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First Flight (Epilogue and Last Thoughts)

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3 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Florida Man. Why am I not surprised? ( @Just Jim present company excepted, of course :D) I'm sure a little necrosis of the tongue will just do wonders for his diction. Thufferin thuccotath!

Oh, I'll be the first to admit, Florida is really weird! :confused:  I could tell y'all things you just wouldn't believe, but I don't want to derail @KSK's thread more than I already have.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Next chapter is up...


A few good Kerbals

The smell of damp grass filled Erlin’s nostrils, Kerbol not yet high enough in the sky to drive off the morning dew. By the side of the road, dewbells stretched towards the new day, their goblet shaped flowers unfurling into carpets of golden petals. The Berelgan stretched out before him; neatly regimented grids of crop fields reaching all the way back to the old fashioned manor house buildings, toylike in the distance. Behind them, the glass domes of the Dunan agronomy complex glinted in the morning sunlight. He bent down to retie his bootlaces, before setting off along the, now well-worn, footpath to the planting site.

The sapling stood in its fenced-off clearing, a single ring of slender side branches just beginning to emerge from the main stem. Erlin opened the gate and walked over to it, retrieving a measuring tape and laboratory field notebook from his poncho as he went. He squatted down by the sapling and wrapped the tape around its trunk being careful not to disturb the still-delicate leaf clusters. Nodding to himself, he made a note of the trunk diameter then measured its height. Finally, he pulled a magnifying glass out of his pocket and examined the leaves at length, occasionally jotting down entries in his notebook.

Dropping his notebook back into its pocket, Erlin fished out a waxed paper package from his inside pocket and sat down by the gate, gazing contemplatively at the sapling. He unwrapped his breakfast and took a slow bite of egg and greenleaf roll. Looks fine above the soil. Only average height and diameter for its age but that’s nothing to worry about. His eyes dropped to the patch of bare earth around the base of the young Kerm tree. If only we could see what’s happening down there. Take some samples, run a GC or two. He shook his head in frustration. And if we were really lucky the probes wouldn’t sever anything vital. So we wait and hope that the cuttings take. Then we hope they Knit. Then we hope that somebody can Commune with the new Kerm. But do we really understand what we’ve made here? Binad faca-factad?

Erlin swallowed a mouthful of roll and sighed. It’s healthy - that’s the main thing. Right now that’s all we can do for it. He finished his breakfast and climbed to his feet, brushing crumbs off the front of his poncho. Closing the gate behind him he walked back to the road and set off back to the laboratory buildings, head bowed in thought.


There was a knock at the door. “Phone call for you, sir.”

Al looked up from the schematic he was studying. “Did they leave a name?”

“It’s your brother sir. He said it was urgent - something about the weather being bracing but fine.” His secretary gave him a confused look.

“I’ll take it in my office.” Al turned to the engineers beside him. “Approved. We’ll give that a try first. He signed his name on the corner of the schematic, nodded to everyone and left the room. He marched along the corridor to his own office, flipped the privacy sign on the door to Do Not Disturb and closed it behind him.

“Al Kerman.”

He was answered by a snort. “Kerman he says. You’ve been flying that fancy desk too long, little brother.”

“And don’t I know it. What’ve you got for me, Chad?”

“Medics have got her trussed up like a Year’s End wagga but they say she’ll fly again. In a few months. If she doesn’t do anything stupid while she’s waiting.”

“And by ‘stupid’ they mean ‘anything they tell her not to do’?” 

“That’s about the shape of it,” his brother agreed. He paused. “She’s good, Al. No shortage of guts - she flew those lashed-up torpedo bombers at Humilisia for Kerm’s sake. Don’t know much about the flying end of things but I’ve never heard of anyone badmouthing her on that score either…”

“There’s no shortage of good pilots in the world either,” Al interrupted. “With guts to match.”

“Nope. But I’m thinking there’s not many who’d keep their heads screwed on under unknown fire, figure out what was coming at them and damn nearly out-fly it.”

Al paused. “No,” he said thoughtfully. “No, that takes a little more than good stick-and-rudder work. How did you plan to set this up?”

“Rank rubs off, little brother. The Fleet Commander has his head screwed on too, or so I hear. I’m thinking it might be on tight enough for him to spare an ear for Commander Valentina’s old sergeant.”

“And if he doesn’t like what he hears?”

Another snort. “He chews me up, spits me out and busts me down to deputy pot-scrubber on some Kerm-forsaken airfield at the north end of nowhere. Suits me - I never liked warm weather anyway.” Chadmore paused. “For sure he’s not going to kick me out, Al. Not whilst I’ve still got both legs, all my arms and enough left in my head to walk in a straight line.”


There was a knock at the door. Fleet Commander Gusden looked up from the papers strewn across the scuffed and worn table serving as his temporary desk and saw the stolid face of his adjutant in the doorway.

“Flight Sergeant Chadmore Kerman to see you sir.”

Gusden nodded. “Show him in please.” He waited for the door to close before running an appraising eye over the kerbal standing stiffly in front of him. “At ease, sergeant. What can I do for you?” He waited for a second before raising his eyebrows. “Well? Speak up, soldier.”

Rank rubs off, Chadmore reminded himself sardonically. His tongue felt glued to the roof of his mouth. “It’s the Commander, sir.” he said at last.

Gusden looked at him neutrally. “Yes?”

“I wanted to talk about her, sir. That is…” Oh, Blight it all. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”

“Granted,” said Gusden dryly. “If only to stop you wasting any more time, sergeant.”

Chadmore winced inwardly at the Fleet Commander’s pointed tone. “I think Commander Valentina deserves an honourable discharge, sir.”

The temperature in the room dropped several degrees. “And what leads you to that fascinating conclusion, sergeant?” said Gusden conversationally.

“Duty to Kolus, sir. The Commander can do more for our country outside of border security, sir.”

