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First Flight (Epilogue and Last Thoughts)

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1 hour ago, KSK said:

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

Don't get too excited! By now I have:

* Loaded my current lists into python dictionaries. My original format was pretty inconsistent so I had to write a converter. The converter has built-in warning messages though!

* Seperated the input into words. It seperates at each space, hypen, newline and tab character.

* An attempt at translating individual words, starting by trying out all pronouns until none fit, then trying out all nouns and verbs (it even find the right person), then continuing to try all suffixes until none fit.


This procedure isn't perfect, as your mention of Boladakhat demonstrates: The output comes out as 

-place of accomplishing-<adakhat> 

It gets stuck when there is a suffix in the middle (or possibly Bol is used as a verb here, but since it already took that as a noun it doesn't even look, and it isn't in my file)


Edit: the <> means that this part was untranslatable

Edited by superstrijder15
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13 hours ago, KSK said:

By tomorrow, Mr Lenger, we will end this war.

And thus the road to hell is paved with the best of intentions. :o

I’m picking up an eerie thematic parallel with a certain nearly-complete series on tonight. :wink:

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Age of Fire...  I didn't think when I first coined that term that there'd be quite this many different forms of fire going on.  Rocket fire, gun fire, war causing fires, and now the threat of nuclear fire...  For something with so much fire in it, the sky is dark with smoke.

Still a good read, and now I'm caught up again.

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Cheers Madrias.

Yeah, I didn't think there would be this much fire either. For what it's worth I can promise that at least one chapter in the next four will be rather more uplifting. Or at least - it is in my head. We'll see what happens when it gets onto the page but I'm optimistic. :) 


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Thanks for all the likes, folks. 

Next chapter is planned out. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that it’s largely going to be set at Site D - and my original outline turned out not to be consistent with previous Site D chapters, so needed some reworking.

For the better I think. *touches wood*.

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Didn't know this forum had likes. Your story got my first KSP forum like. The first two in fact.

I read every new chapter as soon  as I have the chance, and when the story is all done, I'll read it all again from the beginning.

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55 minutes ago, GalFisk said:

Didn't know this forum had likes. Your story got my first KSP forum like. The first two in fact.

I read every new chapter as soon  as I have the chance, and when the story is all done, I'll read it all again from the beginning.

You will find few threads more worthy of a first like than this. :D

Although, I mean, well, Don’t Click This is pretty spectacular, but it’s also locked, so...

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17 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

You will find few threads more worthy of a first like than this. :D

Although, I mean, well, Don’t Click This is pretty spectacular, but it’s also locked, so...

Awww, shucks.

I’m glad to have you here @GalFisk - and flattered that you tested your new button-mashing powers on this thread!

On a somewhat related note, I’m getting a ‘ninjaed by reality’ feeling after reading this BBC news article. 

From the article (titled: Wood wide web: Trees' social networks are mapped):

Research has shown that beneath every forest and wood there is a complex underground web of roots, fungi and bacteria helping to connect trees and plants to one another.”

Just like an MRI scan of the brain helps us to understand how the brain works, this global map of the fungi beneath the soil helps us to understand how global ecosystems work," said Prof Crowther.

"What we find is that certain types of microorganisms live in certain parts of the world, and by understanding that we can figure out how to restore different types of ecosystems and also how the climate is changing."

Slightly discombobulated to find that some of my sci-fi musings about the Kerm turn out to be at least somewhat rooted (oh, I slay myself) in actual science.



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Alright guys, I think my code works. Now I need to test it for further errors or stuff that the database misses (and maybe make the output sound more like English). For example I think that I miss quite a few words in "Erbabar-beldaonerba ebda berot pilla", since it comes out as "-<Erbabar> --accomplisher of-<daonerba> --to be(they) -<berot> -<pilla>"

Also, here is the translation of "Jebediah ebad belonmansatha:": "-<Jebediah> --to be(we) --accomplisher of-dependence on-biggest-deed or task-(plural)". Pretty close to the "Jebediah, we are the persons on which the biggest actions depend" that was meant, right?


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That's pretty darn close! 

Indulge me - try running Jebediah eb belad-onmansatha through your translator. That should produce something a bit closer still.



There was a slight typo in your input sentence. Your program actually translated Jebediah ebad perfectly - it just doesn't make a lot of sense because the subject and verb aren't in agreement. Likewise bel (in belonmansatha) wasn't conjugated correctly - you have it in first person singular where it should in the third person singular - belad.

However it's more than possible that the mistake was originally mine and that you got a duff copy of the sentence from me via the comments,, or that the version in the story is something I've been back to edit after the event. I've checked the relevant chapter though, and the current version is 'Jebediah eb belad-onmansatha' 



Edited by KSK
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-<Jebediah> --to be(I) --accomplisher of-<ad> --dependence on-biggest-deed or task-(plural)

It interprets bel as a noun, because it isn't in the database as a verb. After adding it as 'to accomplish', I got this: 

-<Jebediah> --to be(I) --to accomplish(we) --dependence on-biggest-deed or task-(plural)


The translations aren't even near google translate in 2015 levels yet, but I think it looks at lot at the way writers write the way a new translater still learning a language would talk, which is nice too.

And indeed, this is all fresh from my google docs document, which has a tiny issue of not being updated with things you updated in chapters, and missing information if I didn't copy everything diligently.

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Yep! I can also see it being helpful as a grammar checker for me - if it comes out with a more or less accurate translation then that's a good sign that I haven't mangled my own fictional language. Or - as was the case above - if it's a bit off, I should probably check my working. :) 

Not sure how you'd write this into your program but bel, bal and on aren't verbs so much as case markers. I may have the terminology a bit muddled (I'm not a real linguist) but they signify a property of the noun they're attached to, rather than an action performed on that noun. So belad-onmansatha unpacks into belad-on-mansatha, or even further into belad-on-man-satha. 

