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First Flight (Epilogue and Last Thoughts)

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Hey folks.

Meve12 has pretty much nailed it - the Hope probes are roughly Viking level tech. Viking took a long time to build (planning started in the late 60's well before Apollo really got into its stride) and a lot of the development problems were computer related. So in that context, I figured Hope wasn't too far fetched given that the kerbals were starting with much better computer tech and, as Commander Zoom pointed out, have a rather pressing need for their interplanetary probes. Hence funding and other resources were not an issue but even then, the Probodyne guys were all running on fumes by the end.

Even then, Hope had been in the works for a while. The lander hardware was being tested well before the Pioneer 2 flight and in fact the Pioneer 2 crew delivered the heat shields for the first Hope probes on their way through to Barkton for their training.

To answer Macdjord's point - basically, the kerbals went straight to Viking without going through Mariner first. They did have Minmus as a practice run for deep space probes but even so, yeah going straight for a lander was ambitious. Again, this was largely down to urgent need - a flyby mission wasn't really going to help them answer the key questions about Duna in time, so it didn't happen. As for the first time success - well Viking was pretty damn impressive on that score too. NASA had a bit of experience with retrorocket landings with the Surveyer probes but Viking was a huge leap forward from there.

It's worth noting that the Hope probes are general purpose, one size sort of fits all, interplanetary probes. They're a modular design, intended to be produced in bulk and launched until they work. As such they're fairly over-engineered for a Duna mission but getting them to Laythe (for example) is going to require some creativity... In fact with the way the launch windows worked out, Hopes 1 and 2 were dispatched to Laythe (and are still in transit as of the last chapter) well before Hopes 3 and 4 set off for Duna. Edited by KSK
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I decided to get sick over this weekend and on a lark thought I'd see what the Fan Works had to offer. I must say that your writings and CalculusWarriors' have been the best things I've read in a long while. I had just finished Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series and thought that I had had a good run of great writing and then I found your amazing tale. I haven't read sci-fi this fun and stylish since [I]The Martian[/I]. Keep up the great work, and know that you have a fan here in Utah. You are a great writer.

- Josh
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Hi Josh,

Hope you're feeling better and I'm glad you found something to distract you in the Fan Works! As for the rest of your (very) kind words - I don't know what to say. Being mentioned alongside one of my favourite books and an author that I respect greatly (his wrapping up of the Wheel of Time was excellent in my opinion)... yeah, 'thank you' seems a bit of a lame reply after that. All I can say is that I'll try my best to keep it up and I hope you'll like the way the story pans out.

- KSK.

[COLOR="silver"][SIZE=1]- - - Updated - - -[/SIZE][/COLOR]

On a related note, I'm going to be taking some downtime from writing these next few days to make myself a backup of this thread. Just in case anything goes awry with the forum migration at the end of the week.

It's a been a long time since I posted the original [i]First Flight[/i] short story back in 2013 and it's no exaggeration (the occasionally glacial update pace notwithstanding :) ), to say that this thread has been a big part of my life since then. There are an awful lot of good memories tucked away in these 78 pages of comments and I would be sincerely upset to lose them.

Thank you all.

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Good question. Hope 3 and 4 were solar powered - you can see it in their self-test sequence - and I was kind of assuming that Hope 1 and 2 were solar powered as well without a lot of thought as to how feasible that would be. Technically it's doable - the 2011 [URL="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juno_(spacecraft)"]Juno[/URL] probe was solar powered, although that's rather later tech than I've had the kerbals using up to now. On the other hand, they're generally more advanced with renewable energy sources relative to human development in the 60s -70s (see the default use of electric vehicles unless they're in a particularly remote location or have a need for a particularly rugged vehicle), so solar powered Jool probes might still fit.

Something to think about for sure - thanks! Without giving too much away, the question of nuclear powered spacecraft is definitely going to arise in Part 4, so it would be relatively easy to slip in a minor retconn to RTG powered probes at that point. What do folks think? Solar or RTG for Hopes 1 and 2?
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You could go solar as a main with a small RTG in them as a backup. And have Probodyne catch flack when lighting up the RTG is needed. Environmental blow-back would be a fun little bit of tension. And then you could have them point out they are trying to, you know, save the world.
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[quote name='Daelkyr']...lighting up the RTG...[/QUOTE]
Err... How exactly does one "light up" an RTG? They're on, always. That's kinda one of their things.

