Beyond The Next Frontier [Kerbal Space Program/SPOILER]

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Beyond The Next Frontier [Kerbal Space Program/SPOILER]

Post by Zaune » 2015-02-12 09:44am

Continuation of this fic. It is very, very important that you read that one first or else it'll be like watching the Sixth Sense with foreknowledge of the big twist. Don't say I didn't warn you!

* * *

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* * *

TAB"Ah, Malcolm Reynolds! Just the man I was looking for!"
TAB"Well, that's not at all ominous."
TABBadger affected a hurt look. "Oh, come now, Captain. Haven't we worked together often enough to establish a certain measure of trust?"
TABMal raised his eyes heavenwards, but conceded reluctantly that the man sort of had a point. Badger didn't possess much in the way of moral scruples, but he was very attached to his money, his reputation and above all his life. Fixers who snitched on contractors were apt to very quickly lose hold of all three. "So what's the job?"
TAB"Mixed cargo. Big load of terraforming equipment, secondhand computers and college textbooks, among other things."
TAB"Other things being?"
TAB"Well..." Badger demurred.
TAB"C'mon now, Badger. Haven't we worked together often enough to establish a certain measure of trust?" Mal echoed mockingly.
TAB"Hah! Touche, Mal. Truth is I don't know myself; most of it came to me in sealed containers, and the client indicated they'd be a bit peeved if it didn't arrive in the same state. For the fees they were offering I wasn't inclined to argue the toss."
TAB"Speaking of fees..."
TABBadger named a figure that convinced Mal not to argue the toss either. "Half in advance, half on arrival," he added.
TAB"Alright. Where's it headed?"
TAB"Jessenstein Base. Where else?"

* * *

TAB"Mr President, this is Colonel Kurt Kerjel from Air Force Information Warfare Command. He's our military liaison to the KSA's research and development wing and resident human expert."
TABThe President's smile was a little pained. Two years earlier this kid would have been considered a little young to be sporting a Captain's single gold bar on his epaulettes, much less four. The joys of large-scale mobilisation from a virtual standing start. "Colonel."
TAB"Good afternoon, Mr President, Mr Secretary. May I offer you some refreshments, or shall we get straight down to business?"
TABThe President laughed bitterly. "Putting off hearing bad news never helps, Colonel. Let's get to it."
TAB"Very well, sir." Kurt sighed. "Based on the tests that we've been running on hull materials salvaged from the wreck of the IAV Lafayette, the only weapon we have that can reliably mission-kill an Alliance warship is a nuclear warhead."
TAB"Well, shit," the President replied.
TAB"That's about what I said when I got the results, sir."
TAB"Correct me if I'm wrong, Colonel," the Secretary of Defence added, "but didn't Starfarer 1 blow the Lafayette clean in two with one railgun shell?"
TAB"Yes, Mr Secretary, we did," Kurt replied, with the air of a man who's getting very tired of answering this particular question. "After several missiles launched from the Fredricksson had already hit her, on top of extensive and poorly-repaired battle damage suffered when she was captured by the Reavers. If Bill had been firing on a Longbow-class warship in proper repair, a standard railgun shell wouldn't have done much more than mess up the paint. Hyper-velocity kinetic rounds would be more effective, but thanks to armour technology involving shear thickening, non-Newtonian fluids -the technical details of which are far beyond my understanding- it'd take at least two or three hits in the same spot to breach the internal compartments. We also believe the Alliance uses delayed-action warheads in their missiles, but how they get a useful explosive payload to survive a hypervelocity impact is a total mystery.
TAB"That by itself would not be an insurmountable problem, except that Alliance directed-energy weapons technology is decades ahead of ours. From the admittedly limited data we have on their pojnt-defence systems, we'll be doing well if we can ram through one missile in forty."
TAB"So we need nukes, and lots of them." The President winced. "Lemrick, what's our current worldwide production capacity for weapons-grade fissile material?"
TAB"A couple of hundred kilograms a year, sir. We could probably ramp it up to half a ton if we only needed small warheads, but that would mean taking a hit on reactor-grade fissile materials production."
TAB"Fortunately, we do. For what the backroom boys have in mind we'd only need between ten and fifteen kilotons, though that's offset some by the need for a specialist warhead design."
TAB"That'd give us about five to seven hundred warheads annually, Mr President. At least as long as we could keep the necessary uranium ore coming in."
TAB"And tungsten," Kurt added. "Lots and lots of tungsten. Are either of you gentlemen familiar with the theoretical concept of nuclear-pulse propulsion?"
TAB"Propelling a spaceship with the blast-wave of a nuclear detonation, yes," Lemrick replied. "Something we looked into during the Kerm Grove Crisis but gave up on because there was no way to build a pusher-plate in orbit."
TAB"And launching a spacecraft by letting off nukes in our own biosphere as a response to a shortage of good land to plant Kerm seeds was considered a little counter-productive," Kurt agreed. "But before the KSA abandoned the concept as unworkable, they did figure out a method of focusing a higher percentage of the energy from the warhead in a specific direction. A cone-shaped firing chamber is used to focus the release of thermal, gamma and other radiation into a large mass of tungsten pellets, which then basically act like the ball-bearings in a Claymore mine*: That's a gross over-simplification of the physics, but you get the idea. It's only maybe twenty-five to thirty percent efficient, and we estimate it'll have to detonate within a hundred metres of the target to be effective against Alliance armour, but we'd only have to get lucky once."
TAB"Well, that's something," the President allowed. "But it raises questions of escalation. If we deploy nuclear weapons in combat against Alliance warships, are they going to take that as a license to start deploying other weapons of mass destruction?"
TAB"I really can't say for sure, Mr President. I don't think it's likely, but I can't rule it out. A lot would depend on who was calling the shots in Parliament; it's only a few tub-thumping hotheads who are actively looking for an excuse to go hogwild with the orbital bombardment, but there's a lot of confused and nervous voters out there. And Blue Sun... Well, at this point we may have to consider them an independent power bloc within the Zyrix system. And a hostile one."
TAB"To us, or to the Alliance?"
TAB"Yes."
TABThe President pinched the bridge of his nose and considered the pros and cons of taking up alcoholism as a hobby. "Colonel... Do you have any unambiguously, caveat-free good news for me, or should I just pack up my belongings and my mistress and go Kermol in the remotest rural district I can find now?"
TAB"As a matter of fact, Mr President, I do," Kurt replied, wondering idly if the President was joking about the mistress before deciding he'd rather not know. "Mr Lemrick's colleagues in the Foreign Ministry have managed to lay hold of pretty much every piece of publicly available information on how the Alliance Navy's hull armour is manufactured. Some of the materials-science involved is way ahead of ours, but we're confident that we'll have at least the theoretical knowledge to manufacture comparable armour ourselves in a couple of years. Less if our academic head-hunting endeavours bear fruit. Mass production is liable to take much longer unless we can obtain the necessary industrial plant from Alliance sources, but it's a start."
TAB"Indeed it is."
TAB"Colonel," Lemrick added, "you said we only had one weapon that could kill an Alliance warship. Aren't you forgetting the 'wake', as I believe it's been nicknamed, of the Alkerbierre Drive? You know, the high-energy particle wave that the civilians accidentally blew up Eeloo with?"
TAB"I believe my exact words were 'reliably kill an Alliance warship', Mr Secretary. The Drive's wake isn't particularly useful against anything in a less predictable orbit than a planet; the spherical error probability of the exit point is huge, aiming would be dependent on a spotter vessel with a QE comms module being in visual range of the target, and in any case the blast radius is so large that we'd be very unlikely to get a clear shot outside of interstellar space. And that's before we get into the aforementioned escalation issue, because while the Alliance civilian leadership probably won't take drastic action in response to tactical nukes being used in a ship-to-ship engagement, I can just about guarantee they will if we go after them with fleet-killing strategic arms. After all, how would we react if they did it to us?"
TABLemrick nodded. "I see what you mean. With your permission, Mr President, I'll ask the Laws of War Committee to add weaponised Alkerbierre Drive wakes to the no-first-use list. It might pour some oil on troubled waters in the Zyrix system, and domestically for that matter."
TABThe President nodded. "See to it. Colonel, my thanks for your input. Now, if it won't disrupt your team's work excessively, I'd like to take a close look at the hulk of that Alliance frigate."
TAB"That can certainly be arranged, sir. Are you EVA-certified with a standard pressure-suit?"