Satha - noun(plural) - deeds
man - adjective - biggest, largest, greatest
on - case marker signifying dependence or reliance on the noun.
bel - case marker signifying that the subject is being used by a third party to perform the noun.
belad - third person singular version of bel, signifying that the subject is being used by us to perform the noun.

Edited by KSK
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Aah, my division might be a bit different than that of a proper linguist. For my program, a verb is something that is conjugated via the standard conjugation scheme(s), a root which has a number of possible endings which carry slightly different meanings in a standardized way. A prefix or suffix is something that can typically only exist attached to a root word, whether verb or noun, it is the equivalent of the adjectives in English. A noun is a catch-all for stuff that can occur as the root of a word but isn't conjugatable.

In this scheme, things that cannot stand on their own would typically be a prefix, but then again they can apparently also be conjugated so they are a verb. Annoying things these.

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Hmmm. I know next to nothing about coding so have no feel for how feasible this is, but it might be easier to use the standard definitions of verb and noun, locate those in the sentence, and then treat everything else as a modifier that can be applied to either or both of those categories? 

Oh - while we're on the topic, I'm thinking aban would be a suitable verb affix denoting tense.  Word order applies (borrowing your idea!) - so when used as a prefix it denotes the future tense, when used as a suffix it denotes the past tense. (Which says something about my kerbals, I think - the future is positive whereas the past is negative) So, for example:

Jeb binr Elton    -  Jeb understands Elton.

Jeb aban-erbr Bill-  Jeb is going to speak to Bill.

And some time later... :) 

Jeb Bill binr-aban  - Jeb did not understand Bill.

It's a bit 'See Spot. See Spot run. Run, Spot, run.' but it's starting to get to the point where we can string some actual sentences together here.

Edited by KSK
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@KSK What are the rules regarding adjectives and adverbs in Old Kerba? Actually, do we have a complete description of the grammar of Old Kerba lying around somewhere? I ask because I'm interested in determining if Old Kerba can be described using a context-free grammar (which would imply all kinds of things about how easy or otherwise it is to parse by machine).

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Good question, 

The only adjectives we've seen so far (I think) are the comparators min and man for smallest and biggest (roughly speaking - in English that could translate to various similar words depending on context). Usual prefix/suffix rules apply and add shades of meaning:

min-satha    -             smallest deeds
man-satha   -             greatest deeds
balskila-man -            not the biggest knife 

The last is slightly pejorative in the same way that one might describe a person as 'not the sharpest tool in the box'.

So, all we have so far is that adjectives are modifiers that attach to the noun. I guess adverbs could be modifiers that attach to the verb, although I haven't really played with that to see whether it makes verbs too cumbersome to parse. Adverbs might need to be a separate word, and where an adverb is capable of an opposite, it's placement relative to the verb would indicate whether that opposite applies. Adverbs will also need a very clear marker syllable I think (similar to the ly suffix in English, so that they can be easily picked out).

Oh - and a new noun has just occurred to me.  Mus   -   which translates to dot or speck.

As in:  "That's not a mun - that's a minmus of <redacted> on your emulsion!"

For better or for worse, the nickname stuck. :) 

Edited by KSK
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1 hour ago, KSK said:

Oh - and a new noun has just occurred to me.  Mus   -   which translates to dot or speck.

As in:  "That's not a mun - that's a minmus of <redacted> on your emulsion!"

For better or for worse, the nickname stuck. :) 

Now that is something impressive, being able to fit a pre-existing name into the developing old Kerba conlang and it making perfect sense (if I understood the linguistics discussion correctly, seeing that makes me realise how little I understand this field).


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2 hours ago, AviosAdku said:

if I understood the linguistics discussion correctly, seeing that makes me realise how little I understand this field

Don't think I do understand anything! 

13 hours ago, KSK said:

Hmmm. I know next to nothing about coding so have no feel for how feasible this is, but it might be easier to use the standard definitions of verb and noun, locate those in the sentence, and then treat everything else as a modifier that can be applied to either or both of those categories? 

I could try to find the verb and noun first, but that would require a completly different approach from what I have now. Let my try to explain what my program does:

I take the input string, cut it into words at the spaces(1), then try to parse each word. With each word, I start by comparing its beginning to each verb root(2). If I find the right one, I take out the root and add it to output, then see if the next fits any of the verb endings, and add its translation to the output as well(3). Then it does step (2) with nouns again, and then it tries to find prefixes and suffixes. The program also saves whether we already found a verb or noun in this word, for purposes of negation of pre and suffixes. Using this and the technique from (2), the system then tries to find any prefixes. All these steps are repeated until after a full attempt there is no change, then the remainder is put into output is tagged as untranslatable and we continue to the next word(4).

for example: "Jebediah ebad belonmansatha"

(1) ["Jebediah", "ebad", "belonmansatha"]

(2) "akhat" == "ebad" -> False. "akh" == "eba" -> False. ... "eb" == "eb" -> True: output = output + "to be"

(3) "da" == "ad" -> False. ... "ad" == "ad" -> True: output = output + "(we)" 

(4) we tried everything on "Jebediah", but nothing worked. So output = output + "<Jebediah>"


It could also be possible to write a program that tries to fit those nouns and verbs to each bit of a word, but that would require making a thing with nouns only instead of 'everything nounlike'. Let's see if I can get that working...

10 hours ago, IncongruousGoat said:

@KSK What are the rules regarding adjectives and adverbs in Old Kerba? Actually, do we have a complete description of the grammar of Old Kerba lying around somewhere? I ask because I'm interested in determining if Old Kerba can be described using a context-free grammar (which would imply all kinds of things about how easy or otherwise it is to parse by machine).

You seem to know more about this. Do you know how languages are usually parsed by computers?