Anyways, solar does have its appeal. However, how big are the Hope 1 and 2? I mean, Juno's sails are pretty big, whereas the RTG-powered probes have been mostly compact, I think. RTGs were also around in Apollo-era flights, while solar was relatively crude at that point. I mean, the Apollo flights used fuel cells instead of solar. However, as you said, kerbals seem to have a bit more development in this direction. I haven't tried it yet, but I think it's pretty hard to run a probe on solar out by Jool, even with KSP's high-tech solar arrays.
Besides, I could see ten years of superiority in solar, but close to forty? Ehh... I think your best bet is RTGs. Maybe supplemental solar for high-load situations, like doing [SIZE=1]SCIENCE! [SIZE=2]or transmitting.[/SIZE][/SIZE]
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Hi! I love this story and registered just to comment.
I just have a potential correction.
"Duna appeared as a blurred reddish-orange disc which exhibited phases like those of the Mün." I don't think it would do that. While Mars, erm, Duna, does show different phases, it's not like the Moon does and does not go through the full cycle. The inner planets, in this case Eve and Moho, do, because they're closer to the their star than Kerbin.
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[quote name='Ravens_cry']Hi! I love this story and registered just to comment.
I just have a potential correction.
"Duna appeared as a blurred reddish-orange disc which exhibited phases like those of the Mün." I don't think it would do that. While Mars, erm, Duna, does show different phases, it's not like the Moon does and does not go through the full cycle. The inner planets, in this case Eve and Moho, do, because they're closer to the their star than Kerbin.[/QUOTE]

Noted and fixed - thanks! Welcome to the thread.

Thanks also to Narwhalz and Daelkyr for weighing in on the RTG vs solar question.

Technically, I suppose you could take a mini-RTG for heating purposes and emergency power but after going to the trouble of tying a lump of plutonium onto your spacecraft, I'm thinking you might as well do the job properly. So I'm leaning towards RTG for Hope 1 and 2.

Daelkyr does raise an interesting point though - there might well be a backlash against the possibility (however remote) of scattering plutonium over another planet, especially if you were then touting it for possible colonisation. Alternatively, there could be quite a nice little story about Probodyne being forced to gimp the lander by using batteries only, thus getting little or no scientific data.

Hmm, lots of potential here - I like it! Edited by KSK
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Urgh - looks like I have a lot of reformatting to do on previous posts. :(

In the meantime, the next chapter is up. This one is for Ten Key for showing me the right perspective for the second half!

One Small Step

A pall of cinnamon-scented woodsmoke hung against the evening sky, lit by the rays of the setting sun. Beneath it, flames licked against the tree trunks, a single sapling wreathed in smoke with thirty-six smaller saplings leaning against it. Together they made a briskly burning chimney. Donman bent down and picked up a leaf. Its edges were singed by the flames and it’s once glossy green surface was dulled by heat and smoke, but the spots were still visible; a scattering of dull black eyes staring at him accusingly. He turned to the kerbal standing rigidly beside him.

“Would you like to talk about it,” he asked gently.

“They mutilated my child and left it to die in the dark, Ambassador. What else is there to talk about?”

Despite himself, Donman flinched. “I know this is difficult,” he said quietly, “but we need to know what happened, Enely. We must know what went wrong.” Even if it means intruding on your grief, he added to himself bitterly.

Enely’s flat gaze regarded him incuriously. “Why? How many other Kerm were you planning to murder, Ambassador? Because that’s what any attempt to uproot them will be. Murder.” He looked around. “Where is Ambassador Burvis?”

“I spoke to her,” said Donman carefully, “and we both agreed it would be better if I came in her place.”


The smoke caught at Donman’s eyes, making them water. He looked down guiltily at his handful of shredded Kerm leaf and slipped the fragments into his pocket.

“They tried you know,” said Enely conversationally. “Dug a great big pit, unearthed all the roots they could find, teased out the fibres with gloved hands. I was there - I saw it happen - but it didn’t make any difference.” His face crumpled with grief, the momentary brittle facade splintering like skim ice under a careless footfall.

“D...d...didn’t make any difference.”

Donman sat down on the grass and stared into the fire. One of the saplings shifted in the blaze, the charred filigree around its base crumbling into ash. Beside him, Enely’s face was buried in his hands, shoulders heaving spasmodically, breath hitching in his throat in little mewling hiccups. Donman dabbed at the corners of his eyes and waited.

