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First Flight (Epilogue and Last Thoughts)

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1 hour ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Where’s Walter Keronkite when you need him? :D

OTOH this feller certainly gets around... ;)



He does rather. And as for Walter Leland Kerman Cronkite - I don’t think KBN News were invited to this one.

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I feel like everytime I learn something new about rockets and space flight it pops up in 1 of the next few chapters, like the exhaust plume widening with dropping pressure. I've learned that just recently. Did u too? Coz it seems like it.

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Not in this case. Plume expansion has been mentioned a couple of times, mostly in the context of particularly large rockets. I think the first mention was back in chapter 27, when the Endurance space station was launched:

"Endurance sped through Kerbin's upper atmosphere. The brilliant yellow white flame from its main engine had long since fanned out into a dirty orange plume glowing dully in the the thin, frigid air. Then, with a final cough of sooty flame, the SK1-P shut down. A sudden sharp crack of explosive bolts split the rocket in two and the spent lower stage fell slowly away, beginning a slow end over end tumble as it dropped back to Kerbin."

In general, I tend to have a vague idea about some detail of spaceflight or rocketry that I want to include in the story, start doing the research to make sure that the vague idea is feasible and more or less accurate, and then find out about something cool that I didn't know about.  :) 

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Just a quick update. I have  the next two chapters sketched out although they're both real bullet-points-in-crayon level of sketches. Writing time is going to be limited over the next couple of weeks what with Christmas and visiting family, and  I imagine my good editor could well be in a similar situation. So - I'm hoping to get a last chapter out before 2020 but no promises.

As for 2020 - well we're getting close now. My rough outline for the rest of the story says that (including the next two), there's about another seven chapters worth of stuff to come and then we're into the final chapter and epilogue, both of which are completed but will need updating to reflect the changes in the story since they were written.

That's not set in stone of course and if history is any guide, First Flight tends to get unexpectedly longer rather than unexpectedly shorter. :) Still, I figured some level of expectation management was maybe in order, not least because there are going to be a couple of significant time-skips. This is by design and has been in my head for a good while (read, a couple of years). :) 

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On 12/10/2019 at 8:02 AM, KSK said:

Not in this case. Plume expansion has been mentioned a couple of times, mostly in the context of particularly large rockets. I think the first mention was back in chapter 27, when the Endurance space station was launched:

"Endurance sped through Kerbin's upper atmosphere. The brilliant yellow white flame from its main engine had long since fanned out into a dirty orange plume glowing dully in the the thin, frigid air. Then, with a final cough of sooty flame, the SK1-P shut down. A sudden sharp crack of explosive bolts split the rocket in two and the spent lower stage fell slowly away, beginning a slow end over end tumble as it dropped back to Kerbin."

In general, I tend to have a vague idea about some detail of spaceflight or rocketry that I want to include in the story, start doing the research to make sure that the vague idea is feasible and more or less accurate, and then find out about something cool that I didn't know about.  :) 

Oh, must've forgotten about that part then.

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

Just a quick update folks, since I've been incommunicado for a while. 

The last chapter has taken longer than expected but its done and sitting with my Good Editor. For various real life reasons, the writing was a bit stop-start, so it'll probably need a bit of sanding and polishing before its ready to post.

However, as of today, the chapter after next is about half done (looks like it's going to be a bit shorter than most but that's okay), so I'm hoping to get that one out rather more promptly!



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And - with particular thanks to my Good Editor - the next chapter is up.


The Rough and the Smooth

The Orbital Propellant Test Article swung along a lopsided orbital path that would take it from its highest point over a thousand kilometres distant, to grazing the upper reaches of Kerbin’s atmosphere. Viewed from a distance, it consisted of a central truss, two long fuel tanks mounted alongside it, the internal bellows that had confined their contents during launch now collapsed, allowing the liquid ammonia inside to float freely. A more-or-less spherical systems module at one end sported the unfurling photovoltaic arrays, antennas and sundry other systems required to turn a pair of propellant tanks into a functional spacecraft.

Viewed on the main screen of the Barkton Mission Control room, the spacecraft, like so many before it, was nothing but a marker. From the back of the room, Roncott watched it march along its elliptical path in lockstep with the remorseless logic marching through his own head. Too large for a Type 6. No spare launch capacity for an all-up test. Quicker to build another OPTA than another Type 7.  He sighed, the last of the frustration in the back of his mind unravelling into resignation.

Sometimes rockets just went wrong. And at least it hadn’t blown up. Roncott shook his head remembering long-ago scenes of despondency when Muna 2 had exploded shortly after lift-off. Much as he wanted to, he couldn’t find it in himself to blame Rockomax’s engineering teams, not least because they were probably as frustrated as he felt. As for their flight control team, whatever ‘guidance mode 8’ was, it had salvaged the flight.

It was just a pity that it was going to be cut short. Roncott dragged his attention back to the consoles.

“Photovoltaics looking good, Flight. Steady draw through the main bus, all systems powered up and ready.”

“Thank you, Payload.” Geneney made a note in his flight log. “How’s our orbit looking, FD?”

“Not great, Flight.” Bill looked up from his console. “We’ll keep an eye on it but so far drag on the photovoltaics is having about the predicted effect.”

“Re-entry at T plus one-six-two days, plus or minus two, then?”

“That’s affirmative. We ran the numbers on re-boosting using the RCS but it would be more effective to reserve the propellant for attitude control.”

“Understood. What have you got for me, Guidance?”

“Spacecraft is in orbital rate and within the expected per-revolution deviation from the last attitude correction Flight. Go, No/Go for first correction due in twelve revolutions.”

“Copy.” Geneney studied the orbital display on the main screen. “Payload, let’s spin up at the next apoapsis. Take your timing point at A-minus ten minutes.”

“Will do.” There was a clatter of keys followed by a pause. “Program transmitted and loaded. Initiating at A-minus ten.”

At the touch of a button, one of the subsidiary screens beside the orbital plot blanked out and then displayed a running countdown timer. At the ten-minute mark, the timer disappeared, replaced by a split screen, one side a blur of computer code, the other side a checklist of key events and system start-ups. The one-minute mark was marked by a blue light at the Payload console, which blinked out at the tap of a key.

RCS firing, Flight. Nulling orbital rate and…spacecraft is in stellar inertial. Control mode FINE, commanded roll rate: point one radians-per-second, commanded angular acceleration point-one milliradians per second per second.”

Geneney glanced at his repeater displays. “Copy. How’s she handling, FD?”

“Smooth and steady, Flight. Minimal cross-axis coupling, negligible residual translation.”

A set of indicator lights glowed on the Payload console and a strip chart recorder whirred into life. “Picking up readings from the slosh sensors, Flight. Radial pressure only, no sustained longitudinal modes. Looks like the baffles are holding it.”

At the back of the room, Roncott nodded to himself in satisfaction and turned back to the screens, brow furrowed as he searched for the data he needed. Geneney noticed his expression and keyed his microphone. “Guidance, Flight. Can we get the slosh readouts on screen three please?”

“We can do that, Flight.” The screen blanked out before displaying a double column of fluctuating numbers. Roncott raised a hand in thanks.

“Flight, FD.”

“Go ahead, FD.”

“Spin axis orientation is holding, Flight. No cross coupling.”

“Copy. Payload?”

“Looking good, Flight. Structural integrity holding, internal temperatures within expected range with no hotspots that I can see. Roll rate at point-zero-seven radians per second and climbing.

“Excellent.” Geneney studied the guidance display, watching the roll rate click upwards, occasionally flicking a glance at his repeater displays. Then, with a sudden flurry of shifting data and a patter of applause from the flight controllers, it ticked over to the commanded point one radians per second and steadied. Geneney leaned back in his chair and looked up at the orbital plot. “Good work, team. I’m calling that a Go on stage one testing. Five revolutions, spin down, back into orbital rate and review. We’re not getting as many revolutions as we’d like, so lets make them all count.”


“The sad thing is that they weren’t bad neighbours before this started.”

Gusemy studied the other’s careworn face and nodded in sympathy.

“I mean, it couldn’t have been easy for them – the soil isn’t good up there anyway and without a Kerm to improve it?” The ambassador shrugged. “There’s a reason we’re mostly livestock farmers around these parts. They tried though, even managed to get a respectable harvest in last year. Not enough for them to share we didn’t reckon, but plenty to keep them going by and by.”

“But this year?”

The ambassador sighed. “Whatever they were doing, it wasn’t enough. They came down here looking for help – and that must have been a bitter pill for them to swallow. We gave them what we could – they wouldn’t take anything Kerm-grown but they were happy to take as many carcasses as we could spare. I suppose they figured that the beasts must have been grazing on clean grass or something.”

“Or they were too hungry to care.”

“Or they were too hungry to care,” the ambassador agreed. “We gave them what we could of course. It cut into our Starseed donations but what of that. The space program will still be around next season but without food, they probably wouldn’t have been.” She grimaced. “Not that everyone saw it that way.”

Gusemy nodded. “Not with the space program starting to look like it’s going somewhere. It’s always easier to help out with something that’s working.”

