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First Flight (Epilogue and Last Thoughts)

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But whilst I’m in a thinking aloud mood.

“Which brings the question of what’s next? An overwhelming counterattack to cries of “remember the Shield!” or the Return of... a more civilized age?”



“Those days are gone now. And in the past they must remain. But we will remember. Our Flowers of Kolus. Who brought us homeward. To live again.”

- Remember the Shield.



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Another problem with a fairly involved episodic story when the episodes happen a ways apart. :( 

I'll dig out the chapter references when I'm not on a tablet but briefly: 

Humilisia is a sizeable island between Doren and Kolus (east coast of the continent that the KSC is on in-game). The Kolans grabbed it early on when the Kerm crisis was just becoming a thing and there was a bit of a race to secure any nearby habitable (even if barely) land and plant Groves on it. The thinking at the time was that the taboo against deliberately harming Kerm would give  de-facto control of whatever land was grabbed.

It's fair to say that the Doreni were less than impressed with this and there have been at least two battles for Humilisia as the Kerm crisis developed. (Two shown in-story anyhow). I haven't really gone into this but strategically, Humilisia is also quite handy as a staging area for striking at either Doren or Kolus, hence the fighting over it. In-story it's been a convenient plot thread to show the escalation of kerbal military capacity, from Val's racing plane-converted to-torpedo bomber, to dedicated warships.

This last chapter was the latest escalation in the war for Humilisia in which the Kolans got (finally) badly outgunned and out-maneuvered. Hence all the desperate last stand stuff. That defeat is also going to have definite ramifications (of which more in the next couple of chapters) and was really put in there to set up those ramifications...

I shall say no more!



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Still enjoyable to read as always, and I eagerly await the next chapter!

When I'd originally said "Age of Fire" I certainly didn't anticipate this, though I suppose I should feel good in that I've gotten more fire than just rocket fire.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks @Madrias

Next chapter is roughed out, two of the sections are about done and I've figured out how another one is going to work. There's one plot salient section which needs to be fitted in, which I'm still pondering. Mind you, it took me quite some time (and skimming previous chapters) just to figure out where all the relevant characters were and whether they could plausibly be involved in this one!

And speaking of chapters:

The Kolans first float the idea of establishing Groves on Humilisia way back in Chapter 34 (Uncharted) which, alarmingly, was written nearly five years ago. There's a brief glimpse of the Kolans covertly supplying their new outpost a couple of chapters later in Stormclouds.  In Preemptive, we meet Val for the first time and see the Kolans gearing up for eventual war in a 'trust but cut the cards' kind of way. The midden hits the impeller in Lightning, which is the first battle for Humilisia. Val distinguishes herself in combat, torpedoing the Doreni flagship. We get a glimpse of the second (on-page) battle for Humilisia much, much later in Chapter 83 (Shattered), at which point the Kerm Crisis has escalated into full-blown war.

There may be other snippets here and there. All told though,  @superstrijder15 , I can quite understand why the last chapter was a bit confusing!

@DualDesertEagle Politcally, yes, although the actual engagement was rather different. Relatively high speed naval warfare (kerbal warships don't stray into cruiser or battleship sizes) without much in the way of air cover. Most of that was participating in the other off-page battle alluded to at the beginning of the chapter.


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  • 5 weeks later...

Will sling you what I have tomorrow morning UK time. Middle, end and some of the beginning are done but the bridging section from the previous chapter needs fleshing out. Decided that some of the stuff I was going to wedge in would work better in its own chapter, not least because that would let me set up a big chapter a couple of steps down the road.

Now that my commute has been cut in half, I’m experimenting with writing before work. I don’t get a lot of words down in 45 minutes but they add up - and it’s more about getting back into a writing habit than anything else.

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Beastie doesn't have a horn sticking out of its forehead - ah reckon you've got the wrong meme there. :)


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End of the beginning, or beginning of the end? Either way - the next chapter is up. Thanks, as always, to @CatastrophicFailure for proof reading and helpful comments.


Last Flight from Barkton

Every last berth at Foxham harbour was occupied. Tugboats swarmed in droves, shepherding the larger survivors of the Second Fleet – or those too badly damaged for accurate steering – to their moorings. Gunboats patrolled the horizon and contrails criss-crossed the sky, an airborne detachment of the Kolan border security forces maintaining a tight ball-of-yarn patrol over Foxham and the surrounding coastline.

White flags drooped at half-mast as the naval crews ushered a steady stream of shell-shocked civilians ashore, dishevelled, unwashed and dressed in whatever clothing they’d left Humilisia in. The last of them came ashore on stretchers, faces shrouded by the same ship’s blankets that hid the rest of them from prying eyes. Two sailors stood watch over the orderly row of stretchers already laid out on the quayside, their crossed spades and the ceremonial sweetblossom staff on the ground in front of them, keeping even the most distressed bystander at arm's reach.

Away from the dockside, marquees sheltered rows of pallets, made up with a motley assortment of donated bedding. Steam rose from a hastily assembled camp kitchen, many of the kerbals preparing vegetables or tending enormous pots of soup, clad in boiler suits marked with a white cross on the chest pocket. Away from the marquees, gangs of kerbals – most of them dressed in kermol ponchos - were putting up temporary moss rooms for the Humilisian refugees.


“To be honest, I’m looking forward to the break. A few quiet days on a train back to Barkton before diving into spoke construction. If the trains aren’t too badly fouled up, I should even get back for Bill’s launch.” Bob opened his car door and slid behind the wheel.

Ribory smiled as she climbed in beside him. “It’s about time. Did they ever settle on a callsign?”

“No. They got no shortage of suggestions but none of them seemed quite right. In the end, the crew settled on plain old Eve 3.” Bob reached for the starter button. “I suspect that was largely down to Bill though.”

“Bit too understated for Calley and James probably didn’t care much either way,” Ribory agreed. She stared out of the window as Bob eased out of the car park and turned left onto the main thoroughfare. “A break will do me good too. Mountain air, greenery, and time to catch up with Fercan and Corvan.”

“Are you going straight back to Alpha then?” Bob raised his eyebrows at the long queue of cars ahead of them.

“Yes. Helping to upgrade the network again after Camrie’s latest expansion efforts. Wish the White Cross Company could build us a few dishes at their Veiidan hub offices - Kerm knows we could use the extra tracking sites.”

Bob drummed his fingers on his steering wheel. “Shouldn’t be a problem if any of those hubs are on the eastern seaboard. I bet the Weiidans would jump at the chance to put up a couple of extra air defence stations.” He sighed. “And I wish I was joking.” 

Ribory snorted. “They’d spend more time getting permission from the Doreni than they would building the stations.” She frowned. “What is it with this traffic?”

“I don’t know.” An olive-green truck appeared around the corner and tore past them, rocking their smaller vehicle on its suspension. Ribory caught a fleeting glimpse of a triangular pennant snapping from its hood, emblazoned with the Kolan flag.

“Kerm!” Reflexively, Bob jammed his foot on the brake. “What in the First Grove was that idiot doing!”

“Bob?” Ribory’s eyes were very wide. “That was Border Security.”

Another truck shot past. Bob and Ribory exchanged worried looks. Ribory reached down and flicked the radio on, hunting for a news bulletin whilst Bob followed the line of vehicles crawling towards the security gates. Snatches of music, interspersed with voices, filled the inside of the car, most of them adopting a light-hearted tone that sounded distinctly forced to Ribory. Frustrated, she turned the radio off with a snap. 

Ahead of them, the main road to Foxham came into sight, an endless convoy of cars and assorted other vehicles streaming out of town, broken by intermittent traffic passing by in the other direction, most of it drab green trucks. Ribory’s head jerked round at Bob’s startled exclamation. “What?”

“White Cross van. Heading into town. Kerm – there goes another one!” The car jerked to a stop just in time to avoid bumping into the car in front. Bob’s voice turned grim. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Border security and emergency relief heading towards town, everyone else going the other way? Probably.” They moved forward another few car lengths and stopped again. Bob wound down his window in response to an urgent gesture from a Rockomax security guard, and held out his pass. “What’s going on, Jerson?”

“Lockdown,” came the terse reply. “Doreni have taken Humilisia and everyone reckons we’re next.” Jerson glanced at his clipboard. “As of right now, all Rockomax launch and manufacturing facilities are a key strategic asset, assigned defence priority one. Border forces are here for added on-site security, Kerm knows what else is going on.” An unreadable expression passed across Jerson’s face. “Where were you two going?”