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To @IncongruousGoat, @superstrijder15,

I’m happy to talk about this as for as long as you’d like and I’m absolutely floored by the idea (not to mention deeply impressed with the results!) that folks are writing translation programs for my fictional language.

With that said, I’m thinking it might be better to move the more technical discussion off-thread and set up a PM conversation between ourselves and anyone else that wants to join in?

I really don’t  want to sideline anyone’s efforts though, so I’d be more than happy to post updates on this thread and, if the relevant authors are okay with it, to post any and all links to Old Kerba dictionaries, translators etc. on the first post, under the list of chapter links.

Sorry if this comes across as a bit mean but I’m just conscious that not everyone reading this thread may be quite as enthusiastic about the nuts-and-bolts of Old Kerba.

A big thanks to those that are though - chatting about this always brightens up my day!

Edited by KSK
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  • 1 month later...

Next chapter is up. And as always, many thanks to my good editor for helping to get this one out of the door.


The Needs of the Many

The meeting room phone rang.

“Hey boss – we’re not supposed to be getting a delivery today, are we?”

Hading swallowed his mouthful of iced coffee and wiped the corner of his mouth on the back of his hand. “No. Why?”

“Because we’ve got a truck at the gates. Big one – water bowser hitched on the back and everything. Hang on – there’s another one driving up behind it...”

From across the meeting room table, Wernher saw his friend’s shoulders stiffen.

“…armoured, with a gun on the top. Guys at the gate are heading over to check them out..”

Hading shoved his chair back, phone still held to his ear. “Are they carrying any markings? Can you see a flag on their sides?”

“Uhhh, I don’t think so. Camera’s at the wrong angle.”

“Give me two minutes - I’ll be right up.” Hading gestured at Wernher to follow him but before he could put the phone down there was a scream from the reception desk. Hading surged to his feet. “What happened! What is it?”

“They s-shot him! Oh Kerm, there’s more of them – the guards are running for cover. I think one of them’s firing… no, please no!” A whimper sounded down the line. “They killed him too, boss. He’s just lying there, not moving!"

Hading’s voice was unnaturally calm. “Listen to me, Rod. I need you to check the signing-in book and tell me who’s missing. He was answered by silence. “Talk to me, Rod. It’s going to be okay, but I need you to check the book. Can you do that for me?”

“Ye..yes. I can do it. Need two hands.” Hading heard the clunk of a phone being dropped on a desk, followed by a mumbled stream of names. “Are you there, boss?”

“I’m right here, Rod.”

“O-okay. Calgun’s not in yet, nor is Herfel, Jorgun – it’s not even nine yet, of course he’s not, Derdo…”

“Rod - I don’t need all the names – can you just give me a number.” Hading’s fingers twitched on the edge of the table.”

“Eleven… no Elbin isn’t in… Twelve. Definitely twelve.”

“Good work, Rod. Now I want you to come down to the dining area. Wernher and I will be waiting for you there.”

“Okay!” There was a click and the line went dead. Hading flung open the meeting room door. “Wernher – listen to me. We don’t have much time. I need you to pick three steady types and send them over to the blockhouses to bring everyone down to the bunker. If they’re stopped by soldiers, they’re to do exactly as they’re told. Gather everyone in the dining area, then get them to the back door and wait for my signal. You’ll know it when you hear it. Then get them out of here.”

Wernher stared at him. “What…?”

“The spent fuel. I don’t know who they are but that’s what they’re after.” His grim expression brought Wernher up short. “It’s the only answer that makes sense. And you know what they’ll do with it.” Hading turned and raced for his office.

Wernher paled. “What are you going to…” He ran after the engineer, skidding into his office just behind him. “What are you going to do?” He was answered by a soft metallic snick, as Hading straightened up from his desk, a snub-nosed pistol in one hand, muzzle pointed at the floor.

“Are you out of your mind?!”

“Unfortunately not.” Hading couldn’t keep the resignation out of his voice. “First KNSA officer in history to be killed in the line of duty for Kerm knows how long is not how I thought I’d go.” He racked the slide on his pistol. “Never thought that service oath would come back to bite me but that’s the thing about oaths – once you swear them, they’re not optional.”

Wernher opened his mouth, then closed it again.

“Our lawyers do a real nasty cease-and-desist.” Hading attempted a sardonic grin. “But when it comes right down to it, all the legalese is backed up by…” He lifted his pistol fractionally. The grin collapsed. “Go. Get them out of here. Oh – and Wernher?”

Wernher found his voice. “Yes?”

“Make it all worthwhile. Make that bloody engine fly.”

Tears prickling the corners of his eyes, Wernher nodded, then ran for the door. Hading slid open a slim compartment set into the top of his desk and extracted a sheet of paper which he dropped into feeder tray of his telecopier. Mechanically, he brought up a preset number and pressed the transmit key, before turning to the alarm box on the wall, hand fumbling at the lanyard around his neck.

The telecopier beeped its confirmation. Hading retrieved a key from under his shirt, slotted it home and turned. Then he turned and sprinted for the stairs, as a red light began to flash behind him.


Wernher drew several startled looks as he rushed into the main laboratory area, chest heaving for breath. He gestured at three of the scientists, before jerking a thumb over his shoulder at the stairs. “Des, Mac, Will – get over to the dorms. Haul everyone out of bed and get them down here, right now!”

Mac looked at him quizzically. “Depriving Jorgun of his beauty sleep, boss?”

“Saving his life! We’re under attack!” Wernher bent over to catch his breath as the room erupted. Mac took one look at the chief engineer’s face and turned pale.

“Quieten down you all! Will, Des – let’s do as the kerb says. It’ll do Jorgun good to see the morning sun!” Mac made to slap Wernher on the back then thought better of it. “We’ve got this, boss. We’ll be back.”

Wernher straightened up, coughing. “If you see any soldiers out there, do exactly as they say. Exactly. Now go!”