“And not give any more to those fools on the hill who are too proud to have enough to share but not too proud to take from those that have.” The ambassador closed her eyes briefly. “Not my words, Ambassador and, as I said, we did what we could but it just rubbed some folks up the wrong way. And when they took to stealing as well as taking, that was the last straw.” She lifted her hands. “We tried speaking to them about it – after they tried denying everything, they chased us out of their… village at gunpoint. So, we called the authorities.”

“Understandable.” Gusemy made a note on his pad. “I don’t suppose you could give me an idea of the kinds of weapons they were carrying?”

The ambassador gave him an incredulous look. “No. I can’t say that I can. For one, I wasn’t there, and for two if someone pointed a gun at me and told me to leave, I’d be too busy leaving to tell you anything about the gun.”

“Of course.” Gusemy pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m sorry but I had to ask.” He closed his notebook and tucked it inside his poncho. “You’ll be compensated for the lost livestock of course and please rest assured that those responsible will be brought to account. Thank you very much for your time.”

“Thank you, Ambassador.”

Gusemy nodded and turned to leave.

Once outside the hut he walked across the village green to the off-roader parked on the other side, oblivious to the curious looks from the villagers. He opened the door and climbed in. “About what we expected from the complaint. Armed neo-kerman enclave; isolationist, turned to livestock theft when their crops failed. No further information on the number or type of weapons.”

The plain-clothes inspector in the drivers’ seat gave him a resigned look. “Never heard that one before.” He gestured across the green at a low-built stone building with a sheet iron roof and a heavy steel door. “To hear these backwoods types talk, you’d think they’d never seen a gun, let alone the inside of the village armoury.” He started the motor. “At least they’ve had the sense not to start a shooting feud over a handful of stolen creva.”

The road out of the village quickly turned steep, zig-zagging down to the valley floor before following the banks of a winding stream. Gusemy glanced around at the coarse, short-cropped grass, broken by the occasional patch of low-growing ferns or scraggly evergreen, and dotted with creva. Now and then, one of the creatures looked up as they passed, regarding them with an indifferent stare before lowering their heads to graze.

As they approached a fork in the stream, Gusemy leaned forward. “The turn-off should be just up ahead. Just a single-track road, I think. Ahh – that looks like it there.”

His companion just nodded, pulled up at the side of the road, and climbed out of the off-roader. Gusemy watched him cross the road and walk along the verge, stopping by what looked like the end of a farm track and staring along it for a moment, before turning and walking back.

“Nothing to see at this end. Some of them like to put up a barricade or have a couple of lookouts. They’ll probably have something nearer the village.”

“All the ones I’ve been to had,” Gusemy agreed.

“Let’s get on with it then.” The inspector slammed his door shut and started the motor again. “Everyone alright in the back? Yes? Good. We’ll go in nice and easy to start with but you all know the drill.” He glanced around, then pulled out onto the road before turning up the farm track.

The track went on for longer than Gusemy had expected but was also in considerably better repair than he’d expected. The track itself was still paved in places, with the larger potholes filled in with well tamped-down gravel. As they rounded a bend, he saw the weather-beaten remnants of two herder huts silhouetted against the skyline, the track petering out as it wound its way up the hill.

“Ah. Hunting rifles I’d say, and they look comfortable enough with them.” The inspector applied the brakes, bringing the off-roader to a smooth stop. Berating himself under his breath, Gusemy dropped his gaze back to the road and saw four kerbals dressed in heavy jackets, each with a rifle pointed not-quite-casually at the ground in front of them. He swallowed hard.

“First time having a gun pointed at you?”

Gusemy forced his voice to remain steady. “No – but I can’t say it’s happened often enough for me to get used it.” He was answered by a snort.

“The one time you do get used to it will be your last. Shall we see what these good kerbals have to say for themselves?” The inspector raised both hands, palms outward, then lowered them to point at the doors. One of the kerbals in front of them lifted his weapon fractionally but nodded.

“Slowly does it. Keep your hands where they can see them. I’ll go first.” The inspector reached down and unsnapped the holster on his own sidearm, before opening the car door and stepping out onto the road. Gusemy counted to five under his breath before following him.

“That’s far enough. I don’t know who you are or where you came from but I suggest you get back in that fancy car, turn it around and leave.” One of his companions murmured something that Gusemy didn’t catch and the leader’s eyebrows raised. “And you should button down that holster before somebody gets hurt.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, sir.” The inspector paused. “I’m going to take this badge off my lapel and put it down where you can see it.” Moving deliberately slowly, he removed his rank badge, took two steps forward and laid it on the ground before stepping back again.” He watched one of the four pick it up and inspect it with a sudden hiss of indrawn breath.

“Exactly so, sir. Why don’t we all put our weapons down? I can avoid adding a great many firearms offences to your charge sheets, my colleagues in the back of the car won’t need to join us, and we can all sit down to talk like civilised kerbals.”

“And wouldn’t that be nice.” The other didn’t quite sneer but Gusemy noticed him lowering his rifle again. “What do you want from us… officer?”

“I’d like you to put your guns down.”

One of the kerbals cast an uneasy glance at the car. The inspector noticed her look. “Quite.”

“Blight it all – I don’t want any part of this grolnisch.” She held out her rifle at arms-length with its muzzle pointing one side and its safety catch turned towards the inspector. She flicked the catch on with exaggerated slowness and put her weapon on the ground. The fourth kerbal followed suit.

The leader glared at his two companions but made no move to put his own rifle down.

“C’mon, Lant.” The last of the four kerbals spoke out of the corner of his mouth, eyes fixed on the inspector. “They’re not here to shoot first else they’d all be out here together.” He cast a disparaging look at Gusemy. “For damn sure they wouldn’t bring an ambassador along.” A third rifle joined the other two on the ground. Sullenly, Lant put down his own weapon.

“We bought this place fair and proper. Nothing you can do to get rid of us.”

“That’s not what we came for,” Gusemy said quietly. He gestured at the surrounding hills, ignoring Lant’s truculent snort. “There’s nowhere to plant a new Grove here that wouldn’t overlap badly with the next one along the valley. As I think you knew,” he added.

The sneer slid off Lant’s face.

“We did,” one of his companions spoke up. “But if you ain’t here to plant a murdering tree, what in the seven smoking… places,” he amended, seeing the inspector’s eyebrow raise, “do you want?”

“Truthfully? We came here to ask for your help.”

Lant’s jaw fell open. “You what?”

“We came here to ask for your help,” Gusemy glanced at the inspector. “I think we all need to put our weapons down first though.” He watched the inspector unbuckle his gun belt and lay it on the ground, the butt of his weapon pointed towards them. “Thank you.” He turned back to Lant. “My name is Gusemy Kermol. When I’m not at my own Grove, I work at the Berelgan Institute.” One of the villagers started, her look suddenly intent. Gusemy dipped his head to her.

“Most of what we do these days is exactly what you’re doing here – working out how to grow different crops in Kerm-free soil.” He gestured at the village behind them with its paved roads and neat rows of brightly painted, corrugated iron houses, flicking his fingers to indicate the terraced fields lying fallow beyond. “We’d like to compare notes, if you will.”

“Could have shown you more last year. No harvest to speak of this year.” She clapped her hand to her mouth, wilting under Lant’s furious look.

“Which is why you took to stealing livestock.” Gusemy nodded to himself at the shamefaced looks from the other villagers. “Please don’t be foolish,” he added wearily, seeing Lant’s eyes twitch towards the guns lying on the ground. The inspector gave Lant a quelling look as Gusemy continued.

“We will need to talk about that I’m afraid.” Gusemy’s expression wasn’t unsympathetic. “Theft is theft, even if the reasons for it are clear to see. But after we’ve dealt with that, yes, I would very much like to speak to your farmers. If they were willing, we would have them Commune with our Kerm too.” He held up a hand, seeing the hardening expressions in front of him. “Forget I mentioned it. Perhaps one of my colleagues might talk to them instead and learn their story.”


“Because if they’re unwilling to tell it to our Kerm, then I, or more probably our former Director, Erlin Kermol, needs to tell them instead. Under oath, I should add, with a witness in Communion with him, to ensure that nobody is misspoken.”

The villager blinked. “Why… sorry, I’m sounding like my youngest. That seems like a lot of trouble to go to, Ambassador.”

“It is,” Gusemy agreed. “You are familiar with the One-Twenty, I presume?” The dark looks and angry muttering from Lant and his other companions were all the answer he needed. “If I may borrow Chief Ambassador Aldwells’ words: ‘Nothing will be hidden. Everyone, be they kermol, neo-Kerman, or a Child of Kerbin, will have their views put before the Kerm. On that you have my word. In this forum. As a Pillar of the Council.’ “

Gusemy took a deep breath. “If we are to seek answers from the One-Twenty, then we must seek answers for all. You, your village, deserves to be heard as much as any other. And for their part, the Kerm also need to learn that kerbals are no longer wholly dependent on their Groves for food and shelter.” He looked straight back at the villager. “We are indeed going to a lot of trouble. But only by guaranteeing that everyone gets their voice now, can we save a great deal more trouble in the future.”


