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THE SPACE SAUNTER - Racing to space in a time of peace


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    The driving force behind humanity's initial urge to explore the cosmos was a primitive reaction out of fear and a display of power.  It was humanity's exhibition of deimatic behavior, one nation merely showing off its power to inspire fear in a rival nation.  It was not out of a desire to explore the ethereal worlds across the void; it was instead a brutish, arrogant cry of "I am better than you."

    However, Kerbalkind is not a warlike species.  This is in a sense both a blessing and a curse.  In one sense the drive to explore space would be out of sheer curiosity and wonder at the lights in the sky.  However, without the ubiquitous fear of failure and war on the horizon, any program toward cosmic exploration would lack the support and interest of fellow Kerbals.  Instead of a reckless race to space, it would be more of a saunter.





Chapter 1: Humble Beginnings

    Such thoughts were percolating in the mind of Raymond Kerman as he gazed into the sky on a warm summer night.  Well, nights were always warm and, for that matter, always summer where Raymond was from.  He took a slow sip from the glass he was holding and closed his eyes, savoring the serenity.  Crack-THUD!  A wave of compressed air shot the contents of Raymond's glass all over his face, accompanied by the diminishing sound of a decelerating supersonic plane.  Lawrence was almost twenty minutes early.  An invisible black shape descended onto the bare strip of ground on a tiny island in the Effem Sea.

    "Thanks for letting me borrow Petunia," said Lawrence as he dismounted from the cockpit.  "She's real speedy.  Got everything delivered in plenty of time."

    "Yeh mhm," Raymond mentally sized up the storage bay.  "Lawrence, you ever think about what's up in the sky past all the clouds and birds?  You ever wonder what Kerbol is or whether the moon is really made of toothpaste?"

    "No, why?"

    "I think I'm gonna try and figure it out."

    The entirety of the next morning was scheduled to be free of flights, so the airstrip would be empty of planes and people.  It was a bright, sunny morning with high visibility and little chance of rain or winds.  In fact, zero chance of rain or winds, the same as every other day.  Raymond climbed into the cockpit of the Petunia, slowly chewing a breakfast bagel and considering what he was about to do to his old desktop computer, which was currently crammed into the storage compartment.  With a couple of modified fireworks strapped to the side of course.  As the plane ascended, the light of Kerbol and the orange glare of compressed plasma shone right into Raymond's never-blinking eyes.  He'd gotten used to it.


    Raymond aimed the Petunia high into the sky, sending it much higher than it was intended to fly.  He hoped the trip wouldn't damage the engine or any of the control surfaces.  Nah, if it had survived Lawrence's flying; it'd definitely survive this.  The clouds, like little foamy ripples spread all the way to the horizon, and the sea was as peaceful and blue as ever.


    The control felt weirdly fluid this high in the sky.  Everything was delayed, as if the plane was drunk or had just woken up, two things Raymond's green brain had never experienced.  Once the air got too thin for the engine to breath, Raymond cut the throttle and let the plane coast up to the peak of its flight.  At that point, he opened the storage bay and pushed a button, sending his makeshift probe hurtling into the sky.


    As the probe flew higher than any Kerbal had flown before, Raymond pulled out his phone he had paired to his computer webcam.  What he saw nearly blew his mind and would cause fierce anytime he brought up the subject in conversation. 

    What in the great green grandma of grass?

    Kerbin was clearly round.


    He'd for sure have to investigate this further.  However, one problem presented itself: Raymond didn't have another old computer he could launch into space to land somewhere in the Effem Sea.  The computer he currently owned was kind of important.  As he coasted back to the airfield, an idea struck him.  He could go to space himself.  With the proper equipment of course.


    When Raymond had landed, he immediately called up Lawrence.  "Hey Lawrence, you busy tomorrow?  I just don't feel like the Petunia is fast enough.  Wanna help with a project?"

    "Yeah, definitely!  I'll be over at 3:30."

    "Ok see you then!  By the way, Kerbin is round."


Edited by RoninFrog
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Chapter 2: Planes in Space

    Every day, it was customary for Raymond to have his early afternoon snack and relax at the top of his tower, monitoring the occasional plane landing or leaving and watching all the passengers make their flight transfers.  Today was different, however.  Raymond and Lawrence were in a dark corner in the back of Hangar B, welding and soldering away.  The Petunia was going to need some significant engine modification if it was going to go anywhere near the edge of the atmosphere.

    Lawrence's voice echoed inside his welding visor.  "Ok, Raymond.  The afterburner's been removed and your new compression chamber's been welded in pretty tight.  Should provide a lotta oomph once you get up to speed."

    "Yeah let's move the vectoring panels a little further back to keep that plume a little more compact and efficient.  Once that's done, we can slap 'er back on to the Petunia and give 'er a rip."


   As Lawrence finished the last few modifications, Raymond suited up with a pressurized pilot suit and parachute in case of emergency.  Why were they doing this?  What was the point risking a million kerbuck plane to escape the atmosphere, a seemingly meaningless task?  Well, of course, because nobody had done it before.  This, at its core, was the philosophy that drove kerbalkind.  Why did Valentina Kerman try so hard to set the land speed record of over 100 m/s in her rover?  Because no one else had done it.  Why did Bob Kerman spend so many hours in his lab in order to invent Xenon fuel?  Because nobody had invented it yet.  Why did Shepsen Kerman do the dishes, a simple, humble chore?  Because no one else had done them yet.  Why did Raymond Kerman fly his plane to space?  To go where no Kerman had gone before.

    Double checking that no flights were inbound for the next couple of hours, Raymond hopped in and taxied the Petunia out of the hangar.  With the new and improved engine, the Petunia was ready to take to the skies and beyond.  Raymond sat in the cockpit, double checking that the fuel flow and air ducts were all getting along with the new engine.  Once everything was working, it was time to take a visit to the great blue yonder.


    And kerman alive! that engine worked.  Pulling over 3 g's of acceleration, Raymond sank back into his chair and felt the force pull his cheeks back into a painful, forced smile.  Whipping off the edges of the wings, the shock cones shook the craft back and forth, vibrating Raymond's baseball eyes in their sockets.  

    Lawrence watched from the command tower as the Petunia rapidly disappeared up into the cloud line. "Yo, Ray, you good?  You left in an awful hurry."