* * *

TAB"Werner. You're looking..." Gene fumbled for a tactful word for it.
TAB"Bloody awful, I know. That's why I wanted to talk to you." Werner sat back down and took a sip of coffee. "I suppose my darling housekeeper gave you an earful about me?"
TAB"I know it... isn't looking good."
TAB"Hah! That's one way of putting it. Look, I'm not going to dance around the issue: I'm dying, Gene. The cancer might have been treatable if I were twenty years younger, but at my time of life radiation therapy would do more harm than good. I have maybe another year of relative good health, then the symptoms are going to stop being manageable with tablets and I'll need intravenous painkillers. After that point it'll be a couple of months, at the most."
TAB"Oh, Great Kerm," Gene murmured. "I'm... I'm sorry, Wehrner."
TABHe gestured dismissively. "Ah, it had to happen sometime. I'm old and tired enough that the prospect isn't all that frightening anymore, to tell you the truth; I imagine it'll be a lot like going to bed after a very long and busy day. And it's not like I have much left that needs doing now, is it?" He gestured at the big picture window, and the dusty-brown landscape of Duna on the other side of the heavily reinforced glass. "We're a full-blown spacefaring civilisation, Gene, and you and I helped make it all happen. I have the rare privilege of getting to die content in the knowledge of a job well done."
TAB"I... Yeah, I guess so." Gene sighed. "Is there anything I can do?"
TAB"There just might be. I'd like to go to the Zyrix system before I die; not just Jessenstein Base, but one of the planets or moons. I want to see the place, get to know the people and the culture a little bit."
TAB"I'll make it happen. Hanfrod owes me that much, given I've been officially retired almost two years and he still calls me three times a week. You might have to give some speeches and attend the odd university dinner though."
TAB"Hah! I wonder if theirs are as ghastly as ours. Hmmm... Perhaps I'll write a paper comparing human and Kerbal academic politics and see if I can't get into one of the big anthropology journals. That ought to give certain distinguished individuals from my alma mater something to think about!" Werner chuckled. "Say, on the subject of the Zyrix system, how's Bob these days?"

* * *

TABAs it happened, Bob Kerman was currently quite vexed. "What do you mean you can't find them?" he fumed. "You've got his full name and date of birth, you've got his last known address and you've even got his gorram DNA profile! How can this kid's parents just vanish?"
TABThe social worker took several deep, calming breaths. "Sir, I appreciate you aren't used to the scale of our jurisdiction-"
TAB"Don't you patronise me, lady, I know exactly how big this solar system is; I spent weeks mapping it by telescope. Now did Christopher Mullin's parents or did Christopher Mullin's parents not have social security numbers, or whatever you call them here?"
TAB"Yes, sir."
TAB"Then it stands to reason that unless they've retreated to some shack in the pi gu end of nowhere to raise marijuana, they must at some point have held a job and paid taxes, does it not?"
TAB"Yes, sir-"
TAB"Well then it might behoove you to place a telephone to the Alliance Revenue Service and get them to go through the tax records!"
TAB"We did, sir. The last confirmed place of employment for Christopher's father was a small financial services firm on Persephone, two years ago. I tried calling that firm, but they've folded; I was able to trace the owner, but all he could tell me was that Mullin planned to take his severance pay and head for one of the border moons. We know even less about his mother; after they divorced she had some kind of breakdown and went totally off the grid."
TABBob sagged in his seat. "Fan-fardling-tastic," he grumbled. "I'm sorry I lost my temper."
TAB"It's alright, sir. I'm frustrated by this too. Anyway... I know this isn't an easy subject, but we do need to talk about Christopher's living arrangements."
TAB"You have a suitable foster placement?"
TAB"Not exactly..."
TAB"Group home?"
TAB"Yes, sir."
TAB"Suitable for a child with serious emotional issues and a history of physical and psychological abuse?"
TAB"Um..."
TAB"And with security arrangements adequate to protect a child who is also a material witness in criminal proceedings against an organisation with a demonstrated willingness to use deadly force against federal agents?"
TABThe social worker sighed. "To be perfectly candid, sir, I doubt it. But it's all we have available."
TAB"Then I think you'd better talk to your opposite number from my government when he arrives on the next ship out of Kerbin; it's due in a week today. I'll have him call you."
TAB"Sir, I would remind you that Christopher Mullin is an Alliance citizen-"
TAB"And I would remind you that K-78356-Jessenstein and all its permanent orbital installations are the sovereign territory of the Kerbin federation of nations, by right of first verified landing as enshrined in Alliance law, and Christopher has been afforded the status of a political refugee. So don't get any bright ideas about showing up with some Federal Marshals to take him into state custody by force, because there's two armed picket ships and a platoon of Espatiers** who'll take grave exception to that even before the embassy weighs in."
TAB"Very well, sir." The woman sighed heavily. "I hope you appreciate that myself and the organisation I represent only want to do right by this child."
TAB"Then where the hell was your organisation when Blue Sun got their hands on him?" Bob retorted. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have private tutors to interview."

TABThe best thing about Eavesdown Docks, in Bob's considered opinion, was the unspoken mutual agreement among the local populace to never ask inconvenient questions about things that didn't concern them. Human or Kerbal, you could rest assured that everyone you met there would be pointedly minding their own business at all times. After all, the saying "What goes around comes around" was another thing the two races had in common, and if you had nothing to fear from the idle curiosity of a passing stranger then you'd be conducting your business somewhere with better property values.

TABThe second best thing about Eavesdown Docks was the bar that an enterprising young kerman couple had opened to cater to the small but growing number of Kerbal ship's crews travelling between Persephone and Jessenstein Base. Bob was developing a deep appreciation for the local cuisine now he'd acclimatised to the point where he only needed antacids when he let Chris pick the pizza toppings, but he did appreciate the occasional taste of home, and the Starfarer Bar & Grill did some of the best homemade djan chips he'd ever tasted.
TABThe early-afternoon crowd was heavy for a weekday. Half a dozen Kerbals in expensive business-casual were clustered round a table having a working lunch; Bob figured them for either consulate staff or one of the trade delegations here for a business conference. A more casually dressed Kerbal male was sharing a private booth with a human woman who might or might not be his girlfriend, while at the far end of the bar a cheerfully rowdy group of bohemian types were loudly celebrating someone's birthday with a little exotic alien cuisine and a lot of exotic alien booze.

TABAnd of course there was Jeb, propping up the bar in his usual spot with a glass of beer and a bowl of the establishment's famous djans covered with local cheese and hot peppers, a serving style that was becoming extremely popular. "Hey, Bobcat!" he called out. "Look! They've got RT-5 in here now!"
TAB"That's handy. I could really use one." Bob parked himself on a bar stool next to Jeb.
TAB"Hah. I was gonna ask how your meeting went..."
TAB"Not well." Bob briefly outlined the discussion he'd had with the social worker. "I feel kind of bad for taking it out on her like that," he admitted. "But damn it all, Jeb, why does this have to be so hard? I get that neither of them were in a position to take care of a kid after their marriage broke up, but you'd think they'd want to know he was okay. Anyway, it looks like I'll need to hire a private investigator."
TAB"Why waste your money? If they can't be bothered to leave a forwarding address so that they could keep in touch with their only son, then I say fuck them and the horse they rode in on, as the local saying goes."
TAB"Because the least I can do for Christopher is find out whether they're alive or dead, particularly his mother; from what I can gather she wasn't in the best of mental health. Besides, if I can bribe or cajole them into signing certain official paperwork then I won't have Alliance Social Services -and boy oh boy is that acronym fitting in English- causing me quite so many legal headaches."
TAB"You're serious about the adoption thing, then."
TAB"Of course I'm serious about it, Jeb! I saw everything that kid went through, I can't turn my back on him now and still be able to look at myself in the mirror."
TAB"I know, I know. It's just that Jessenstein Base wouldn't be my first choice for a place to raise a kid."
TAB"Eh, it's only temporary," Bob replied. "My next mandatory physical's in a few months, and it's probably going to be the big one. And I've been thinking it might be getting to that time anyhow. After all, how do we top First Contact?"
TAB"I know how you feel. Been thinking the same thing, to be honest. I mean, I spent a year's pay on my boat; it'd be a damn shame if I never got any use out of her because I stayed in harness 'til I wound up in a wheelchair smelling of piss."
TAB"I'll drink to that," Bob agreed.