“Train station. Ribory's been recalled to Alpha and I’m going back to Barkton for the launch…” Bob’s voice trailed away. “Is there any news from Barkton?” he asked quietly. “If they’re locking down Rockomax…”

“Nothing that I’ve been told, Bob, but your name’s on the recall list of personnel ordered back there.” Jerson offered him a humourless smile. “Good thing you were planning to go anyway.”


 “I’m afraid that I don’t understand.” Lodan’s voice was icy. “Since the Barkton Space Centre is evidently enough of a national asset to warrant evacuation and asset stripping, I fail to see why it does not merit the same degree of security that you’re affording to the Foxham Centre.”

 “Kindly refrain from being obtuse, Director. Rockomax’s solid rocketry division has long since diversified away from purely civilian applications, as you are well aware. Since I know you far too well to presume that you have not read your briefing, you will also be aware of our losses at Humilisia. They can, and will, be replaced but that will take time. For the moment, we simply do not have the naval resources to effectively defend Barkton or its Space Centre. I have therefore ordered your site manager to close down the facility and prepare any and all storable rocketry assets for transportation to a designated secure site.”

 “And what of the scheduled construction flight?”

 The telephone went silent in his hand. “Excuse me?”

 “I did indeed read your briefing.” Unseen Lodan’s upper lip peeled away from his teeth. “Evidently you have not offered me the same courtesy in return. If you had, you would know that we have a Starseed flight scheduled in four days’ time. You would also know that this is a significant and necessary step to ensure that our efforts of the past two flights are not wasted.”

 “Indeed. I would speak of those previous flights, Director. Specifically, your ability to resource them.”

 “Rest assured that your office will find everything quite in order. Thanks, in large part, to the thousands of kerman and kermol who took your own words to heart and who deserve better from their government than to be fobbed off with mealy-mouthed excuses.” As well to be hung for a gronnek as a kaya. “Who deserve some leadership from their government.”

 Lodan heard a distant click of jaws snapping shut.

 “If you are quite finished?”

“Yes, sir.” In more ways than one, I suspect.

“Your final flight is authorised. You may expect a summons to appear before the Council by the end of the month. You will be speaking for the Kerbin Space Agency, a full and complete briefing to be submitted two weeks before your duly allotted date. And, Mr Lodan?”


 “Please be assured in return that we shall expect everything to be in order. I trust you are aware of the consequences should they not be.”


 Jeb ran his thumb over the ornately wrought pillar, testing the edge of one of leaf cluster motifs worked into its surface. Beside him, Geneney stared unseeingly up at the roof of Barkton Central Station. A handful of kerbals dotted the platform, outnumbered by the armed guards stationed at each entrance to the main concourse. 

A low thrum caught his ear making him look up. Headlights appeared around a bend in the distance and, moments later, the Cabaralb train was pulling into the station. The carriage doors whooshed open and a gaggle of tired-looking passengers spilled out onto the platform. He nudged Geneney in the ribs, raising a hand in greeting to Bob, as the other spotted them by the pillar and walked over, hefting his luggage in one hand.

“Evening, Bobcat. Good journey?”

 “The Capital was in uproar but not too bad apart from that. Had a carriage to myself for most of the journey. Cabaralb was completely deserted.” Bob eyed his friends. “We’re being closed down, aren’t we?” He snorted softly at the startled look on Geneney’s face. “It wasn’t hard to work out, Gene. They’re keeping Rockomax open and the security around Foxham was going crazy.” Bob flicked his fingers at the empty station around them. “This place is not going crazy. So, unless you’ve had a whole lot of troops arrive by road – and I didn’t see much sign of that either, coming in – then I don’t imagine they’re planning to keep us open too.”

Jeb shook his head. “No. Bill’s going up, then we turn out the lights and head over to Alpha. Most of the gang have already left.”

Bob offered him a twisted smile. “Going to be just like the old days then.”

“You’d better dig out your pad team hat,” Geneney agreed. “We’ll be running the launch with a minimum viable team and handing flight control over to Alpha as soon as they hit orbit.

 “At least Bill gets his flight in before the end.” Bob rubbed his eyes. “And the last couple of flights won’t go to waste. I take it we’ll be splashing them down east of Foxham?” He looked at Geneney. “Tell the truth, Gene, there were times on the train when I figured I’d be coming back to an abandoned space centre.”

“That was the original plan.” There was an edge to Geneney’s voice. “Until Lodan persuaded them otherwise. I understand that a couple of the Probodyne team walked into his office for a meeting last week, just as he was walking out with – and I quote – ‘a face that could freeze helium.’ The next day we got a phone call telling us to go ahead with Bill’s flight but that we’d better have everything packed up and ready to go as soon as his rocket left the ground.”

“It’s going to be a busy few days,” Jeb noted. “Welcome home.”


The RT5 “Trashcan” solid rocket booster touched down, feather light, into its cradle on the flat-bed trailer. The team of yellow-hatted VAB workers unhooked it from its cables and began lashing it down. Their supervisor, still standing atop the trailer, gave a hand signal to the waiting crane driver and watched the cables slowly rise, hooks barely swinging. As soon as she was satisfied that they were clear, she jumped down to help secure the old-fashioned looking booster in place.

A forklift truck lumbered past carrying a heavy-duty, grease-smeared vacuum pump still attached to its adaptor. Another truck followed it, carrying a partially dismantled extruder, propellant slit plate lashed to one side. A flatbed handcart brought up the rear, pushed by two sweating kerbals and piled high with assembly jig sections and other, less identifiable pieces of metal. 

Watching from above, Geneney sighed. “Remember how much trouble we had with that old extruder? How long it took Wernher to come up with a way of getting enough air out of the propellant during casting?” He gestured at the forklift, now trundling through the VAB main doors. “We should be putting it in a museum, not carting it off to Kerm knows where, like so much junk.”

Jeb snorted. “If I could remember which junkyard we got the vacuum pump from in the first place, we could see if they wanted to buy it back. They could even fetch a half-decent price for it now that it’s actually working.” His face turned pensive. “That slit plate though. Glad that Wernher invented that before we tried building the RT-5.”

A shadow passed over, Geneney’s face. “And I’m glad that you and Wernher were standing on top of the cliffs that day, not down on the beach beside the exploding RT-3.”

“An object lesson in degassing your solid propellant.” Jeb agreed. “Not to mention an object lesson in losing a significant chunk of goodwill with the Barkton Enclave and city council.”

Geneney winced. “Yes.” He watched one of the VAB overhead cranes winch another solid rocket booster into the air. “I’d forgotten how many RT-5s we had left over from the heatshield test programs.”

“I remember the look on your face when Bob suggested putting one under an Eve capsule and firing it straight down. Which reminds me - are we going to have time to crate up all the Eve tooling?”

Geneney shook his head. “Probably not. Everything to do with the solids goes first - launch escape motors, left over RT-5s, propellant, parts, tooling, blueprints…”

“Anything the Doreni could load onto a trailer and fire back at us.” Jeb’s voice was suddenly bleak.

“Yes. Engines and avionics go next along with whatever else we can salvage from the Moho and LV-T20 production lines at short notice. The powers that be don’t think there’s much risk of the Doreni putting together any liquid fuelled missiles from whatever we leave behind, but a Moho is just about small enough that it’s a risk they don’t want to take.”

 A shadow passed behind Jeb’s eyes and, for a moment, Geneney was reminded of a gloomy, rank-smelling apartment, his friend lying in bed in the midst of empty bottles and an overflowing sink, entangled in a heap of creased and sweat-stained bedding. “The good news – or least bad news – is that we can shutter the Eve core booster lines and just leave them in place.”

Jeb gave a short laugh. “An Eve wouldn’t be much use to them I suppose. Unless the seffleks want to bomb the Mün as well.”

“Speaking of which,” Geneney said quietly, “I thought we could pay a last visit to the Museum.” He raised a hand. “Not to pack it away. It’s hardly a priority and besides… I think we should leave it here anyway. A reminder to anyone stopping by – Kolan or Doreni – of what we invented rocketry for.”

The shadow behind Jeb’s eyes lifted a fraction. “That’s better than nothing anyway. Good thinking, Gene.”

 “Come on then – lets leave these good kerbals to their work.  We’ll pick up Bob on the way.”

 By the time they arrived at the museum, Kerbol was dipping below the horizon, the streak of reflected sunlight on the Great Tranquil Sea brighter than any rocket launch. Geneney unlocked the museum doors and stood quietly to one side. Beams of dusty evening sunlight poured in through the skylights, illuminating the exhibits in the gathering gloom.