    "Yeyeah...   I'mum...   jususust...   dandandy."  The staticky radio message blared.  Then, as the shock cones grew longer and redder, it cut out entirely as the plasma blocked all signals.


    At 25 kilometers up, the engine lost power as the oxygen-deprived plasma filled its intakes.  The Petunia streaked past the sky, leaving a trail of enraged air particles.  On the horizon, the edges of the Effem Sea slowly sloped downward and shrank into a curve.  And then finally, as the plasma faded away and the shaking gave way to a feeling of weightlessness, a few stars could be faintly seen winking down at Raymond through the stratosphere, as if to say, "Come, let us tell you our secrets."


    Raymond could feel himself begin to float in his seat as the Petunia fell upwards into the emptiness.  No longer resisted by the flow of the atmosphere, the plane drifted calmly through the void.  As Raymond's eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness, the arm of the local galaxy blazed a beam of glory across the new, dark sky.

    Raymond looked around in wonder.  "By golly moses, Lawrence.  You gotta see this."

    "I bet I do,"  Lawrence remarked as he looked up at the sky.  "You should probably come down soon, though, theres a 10 passenger flight due to arrive in an hour."


    For about a minute, all Raymond had to do, all Raymond could do, was float above the sky and gaze at the stars and shield his large, lidless eyes from the surprising bright whiteness of Kerbol.  And then, as the plane was pulled back into the upper reaches of the atmosphere, he felt gravity slowly begin to draw him back into his seat as trails off red started flicking off the front of the plane.  The dark blue of the sky constricted the door to the stars shut as the atmosphere thickened.


    As soon as the rushing air returned control to the craft, Raymond turned around and sped back to the airfield.  Raymond had only had a brief glimpse of the cosmos, but it had him hooked.  Why was Kerbol so bright?  How big was the Mun really?  Could he walk on it?  What flavor was the toothpaste?

    "How's the trip?" asked Lawrence as he helped Raymond out of the cockpit.

    "Well, the view was breathtaking.  The stars are so much more beautiful up there.  You'll have to go sometime to see for yourself; it's hard to describe what it's like."

    And so Raymond Kerman became the first Kerbal to venture into the vacuum of space and return.


    But there wasn't really anything more two kerbals with severely limited resources could explore other than brief suborbital hops in a customized jet.  Raymond owned a commercial airfield, and Lawrence was pretty good at repairing planes, but they didn't have anywhere near enough funds or manpower to run a full-blown space program.  But Raymond had an airfield to run, so he didn't have much time for exploration.  Other than a couple brief flights to the mainland, the Petunia sat in Hangar B and collected dust.  For several months, planes came and went, passengers disembarked and boarded, and Kerbol and Mun rose and fell high in the sky, untouched by kerbalkind.


Edited by RoninFrog
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Chapter 3: Commercialization

    Raymond ruminated.  That was his main pastime.  He wasn't a very active kerbal, which was normal among his species.  His rumination generally took place at night in a chair in a dim pool of light next to the landing strip.  This act of ruminating was often cut short by Lawrence visiting or calling him about some crazy idea he had come up with while, of course, also ruminating.  In this case, it was the latter.

    Lawrence's voice came through all tinny from the cheap phone speakers.  "Say, Raymond a thought just hit me."

    "Really?  Whatcha got?"

    "So you know the other day when you had that fancy to go up and see what was up there above the sky?"

    "Mhm, what about it?"  Double checking for incoming sonic booms, Raymond took a sip from his glass.

    "So I was doing some ruminating, and a thought hit me.  What you saw up there you thought was pretty dang cool.  I think other people would think so to.  In fact, I bet they'd pay to see it.  Kerbin being round?  That's the kind of thing that drives people crazy to investigate!"

    "Maybe, watcha getting at?"

    "I was ruminating that those people would probably pay a good bit of money to go up real high and see everything.  Maybe there's some money in the business.  I dunno.  Just a rumination I had."

    It could work.  If people took interest in space and what it contained, there were kerbucks to be gained by showing them.  However, in order to get them to space, Raymond and Lawrence would need a plane.  And to get a plane, they would need more than a few kerbucks.  However, they could get enough kerbucks to buy one by selling another plane, such as the Petunia.  So one bright, sunny morning, a kerbal came by with a lot of cash, and Raymond and Lawrence said their goodbyes to the trusty Petunia.  Good ol' girl.


    However, now significantly the richer, it was time to go shopping.  Raymond and Lawrence visited several prospective sellers, and with Lawrence's knowledge of plane workings they settled on a small Kerbodyne BN-047, a private 3-seater jet designed for few passengers but rapid transits.  Cheap, but fast.  The engine was the same as the Petunia's original, easily modifiable for high altitude speed.

    Raymond eyed the aircraft.  "Well, here she is.  What's the idea now?"

    "Well, first thing to do is swap out the engine.  We'll have to get that second compression chamber."  Lawrence went to fetch his tools.


    While Lawrence tinkered around with a welder, soldering iron, and a large, open-ended spanner for whacking uncooperative parts, Raymond considered how they would get kerbals to take interest in their space tours.  Of course!  Give free rides to a couple of influential people, and let social media and word of mouth do the rest!  Raymond knew a kerbal named Walter who was college roommates with the world-famous scientist, Robert Kerman.  Lawrence had once been the private pilot of a well known actress, Diane Kerman.  Raymond sent messages to his contacts, both Robert and Diane expressed interest, and the flight was scheduled for Day 332, just one week out.

    When the passengers arrived at the airfield, Raymond and Lawrence were pleased to see a reporter from KNN had also flown in to cover the flight.  The more advertisement, the more tourists!  Once Robert and Diane had boarded, Raymond climbed into the cockpit and the modified Kerbodyne BN-047 fired up it's new engine.


    A quiet ding preceded a tinny voice in the cabin.  "Welcome aboard, lady and gentleman, this is your pilot Raymond Kerman.  We are expecting blue skies and no wind, so your flight should be smooth and the view excellent.  I ask that you please fasten your seatbelts at this time as you will soon be experiencing significant lateral g-forces.  Thank you for choosing to fly with L n' R Aerospace."

    With that, Raymond slammed the throttle.