TABAnd they did drink to it. And to several other things they thought up afterwards, until it got to the point where the proprietor tactfully suggested they might want to quit while they were ahead.

TAB"How many times, Cap'n? How many times have I warned you that gorram compression coil was on its way out? 'cause I lost count after the first hundred or so."
TAB"Yeah, yeah, alright. How long is it gonna take to replace?"
TAB"That's the thing, Cap'n! It's not just the compression coil we gotta replace now, I gotta fix everything that got trashed when it let go. And that's gonna take me all weekend 'less I pull an all-nighter, which I ain't gonna 'cause this is your own dumb fault!" Kaylee spun on her heel and stalked back into the ship.
TAB"Hey! Don't you walk away from- Kaylee!"
TAB"She's right, you know," Zoe remarked, carefully checking a large sealed crate of something heavy was secure. "She's been warning you for months."
TAB"Oh, c'mon! Do you have any idea what those things cost?"
TAB"And what's being stuck here, a five minute walk from Badger's office, for two days while Kaylee fixes the engine gonna cost?" she pointed out testily. She ostentatiously held the baby-monitor she was wearing on her wrist up to her ear. "Excuse me, sir."
TAB"Well, that's just shiny," Mal sighed. "Kaylee's mad at me, which means Simon and River are mad at me, Zoe's mad at me... Is anyone on this ship not mad at me?"
TAB"I ain't," Jayne replied cheerfully, applying a lit match to a massive, expensive-looking cigar that Mal was certain he'd looted from Simon's father at some point.
TAB"Oh good," Mal replied, vaguely disturbed to admit that this did make him feel a bit better.

TABGetting the rest of the cargo squared away and lashed down could keep, he decided, because they weren't going anywhere without a new compression coil. And better make it actually new and not just newer if at all possible, because there was a possibility that that might get Kaylee to stop sulking a bit sooner...
TAB"Say, Mal, ain't that the aliens we saw on TV?"
TABMal looked, and blinked. "Reckon it is."

TAB"... with arthritis, your bowels have got collitis, you've gallopin' bollockitis and yer thinkin' it's time you died," Bob sang cheerfully, leaning on a marginally more sober Jeb. "If you've been a man of action, and yer lyin' there in traction, you may gain some satisfaction thinkin' Jesus at least I tried!"
TAB"I can't understand a word you're saying, you know."
TAB"Doesn't translate well, sorry," Bob chuckled, and then launched into the chorus. "Oh, there's sober men in plenty, and drunkards barely twenty! There are men of over ninety that have never yet kissed a girl! But gimme a ramblin' rover, fae... something something something... we will roam the country over and together we'll holy shit that's Malcolm Reynolds! Hey, Mal! I owe you a beer, man!"

TABMal had a sudden premonition that this was going to be one of those days.

* * *

* The kerbals call it something entirely different and difficult to render into English, but the weapon in question works exactly the same way.
** Something of an approximate translation, but the term descends from the word for 'space' in Kerbin's dominant language in much the same way that 'Marine' derives from the word for 'sea'. More on these guys later.

* * *

TABJoenie Kermol took a long swig of her sapwood juice, set the glass down and adjusted her wire-rimmed glasses with a businesslike air. "The word 'ambitious' comes to mind," she said in carefully measured tones.
TABThe neatly besuited young kerman male smiled faintly. "People said that about the Grove on Duna."
TAB"Duna's surface was totally sterile; my team couldn't have had a better controlled growing medium if we'd bought it in bulk from a hydroponics company. Laythe is a very different problem. Not only are we introducing a Kerm to a foreign ecosystem, which for literally any other form of plantlife on Kerbin would be a massive no-no, we know even less about Laythe's ecosystem than our ancestors knew about Wakira's back in the Age of Sail."
TAB"We have a huge array of soil samples."
TAB"Soil samples taken from one fairly small island. Even here on Kerbin you can find ten thousand new species of bacteria or fungus in a soil sample taken from any randomly-chosen square kilometre of land, and then find ten thousand more species if you move a single kilometre in any direction, or come back to the exact same spot in a year. The variations will be pretty small, mind you, but any one of them could turn out be another Red Blight or something even worse someday. And again, that's just on Kerbin. What it might be like on a moon where life evolved totally separately in radically different conditions is difficult to even imagine."
TAB"True. But that native life will have no inherited protection against our antibiotics."
TAB"For the time being. And come to think of it, that's another worry. What happens if Kerm pollen or one of our artificial fertilisers proves to be toxic to native life?"
"This TABis why we came to you," the young kerman replied simply. "We're not a large or well-funded organisation, Dr Joenie. We've got plenty of good farmers and a couple of biology graduates, but none of us have any practical experience of establishing Groves even on Kerbin. But without a Grove, we won't have much of a colony to speak of."
TABJoenie nodded. "Don't get me wrong, Billick, I support your aims all the way. But it's difficult to understate what a huge undertaking this is. If any of your organisation were hoping we'd be planting a sapling as soon as we unloaded the orbiter then they're going to be sadly disappointed."
"ThatTAB's pretty much what we figured." Billick sipped his coffee. "We're not planning on shipping colonists out for another two years, but we want to send an advance party at the next window in three months. Their job will be to acquire more soil and water samples, expand the existing weather station network and run extensive controlled trials of Kerbin crops in Laythe soil, as well as bolting together some prefabs for the colonists when they get there and other preliminary work."
TABJoenie fished a spiral notepad and pen out of her desk drawer. "That sounds pretty workable, but it's going to involve a certain amount of equipment. What kind of budget are we talking about?"
TAB"Seventeen and a half thousand keros, plus whatever you can coax out of the university. The good news is we already have some of the equipment you'll need. The KSA had a few spare inflatable agridomes left over from the first wave of Duna colonies, and sold them to us for next to nothing 'cause they were just taking up space in storage. They're not exactly this year's model but they're in as-new condition. We also have the use of the old outpost buildings; everything portable was removed when it was mothballed but the lab facilities should still be useable."
TAB"That still leaves most of the lab equipment itself... Hmmm. Give me a day or two to get a list of gear and tally up the price tags, then we'll have something worth presenting to the grants committee. Am I going to be the only biochemist on the team?"
TABBillick smiled. "I take it that's a yes, then? And I'm not sure yet, but after this meeting I have an appointment with your colleague Dr Wickley from the Duna Grove project. I can guarantee you the services of two good biologists and an experienced hydroponics technician for your staff, though."
TAB"Wickley van Grun?" Joenie raised an eyebrow. "Why the two of us? We were the junior members of the team by quite a margin."
TAB"Everyone else either has dependents on Kerbin or jumped straight into a prestigious teaching or research post," Billick replied. "Besides, breaking ground on a new settlement is a young kerbal's game; there's going to be a good deal of physical labour involved in the early days and the climate isn't exactly balmy. But for someone young and fit who doesn't mind getting their hands dirty?"
TAB"It's like Geofley Kerman said. You could have the adventure holiday of a lifetime down there." Joenie finally cracked a smile. "Count me in!"

* * *

TABMal had sometimes given some idle thought to what it might be like to meet aliens. He supposed most people who spent a lot of time out in the Black did, even if they wouldn't admit it; after all, it was demonstrably possible to traverse the vast gulf between stars at a decent fraction of the speed of light, and some high-forehead types reckoned they'd eventually get past the light barrier. But the limit of his own vague speculation on the matter had always been that whatever one could imagine, it'd probably turn out to be wrong.

TABAs a messily drunk extraterrestrial chivvied him into posing for a photograph taken by his marginally more sober companion,* who was trying very hard not to laugh, Mal reflected that he'd sure been right about that.
TAB"You folks are pretty famous, you know," the sober one (Jeb?) remarked, his handheld computer translating what he was saying -which sounded vaguely like someone speaking Spanish backwards- into quite comprehensible English with an inexplicable yet oddly fitting New Texas** drawl. "If you ever get around to visiting you won't have to buy a beer for months. There was even talk of a statue at one point." Jayne and Mal carefully avoided meeting one another's eyes.
TAB"An' a petition to name a warship after you," Bob added. "Or some of you, anyway. Don't think they'd decided which ones. Wouldn't that be a kick in the nuts for Blue Sun?"
TAB"Yes, but we're supposed to be at least pretending we won't be cheering for the Independents if they decide they fancy a rematch," Jeb pointed out. "Besides, Captain Reynolds here was in the Army if memory serves. Can you imagine having to explain receiving highest possible award from the Navy to his old comrades in arms at the next big reunion barbecue?"
TAB"Ain't never had one of those," Mal replied. "Weren't enough of us left to warrant the trouble."
TABJeb looked stricken. "I'm sorry, Captain. That was thoughtless of me."
TAB"You weren't to know." Mal cracked a small smile. "Besides, you surely do have a point."