“Kerm, that’s quite the view.” Jondun checked her tether and pulled herself free of Eve 6’s hatch. She glanced at Calzer and Malmy who were watching her through the bridge windows. She raised her hand in acknowledgement before turning her full attention to the vista in front of her. Behind the bridge, the hub module stretched out before her, five of the eight spoke trusses arrayed around its circumference visible and gleaming in the reflected sunlight from Kerbin. Her home shone blue and green through their shining silver lattices as Tenacity raced over the Northern Ocean, the Firesvarn western coastline just coming into view, Humilisia hidden by the curving bulk of the hub module. She  peered up through her mirrored visor, catching a glimpse of the newly installed knuckle on the far end of its spoke, the lip of its auxiliary docking port peeping out from the white thermal blanket that swathed the rest of the module.

“Never gets old,” Tommal agreed. “Okay, Flight, EVA-1 and 2, tethers secured and heading aft to the work site.”

“Copy that, EVA-1. Tenacity, please confirm your status.”

“I have EVA-1 and 2 on camera, Flight. Malmy is in the Hub and ready to initiate inflation.

“Very good.”

Tommal and Jondun made their way over the Bridge module and across the hub, reporting each tether change and significant manoeuvre to Mission Control as they went. Aboard Tenacity, Calzer switched from camera to camera to keep them in view.

“Beginning visual inspection.” Tommal clipped his tether to the spoke truss and began a slow walkaround of the unstowed inflatable module already installed alongside the truss, stopping periodically to check the indicators set into the docking ring. “All packing straps have released correctly. So far as I can tell, the module skin looks evenly tensioned around the circumference, no obvious bulges or protrusions. Docking probes on knuckle port look good, hub port tell-tales are all green.”

“Good work, EVA-2. Please withdraw to minimum safe distance.”

“On my way.” Tommal walked around the module, gathering in his tether as he went before joining Jondun behind the truss, which the mission planning team hoped, would provide some protection if anything went awry with the inflatable. “EVA-2 is restrained and tethered at primary and secondary points.”

“EVA-1 is restrained and tethered.” Jondun’s voice was calm.

“Understood. Tenacity, you are Go for inflation.”

“I hear that, Flight. Beginning minimum pressure expansion.”

As the minutes ticked by, Tommal thought that he could begin to see a subtle shifting of the shadows around the inflatable module’s circumference. He tipped her head to one side, peering through the truss structure to try and find a reference point.

“Back-pressure is holding steady on all four inflators, Flight.”

“Flight, EVA-1. I have visual inflation.”

“Copy, EVA-1.”

Tommal lifted his head a fraction, squinting along one of the truss cross-braces. Sure enough, the upper edge of the module was creeping past it, millimetre by painstaking millimetre, lifted on a gradually filling-out ring of fabric. “Good eyes, Jondun. EVA-2 confirms.”

The first hour of the EVA came and went, the fabric ring now fully inflated and beginning to pull out a second ring from the stack of folded material attached to Tenacity’s hub. The twelve structural tubes linking the two rings were clearly visible through the fabric panels which formed the outer shell of the inflatable module and the cross-tubing between them was starting to acquire definition. Tommal and Jondun shifted within the confines of their spacesuits, exercising muscles and joints in the almost subconscious routine of the experienced spacewalker.

“…and hold it there.”

“Copy, Flight. Master regulator closed. Closing secondary valves on all inflators.”

“Thank you, Tenacity. EVA-1, please proceed to work site and report.”

“Understood.” Jondun unclipped one of her tether points and slipped her boots out from under their restraining bar. “Proceeding.” She made her away around the truss and began her own circuit of the partially inflated spoke module. Aboard Tenacity, Calzer zoomed his camera out to keep her in view. “Okay, Flight, we’re looking good here. Knuckle port is parallel with hub port, within visual limits. Upper ring is fully inflated, longeron inflation looks even around the module. Difficult to get a good visual on the cross tubes but I’m not seeing any obvious kinking or protrusions. Outer shell looks to be unfolding cleanly.”

“Very good. We’re not seeing anything on the telemetry either, so I think we can take things up a notch.”

“Will do.” Malmy paused. “Okay, I’ve let the regulator out a click. Ready when you are.”

Calzer watched Jondun make her way back behind the truss and heard her confirm her position to Mission Control. He cocked his head, listening for anything untoward in the Hub module before turning back to his monitors, Malmy’s report that inflation had restarted coming both over his headset and from directly behind him. On the screen, the spoke module began to expand at a brisker pace.

“Looking good…looking good…no wait.” Malmy threw the master regulator closed. “Got some pressure variance here, Flight. Backpressure on inflators one and two. Anything visible from outside, you both?”

“Got a little bit of flexing about the hub port. It’s damping pretty quickly though. What do you see, Jondun?”

“The same. A little bit of stiction on the third ring I think but yes – it’s pretty much stationary now.”

“Understood. EVA-1, what is your assessment?”

Outside, on the space station hull, Jondun thought for a moment. “I would pulse inflators one and two a couple of times, wait for any motion to settle, then restart inflation at minimum pressure and see if we get smooth elongation. If not, Tom or I will inspect ring three, we call off the EVA for today and head back inside. Speculatively…”

“Go ahead, EVA-1.”

“A little bit of grease on any problem folds might resolve the issue at that point, Flight.”

“It may well do but let’s not borrow trouble for ourselves. The team here concurs with your first plan. Tenacity, do you read?”

“I do, Flight. Pulsing inflators one and two now.”

Jondun frowned, staring at the partially inflated module through her visor. “No obvious deflection from out here. Tom?”

“Nothing visible, that’s for sure.”

“Here goes nothing, then. Restarting inflation, minimum pressure.”

Jondun blinked and tipped her head to one side. “Hmph. Looks like whatever was sticking just came unstuck. I’m seeing a steady extension, a little faster than before I would say.”

“And I think we’ll keep it that way. Sorry, EVA-1, you’re out there for the long haul.”

“Not a problem, Flight. Initial deployment was smooth as you could hope for though. With the second tube, we could maybe try a slightly less conservative inflation to ring two?”

“We’ll run it past the Barkton team. Right now, let’s focus on installing tube one before worrying about tube two.”

“Copy that, Flight.”

Much to the relief of both spacewalkers, over the next few hours the spoke module continued its stately crawl up the truss until, at long last, the docking port attached to its far end was within range of the matching port on the knuckle. A sigh of relief sounded in Jondun’s headset before Malmy came on the air to report what she could already see for herself. “And that’s a hold, Flight. Pressurant reserves well within estimate. How’s she looking, Calzer?”

“Lined up just as neat as you could hope for. Looking good on the camera and we’re clean and green on all four probe sensors.”

“Looks beautiful from out here,” Tommal called out.

Jondun thought she could hear a deep breath over the ground to air loop.

“Copy that, EVA-2. Good to have you on standby out there, even if we didn’t need you to jockey this one into position. Tenacity – you are Go for docking.”

“I hear that, Flight!”

Jondun tilted her head back and watched the spoke module restart its slow upward creep as Malmy and Calzer worked their way through the familiar – but not yet routine – checklist. Probably not ever routine, she thought, at least for crewed spacecraft.

“Inside the capture zone, Flight. Standing by for contact.”

“Soft dock confirmed. Master regulator off, closing inflators.”

 “All latches at pre-tension, confirming fine alignment and initiating hard dock…”

The inflatable crept up an almost imperceptible amount. Jondun squinted through her visor, unsure whether she was just imagining it.

“Flight, we have a hard dock.”

Jondun grinned, the applause from Mission Control filling her ears, the view of Kerbin shining through the spoke truss replaced by a broad expanse of white fabric, the regular bulges of the inflatable tubes that gave it form, clearly visible.  “That’s quite the view, Flight. Can’t wait to see what it looks like from the inside!”


<< Chapter 107     Chapter 109>>

Edited by KSK
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The next chapter is up.


New Trajectories

“I’ll take your word for it.” Erlin scratched his head. “It looks a touch smoother around the edges, the handgrip is better placed, and the extra seals around the sockets are a good idea, but apart from that?” He lifted his hands in a half shrug.

Halsy patted the tubular stem of the Kerm telegraph interface, resting on the workshop table. “It’s not so obvious from the outside,” he agreed. “Our basic design turned out to be fairly practical in the field. The insides though, have been completely overhauled. Part count is down, chassis is lighter, the electronics are far more rugged and refilling is nowhere near the chore it was with the prototype. Plus, we’ve added a couple of safety improvements.”

He rolled the device over, pointing out a row of discs set into its claw-like tip. “Ultrasound and pressure sensors. Lets you know when you’re touching the Kerm fibre so you can back off a little.” He gestured at the three collapsed legs folded up around the stem. “The toggle linkages on the supports have been reworked so that they can be unfolded and locked with one hand. They’ll still be installed by teams of two but one person will be able to handle the positioning whilst the other does the backfilling.”

Erlin nodded. “That was the hardest part according to Mallas. So, you’re satisfied that we can sign off on the production version then?”