“Is that right?” Gusden leaned forward, resting his forearms on his desk. “Enlighten me.”

“The Space Program, sir.”

Intrigued despite himself, Gusden sat back in his chair. “I have it on good authority, sergeant, that a considerable number of our brave kerbonauts wouldn’t know one end of an airplane from the other. No doubt this is one reason why spacecraft are notoriously lacking in wings. Would you care to explain why I should transfer one of my best officers to a program that she appears to be manifestly overqualified for?”

“Because they’re not winged yet, sir.”

The corner of Gusden’s eye twitched. “Be careful, sergeant,” he said softly. “I’d hate to lose a good kerbal to pot scrubbing duty – or worse. Now - what do you know about winged spacecraft – and how?”

“No more than the trade press do, sir. I know about the Skyhawk program and C7’s ambitions for it. I know that C7 are still recruiting test pilots but apart from that?” Chadmore kept his face carefully expressionless. “I never could pry a secret out of my little brother, sir. And working for C7 hasn’t made him any more talkative.”

“Your brother, sergeant?”

“Yes, sir. Director Al Kerman. Director of the Skyhawk program I’m guessing, although I don’t even know that much for certain.”

Gusden drummed his fingers slowly on the edge of his desk. “I need to find extra duties for my flight sergeants,” he said, half to himself. “They’re obviously not busy enough. Have you been recruiting for C7 for long, sergeant?” he added.

Chadmore held himself very still. “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time sir,” he said quietly, “but no Kolan is working for them because of me.” He saw Gusden’s ‘carry on’ gesture from the corner of his eye. “Since the first Mün landing, sir. Sitting under those flags, somewhere between Kolus, Firesvar and Wakira – and for a handful of days it didn’t matter where we were. We put all the troubles of the world to one side - a bunch of kerbals listening to two other kerbals walking on the Mün.”

For the first time since entering his office, Chadmore looked Gusden squarely in the eye. “I’ve known pilots who’ve ejected before, sir. I’ve seen what it can do to them and I’ve got a good idea how long the medics will be keeping the Commander grounded for. If we’re still fighting by then, then I honestly believe that whatever she can do up in space will do more to end the war than anything she can do on the front lines.” Chadmore drew himself to attention. “If the Fleet Commander disagrees, this soldier volunteers for any duty or additional discipline that the Fleet Commander sees fit!”

“At ease.” Gusden pulled a file out of his desk drawer and made a note. “I’m not in the habit of handing out discipline for opinions honestly expressed, sergeant. But if I ever hear of any kerbal under my command being anything less than wholly committed to their duties – and their duties alone… I trust we understand one another, sergeant?”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

“I’ll take your comments under advisement, sergeant. Dismissed.”

Chadmore saluted, turned smartly on his heel and marched out of the room. Gusden watched him leave before getting to his feet and quietly walking through to his anteroom. His adjutant looked up from his files. “Sir?”

“A coffee if you’d be so good. And please find me Director Lodan’s number at the Kerbin Space Agency.” 


Val gritted her teeth and pulled herself up in what seemed like the hundredth chin-up of the session. A mash of talc and sweat glued her hands to the exercise bars, their arched middle section shaped to provide headroom for the exerciser and, Val thought privately, resembling an upside down set of handlebars from her first tricycle.

The brace around her midriff and lower back itched abominably. Val finished her chin-ups, swung her feet forward and carefully lowered herself onto the set of steps placed under the exercise bar. Stiffly, she climbed down onto the grass and stood for a moment, working her exercise top back and forth under the brace. It helped a little.

Other pieces of exercise equipment dotted the lawn like pieces of abstract sculpture, most of them supporting a sitting, standing, or in many cases folded over, kerbal dressed in soft grey running trousers and matching top. Many of the kerbals were wearing braces of varying sizes and designs, some of them also wearing their clothing knotted at the shoulder or hip, the better to stop an empty sleeve or trouser leg from catching on anything. Hospital staff kept a discreet watch, intervening only when necessary. Tall hedges screened off the exercise area, ensuring a degree of privacy for them and their charges.

Gusden followed Al through a leafy archway and stood quietly by the hedge, watching the other kerbal come to terms with what he was seeing. One of the hospital staff spotted them and walked over to greet them, eyebrows lifting slightly at the sight of Gusden.

“Good afternoon, Fleet Commander. How may I help?”

“We’re here to see Commander Valentina,” Gusden replied. “We’re earlier than we expected, so please – at her convenience.”

“She should be finishing her session any time now, sir. Please take a seat and I’ll let her know you’re here.”

Gusden and Al perched on an old fashioned wrought-iron bench designed, Al thought, to discourage anyone from sitting down for too long. He saw the grey garbed figure limping towards them and, relieved, got politely to his feet. Gusden followed suit, smiling faintly at the look on the newcomer’s face.

“At her convenience, the kerbal says, when he’s the one turning up early. Make this quick please, Gusden, before these ever-so-fetching garments stick themselves to me permanently.”

“As you wish,” said Gusden mildly, ignoring the incredulous expression on Al’s face. “Although you might be more polite to our guest after he’s come all this way to meet you. Val – meet Al Kerman. Al, this is Commander Valentina.”

Al dipped his head. “Good to meet you, Commander.” He studied the other thoughtfully, taking in her cropped black hair and deep, copper-brown eyes, wrinkled at the corners and sizing him up just as thoughtfully. Somehow the unflattering grey exercise-wear and heavy spinal brace around her middle only added to her air of calm authority. 

Another of the hospital staff hurried up with a poncho and handed it to her respectfully. Val smiled at him in thanks and worked it over her head, scowling briefly as it rucked up over her brace. “So, what can I do for you, Al?” Val narrowed her eyes. “Al Kerman – I know that name.”

“Possibly,” said Al. “I flew Cloudrunners once upon a time. PM1 – and then PM2. PM2 was the better plane by far,” he added blandly.

“Production model 1…” Val looked at him with sudden respect. “Are you still flying for C7?”