* Bob Kerman did not do selfies, even when he was three sheets and a couple of pillowcases to the wind.
** Whose inhabitants have generally regretted the choice of name, because someone in the Exodus fleet went to the trouble of preserving a DVD-rip of Brave Starr throughout the centuries-long journey from Earth-That-Was and it still periodically shows up in rotation on children's television networks. Even so much as humming the theme tune anywhere on the planet will go down about as well as making "steers and queers" jokes around someone from the original Texas.
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-- (Terry Pratchett, Small Gods)


Replace "ginger" with "n*gger," and suddenly it become a lot less funny, doesn't it?
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Re: Beyond The Next Frontier [Kerbal Space Program/SPOILER]

Post by fnord » 2015-02-12 11:17pm

Rock on - I can't be the only one who wants to see where this goes. "Gallopin' bollockitis" indeed...
A mad person thinks there's a gateway to hell in his basement. A mad genius builds one and turns it on. - CaptainChewbacca

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Re: Beyond The Next Frontier [Kerbal Space Program/SPOILER]

Post by Zaune » 2015-02-12 11:26pm

I swear to Armok I did not make those lyrics up. It's my favourite song to sing while completely smashed.
There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.
-- (Terry Pratchett, Small Gods)


Replace "ginger" with "n*gger," and suddenly it become a lot less funny, doesn't it?
-- fgalkin


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Re: Beyond The Next Frontier [Kerbal Space Program/SPOILER]

Post by LadyTevar » 2015-02-13 12:59am

Zaune wrote:I swear to Armok I did not make those lyrics up. It's my favourite song to sing while completely smashed.
The Ramblin' Rover was one of the first songs I learned to sing 'round the SCA bonfire bardics.
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Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
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Re: Beyond The Next Frontier [Kerbal Space Program/SPOILER]

Post by fnord » 2015-02-13 06:49am

My apologies. I sit corrected.
A mad person thinks there's a gateway to hell in his basement. A mad genius builds one and turns it on. - CaptainChewbacca

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Re: Beyond The Next Frontier [Kerbal Space Program/SPOILER]

Post by Zaune » 2015-03-06 08:19am

Here's the next thrilling installment. Featuring space combat, worldbuilding, politics and another Kerbal national hero with a peculiarly human-sounding name...

TAB"Captain on deck!"
TAB"As you were. Good morning, everyone." Captain James Kerman of the Wakiran Space Service Deep Space Patrol Craft Fortitude returned his bridge crew's salutes and accepted a mug of hot coffee from the urn lashed in shipshape fashion to a bulkhead. "Thank you, Milzey. Anything to report?"
TAB"Just another day in paradise, sir," his executive officer replied. "Although it seems the Bader's relief has been held up; her skipper was rather cagey about why, which probably means more unrest on a border moon somewhere."
TAB"My heart bleeds for the Alliance, it truly does." James took a long sip of the coffee, which was actually in shouting distance of being drinkable for a change. "Anyway, I received word from the civilians over on the orbital station that we've got some VIPs due to arrive in the next few hours, so I want the millimetre-wave radar and the new instrument package run up. I don't expect any trouble, but if they're being shadowed by someone unfriendly then I want to know about it, and I want them to know that we know. Although preferably not how we know."
TAB"Aye, sir."

TABAlliance stealth technology was extremely good to begin with, but the experimental technologies that Blue Sun was suspected to be keeping to itself for purposes as-yet uncertain were known to be still better. They had excellent radar- and lidar-absorbent materials, and specially-equipped ships could use internal heat-sinks to temporarily eliminate their already minimal infrared signatures and become effectively invisible. There were even rumours that they had some form of optical camouflage.

TABBut what even Blue Sun couldn't do -so far- was mask the emissions of an artificial gravity generator, a small but distinctive distortion in the very fabric of space-time.

TABOf course, this detection method had its limits. A typical space-service gravitometer couldn't pick the anomalies up outside of a few dozen kilometres, even if you knew what to look for; the sensitivity requirements were comparable to the equipment used for charting objects in Kerbin's Oort Cloud, and indeed the sensor system retrofitted to the Fortitude was originally designed for that purpose. It could also be defeated by the simple expedient of turning the grav-generators off entirely, which was normal practice for the Alliance in time of war.
TABBut the Kerbals were pretty sure that neither the Alliance nor Blue Sun were aware that they'd figured out the trick of detecting grav-emissions, and nobody turned off the gravity unless they really, really had to. Neither could they get around the need for it by sending an uncrewed probe; the mass and power requirements of a Quantum Entanglement Comms array would make stealth nigh-impossible and it was unlikely they'd trust an AI to operate totally autonomously for something this sensitive, doubly so if it was carrying armament. The MMW radar was mostly a decoy, although it was believed that it had the best chance of picking up a ship designed for a minimal radar cross-section.

TAB"Ultra-high frequency radar emissions detected from the picket ship," the IAV Bader's sensor officer reported.
TAB"Think they know something we don't?" the captain wondered aloud. "Hmmm. That big freighter they've chartered, the Chorley Ridge or whatever it's called, it should be finishing a round trip from the Core some time today."
TAB"The Chorelywood, ma'am? I think you're right. She's too far out to be picked up by a routine sensor sweep yet, but the long-range radar might find something."
TAB"No need. But step up the visual and thermal search pattern, and bring the GAD online as soon as you have her. If that boat's being shadowed then I want to know about it before they do something to annoy our neighbours."

TABThe orders for this assignment had been the usual mess of vague and often contradictory legalese given to captains in independent commands far from Headquarters oversight, especially when they involved doing anything politically sensitive, but newly-promoted Fleet Admiral Liu had been kind enough to include a rather terse summary in the official docket: Learn as much as you can, don't be too worried about giving things away in return -within reason- and above all else remember that you're there as a guest. If they stop letting us keep a warship in orbit of Jessenstein then it makes gathering useful intelligence a lot harder. And if you catch any stealthed ships out there, you have my full and official authorisation to affirm our commitment to respecting the territorial integrity of our neighbours (and/or plausible deniability) by blowing them out of the gorram sky if they don't strike their colours.
BesidTABes, the Bader's captain reflected, she liked the Kerbals. They'd been extremely reasonable about having a foreign warship stationed in close proximity to one of their outposts, and the personnel on Jessenstein Base had extended a much more hospitable welcome than she suspected an Alliance installation would have if positions had been reversed. She wasn't about to let some spook who might or might not even be answering to Parliament anymore ruin all that on her watch.

TABThe Bader wasn't a particularly impressive warship, mind you, even by the standards of the Kerbals. It was a Davis-class Patrol Gunship, fast and long-ranged but lightly armoured and sporting only a pair of 57mm coilguns and eight anti-ship missiles. Good enough for intimidating smugglers or taking on all but the wealthiest and most successful pirates -or the more sophisticated Reavers- but against a serious frontline warship with a well-trained crew they couldn't hope to do much more than die bravely.

TABStill, the Bader and her class was ample for liaison duty and surreptitious intelligence-gathering here at Jessenstein Base. The Kerbals had only two warships stationed here permanently, "Deep Space Patrol Craft" roughly equivalent to a Davis boat in role according to what the Alliance could glean from unclassified Kerbal sources, and those had required considerable effort to transport from their home system under tow; the only other ships flying the flag of Kerbin's various polities were the FTL transports, which seldom remained in-system for longer than it took to load and unload them. Maintaining a presence here was more for the sake of domestic political opinion than any serious expectation of trouble.

TAB"IR contact at extreme range, bearing zero-three-one, inclination positive two. It's probably the Chorleywood, ma'am," the sensor officer reported, four hours later. "GAD powering up."
TAB"Understood." The captain watched the display thoughtfully. "That's a big boat," she remarked, half to herself. "Big enough to create a pretty hefty grav-shadow. If some hypothetical stealthed boat could stay within a couple of kilometres we'd probably have trouble picking them out."
TAB"If they were being cautious enough to try that then they've probably already shut it off, ma'am."
TABThe captain nodded. "They'll be in radio range in a few minutes. Monitor every frequency the Kerbals normally use; I want to know what they send, in-clear or scrambled."
TAB"Aye cap'n." The communications officer made the necessary adjustments. "It's done, ma'am."
TAB"Good. Weapons? Energise the rails and load one banger and one live round, but don't open the gunports yet. I've got a bad feeling about this."
TAB"Yes ma'am."

