until then we need to know how many new ones we can safely plant and where." He cocked an eyebrow at Aldsen. “No pressure of course."

Aldsen swallowed hard. “And what happens if the Berelgan can't find a way?" he said.

“Then it's Germore's turn," said Lodan. “And we'd better hope that our space program is up to the task of setting up another home on whichever planet she picks for us."


Gerselle watched the line of villagers wind its way up the path, a grim-faced Ferry in the lead, followed by Fredlorf and a host of angry looking kerbals behind him. She stood aside, unable to meet Ferry's eye, as they marched through her front door and through to the sleep room.

The door crashed open. Startled, Jonton looked up, saw the expression on Ferry's face and hung his head. The leaves swaddling his kerbal body drooped in sympathy. Fredlorf was the first to speak, his voice laced with bitterness.

"So yer not much of a hero after all, are yeh."

It wasn't a question. Jonton shook his head mutely.

"Sacrificin' yerself to save the village from the Blight that you started in the firs' place. That ain't heroism - that's payin' yer share."

The villagers around him muttered in angry agreement.

"No choice," murmured Jonton, "Couldn't leave the seed to die on stony ground."

"Better if yeh had," retorted Fredlorf. "We'd have our best fields still and you wouldn't be strung up agains' that damn tree!"

Shocked whispers broke the angry muttter. Ferry cleared his throat. "No need for that, Fred," he said. "What sort of Keeper would leave a Kerm to die?" He shook his head. "No - Jonton did right there - but why he didn't just plant that Kerm someplace else I'll never know." The bitterness crept back into his voice. "And why he couldn't tell his best friends the whole story? I'll never know that either."

"Because he - we - had orders not to," said Gerselle quietly.

"Orders?" scoffed Fredlorf, "Who'd be givin' yeh orders?"

"Chief Ambassador Donman," replied Gerselle. "Representing all the Twelve Pillars."

Ferry's jaw dropped. Fredlorf snorted. "Right. An' how did they get to hearin' about it?"

The Kerm leaves rustled. "Because I told them," said Jonton evenly. "The Chief Ambassador was gracious enough to convey my request for Conclave to the Council." He looked sadly at Ferry. "Do you remember that conversation we had about memories? The one where I told you about sharing memories with the Kerm, Ferry - about being the Kerm?"

Ferry nodded hesitantly.

"I shared them with Chief Ambassador Donman too. I think the Council has been looking for an answer ever since."

The village Archivist coughed. "An answer to what, Keeper?" he said.

Jonton opened his mouth to speak but Gerselle interrupted him. "Why don't you just show them?" she said gently. "The same way you showed the Ambassador - and the same way you showed me."

Jonton's leaves pricked up. " Why not?" he murmured. "I used to commune with many kerbals at a time after all."

Gerselle nodded. "Somebody could use the leaf cluster over my bed and there are some low-lying clusters next door that could also be used. I think Ferry and Fred deserve to go first, but who else?"

Jonton gave her a lopsided smile. "That's easy," he said. "Who better to put all this into context than an Archivist."

Gerselle turned to Jerdin. "Would you be willing?"

Jerdin blinked to clear his watering eyes. "I'm not sure what you mean, Gerselle," he said politely. "Willing to do what?"

"To commune with Jonton," said Gerselle, "With Ferry and Fred."

Jerdin's brow wrinkled. "I don't understand," he said. "Jonton is the Keeper surely - not the Kerm. And sharing a Kerm is...rather personal, is it not? In fact, is it even possible for a non-Keeper?"

Gerselle looked at him sympathetically. "It is," she said, “Trust me, it's a very long story but Jonton is the best one to tell it... and show it... and make you feel it. She thought for a moment then smiled mischievously at Jerdin. "Besides, as an archivist and historian, wouldn't you like to be a part of something that no kerbal has experienced since before the Age of Madness?"

Jerdin polished his lorgnettes on his sleeve. "The Age of Madness is a rather old-fashioned name," he noted. "Most of us refer to it as the Age of Myths, since the few remaining Records of that time are little more than a retelling of older myths and legends." He shrugged. "Although a few, otherwise quite respectable, historians have advanced the notion that some of the less fanciful remnants are the fragmented legal system of a long gone Empire."

"That's closer than you might think," said Jonton quietly. "In many ways the Age of Madness is everything, Archivist - both the key to understanding our past and quite possibly the key to creating our future."