“Not unless you count desks,” Al said dryly. “I’m mostly a manager these days.” He glanced around before turning to face Gusden. “Perhaps we could find somewhere quieter, sir?”

Gusden nodded. “Agreed. Is your back well enough for a short walk, Commander?” Curiosity piqued, Val nodded. Gusden eyed her for a moment then led the way through the hedge and across the hospital lawn to one of the small, Doreni style formal gardens that dotted the grounds. “This should be sufficient.” He gestured at Al. “Please continue.”

“We’re building spaceplanes,” Al said. “And we’re going to need pilots for them. Current state of the art is our Skyhawk single-seater rocket plane but even stretching the envelope as far as we can, it ain’t useful for much more than a single hop into the black and a dead-stick landing. But we’re working on something just a bit bigger.” Val listened in fascination – and growing excitement – as Al sketched out the details of the MACE air-breathing rocket engine. “It’s an old idea – looked good on paper but…”

Val rolled her eyes. “Paper planes always look perfect and fly perfect – on paper.”

Al favoured her with a rare grin. “Exactly. But this time, we’re thinking the real deal is going to look even better. The engine is specced and tested. Airframe construction for the demonstrators is on-going. We’ve got a long string of problems still to solve before we’re anywhere near a production model but the first task is to get that engine into a fuselage and get that fuselage into the sky. Then we get it past the sky.”

Val’s eyes lost their focus. “Why?” she asked at last.

“Lots of reasons,” said Al. “Some of them aren’t important and most of them I can’t tell you about anyway. Yet. But the big one is Starseed. If that’s ever going to work, we’re going to need a lot of kerbals in orbit – and putting them there three at a time in an oversized tin can just ain’t going to cut it.”

“So we fly them there,” said Gusden softly.

“And we bring the plane home again,” finished Al. “Check it over, refuel and relaunch. So – what do you say, Commander? How would you like to come fly for us?”

Val stared at Gusden’s unperturbed expression. That figures. “What about Ferl and Cal?” she said.

A shadow flickered behind Gusden’s eyes. “We’ll look after them,” he replied. “We can’t afford to lose good, able bodied kerbals and even if Cal can’t set foot in a cockpit again without getting the shakes, there’s more duty slots ground-side than we have people to fill them.”

 “So why do I get to get out? Sir.”

 “Because, in the words of our dear Press, we need more beacons of the kerbal spirit, Commander. We don’t have enough people to fill all those duty slots either.”

 Val shivered under her poncho. Then she turned resolutely to Al. “Count me in.”


The fibres threaded through the soil, a gritty, mineral laden clay now enriched by the remains of generations of plant life - clover to begin with, then stouter legumes and finally other crops. Consumed, reformed, passed along the countless webs of prey and predation that wove the soil together in an intricate tapestry, woven on a loom of other fibres.

Fibres that were recognisably self.

Hormone gradients rippled through the soil. The fibres followed them, no more able to resist than a flower could resist growing towards the light. Flurries of signals poured along the hairlike threads as they met and touched. The ripples became cascades, biochemical torrents that drew other fibres to the trails marked out by the pioneers. At a hundred, then a thousand, then still more points, the fibres twisted together.


The signals intensified, racing out from the contact points like the waves from a handful of gravel tossed into a still pond. Cancelling, amplifying, setting off secondary waves of signals. Modulating, feeding forward, feeding back. Random bursts gradually absorbed into the whole; acquiring definition, purpose, and above all, meaning.


Thought exploded through the soil in a searing burst of revelation. And with thought came identities. Thirty-eight nascent personalities, imperfectly overlapping, same but not same. Thirty-eight sets of memories suddenly crammed into a single consciousness with no time for reason or rationalising. The explosion faltered, abruptly sucked down into a spiralling maelstrom of doubt, panic and then naked terror. Collapsing inward, triggering a last desperate message, a frantic cry for help before the inevitable shattering.

 And in a final silent scream, a tsunami of black spots flooded over the leaves of thirty eight young Kerm trees.


Gerselle jammed her head into the leaf cluster. The leaves whipped around her forehead, Communion hairs tearing through her skin like a thousand needles and embedding themselves in her skull. A tornado of discordant, shrieking thoughts ripped through her head like an ice pick; raw, uncontrollable terror searing every nerve in her body. 

In the distance somebody or something shouted her name. A streak of green light blasted through the chaos, shimmered and resolved into a chain of figures, all holding hands. A hand reached out for her; the face behind it somehow familiar. She flung herself at it, fingertips straining across the gap, scrabbling for purchase.

Gerselle! To me!

Fingers hooked over hers, grasping, catching hold, clasping her by the hand. Reassurance and understanding swept through her, a lifeline to cling to against the shards of dislocated memories and fractured personalities that battered at her, threatening to sweep her away with them.

I’ve got you. Hold on my love – hold on! Jonton flung his thoughts through the maelstrom separating him from Gerselle. Distantly he felt her momentary panic disappear, felt her resolve as she reached out in welcome to the fragments of Kerm mind despite their terror crashing through her. Slowly the storm began to abate, the shards flocking around her, melding with her, drawing strength and reassurance from her presence.

Reassurance washed over him from a different side. An image of a Kerm tree appeared, cupped within Enely’s hands. The tree shimmered, became thirty eight trees surrounding a lone kerbal. A beam of light rayed out from one tree, reflected off the kerbal and connected to a second tree. Another, differently coloured, beam bounced off the kerbal, linking two more trees together. He heard Enely’s voice calling out to the shards.

Don’t be afraid. You sense many things but they are only one…

Rainbow fans of light danced between the trees, deflecting off trunks and kerbal alike, connecting the trees one by one. The kerbal vanished, leaving thirty eight trees enmeshed in a web of light.

You are many – but you are one. You are Kerm.