TAB"We have the Chorelywood, sir. No sign she's being tailed at this range... huh? Small infrared spike from the Bader, consistent with powering her mass-drivers up to standby."
TAB"Nice to know they're paying attention." Captain James drained his coffee mug.
TAB"Should I warm up our own gun, sir?" the Principal Warfare Officer asked.
TAB"Not yet. Let's play it cool for now."

TABThirty minutes later, the huge bulk freighter entered radio range. "Sir? I have encrypted VLF traffic from the Chorleywood. Authentication code 'Balcony'."
TAB"Bugger," James said, with feeling. That was the identifier for the special immigration office at the Embassy, the one that was picking up people the Alliance didn't particularly wish to see leaving the system. That they were talking to him directly on a secure channel could mean several things, all of them bad. "Well, let's hear it."
TAB"Attention, picket ship Fortitude, this is Blue Eagle. We are being spooked by an unidentified spacecraft using optical camouflage techniques. Suspect they intend harm against one of our passengers and/or the Base Commander's ward. Please advise, over."
TAB"Double bugger. Blue Eagle, Fortitude acknowledges. Stand by." James pinched the bridge of his nose, or the equivalent anatomy, and thought hard for a moment. "Blue Eagle, can you locate the unidentified vessel at this time, over?"[/i]
TAB"Affirmative. It's directly aft of our ship, distance uncertain but no less than three kilometres, over."
TAB"Can we work with that?"
TABThe PWO ran some quick calculations in his head. "Just about, sir. If we set the proximity fuse for five kilometres and target the Chorleywood herself we can set off a warning shot practically under the bogey's backside. There's not a lot of margin for error at this range but it should work. At worst we might scuff up their paint a bit with shrapnel."
TAB"Good. Set it up. Blue Eagle, I need to talk to the master of the Chorleywood and he's not going to like what I'm going to tell him, over. Signals, try to raise the Bader with the signal lamp and tell them what's going on so they don't think we've gone mad."

TABThe captain of the Bader smiled grimly. "Called it. Sound general quarters!"

TABThe Fortitude's primary weapon was a 90mm railgun whose barrel ran almost the whole thirty-metre length of the ship. It was normally only fired at one-third power to conserve delta-V and reduce rail wear, 'merely' accelerating projectiles to approximately two kilometres per second. On this occasion, they fired at the full six km/s for the psychological impact.
TABThe Principal Warfare Officer realised just slightly too late that this might have thrown his calculations off a bit. "Oh dear," he said quietly.

TABThe shell exploded so close to the Chorleywood that for a long and horrifying moment James thought they'd hit her, but once the after-image faded she was still placidly proceeding towards Jessenstein Base. A second, smaller object was rather less placidly proceeding in the general direction of anywhere but here.
TAB"We've got them sir! Whatever it is it just lit off its drives!"
TAB"Pursuit course! Hail them on the distress frequency, and contact the duty officer at Jessenstein. I want authority to proceed with disabling fire!" James gave his PWO a sidelong look. "I see what you mean about not much margin for error," he remarked tonelessly. "We'll discuss this further in private. Now get a firing solution on that thing." And if I find out anyone was injured on that freighter I'll fire you out of the bloody railgun! he added furiously in the privacy of his own skull.
TAB"Message from the Chorleywood, sir!" the communications officer added, sounding entirely too cheerful about this fact; he'd never liked the PWO much. "I think her master might be a bit vexed."
TAB"I bet he is. Tell him I'll call him back later."
TAB"Vampire, vampire! Four missiles inbound from the bogey!"
TAB"Son of a bitch! Return fi-"
TABThe Fortitude shuddered as a second round left the tube. A second later it burst into a cloud of steel ball bearings and the missiles disintegrated. "Reloading with armour-piercing, sir. Do you still want disabling fire?"
TAB"You had canister shot queued up on your own initiative?"
TABThe PWO swallowed nervously. "It... seemed prudent, sir."
TAB"Good call. And yes, I do still want disabling fire." James scowled at the retreating ship. "I want those sorry bastards alive so they can tell us who put them up to this little stunt-"
TAB"Railgun fire detected from the Bader, sir!"
TAB"Oh, bloody damnation. Get them on the radio and tell them to hold their fire!"
TABA moment later, a brilliant strobing flash lit up the Black. "Pyrotechnic warning-shot round," the PWO reported. "Alliance sailors call them 'bangers', sir. They're used when they need to fire over someone's bow because they don't use explosive shells like we do."
TAB"Not a bad idea, that," James remarked absently. He was starting to regret his earlier anger; the kid was desperately inexperienced, a last-minute substitute for a long-serving officer laid low by illness, but he seemed to mostly have his head on straight. "Let's see if they'll heave to for their own side... Nope, apparently not."

TABThe Bader fired her second coilgun, this one a standard slug. It caught the spy-ship directly between its twin drive plumes and sent the vessel tumbling wildly. Seconds later, it blew up in a spectacular fireball.

* * *

TAB"There was very little wreckage, and no identifiable bodies. We don't believe this was caused by the Bader's weapons alone, unless the Alliance has the technology to squeeze a twelve-kiloton nuclear warhead into a coilgun shell that small."
TABThe President of the Alliance sighed heavily. "Mr Ambassador, I really don't know what to tell you."
TABThe Kerbal Ambassador to the Alliance regarded the President coldly over the rims of his spectacles. "Well, for one thing sir, you can tell me what your government is planning to do to put a stop to these repeated violations of our airspace! This is the fifth time we've picked up suspected espionage activity in the vicinity of Jessenstein Station, but it's the first time we've actually caught anyone and the first time they've fired on a Kerbal warship, and it had better be the last."
TAB"There's not much we can do. You said it yourself: There was no wreckage and no bodies, and the only photograph anyone has of this alleged Blue Sun vessel shows a vague blur that's barely recognisable as a spacecraft at all. That's not a whole lot of hard evidence."
TAB"Oh, for pity's sake, how many other parties have access to optical camouflage technology? If it wasn't Blue Sun then I can only assume it was the Alliance intelligence service, insofar as the two are still divisible at this point." The Ambassador took several deep, calming breaths. "Mr President, my government is becoming very concerned. It's possible to argue that your matters of internal security are not our problem while we still have a monopoly on FTL travel, but you and I both know it's only a matter of time before the billions of R&D credits you're throwing at your own Alcubierre Drive program produce results. When that happens, your apparent inability to keep your corporate sector from succeeding where the old Coalition of Independent Moons failed will become everyone's problem, including races we haven't made contact with yet."
TAB"My government is doing what it can," the President replied, rather testily. "We have to be seen obeying the letter of the law, and you'd better believe Blue Sun's lawyers are very good at picking up on every frivolous technicality they can think of when it benefits them. I'm afraid all we can do is try and be better at it."
TAB"I suppose so. But be warned, Mr President: Until and unless Blue Sun formally declares itself an independent sovereign state, we shall consider their actions to reflect on the Alliance as a whole."
TAB"I understand, Mr Ambassador. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm due at a press conference very soon."

TABOnce he was alone in his office, the President reached into the bottom drawer of his desk and retrieved a half-empty bottle of bourbon and a shotglass, just as a precaution. Then he tapped a button on his intercom to call his secretary. "Jessica, did the CEO of Blue Sun return my call yet?"
TAB"Not in person, sir, but his PA did. I... I'm very sorry, sir, but she said his schedule is very full at the moment and he'll have to get back to you."
TABThe President pinched the bridge of his nose. "Thank you, Jessica. Please let me know if he deigns to fit me in any time soon." He tossed the shotglass back in the drawer and took a healthy swig straight from the bottle. It'd be a fine thing if Blue Sun would make it official and secede from the Alliance, he reflected glumly. Then he could declare war on the sons of bitches, never mind the blasted Kerbals.
There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.
-- (Terry Pratchett, Small Gods)


Replace "ginger" with "n*gger," and suddenly it become a lot less funny, doesn't it?
-- fgalkin


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Zaune
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Re: Beyond The Next Frontier [Kerbal Space Program/SPOILER]

Post by Zaune » 2015-08-09 12:58pm

I think this is a new record for me with this 'verse... Right, then. This was meant to be a lot longer, but I'm going to split it up because the bit with Valentina in was taking entirely too damn long to get right.