 A shiver ran down Geneney’s back as he gazed at the familiar but still compelling photographs from the Pioneer Program, all set around the now-iconic picture of Jeb and Jondun on the Mün, shaking hands in front of the flag of all Kerbin. Then it came to him. “Lend a kerbal a hand, guys? I think these need a bit of rearranging.”

 Jeb saw where Geneney was standing and gave a grim smile. Wordlessly, he walked over and took hold of one end of the rightmost signboard.

 “That’ll do it.” Geneney lowered his end of the board. “Let’s leave the first one where it is and shift the old Münwalk back a bit.”

 “We should take down the other two banners too,” Bob noted. “They don’t make much sense out of sequence.”

 “Good point. Back in a minute.” Geneney left the room, returning with a stepladder under his arm. “I won’t bother taking the wires down.” He clambered up the ladder and unhooked the first banner, waiting until Jeb had a secure hold before letting go of it. “If you could grab the other end, Bob?”

 Some time later, the three friends stood side by side in front of a rearranged exhibit, dominated not by spacecraft and kerbonauts but by images from around the world.

 Pictures of kerbals packed into village halls. Winding queues of kerbals waiting patiently outside cinemas. A great ocean of green figures surrounding the Capital building and its seven huge screens. The Council of Twelve Pillars themselves, seated in front of one of the screens, watching two space-suited figures walking against a backdrop of grey. One blurry, pixellated photograph of a group of uniformed soldiers sitting beneath a pair of flags. And a lone banner overhead, positioned so that nobody walking into the museum could miss its message.

We came in peace for Kerm and Kerbal.

Quietly, Jeb walked over to a rack of postcards by the Reception desk and lifted one out, holding it up for the others to see. It showed a view through a window divided by a curved line separating inky blackness from brilliant blue, dusky brown and lush green. Far away in the distance, the familiar battered grey ball of the Mün rose over Kerbin.

 “Bill’s original is too big to fit in his suit but this’ll do nicely.” Jeb tucked the postcard into his pocket and turned to leave. Geneney and Bob followed, closing the door behind them.


The next morning, Jeb stood in the corner of the Fitting Room, keeping out of sight of the three kerbonauts reclining in their chairs. He watched Lucan working on Bill’s suit glove, checking its fit around his friend’s fingers before locking it onto the wrist collar on his orange spacesuit. Beside them, another member of the Pad Team was helping James with his communication headcap, straightening the band around his forehead and making sure the lower band was sitting snugly under the lower ridges of his eye sockets. He flipped the twin microphones into place below the spacecraft commander’s chin, murmuring something that Jeb didn’t catch, before slipping his hands inside the neck collar of his gleaming white spacesuit.

 Calley’s attendants lifted her helmet clear of her head and set it to one side. The kerbonaut lifted both her gloved hands, palm outwards, accepting the traditional, double high-four confirming that she was ready to go. Jeb smiled to himself, remembering a long-ago slap of glove on glove over the Mission Control speakers, followed by three ringing voices, pronouncing the crew of Pioneer 1 to be Go for launch.

You should be here for this too, Wernher old friend. Jeb caught Bob’s eye from across the room, the pensive look on his former crewmate’s face matching his own thoughts. He patted the side pouch of his toolbelt, reassuring himself that its contents were still there. He watched Calley clamber to her feet, eyebrows lifting as she saw himself and Bob by the door. “Looks like you’re getting the real honour guard this morning, Bill.”

James turned his head, now encased in a transparent bubble. He caught sight of Jeb from the corner of his eye and raised a hand in greeting. Bill waited until Lucan had finished adjusting his headcap, before leaning around the side of his chair. He nodded at Bob and turned away, leaning forward in his seat in readiness for his own helmet check.

Jeb and Bob waited until James and Bill had received their own high-fours and all three kerbonauts were on their feet. He stepped forward, a faint grin on his face as he looked at Bill. “It’s been a while since I last saw you in a spacesuit.”

“And this one wasn’t even salvaged from an Institute dumpster,” Bill said dryly. “It’s good to see you both.”

“You too,” said Bob. “It’s about time the last of us got their flight.” Even if it wasn’t the flight we expected.

Bill looked uncomfortable. “I suppose I helped to build a few,” he offered at last. “It is good to be flying one instead.” He gestured at James and Calley. “And flying one in good company at that.”

“You did remember your camera?”

Bill smiled. “Both of them and a spare.”

Jeb coughed. “Speaking of cameras.” He reached into the pouch on his belt and pulled out a postcard, tucking it into the chest pocket of Bill’s spacesuit. Calley caught a glimpse of blue on black. “The picture that started it all. For luck.” He turned to James, holding out a small transparent bag containing what looked to Calley like a chunk of yellowish foam. “A small token from VAB 1.”

James laughed. “Did Ribory find my old analyser to go with it?” He held up the chunk of heatshield, noting its colour. “Looks used.”

“I cut it off Pioneer 1 yesterday.  Gene’s idea.” Jeb looked at Calley. “We didn’t have any personal mementoes for you I’m afraid but a friend of mine wanted somebody to have this. I’m sure he’d be pleased it was going to you.” Jeb dipped into his pouch and handed her a miniature Eve capsule on a fine chain, carved from a dark wood and polished to a soft sheen. “He asked if you could leave it aboard Tenacity, in his words, to bring good fortune to all kerbals to follow, who wish to learn to fly to the other worlds.”

Puzzled, Calley inspected it closely, holding it gingerly between finger and thumb. “It’s beautifully done,” she said at last. “Is it…?”

“Kerm wood? Yes.” Jeb saw the puzzled look on her face. “Very old Kerm wood. It’s not stained,” he added.

Calley’s eyes widened. “Very old indeed then.” She held out the little charm on the palm of her gloved hand. “Please thank your friend and tell him I’ll be glad to leave this aboard Tenacity.”

Jeb nodded and slipped it into her spacesuit pocket. “I will. It’ll mean a lot to him.” He glanced at the clock on the wall. “And on that note, we’d better be getting you three kerbonauts to the pad. You’ve got a rocket waiting for you.”

 Lucan, and the rest of the Pad Team, formed up in a double line, each of them reaching out to tap the kerbonauts on their shoulders as they left, then falling in behind them as they walked down the corridor leading out of the Astronaut Complex and then outside, where the traditional – and now much-repaired – old truck waited to take them to the launchpad.


 “I'm closing the hatch now. Good luck." Jeb unplugged his headset from auxiliary comms port on the capsule instrument panel, flashed Bill a quick thumbs up as he rapped on his visor, then stepped back and swung the hatch closed. He eyed the pressure gauge set beneath its window for a moment, watching it fluctuate as the environmental systems purged the cabin atmosphere, replacing it with a flight-ready oxygen-nitrogen mix. The gauge quivered one final time then held steady.

“Capsule pressure is Go, Flight. Pad team proceeding with boost cover closure."

 Bob took hold of the hatch shield and swung it across and closed. He ran his thumb over the hairline seam between the shield and the curved grey surface of the boost protective cover, then slid the latches home and locked them with a twist. “Boost cover locked and ready for flight. Pad Team is moving out.”

“Thank you, Pad Team,” Geneney’s voice sounded as calm as ever over their headsets. “See you back at the Bunker.”

“Copy, Flight.” Bob looked over at Jeb. “Do you even remember how to drive a console?”

“Most of it. Tomcas managed to beat the rest into me at short notice.” Jeb raised his fist, as if about to knock on the boost cover for luck, then thought better of it. “Let’s go.”

The ride down the launch tower seemed interminable. Jeb stared at the tower of metal sliding past outside the elevator cage, the normal plethora of sponsor’s logos adorning the upper stage replaced by the flag of all Kerbin. The nose cone of one of the lateral boosters whisked past, the booster itself adorned with the Kerbin Space Agency’s Kerbol-rise logo. The elevator cage slowed and, with a brief squeal of brake pads against cable, came to a stop. The door rattled open and Jeb followed Bob and the rest of the Pad Team over to the kerbonaut truck standing ready to take them back to the launch bunker.

The driver flicked his radio on as they climbed aboard, the familiar stream of controller reports interspersed with callouts from the Eve 3 crew, breaking the silence.

“…gimbal motors drawing power. Confirm hand controllers to TEST?"

“Controllers to TEST, SAS override ON… yaw gimbal tracking confirmed...pitch tracking is good...roll tracking confirmed."