“I am. The team have put both test articles through their paces in the lab and in the field and assure me that all the problems with the Mark 3 have been resolved. Blind testing with the final version of the installation checklist was successfully completed yesterday.” Halsy rested his hand on the interface device’s hemispherical end cap. “We’re ready for the roll-out, boss.”

“That’s good to know because we’ve got two newly Awakened Kerm busy with their reading lessons and six an-Kerm lining up behind them.” A shadow passed over Erlin’s face. “It was touch-and-go with the oldest Kerm but it and its Keeper are recovering well, thanks to Enely’s efforts.”

“Another eight Awakened Kerm.” Halsy couldn’t quite keep the awe out of his voice.

“And eight new Anchors to help with the next wave of Awakenings.” Erlin shook his head. “I just hope you are ready.”


It was, thought Hanbal, typical of the Rockomax Corporation’s company manager. Despite the meteoric rise in company capabilities and ambition, her memorabilia collection was still held in two glass-fronted cabinets by her office window, the old pared back to make way for the new. He smiled inwardly at the sight of the wrench still occupying pride of place in one cabinet, remembering the presentation by James, Sherfel and the Endurance flight team. Evidently a tool used for the first on-orbit repair of a spacecraft was still deemed to be a worthy memento. And so, apparently, was the old firework mortar on its stand, the jagged Speciality Fireworks Company logo sprawling across it now faded by time.

The company manager herself sat deep in thought, drumming her fingers on the edge of her desk. “Agreed,” she said at last. “Any delays to the Type 7 program will be manageable and it would be politically wise to show the Doreni that Rockomax is taking the KSA’s request seriously.”

Hanbal nodded. “How are the Doreni taking it?”

“About as well as you might expect,” Ademone said dryly. “I gather that Lodan received a terribly polite private welcome from his opposite number, after all the warm words for the cameras.”

“But a ‘waste-anything-but-time’ funding bill with a united Twelve Pillars behind it is providing a big enough carrot and a big enough stick to keep everyone smiling?”

Ademone raised an eyebrow. “I prefer to believe that both sides are putting their disagreements to one side for the good of all kerbalkind. Although the funding bill will be helping no doubt.”

Hanbal picked a speck of lint off his trousers. “We’ll probably have to give them the SK1-P,” he said. “Lodan’s briefing seemed quite clear on that point. The Doreni want to launch their Duna shuttle prototypes on their own boosters, Lodan is in favour of that anyway because he doesn’t see any point in shipping Doreni built spacecraft halfway around the world to launch them from Kolus, and the Council wants Doren launching Starseed payloads as soon as possible, if not before.”

“Give them it?”

“We might as well. Again, judging from Lodan’s briefing, their Hammerhead engine was intended to have roughly the same performance as the SK1-P and it’s operating on the same cycle anyway. By the time we solve the combustion instability problems they’re having, we’ll probably end up with something that’s a Skipper in all but name, so why not save ourselves some time and effort, bank some political favours, and move on?”

Ademone steepled her fingers under her chin. “It would certainly be a generous gesture,” she said thoughtfully. “Depending on requirements, that would let them field anything from an Endurance to a Type 5 equivalent.”

“Which should be enough for their shuttle program if they use the same Kerbin orbit rendezvous mission profile that we used for Pioneer,” Hanbal finished. “Which is good because I’d prefer not to hand over the Mainsail just yet.” He eyed Ademone. “Let’s see how the Doreni get on with the Skipper first before we spend what will need to be a great deal of time setting up a Mainsail production line for them – time that I think could be more usefully spent updating our own launch facilities and putting the Type 7 into full production.”

He saw the faint smile tugging at the corner of Ademone’s mouth. “Dammit – it’s not that! Leaving aside the fact that unless we make Starseed work, we’ll be going bust anyway, the SK2-M is a dead end. Oh sure, we’ll need the Type 7 to get Starseed into production but I can guarantee we won’t be using it by the time we’re done.” Hanbal sat back in his chair. “The Type 7 is big, expensive, and disposable. By the time we get a couple of colony ships built, I think people are going to start noticing that last part. So, by then we need to be thinking about the next generation of launch vehicles.”

Despite herself, Ademone leaned forward, intrigued. “Which is?”

“A reusable booster.” Hanbal spread his hands on her desk. “C7’s spaceplane program is going well by all accounts but I doubt they’ll be lifting more than crew to orbit with it. I’ve run the numbers – even if the rumours are correct and they do have a working airbreathing engine - they won’t have the mass fraction for anything else. For serious payload, we’re looking at a two stage, reusable rocket.” He gave Ademone a rueful look. “I’ve bounced some ideas around with Danfen and right now we’re not sure what that’s going to look like, but one thing’s for sure – it won’t be using an SK2-M. Too big, no throttle and no relight capability.”

“Hmmm.” Ademone began ticking points off on her fingers. “I’d like to see those ideas. Once you’re back from Doren, and the Type 7 failure investigation is complete, and the launchpad is back in operation, and the Type 7 program is in full production phase, and…”

“I get it. I get it.”

Ademone’s expression softened slightly. “It’s a good point and one that I’ll run past Loden but I think we have enough to be getting on with for the moment. For now, I agree that giving the Doreni the SK1P – assuming they need it – could be expedient. Keep that as a reserve option for now, find out whether their HH2 program is salvageable, and I’ll speak to Lodan and the Board.” She picked up a glass cube paperweight from her desk and rubbed her thumb over one edge. “When do you leave?”

Hanbal watched the sliver of Mün rock inside the cube appearing and disappearing behind her thumb. “I’m flying out the day after tomorrow. One of the first charter services to start flying again, I believe.”

Ademone nodded. “Good luck – and thank you, Hanbal.”


“What time is your train tomorrow?”

Jeb appeared from beneath his desk, holding a can of chilled sapwood in each hand. “Not until after lunch.” He passed Bob one of the cans and popped the top off his own. “So Gene can get his beauty sleep in.”

Geneney pushed the plunger down on his coffee press, waited for the grounds to settle, and poured himself a cup. “I’ll need it after tonight. Good to see business picking up again for Jorfurt though.”

“The seed inspections hit him hard.” Jeb agreed. “Good to see those easing off a bit. What can I get you, Bill?”

“Another water for me. Sparkling if you have it?”

“Coming right up.” Jeb fished out a bottle from his fridge, unscrewed the top and handed it to Bill, who poured it into his mug. “Hey, Wernher.”

“Evening,” Wernher stood in the doorway for a moment, before taking a seat. “How did the party go?”

“Not too badly at all.” Jeb flopped into a sack chair. “Even if I am getting too old for this sort of thing.” He grinned at Wernher’s rolled eyes.

“It was a good turnout,” Bob agreed. “Eldrin was a bit wild-eyed to begin with though, sitting in a bar with the Jebediah Kerman, as he put it.”

“If only he knew,” said Geneney. “Coffee, Wernher?” He poured a second cup and handed it to the chief engineer. “And now that we’ve all got a drink, I’d like to propose a toast.” He lifted his cup. “To the One-Twenty.”

A motley collection of mugs, cans, and cups clinked together. “The One-Twenty!”

Bob wiped his mouth. “And I’d like to propose a toast to something I never thought I’d see in this lifetime.” He raised his can. “To Jeb the diplomat.”

Geneney chuckled and lifted his mug again. “Jeb the diplomat!” The others tapped their drinks against his. “And I can’t think of a better kerbal to teach the Awakened Kerm about spaceflight.”

“Official KSA ambassador to another species.” Bill shook his head. “It sounds like something out of a science fiction story.”

“But it’s not,” Wernher said softly. “And it’s a long way from the firebrand rocketeer I remember from the Institute. You make an old teacher proud, Jeb.”

Jeb suddenly became very interested in his can of sapwood.

“We’re just planning ahead is all. If we ever find anyone else up there,” Bob pointed in the vague direction of the ceiling, “we’ll be able to send Jeb out to make First Contact with them.” There was a ripple of laughter.

“We are the kerbals. Take us to your leaders!” Geneney managed a credible impersonation of Commander Kerbiman ‘Kerb’ Kerman, making Jeb raise his eyebrows.

“I didn’t know you were a Heroes of Duna fan, Genie.” He shook his head. “Being an ambassador to the Kerm is a big enough job for me thanks.”

“I can imagine,” said Bill. “You’re going to meet Guardian Obrinn at the Berelgan first. Is that right?”

“Yep. Obrinn. Held by Erlin, awakened with Obrett and Gusemy. First Kerm – along with Guardian Elton – to be connected through the Kerm telegraph and actually the one who got them thinking about a telegraph in the first place.” Jeb blinked. “Apparently he was lonely, so they decided to figure out a way of letting him talk to Guardians Elton and Jonelle.”

Wernher walked over to Jeb’s chair and gripped his former student’s shoulder. “It sounds like you know him already.”

“It does,” said Geneney. “Good luck, old friend and give my best to Guardian Elton.” He shot a mock-exasperated look at Bob. “First Contact, or no First Contact, there’s always a space on the flight roster for a returning ambassador.”


<He was very nice. I think my Erlin liked him but was scared too>

There was a long pause and then another train of chemical pulses bombarded Elton.