    Another quiet ding.  "Lady and gentleman, this is your pilot Raymond again.  We are currently cruising at an altitude of seventeen--no it's eighteen now--kilometers with a vertical speed of about eleven hundred meters per second.  The weather looks good; the outside temperature is two hundred and eighteen Kelvin.  If you look out your window to your left you should have a good view of compressed plasma.  Current g-forces are reading at just over four; we should arrive at space in about two minutes.  Until then, sit back, relax, and enjoy the rest of the flight."


    As the red-hot plasma cleared from the windshield, Raymond was once again stunned by the sight of space.  So majestic and yet so emotionless.  So peaceful and yet so perilous.  If Raymond were to open the door at that moment, it would most certainly kill him.  It would not be out of anger, or out of fear.  The cosmos does not feel such things.  His life mattered so little in the scheme of the infinite, immortal cosmos that it would be more of a passing irrelevancy: a brief, violent struggle where the laws of this unnatural world were perfectly enforced.  And then the planets would go on their way and the stars would continue to burn in utter indifference.

    In Kerbin's future, films and popular culture would grow to learn about space, advertising it as an exciting, adventure-filled escapade full of asteroids and planets and alien life.  However, this is simply inaccurate.  Instead, space is slow-moving, and it's cold-hearted, and it's sterile, and if anything "exciting" befell a brave explorer, it would be unthinkably swift, irreversibly deadly, and all would be over before the astronaut even knew it.  For the lives of kerbals are short and fragile and matter not in the eyes of the cosmos,

    Raymond kept the door shut.  "Lady and gentleman, we have arrived in space.  If you look out your window, you can see the closest thing to infinity the Kerbal mind can grasp.  If you look downwards, you can see Kerbin, and, if your eyes are good and you live near the Effem Sea, possibly your house.  *ding*  You are now free to remove your seatbelts and float around the cabin.  Landing will begin in two minutes and forty-one seconds."


    Two minutes and forty-one seconds later, the plane touched the edge of the atmosphere as the ubiquitous force of gravity dragged the kerbals home.  The plane, built for such high speeds, handled much better than the Mach 1.6 rated Petunia.  If the passengers had been human, they probably would have emptied their stomachs, but the kerbals, literally being built different, had a wonderful time in the 6-g shaking.


    Back on the ground, both Diane and Robert expressed how much they enjoyed the ride and how wonderful space is.  To Raymond's satisfaction, the KNN reporter's camera caught it all.

    Lawrence came over.  "How's the trip?  Diane and Robert enjoy it?"

    "Oh, you bet!  Zero gravity and zero atmosphere was an amazing experience."

    "How'd the Kerbodyne BN-047 hold up?  Anything break?"

    "Nope, she flew like a charm.  She'll certainly be good to take more kerbals up in.  Paying, next time.  In fact, if she's gonna do that, she needs a name."

    Lawrence ruminated.  "How about the Dawn Treader?"


    And so, as the world got news of the new tourist attraction, kerbals began to stop by the airfield for a ride.  At five hundred kerbucks a ticket, over the course of the next year the Dawn Treader paid for itself and then some.  L. N' R. Aerospace grew quickly, and soon the Effem Sea Airfield was no longer a commercial airfield, becoming a launching point for suborbital space tours.  And as Kerbin made its slow unstoppable way around its parent star, kerbalkind began taking their first peeps out of the atmosphere.


Edited by RoninFrog
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Chapter 4: Visitors

    Mortimer Kerman did not ruminate.  He was a Kerman of initiative.  Thoughts didn't hit him.  He hit them.  With vigor.  Born into a tiny household in remote Beldorra, he'd never met his dad and had no siblings.  He learned to work hard, spend little, and make his own way in the world.  He considered highschool a waste of time, dropping out to spend the majority of his teenage years as a worker on an oil rig in the Cretasian Impact Sea.  Now, twenty years later, he was thirty-five years old and the owner of the largest oil kerosene manufacturing company in Kerbin, and the fourth richest kerbal on the planet.

    When Mortimer heard of L. N' R. Aerospace, he was intrigued at the fascination they had garnered from the kerbal public.  He sat in his office in a high-backed, four-foot executive oak wood and leather chair, contemplating the graph of oil prices squiggling across his computer screen.  Suddenly, he struck an idea, grabbing it by the throat.  He dialed up his personal pilot Kathleen Kerman, telling her he was taking the day off and had the fancy to visit K. N' R. Aerospace.  He booked both tickets aboard K. N' R.'s affectionately named Drefinger, a modified Kerbodyne BN-047 supersonic jet, and then boarded his own personal Kerbodyne A-62.


    As his private jet barreled across the surface of Kerbin, he unpacked his computer and began researching K. N' R. Aerospace.  They were a privately owned company, owned by Lawrence and Raymond Kerman.  They owned two jets: the Dawn Treader and the Drefinger.  K. N' R. Aerospace had been around for only 510 days, before which it was a commercial airfield.  Interesting. 

    Touching down at K. N' R. Headquarters, of which it barely merited that description, Mortimer was greeted by Lawrence, "You ready to see space?"

    "More than ready."

    After boarding, Mortimer asked Lawrence, "What model is this plane?  I don't recognize the engine."

    "Well it's a Kerbodyne BN-047, but I gave the engine a little extra sauce, ya know.  You'll find the Drefinger pretty speedy."


   Lawrence settled into his seat and adjusted his headset.  "Lawrence to Raymond, you copy?"

    The headphones vibrated.  "Copy."

    "I'm starting pre-flight procedures for the Drefinger to eighty kilometers.  Brakes off, SAS on, tailflaps set to negative ten degrees.  Throttle to full and ignition."

    "Copy that, you are good for takeoff."

    The Drefinger blasted into the sky, flattening its riders into their seats.


    Mortimer glanced briefly out the window before leaning forward to ask Lawrence, "Say, how much does each flight cost you?"

    Lawrence thought for a second.  "Oh, a couple hundred kerbucks for fuel.  Probably more if something breaks and needs replaced.  It's more the cost of the plane is the kicker."