 "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Li Kwan, and this is Sunrise." Kwan paused to play the jingle. "On today's program, we have an exclusive interview with Kerbal quantum physicist and chief engineer of the prototype FTL starship Starfarer One, Scott Ker-bley, plus a special feature..."

 Sitting beside him, Scott took a measured sip of coffee and checked for the hundredth time that the translation app was running. "Now, our guest will be using a computer translation system today, so apologies in advance for any technical issues," the presenter continued. "Welcome to the show, Mr... Ker-bley?"
 "Just 'Scott' is fine; it's not exactly a surname as you understand the term anyway. And yes, I am aware of a famous Scott in your popular entertainment who was in charge of a warp drive, and if the translator's giving me the accent then I will be very annoyed."
 "Not noticeably. So, Scott. There's a lot of people who are really unhappy about your government's insistence on holding the secrets of your FTL drive so closely; isn't your very presence in this studio something of a gamble on their part?"
 Scott shrugged. "In the words of our esteemed President, 'either we trust the Alliance or we don't.' And in any case it's not like we're asking your President to do anything he hasn't loudly, repeatedly and publicly expressed a wish to do in return for licensing the relevant patents." Left unspoken was the fact that the Alliance wasn't the only faction they were worried about, hence the four stone-faced Kerbals in black suits standing at the door carrying suspiciously heavy briefcases and making the sound engineer nervous.
 "I see. I suppose it doesn't exactly hurt that you could probably blow up every inhabited planet in the solar system and we'd have nothing to retaliate with but foul language."
 "Don't remind me," Scott grumbled. "What happened to Eeloo caused me a lot of sleepless nights and hangovers, and that was a barren rock barely worth a flags-and-footprints trip. If I thought my government was capable of ordering the KSA or the military to do that to an inhabited world, or that either organisation wouldn't rise in revolt rather than carry out such an order, I'd already be telling your government everything I know about warp drives. And so would damn near everyone else who worked on the project!"
 "Thank you, Scott. We'll be back after the day's headlines, read by Wendy Sarson. At 0700, this is Alliance Public Radio." Kwan cued up another jingle. "Sorry to ambush you with that one, but it needed an unscripted answer right from the heart."
 "You'd have got an unscripted answer right from the fist if you'd tried that on a lot of kerbals," Scott muttered. Nevertheless, he began to suspect he might enjoy this interview; most other Alliance TV and radio personalities he'd met so far had been overawed by the presence of an alien, too used to guests who could make trouble with the sponsors if they didn't like the interviewer's tone or both. Someone prepared to play hardball was a welcome change of pace.
 "Welcome back to Sunrise. This is Li Kwan, in conversation with Scott Kerbley. As you will have heard from the news headlines a moment ago, the first Alliance trade delegation to Kerbin have apparently had their visas revoked. A full statement from the embassy is still pending, but allegedly they were arrested on charges of sedition. Scott, do you know anything about this?"
 Scott laughed. "I take it you aren't subscribed to any Kerbal wire services yet, then? This was all over the newspapers when they were booted out of the system. Apparently some representatives of an Alliance-registered corporation -I can't name them for legal reasons, but you've heard of them- were offering certain... financial incentives, shall we say, to a Kerbal politician in return for a government contract. I can only assume they were a bit out of practice with operating outside Alliance territory and forgot they were in another country, and as you might imagine we take a bit of a dim view of foreign nationals making campaign donations to our elected representatives. And I dare say the consular staff weren't very amused either when they saw said representatives getting a no-knock warrant served on their hotel rooms live on national TV news. Personally I thought that was a little uncalled for, but I guess someone wanted to make an example."
 Kwan laughed, a little awkwardly. "I bet that was a business trip they'll never forget."

* * *

 "How in the name of the Kraken's ravaged bunghole do you snake-felching shitstains even manage to fuck up my computers this bad? We are on cunting dial-up here! Do you idiots do anything with the QE connection except download sketchy porn? Great Kerm give me strength! Do you motherfuckers think I have nothing better to do?"
 "Morning Varnie," James said conversationally. "Helping Christopher learn the language again?"
 "Wha-a...? Oh crapbaskets he's not here is he?" A shaven head peered out of the server room and looked about fearfully. Seeing that her commander's ward was conspicuous by his absence, the young kerbal's eyes narrowed. "You son of a bitch. Are you trying to give me a heart attack?"
 "Just making sure you're keeping on your toes."
 "Like these horny bastards don't already. Oh, the hell with it. I'm making a whitelist of known trustworthy porn sites and posting it up on the wiki."
 James snorted. "I wouldn't. Your tastes are a bit more... niche than the others are used to."
 "Well, then it'll be an eye-opening experience for you boring vanilla cis-het people, won't it?"
 "Fine. Just try not to traumatise anyone too badly, will you?"
 "Micro-aggressions, dear brother, micro-aggressions."
 "Says the kerbal whose macro-aggressions are notorious throughout the space agency." James glanced at his watch. "Screw it, it's five o'clock somewhere. You fancy a drink?"
 "Maybe later. I've got too many cyber-STDs to treat right now."
 "Alright, catch you later sis."
 There was another burst of swearwords, and an empty coffee mug hurtled past his head. "Sorry, sorry! Force of habit!" James beat a hasty retreat before Varnie could grab anything else to throw at him. Only once he was safely out of range did he allow himself to sigh deeply.

 James loved his younger sister (arrrgh, sibling damnit!), he really did. He didn't pretend to be anything but utterly bewildered by this whole concept of a non-binary gender identity, but several peer-reviewed papers by eminent neuroscientists backed up Varnie's assertion that they were not talking out of their arse and that he should respect their wishes about pronouns, and in any case anyone who could cajole good service out of the jury-rigged mess that was Jessenstein Base's computer infrastructure was entitled to all the idiosyncracies they wanted.
 But he did sometimes wish these idiosyncracies didn't include a permanently foul temper and a chip... no, a veritable roof joist on her (ack, their!) shoulder about the gender identity thing, especially because he strongly suspected the latter was at least partly an act they put on to wind him up.

 James reached what the station's Space Force contingent laughingly referred to as the wardroom, found a quiet corner where he could sit with a glass of something strong, and resolved to think about something else.

 "Mind if I join you?"
 "Oh, hello Captain Harper. Feel free. Can I get you a drink?"
 "Just a coffee, thanks; I'm technically still on duty. Rough day?" the commander of the IAV Bader remarked, eyeing the highball glass he was nursing.
 "What do you think," James groaned. "I'd incurred more paperwork in this tour of duty than the previous five combined even before my Principal Warfare Officer had that unfortunate faux pas with his range calculations, and Kerweh only knows what'll land on my desk when the shipping line's insurance company gets to hear about it. And I can't even really justify taking it out on the poor young ensign whose cock-up it was because he's still wet behind the ears."
 "I take it that was him I saw out there repainting her hull."
 "Yes. Lucky for him her master appears to have seen the funny side now." James tossed back most of his drink in one long swallow. "I miss policing bored, sexually frustrated asteroid miners with access to moonshine and cargo mass-drivers. At least they were predictable. And I didn't get in as much trouble if I banged their heads together, come to that."
 "Sounds nice," Captain Harper replied wistfully, glancing at the headline on her tablet's Cortex browser about the Interpol getting their budget cut yet again.

 She'd come to know her opposite number very well since her ship been posted here a year ago, and they'd spent some time comparing notes about their respective roles. Nothing sensitive of course, just ordinary shop-talk. She'd even been given a brief tour of the non-classified sections of the Fortitude.
 It was during that tour that she'd begun to question her career choices. The young ensign showing her around had remarked that most of the sickbay facilities had been stripped out to save weight, and she'd expressed some polite concern.
"Not to worry, Captain," the boy had replied. [/i]"We're on picket duty rather than patrolling, and it's not like we've got a few dozen asteroid mining ships to watch over."[/i]
 Captain Harper had said very little for the rest of the tour of the Fortitude, or on the shuttle ride back to her own command. Her own command, which had five times the delta-V of that cramped, slow and desperately primitive-looking ship and standing orders not to respond to requests for medical assistance from ships not explicitly in distress. Limited resources, the orders had insisted. A time-consuming distraction from their primary mission of safeguarding internal security and revenue protection, they'd said. We are not an emergency room, they'd said.