"So what are we waitin' for?" said Fredlorf, rolling his eyes. "If Jonton's goin' ta show us something, lets get on with it."

Gerselle plumped up the pillows on her bed and tapped the bedcovers. "Come and lie down then, Fred." She raised her eyebrows at his suddenly uncertain expression. "Oh, for Kerm's sake."

Fredlorf flushed dark green and lay down on the bed, flinching as the Kerm leaves brushed his forehead. Gerselle studied him for a moment.

"Lift your head up, Fred."

Nervously, Fredlorf obeyed. Gerselle pulled a spare pillow out from under the bed and wedged it under his head. He lowered his head, eyes rolling back into their sockets as he tried to watch the leaves.

"Are yeh sure about this, Gerselle? Thought this was only fer Keepers, like Jerdin was sayin'."

"Not just for Keepers, Fred, " said Jonton. He looked at Jerdin. "That is a myth - but one that was spread for a very good reason. Just try and relax - I'll tell you when it's all about to start."

Gerselle hauled a heap of spare bedcovers and pillows out of a cupboard. The now silent crowd parted before her as she made her way to the door, arms laden with quilts. Jerdin and Ferry followed her with the more curious villagers trailing along behind. In the living room, she piled up the covers in two rough pallets at the foot of the Kerm trunk. She placed a pillow under each leaf cluster and turned towards Jerdin and Ferry.

"Please - pick a place to lie. It doesn't matter which, just so long as the leaves can rest against your head." She faced the group of kerbals behind them. "It'll take a while for Jonton .to explain everything. You're all very welcome to stay but there won't be very much for the rest of us to see."

Nervously, Jerdin and Ferry took their places under the Kerm leaves, Jerdin twitching as their hairs tickled his scalp.

"How long is this going to take, Gerselle? These things are making me itch."

"Depends how long Jonton takes," replied Gerselle. "Two hours maybe?" She caught the look on Jerdin's face. "Don't worry, you won't notice the itch once the communion starts. I'll just let him know you're ready."

Jonton tapped his fingers against his water bowl, one eye on the door, one eye on Fredlorf. He raised a eyebrow as Gerselle came into the room, dipping his head solemnly at her answering nod. He closed his eyes, reaching out, feeling for the kerbal flesh under his leaves. On the bed, Fredlorf shifted restlessly.

"Sorry, Fred - I know it tickles but this won't take a minute. Just relax - I'm starting the communion now."

One by one, three clusters of leaves dipped towards three waiting kerbal heads. A swift burst of flickering images filled each waiting mind, followed by a soft white light. Jonton's head snapped back as a storm of emotions cascaded through the mental link; unease feeding on nervousness, swelling into fear, teetering on the edge of panic. Fighting down his own rising panic, he did his best to project calm reassurance, confidence and stillness. Gradually the storm steadied, quivering like a wild animal poised between fight or flight.

Can everybody hear me? 

Fredlorf's head jerked up. "How in the... Jonton?"

It's me, Fred. No need to talk, just think of whatever you need to say. I don't quite know how this works with four - Ferry, Jerdin, can you hear us?

The quivering, nascent panic began to recede. A growing wonder bloomed in Jonton's mind, spiralling upwards into delight as swiftly as the previous unease had spirallled downwards into panic.

This is Ferry. I can hear you Jonton - and Fred too! Are you alright, Jerdin?

Much more than alright, Ferry! This is... Kerm, I don't have the words for this.

A ripple of relief and barely masked concern lapped over the three kerbals. Jonton sensed their reflected concern racing back towards him, magnified into a tidal wave of clumsily projected reassurance and joy.

Woahhhh - steady everyone, steady! I'm fine, I'm fine! This is going to take some getting used to, I think. Right, pictures next. Let me know if you can see anything.

The mental link fell silent. Jonton sensed eddies of expectation, then a surge of excitement followed by puzzlement. Ferry was the first to speak.

I don't know about Fred or Jerdin but I can see a sapling and ... a kerbal I think. Not sure what else it could be but it's like no kerbal I've ever seen before.

Currents of agreement and confusion lapped against Jonton's mind. Slowly he blew out a gusty sigh, running through his story in his mind whilst struggling not to broadcast his every thought to the others.

Oh he's definitely a kerbal, Ferry. Jonton paused. One of my first kerbals in fact. Welcome to the Kerbin of your far distant ancestors.