<Not right. Not scared but I do not know the right kerbal word>

<Awed? Jeb has done many impressive things. It would be right for other kerbals to respect him>

Obrinn thought it over. <Yes. That is better. I will remember that new word> The pulses became a torrent, saturating the soil around Elton’s receiver into meaninglessness. The telegraph systems responded, shutting down the incoming link and starting a purge sequence.

<Slowly. Wait> Elton appended the codes for ‘patience’ and ‘understanding’ to his message. <The kerbal machine is not fast enough for me to hear you> He waited for his soil to clear. <Try again now>

<I saw the whole world!> The codes for ‘excitement’ spilled into each other. <Very small. No> Obrinn corrected himself, <not small but far away. I saw the Mün too but I didn’t like it> <<fear>> <It was dead and dark. Why do kerbals want to go somewhere dead?>

<I do not truly know> Elton replied. <Jeb said that he went because it was there>

<That is a strange reason>

<Yes. But then he told me that he went to explore the Mün but the most important thing was that he found Kerbin>

<I do not understand>

<<reassurance>> <I had to think about it too but the answer was not hard. Kerbals have found more worlds like the Mün and they think that all of them are dead too. Only Kerbin is alive but…>

<It is also very small and lonely>

<Yes. I think this is something that all kerbals – and all Kerm – need to learn>

<I will try. But now my Erlin wishes to talk to me. I would like to leave>

<Professor Erlin> Elton corrected him. <Please tell him that Elton says hello. I too would like to leave now>

<Overandout, Elton>

<Overandout, Obrinn>

Elton waited for his soil to clear again. Then, with a sudden flex and droop of his leaves, he sent a carefully orchestrated wave of messenger chemicals towards Jonelle’s territory. An answering wave swept over his outermost fibres, followed by the faint touch of not-self, as his daughter extended her fibres towards him.


<Jonelle. Do any of your kerbals speak to you at this time?>

<no. Joenie spoke to me before half-sun but no kerbals speak to me now.>

<that is good. I would have you tell no kerbal – and especially not Joenie – of my words here>


<my daughter, does Gerselle speak to you in these days?>

Jonelle’s fibres stiffened, twitching away from Jonton before she could bring them under control. <no. Joenie asks me this too. The me before me remembers her words but I have never heard them>

<have you looked for her?>

<yes. I have found small things. Pictures that I do not know, thoughts that I do not remember or recognise. But I have not found Gerselle>

<I think you have found small parts of her> Elton paused. <my daughter – before we Awoke, we were both broken but we survived. Jonton became one with my shattered parts and, in time, helped me to heal although he did not know it. Enely found your shattered parts, brought them together and made you whole. Perhaps you can do the same for Gerselle>

He sensed his daughter’s doubt.

<they are such small things and I have not found many. I do not know if this will be possible>

<I know. That is why I would not have you speak of this to the kerbals. To have them hope and then see that hope fail would be cruel. I will help you, my daughter - I knew Gerselle through Jonton and might know the thoughts you do not recognise.>

Jonelle’s answer was muffled by a loud burst of chemicals.

{Incoming Call}

Jonelle wasn’t sure whether her father’s response would have made Joenie blush or giggle.

<I apologise, my daughter. I should answer this>


<Hello. Is that. Elton?>

<Yes. This is Elton. My daughter, Jonelle is also here. Who do I speak to?>

<My name is Enedred> A pause <My Enely asked. me to pass. on his res… respects? Is that a right kerbal word?>

<It is. Please pass on my thanks to Enely> Elton paused to let his telegraph interface clear. < It is good to hear your words, Enedred. I would have you be welcome, for we have much to discuss>


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This could be the very minute
I'm aware I'm alive
All these places feel like home

With a name I'd never chosen
I can make my first steps
As a child of 25

Snow Patrol:  Chocolate


Patbro watched the car pull up at the foot of the hill and a familiar figure climb out of the passenger seat. The figure leaned through the car window for a moment before stepping back and waving as it drove off. Then he turned and walked up the path towards the hut, a thoughtful expression on his face.

“How is she?”

Jonton smiled. “Very well. She’ll be happier once she’s able to get outside again, I think. I got the distinct impression that that part of being an-Kerm is starting to become tedious.”

Patbro chuckled. “No. Tivie was never one for sitting around.” His expression turned serious. “And how’s her Kerm?”

“Lively. If she’s anything like this once she’s Awakened, then uncle Elton is going to have a full-time job on his hands, for want of a better expression.” Jonton looked at his friend. “Her Awakening isn’t far away either, if I’m any judge. I’m still happy to be one of her Anchors, if you’d like.”

Patbro took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I would – thanks.” He raised his eyebrows. “Uncle Elton?”

Jonton looked at him wryly. “It rolls off the tongue more easily than ‘Kerm that I would like to be my daughter but isn’t my daughter’. I think he feels a certain responsibility for her, having given up part of his territory to make room for her.”

“He’s taking the idea of a family very seriously.”

“Yes – which is probably a good thing. If he can set an example for Tivie’s Kerm and Ludvis’s too, then there’ll be just enough room to plant a new Kerm between them. Tivie, Ludvis, Elton and Jonelle should make a nice Cluster with room for one more volunteer if we get one.”

“Which could be whoever sets up between Tivie and Ludvis?”

“I’m not sure. Possibly. I think it depends on the range of Kerm ages that we get for the other three Kolan Clusters.” Jonton scrubbed the back of his hand on his forehead. “Although there aren’t any middle-aged Kerm around Barkton.”

“Just old-timers and new saplings,” Patbro agreed. His voice turned wistful. “I wish my old-timer wasn’t planted so far away.”

Jonton gripped his friend’s shoulder. “He can be the start of a new Barkton Cluster once the One-Twenty are awake.” Assuming that’s what they choose, he added silently.

If Patbro shared his reservation, it didn’t show on his face. “How many are Awake now?”

“The Berelgan think that Tivie’s will be the twenty-fifth. Difficult to say for sure since the times from going an-Kerm to Awakening have been all over the place so far and there doesn’t seem to be any obvious pattern between Kerm age, Keeper age and Awakening time.” Jonton smiled. “The next two have only just gone an-Kerm though, so they’re pretty sure that Tivie will be next.”

“Twenty-five Awakened Kerm.” Patbro shook his head. “We’d better get on with this second telegraph line then. Do we know where it’s going yet?”

“Eventually? Anywhere that Elton wants - it’s just a telephone line after all. For now though, it’ll probably be mostly for calls to the first Doreni Cluster at Almkat. He gets a lot of calls from Enedred’s Cluster in Wakira, so between those and the regular conference calls with Erlin and his team, he thought it would be better to ‘show goodwill and respect’ to the Doreni by having a dedicated line installed for their Clusters.”

It was Patbro’s turn to smile. “Very diplomatic.”

“And absolutely nothing to do with Jebediah’s report that the Almkat Kerm are as space-crazy as he is,” Jonton agreed. “He’s been spending a lot of time reviewing what memories he has of Jebediah’s namesake and trying to understand how he was able to get everyone to agree to the original Council of Twelve Truths. He hasn’t said as much but I suspect that he sees an alliance with Almkat as a way to garner support for Project Starseed amongst the Doreni Kerm.”

“Preserve me. A diplomat and a politician.” Patbro glanced up at Elton’s gently swaying branches. “Although we kerbals could do an awful lot worse.”

“Indeed.” Jonton gestured at a large crate and a reel of cable stacked next to his front door. “Shall we make a start on the Doreni hotline?”


The criss-crossing trails of dead clover stood out clearly against the dense carpet of green which now surrounded Elton’s trunk and Jonton thought he could have found a good site for the second Telegraph interface even without the ring of bright red canes marking the spot. He and Patbro scraped away the first few centimetres of earth with a spade before setting to work with their trowels. One of the red canes tumbled into the deepening trench and Jonton set his trowel aside and cleared away the last of the soil around Elton’s fibre by hand.

Patbro handed him the U-shaped emitter jig which fitted easily over a large cluster of nodules on the main fibre, just behind a point where it split into two. Jonton marked the position of the jig holes, set it to one side and drove the two mounting pegs, for the emitter itself, into the soil.

“Right then.” Jonton scanned the instruction card taped to the underside of the crate lid, before lifting the emitter assembly out of its packing. “Switch on the installation sensors. Okay, we’ve got two green lights, so the sensors are working and the battery is charged.”

“So far so good,” said Patbro.

“Yep. Hold the emitter unit by both handles. Depress trigger to release the guide grip, slide unit over the mounting pegs, and carefully lower it towards the Kerm fibre. An audible warning will sound when the emitter is at the correct height. Release the trigger to lock it in place.” Jonton raised his eyebrows. “I’m so glad they told me to do this carefully.”

Patbro shrugged. “Better safe than sorry.”

“Hmph.” An insistent bleeping noise sounded from the emitter unit. Jonton lifted it fractionally to shut off the alarm before releasing the trigger. “Okay. Now for the support legs – hmm, these are much easier than I remember. Could you do the backfilling while I hold onto this?”