The flock of shards, thronging around Gerselle, began to quiver. Jonton sensed confusion then a sudden spark of curiosity. One shard shivered, rocked violently for a moment then burst free, soaring over to Enely’s trees and trailing a cloud of smaller shards behind it. A stab of pain lanced through him and he heard Gerselle crying out. A second and then a third shard broke free, trailing glittering fragments behind them. Gerselle screamed and a horrified realisation broke over him.

 Stop, Enely!  It’s too fast - too soon! Let them go!

 The remaining Kerm shards erupted from Gerselle’s mind. Frantically, Jonton hurled himself at her, tried to wrap himself around her, to catch the expanding cloud of fragments and gather them to him. For a second they held.

Gerselle! To me!

The fragments of memory and personality swirled, twisted around him and then blew apart, everything that Gerselle was and had been, tumbling past him like leaves driven by a hurricane.

 Jonton! Help me…J…


 The fragments streamed past him and out of sight. The mental link connecting him to Gerselle flickered, dimmed and went out.


<< Chapter 76     Chapter 78>>

Edited by KSK
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Have I ever mentioned how much I end up grinning when I see the MACE mentioned?

As for the rest of the chapter, an impressive turn of events, an interesting plot twist, and maybe I can start trying to draw some predictions again.

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Thanks folks.

Looking forward to seeing @Madrias's predictions, especially as I'm not entirely sure myself how the next few chapters are going to pan out. I thought I did but it seems I've run out of map and am now just looking at a mostly blank space with a couple of (possibly misleading) trails drawn on it and  'here be krakens' scrawled over the rest.

Which is good.

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Don't have quite enough data to start making good predictions, but...  Another chapter or two and I can zone in on things.

After all, I didn't predict an Age of Fire overnight, I had to take several chapters to get that far.

But I'm in the mood for a good mystery, so I'm already halfway plotting my list of predictions and trying to decide what makes sense and what doesn't.  Right now is a maelstrom of chaos that could go literally any way...  But I do have a couple of things in mind.

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Ah ... right ... ok, that happened.

Mental note: this is why I like reading completed stories, I can keep reading when this happens.

I'd say in my (amateur) opinion, that cliff-hanger worked, and then some.
Awaiting the resolution of that plot thread.
At least we can see why sentient Kerm are an unheard of thing


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On 5/30/2017 at 3:30 PM, KSK said:

Val rolled her eyes. “Paper planes always look perfect and fly perfect – on paper.”

l favoured her with a rare grin. “Exactly. But this time, we’re thinking the real deal is going to look even better. The engine is specced and tested. Airframe construction for the demonstrators is on-going. We’ve got a long string of problems still to solve before we’re anywhere near a production model but the first task is to get that engine into a fuselage and get that fuselage into the sky. Then we get it past the sky.”

Val’s eyes lost their focus. “Why?” she asked at last.

Let's play...... GUESS! THAT! TYPOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

Your hint for today: It is the beginning of a sentence

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On 6/3/2017 at 5:05 PM, DarkOwl57 said:

I was reading and for a second I thought you'd delved into the realm of the evil first-person

Hmmm - why evil? I've read plenty of good books written in first-person perspective. The Martian for one.


On 6/3/2017 at 11:27 AM, AviosAdku said:

I'd say in my (amateur) opinion, that cliff-hanger worked, and then some.
Awaiting the resolution of that plot thread.

Thanks! I'm just under 2000 words into the next chapter after a solid day of writing today, so hopefully you won't be left hanging for too long. :) 

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No worries Plecy.

Next chapter is chugging along. Had friends over from the States this weekend, so didn't get a lot of writing time and I'll be looking after the godchildren for most of the coming weekend, so that'll probably slow things down a bit too. Trying to get at least some writing time in every night though, just to keep things moving.

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Well - that just happened.

Putting eldest godson to bed tonight and he'd pretty much run out of bedtime story material. Sooo, First Flight it was. Prologue and a good chunk of chapter 1 - and they both went down fine! 

He'd just finished the young adult novelisation of Rogue One with his dad, so I figured it was worth a go but yeah - that was an unexpected perk. :) A shame it won't last too long - he's only eight going on nine, so we're going to run out of suitable material fairly imminently. But while it lasts... :) 

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29 minutes ago, KSK said:

A shame it won't last too long - he's only eight going on nine, so we're going to run out of suitable material fairly imminently. But while it lasts... :) 

OK, once First Flight is finished you can read him all of Kerbfleet, then Emiko... But he might need to be a little older before you hit him with the Kraken series... lol... 

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1 hour ago, Just Jim said:

OK, once First Flight is finished you can read him all of Kerbfleet, then Emiko... But he might need to be a little older before you hit him with the Kraken series... lol... 

Yep - may have to leave the Kraken Trilogy (as it will be by then... right? :) ) on the shelf for a while but actually - I can see him getting a real kick out of Kerbfleet! Graphic novel format (he's a big Asterix fan), good strong narratives and latterly, clearly defined bad guys (which helps a lot). Also Space Madness avec fromage. :) 

I'll have to let @Kuzzter know how it goes. And work on my French accent. :) 


Emiko is a bit more complicated and less contained but the first three of the above points still hold, so yeah - why not! And the whole Thompberry character arc would be very interesting to discuss, with the notion that even bad guys can become good guys of their own accord. Which is not a concept that he'll get immediately, so discuss it we almost certainly would.


Edited by KSK
Bolting stable door after horse had fled.
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29 minutes ago, KSK said:

Yep - may have to leave the Kraken Trilogy (as it will be by then... right? :) )

I hope it's a trilogy by then, too! 

29 minutes ago, KSK said:

Also Space Madness avec fromage.


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32 minutes ago, KSK said:

And the whole Thompberry character arc would be very interesting to discuss, with the notion that even bad guys can become good guys of their own accord.

Aaaaand there goes another spoiler. :mad:

Kerm. Flarping. Dangit. 

Is no thread safe?!