    From his window back at the airfield, Raymond watched as the Dreifinger disappeared into a cloud bank, and his mind made a phoomp sound effect as it suddenly exploded out of the top, glinting in the brightness of Kerbol and sending wisps of cloud and sonic streamers flying.  It slowly sank away into the deep blue before a tiny orange plume blossomed and left brief traces of fire in the air.  It was almost as fun watching from the ground as from the cockpit.

    Up in the cabin, Mortimer relaxed in his seat and almost enjoyed the ride.  His mind had by now learned to filter out the irrelevancies and see only the essential.  The world to his perspective had, over the years, faded into a monotony of numbers, dollar signs, and statistics.  And yet as the Drefinger prodded its way out of the atmosphere, Mortimer almost saw the world out of new eyes.  It took Mortimer a moment to realize what he saw.  At rest, his mind naturally ran its fingers over the seat fabric, contemplating price and material.  It measured the dimensions of the cabin, ran laps around the stadium shaped viewports, mentally peeled back the rubber lining on the carpet.  To Mortimer, the world presented itself in shades of black and white, almost lifeless and devoid of beauty.  To Mortimer, function was optimized and streamlined, and form and aesthetic were irrelevant and ignored.  But taking a look out the window, seeing the stars and feeling the gravity depart, Mortimer Kerman was struck by something so foreign and so unknown that it almost appeared, how could he describe it?  Beautiful.  For a few moments, his mind ceased its whirrings and calculatings, and the unused, forgotten part of his brain that appreciated the majesty of space released new chemicals into his mind.  He was, for the first time in a while, stunned.  This high, the stars no longer winked.  They blazed in minute whiteness from a million places at once.  The sliver of the moon appeared so real and present that it, for a moment, seemed less than untouchable.  This was a world so unique to Mortimer that his robotic, ingrained mind wasn't quite sure what to do but wonder.


    Then, as the flames of reentry closed the viewports, the amazement faded from Mortimer's mind.  The light of stars became another statistic and the vastness of space registered as a number.  The flames of reentry were not orange to Mortimer.  If he thought about it, of course they were orange.  But his mind saw 3400 Kelvin and 4.1 psi and 1300 m/s.


    "Whadja think of space?"  Came Lawrence's voice from the cockpit.

    "Oh, I found it very diverting.  I thoroughly enjoyed the experience."

    "Good to hear; glad you liked it."  Lawrence was a little confused at Mortimer's response.  It seemed a little off for some reason he couldn't quite place.

    Lawrence flipped the Drefinger around and it sped back to L. N' R. Aerospace Headquarters at Mach 4.5.  Touchdown was smooth, although probably not as smooth as the fancy, expensive plane in Hangar A could have done for Mortimer.  Kathleen Kerman helped Mortimer out of the Drefinger before they boarded Mortimer's A-62 and sped off to the northwest.


    Lawrence taxied the Drefinger into Hangar B, jammed the parking blocks under the tires, and hung up his pressure suit.  A twitching in his stomach caught his attention.  He opened the fridge and took out a banana and a couple of cookie sandwiches, mentally preparing for the trek up the control tower to log the flight.  Why were there so many stairs?  Why the kraken was the computer all the way up there instead of on ground level, where it was so much more convenient?  Why is my pocket vibrating so much?

    It was Raymond on the phone.  "Say, Lawrence, I got some big news."

    This was unexpected.  "Shoot," replied Lawrence expectantly.

    "I'm going on a date tomorrow night."


Edited by RoninFrog
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Chapter 5: Date Among the Stars

    It had started about a week ago.  A pulling, tight feeling in Raymond's gut.  The first symptoms started to act up when he went for three days on end without sleeping.  No, that was normal for kerbals; couldn't be it.  He'd started losing focus and making small mistakes in his flights, such as leaving the landing lights on after parking, forgetting to kill the engine when it ran out of oxygen, or even forgetting to set SAS to surface prograde as soon as the wings' Lift:Drag was too low.  Yeah, something might be wrong with him.  Oh, and a third symptom was that he'd also lost his appetite.  Now that was a symptom of something serious.

    As he gently pulled back on the throttle of the Dawn Treader, nosing it off the runway towards the clouds, Raymond thought back on what he had eaten in the past week that could be disagreeing with him.  A bunch of five bananas, four Branola Bars, a couple liters of kool-aid, two packages of chocolate cookie sandwiches; everything that had always agreed easily with his stomach in the past.  Too easily, even.  Raymond locked SAS to thirty-five degrees up from horizon as the shock cones outside yellowed.

    Perhaps one of the kerbals he had met up with recently had given him a bug.  He'd been on a business trip on Day 281 to purchase the Drefinger from a Kerbodyne supplier on the mainland.  Glancing at the dashboard, Raymond noticed his Apoapsis was only seventy-three kilometers.  Significantly lower than normal.  Hmm.  Maybe the old, balding warehouse manager who'd signed the license and title had had something.  But for a kerbal going on fifty-three, he was abnormally spry and healthy and certainly wasn't sick.  The dashboard now read an Apoapsis of only seventy-two kilometers.  Perhaps he'd gotten something from Rebecca Kerman, the Kerbodyne engineer who'd helped him modify the Drefinger's engine and seal the interior for a vacuum environment.  No, she was far too pretty to be sick.  Raymond's mind lingered for a couple moments.  Rebecca Kerman.  Apoapsis of seventy-one kilometers and falling.  The Dawn Treader soared across the Karman Line, landing gear fully extended, glinting in the pureness of Kerbol's light.


    Rebecca Kerman.  The name flashed again in Raymond's mind.  That elliptical, tennis-green face.  That short, pudgy, lively body.  Those white, bulging bug-eyes.  As the Dawn Treader rotated away from Kerbol and the cabin darkened, the stars that usually dazzled Raymond shone in their eternal place in the sky.  But on this flight, Raymond was dazzled by something else.  The violet band of the galaxy's arm saluted Raymond from an unfathomable distance away.  Raymond didn't wave back.  Rebecca Kerman.  She had been so interested in space and tourism and Raymond's work, had been so admirably dextrous in her use of a welding torch and open-ended spanner, and to top it off, she was also a thorough enjoyer of Sammy's Chocolate Sandwich Cookies and had the same taste in food as Raymond.  The Dawn Treader plunged back into the atmosphere, compressing it until it lost control of its electrons.  Raymond was sure she'd love Integral Kitchen and Cafeteria, his own favorite restaurant.