“Copy, Eve. Holding at T minus thirty and moving gantry systems to standby. FD, Guidance, you're on Loop 2 for a trajectory update. Booster, please give me a fuelling status…”

Bob’s expression relaxed as the fuelling report came in. “They’re sounding pretty good in there,” he offered quietly.

Jeb nodded, eyes fixed on the dwindling rocket, standing alone on the launchpad. “They’re on Genie’s watch – he’ll get them up there in one piece.” The truck bumped to a halt. “And we don’t want to be holding them up.” He folded the tailgate down and dropped to the ground, setting off for the launch bunker at a run, Bob and Lucan alongside him.


Geneney looked up from his console at the sound of the doors thudding closed behind him and toggled his microphone. “Okay, Eve. We’ve got a full team down here, as of ten seconds ago. Moving gantry systems to launch positions and restarting countdown at T minus thirty.”

Jeb slid into his seat, scanning his console readouts as he pulled his headset on. He thumbed a button on his communication panel and waited for the message queue light to turn green. “Booster, Five. On station, board is clear.”

“I hear you, Five. Take two for a systems check then give me a tank update on Lat Three.”

“Five confirms.”

The minutes ticked by unnoticed. Jeb’s eyes never wavered from his console, alert to the ebb and flow of conversation between the booster team. Then, with a brief hiss of static, the air-to-ground loop cut in. 

“…copy that Gene. Looking forward to the flight and getting to work once we’re up there.”

“We’ll be with you all the way, Eve.” Geneney answered. “Flight Team, status report please. FD?”

“We’re Go, Flight.”


“Go, Flight.”

Despite himself, Jeb felt the sweat prickling on his forehead. He scanned his console displays, picturing Bill strapped into his couch and watching his own instruments.”


“Ready, Flight.”


“Go, Flight.”

Inwardly, Jeb smiled at the sound of Bill’s unperturbed voice coming over the speakers. Message received, James, and thank you. He glanced across to the flight director’s station and saw a faint smile tugging at Geneney’s lips before he turned back to his console.

“Booster on internal power. First stage gimbals, Go. Primary and backup controllers, Go. Clear for engine start."

“Sixty seconds. Guidance is internal. Auto-sequencer, Go."

Jeb looked up at the main screen which promptly flicked back from a close-up view of the crew access gantry, Eve 3 looming large behind it, to a long-distance shot from the bunker. The camera panned down to the base of the rocket, launch clamps and engines just visible.

“Forty seconds, Pioneer. Go for launch."

Jeb wrenched his attention back to his instruments.

“T minus twenty."

“T minus twelve...eleven...ten...nine...eight..."

 Ignition sequence starts.

Light flared on the screen above his head, the readouts on his console staying rock steady.

 “…ignition and lift-off! All engines running!"

The answering voice from Eve 3 crackled over the speaker, barely audible over the fury of the rocket engines hurling their capsule skywards.

 “Clock started!”"

 “Tower clear!”

 Jeb fought against the prickling in the corners of his eyes, suddenly grateful for instruments to focus on and the edge of a console to grip. Above his head, the main screen showed a ascending plume of rocket fire, at long last propelling Bill Kerman, founder member of the Kerbin Interplanetary Society, into space.


The last of the cars pulled away from the parking lot outside the complex of warehouses, manufactories and other buildings, once known as Jebediah Kerman’s Junkyard and Spacecraft Parts Company, leaving two kerbals standing by the closed gates.

“We never did think of a new name for this place.”

Geneney glanced at the darker expanse of paint on the warehouse wall masking what had been Jeb’s old tilted-rocket banner. “No. Another plan to put on hold.” He forced a grin. “Maybe the mountain air up by Alpha will help. Clear our heads a bit.”

“At least we know how to get there this time.” Out of long habit, Jeb turned to lock the gates then paused. “No point leaving these for the Doreni to kick down.” He hung his keys over the gate handle, took a last, long look at the deserted Space Centre then, with an effort of will, turned his back on it.

“Let’s go.”


<< Chapter 95     Chapter 97>>

Edited by KSK
Adding K to every.... removing excess whitespace.
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Yep. Me too.

On a more cheerful note, the next chapter is underway. Granted it's only a paragraph and a half so far - but starting a new chapter was ever the hardest part for me, especially after an emotional one. Besides - it only took that long before I needed to take a historical language detour. And from there, it quickly became clear that I (literally) didn't have the words I needed and had to invent them. :)

So, for those that like such things, have a smidgen more Old Kerba grammar and vocab to play with. :) 

abrathal   -   modal verb (hence the 'al' ending to distinguish it from the more usual 'at' ending for infinitives). Translates to 'would'. Conjugated as normal so:

    -    abrath    -    I would
    -    abratha -     You would
    -    abrathr    -    he/she/it would
    -    abrathda -    we would
    -    abrathad -     they would

af   -   any (prefix form) or no (suffix form)
afa -   many (prefix form) or none (suffix form)

All of which lets me construct sentences such as:

Afa Doreni erb!     -    I don't speak to any Doreni!    [erb (first person singular of erbat - to speak) is used in suffix form indicating a negative.

Alternatively, if you wanted to be rude about it, you would use the double negative form:  Doreni afa erbda. Here, both afa and erb (in the first person plural) are used as negatives, so the literal translation (add local accent to taste) would be 'we don't talk to no Doreni.'  

Abrath af kerbal akh  - I wouldn't trade with any kerbal. [literal translation - I would with any kerbal not trade.] Usually taken to be a positive statement, as opposed to the more emphatic form shown above, or the pithier:  akh kerbal afa. [I trade with no kerbals.]



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On 2/15/2019 at 11:28 PM, KSK said:

This last chapter was the latest escalation in the war for Humilisia in which the Kolans got (finally) badly outgunned and out-maneuvered. Hence all the desperate last stand stuff. That defeat is also going to have definite ramifications (of which more in the next couple of chapters) and was really put in there to set up those ramifications...

I suddenly feel like joining the kolan forces to kick some Doreni backsides and pelt them with some copper-coated candy out of a 6-barreled dispenser which goes by the name of Dillon Aero M134, but with twice the normal operating voltage pumped into that thing to boost the rate of fire!

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hoo boy. Can't wait to see the reaction to the next chapter then. :) 

Which is moving on nicely. No promises but I'm hoping to have it written by the weekend, to be released some time the following week, once my good editor has had a chance to kick it around a bit.

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Okay, I've caught up again. It's been a while since I followed this but the recent few weeks/month/s have really been my return to KSP (although my forum conversation skills are as stilted as ever) and to leave out the first major piece of KSP fiction I followed?

I don't know if I've ever said this but this story has actually been a notable influence on my writing style.

I couldn't help but notice the reflective tone to the past few chapters, quite fitting with the conversation about the slower times on the forum (which come to think of it, I have noticed myself). Also, that mention of Geneney being responsible for the procedures made me think of Gene Kranz's autobiography.

I just checked something, this story started about the same time period as when I first started with KSP (almost 6 years ago), even more fitting.

I don't know quite what to say but it's nice being back, although I can't help but feel a little old when I realise how many things have come and gone around here since I started visiting.

Glad this is still going


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On 5/3/2019 at 11:00 AM, AviosAdku said:

Okay, I've caught up again. It's been a while since I followed this but the recent few weeks/month/s have really been my return to KSP (although my forum conversation skills are as stilted as ever) and to leave out the first major piece of KSP fiction I followed?

I don't know if I've ever said this but this story has actually been a notable influence on my writing style.

I couldn't help but notice the reflective tone to the past few chapters, quite fitting with the conversation about the slower times on the forum (which come to think of it, I have noticed myself). Also, that mention of Geneney being responsible for the procedures made me think of Gene Kranz's autobiography.

I just checked something, this story started about the same time period as when I first started with KSP (almost 6 years ago), even more fitting.

I don't know quite what to say but it's nice being back, although I can't help but feel a little old when I realise how many things have come and gone around here since I started visiting.

Glad this is still going


And I'm glad to see you still keeping up with it. :)  Not to mention being deeply flattered that it's influenced your own style.

Next chapter is done and sent off to the editors. Last section came in a bit of a rush this afternoon, which probably means it needs another going over or two. The next few chapters have been rattling around my head for quite a while, so hopefully they'll come relatively easily!

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On 4/8/2019 at 10:48 PM, KSK said:

af   -   any (prefix form) or no (suffix form)
afa -   many (prefix form) or none (suffix form)

As always, this was added to my document*, togehter with the new verbs. But a nice note: I was worried for a moment that 'multiple af' and 'afa' would be indistinguishable. Then I noticed that the multiple of any (at least 1) is actually many/multiple. So it actually works!