 It had been something of a depressing moment.

 "You heard anything more about the Bader's relief?" James asked, breaking her reverie.
 "Not really. 'Remain at current post until further notice' was all the message said. We're just spread too damn thin out here, I guess."
 "You should have built twenty more Longbows instead of the last three Tokohus, or however they're pronounced," James remarked. "They're really fabulous ships even by your standards, I'm sure, but they can only be in one place at once."
 "Tohokus. And they're ridiculous wastes of money designed to look badass and intimidating from the surface of whatever ex-Browncoat colony needs reminding who's boss this week," Harper grumbled. "Their delta-V's lousy, their axis of thrust is ludicrous and they're not even particularly well-armed or armoured. They embody everything that's gone wrong with my country since the Unification war."
 "They do a good job of the 'looking badass' part, though, I've got to give them that. Ever seen one in orbit from a planet's surface?"
 "Nope. Core Worlds girl born and bred; there aren't many peasants in need of impressing on Ariel." Harper sighed. "Maybe I'm just old and tired, and a little bitter at where my career's going."
 "Doesn't look so bad from my point of view," James replied. "Think about it. Those Tohoku cruisers, or the older MacArthur class; how much real work do they get? You don't see them taking down pirates or rescuing ships in distress, they just tool around the system looking impressive or train for a war nobody seriously expects to fight anymore. People like you on ships like the Bader are the real Navy, not the chair-warmers wearing a groove in the Black back in the Core Worlds."
 "I wish the folks back home saw it that way," Harper replied, no longer bothering to hide her bitterness. She sighed. "I gotta go. See you later?"
 "You know where to find me."

 James waited a carefully measured ten minutes after she'd left, then took a deliberately roundabout route through the habitat ring, stopping at the little commissary to collect something he'd ordered last week. It was nearly half an hour before he reached a particular set of crew quarters that were formally assigned to a young technician on Varnie's staff. Said technician no longer needed them after setting up housekeeping with his gentleman-friend from the security team, but that sort of thing was officially discouraged by KSA regulations and everyone was politely pretending not to know that he only came back once a month when the mail went round.
 James had acquired a spare key through Varnie on the pretext that he wanted somewhere quiet and out of the way where he could straighten his head out; they clearly hadn't believed a word of it, but mercifully -and with uncharacteristic tact- they had refrained from interrogating him.

 The room was small and rather spartan, containing only a cabin bed, a desk and a tiny built-in wardrobe. Its sole redeeming feature was the beautiful human woman lying on the bed wearing a negligee so sheer as to be nearly transparent.
 "Oh, my," James said quietly.
 "Like what you see?" Captain Harper smiled. "I thought it'd make a nice going-away present."
 Rather than waste time talking, James crossed the room in two quick strides and pulled her into a searing kiss.

 Jeb had been absolutely right back when the Starfarer 1 had first encountered human "premium-rate cable". A certain amount of creativity was required, but there were no insurmountable compatibility issues.

 "Are you really getting out of the service now?" he murmured into her shoulder, several blissful hours later.
 "Yeah. I've been in command of the Bader for three cruises; after this one I'm due for mandatory reassignment, almost certainly to a desk job. And I'm tired, Jim. I'm tired of being ordered to hassle broke farmers over penny-ante bootlegging while my superiors deal with the gorram slave trade by ignoring it and hoping it'll go away, and I'm tired of sucking hind tit for funding and personnel compared to those useless showpiece battlewagons because all I do is police a bunch of poor hicks nobody cares about. You know they're probably going to lose the vote soon?"
 "You think Parliament's going to go through with it?"
 "Of course they are. Why wouldn't they? It's only the one course of action that could possibly make the political situation in the border worlds any gorram worse." She sighed. "You folks need good captains, right? I'd need to get certified and everything, but I'm a damn fine ship-driver."
 "Well..." James tried to work out the right way to phrase this, then decided there wasn't one. "I had a message last week, from High Command back on Kerbin. They wanted me to, and I quote, 'discreetly approach Captain Harper with an opportunity for putting her professional skills to use in the private sector'. They're looking for someone who knows current Alliance space-combat doctrine."
 "So what did you tell them?"
 "That it was an absurd suggestion which was likely to do irreparable damage to our professional relationship and probably lead to serious diplomatic repercussions if it got back to your superiors, and that if they made it an order I'd tender my resignation."
 She snorted. "What was the salary?"
 "I didn't ask." James propped himself up on one elbow and looked directly at her. "Becky, you know as well as I do that taking the job would mean you were effectively exiled on Kerbin. You'd be lucky if all the Alliance did was revoke your citizenship and Service pension and not bring charges of espionage."
 "I don't care, Jim. The way we're going there's not going to be an Alliance to throw me in jail before too long, and maybe that'd be for the better. Besides, taking the job means we can keep doing this."
 "Yeah." James went silent for a long moment. "Becky, you know how we promised we wouldn't do the whole star-crossed lovers thing and let this go beyond something fun...?"
 "Yeah, me neither." Becky rolled over to look him in the eye, and smiled. "I knew you were a keeper when you introduced yourself as Captain James T. Kerman of the starship Fortitude. I love you, Jim."
 "I love you too, Becky." He reached out of bed, grabbed his trousers and found the small velvet-covered box in his pocket. "This is a bit of a compromise between your traditions and ours," he explained. "We normally use gold or silver torcs for this, but I made some discreet inquiries about human customs and Navy uniform regulations and... and I'm babbling, aren't I?" He opened the box to reveal a ring of white gold, with a single large diamond, already threaded through a fine silver chain. "Will you-?"
 Becky silenced him with a passionate kiss. When she finally broke away to breathe, she had to nod because she was laughing and crying too hard to speak.
There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.
-- (Terry Pratchett, Small Gods)


Replace "ginger" with "n*gger," and suddenly it become a lot less funny, doesn't it?
-- fgalkin


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Re: Beyond The Next Frontier [Kerbal Space Program/SPOILER]

Post by fnord » 2015-08-14 10:40pm

IT LIVES!

I love the bookend Star Trek references in this bit.
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Re: Beyond The Next Frontier [Kerbal Space Program/SPOILER]

Post by Zaune » 2015-10-10 11:34pm

And now we find out what Valentina does for a living these days...

 "Ballroom, this is Whiplash One. Apogee in zero-five minutes, over."
"Copy that, Whiplash One. Tanker should enter radar range approximately zero-two minutes after you reach apogee, over."
 "Understood, Ballroom. Whiplash One out." Valentina pulled her oxygen mask away from her face long enough to grab a plastic carton of an allegedly sunfruit-flavoured isotonic drink from the storage bin by her right leg and drain it in one long pull. It was nasty, synthetic-tasting stuff whose relationship to actual sunfruit was incidental at best, but it made her throat feel a little better. "We can invent warp drive and FTL communications, but not a CO2 scrubber that doesn't suck all the moisture out of the air," she remarked to her Radar Intercept Officer. "Go figure, huh?"
 "Mmhmmm. You know, Fantastic Worlds had a reader poll on that last week: 'The Top 10 Things We Thought Would Exist Before Warp Drive'. I voted for cryogenics, but direct neural links to computers got the top spot."
 "Science fiction fans have a bad habit of forgetting there are such things as ethics committees."
 "Point," her RIO admitted. Then his attention turned to his screen. "Contact bearing zero-zero-three, inclination negative seven at extreme range. No squawk yet."
 "Let me take a look." Valentina leaned over to his side of the cockpit. "Going by its course and position it's out of Barkton. Probably VIPs or the media, but I'l call it in anyway. Ballroom, Whiplash One. We just picked up an unscheduled launch from the Barkton Cosmodrome. Are we gonna have an audience for the test, over?"
"Whiplash One, Ballroom. That's affirmative. They're monitoring channel zero-three, callsign Vesta One-One-Four. They have the necessary clearances and have been briefed on range safety procedures. Sorry you weren't informed, it was a last-minute thing, over."
 "Copy that, Ballroom. Two minutes to apogee, over." She switched frequencies on her secondary radio. "Vesta One-One-Four, this is Kerbin Aerospace Defence Force aircraft Whiplash One. We have been advised you will be observing today's weapons test, please confirm you have been briefed on range safety procedures, over."
"Whiplash One, Vesta One-One-Four. We have been advised to main separation of no less than one million kilometres from the target and all flight crew and passengers have been issued appropriate eye protection. Range safety officer is on channel one-zero, over."
 "Full marks, Vesta One-One-Four. Talk to you again when we reach the drop-zone. Whiplash One out. Stand by for circularisation burn," she told her RIO.