    A thought struck him.  Maybe she really would love Integral.  And if she was with him, he'd love Integral even more.  As the Dawn Treader regained its purchase on the air and the engine coughed up a fireball and flamed to life, Raymond sped back to the Airfield.  He had a phone call to make and a date to plan.  The whole way back, the landing gear shattered through the air, proudly and defiantly battling the wind.

    That evening at 4:00, Raymond touched down outside Kerbodyne Depot-A1 wearing the nicest suit he had.  Rebecca came out wearing a jaunty orange dress with a lovely red collar.  Gallantly throwing open the passenger door, Raymond dismounted and gently helped Rebecca inside.

    Raymond and Rebecca had a lovely evening at Integral Kitchen and Cafeteria.  At the diner, they didn't talk much, both fully engrossed in the food.  Raymond's appetite had returned in full force.  In the kerbal societal standards of beauty, largeness of eyes is found desirable in female kerbals, and largeness of appetite is found desirable in the males.  Rebecca found Raymond quite attractive that night at Integral.


    After dinner, Raymond took Rebecca on a private, nightly flight in the Dawn Treader.  This time, his mind was focused, his takeoff smooth as Eeloo, and his passenger as lovely as the starry sky.  Rebecca, being a mere plane mechanic, had never explored the upper atmosphere.  To her, the ride was a magical voyage into a dark and unknown world.

    Outside, Raymond noticed the shock cones changing colors.  "Ooh, Rebecca, if you look outside you can see the plasma starting to form.  Get's me every time."

    "We're probably going what, 1200 meters per second?"  Rebecca asked.

    Raymond glanced at the NavBall.  "1300 and rising.  Yeah, the Dawn Treader really moves."


    "How high does that mean we're gonna go?"

    "Oh, probably around seventy-five, eighty kilometers.  Passengers usually see space for about a minute forty-fiveish.  Then we're gonna hit the atmosphere again."

    Rebecca paused for a second.  "Raymond, wouldn't it be cool if people could stay in space for as long as they wanted?  Like, I know what-goes-up-comes-back-down, but couldn't there be a way to get around that?"

    "Maybe.  You'd have to be going awfully fast.  I dunno if it's possible, never tried it."  Raymond thought for a moment.  "You know about Kerbodyne's fancy new airless engines right?"

    "Yeah, what about them?  They're not super efficient yet."

    "Well, if we could use our engines without air, maybe we could go even faster.  It'd be a big project though.  Lawrence is pretty busy flying the Drefinger.  Would you be interested in helping?"

    "Of course I would!"

    And then, as the kerbals slowly lifted from their seats and the flames cleared from the windows, space peeked in once again for Raymond, and the first time for Rebecca.  The horizon glowed faintly blue-orange in the receding twilight and city lights scattered across the dark, sleeping face of Kerbin.  Although Raymond had become accustomed to it, space astonished Rebecca. 


    Each star donated a tiny fraction of its photons to illuminate a seemingly minuscule plane named the Dawn Treader billions of kilometers away.  The local galaxy spun strands of light towards the Dawn Treader from a literal million places at once, filling the cabin with the softest light imaginable.  If you've ever been out on a walk at night in the still calm of the evening and wondered at the hundreds of stars in the perfect sky; if you've ever just driven out of town at night for no reason at all other than to feel the peace of the dark landscape and behold the almost loving light of the stars and completely forget the troubles of the day; then you have felt a fraction of what Raymond and Rebecca felt in space, in the infinite stillness of zero gravity, in the ever-faithful light of the infinitude of stars, so far from their home city, now so tiny that they could simply hide it behind their little finger.

    And there, eighty-five kilometers above the Effem Sea, on Year 5310, Day 281, for the first time in Kerbin's history, was the very first kiss in zero gravity.  Totally alone, save for the silent applause of thousands of tiny stars.


Edit: Also what the heck? Thread of the month?  Thanks, whoever is in charge of that!

Edited by RoninFrog
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Chapter 6: Stable Orbit Achieved

    The difference in thought processes between a child and an adult can be summed up neatly: an adult can take nearly anything for granted.  A child can be amused for hours by shaking a toy or running in circles.  Their brain hasn't become fully accustomed to the world yet: it can always find newfound joy in repeating some amusing action.  Children will go on the same amusement ride over and over and read the same bedtime story repeatedly.  For an adult, this can become taxing and irritating.  The ride goes around three times, through a loop, around again, and it's done.  The adult's mind, fully developed, has learned to take things for granted.  It has lost its innate curiosity at common, everyday trifles and instead focuses on larger ideas.

    This can be helpful in the advancement of engneering and science and economics.  Learning to take things for granted, an adult can assume things about the world and only has to fill in the cracks between assumptions with conscious thought.  This saves both time and energy.  However, one can easily find their mind skimming over beautiful details in life without even a passing glance.  The way the green leaves on that one tree billow in the wind, rippling sunshine into the rugged, brown wood and exhaling the life-giving oxygen.  Or the way the clouds dance across the sky, tickling the sun into individual beams and bearing water from some distant ocean to bring life to more marvelous trees in a distant part of the land.  The first snowfall of winter is always the most beautiful.

    Such is the way of a Space Program.  The stars, so stunningly glorious on one's first flight into space, begin to lose their lustre.  The Mun and the planets, once so calmly distant and yet immensely filled with possibility, begin to seem like monotonous pitstops on an experienced traveler's weary journey towards some mundane task.  Sometimes, people resort to game mods to renew that feeling of delight and awe, revamping the way the game looks and adding more worlds to be conquered.  Other people take on unnecessarily difficult challenges to put to full use all of the assumptions about the world that they have collected over their hours of playing, and even this only amuses them for a time.  To put it simply, it is natural for people to lose interest.

    As kerbalkind begins to grow and mature in their knowledge of space, they also begin taking things for granted and finding things that had previously held their utmost attention to be, dare they think it, boring.  As Lawrence and Raymond Kerman flew the Drefinger and Dawn Treader to and fro, they somehow kept their childlike awe and reverence for space deep within their hearts.  The stars became like old friends to them, faithfully there to welcome them to space with their warm ardor.  However, for the passengers, the stars became almost normal to them.  They were expected.  They were taken for granted.