“Not a problem.” Patbro began scooping soil back into the trench before tamping it down, taking special care to pack it around the support legs. Gingerly, Jonton let go of the emitter, hands hovering near the handles in case the alarm went off. Reassured by the silence, he stepped back and retrieved a stainless steel cartridge from the crate before squatting down beside the emitter and unlocking an access panel set into its stem.

“Open the port. Insert double ended cartridge here, close the port and lock up.” Jonton got to his feet and watched Patbro threading the telephone cable through a series of guides on the other side of the stem before plugging into its socket on the underside of the emitter’s hemispherical cap.

“That should be everything.” Jonton dusted off his hands. “Time for the moment of truth. Well sort of. I guess that part comes later when Elton tries to use it but…"

“It definitely won’t work unless you switch it on,” Patbro said gently. “I can do the honours if you like.”

“No. No, I should do it.” Jonton unlocked a second access panel, revealing a single switch. He paused for a second then pressed it. A row of green lights under the emitter cap lit up in sequence and then winked out. Patbro gave him a thumbs-up.

“One Doreni hotline installed and powered up. He grinned at Jonton. “Now let’s go and face that moment of truth.”


“Are you getting this?” Chad peered into his viewfinder and adjusted the focus.

“Looks fine from here. Reading you loud and clear on the audio pickup.”

“Well alright then. Let’s get set up for the big intro.” Chad panned his camera round until the viewfinder showed nothing but blackness edged by curved metal corners.

“Patching you through to the studio now, Chad. Going live in two.”

“Copy, Flight.” The chatter of technicians and television crew filled his ears alongside the more measured responses from the capsule systems team. Then the background noise cut out, replaced by a single familiar voice.

“Good afternoon everyone. I am Leland Kerman and this is a KBS News spaceflight special. With us today will be kerbonaut Chad Kerman, pilot scientist aboard Pioneer 6 and one of two remote operations specialists for this, the fifth Tenacity crew and its first full complement crew of eight kerbonauts.” Leland paused. “Foxham Mission Control has just confirmed that they’re ready and waiting so, without further ado, let’s go live to Tenacity. Can you hear us, Tenacity?”

“Loud and clear, Leland. It’s good to have you with us.”

“Our pleasure, Chad and thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule.”

“You’re very welcome. We’ve been working pretty hard up here for the last couple of weeks and we’re looking forward to giving everyone back home a little guided tour.” Chad cleared his throat. “Right now I’m at the far end of Spoke 1, our outermost spoke. It’s the second one to be completed here aboard Tenacity – I was actually in here just this morning closing out the final set of leak tests and air quality checks.”

“I remember James Kerman talking about a ‘new spacecraft smell’ when he first opened Endurance’s hatch. Do you still get that onboard a modern spacecraft?”

Chad laughed. “Very much so – and we like to try and keep it that way. A big part of the life support systems – well big for us crew anyhow - are the charcoal filters. They’re mainly for removing any unwanted odours from the spacecraft systems but they do a pretty good job of keeping everything pretty close to new spacecraft fresh, even with eight of us floating around the place.”

“Are the spacecraft systems really that smelly?”

“The biology racks over in Spoke 5 sure can be. We’ve been running some experiments for the long duration life support team, looking at different algal and bacterial cultures, to try and find one we can use for scrubbing carbon dioxide out of the air. Some of those can get pretty ripe.”

 “I can imagine. Now, before we start, I’m not seeing a great deal from our camera feed. Am I right in thinking that’s because it’s pointed at the outermost window?”

“Absolutely, Leland. I don’t know how much you’ll see from a movie camera but I can tell you now, this view is a treat. Stars upon stars upon stars.”

“We’re just getting a black disc, I’m afraid.”

“Oh. Well I’ll see what I can do to fix that after the show. Try and give the folks back home an idea of what it’s like. Don’t get me wrong – you never get tired of looking at old Kerbin either, but I’m looking forward to just bringing a ration pack up here sometime and spending some time with the universe over dinner, you know.” Chad stretched out an arm. “For now I’m going to do a slow pan around the module. There’s not much to see at the moment – we’ve got storage lockers and ventilation around the forward window there and then moving around, you can see the hatchway through to the rest of the spoke. Now that we’re cleared for habitation in here, we’ll be keeping the hatch open mostly but we can close it to seal off this module from the rest of the station in an emergency.”

The image on Leland’s screen continued its stately pirouette, coming to rest at a second, closed, hatchway that, to his eye, looked very similar to the first.

“And this here, is the aft hatch. Identical to the one you just saw to save on manufacturing costs. Right now it doesn’t lead anywhere except hard vacuum but if we were onboard one of the actual colony ships, we’d be facing backwards along the length of the craft towards the engines.” A hand appeared in shot as Chad pointed at the hatch. “And this would be the way into the main living area. During the journey to Duna, the ship will be spinning about its long axis which means that anything through there gets pushed out against the spacecraft hull. It’s not real gravity but it’s the next best thing.”

“If you want to see how it works back at home, take a bucket of water, tie a rope to the handle and spin it round your head. Even if the bucket goes upside down the water won’t fall out because the spinning is pressing it against the bottom of the bucket.” Chad pushed off from the hatchway. “You should probably try that outside though.”

Leland chuckled. “Yes, for the benefit of our audience, KBS News recommends that any scientific experiments involving swinging buckets of water around, be carried out outside. Oh – now this is looking a little more lived in?”

The view from Chad’s camera showed the interior of what appeared to be an immense tubular blanket, wide enough for two kerbals to pass one another with ease. On the left-hand side, a row of flattened, slightly convex, lighting panels stretched along the tube wall linked by slender fabric sleeves. Leland tilted his head to one side, trying to match up the image on the screen against what he knew of Tenacity’s construction.

Here and there along the opposite side of the tube, somebody had stuck a handful of posters depicting scenes from Kerbin. They were, Leland noted, mostly of woodland or other rural scenes, and he wondered if any of the kerbonauts aboard the station had put up a picture of their Grove. Between the posters, sections of webbing had been strung up and now held a eclectic assortment of high tech equipment, squeeze tubes of water, paperback novels and other personal items.

“Yep, that’s the great thing about Tenacity,” Chad said. “There’s enough room for us to get some personal space. When you’re down in the Hub or the Bridge modules, there’s no getting away from the fact that you’re inside a spacecraft but out in the spokes it’s quite cosy. Although, unless you’re in a spoke that’s rigged with equipment racks, there is a limit to what you can attach to the walls. Hang on – I’ll just leave the camera here a minute.”

There was a confusing jumble of images and then Chad appeared in-shot, floating next to one of the posters. “Can you see me?”

“We can see you fine and I think our viewers will really be getting that zero-G feeling, watching you.”

“Excellent. Now, I’m gonna let you all into the big secret of living in space.” Chad peeled back a corner of the poster revealing a patch of bristly looking fabric. “Good old hook-and-loop fasteners. Pretty much everything you see in here is stuck to the wall with it and actually, any time you see anything at all attached to a spacecraft wall, it’s a good bet that it’s either welded on or stuck down with hook-and-loop.”

Chad pressed the poster back into place. “And before any of your viewers ask, the reason we don’t use thumbtacks in here is not because we’re worried about popping the tube but because we don’t want anything small and sharp getting loose and floating around at eye-level.”

“That is a question that a lot of our viewers have asked so thanks for clearing that up for us.” Leland watched the kerbonaut retrieve his camera, orient himself and then push off along the spoke, the almost perfectly steady movement of the camera making him feel slightly nauseous.

“Okay then, we’re passing through the hatch into the knuckle module. This is the halfway point of the spoke and, as you can see, it’s got a window over there and two docking ports on the other sides. Right now, we’ve got a Power, Assembly and Logistics module or PAL docked outside but down on Spoke 4 we’re looking forward to hosting the very first Duna shuttle prototype, courtesy of a whole lot of hard work from our Doreni colleagues over the last year.”

“And some help from the Rockomax Corporation?”

“I believe so, Leland, although I’m told that the shuttle is an all-Doreni design. I’m no propulsion specialist but I know a lot of folks have been getting very excited about their KR-1L engine from Kerbodyne. Anyway, their first LKO test flight is underway but if all goes well, their second test vehicle should be docked to Spoke 4 in a month or so.”

“For more of that new spacecraft smell?”

Chad grinned. “Yep! Incidentally, that PAL outside used to be docked on the back of the Hub module – we moved it to this spoke to help out with construction and to free up a docking port for the second Bridge module.” Chad drifted over to the window. “Now, the angles aren’t great from here, so I’m going to pass you across to Mission Control for a moment, so you can get a good look from one of our external cameras.”

Leland’s screen flickered and suddenly he was outside the space station, staring at the PAL spacecraft docked to its spoke, photovoltaic arrays gleaming in the sunlight and its robotic arm angled towards the far end module where Chad had begun his tour. The camera tilted before zooming in on the knuckle window from which the kerbonaut was waving back at him.

“Oh my.”

“It’s something isn’t it? I was out on the end of the arm the week before last, helping to nudge that second inflatable section into place. Riding that thing is a blast – makes the EVA so much easier!”

Somewhat to Leland’s regret, his screen flickered again and he was back inside Tenacity.