The officer scanned the battlefield, a distant part of him marking the fallen guards, faces fixed in expressions of shock, blood seeping into the thirsty sands. At a barked order from Lieutenant Lenger, two detachments of soldiers ran off around the perimeter fence in opposite directions, weapons at the ready. The lieutenant himself jogged over to his commander, the rest of his troops already fanning out around them.

“Building in the centre, sir? By the crane?”

The officer nodded. “The test sites and waste storage facility are both underground.” He pointed at the blocky, white painted outbuildings behind the crane. “Dormitory blocks I expect. We’ll take those first.” He raised his voice. “Squads of three – sweep the blockhouses and rendezvous at the crane. Capture or neutralise any guards, round up any civilians for hostages!”

“We’ll take that barn in the middle. Equipment storage most likely – it’ll be too hot to work in.” The officer bared his teeth. “But let’s not leave anyone hiding inside, hmm?”

“No, sir.” Lenger checked his weapon and took a hasty swig of water from his canteen before setting off across the baking sand at a jog.


“Wha’ time is it?  Go ‘way.” Jorgun rolled over on his cot, then jerked awake, clawing at the cold, wet bathrobe which had just wrapped itself around his head. “Hey, not funny!”

“It’ll be even less funny if you don’t move it!” A pair of sandals landed on his chest. “We’ve got soldiers at the gates! Boss didn’t say what they wanted but from the look on his face, it’s nothing good.

The bathrobe slithered off Jorgun’s bare chest. “Soldiers. Right – and I’m Chief Ambassador Burvis.”

“For Kerm’s sake, Jorgun! Get your shoes on and move it! You can please yourself about the bathrobe!”

There was a loud crash from outside, followed by the rapid thudding of heavy boots. The sleep room door flew open and two uniformed figures burst in; rifles aimed unerringly at Jorgun’s astonished face. Mac dropped to his knees, arms out in surrender.

“On your feet. Now.” The soldier’s voice was flat. Jorgun stared at him in disbelief, then yelped as a third figure appeared in the doorway. Trembling, he reached for his sodden bathrobe.

“I said, now!”

Jorgun’s sandals slid off the bed and hit the ground with a sudden slap that made him yelp again. He pushed back his bedsheet and swung his legs over the side of his cot. The soldier gestured at the door with his rifle. “Out. Hands on your heads and don’t try anything clever.”

Mac laced his hands behind his head and walked towards the door, the sudden sour reek of cold sweat following him.

The two engineers stumbled out into the pitiless desert sun where they were brought up short by a jab in the ribs.  “Over there with your colleagues. Quickly.”  Mac looked up to find Will and Des staring at him in resignation. Another door banged open and three more soldiers prodded their captives over to join them.

“Is that all of them?”


A short, stocky-looking soldier, wearing three chrome bars on his collar, nodded in satisfaction. “Good work. Take them over to the crane.”

The ragged group of scientists and engineers needed no further prompting. Eyes downcast, they formed up into a line and marched off, hands clasped behind their heads. Their assailants walked alongside them, keeping a wary eye on their surroundings as they went. Mac glanced up and his heart sank still further at the sight of another, much shorter line of captives being marched in from the opposite side of the Site D compound. They assembled at the crane in front of an older, care-worn kerbal, wearing much more elaborate insignia on his collar. The officer watched them gather, engineers, scientists, and sullen and bleeding guards. Lieutenant Lenger stepped forward and saluted. “Site is secure, sir.”

“Very good, Mr Lenger.” The officer whirled and pointed at Mac. “You! Where is the entrance to your underground facilities?”

Feeling every eye on his back as he did so, Mac lifted his head. “The bunker behind you,” he said. “Sir.”

“Excellent, Mr…?”

“Macbus, sir.”

“Mr Macbus.” The officer’s lip quirked upwards. “We assumed as much from a simple process of elimination but it’s pleasing to see that you don’t intend to tell any tedious lies. May I presume that the interior of that bunker is merely a changing room and storage area?”


The officer made a beckoning gesture with one hand.

“Yes, sir.”

A sigh. “Come, Mr Macbus. A little more information if you please. What can we expect to find downstairs? More guards?”

“No, sir. Just the rest of the science team.” Do exactly as they say, Mac. Exactly. “Level one is the reception, lounge and catering area. Level two below it is for offices, labs and meeting rooms, level three is the for the main test area and waste storage.”

“Very good, Mr Macbus!” The officer rubbed his hands together. “You will escort myself and my troops down to level three. Your colleagues will come with us, naturally, as a precautionary measure in case any of your… science team decide to get creative.” He winked. “I fear they may not be as trustworthy as you, Mr Macbus.” He glanced at Jorgun standing in his underclothes. “Besides – I can hardly leave them all standing in the midday sun. I am not a monster after all.”

The officer pointed at three of his soldiers. “Secure the bunker and the top of the stairwell.” He waited for their answering salutes before turning back to the hostages. “Mr Macbus, you will lead the way down to level one. Don’t worry – I’ll be right behind you.”


Hading crouched behind the curved reception desk, pistol drawn, eyes fixed on the bank of monitor screens suspended before the receptionist’s seat. He watched three black-and-white figures burst into view, rifles sweeping back and forth. One of them darted forward and kicked open the storage room door before leaping to one side, his two companions covering him with their weapons.

Hading watched them inspecting the doorway to the stairwell at length, before turning the handle. They stepped to one side, holding the door ajar with the butts of their rifles, before heaving it open. Hading’s eyes flicked across to another monitor just in time to see the first soldier charge through, search the top of the stairwell and retreat. Gritting his teeth as the bunker filled up with soldiers and terrified scientists, he saw Mac being pushed onto the stairs at gunpoint, watched as a uniformed kerbal followed him, the details of his collar insignia blurred by the camera.