    One night about two months after Raymond and Rebecca had begun dating, Lawrence was sitting at his computer, mulling over L. N' R. Aerospace's finances.  Over the last week, there were five holes in the schedule where flights were launched with only one paying passenger.  At first, kerbals packed out the flights for at least a week in advance.  Recently, there had been a couple weeks with maybe one or two runs with an empty seat.  L. N' R. Aerospace, for the first time since its founding, was failing to fill its flights.

    Lawrence did what he always did when he thought of something.  He called up Raymond.

    "Hey, Ray.  Hope it's a good time to talk."

    "For sure, Lawrence!  I'm not busy at the moment, just sitting out on the landing strip enjoying my kool-aid and the view of the sky."


    "Ok, so I was looking at the numbers, and I noticed that we've had a few seats unfilled last week.  And unfilled seats aren't very efficient at paying for gas and taxes."

    "True.  Next week'll be better though."

    Lawrence paused and looked back at his computer screen.  "Mm.  I don't think so.  That's what we said last week when we had three seats empty.  No, Ray, I think people aren't as interested in going up in the planes anymore.  They don't think space is worth five grand."

    Raymond took a moment to process what Lawrence was getting at.  "You think we should lower the price of a ticket?"

    "Maybe.  Not a bad idea.  We'd still make a living.  But I think that the general public wants something new and exciting.  Some new thrill that they think is worth five grand."

    A distant memory struck a tiny bell in Raymond's mind.  "Say, Lawrence.  Becca had this idea a while ago.  She was wondering how long either the Treader or Dreffy could stay up in space for.  I know it all depends on speed.  It's a long shot, but there may be something in it.  If we could go even faster, people would probably think it was more fun.  Me and Becca were gonna work on a project with it but work kinda got in the way for both of us."

    Lawrence had an idea.  "Does she know much about Kerbodyne's newfangled airless engines?"

    "Yeah, why?"

    "I've got an idea.  Get Rebecca and meet me at Hangar B tomorrow."

    The next day as soon as the flights finished and Rebecca got off work, the three of them lugged several chunks of metal in from the scrapheap next to the runway and began soldering and welding and whacking things with spanners.


    With the combined brainpower and skill of all three of them, they cobbled together what they considered a drone but was in reality more of a guided missile.  After about an hour of dropped hammers and dented battery casings and near-explosions, the Hitchhiker was complete.  The crew dragged it out of Hangar B and prepped it for flight.  And finally, out on the landing strip in the blazing afternoon light of Kerbol, the Drefinger had a strange, new passenger, eager to take to the skies.


    Raymond and Rebecca boarded the Drefinger with Lawrence staying behind to man Mission Control.

    A harsh noise blared out of both Raymond and Rebecca's headsets.  "Lawrence to Drefinger, copy?"

   "Raymond in, copy."

    "Rebecca in, copy."

    "Lawrence to Drefinger, you are clear for takeoff."

    The Drefinger's specialized engine, now nicknamed Whiplash by the tourists, flared to life and propelled the Drefinger down the runway and up into the sky.

    "Lawrence to Drefinger, fuel levels at 83%, vertical speed at 361 meters per second.  Situation nominal."

    "Raymond to Lawrence, setting SAS to thirty-five and engaging autopilot."


    The radio cut out as the plasma blocked all signals.

    As soon as the plasma died away, Lawrence's staticky voice came in again.  "Lawrence to Drefinger, copy?"

    "Raymond in, copy."

    "Rebecca in, copy.  Payload primed and ready for ejection.  Apoapsis at peak."  Rebecca pushed a button, and something clunked on the roof.  "Rebecca to Lawrence, Separation of payload confirmed."


    The Hitchhiker drifted lazily away before Rebecca punched the throttle on the remote control, firing up the airless engine and sending the Hitchhiker further into space.  As the Drefinger fell back towards Kerbin, the tiny little motor on the Hitchhiker valiantly fought back against gravity.  Eventually, the little drone began to slowly outmatch the pull of the planet and the onboard computer calculated an ever-widening trajectory.


    As soon as the probe was traveling at the calculated speed, Rebecca killed the throttle just as the the atmosphere began licking its red tongue up the windows.  The sturdy little Hitchiker drone sped on its way overhead, evading Kerbin's atmosphere at every turn.

    One last sentence broke through the plasma chatter as reentry stole the Drefinger's radio signal.  "Rebecca to Lawrence.  Stable orbit achieved."

    Later that night, Raymond once again sat out on the runway in his usual spot, staring up at the night sky.  Even if kerbalkind didn't care for the stars, he always would, deep down in his heart.  Stars were the most faithful of friends.  No matter what happened on Kerbin, no matter if kerbals didn't want to go on Treader and Dreffy anymore, no matter if Kerbol itself went out, they would still be there, glittering and winking in encouragement and hope.

    As the stars slowly fell into the west, a small, young star dawned and made its silent way across the sky.  Raymond followed the spark of light with his eyes as it rose in the northwest. Of all the stars in the sky, that star promised a new future for L. N' R. Aerospace, a gateway into an unexplored world.  The Hitchhiker winked across the sky, revolving slowly in the setting light of Kerbol, a quiet herald of the age to come.  Raymond raised his hand and waved.


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Chapter 7: Kerbnet, Inc.

    Hemingway Tower was a megalith of a building, a towering heap of concrete and steel, square geometry and large-scale architecture.  The building loomed above the surrounding countryside, a brazen affront to the forces of nature.  There was absolutely no reason for it to be built as a skyscraper.  It was in the middle of the Frescany wilderness: the area wasn't populated in the slightest, so property taxes and real estate availability was a non-issue.  Hemingway Tower was simply built big to look big.  It was, after all, the headquarters of KerbnetInc., a megacorporation composed of various communication companies from all over Kerbin.  If a signal wanted to pass from Mercadia1 to Concord Republic, it would be received first at Hemingway Tower from the cables labeled "Mercadia Input".  Kerbnet technicians would then route the signal to "C. Republic Output".