 The Kerbals were still some years away from scaling their RAPIER engine technology down enough to fit into anything smaller than an airliner, so the B9 Aerospace F/R-13 Arbalest used the old-school method of switching between turbojets and rocket motors. It resembled a modern fighter-bomber of conventional configuration and unremarkable design which had had a pair of liquid-fueled booster stages welded onto its wingtips, which was not a wholly inaccurate description of the design process. This didn't do wonders for its handling in an atmosphere, but the result was a reliable and low-maintenance way of lifting up to seven powerful anti-spacecraft missiles clear of Kerbin's gravity well on short notice and without any launch facilities more elaborate than a kilometre of straight tarmac and some tanker support.*

 For today's test they were only carrying one missile, albeit a quite large one. It was also armed with a nuclear warhead, which was why a Brigadier General and the CO of an entire bomber wing was flying a routine weapons test. The warhead design was unconventional, something the backroom boys had derived from the old nuclear-pulse propulsion trials and every bit of non-classified data they could find about a weaponised version the humans had thought up, called "Casaba's Howitzer" or some such. The technical details were strictly on a need-to-know basis, and Valentina doubted she would have understood them anyway, but she was assured that it would punch a very impressive hole in anything the Alliance or Blue Sun was even suspected of armouring their warships with.

 At least according to the computer models derived from a thorough examination of the wreck of the IAV Lafayette, surreptitiously towed back to Kerbin orbit by the same massive interstellar tugs that brought the Fortitude and her sister-ship Steadfast to their assignment on Jessenstein Station. But computer models were only as good as the data you put into them, so a live weapons test had been arranged. And since there was no way to hush up testing nuclear warheads in space without conducting them outside the Kerbin system entirely, the military had decided to make a virtue of necessity and turned the final detonation into a bit of an occasion, setting up a live camera feed for the news media.

 Well, for a given value of 'live'. It wouldn't do to put the fact the Kerbals had salvaged an Alliance warship in the public domain, so footage of last week's test-firing on an asteroid had been substituted with some slightly altered time-stamps.

 It was a sad end for a warship, really, Valentina reflected. Especially one that had distinguished itself so thoroughly in a desperate battle. The crew had all been decorated for their valour, and the ship herself had been added to the List of Honour; there would always be a Lafayette in service with the Alliance. For the ship to end up a half-scrapped gunnery target seemed disrespectful somehow.

 Then again, considering what the Reavers had done with the ship afterwards, and done to anyone who hadn't made it off before the boarders overran the Marine detachment... Maybe this would be a relief.

Don't take it personally, Valentina urged the blip in her HUD. You're helping us to make sure nobody else has to suffer what your crew suffered. "Ballroom, Whiplash One. Have target acquired, ready to engage. Authenticate Delta six one blue, over."
"Whiplash One, authenticate X-ray five four red. You are cleared hot, over."
 "Copy that Ballroom. Committing in three, two, one, mark."
 There was a dull thud and a faint shudder as the explosive bolts detonated, and a moment later the missile could be seen streaking away towards its target. The booster rocket cut off after a few seconds, but the faint flashes of catalysing hydrogen peroxide as it made course corrections could be seen for a few seconds longer.

 The explosion wasn't terribly dramatic when viewed with the naked eye -or the eye protected by smoked glass if you had any sense- from onboard the passenger spaceplane known as Vesta 114; just a brief, intense strobe of white light. The close-up footage was more impressive. The President watched with a mixture of awe, fascination and distaste as the hulk spun away from the camera, a gaping hole punched into her hull.
 "Direct hit on the radar-reflector. Internal sensors report pressure loss across forty percent of the ship, outgassing from the mag-bottle and fires in whoa!" The ship exploded violently from within, and the signal terminated abruptly. "There go the missile magazines. An operational warship might have survived that hit if the damage-control team was on the ball, but with the reactor vessel compromised she was dead in the sky." Kurt nodded in satisfaction. "We just narrowed the odds substantially if it comes to war, sir."
 "Good. I just hope that's enough to ensure it doesn't. How long before news reaches the Alliance?"
 "By our best estimates of human QE capabilities, their people should be watching the KBS News bulletin first thing in the morning, sir. Sooner if they have better equipment than the commercial providers."
 "Wish I could see the looks on their faces," Lemrick added. "Well, unless they see the inevitable Engines and Engineers special on what it'll take to mass-produce the damn things."
 "Can we do anything to keep a lid on the specifics?"
 "Not really, sir. Even if we could get every nation onboard with taking the relevant protocols out of the Mutual Disarmament Treaty, which is unlikely at best, we can hardly re-classify information about our existing nuclear materials production capabilities. And they know how these warheads work better than we do."
 "We also have reliable information that the Alliance has noticed the wreck of the Lafayette isn't where it's supposed to be," Kurt added. "Whether they've learned that we got ahold of her I don't yet know, and they certainly can't even make educated guesses how much intelligence we recovered, but I'd advise you to proceed on the assumption they've put two and two together."
 "That might do more good than harm," the President replied. "The kind of people who are running Blue Sun only pick fights they are very, very sure they can win. The more unsure we can make them the better."
 "Amen to that, sir," Kurt remarked. He glanced over to the tall and imposing figure leaning against a bulkhead, face set in an impassive scowl. "What do you make of all this, Admiral?"
 "I cannot say it makes my heart glad to see your people preparing to make war on my fellow humans, even the Alliance," the man replied, his tone giving little away even without the translation computer speaking over his own heavily accented English. "Nevertheless, it is an impressive technical achievement in so little time. I shall have my ordnance officers review the telemetry; they may have suggestions for further refinements."
 Lemrick nodded. "That would be appreciated."
 The President opened his mouth to object, then thought better for it. As well hung for a sheep as for a lamb, he thought grimly. The Alliance Parliament would blow all its fuses if they even knew he'd been in the same room as a Browncoat bitter-ender, much less one who still had a decent-sized fleet of ships...
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Re: Beyond The Next Frontier [Kerbal Space Program/SPOILER]

Post by fnord » 2015-10-13 10:43am

So how long until the Mythbusters takeoff with Adam "Savage" Kerman and Jamie "Hyneman" MacKerjel?

Not too big a surprise, the Kerbals going with a no-lone-zone policy regarding WMD. That way, one deranged kerbal can't cook one off on their own. However, we know of at least two.
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Re: Beyond The Next Frontier [Kerbal Space Program/SPOILER]

Post by Zaune » 2015-10-13 12:52pm

That's actually standard practice with all space-based weaponry in near-Kerbin orbit except in time of war. You wouldn't need a nuclear warhead to cause dozens or hundreds of fatalities if a missed shot hit one of the bases on the Mun or Minmus, or Duna for that matter.
There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.
-- (Terry Pratchett, Small Gods)


Replace "ginger" with "n*gger," and suddenly it become a lot less funny, doesn't it?
-- fgalkin


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Re: Beyond The Next Frontier [Kerbal Space Program/SPOILER]

Post by fnord » 2015-10-14 11:11pm

That would be ... embuggerising.
Zaune wrote: "Whiplash One, Vesta One-One-Four. We have been advised to main separation of no less than one million kilometres from the target and all flight crew and passengers have been issued appropriate eye protection. Range safety officer is on channel one-zero, over."
Shouldn't that be maintain separation ?
Zaune wrote: some tanker support.*
We can haz footnote?
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Re: Beyond The Next Frontier [Kerbal Space Program/SPOILER]

Post by Zaune » 2015-10-15 06:56am

Yes, it should. And why do I keep forgetting to put those in? Feh!

* It's hotly debated among some Kerbal aerospace enthusiasts whether the Arbalest qualified as a true SSTO craft if it required either in-flight refuelling or drop-tanks to clear the tropopause, but for the purposes of the relevant military R&D funding it was considered close enough.
There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.
-- (Terry Pratchett, Small Gods)


Replace "ginger" with "n*gger," and suddenly it become a lot less funny, doesn't it?
-- fgalkin


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