The heavy security door blocked out any sound from above. Dry-mouthed, Hading watched the queue of figures shuffling into and then out of camera shot, ears pricked for the sound of a turning door handle. There was a click and a faint creak of hinges. The ringing of boots on steel steps filtered around the edge of the door, then grew abruptly louder. He heard footsteps passing by on his left and risked a glance around the side of his hiding place, heart hammering against his ribs as he saw a pair of sandaled feet go past.

“That will do Mr Macbus.”

Hading’s head swivelled, tracking the heavier footfalls of the unknown officer across the room. He flicked a last look at the monitor showing the, now empty, top of the stairwell, gathering himself as one set of footsteps after another filtered into the room. Glancing one last time at the black button set into the underside of the reception desk, he surged to his feet, snub-nosed pistol whipping up and round before settling unerringly on the officer’s forehead. The blur of movement from the corners of his eyes told him that every other gun in the room, apart from one, was pointed back at himself.

A chuckle broke the sudden silence.

“Ahhh, very good, Mr Macbus. Either your acting talent is quite wasted out here in the desert, or that slack-jawed look is entirely genuine.” The officer cocked an eyebrow. “To whom do I owe this unfortunate situation?”

“Hading Kerman. Kerbin Nuclear Standards Agency.”

The officer raised both eyebrows. “Really? You handle that pistol well for a bureaucrat.” He gestured at the soldiers by his side. “But I fear you are rather outmatched. Why don’t you put the gun down before somebody gets hurt?”

“After you shot our guards in cold blood?” Hading’s voice hardened. “I don’t think so.”

The officer flinched. “We ordered them to stand down!” he snapped. “In case you hadn’t noticed, Hading Kerman, we are at war and those guards were impeding access to vital war materiel. As are you!

“War materiel? High grade nuclear waste is not, and never will be, war materiel.” Hading saw the look of surprise on the other’s face. “Oh, come on. Why else would you be here?  It’s hardly rocket science – and believe me, I know rocket scientists.”

“To end the war and bring peace for the Regionality I swore to defend.” The officer’s cheek twitched. “To salt the earth and keep us soldiers apart until wiser heads have time to prevail.”

Oh, dear Ker… Hading’s expression mingled horror and pity in equal amounts. “It won’t work,” he said quietly. “Do you think we haven’t been thinking about this ever since the war began? I won’t insult your intelligence by insisting that you wouldn’t get away with it, but the cold truth is that we simply don’t have enough nuclear material here to make a difference. I can show you the calculations if you like?”

“Nevertheless.” A shadow passed behind the officer’s eyes. “This war has taken too much – from me, from everyone. I cannot forego a chance to end it, no matter how small.”

“And I cannot stand by and allow you to take that chance.” Hading’s voice was curiously gentle. “I swore an oath too, you see.”

“With respect, Mr Hading, I don’t believe you have a lot of choice in the matter.” The officer’s cheek twitched again. “Come now – under the circumstances, standing down can hardly be regarded as oath-breaking. In fact, I shall advise… whomever you swore that oath too, that you upheld it to the end. You have my word on this as an officer.”

Hading shook his head. “My choice was made when I stood to face you.” He jerked his chin at his hand clutching the edge of the reception desk, other hand still aiming his pistol squarely between the officer’s eyes. “Under this desk, I’m holding a button. If I let it go, it will trigger the emergency lockdown system.” A very level pair of eyes stared at the officer. “That system was designed to permanently seal this facility, as a last line of defence in the event of a catastrophic nuclear accident.”

A bead of sweat trickled down Hading’s cheek and dripped onto the desk. Silently, the officer watched it fall.

“Take your troops and go. I’ll shut down this facility in good order and we’ll all walk away alive. Please – just go.”

“I wonder if it’s something in the air, or just the desert sun?” Hading watched in disbelief as the other began to applaud. “Your acting is very nearly as impressive as Mr Macbus’s. But I fear I must call your bluff.” An edge of steel cut through the whimsy. “Take him down.”

Instinctively, Hading’s finger tightened around his pistol trigger but the officer was already in motion, diving under his shot. The tight knot of scientists and engineers by the door, clapped their hands over their ears against the deafening report. Hading threw himself to one side, one hand still clamped around the edge of the reception desk, yelling at his stunned colleagues as he fought to bring his weapon to bear.

“Get to the back door! Go – for Kerm’s sake – GO!”

Another shot rang out. Hading’s face contorted, nails scrabbling on the edge of the desk as he fought to keep his grip. A third shot crashed against his eardrums, punching a white-hot needle through his shoulder.

Suddenly his arm no longer seemed to work.

Crying out in desperation, Hading collapsed to the floor, dragging his nerveless arm behind him. His fingers skated over the black button under the desk, twitched once and let go.


Steel shutters slammed down behind the crowd of researchers milling around the Site D emergency exit, making them jump. Wernher rushed over and zipped his security card through the lock. A baleful red light glowed back at him, accompanied by a harsh, metallic buzzing.

Oh Kerm…

The walls shook to a series of heavy, echoing booms. Cracks spiderwebbed across the ceiling, raining sand and fragments of concrete down on the wide-eyed kerbals below.

Wait for my signal. You’ll know it when you hear it.

Wernher’s shaking voice broke the stunned silence. “Everybody to the exit. Jorely first – that exit hatch is heavy. Quickly now.” He was answered by tremulant nods. Jorely made his way through the huddle and disappeared up the spiral steel staircase in the corner of the room. One by one, the others followed him, leaving Wernher standing alone by the shutters. He zipped his card through the lock again, and again the buzzer sounded harshly in his ears. With shaking fingers, he fumbled his security card back into his pocket and followed his colleagues up the stairs.