    The entire population of 350 in the small town Hemingway, Frescany worked at Hemingway Tower, save for one old kerbal named Bernard Kerman who ran Hemingway's grocery store and gas station.  The traffic along the six-kilometer single-lane highway from Hemingway to the Tower was absolutely unbearable at sunrise and half an hour before sunset, as you can probably imagine.  This was an affliction felt by all the Hemingway locals, except for two: Bernard Kerman and Nancy Kerman.  Nancy Kerman did work at Kerbnet, but she didn't have to drive to the Tower and back every day.  She flew.

    Nancy Kerman was a middle-aged kerbal who always wore a white maxotech suit with violet highlights.  A kerbal of flawless judgement and the C.E.O. of KerbnetInc., she could be described as being in a constant state of "confidently correct".  She didn't run her business; she sprinted it.  Stock brokers found Kerbnet highly desirable, and Kerbnet's stockholders were always quite satisfied with their returns.  Being the executive officer of the largest communications company meant Nancy was in charge of a great deal of money and was also constantly looking for ways to pour the money back into Kerbnet.  Also, as the CEO of Kerbin's communications hub, she very quickly heard about the drone put into orbit by a tourism company based out of the Effem Sea.


   As it happened, she had overheard one of the technicians talking about the Hitchhiker drone and how a new LLC named LNR Aerospace had put a computer with data reception and transmission into stable orbit.  Nancy's brain fizzled.  This could be revolutionary.  While telegraph lines were useful and could transmit data quickly, they were expensive to install, and repairing them meant either digging them up or climbing up twenty-meter poles.  She began composing an email to a kerbal named Raymond Kerman, suggesting a business opportunity for the both of them.  If data could be sent wirelessly, above the mountains, above the atmosphere itself, on drone relays that were eternally suspended in the sky...  Well that would be cutting edge technology.

"Greetings, Raymond.

"As the main owner of the hub of Kerbin's communication, I've naturally heard about the drone you orbited a few days ago.  I first want to congratulate you on your scientific successes and wish your company's tours the best of views.  The reason I've sent you this email is to suggest a potential cooperative effort on the part of both KerbNet and LNR Aerospace.  Kerbnet would like to offer you an opportunity to orbit several drones customized to Kerbnet, Inc.'s needs.  Kerbnet would fully fund the cost of the delivery and the cost of the drone, as well as a cash payment of one hundred and fifty thousand kerbucks.  Please let me know if you are interested in such an arrangement.

"Best regards,

"Nancy Kerman, CEO, KerbNet, Inc."

    That very same day, Rebecca and Lawrence began outfitting a new drone with a fancy antenna delivered to them by the engineers at the KerbNet Effem Sea Hub (KESH).  


    As KerbNet was paying for the cost of the probe, Lawrence went with a smaller, more high-tech computer which, in turn, allowed Rebecca to build a smaller engine base with less fuel.  Such a light setup would allow LNR to launch drones from their tourist planes, netting profit from both the passenger tickets and the orbital drone.

    When the passengers boarded the Dawn Treader as it stood ready with a KerbNet drone on the roof, they were told that the weather was clear and launch conditions excellent.  What they weren't told was that there was essentially a guided missile strapped to the hull of the plane.


    As the Dawn Treader buoyed up off the end of the runway, Raymond realized that LNR Aerospace had "done it".  From a passing dream to a physical reality, LNR Aerospace had now officially been recognized by one of Kerbin's largest corporations as a profitable, legitimate business.  A business that had a unique market.  KerbNet, the immense KerbNet Inc., had stooped to request the assistance of their tiny company.  They'd been paid a large amount of kerbucks for a service that LNR Aerospace, and only LNR Aerospace, could provide.  They had a place in the world.  In his pilot seat, Raymond swelled with pride in himself, pride in Lawrence, and pride in Rebecca.  Kerbol glinted off the sea and into the cockpit, lighting up Raymond's wide smile from below as he pulled the throttle back sharply and the Dawn Treader dove upwards into the sky.


    At seventy kilometers up, the unabated light of Kerbol blazed down on a tiny drone as it detatched from its mother ship.  The engine sparked to life as it continued on its way, slowly growing smaller and smaller in the sky until both it and the Dawn Treader sank back towards the horizon.  A hundred kilometers high and traveling over two kilometers every second, the probe extended its antennas and made its way around Kerbin, raring to receive and transmit data.


    Far away from the Effem Sea and LNR Aerospace, Nancy Kerman sat in her office.  Kerbol was setting as she was finishing up the last of the day's paperwork.  Of course, that was somewhat relative as the day's paperwork never ended.  She was so engrossed in her work as twilight fell that she didn't notice how dark the office was until her computer turned on, unexpectedly bright in the dim light.  On it was a single message from LNR Aerospace.

    "Stable orbit achieved.  KerbNet Relay Drone 1 ready to receive and transmit data."

    The new Kerbnet drone rose above the western horizon outside Nancy's window, reflecting a tiny portion of Kerbol's light back towards Hemingway Tower.  Outside, a massive radar dish slowly spun until it focused on the tiny point of light in the sky. The dish extended its transmission antenna and adjusted its rotation speed as the drone floated higher and higher.  Some electronic mechanisms whirred to life as it translated a message into an invisible electromagnetic frequency.  "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT."  It silently spoke into the darkening sky.



1Any name for any country in the Space Saunter is completely made up and has nothing to do with anything outside of Kerbal Space Program.  In this case, "Mercadia" is not based on whatever this is, but is merely a combination of the words "Arcadia" and "Merry Christmas."  It just bothers me when the names I make up might be some accidental reference.

Edited by RoninFrog
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Chapter 8: Bad Tidings

    "Kerbalkind is driven by two forces: money and snacks."  -Nancy J. Kerman, KerbNet CEO

    It is a universal truth that whenever someone discovers something new and interesting, it's never long before business upon business begins taking advantage of it.  This is why we have trademarks, patents, and taxes.  When Belgram Kerman invented the telegraph, his patent was the thing that gave him a corner on that market, or else other money-hungry businesses would surely have begun creating telegraphs.  When Mortimer Kerman discovered oil fracking, he patented it and then watched as his oil refining business far surpassed the others.  However, some things just can't be patented.  Space is that same way.  It can't be owned, can't be bordered, can't be legally protected.  It is, after all, literal nothing, a nothingness so vast and available that nobody can possess it.


    Raymond burst into Hangar B one morning with his face an unnaturally light green.  "Lawrence!  Come quick!  And kraken save us!"