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Next chapter is up. Somewhat longer than I'd originally intended after a very much on-point comment (and some excellent suggestions) from my good editor.

Fair warning - this one gets fairly dark. Literally and figuratively.


Written in the Starlight

Through these fields of destruction; baptisms of fire
I’ve witnessed your suffering; as the battle raged higher
And though they did hurt us so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me – my brothers in arms


The rockets struck home, blowing three of the Kolan skirmishers into flaming wreckage and knocking a fourth onto its side. Chadmore swore as a pair of fighter jets screeched overhead, cannons gouging out a trail of fountaining dirt that missed his madly swerving armoured car by metres. He took one look at the sky and slewed his vehicle to a halt, one wheel bouncing over the edge of a shell hole with enough force to knock his teeth together.

"Go, Go, Go!" Chadmore flung open the driver's door and dived out, tucking his head in and rolling as he hit the ground, before bounding to his feet and sprinting for the treeline. The remains of his platoon followed, one enterprising driver wedging his accelerator pedal down with a spare kitbag and leaping clear as his armoured car careered off across the battlefield.  Chadmore glanced at the sky and ran on, screaming for his troops to follow.

"Move it, you kaya-herding seffleks - move it!

The platoon reached the edge of the copse and kept going, sudden blazes of orange seen from the corners of their eyes and the deafening crump of nearby explosions, marking the end of their vehicles. The distant howl of turbojets at full throttle rapidly built to a nerve-shredding scream as the second pair of Firesvarn ground attack fighters shot past, cannon shells smashing through branches and ripping gouts of splintered wood from the gnarled and spindly trunks overhead. The Kolan soldiers fanned out, hand signals flickering back and forth as they advanced, ducking behind whatever cover presented itself.

The copse was not large and, as soon as Chadmore was satisfied that it wasn’t hiding any enemy forces, he ordered his troops back to its centre. They slipped through the sparse undergrowth, every kerbal alert for the sound of breaking twigs or other signs of movement. For his part, Chadmore kept one ear open for the sound of engines. They reached a fallen tree and came to a halt, one soldier unpacking a field radio at a gesture from his platoon leader.

"Get me the Captain."

The radio operator nodded, flipping his equipment to the day's memorised settings before passing Chadmore the handset.

"Delta Command, First platoon."

Gunfire crackled from the radio, followed by the all-too-familiar scream of aircraft engines and the thump of distant explosions. Then a terse voice came over the air. "First, Delta. Sitrep."

"Location alpha zero-four by delta one-three. Under cover, down one section, boots no wheels."

He heard the muffled thud of someone clapping a hand over a mouthpiece, followed by silence. Then, the noticeably less terse voice of his company commander came back on the air. "Copy that, Chad. Swing round to alpha zero-two by delta zero-niner tonight and find somewhere to hole up. We’ll come and find you. Delta out.”

Chadmore passed the handset back to his radio operator and surveyed his troops. “Well the good news is that we’ll be getting a lift home. He opened his pack and pulled out his map case. “The bad news is that you good kerbals are going to be using your little legs first.” He squatted, laying the map out on the ground. “We’re heading southwest to here,” Chadmore jabbed a finger at one of the map squares. “Alpha zero-two by delta zero-niner. Then we find someplace for a picnic and wait for Command to come and pick us up. Any questions?”

“Where did you figure on having that picnic, Sarge? Place looks emptier than a Veiidan purse.”

“The rest of the walk isn’t much better,” muttered another trooper. “KKBT all the way.”

“Say again, trooper?” Chadmore raised an eyebrow.

“Klicks and klicks of… boring tundra, Sarge. We’re gonna stand out like bugs on a window to any sefflek coming our way.”

“Which is why we’re travelling at night – assuming you lot can manage that without tripping over your own feet.” Chadmore checked his watch. “Four hours till sundown, so two hours sleep apiece, by the numbers.”

Half of his remaining section fanned out through the sparse undergrowth, rifles at the ready. The others shook out bivouac bags from their packs and curled up inside them. One soldier grumbled under his breath and pulled a stick out from under his back, setting it to one side before rolling over again.

A little over four hours later, the survivors of Chadmore’s platoon emerged from the treeline. Spreading out into two loose ranks, almost invisible in their charcoal-grey night gear, they marched across a landscape of shadows, the mountains in the distance silhouetted by a crescent Mün, its thin sliver striking silvery highlights from swathes of churned up mud and puddled shell holes. Elsewhere, the thin light buried the bleak northern landscape in convoluted folds of darkness.  Chadmore pulled his kerchief over his mouth, puffs of frozen breath still escaping the woollen cloth. He glanced at the skyline, noting the position of one particularly distinctive mountaintop and nodded to himself. The compass strapped to his wrist told the same story.

They smelled the burned out remains of the armoured car long before it loomed out of the shadows in front of them. Much to everyone’s relief, the freezing air and lingering sulphurous stench of charred rubber masked any other smell. One of the soldiers swore as she recognised the shape of the car’s boxy wedge-shaped hood.

“One of ours,” Chadmore agreed, voice a little harsher than he’d intended. He watched her take a step towards the wreckage, hand reaching for the flashlight strapped to the side of her pack. “It does you credit, soldier but we don’t have time to search for tags or gear.”

“Ammo will have cooked off in the heat anyway,” muttered another voice.

“Probably,” Chadmore replied flatly. “As you were. Move out.”

“How long till sun-up, Sarge?”

“Time enough, if you quit bellyaching and start walking.”

“Yes, Sarge.”


The Mün reached its zenith and began to descend, casting subtly elongated shadows over the weary kerbals marching across the tundra. Chadmore retrieved a pressed sunfruit bar from his pack and chewed on it as he went, washing it down with a mouthful of water from his nearly-empty canteen. He checked his compass before staring into the darkness, scowling at the dark shapes on the horizon as he struggled to distinguish landmarks from wishful thinking.

KKBT. KK bjedla T. And how in the seven smoking hells are we’re going to find the Captain once we get there? Chadmore rolled his shoulders, shifting his pack into a more comfortable position. Grolnisch to it. We don’t find the Captain – we keep right on walking till we hit the forward operating base. There’s got to be something to eat in this Kerm-forsaken wilderness, even if we have to eat it raw. He turned his head, surreptitiously checking the soldier to his left for any sign of limping, then quickly looking away. Oblivious to the attention from his sergeant, the soldier marched on, swearing in an undertone as he caught a tussock of grass with his toe.

Imperceptibly at first, the horizon began to lighten, the distant mountains emerging from their midnight veil. The weight on Chadmore’s back seemed to lessen, as he looked up and found what he’d been looking for. Far off to his right, a reassuringly familiar W-shaped mountain pass stood silhouetted against the pre-dawn sky.

“Platoon – halt.” The murmured command rippled down the skirmish lines, as the Kolan soldiers gathered round their sergeant. Chadmore turned on the spot, taking bearings on the mountain pass and other landmarks long since drilled into him. He spread out his map on a nearby rock and pulled out his flashlight. “Hold this. Everyone else – eyes out.” Blinking against the sudden piercing brightness, he, unclipped his compass from its wristband, pulled out a coiled-up length of thin steel tape from its recess underneath and busied himself with his map.

“That’ll do it.” Chadmore straightened up. “Just like this whole operation, good kerbals, we’re going south. Another five or six klicks will take us into the designated sector, at which point we find the nearest lump of grass to hide behind and wait for the pickup. Let’s move.”

His troops nodded and, moving back into their skirmish lines, resumed their march. At dawn, when Chadmore finally called a halt, they found themselves in the midst of a vast expanse of almost featureless prairie, carpeted in patches of dense, bristly undergrowth that barely reached over their boots. Needing no prompting, they spread out into a loose circle around their sergeant and his radio operator, before dropping to the ground, rifles at the ready.

“Delta Command, First platoon. In designated sector, standing by.”

The answering voice was barely audible over the engine noise. “First, Delta. Copy you at alpha zero-two by delta zero-niner. Sitrep.”

“Last nav stop at approx. five klicks north of current position. Bearings and points are as follows.” Chadmore glanced at the pairs of numbers scribbled on the back of his hand and read them off, waiting for his compay commander to verify each pair before continuing. “There’s not a lot of cover out here, sir. Would appreciate an evac, soonest.”

“Sit tight, Chad. ETA thirty minutes. Delta out.”