“Welcome back. Let me just get myself turned around here. Little push against the window frame… and there we go.” Chad slipped through the hatchway and along a second fabric tube, which was also adorned with posters and the occasional photograph. Leland caught a glimpse of a group of kerbals sitting around a picnic table, mugs hoisted at the photographer.

“Okay, around the hatch here you can see the couplings for the equipment racks.” Chad pointed at a set of clamps and connectors on either side of the hatchway. “Mechanical interface, power supply and data feeds. You can fit in two racks per module but it doesn’t leave you with much of a gangway. Not a problem once we’ve finished up the wheel – we can designate any double-racked spokes as a one-way street so to speak but right now it’s kind of handy to have enough room for two crew to get past each other.”

Chad checked his slow drift against the hatch frame before poking his head through. Leland reeled away from his screen at the sudden vertiginous sense of space yawning below him before perspective reasserted itself.

“And welcome to the Hub. In here, you can almost believe that you’re flying a spacecraft again. Hi, Milden. Quick wave for the folks back home?”

“Hi, Chad. Hello everyone.”

“What’s on the tasklist for today then, Milden.”

The other kerbonaut dipped her head. “Um, clearing any fan debris and checking the filters. Then Mitzen and I are prepping the rack mounts in Spoke 7.”

“I was just telling Leland about the filters. Are you still with us, Leland?”

“We’re right here, Chad, and wondering if kerbonaut Milden could spare us a moment to talk about the fan debris. That sounds pretty serious?”

“Oh it’s nothing much,” Milden said. “All the hard modules here are equipped with ventilation fans to keep the air moving in zero-gravity and to pull it through the air conditioning units where the carbon dioxide is taken out and fresh oxygen put back in. The fans also act like little suction-cleaners – any loose items floating around tend to find their way to a fan eventually, so keeping them clear is one of our housekeeping tasks.”

“If you find my lucky cufflink, that would be great,” Chad put in. “No idea where that’s got to.”

Leland got a distinct impression that the other kerbonaut was trying not to roll her eyes. “I will, Chad. I should be getting on though – it was good to speak to you, Leland.”

“Thank you for your time, Milden.”

Chad watched Milden disappear into one of the spokes before turning his attention back to the camera. “Where were we. Ah yes – the Hub.” He cleared his throat. “On the actual colony ship, the Hubs are designed as emergency radiation shelters for the crew in case of any sunspot activity from Kerbol. They’ll also contain the acceleration couches for the crew to use during any significant manoeuvres. Here on Tenacity, we’re using our Hub as the main eating and sleeping area.” The camera turned to give a view of a set of shelves, sleeping bags and more elasticated webbing for personal effects. “The sleeping arrangements haven’t changed much since our very first space station, Endurance. They’re simple but they work and they’re pretty comfy in zero-G. We keep the dining table packed away during the day – one less thing for everyone to bump into.

Chad checked his watch. “We’re almost out of time I’m afraid folks, but I’ve got one last thing to show you before we go. Spoke 4 is pointing at Kerbin right now and the view out of the window there is pretty good – but you’ve all seen the inside of a spoke now. So we’re gonna head through to the first Tenacity module to be launched into space.” He pushed off one of the sleeping shelves and towards a dim hatchway.

“This is the forward gangway leading to the main docking port. And here,” Chad reached over his head, caught a handhold and began pulling himself along the ladder, “is the access way to the Bridge. Officially it’s the forward observation deck but on the actual colony ship it’ll be the bridge, so that’s what’s stuck. As he emerged from the access tube, he heard a sudden intake of breath over his headset.

“Pillars preserve me.” The veteran broadcaster’s voice shook. “It looks ready to fly.”

Chad drifted over to the centre seat, panning the camera round as he went. Everyone in the KBS studio were treated to a view of the seats secured to the convex floor and the instrument panels and monitoring stations arranged around the outside walls, before the image on their screen settled on the view of Kerbin through the bridge windows. Then the camera tilted up slightly and zoomed in to reveal three items secured to the centre window frame. A carved wooden space capsule, its darkly polished surface reflecting streaks of blue light from outside sat flanked by a miniature flag of all Kerbin on one side and a equally miniature pennant emblazoned with a white cross painted on a tree stump and a stylised hand clutching a dripping paintbrush.

“Guardian Elton’s gift, the flag of all Kerbin and the White Cross Company logo. How completely appropriate.”

“We thought so,” Chad said soberly. “Having all three of them there with Kerbin in the background – well it helps put this whole thing into perspective.”


Gusemy climbed out of the off-roader and eyed the Veiidan squad with trepidation. Clad from head to foot in Kerm-protective gear complete with helmets and full-face steel mesh masks, they resembled a cross between a motorcycle racer and a warrior from one of the more lurid historical dramas. The overall effect would have been comical were it not for the obviously Kerm-worn state of their armour and the air of grim competence that hung over them. Their sergeant stepped up to Gusemy’s companion and saluted.

“Perimeter is set, sir. Bravo squad report no sightings of resistance.”

“Acknowledged.” The commander frowned for a moment then shrugged and turned to Gusemy. “Right. Let’s get you suited up, sir.” He opened the back of the off-roader, hauled out two sets of armour and began climbing into one. Following his lead, Gusemy removed his shoes before pulling on a pair of heavy padded trousers, their tough fabric slightly ridged under his fingers. By the time he’d donned his belt, matching padded jacket and steel capped boots, the sergeant had sorted through the pile of plates, straps and buckles at his feet.

“Vest on first.” A heavy chest and backplate linked by shoulder straps dropped over his head. The chestplate gave slightly as the sergeant tightened its waist straps and Gusemy felt the metal plates inside shifting in their pockets. Knee, elbow and shoulder pads went on next followed by supple chain gauntlets and an aluminium gorget around his neck. The sergeant studied him for a moment. “That’ll do. He’s all set, sir.”

“Thank you, sergeant.” The commander studied Gusemy too. “Right. You’ve been to your share of neo-Kerman villages and I’ve heard you can stay calm with a gun pointed at you. That’s good.” He looked the ambassador in the eye. “Unfortunately, the Children of Kerbin are nothing like your average neo-Ker. One camp might come quietly, the next will fight you tooth, nail and vine. Your armour should keep you out of most trouble but if it all goes south you hit the dirt and let my lot deal with it. Do I make myself clear?”

“Quite clear, Commander. Thank you.”

The other grunted in reply before turning to his squad. “Form up, move out, and stay sharp for Kerm trees.”

The squad formed up around Gusemy and set off towards the forest at a trot. Weighed down by his armour, the ambassador did his best to keep up but by the time they reached the treeline, his gorget was already chafing and his shoulders were starting to ache. As they slipped into the forest, the Veiidans fanned out and, much to his relief, slowed to a fast walk.

As they pushed on into the forest, Gusemy swore he could see shadows flitting between the trees. The commander made a low hooting noise before making a sharp hand gesture to his troops. He saw Gusemy’s raised eyebrows and nodded.

“It’s them,” he advised quietly. “Good woodcraft – we wouldn’t be seeing them unless they wanted us to.”

A cold trickle of sweat ran down Gusemy’s back and, despite himself, he swallowed hard.

“Yeah, I don’t like it either. Remember – if it goes south, hit the dirt.”

The sergeant jogged over and muttered something into her commander’s ear. A grim look crossed his face and he glanced at Gusemy before turning his attention back to their surroundings.

The forest began to thin out around them until they emerged on the edge of a large clearing, dotted with tree stumps. Further back, clapboard hut, linked by cobbled paths, had been built around the larger trees. Gusemy’s nostrils twitched at the mingled scents of woodsmoke and drying fish and he noticed a larger hut, constructed from rough-dressed stone and set well away from the others, a ragged tendril of smoke leaking from its chimney.

Here and there, pieces of more modern technology broke the rusticity. Gusemy spotted the occasional hut sporting an antenna or photovoltaic array on its roof and some of the huts were equipped with steel rain barrels. And, in the very centre of the clearing, he was unsurprised to see a larger hut built around a Kerm tree.

Around the edges of the clearing hut doors opened and groups of grey-clad figures filed silently into the clearing dressed in long cowled ponchos. In eerie unison they pushed back their cowls, revealing circlets of woven Kerm leaves around their foreheads and lines of livid raised weals across their cheeks. To Gusemy’s horror, the younger figures bore lines of swollen and still-weeping puncture marks.  The sudden hiss of indrawn breath from the commander told him that the Veiidan recognised them too but before he could say anything, one of the figures broke away from the group, hands flung out in surrender. Before she could take more than a second step she was cuffed to the ground, the impact cutting off her sudden cry.

“Kermbal minsathona!” One of the figures stepped forward and spat on his sprawling companion before lifting his head and staring contemptuously at the Veiidans. “I see the cowards and the unworthy have arrived at last.”


<< Chapter 109     Chapter 111>>

Edited by KSK
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Sorry, I'm new to the forums, and I've been reading this for a while and I just joined, I have a question: I remember in one of the chapters that you said something about joenie having to complete school, I think this was the berelegan. Can you give more information about kerbal schooling, because it's not really mentioned further. I'm just curious.