“We managed to replant them all,” said Enely thickly. “The second year saplings were flourishing on the mainland - hardly surprising after spending all their lives in thin volcanic grit. We gave them a month to settle in, then the proper four months for Knitting. The seed-sapling was looking healthy enough - all its branches were growing back, all its leaf clusters were green and glossy. I lay down for first Communion…”

Enely paused to wipe his eyes. “And everything seemed just fine. I wasn’t anywhere near prepared for it of course - those itching, burrowing leaf hairs and then that first touch of another mind against yours!” He sniffed. “The poor thing seemed a bit subdued, a bit slow compared to some accounts that I’d read but some kerblets start out quieter than others, so why shouldn’t Kerm be the same, especially after all this one had been through.”

Donman nodded.

“For a while,” Enely continued, “everything just got better and better. My Kerm learned to recognise me - I taught it a picture of a smiling kerbal and afterwards that was always how it greeted me! It tried to show me things although they never made much sense, just coloured blotches and swirls. Maybe they would have made sense in time, but then the pains started.”

Enely stared at him. “Have you ever had earache, Ambassador? That’s what this was like. Not too bad - not to begin with, but always there and nothing you can do about it. You can’t reach it with a cold compress, you can’t draw it out with a hot poultice. And how do you give a Kerm painkillers? The Archives weren’t any help but I did everything I could think of - checked the soil to make sure there wasn’t anything attacking it - although a Knitted Kerm should have been able to look after itself. Mostly, all I could do was to Commune with it, try my best to comfort it, tell it that everything was going to be alright.”

Enely’s face twisted. “Although by then it was obvious that things were far from alright. Finally, I plucked up the courage to go digging. I didn’t want to - not after the Forseti - but I had to…had to find out what was hurting so badly.” He looked at Donman through tear-blurred eyes. “The fibres were cracked and leaking, Ambassador. All sticky and pink and crusted with mud. I don’t know whether it was something in the soil that it wasn’t used too - nothing much grows in volcanic grit I don’t expect - or whether it was an injury from the uprooting that had gone bad. Whatever it was, it was too far spread to be cut out.”

A hard lump settled in the pit of Donman’s stomach. This is worse than talking to Jonton. He bowed his head, unable to meet the other kerbal’s eyes.

“A...after that,” said Enely, “there was nothing else to do but hope that my Kerm could fight off whatever had infected it. But as the pain got worse…” He shook his head, wincing as his poncho rubbed over his shoulders.

“Some days I couldn’t get through at all and some days I was afraid to try.” He saw a flicker of expression cross Donman’s downturned face. “I did try once, Ambassador but it was like…well you wouldn’t cross the path of a scallan with toothache, would you? And it got worse. It started off angry and confused - I couldn’t make it understand why it was in pain - and then the anger just turned into misery. Showing it pictures of happier days didn’t help - it couldn’t remember those days or what the things in the pictures even were. It began to ignore me and then near…n…n…near the end, it didn’t even recognise me. At least it couldn’t feel the pain anymore either - I suppose that’s something. All the fibres must have been dead or nearly dead by then.”

Enely drew a handful of Kerm leaves, matted with dried blood and stray hairs, out of his pocket. “And then it just stopped. No pictures, no voice, no…. no more pain. The leaf clusters wouldn’t let go - I had to tear my head free.” He swiped the back of his other hand across his eyes. “The rest you know, Ambassador. So what happens now?”

For a long moment, Donman was silent. “You need to speak to…an acquaintance of mine,” he said at last. “If there’s one person on Kerbin who could understand what you’ve been through, it would be him.” He caught Enely’s disbelieving look. “I communed with him - trust me, he’ll understand.”

“You communed with him?”

“Yes. He used to be a Keeper too. He lives in a Grove near Barkton - his name is Jonton Kermol.”

“You communed with him?!”

“I did,” Donman replied. “It’s a very long story, and one which he is far better placed to tell. You can trust me on that as well.” He looked reassuringly at Enely and passed him a small square of card. “Whenever you’re ready to travel, just present this at the airport and ask them to put you on the next flight to Barkton.”

Enely’s eyebrows shot up. He looked closely at the card, noting the number stamped on it in gold and rubbing his thumb over its embossed seal. “Is this really…?”

“It is,” said Donman. “You’ll be travelling under the auspices of the Twelve Pillars. Not something we do every day but then - these are unusual days. Don’t lose the card on your flight - you can also use it to requisition transport to Jonton’s Grove.”