The minutes dragged by as the sky slowly lightened around them, the crescent Mün fading out behind streaks of cerise tinged cloud. Then, at last, a cluster of dark specks appeared on the horizon and sped towards them. At a shouted order, the Kolan troops crawled into line, weapons braced against their shoulders. In the distance, the oncoming convoy fanned out and slowed to almost walking pace.

“On your feet!” Chadmore sprang up and raised a hand, rifle pointed at the ground, the rest of his troops following his example. They were quickly surrounded by armoured vehicles, the Kolan flag painted across their hoods. Hatches popped open and soldiers poured out, grabbing packs and kitbags from Chadmore’s troops and slinging them aboard. Moments later, they shot off across the tundra, racing the rising sun, and leaving nothing behind but shallow dents in the undergrowth.

By the time the convoy arrived, the Kolan forward operating base was abuzz with activity, soldiers hurrying to load the last of their equipment and ammunition into waiting trucks. As Chadmore climbed out of his armoured car, a lone kerbal walked over to the flagpole standing in the middle of the base. With a heavy heart, Chadmore watched the hand painted banners come to half mast and then lower, the flag of all Kerbin and a picture of a stylised rocket streaming fire, collapsing against the pole.

“Permission to speak freely, sir?” He waited for a nod of assent from his commander. “What’s going on? Where are the reinforcements? And where in the seven smoking hells was our air cover out there?”

“Denied, denied, and shot down, in that order.” His commanding officer clenched his jaw. “After the foul-up at Humilisia, we barely managed to hold the line at Foxham. We’re pulling back to Iskenar and awaiting further orders.”

Chadmore’s jaw dropped. “We’re not even trying to hold the Northern Reaches?”

“No.” The reply was bleak. “We’re stretched too damn thin, Chad. We evacuate the civilians as we go and leave everything north of fifty-two for the Firesvarn.”


Erlin clenched his calves, gritting his teeth against the tearing sensation from within his midriff. The healing vine twitched, crawling over his internal organs, the combination of pressure and ticklish movement making him queasy. Something slimy trickled over his stomach and he closed his eyes, resisting the temptation to look.

A towel dabbed at the moisture. “You’re doing fine, Professor. Another five centimetres unless I my eyes deceive me.” Gentle fingers palpated the ridge around his waist. “If you manage to keep this up, the vine will be out in another three days.”

“One down, many more to go,” said Erlin with a sigh. He tipped his head back, peering at the leaves over his head, the sigh taking on a note of wonder. “Although… abrath af kerbal akhad.”

The medic blinked. “Something, something, no kerbal?” He unknotted the bandage wrapped around Erlin’s lower torso and began to unwind it. “Could you lift your back for me please?”

“He wouldn’t trade places with any kerbal,” Gusemy supplied from the corner. “And I’d hope not, given the trouble he put us all to, to get there.” He threw a mock scowl at Erlin which didn’t quite conceal the concern behind his eyes. The medic looked up disapprovingly at his flippant tone then, seeing his expression, offered him a faint smile.

“No indeed.” He turned back to Erlin. “This is going to sting I’m afraid.” The dressing pulled away with a ripping noise and a muffled yelp from his patient. “Ahh, very good. Secondary swelling is down and the exit wounds are healing nicely. The medic removed a fresh dressing from his bag and unwrapped it. “Little bit of seepage still, so I’ll put another of these on but I think it might be the last one you need.” He looked up at the Kerm trunk behind the bed. “You can tell Obrinn that he’s doing an excellent job.” He pressed a second dressing into place and began winding a clean bandage around Erlin’s middle.

“You should tell him yourself. You've already Communed with Elton after all." Erlin gestured at the leaf cluster over his head ignoring the medic's disbelieving look. “I’m quite serious. Obrinn worries about hurting me with his vines and he’d appreciate a trained kerbal expert telling him that I’m healing well and that everything is alright.”

Gusemy’s jaw dropped open. “He does what?”

“He worries about me. It’s why I’ve stopped Communing with him whilst he’s moving the vines – he senses the pain and it makes him nervous and upset. Which then makes him clumsy.” Erlin lifted his hands. “You can see the problem, I think.” He sighed. “And yes, Gus – the thought had occurred to me. If we could get the world in here to witness a Kerm getting upset about hurting a kerbal, it might solve a lot of problems.”

“I think it would,” the medic said soberly. He tied off Erlin’s bandage, eyeing Obrinn’s branches with a mixture of hopefulness and trepidation. “I could speak to him now, if you’re sure he’d want to?”

“I’m certain he’d want to.” Erlin clasped his hands to his stomach and cautiously sat up. “Better if I don’t join you, so you can talk without my thoughts getting in the way, but let him know that I sent you. He hasn’t had a chance to Commune with too many other kerbals yet and I think he gets a bit shy.”

“A shy Kerm?” The medic shook his head. “Now I really have heard it all.” He lay down on one the beds left in the hut after Obrinn’s awakening, tucked a pillow under his neck and resolutely lifted his head towards the waiting leaf cluster. Erlin and Gusemy watched him stiffen as the leaf hairs slipped under his scalp, and then go limp, an incredulous smile spreading across his face.

"That looks like a good sign."

Erlin glanced up at Obrinn's slowly waving branches. "He doesn't seem too upset, no." He sniffed. "Bit more cinnamon than usual though. Curiosity maybe? Difficult to tell from out here."

"They don't have the easiest body language to read," Gusemy said straight-faced.

Erlin gave him a look before lying back on his bed, wincing slightly as his bandages shifted with the movement. The two kerbals settled into a companionable silence, broken only by the wind chasing through the eaves of Erlin's hut and the rustling of Kerm leaves. Erlin's eyelids began to droop when a blast of cinnamon and an alarming creaking noise jolted him awake.

Gusemy came to with a start, eyes widening at the outstretched branches and splayed open leaf clusters overhead. The clusters snapped shut before opening more slowly, waves of movement rippling across the ceiling, twigs and branches waving with them. There was a groan from the other bed and the medic sat up, rubbing his temples.

"What on Kerbin did you say to him?" Erlin's voice cut across the rustling.

He received a peculiar look in reply, exasperation and laughter, vying with too many other emotions to read. "You've never had kerblets have you, Professor?"

Erlin blinked. "No. Why?"

The medic shook his head, muttering something inaudible. "He's not shy you great... he's lonely."


"He's lonely. Of course he is - nobody to talk to but old kerbals. Well-meaning kerbals," the medic added hastily. "But kerbals nonetheless. Nobody like him to talk to - no Kerm."

"Elton," said Gusemy suddenly. "You told him about Elton."

"I did." For a moment he medic looked defensive. "He's the only other Kerm I've ever Communed with - it was hard not to." He frowned. "Besides, I got the strong impression that I was only confirming what he already knew. Or thought he knew. It was all a bit vague."

Erlin shivered, feeling the ghostly impact of Kerm shards slicing into his skull as a forlorn figure turned his back on him and faded away.  "It would be. I wasn't an-Kerm... I doubt we were linked for long enough for him to get more than a fleeting impression." His gaze turned inward. "And ever since Obrinn awoke, I've been too taken up with him to think much about Elton."

The medic gave him a look but didn't answer. From his corner, Gusemy snorted softly. "Didn't want to think about him you mean. Or Jonelle for that matter. Although I don't blame you. Too many awkward questions to answer."

Erlin jerked his head up, the half-formed protest on his lips wilting at the sight of Gusemy's sympathetic expression. He sighed. "Yes. Far too many."

"It might be easier if all three of you were there to answer some of those questions," the medic offered. "Both of you and Obrett.  Obrinn asked me to tell you that he'd very much like to speak to Elton, so it would probably be better if he knew who he - and Jonelle - were first."

Gusemy's jaw dropped open again. "He wants to talk to Elton? And how in the name of the Twelve Pillars and all their wonderful ways is he going to do that?"

He received a shrug in reply. "I have no idea - I'm a doctor not a Kerm expert." The medic raised his hands. "But if we can't find somebody at Kerbin's premier Kerm research organisation who can help, then I don't know where else we're going to look."

Erlin's voice was distant as he stared at the corner of his hut. "Actually, Gus... If we could find the right species balance... Long lateral root systems – hmmm, an induced synomonic array might be better for long distance signal transduction. Bryophytes for preference for ease of maintenance." He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Not straightforward by any means and we'd need to teach all three of the Kerm how to use whatever system we come up with..."

Erlin looked up, a slightly abstracted look on his face. "Could you bring Halsy down with you this afternoon, Gus. I think we need to put a team together."