The climb seemed interminable, a never-ending spiral into stifling darkness, broken by the panting of his colleagues and the slap-slap-slap of sandals on steel. Trickles of sand fell into his hair and the occasional pebble skittered off the steps and struck him, dislodged by a climber from further up. Wernher glanced down at the circle of dim light far below his feet, clenched his jaw and kept going.

The screech of un-oiled bolts being drawn echoed down the stairs, making him wince. Hot white light spilled in, throwing jagged, moving shadows across the stairwell walls. The last of his colleagues vanished into the sunlight and Wernher followed, heaving himself up a short ladder and over the rim of the emergency exit shaft. Blinking, he climbed to his feet, brushing his hands against his poncho.

The entrance block to the main bunker stood on an island, surrounded by vast subsidence pits. The raw concrete and steel foundations of the crane and surrounding blockhouses stood exposed, revealed by the collapsing sands. Here and there, irregular patches of concrete could be seen at the bottom of the craters, vestiges of the much larger structures beneath.

Wernher sank to his knees amidst the devastation, tears scoured away by the pitiless desert sun.


On the top floor of an unremarkable office building on the outskirts of the Capital, a kerbal sat at his desk, telephone in hand, staring out at the evening sky. He nodded in response to a particularly emphatic comment from the other end of the line and then froze at the sudden buzzing against his leg. Quietly, he stood up and removed the pager from his suit pocket, already turning to the small, and very private, telecopier in the corner of his office. With a soft purr, a sheet of paper emerged from a slot and dropped into the in-tray.

“Would you excuse me please. Madam President. I have an advisory message on line one.” The Director of the Kerbin Nuclear Standards Agency set his phone down on his desk, crossed the room and, steeling himself, picked up his message. It took no more than a handful of seconds to read.


Agent ID:                                      DN38416
Transmitter Location:                KSA Site D

Message begins:         
Emergency lockdown protocol initiated. Undertaking final duties.


Message ends.


<< Chapter 97     Chapter 99>>

Edited by KSK
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Argh - want to give you a proper answer but... spoilers. :( 

Only for the next chapter though, two sections of which are already drafted.


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  • 2 weeks later...

It's a little on the short side for such a milestone chapter but I think it says everything I wanted it to say. It's also a quicker update than usual so, if anyone is catching up, there's another chapter from a couple of weeks ago to read as well. :) 

And without further ado, chapter 100 is up...


Bill Kerman sat in his seat, bobbing against the leg straps holding him in place. In front of him, a thousand emerging pinpricks of light traced out cities, continents and Groves as Tenacity crossed the terminator, Kerbin spinning into darkness beneath them. Beside him, Calley and James stared out into space, a respectful silence pervading the bridge.

A cough sounded over the radio. “And that’s all we know right now. The Twelve Pillars declared a general ceasefire across all six Regionalities in the early hours of this morning and have been cloistered in the Capital building ever since. The KNSA investigation team is in the air on their way to Site D but other than their plane, all military aviation – and what little civilian aviation was still running - is grounded until further notice. Which, we’re guessing, will depend on how quickly the KNSA and Wakiran High Command get a handle on things.”

Bill cleared his throat. “What about Wernher?”

“Alive.” There was a long pause. “He’s in the Balcabar medical centre, along with most of his colleagues, under observation for heat stroke, dehydration, and traumatic stress. Jeb’s on the train to Balcabar as we speak.”

“That’s good news.” Bill rubbed his thumb along the edge of his armrest. “Jeb will know what to do, especially after his own…”

“Experience,” agreed Geneney. “He’s already planning to take him to meet Elton at some point – if and when he’s ready.”

“Even better. I think Guardian Elton is exactly the right… person, to help. And he certainly needs to know about the Site D incident.”

James and Calley exchanged puzzled looks. “Excuse me, Gene,” Calley broke in. “Who is Guardian Elton?”

“A long story,” answered Geneney. “Too long to regale you with on an open mike. Bill can tell you most of it anyway, and if you buy Jeb a coffee when you get back, he’ll tell you the rest.”

James raised his eyebrows at the deliberately casual tone. “Copy that, Gene. Bill can fill us in. Jeb too – but he can buy his own coffee.”

“I’ll let him know,” Geneney said dryly. “Anyhow, it’s time to call it a night here at Alpha. Beta crew are on standby and waiting for your call.”

“It’s getting late up here too. We’ll report in to Corvan before we turn in though. And, Flight?”


“Thanks for the news bulletin. We were starting to feel a bit out of the loop up here.”

“You’re welcome, Tenacity. We’ll pass on any updates as soon as we get them. Alpha control signing off.”


A winding queue of kerbals zigzagged across a field, many of them clutching stones of all colours and sizes. In the distance, in the centre of a ring of Blighted vegetation, stood the blackened ruins of what had once been a kermol village on the outskirts of Foxham. Yawning gaps in the skyline marked the sites of Kerm trees that had been uprooted and left to rot where they fell.

One by one, the mourners walked through into the next field, handed their stone to one of the black-clad villagers by the gate, and were ushered to their places by another sombre villager, dressed in a dark grey poncho. They stood in their hundreds, half-circles of hushed figures around a ring of stripped white poles erected in the exact centre of the field, a lectern set up in front of them. The occasional wails of the youngest kerblets were the only thing to break the silence, those standing by the parents of the distressed children only too glad to take a moment from their own thoughts and help to soothe the young ones.

The last of mourners filtered through the gate, followed by the funeral officiant and a trio of pipers, each clad in traditional Kolan dress but carrying a set of Spierkan pipes, blowsticks raised to their lips. As the officiant made her way to the ring of poles, the pipers struck up the Lament for the Lost Explorer, its mournful notes skirling up the field ahead of her. She reached the ring of poles, paused at the lectern to steady herself, and turned to face the silent crowd.