The last image of Barkton faded back into white light. Fredlorf sat up, blinking and rubbing his head. He stared at Jonton wordlessly. Footsteps echoed outside and Ferry and Jerdin appeared in the doorway, followed by Gerselle and the few villagers who had opted to wait. Silently, Ferry and Jerdin sat down on the bed beside Fredlorf, watching as everybody else filed in.

"Looks like we've got some more buildin' work to do, Jonton."

Fredlorf ran his fingers through his hair. "Providin' that you an Gerselle don' mind of course. If yeh can talk to three of us, reckon you could speak to as many as could fit around yer trunk. They'll be needing summat to lie on though, specially if we're goin' to be using those high-up leaves."

The villagers standing against the wall looked confused but Gerselle just nodded. "Reckon you're right Fred." She smiled at her husband. "Better get used to telling that story, my love."

Ferry raised .his head "Yes. Everyone is the village needs to see this." He lifted his hands helplessly. "Everyone on Kerbin needs to see this for that matter, although I have no idea how."

"But what are we going to do, Jonton?" said Jerdin, wide-eyed. “The Blight, the Seeding... what are we going to do?!"

Jonton stirred. "I've finally got half an idea about that," he said. Gerselle looked at him in surprise. "The easy half I would think but it's a start. Jerdin - I'm going to need a map that you don't mind me drawing on - plus one of your folding tables from the Records hall. Oh - and a pair of compasses.

Jerdin nodded jerkily. "I'll be right back, Jonton." He jumped to his feet and dashed out of the room. One of the villagers chuckled to see the normally unflappable Archivist scuttling away like an overenthusiastic kerblet but his laughter petered out in the silence. He stared at Ferry and Fredlorf, both leaning against the wall, eyes distant and unfocused.

"So what did you see?" he asked. "What was the big explanation, the long story?"

Ferry looked at him blankly. Fredlorf shook his head. "Reckon Gerselle had that part right," he said quietly. "You'd need to ask Jonton - wouldn't sound right comin' from me and most of it's in the showing anyways. But if I told yeh it was the best thing in the world bein' used to show yeh the worst things in the world, that would start to get there."

There was a long, awkward silence, punctuated by the rustle of ponchos and shuffling feet and the occasional cough. Then, the silence was broken by clattering and the rapid slap-slap-slap of sandalled feet. Jerdin burst into the room, robes flapping about his ankles, laden with map and table. Panting, he unfolded the table, unrolled the map over it and set both down within easy reach of Jonton.

"Got...the rest... here too, Keeper." Jerdin fumbled in his pocket, nearly dropping the drawing instruments in his haste. "Think... that was everything?"

Jonton studied the map for a moment. "That's perfect, Jerdin - thank you. If everyone could gather round?" He waited until all the villagers found a space around the map, before unfolding the compasses.

"Right. As best I can tell, we planted Gerselle's Grove here." Jonton pointed at the map. "Her Kerm's territory extends to the sunfruit fields...here, so it's total range isn't far off this." He drew a circle on the map. "Now my territory covers the rest of our fields - obviously - but also the surrounding woodlands. There's no Grove yet on the other side of the woods but if there was, its Kerm's territory would cover this ground here." Jonton drew another circle on the map and looked up expectantly.

Ferry saw it immediately. "What about the overlap? We don't want Blight in the woods."

"Better the woods than the fields," answered Jonton, "but you're right - we don't want more Blight if we can help it - and I believe we can help it. As Capital News helpfully mentioned last night, Blight happens when two Kerm fight over territory. But this an-Kerm," he jabbed a thumb at his chest, "would prefer to retreat rather than fight! And if I can retreat before the new Grove is even planted, then there should never be a need to fight."

"an-Kerm?" said Jerdin wonderingly. "Kerm-an are outside, or outwith, the Kerm, so an-Kerm are..." He laughed. "Very nice, Jonton. Inside the Kerm indeed!"

Ferry's eyes lit up. "You can do that, Jonton?"

"I think so," said Jonton. "It won't be easy but I think it's possible."

Gerselle saw the brief flicker cross his face and eyed him narrowly. There's something you're not telling me here, Jonton Kermol. "It's a nice idea," she said aloud, "but even if it works, a single an-Kerm can't stop the Blight for all of Kerbin."

Jonton dropped his gaze. "I know," he said softly. "That's the hard half that I haven't worked out yet."

"It's a start though," said Fredlorf briskly, "an' startin's always the hardest part of anythin'. Though I'm wonderin' how yeh goin' to know how far to retreat, Jonton?"