“Where in the First Grove are they, Sarge? We’ve been driving around these Kerm-forsaken hills for days now and they ain’t getting any prettier with age.”

“They’re in the same place that your radio discipline’s hiding, trooper. Listening and laughing at you.” Chadmore waited for the belated apology. “First section – finish your sweep. Second section – you’re with me. We’ll be taking a trip down the highway, so keep your eyes peeled and don’t forget to look up.” Chadmore held one gloved hand against the cab heater for a moment, casting a wary look at the leaden sky. “Let’s get this done before the snow comes in.”

The Kolan armoured section jolted over the tundra, drivers pushing their vehicles as fast as they dared. The wind keened through the radiator grille of Chadmore’s car in a discordant wail that set his teeth on edge even over the sound of the engine. They sped up a shallow incline, swinging round to parallel the skyline. Approaching the edge of the hill, Chadmore put his foot down, leaving the rest of his section standing and bracing himself for evasive action as he raced out from cover.

A dark, low-slung shape shot across his path. Instinctively, Chadmore swerved, slewing his vehicle round before straightening out, one tyre slamming back down to earth. He eased off the accelerator, eyes turning skyward to check for enemy aircraft, before settling on the broken grey ribbon that marked the northernmost stretch of the Wakira to Kolus transcontinental highway. “Clear.”

The radio crackled with terse replies as the rest of hiss forces fanned out from behind the hill and followed him onto the road,

“I don’t like what I’m not seeing, Sarge.”

Chadmore grunted and flipped his radio to the platoon command channel. “Speak to me, Ad.”

“On our last leg now, Sarge. Nothing but rocks and scrub so far.”

“Rocks and scrub and gronneks,” Chadmore agreed. “And snow,” he added sourly, watching the first white flakes streaking up his windscreen. “Both sections – return to base. I’ll see if the Captain has any news for us.” He braked, executed a precise three-point turn and shot  off again, one hand reaching for his radio.

“Delta Command, First platoon reporting.”

“I hear you, Chad. Sitrep?”

“Not a sign of them, sir. We backtracked to the highway and didn’t find so much as a dropped mess kit.”

“Acknowledged.” There was a heavy silence. “They faked us but good, Chad. As of two hours ago, a major detachment of Firesvarn armour broke through the Wakiran lines, heading for the Sea of Kolus. Intel since then has been… spotty, but our best guess is that they’re driving for Nordham Bay.” The captain gave a quiet cough. “Hot mike, Chad.”

Chadmore bit down on his first reply. “I’m thinking that sounds like a beachhead, sir.”

“As do we, Sergeant.”

Chadmore’s hands twitched on his steering wheel at the new voice coming over the radio. “General, sir?”

“Firesvarn aerial assets will be operating at range, so the anti-aircraft defences around Nordham Bay should be enough to keep them out. The Wakirans are moving to reinforce but the garrison forces are limited and we don’t know how long they can hold out.” The general’s voice hardened. “We can not afford to lose that city, Sergeant. If the Firesvarn are allowed to move their air support down to Nordham Bay, it will pose a serious threat to our control of the Wakiran Sea. I trust you understand the implications?”

Chadmore swallowed hard. “A wedge between ourselves and the Wakirans. Leaving us facing the Doreni alone and them with their djo… the Wakirans between a rock and a hard place, sir.”

“I believe your first comment was more accurate, Sergeant. Return to base immediately and prepare for immediate redeployment to Nordham Bay.”


“I appreciate that, Gus. We’d just hoped you could spare a few more.”

“Our shipyards are working flat out to replace our losses at Humilisia and Foxham.” Fleet Commander Gusden massaged his temples. “But the Kerm seed checkpoints are slowing us down, even with security exempted transport and some unofficial civilian help to move the necessary materiel.” He looked up. “You’ll get me and the Regionality plus supporting vessels and as many anti-aircraft capable ships as we could detach.”

“Then between us we shall make that enough.”

Gusden nodded. “We shall.” He opened his cabin door. “After you, Admiral.” He led his Wakiran opposite number up to the Regionality of Kolus’s main deck, where an honour guard of Kolan and Wakiran marines awaited them. Around them, resupply operations continued unabated, a steady stream of shells zipping down the highlines from one logistics support vessel and being hauled over to the magazine hoists by a bucket chain of sailors. Portside, a second shift of sailors were rigging the fuel lines from a second support vessel.

One three-tone whistle sounded over the waves followed by a second, differently pitched one, signalling that two more ships in the taskforce were on station and ready to receive supplies. Out of the corner of one eye, Gusden watched yet another logistics support vessel heave to alongside the nearest Wakiran destroyer and, with a sudden flat boom from its air cannon, launch a guideline towards the combat vessel. Around them, the rest of the task force rode at anchor, by orders of both Gusden and his Wakiran counterpart, both flag officers chafing at the delay but unwilling to risk the additional complications of underway resupply with so many auxiliary vessels.

With a discreet cough, the Wakiran admiral saluted him. “Fair winds and Kerm speed, Gus. For Nordham Bay.”

“For Nordham Bay.” Gusden returned the salute. “Wisdom of the Kerm, Admiral. And may you have the strength to follow your course.”


They drove through a sea of canvas, the few faces that turned to watch them go staring through them rather than at them. Civilians and soldiers alike huddled around their tents, ragged and filthy, ponchos mingling with Kolan and Wakiran uniforms. Elsewhere, figures lay on temporary cots, some whimpering or crying out, others white-faced and dead-eyed, too spent to notice their injuries or watch the silent work crew struggling to erect a marquee over them.

Clouds of black smoke stained the horizon, a backdrop to the distant lines of refugees still fleeing the burning city. A motley assortment of armoured vehicles fled with them, the larger troop transports picking up what few civilians they could, dropping them at the camp before turning around and going back for more.

For an instant, images of an empty hillside and deserted highway dancing mockingly before Chadmore’s eyes. They faked us but good, Chad – and this is the price we paid. His knuckles turned white against his steering wheel. All we can do now is try and make a difference. Stop things from getting worse. His thoughts flicked back to a trampled down swathe of tundra and a young officer with copper-brown eyes. At least you got out of this mess, Valentina. I wonder what little brother Al has you doing now?

The second convoy cleared the last of the roadside tents, Chadmore’s armoured car in the lead. Turning off the main road, they drove across country, skirting around the outskirts of abandoned Groves and redfruit orchards, the ripening fruit providing an incongruous splash of colour against the sooty skyline. They reached the edge of the airfield, the terminal buildings and air traffic control tower still standing at the far side of the runways. Then, at a terse radioed command, they charged.

The tanks went in first, smashing down sections of chain-link fence, their tracks tearing up the runway and leaving chunks of ripped-up asphalt in their wake. The lighter vehicles poured through the gaps, racing around the perimeter and converging on the airport buildings from all sides.

A salvo of rockets screamed low across the ground, slamming into the lead tank and bursting into flames. Another salvo ripped into the tank behind it, setting off its ammunition racks and blowing its turret skyward in a deafening explosion. The Wakiran crews returned fire, shelling jet blast deflectors and anything else that offered the slightest bit of cover to the enemy infantry. Heavy machine guns opened up with a roar, laying down a vicious suppressing fire. Soldier after Firesvarn soldier died in a ghastly mist of blood and fragmented bone.

But where one soldier fell, another two rose up in their place. Coordinated salvos gave way to sniping, missiles slamming into the oncoming tanks from too many sides for their gunners to track. One by one, the heavily armoured vehicles went up in flames.


“Ten o’ clock low!” Chadmore wrenched at his steering wheel, the back end of his armoured car skidding out, studded tires squealing in protest. The staccato thumping of autocannon fire sounded over his head, his gunner reducing the Firesvarn machine gun post to a tangle of twisted wreckage and smashed concrete.  A fireball to his right marked the abrupt demise of another Firesvarn installation and then they were through, bearing down on the airport buildings. A Kolan vehicle hurtled off the runway, fishtailing wildly as its driver fought to avoid incoming fire from yet another direction. It struck a flat grey object and disappeared in an eruption of burning fuel and detonating ammunition.

“Mines, mines, mines!” Chadmore swerved, another Kolan vehicle exploding behind him. “Stay on the runways – they need those!”

“Incoming!” Chadmore recognised the panicked yell of his section leader. “Firesvarn at our three!”

“I got something! Can’t see them through the smoke. Low and… oh Kerm, oh Kerm, oh K…! The radio fuzzed out in a roar of static.

“Tanks! Coming around the main terminal!”