Edited by CatastrophicFailure
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16 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Aaaaand there goes another spoiler. :mad:

Kerm. Flarping. Dangit. 

Is no thread safe?!


Ahhhh nuts - sorry about that. :( 

Spoilers duly inserted.

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Le sigh. Well as long as spoilers are spoiling, I have a few more lines to add to the prologue, then I might get it posted this weekend. But yes, probably not suited for an 8/9 year old, at least if you ever want him to sleep again. :rolleyes:

@JustJim's work, on the other hand, seems tailor made to that bracket. Just the right amount of space cheese. :D

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Next chapter is up...


Jonton’s agonised mental cry barely registered with Enely. The sudden lurch as both of his friends dropped out of Communion rocked him momentarily but then his mind’s eye filled with a rapidly approaching swarm of Kerm shards. He thrust out his image of thirty-eight linked trees at them and poured all his concentration into projecting thoughts of his own, long-gone and much younger Kerm, imagining it growing and deepening into Elton’s soothing presence.

The first shard struck the cluster of trees, shimmered and flowed into and over it. One of the outer trees swelled, acquiring greater definition and form. Every ridge of bark, every leaf vein popped out in sharp relief and the glowing traces, linking it to the other trees, intensified. A second shard ploughed into the larger tree and ricocheted into the centre of the cluster in a discordant scrape of flint dust and scorched bark that lifted the hair on Enely’s neck and made his eyes water.

More shards crashed home. A handful struck just the right tree in the Grove, swelled into grandeur and added their light to the mesh. Enely felt the pleasing warmth of sun on leaf, smelt the richness of good earth after rain, but despite the rightness of those feelings there was something missing; like gaps in a row of teeth, begging to be prodded by an ever-restless tongue. The rest of the shards lay strewn around between the trees; a carpet of fractured, brilliant icicles slowly melting in the sun.

For a second, Enely stretched out his awareness, hunting for Jonton and Gerselle but finding only worrisome silence. Clamping down on his growing unease he turned back to the wreckage  of Gerselle’s Kerm. Tentatively, he imagined himself lifting one of the icicles, only to snatch his fingers back as it flowed under his touch, an ugly bruise of colours on its surface blossoming into a whiff of hot tin and spoiled meat. He tried again, millimetre by millimetre, as if trying to peel an intact spiderweb off a leaf without disturbing it’s myriad threads. 

The icicle quivered but lifted free at his touch. Enely brushed his fingers over its surface doing his best to project thoughts of comfort and reassurance. Then he turned to the next shard. 


Only long-ingrained habit prevented Jonton from ripping his head free of the leaf cluster. For long seconds he lay still, fists clenched, calves knotted, a steel band of dread and impatience clamped around his guts. On another bed, Enely twitched and groaned, hands moving in a childlike parody of a kerblet stacking blocks, the sour reek of sweat hanging over him like a miasma. At last the leaf hairs slipped free of Jonton’s scalp and he flung himself across the sleep room to Gerselle’s side.  

She lay unmoving, eyes rolled back into her head. 

The steel band around Jonton’s middle constricted. He lifted Gerselle’s wrist, feeling for a pulse and almost collapsed with relief. It was there; thready, weak but clinging to life. For an instant, hope flared but then the awful last moments of Communion came crashing home. The shattered fragments of Gerselle’s mind whirling past; her pain searing through the link; her last terrified plea for help. Numbly, Jonton let go of her wrist and watched her hand flop nervelessly onto the bedspread. Blank white eyes stared at him and his brief moment of hope guttered and went out. 

Mechanically, he climbed onto the bed beside his life partner and cradled her in his arms. Only that same long-ingrained habit kept him from sweeping the Kerm leaves from her head. 


Enely stared helplessly at the neat rows of shards, lined up in his mind’s eye. Filaments and fronds of something still oozed from them, blindly crawling towards their neighbours. The larger fronds lay quiescent, turning brown at the edges. He reached out to the nearest shard, trying to touch the memories within but they swirled beyond his reach like a swarm of bees seen through frosted glass. He bent closer, nerves thrumming, alert to the faintest sound or scent. 

The filaments quivered and lashed out, smothering Enely’s face. Panic-stricken, he cried out, only to find his mouth unable to close. He felt the fronds crawling over his eyes, blocking out the mindscape, insinuating themselves through the delicate tissues between eyeball and skull. His hands hooked into claws, fighting the urge to rip out the thick tangles of filaments, that his screaming mind insisted were crawling up his nostrils and down his ears. Then the sickly queasy wriggling stopped and suddenly Enely could see.

And hear.

And smell.

He hugged the shard to his chest, wincing at the discordant snarl of sensations, and staggered over to the half-formed presence in front of him. He held out the shard, feeling it flow under his hands, filament encrusted icicle morphing into a warm, sinuously folded form. Enely came forward, leaving his kerbal self behind, his entire consciousness reaching out, flowing over the piece of Kerm like a protective film. Probing, feeling, searching for the missing pieces, for the seams between these memories and those, for the subtle links between this concept and that instinct. Turn here, then twist there - gently…gently…and now the sudden explosion of light illuminating the sensorium around him!

Retreat…breathe… and become kerbal again. Enely stared at the newly grown tree, shining alongside its companions in his imagined Grove.

The next shard was easier, the sensation of invading fronds crawling behind his eyeballs less of a shock, although Enely’s scalp still crawled at the feeling of something squirming up his nose. The shard melted against him, flowing into a compact rippled mass, trailing ropes of quivering, iridescent mind-stuff behind it. Under his direction, the ropes spread out, coiling through the growing Kerm mind, holding the mass in place. As he retreated from it, Enely felt a twinge of unease in the back of his mind. 

One by one, the shards fitted into place, brown-edged pieces washed clean and made whole again. But with each new gap filled, each new connection made, Enely struggled against growing unease, that swelled into fear and threatened to spill over into outright panic. Squabbling voices clamoured in the back of his mind, each shouting to be heard over the rest. The Kerm mind shuddered, newly stitched mental seams beginning to unravel under the strain.