There was a knock at the window.

Aldsen looked up from his monitor and lifted his hand in farewell to the tired looking kerbal standing outside. As he turned back to his work, he heard a door closing behind him. The lights in the main laboratory went out, leaving nothing but the faint glow of sleeping computer screens and the blinking lights of row upon row of disk drives to illuminate the room.

Aldsen sipped his tepid coffee and pulled up the day’s list of satellite images for review. I need a bigger monitor for this. And better software running on a faster computer. And a chair made of hand-carved Mün rock. He snorted softly and tapped out a command, leaning back as the first sub-sector of Kolus appeared on the screen.

The Blight was clearly visible, dark ellipses of dead vegetation boxing in the brighter spots of cleared ground that marked the new Groves. Like eyes watching us even as we watch them. Doesn’t seem to be any un-contained Blight though, thank the Pillars. The keyboard clicked rapidly. Scan and match filter sets…execute alignment on HOTSPOT data…cross correlate…run. A grid appeared over the map with the upper left square greyed out. An analysis program started automatically in a separate window, rows of numbers flickering past as the computer matched the section of image, line by line, against its database of spectral signatures.

The analysis window blanked out and the next grid square turned grey. Aldsen watched the screen for a moment then swung around to face the pair of monitors behind him. Rubber squeaked underfoot as he rolled his chair over the nest of cable runners stretched across the floor. He tapped a key, paging through the list of jobs running on the laboratory computers, scratching the back of his neck thoughtfully. Hmph – so much for that. Three by three it is then. Disc drives chunked and whirred and both screens filled up with new sections of map.


The computer bleeped softly behind him. Aldsen glanced at the clock on his office wall, sighed, and regarded the thick black sludge in the bottom of his mug with some trepidation. Probably just as well Lodan isn’t here. Idly, he swung back and forth on his chair, trying to muster the enthusiasm to start another set of satellite images. We really need to figure out a better way of doing this. Some way of normalising the cleaned images without washing out the Blight signatures. He yawned. Not tonight’s problem.

A stippled patch of dark green woodland filled the middle of the screen, set amidst a chequerboard of fields that lapped against the beginnings of a range of foothills to the north. A Grove occupied the space on either side of the woodland and a gleaming hair-thread wound down from the hills, skirting the eastern Grove before disappearing off the southern edge of the map. Aldsen smiled at the lushly coloured image. Not a speck of Blight in sight. Looks like those folks got lucky. He picked up his mug and was halfway to his feet when an oddly shaped field caught his eye.

Strange. If it wasn’t for the colour I’d swear that was an overlap. He sat down again, mug forgotten, peering closely at the screen. Position is consistent too. I wonder. He retrieved a creased and well-thumbed atlas from under his desk and flipped through it rapidly. Not far from Barkton – thought I recognised the image codes. One square to the north… He typed in a number and waited for the computer to fetch the new image. The screen refreshed and Aldsen leaned forward intently.

And there it is. Kinda hilly - not anywhere I’d pick for a Grove but it seems to be doing alright. At the right sort of distance for that field to be an overlap too. Aldsen typed in a command and a grid drew itself over the map. Another command and a scale bar appeared along the bottom of the screen. He tapped the screen thoughtfully, working out the distances in his head. Something about the first map nagged at him, something not quite right. Frowning he flicked back to the previous image and pulled up the grid and scale bar again.

Hang on a second…. those two Groves. They’re far too close together… and there’s no scrap of….

Aldsen’s eyebrows rose. His fingers flew over the keyboard; the map flickered, replaced by a HOTSPOT infrared map. He stared at it in disbelief, possible overlap utterly forgotten.

That can’t be right. That vegetation is thriving - and it’s all well established. Maybe that Grove isn’t so new after all.

The keyboard clattered.

Date stamp is correct. Okay lets step this back. Six month intervals should do it to start with. Aldsen drummed his fingers on his desk impatiently. Definitely need a faster computer. Okay, here we go...both Groves still there. Back another six months…

Aldsen fumbled for his desk phone with suddenly nerveless fingers.


“Director? You’re working late.”

Lodan stifled a yawn. “Time and the Council wait for no kerbal,” he said. “So once again I spend the evening trying to distill Geneney’s latest report into something memorandum sized. At least the executive summary was straightforward: Pioneer 4, first Munar landing attempt, launch date two weeks from today. Anyway - what can I do for you at this unreasonable hour?”