“Delta Company – fall back.” His captain’s voice sounded suddenly weary. “Keep to the runways until you clear their perimeter and wreck what you can on the way out.”

Chadmore flipped his radio to the platoon-wide channel. “You heard the Captain! By the numbers – rolling retreat. Any sefflek coming home with ammo left will be answering to me!”  

A thunderous detonation from outside cut off any replies from his troops. His vehicle lurched under him, the blast lifting it onto two wheels, fragments of shrapnel and concrete clanging against its armour. He felt something snap and the steering wheel went slack in his hand, the armoured car skidding sideways and flipping onto its roof. Chadmore just had time to register a choked-off scream from beneath his head, before everything went black.


“They can’t do this to you.” His sister-in-law’s voice caught in her throat. “They promised you a month off and you need it.” She looked at her brother in law, his immaculately pressed uniform unable to hide the slump in his shoulders or the engrained creases at the corners of his eyes. “Gusden wouldn’t let you onboard any of his ships, looking like that.”

“Gusden should listen to himself. How long has he been at sea now?” The look in the other’s eyes told him all he needed to know. “I’m sorry, sis,” he said more gently. “That was unkind.” He pulled his sister-in-law into a brief hug before bending down to pick up his kitbag. “I just wish that either of us had the choice.” He sensed a sudden tension in the air. “What is it?”

“It looks like you’re getting escorted back to base.”

“First I heard about it.” The officer turned to face the living room window and froze, weariness turning to sick despair.

A black car with military plates was parked outside, the pennant of the Kolan Border Security forces flying from its hood. He watched the passenger door open and a uniformed kerbal climb out. Silent hatred convulsed him, hatred for the other’s polished black boots, for the medals pinned to his dress sash, for the carefully sympathetic expression settling over his face.

There was a knock, his sister-in-law already in the hallway, waiting by the door for her guest. He heard a murmur of polite greetings followed by the sound of the front door closing and the scraping of chair legs against tiled floor.

“Please sit down, ma’am. I’m afraid I have some bad news.”


We can’t do this. Not the Doreni and Firesvarn together. The officer stared at himself in the mirror, noting the haunted look in his eyes and bitter twist to his mouth. Kerm knows I never wanted it to come to this. He barked a laugh. And the Kerm are what it comes down to in the end, doesn’t it? His brief bravado crumbled. So, what in the First Grove are you doing?

The episode of Engines and Engineers ran through his head like a mantra.

…that's a big If, Tom and at the moment I'm not about to promise anything either way. All I can say is that we're looking at all the options for our colony ship designs. Now, I'm happy to answer any questions as best I can but please bear in mind that I'm not a nuclear engineer.”

“Thank you, Hanbal.” Tom took a sip of water. “Let’s start with a question from the front. Yes, you ma’am, with the silver torc.”

“Will the exhaust from a nuclear rocket be radioactive. And if it is, how are you going to test it.”

“Both good questions. Hanbal?”

“The exhaust will indeed be radioactive but only mildly.” The engineer smiled. “But before anyone gets worried about it, it’s also far too valuable to throw away. Analysing the exhaust gases will give our scientists a lot of valuable data about the nuclear reactor and how well it stands up to being treated as a rocket. So, we’ll trapping them and storing them somewhere safely underground.”

“That’s reassuring to hear. A question from the middle next, I think. You, sir, in the dark blue poncho.”

“Won’t a high-powered reactor be dangerously hot for ages after you’ve finished with it? Um, I mean hot as in nuclear hot.”

Hanbal paused for a moment. “That’s a very good question. As best I understand it, the hottest fission products are also the most unstable, so don’t stay nuclear hot for very long. A few months maybe, or a couple of years. The reactor is still nuclear warm for many years after that – I wouldn’t use it to heat my moss room.” A polite chuckle rippled through the audience. “But most of the radioactivity is released in the first few months.”

“And that’s a good answer too – thank you Hanbal. Now, a question from the back…”

The face in the mirror stared back at him with a stony expression. A few months. Not permanent but long enough to hold the line until… we can find a better way. The officer straightened up, running a finger along the top of the mirror before inspecting it for dust. He straightened the blanket on his cot, pulling it taut and tucking it under the mattress. His hand reached for his collar insignia but then he shook his head. Unsnapping his belt holster, he withdrew his sidearm, unloaded it, and laid the ammunition and empty weapon on the centre of his bed. Then he turned on his heel and marched out of the room, not bothering  to lock the door behind him.

The mess hall was emptying out as he arrived, the catering logistics personnel sweeping the floor and stacking the chairs. He walked over to the tray rack where a group of junior officers were stacking their dishes. “A moment, if you please, Mister Lenger.”

“Sir.” Lenger made his apologies before following his commander out of the hall. A shiver of anticipation ran down his spine at the sight of the tension in the other’s shoulders. Casually he looked around, increasing his pace until they were walking side by side. “We’re ready, sir,” he murmured.

“Good. Assemble at the lot at nineteen hundred and secure transportation. We travel under cover of darkness, lay up near the objective then advance at first light. By tomorrow, Mr Lenger, we will end this war.”

“Sir!” Lenger saluted and strode off towards the barracks.


Twilight faded into night, as the officer crossed the parking lot, the bright pools from the floodlights throwing the shadows lurking around the edges of the parking lot into stark relief. As expected, he found Lieutenant Lenger and his troops gathered by a logistics support vehicle. They came to attention as he approached.

“At ease,” The officer inspected the LSV, water bowser already hitched, its beige-and-tan camouflage paint washed out by the glare overhead. “Mr Lenger, are we ready?”

“Sir.” Lenger pointed at the armoured personnel carrier parked two spaces back from the LSV, driver just visible through the forward slit window. “On your orders, sir.”

“Very well. To victory, good kerbals. To victory.” The officer watched Lieutenant Lenger and his troops climb into the back of the APC before swinging himself up into the LSV cab. Engines grumbling, the two vehicles pulled out of the parking lot and drove towards the compound gates, stopping in front of the armed guards barring their way. One of them, wearing a sergeant’s insignia on his collar and a stony expression on his face, marched towards them, only to snap to attention as he caught sight of the officer.

Gravely, the officer returned his salute before gesturing at the gates with a chopping motion. The sergeant turned and barked an order at her guards, who scrambled to obey. Moments later, the armoured convoy rumbled out of the compound, gates closing behind them, and turned onto the main road. They came to a junction and turned right, following the signpost to Balcabar.

The officer stared into the night as the APC turned onto the Balcabar bypass, the eyes of some unidentified creature gleaming briefly from the side of the road. They drove past Balcabar International Airport, long since commandeered by the Wakiran border security forces, just as an Airhog heavy transport plane came lumbering in, landing lights bright in the darkness.

Then the two Wakiran border security vehicles left the bypass, turning off onto the main desert highway, and heading north for the Kerbin Space Agency’s Site D.


Now the sun’s gone to hell. The Moon’s riding high
Let me bid you farewell. Every man has to die
But it’s written in the starlight. And every line in your palm
We’re fools to make war on our brothers in arms

Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms


<< Chapter 96     Chapter 98>>

Edited by KSK
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1 hour ago, KSK said:

abrath af kerbal akhad.”

Alright, let's go. (Yes, the answer is right below it, but who cares):


Cutting this up we have:

Abrath: Abrathal, the I version. I would

af: as KSK said shortly ago, this means *any*

akhad: akh-ad. ad means inhabitant of, akh (or even just ak) is not in my database, but seems to carry the meaning of 'trade places' or maybe switch. -ad is also used for we, so it could also be something like 'we switch'.


We also still need a negation somewhere, since this is 'I would any kerbal inhabitant of...(not trade with?)'

BTW I've done a bit more coding now and I feel like making a program that attempts to interpret Old Kerba. It'll be pretty naive at the start, but good practice on coding weird things.

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I'll be very curious to see that program in action!

Negation is in the word order again.

Subject-verb-object   =   positive action
Subject-object-verb  =   negative action.

Akhat is the verb 'to trade' (the Veiidan port city of Boladakhat literally translates to 'place which we use to trade*) so your translation is pretty much spot on once you take the above into account.


*  As previously mentioned, my kerbals are not an imaginative lot, although even the most banal name looks better in Old Kerba. :) Depending which theory you subscribe to, the sister city of Boladakhat, Boladanerbat, is a slightly mangled version of boladerbat or 'place which we use to talk (probably for historical reasons to do with ease of pronunciation). Or, alternatively, its literal translation is 'place which we all use to talk, the an signifying inclusion as usual.)

Edited by KSK
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