The squabbling continued unabated. Silently, Enely berated himself. Shouting at an untrained mallek never solved anything. One at a time he began talking back to the voices, offering a quiet word, or the mental equivalent of a soothing pat or a scratch behind the ears, to each. The malka can smell fear - agitated drivers make agitated malleks. But if they think you know what you’re doing…

Don’t be afraid my friends. You are many – but you are one. You are Kerm. Enely summoned up a memory from one of the shards. It looked familiar. Nematode webs I think. Jonton would know if he was…He didn’t allow himself to complete the thought. Agitated drivers make agitated malleks.

For you, this is a part of your world. Enely paused, rifling through half-remembered images from another shard before finding what he needed. And for you this is a part of your world. But they are the same world. The images slipped over one another, sections of both neatly overlapping. Enely summoned up an image of a hilltop dotted with Kerm trees. This is what your kerbals see. Many trees - but only one Kerm. With an effort, he flipped back to the image of overlapping soil tapestries. One world - one Kerm.

The voices fell silent. Then a curious sensation raised the hairs on the back of Enely’s neck and rippled upward. All around him, thousands of individual memories swooped and spun about each other. Touching, aligning and merging, reorganising themselves into new, more compact structures and in doing so, making space for other memories to join the great dance. Waves of thought flowed through the Kerm mind, healing, tightening, snipping out redundancies. And like a cloud of interstellar gas collapsing under its own mass, the contracting mind began to glow, grew ever brighter and then ignited.

Light shone all around Enely and a single voice called to him.


Yes - I am kerbal

<there were more kerbals. My kerbal, another kerbal, you. You are not my kerbal>

No, I’m not your kerbal. Your kerbal was called Gerselle. The other kerbal was called Jonton. I am Enely.

<what is Enely? You are kerbal. I know kerbal, I do not know Enely>

Enely is my name. A word that other kerbals give me so they know who I am.

<I am Kerm. Do I have a name?>

Not yet. Would you like a name?

<yes. If kerbals have names, I would like a name. My kerbal Gerselle showed me other kerbal, showed me Jonton many times. I will have both their names> The young Kerm paused. <My name is Jontongerselle, Enely>

Enely smiled. That’s a long name for everyone to remember so why don’t we shorten it a bit? I think Jonelle would be a pretty name for you.

<Jonelle…Jonelle. Yes, yes, Enely, that is a good name. I will be called Jonelle>

I’m very pleased to meet you, Jonelle, but I must go away for a little while and find Gerselle and Jonton. They’ll want to meet you too.

<yes, yes! Talk to Jonton, talk to Gerselle, talk to Enely. Come back quickly>

I’ll be as quick as I can, Enely promised.

The leaves lifted from his scalp. Enely swung his feet off the bed and wearily ran his fingers through his hair. He was greeted by silence. 

Oh no.

Jonton lifted his head. The awful look on his face stopped Enely in his tracks. Oh Kerm, no. Weariness forgotten, he crossed the room and knelt down by Gerselle’s bed, taking in her motionless body and rolled-back eyes. “Oh, Jonton, I’m…” His throat constricted, choking off any further words.

“She’s gone,” Jonton’s voice was remote, empty. “Shattered. I saw her go. I tried to hold her but she’s gone.” Unconsciously, he stroked Gerselle’s hair, brushing a stray lock back from her cheek. 

Enely’s stomach clenched, all the half-fears that he’d pushed to one side during the Awakening, hitting him like a blow to the midriff. Jonton’s last anguished words tore through his heart. But I didn’t stop - couldn’t stop. I wasn’t strong enough or fast enough either and now she’s…He looked up, afraid to meet the the other’s eye. “Gone? Not dead?”

“She might as well be,” said Jonton. “She breathes but she…she’s not…my Gerselle…” His face spasmed, great silent tears suddenly rolling down his cheeks. He buried his face in Gerselle’s poncho, shoulders shaking in silent, wracking sobs.

Enely choked back his own tears. “I’ll be right back.” he said thickly. “He ran through to Gerselle’s kitchen eyes casting about for her telephone. He grabbed her address book from its shelf and fumbled through it. Need another Keeper, maybe another one. Someone to tell Elton, someone to talk to Jonelle too, if I’m not there. Better call the Berelgan too but that can wait. Enely clenched his jaw. What was his name…from the next Grove over, came to visit a couple of times. Pat…Patbro! 

Enely rifled through the address book, found Patbro’s number and punched it in with trembling fingers.

“Hello, is that Patbro Kermol? It’s Enely Kermol here. Yes, the one staying with Jonton. No we’re at Gerselle’s at the moment. No…I’m afraid not.” Enely paused. “There’s been…been a bad accident with her Kerm. Jonton’s not in a state to do anything right now and we need another Keeper.” Enely’s shoulders sagged. “Pillars preserve you, Patbro. Yes - we’ll talk about it once you get here - easier that way.”

Going to need more help. The address book fell open at Meleny’s page and Enely looked at it in sick misery. Oh Blight me, I can’t drop this on them by phone. He turned to a different page, closed his eyes for a second, then picked up the phone. “Hello - is that Ferry?”


“Ferry and Fredlorf are on their way over. Patbro is too but he’ll take longer to get here from his Grove.” Enely patted Jonton awkwardly on the back. “I brought you a djeng - it’s on the table when you want it.” Enely took a deep breath, “I hate to do this right now my friend, but I promised Jonelle I’d be back as soon as I could.” 

Jonton regarded him through red-rimmed eyes. Enely nodded. “It worked,” he said softly. “We got there in time.” Jonton turned his head away, jaw working convulsively. He stabbed a finger over his shoulder at the spare bed. Enely reached out to pat his friend on the back again, before thinking better of it and taking his place under the leaf cluster with a rising sense of trepidation.