“Good kerbals. We are gathered here today to celebrate the lives and mourn the passing of all those taken from us by the war. They were kerbal, and as they came forth from their Groves so, in the presence of us all, shall they return.” The officiant wetted her lips. “Today, you have brought stones, each inscribed with the name of a loved one lost. We will use those stones to build a wall around these poles, and within those walls we will plant a garden. A garden of remembrance and contemplation. For even when the stones have crumbled to dust, the flowers will stand for those who fell. And so we shall remember them.”

The officiant’s gaze swept over the rows of mourners. “But, for today, we shall observe the old ways, with music, stories, seeds and poles. So, I invite you all, good kerbals, to step forward if you wish and to share your memories. We would be honoured to hear your words.”

A hand raised. “I would speak.” His companion raised his hand too. “And I would speak also.” They bent down to embrace the two kerblets standing beside them, before making their way to the front. Bowing to the officiant, they made their way to the lectern and leaned towards the microphones.

“My name is not important. But I am here today to remember the brave sailors of the Second Fleet. Most especially, I am here to remember the captain of the Shield of Kolus, who left me with two fine kerblets whom she’ll never be coming home to again.”

“And I am here to remember my life partner, whom I left on Humilisia. A wonderful Keeper, who stood with his Grove to the very end.” The speaker swallowed, looking out over the crowd through blurred eyes. “G..good kerbals, we give you this song in all their memories. The words have been kindly printed on page twelve of your orders of service and if anyone would wish to join us, we would be honoured in turn.” They waited until the rustle of paper faded away, before taking a deep breath, heads lifted high.

“Our flowers of Kolus - when will we see?
Your likes again.
You fought and died for.
Our homes, our Groves, our friends.
You stood against all. Of Doren’s fury.
And sent them homeward.
To think again.”

The crowd was silent. Then, one of the pipers picked up the tune with impeccable timing, the mournful skirl and drone of his pipes echoing across the field. Hesitantly at first, then in growing numbers, the mourners joined in.

“So, we fought against them - and to our lasting shame.
We sent our brothers. And sisters to watery graves.
They stood against us. But they were kerbal too.
And we’ll ne’er see.
Their likes again.”

The other two pipers joined in on the beat, their instruments a melancholy counterpoint to the sudden full-throated song from the crowd, united in grief and determination.

“Those days have passed now.
And in the past, they must remain.
But we will remember,
our flowers of Kolus.
Who brought us homeward.
To think again.”

The last defiant notes from the pipes faded into silence. The first figure bowed, wiping the back of his hand across his eyes before straightening up. “Thank you. Remember them all. Remember the Shield.”


Gusemy knocked on the laboratory door and went inside. He found Halsy at his workbench, bent over a length of open pipe, packed with earth. A collection of similar pipes lay on racks around the room, each closed over with a transparent lid and sprouting a bewildering array of sensors and soil probes from either end, all plugged into an electronics rack via the, seemingly traditional, tangle of multicoloured cables. The rack, in turn, was plugged into the back of Halsy’s computer.

Looking more closely at the nearest pipe, Gusemy made out a swathe of bright green through the fogged transparent lid, interspersed with overgrowing patches of darker green. The handwritten label stuck to the side of the pipe sported an extensive set of Old Kerba botanical names, some of which he recognised as mosses and liverworts. He tapped Halsy on the shoulder. “Come on. Time to go, if we’re going to catch that train.”

Halsy straightened up, glancing at his computer display as he stripped off his gloves.  Gusemy saw the resigned look on his face. “Still no luck?”

“No.” Halsy sighed. “Give me a minute?” He disappeared into his office, returning minutes later with his hair combed, dressed in loafers and a fresh poncho. “Where were we? Oh, right.” He gestured at the racks. “It was a good idea of Erlin’s but I’m not convinced it’s going to work.” He followed Gusemy out of the laboratory, locking the door behind him. “We can get a reliable signal in the lab and Erlin is pretty sure that Obrinn would be able to interface with a field version, but the signal propagation velocities are hopeless. Even if we could run a pipe from here to Barkton, I can’t see Obrinn and Elton having any sort of sensible conversation. It’d be like trying to talk to you from Eeloo. Worse probably.”

That bad?” Gusemy walked out of the laboratory block and saw Mallas waving at him from the window of his car. “How consistent are those velocities?”

“Not very,” admitted Halsy. “And we haven’t had time to do any optimising but even if we pull off a hundred-fold improvement – which I don’t see us doing – it won’t be enough. Hi Mallas.”

“Evening, boss. Latest lot of speaking tubes going well, I take it.”

“About as well as the rest of them.” Halsy got into the back of the car. Gusemy threw Mallas an apologetic look and climbed in after him.

After a subdued start the drive out to Olbinat passed pleasantly, the conversation avoiding work, or the reason for their journey, by unspoken consent. They arrived at the railway station to find all but a handful of parking spaces taken and, Gusemy was pleased to see, their platform was crowded with passengers, many of them carrying cold boxes or with placards tucked under one arm. The train doors thumped open and they followed the flood of passengers aboard, as a raucous voice from the public address system announced that the express train to the Capital would shortly be departing from platform 2.

By the time they’d made their way past the jostling throng of passengers all looking for their seats, Halsy’s temper was beginning to fray. He stepped into their own compartment, staggered as the train lurched into motion, and dropped unceremoniously into the nearest seat. Scowling he watched Olbinat station slide past the window, as Gusemy and Mallas found their own seats, Mallas stowing his own cold box in the luggage rack first.

“It’s a bit busy isn’t it? Do you think they’re all going to the vigil?”

“I hope so,” Gusemy replied. “If tonight is big enough, I’m minded to petition the Chief Ambassador to call for a Grand Conclave. Although that will require a quorum of Kolan ambassadors and support from a majority of the other Chief Ambassadors. Each of whom will need quorate support from their ambassadors.” He sighed. “So, tonight really needs to be big enough to get the media involved, ideally without the Children of Kerbin or the neo-Kerman stirring things up.”