    Something in Raymond's tone caused Lawrence to throw down his torch and visor away mid-weld.  "You all right, Ray?  What's wrong?"

    "Look here.  Lord help us, isn't it awful?"

    There, in Raymond's gloved hand, was a brochure.  Mortimer Aerospace Tours - Join us in our quest for the cosmos!  Underneath the caption was a beautiful, four seater plane, calmly gliding across a starry sky, the cabin windows filled with smiling faces.  And it wasn't a thrown-together pile-of-parts-plane like the Dawn Treader and Drefinger.  Mortimer's plane was custom-made by a crew of private engineers.  This was a plane's plane.  Side-by-side seating, a roomy cabin, a streamlined hull, flattened and tapering into not one, but two massive engines.  The wings swooped back from each side of the plane, as graceful as a falcon's dive.  This plane was made for space.  And, worst of all, it advertised seats at three-thousand kerbucks per ticket.


    Lawrence's face also drained of color.  His voice quivered slightly as he spoke.  "Well, Ray, looks like we're gonna have some tight eating ahead of us.  We'll manage, though."

    "I'm gonna check the schedule and see the damage.  At least we have the KerbNet contract to pull us through.  From now on, we're gonna have to be kinda careful who knows what if we don't want folks like Mortimer to get their grimy hands on our ideas."

    The future was bleak.  Yes, the novelty of space tours had worn off and people were losing interest.  For the last few weeks, there had been empty seats here and there, until the recent price cut to 400 kerbucks brought them back.  But nothing like this.  Raymond reluctantly logged onto his computer and opened the weeks flight plans.  When Raymond refreshed the spreadsheet, it showed that of all twenty flights scheduled for the week, only five seats were taken.  Raymond's jaw went slack and he slumped over his desk in defeat.

     Rebecca had heard what had happened.  "Don't worry, Ray.  Everything's gonna work out.  The company's not going under just yet."  She patted him on his hunched back.

    Raymond moaned.  "Mortimer's got cheaper flights, bigger planes, and more money.  We can't compete.  I dunno how you think we'll get through this."

    "Well, we've still got the money from KerbNet, and we can always cut prices again.  We can afford 250 a seat, although it won't be much.  And besides, I've got an idea I've been wanting to show you."

    The Drefinger sat parked in Hangar A, lights off and seats empty where they should be full.  But something was different.  The Drefinger now sported four larger versions of the Hitchhiker's booster.


    Rebecca explained.  "See, I was figuring that if we just didn't jettison the drone, it would push us further into space.  So I've added some more bigger Hitchhiker boosters to Dreffy to experiment and see if maybe even the plane itself could get to orbit.  Our tours could be an hour long whereas Mortimer's would only last for a couple minutes.  We'd have to have higher prices and Mortimer would still be king of suborbital, but it would still give us an edge over Mortimer Aerospace."

    Raymond and Rebecca boarded the Drefinger Mk2 and blasted the throttle, sending LNR Aerospace and its tiny island floating off into the blueness of the Effem Sea.


    At around twenty-five kilometers up, the whiplash engine began to struggle, so Rebecca's four tiny airless engines entered the fight.  The Drefinger steadily plowed its way through the incoming plasma as its Apoapsis lengthened.  Space once again beckoned as the curtain of the atmosphere dropped out of view.  The whole way up, Raymond fumed.  Mortimer Kerman simply had no right sending his planes up here!  To Raymond, space was a secret he shared with his closest friends, and although he made a living from it, space wasn't just another gem in the business world to be exploited for its wealth.  Space was a beautiful golden treasure, something to be admired and studied from a distance, not to dig your dirty hands into.


    But as the angry plasma cleared from the windows, the anger cleared from Raymond's mind.  Mortimer could have sub-orbit.  Raymond didn't mind, after all he didn't own space and he certainly didn't own Mortimer's planes.  He watched the slow, reverse starfall brighten on the eastern horizon as the Drefinger drifted over the face of Kerbin.  Up here, Mortimer didn't matter to him.  Mortimer Kerman was only an invisible speck of green somewhere in the blue face of Kerbin, an astronomical distance below him and Rebecca.

    As the galaxy slowly raised its arm in the eastern sky, Rebecca pointed at the navigation instruments.  "Raymond, look.  We made it.  Orbit."

    Raymond glanced at the NavBall before looking back out the window.  "You know, Becca, even if Mortimer steals all of our tourists, even if LNR Aerospace can't stay up, it doesn't matter.  What matters is that we're here and the world is beautiful, and you're beautiful, and right here, right now, the most important thing is to stop and appreciate everything for what it is.  It's so easy to become entangled in money and work that we lose focus on good things right in front of us."

    Raymond pointed down at Kerbin.  "Somewhere down there, a band is playing, and people are laughing.  Somewhere down there, someone is crying.  Somebody's driving home from work, ready to be with their family again.  Every star in the heavens above, every cloud in the sky below is so intricate and beautiful, and in a handful of minutes the clouds will be gone, in a handful of years we'll be gone, and in a handful of millenia even the stars will be gone.  And then nothing will have mattered.  So I'm going to appreciate everything for what it's worth while I still can."


    As Kerbol sank lower behind them, the blue of Kerbin gave way to a reddening darkness.  A void opened beneath the Drefinger as Kerbol winked out behind Raymond and Rebecca.  The Drefinger sailed on, almost invisible in the dim starlight.  Just below, the atmosphere rushed past silently at an astounding speed.  The world was nothing but darkness and starlight and silence for fifteen minutes, when yet again Kerbol dawned and fell into the sky like an upside-down pebble in water.  One short retro burn brought the atmosphere clawing at the underside of the Drefinger as it meteored back towards LNR Headquarters, plowing a path through the conflagration with open arms.

    Although Raymond had just seen all of Kerbin, he knew he would be back again soon.  And Mortimer would soon learn what three bright kerbal minds are capable of.



Edited by RoninFrog
lol kerbucks had red squiggle
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Placeholder post; for some reason the chapter submitted in the middle of writing.

I'll edit this post later with an actual chapter.

Edit: almost through finals, will have a new one up by friday night/saturday

Edited by RoninFrog
Apparently pressing "tab" repeatedly will submit a post.
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