The leaf hairs burrowed eagerly into his skull and Enely’s calves clenched with the effort of remaining still against the writhing, itching sensation against his scalp. A pinprick of light flared in his mind before yawning open onto an unfamiliar mindscape. Simpler by far than Elton’s, much of it a canvas still to be painted, but still with flocks of sparks gambolling around him, their movements nimble and assured.


Enely smiled despite himself. That’s right, Jonelle. It’s me, Enely.

<Where is Jonton? Where is Gerselle? I want to talk!>

Enely’s smile collapsed. Hoping against hope he cast his mind outwards but sensed nothing in reply.


I’m sorry, Jonelle. We don’t know where Gerselle is. Which is truthful enough, he thought sadly. Jonelle seemed to sense that something wasn’t right, her mental voice puzzled.

<Gerselle not here?>

No, Gerselle isn’t here. A thought struck Enely. But there’s somebody else you can talk to - another somebody else like you. Another Kerm but…

<NONONO> The sparks swarmed around him, more of them flocking in from across the rapidly darkening mindscape. Enely felt barriers slamming into place, shutting away the higher complexities of Jonelle’s growing personality. The sparks shifted into unfamiliar but unmistakably hostile formations. <My ground, mineminemine! Kerm go away! Not talk to Kerm!> 

… he won’t hurt you! It’s alright, Jonelle - it’s alright! He was Jonton’s Kerm - his name is Elton!

The sparks froze. The mental barriers cracked open a millimetre. <Kerm has a name too?>

Yes, he does. He chose his name just like you chose yours.

<Kerm want to talk?>

I hope so, Jonelle. We’ll have to ask him. He might be frightened too.

<I’m not frightened of Kerm!>

No - but we are. Kerbals get frightened when Kerm fight. 

<kerbals can run away> The indifference in Jonelle’s voice rocked Enely back on his heels.

What about me, Jonelle? What about Gerselle and Jonton? What if we run away too?

<Gerselle always comes back. Jonton and Enely will come back too>

Not if you and Elton get into a real battle, Enely thought to himself. It doesn’t matter, he said soothingly. Elton won’t want to fight you.

The barriers lifted a little further and Enely sensed the young Kerm peering at him suspiciously. <will think about it>

Thank you, Jonelle. I should go now - I need to go and help Jonton.

<yes. Help Jonton find Gerselle>


Enely emerged from Communion to find Jonton sitting upright on Gerselle’s bed and sipping his djeng, knees drawn up to his chest, eyes still bloodshot and red-rimmed. “How is…she?” he asked.

“She,” Enely confirmed. And with a voice like Gerselle’s, although I don’t think you need to know that right now. “She’s young.” he added. “Nothing like Elton. He’s almost kerbal-like in many ways - which I think we have you to thank for, my friend. All your time spent an-Kerm seems to have influenced him.” He recounted his suggestion that Jonelle talk to Elton - and Jonelle’s reaction. “I think Elton has a lot to teach her - but we’ll need to be so very careful.”

Jonton nodded. An awkward silence descended.

You seffleck, Enely Kermol. You bjedla, cowardly, sefflek. There is no good time for this. Your water was his and you broke your promise. Now live with that! “I will leave your Groves of course,” he said aloud. “You trusted my promise and I broke it. I saw what… I saw Gerselle. And I wasn’t fast enough to stop it.”

Jonton looked at him expressionlessly. “We can talk about this later,” he said at last. “Leave me now, Enely - I want to be alone for a while.”

What did you expect, sefflek. “Of course,” Enely replied quietly. He left the room without looking back, closing the door behind him with an audible click. He stared at the front door willing it to open, then sighed, sat down at the kitchen table and buried his head in his hands. Glaring at the clock only made the seconds tick past ever more slowly, the pictures on the walls mocking him from their frames. He paced up and down the kitchen for a while before stopping, afraid of disturbing Jonton. Eventually he slumped onto a sack chair, listlessly paging through one of Joenie’s storybooks for want of anything else to read. 

The doorbell rang, startling Enely to his feet. He opened the door and let in a visibly anxious Ferry, followed by a grim-faced Fredlorf. Eyebrows raised, Ferry pointed at the sleep room door, saw Enely’s answering nod and quietly let himself in, closing the door behind him. Fredlorf stood for a moment then shook his head and folded himself onto Enely’s abandoned sack chair. After a minute, Enely joined him, sitting cross-legged on the carpet, back rigidly straight.

“Is she…?” Fredlorf asked quietly.

“No,” said Enely. “But her mind is gone. Shattered.”

“Can she come back? Can she be…” Fredlorf hunted for the right word. “Mended? Healed? I don’t know - whatever happened with Elton.”

“I don’t know,” said Enely. “Jonelle - her Kerm - lives.” He stared at his feet. “I was able to do that much. But Gerselle. I don’t…I don’t think there’s any hope for her, Fred.”

Fredlorf studied him, noting the deep-seated bags under his eyes and the shadows that lurked behind them. “I should go an’ see Jonton,” he said. “Will yeh be alright out here?”

“No,” said Enely. “But Jonton will be hurting more. Go on, Fred.”

By the time Patbro arrived, Gerselle’s kitchen was full of sombre-faced villagers. Most of them recognised him and stood aside to let him through. For those that didn’t know him, his grey robe and green-trimmed collar were enough. Ferry looked up as he entered the room and hastily beckoned him over. He made his way through the small crowd around Gerselle’s bed and knelt down beside his friend. 

“I came as quickly as I could. Enely said there’d been an accident?” He took in Gerselle’s limp body and deathly pale features beneath a crown of Kerm leaves and swallowed hard. “What can I do?”

Jonton looked at him gratefully. “I need you to go back to my Grove, Pat. Tell Elton that Jonelle is awake but…” He closed his eyes. “But Gerselle didn’t make it. Her body is alive but she’s gone.” He paused “And I need you to fetch Joenie from Meleny’s.”