Mallas snorted. “Your average neo-Ker won’t have a clue, unless they took a radio to whichever Kerm free patch of wasteland they’re holed up in. And if the Children turn up, the whole thing is off anyway so there’s no sense worrying about them.”

“You know, I can’t honestly blame the neo-Kerman, given everything that we’ve learned – or relearned – about the Kerm.” Gusemy’s expression darkened. “The Children on the other hand…” He clenched his fists then slowly released them. “Are why we’re going to support the ceasefire tonight.”

Mallas nodded. He watched the fields rolling past outside the carriage window for a while before speaking up again. “It’s a crying shame that Erlin’s idea looks like a non-starter. We could have the Kerm talk everything over between themselves and then tell us what they think about all of this. That could’ve put the Children right back in their place.”

Gusemy raised his eyebrows. “And what would be do if it turns out that they agreed with the Children?”

“I can’t believe they would but…” Mallas’s voice trailed away. “I guess that going neo-Kerman would get a lot more popular. Or we throw a lot more money at Starseed.” He lifted his hands. “It’s all academic anyway.”

“Actually – it might not be.”

They turned to see a transfixed Halsy, staring back at them. “Mallas – do you still have those soil injectors lying around?”

“From the chemotaxis work? I didn’t throw them out, so they’ve got to be around somewhere.” Mallas saw Gusemy’s questioning look. “Back in the early days of the Kerm crisis, we were trying to find a way of deflecting or blocking Kerm roots – or Kerm fibres. We tried everything we could think of, including injecting plant hormones into the soil to lure them away.” He cocked his head at Halsy. “What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking that we strap an injector to the side of one of Erlin’s gas samplers and hook them both up to a vacuum pump.”

Mallas frowned, turning the idea over in his head, then sat bolt upright. “Run the pump efflux through a GC to get an output signal and use the input signal to pulse whatever we’re running through the injector?”

“Exactly! No need to use the whole GC either - too slow. Just use the FID; it’s not like we’re separating anything here.”

“True.” Mallas chewed his lip. “Forget about strapping them together though – we’d end up sucking back whatever we put into the soil. Have one effector node as the listening node and put the injector there, have another node as the talking node – which is where the sampler goes.”

Halsy’s eyes lit up. “That would work! I was thinking we could put them both at a single node and split the input and output streams by chemokine type but your way would be easier!”

“No… no we still use multiple chemokines but use them to increase our bandwidth. Two would do to start with…”

“Two? Telegraph code?”

“Yep. We’ll need to teach it to the Kerm first, of course.” Mallas scratched his head. “That’s after we teach them to read.” He grinned. “But I know a young lady and her father who should be up for that.”

Gusemy stared at them both in bemusement. “Say that all again. Slowly.”

“We detect soil chemicals near one Kerm using one instrument. We transmit the output from that instrument, over the telephone network, to a second instrument, which releases the same chemicals into the soil near the second Kerm. Then we teach both Kerm telegraph code using microbursts of one chemical for a dot and microbursts of a second chemical for a dash.”

“And they can send messages to each other.” Gusemy blinked. “That’s… ingenious. But the logistics of setting it all up…”

Mallas glanced at his watch. “Plenty of time till we get to the Capital. Don’t know about you good kerbals, but I’d prefer to spend the time figuring out some of those logistics than talking over the state of the world.”

The others agreed and, by the time the train pulled up at the Capital, had roughed out Halsy’s initial concept into the outlines of a plan that even Gusemy was beginning to be convinced by. Then they stepped onto the platform and put their nascent plan firmly to the back of their minds.

Kerbals clad in dark ponchos cleared the platform in short order, ushering the passengers into queues, through the station turnstiles, and past long rows of temporary tables where they were patted down and their luggage was checked. Gusemy handed his bag over without comment, noting that everyone around him was willingly submitting to the inspections too. Two uniformed border guards stood watch behind the tables, one of them tensing up at a raised voice from another queue. Mallas turned to see the commotion, only to see the erstwhile complainer receiving a muted, but pointed, dressing down from his companion, who then apologised to the helpers at the table.

Outside the station, a line began to form. Placards were raised, some of them depicting a stylised grouping of sixteen sweetblossom poles. Others were painted with the international nuclear warning symbol behind the cross-and-hexagon signifying prohibition. Still others displayed a simple list of names, with Hading Kerman at the top of the list.

The last of the demonstrators from Olbinat emerged and the procession began to move; up the wide marble steps leading up from the station, before crossing the Boulevard, turning onto City Avenue and marching towards the Capital building.

Mourners and police lined the Avenue to watch the twilight procession pass by and sometimes to join them. The steady tramp of feet was the only sound to break the silence, the words and images emblazoned on the placards more eloquent than any chant or song. The marchers entered the park surrounding the Capital Building, past a squad of Capital Guards at the gates, before spreading out and finding a place in the great ring of figures surrounding the Capital Building.

Across the park, Halsy saw a white banner planted by the nearest Council building, the stark “Doren for the Ceasefire” message across its top visible even in the gathering twilight. The regularity of the long column of script underneath, gave it away as a list of names. Halsy turned his head and saw another banner, its “Kolus for the Ceasefire” message angled away from him but still legible. If anything, its column of text was even longer.

Gusemy retrieved a blanket from his bag and unrolled it over the grass. He, Halsy and Mallas sat down, the crowd a shadowy yet comforting mass around them. The first stars began to appear as twilight faded into night then, at some unseen signal, the pinpricks of light above were matched by a ring of lights around the Capital Building.

The light swept towards them and then past them in a great wave, until the whole park seemed ablaze in candlelight, each flame in the darkness a silent plea to the watching Twelve Pillars.


<< Chapter 98     Chapter 100>>

Edited by KSK
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