Jonton grinned. "That's the easiest part of it, Fred," he said. "Gerselle can tell you how."

I can? Ohhh - of course. "Star poppies would be best," Gerselle answered. "Quick growing, easily visible to Kerm and kerbal alike, and they're pretty flowers for the kerblets to plant."

Jonton drew a dotted line on the map alongside the second circle. "Poppies would work nicely," he agreed. "Plant small clumps of them along this line here and that will mark how far I need to retreat. Then I just need to do it."


<< Chapter 44:     Chapter 46>>

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I just started reading this on Wednesday. I couldn't stop until I got all the way through the latest chapter.

This is more than fanfiction, it's a freaking work of art. Amazing job, KSK. Can't wait for what's coming up. :)

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Next chapter in progress and I've finally managed to join up the dots on the next part of the plot, which I've been chewing over for a while.

As an aside, I was tickled by this announcement in yesterday's devnotes:

Went over the balance and progression of the SRBs in early games. We now have a new SRB, called the RT-5 “Flea†Booster. (Model by Bob “RoverDudeâ€Â)

Just need somebody to make an LV-15 now...:)

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I just found this, and I'm just... amazed by everything about this story. When I started reading, I thought it was going to be just a semi-serious history of the space program going from a few parts found "by the side of the road" to SSTOs and Laythe colonies, but I never expected to see all these intersecting plots, the history of the Kerbal species, and even the origin of "Kerman."

For that matter, the... diversity? of mood and tone is something I rarely see in fanfiction. Ordinarily you wouldn't see quips like "Rule 1 of science: where there are scientists, there's coffee" in the same story as:

"Oh I think plenty of people will, Jeb," said Geneney grimly. "Except that the rockets won't be going very far - and they won't have capsules on top either.â€Â

By the way, I am curious about a thing or two.

First, do you have any vision of what Rockomax's smaller liquid-fuel engines, two-Kerbal capsule, and habitation module looked like?

Second, is there a map of Kerbin somewhere in this thread showing the regionalities and major cities? Barkton's location is obvious, and I'm guessing Wakira is the penninsula east of the Space Center, but where are the Rockomax launch site (Foxham, right?), the KSA's three tracking stations, and the other major locations mentioned in the story such as the Capital?

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Hey ArmchairRocketScientist! Thanks for the kind words and thanks indeed for stopping by to post them. I have to admit that the story was originally intended (more or less) as a semi-serious history of peaceful exploration but after some quiet off-thread advice from Scotius, I realized that it would probably need a bit more plot than that. Things kinda snowballed from there. :)

About those questions. The Rockomax engines were intended as clunkier, more primitive versions of their small in-game engines. Much in the same way that the KIS started out with the RT-5 and lower numbered versions of the LV-T30. I don't have any particular ideas about visuals but they're probably not painted orange!

As for the capsule, kind of the mutant stepchild of Voskhod (except a little bigger - proper two crew capsule) and Gemini, so a generally frustrum shaped service module with a kinda spherical crew module. The habitation module - I'd have to check my notes but from memory, it's basically a big metal cotton reel, two pairs of windows on opposite sides with the solar array in the middle:


That kind of arrangement. Plus a bunch of handholds, foot restraints and a toolbox stuck on the outside, for EVA practice.

The map is heavily based on Cardgame's map here, which reminds me that a) this attribution is waaaay past due and B) that I really really need to ask him nicely if I can borrow his names. Not cool of me to leave that so long. :( I have taken a couple of liberties: Old Kolus is simply 'Kolus' in the story, Young Kolus has been renamed to Wakira and the Forseti Lowlands and Kaledonian Archipelago have been merged into 'Forseti', which itself is the major partner in the Forseti-Spierkan Confederacy. Oh - and the Itaalic Isthmus is simply part of Kolus.

Foxham is somewhere on the eastern Kolus coast so that it too gets a nice ocean to launch over. Tracking Station Alpha is in the Koluclaw mountains, not terribly far from Cardgame's Itaalic Isthmus if I remember correctly. The mountains are very visible in-game - they look kinda like a crooked hand, which might have been some inspiration for their name. :) I've been deliberately vague about the Capital location, but tracking stations Beta and Gamma are equidistantly spaced with Alpha, which puts them in Northern Doren and mid-Wakira respectively. The KIS's Wakira station is on the west coast of Wakira.

I may have to revisit some earlier chapters and make sure all the geography fits but that should be more or less right. :)

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