By the way, this is a great story.

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Thanks - and that is an excellent question about kerblet schooling!

I’m currently on holiday in the middle of nowhere, so my internet access isn’t great (am writing this standing by the cottage window in the one place that I can get a single bar of 3G signal :) ), so it may be a few days before I can post a proper answer. But a proper answer you will get!

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Okay then!

First of all, a big thanks to @soundnfury for all the likes - glad you're enjoying the story.

Next up - kerblet schooling, as promised to @Misguided_Kerbal

A brief recap first.

There are two basic castes (for want of a better word) of kerbals on my version of Kerbin. The kerman are typically urban with lifestyles and occupations that would be broadly familiar to a human observer, once you've accounted for the somewhat different social structures and priorities. The kermol are typically rural, responsible for most of the agriculture on Kerbin and - crucially - tend to the Kerm trees. The Kerm have a long and convoluted history with the kerbals but at a very basic level, they're required for kerbal reproduction.

Hence, if they want to raise a family, a pair of kerbals will need to 'go kermol' at some point in their lives. It therefore follows that all young kerbals (or kerblets) start off as kermol, although there are no social barriers that prevent them going kerman when they come of age, staying as kermol if they choose, or indeed switching back and forth as suits them over the course of their life. Geographically, each kerman town or city tends to be associated with a reasonably large number of neighbouring Kerm Groves and attendant kermol villages.

So - education and schooling. There are three stages - primary education, secondary education and tertiary education.

Primary education

The first few years  are mostly given over to homeschooling, with formal schooling being worked in gradually. By the time they're ready to start secondary school, a kerblet will be spending three days a week at school, with homeschooling on the other days. Homeschooling is a mix of basic 'reading, writing and arithmetic' level education combined with more practical lessons in agriculture or one or more trade skills. It's very common for kerblets to be swapped around between different kermol parents in order to match up kerblet interests with the adult who can best teach them.

Formal schooling is almost entirely devoted to soft skills at this stage. This starts off with 'learning to play nicely with others' and progresses to teambuilding exercises, puzzles (solo or team), and team games, along with lessons on citizenship and social responsibilities. Academically, a kerblet leaving primary education will be quite a way behind their human counterpart but they're typically better equipped to deal with the world around them and have a much better grounding in learning how to learn.

Secondary education

This is marked by a greater emphasis on formal learning and covers most of the subjects you'd expect to see in a human school curriculum. Secondary schools are almost invariably located in kerman towns (as opposed to primary schools - most Groves will have a primary school of their own or be neighbours with a larger Grove which has one), and the very wide catchment area of those schools would make the daily school run very time consuming and inefficient. As a result, most secondary schools are boarding schools with their pupils attending on a 'two weeks at school, one week at home' basis, at least to start with. The week at home is for acquiring and/or developing practical skills.

The final two years of secondary education are entirely spent at school. Those years are not compulsory but any kerblet hoping to go into tertiary education, especially at one of the highly prestigious Institutes such as the Berelgan Institute or the Kerbin Aeronautical Institute, will attend them. On a slightly different educational note, it's about now that adolescent kerblets start discovering those all-important differences between boys and girls, and most parents are very glad for them to make those discoveries when safely out of the way of any Kerm trees. It tends to save a lot of unplanned grandparenthood and promising kerman careers postponed by the need to 'go kermol' at rather short notice.

The end result is that a kerblet leaving secondary education will be well equipped and able to 'go kerman' or 'go kermol' as they choose.

Tertiary education

Very similar to human university or college education.

Edited by KSK
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Following on from the last post, Joenie's schooling has been highly atypical due to the events she's been caught up in over the course of the story. Right now she's a bit of a Kerm savant - as we've seen when she visited the Berelgan, she's probably at advanced undergraduate level when it comes to Kerm micro-ecology, but the rest of her schooling has suffered somewhat.

Partly this is due to her not being very welcome at her local primary and then secondary school, which means that she's fallen behind in several classes. I did wonder about putting this in the main story somewhere but it never seemed to fit. Essentially, the whole Sage of Barkton / breaking the Law of 37 / her as a kerblet being allowed to Commune with a Kerm,  hasn't gone down particularly well with the more conservative side of mainstream kerbal society. These are the ordinary people on the streets mind - they're certainly not Children of Kerbin levels of pro-Kerm, traditionalist crazy, but still, the events depicted in First Flight have overturned some very long social conventions and traditions and such things take time to be assimilated.

End result, Joenie was excluded from school as a bad influence somewhere along the line. She's a smart cookie though - she'll cope.


With very minor spoiler warnings and a big thanks to @JakeGrey, here's a peek at a much older Joenie, which takes place quite a bit after the events of First Flight.


Edited by KSK
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On 3/14/2020 at 12:45 PM, KSK said:

Okay then!

First of all, a big thanks to @soundnfury for all the likes - glad you're enjoying the story.

You're welcome!  Last time I read this, a couple of years ago, it was in "pretty good for a fanfic" territory, but the recent chapters absolutely bowled me over.  Not ashamed to admit I cried at Flower of Kolus.

I also love the conlanging; though one thing that's been bugging me about Old Kerba grammar is that the order of prefix-noun-suffix is strictly ambiguous.  To take an example from the end of the last chapter (though it's a word we've seen before), "minsathona" (we'll drop the pluralising 'a' from the end, to simplify matters): this could parse as either (min-sath)-on = independence from (the smallest deeds), i.e. "not depended on for the smallest deeds" or as min-(sath-on) = the smallest (independence from deeds), i.e. "of all those not depended on for deeds, the smallest".  Is this (a) resolved by context, (b) resolved by an as yet unstated rule of the grammar (e.g. prefixes always bind tighter than suffixes, or there is a precedence order of the various affixes), or (c) left ambiguous, allowing for all kinds of double meanings and erudite puns?  For instance, both meanings could simultaneously be in use in the CotK's remark: "that which is not a tool of the Kerm is not/cannot be depended on for the smallest deeds" and "of all the useless things in this world, kerbals are the puniest" both seem like things a Children leader spoiling for a fight might say :-)


Ooh, and have a bonus grammar speculation: there doesn't seem to be a 'bin-' affix yet, but 'binat' appeared in 'bolad-binat', "university", so could 'Kerbin' be a corruption of 'Kerm-binat'?  "That which the Kerm understands"?

Edited by soundnfury
bonus grammar
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Aww, now that is heartening!

I read back over my old chapters on a fairly regular basis for continuity's sake and it feels to me that I've improved over the years but it's wonderful to get a second opinion on that from where it matters most. Thank you and here's hoping I can keep bowling!

And yeah, I have to admit that I've enjoyed the conlanging. 

To answer your question, my original idea was that the word order could be decided by use of hyphens (minsath-on vs min-sathon) but I probably haven't been terribly rigorous with that concept and it kind of falls apart when you get into long compound words anyway. It's also not terribly useful for the spoken word but we can handwave that away by assuming a different inflection to mark where the hyphen would be.

So as a practical matter I'm going with a mix of a) and c). There's always been a reasonable amount of scope in Old Kerba for expressing the same thing in different ways, both of which are grammatically correct, which lends itself well to gradated shades of meaning and/or erudite puns. :)  As an example, and going right back to when I first started noodling around with this (just after Ten Key's comment about the etymology of ker-bal):

"...accomplisher of big deeds' (i.e. some kind of hero or respected person) is easily done. Either belda-sathmina (accomplisher of the not small deeds) or, if you wanted to be more emphatic belda-mansatha (accomplisher of the biggest deeds)"

And your own example is a particularly good one! Same word, parsed in two ways, both different but both contextually appropriate! As for bolad-binat, the literal translation would be 'place which we use to understand' or, as you say, 'university'. [bol - place where I accomplish an action, bolad - first person plural of bol, and binat - to understand or comprehend.]

So I don't think Kerm-binat quite works (Kerm to understand?) which is a real shame because having a good in-universe etymology for Kerbin would be awesome!

We can get to a 'bin' suffix using the first person singular of binat. For example:

Bin balsoathada - 'I understand the things we use to fly',  or 'I understand aircraft' (or spacecraft, although I don't think they were ever contemplated back when Old Kerba was in widespread use :) ) But that doesn't really work. Kerm-bin  would translate to 'Kerm I don't understand'. I suppose you could have the four-letter word version, Kerm! Bin! in which the speaker expresses frustration with their inability to grasp a concept but that doesn't really work either. :) 


I need to think on this some more and if you have any more ideas please do share! In the meantime, cheers for the grammar speculation - I'm always happy to digress into Old Kerba!

Edited by KSK
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And since that last post has gotten me in an Old Kerba frame of mind...

In spoilers because this is entirely gratuitous and not at all relevant to the story. I just wanted to see whether it would work.



"Bob - factr balsoathada. Wernher dja Bill? Binda ara."

"Dja Jeb?"

"Jeb? Jeb soathr balsoathada."


"Bob - he builds the rockets. Wernher and Bill? They understand them."

"And Jeb?"

"Jeb? Jeb flies the rockets."


Edited by KSK
To actually apply the spoiler tag *facepalm*
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