“Could you come down to my office, Director? This is a matter best discussed face to face I think and I think it will also be a matter for another memo to the Council.”


Lodan stared at the screen. “You’re quite sure about this?”

“Positive, Director. The images are date stamped and the dates match with the system logs. I’ve cross-referenced them against the HOTSPOT data and that checks out too. Somehow, somebody has planted a new Grove without triggering a Blight incursion.”

“Whereabouts are the Groves?” asked Lodan quietly.

“Nowhere special as far as I can tell,” said Aldsen. “From the image codes they’re somewhere north of Barkton but I haven’t checked exactly where yet.”

“Barkton,” muttered Lodan. “Barkton, unexpected Kerm behaviour…” The colour drained out of his face. “Jonton.”


“A Keeper. His Grove is north of Barkton and…” Lodan stood up, pacing back and forth in agitation. “We’ll need an investigatory team - I’ll call the Berelgan first thing in the morning.” He flashed Aldsen a quick glance. “We will need a second memo for the Council - they’ll want somebody on the team I have no doubt.”

Aldsen stared at his Director, forehead wrinkled in puzzlement. “But this is good isn’t it?” he said slowly. “If this - Jonton - has found what the Berelgan have been looking for: a way of close-planting Kerm? No need for a colonisation program - not yet at any rate…” He stopped at look on Lodan’s face.

“Jonton is a…unique case,” said Lodan. “and I fear for any kerbal volunteering to follow his example.” He shook his head. “The risks would make volunteering for the colonisation program look safe by comparison. No - this is but a first small step - it cannot be the key to the Kerm crisis - it simply cannot!”

Lodan gathered himself with an effort. “You’d better come back to my office - there are files you need to see. Files in my personal safe.” He eyed Aldsen’s long-forgotten mug with distaste. “And I think we’re going to need some proper coffee too. It's going to be a long night.”


<< Chapter 54:     Chapter 56>>

Edited by KSK
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Cheers! Glad you're still enjoying it. 

I'm gradually working through the old posts, clearing out the formatting, replacing busted links and fixing some of the worst punctuation mistakes along the way. (Can't blame the forum migration for that last part though. :) ) Ten chapters down - I'm trying not to think about how many are left to go.

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On December 2, 2015 at 12:10:24 PM, KSK said:

Cheers! Glad you're still enjoying it. 

I'm gradually working through the old posts, clearing out the formatting, replacing busted links and fixing some of the worst punctuation mistakes along the way. (Can't blame the forum migration for that last part though. :) ) Ten chapters down - I'm trying not to think about how many are left to go.

Not all bad. Gives some of us time to catch up:D. I'm no longer 70-some pages behind. But I'm back on page two again. ;.;

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On 30 November 2015 17:13:30, briansun1 said:

Sigh. OK, with respect to Briansun1, he definitely didn't say this but I can't get this trainwreck of an editor to delete his quote. 

Anyhow - cheers for the 'likes', folks! Chapters 1-21 are now cleaned up - hopefully I'm managing to stay ahead of CatastrophicFailure. :)


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13 hours ago, Thalamask said:

Just started reading this, and so far I'm loving it, KSK. 

Great stuff! Glad you're liking it and thanks for dropping by to comment. Where are you up to so far?

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I remember when I started on that third part - figured it might be a bit unexpected after the rest of the story up till then! Glad it's a case of 'more reading required' rather than 'WTF - no.' and it should make a bit more sense in a few chapters. Hopefully. Maybe. :)

Thalamask - I hope so! I like to think the first eight chapters are a good taster but you've still got some of my favourite parts to go!

I better keep with the decrufting program though.... :)

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  • 2 weeks later...
Hey folks,
I had hoped to get the next chapter out before the holidays but a combination of  the last couple of weekends being booked up and a general low-ball estimate of quite how much time I'd need to get my act together for Christmas has probably put paid to that. The next chapter is about 1/2 drafted and will need polishing too, so yeah - unlikely.
So instead, I just want to wish everyone all the best over the holidays, however you choose to spend them and whatever meaning you attribute to them. See you all in 2016!
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The holiday starts here and best of all, my workplace closes down completely until the New Year, so there's no lurking sense of impending paperwork in the back of my head. :)

Also, a big welcome to RocketSquid - glad you're enjoying the story so far!


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