Patbro’s expression didn’t flicker. Preserve me - I don’t want to go anywhere. Just want to stay here with you old friend and tell you everything’s alright. He flicked another glance at Gerselle. Except we both know it’s not. “Commune with Elton, fetch Joenie,” he answered. “Not a problem, I’ll be back as quick as I can.”

“Thanks, Pat. I… thanks.”


Later, Patbro would simply be thankful for the lack of traffic. The rough country lane between Jonton’s and Gerselle’s Groves was not a road for the unwary traveller, let alone one with more than half his mind on other matters. He parked at the foot of the hill leading up to Jonton’s hut and walked up the path, half hoping that the door would be locked, forcing him to go back and get the key. He stood in front of the old kerm wood door gathering his courage, then twisted the old-fashioned latch ring and pushed. The door swung open and the familiar, cloying scent of cinnamon greeted him.

Closing the door behind him, Patbro hurried through to the sleep room. Hastily he lay down on the nearest bunk bed and, before his nerve could fail him, wedged a pillow behind his neck and lifted his head to the waiting leaves. The transition to Communion was swift and smooth. Elton waited for Patbro to speak, sensing the turmoil within his mind. Eventually, with the mental equivalent of a quiet cough, he reached out to the tongue-tied kerbal.

<good afternoon, Patbro. It is good to meet you again>

Good afternoon, Elton, said Patbro. Absurdly he felt himself frowning. But how did you know?

<that it was afternoon? A simple matter of shifting warmth on my leaves and talking to Jonton> Elton said gently. <but I don’t think you’re here to talk of such pleasantries, Patbro. In fact, if you’ll forgive me for saying, I was really expecting Jonton, or possibly Gerselle>

They couldn’t, Patbro said thickly. They… just couldn’t. A blurred image stuttered over the Communion link then,  with a vast effort of will, he brought his thoughts into focus. For a second, Elton saw Gerselle in the front of his mind, pale, eyes closed, head cradled by a weeping Jonton. Then the image blew apart in a storm of pent-up grief.

Instinctively, Elton retreated, narrowing the Communion link to the barest trickle of shared feeling, to shield himself from Patbro’s distress and to hide the welter of conflicting emotions flooding his own mind. Indifference welled up from an older, deeper part of him, only to be trampled by guilt and sudden horror. I am no longer that Kerm!  He flung his thoughts back to his Awakening: his own struggle to break free, aided by Enely, Jonton only able to break free with Gerselle’s help. No - there was more.

Memories spun free. 

Memories from a past life, of time spent communing with Jonton. Memories - and shadows of Jonton’s memories - from his time spent an-kerbal. Those were elusive, slippery, reaching down into a haze of associations and emotional cues. 

Hands unclasping a golden torc, reflected in the shining eyes of a much younger Gerselle…

Snapshots of times spent together. Sometimes with other kerbals too but always with Gerselle…

Sacrifices willingly made. Some large, some small, none regretted. None ever regretted.

Arguments and raised voices. Tears and self-reproach. But always a way through, a way back together made all the sweeter by the momentary strife.

A hundred small gestures of affection, made without thinking; a smile of thanks, a mug of djeng brought without asking, a shared joke, an extra task undertaken uncomplainingly at the end of a long day so that the Gerselle wouldn’t have to…

A disturbing thought loomed large in Elton’s mind. What would Jonton do without Gerselle? 

Memory spun into understanding - and the understanding swept the indifference away, never to return. 

Waves of coloured spots spiked over his leaves, ebbing and flowing in no clear pattern, driven by a hopelessly tangled morass of biochemical cues from a system asked to express something that it was unable to - hadn’t evolved to -  express. The spots raced through their full range of colours, peaking at utter blackness and then disappearing. A different wave swept over him. From top to bottom, from twig to trunk, the leaf clusters twisted shut. 

And Elton wept.

Patbro slipped his head out from under the tightly whorled knot of leaves and staggered to his feet Well I told him. Pillars preserve me but I told him. He looked up at the bare looking branches running across the ceiling. What on Kerbin do we do with a grieving Kerm? Patbro flushed dark green and stared at his feet. Stupid question. Same as we do with a grieving kerbal - or as near as we can anyway. He wiped the corners of his eyes and straightened his robe before letting himself out of Jonton’s hut.

The walk to Meleny’s house somehow seemed to last forever whilst also being over far too soon. Patbro plodded on, insensible to the occasional wave or friendly greeting from one or other of the villagers. He opened the gate, walked up the short path to her house and tapped tremulously on the door. Then he squeezed his eyes shut, opened them and rang the doorbell. 

All too quickly, he heard approaching footsteps and the door opened on a somewhat taken aback Meleny, Joenie and Adbas peering round the corner behind her. “Afternoon, Patbro. If you’re looking for Thombal, he’s out at the moment but he’ll be back soon. Mug of djeng while you’re waiting?”

Unable to help himself, Patbro flicked a glance at Joenie’s tousled head. Puzzled, Meleny followed his glance and then saw the stricken look in his eyes. The blood drained out of her face. “Gerselle?” she whispered. 

Patbro nodded mutely.

Meleny’s face stiffened, then she turned to the two kerblets behind her, forcing a smile onto her face. “Joenie dear - Patbro’s here to see you.”

Joenie emerged from around the corner and looked warily at Patbro, sensing that something was wrong.

“Hello, Joenie.” Patbro gathered himself. “I’ve got some bad news, popkin.” The look on his face stilled Joenie’s automatic complaint. “There’s been an accident with your Mum’s Kerm. She’s asleep - your Mum I mean - but we can’t wake her up. Your Dad’s with her and he asked me to come and fetch you.” Patbro held out his hand. “Please come with me, Joenie. Your Dad… he needs you very much right now.”


<< Chapter 77     Chapter 79>>

Edited by KSK
Uprooting dandelions.
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