Follow TV Tropes


Fanfic / The Next Frontier

Go To

The Kerbal Space Program has come a long way in the thirty years since their first manned launch. Permanent settlements on Duna, extensive asteroid mining operations, an orbital habitat in the works... not too shabby for something that began with a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs building sounding rockets out of scrap metal.

But for the Kerbin Space Agency, there's no such thing as a final frontier. Their scientists have probed the depths of the mysterious space-time distortion known as the Deep-Space Kraken and learned the secret of faster-than-light travel, and now the five brave Kerbals of the starship Starfarer 1 are setting out on their people's first mission to another star system...

And boy, are they going to be surprised when they get there!

The Next Frontier is a Kerbal Space Program fanfiction — crossed over with Firefly — by a guy who prefers to be known as "Jake Grey", or sometimes just "Jake" (author of Doing It Right This Time). It's now complete and can be found here, here, here or here.note  It borrows a lot of worldbuilding and setting details from First Flight (with the enthusiastic consent of its author), and while it can be understood without, reading it first is strongly recommended.

The sequel, "Beyond the Next Frontier," can be found here. Warning: Reading the first story is essential to know what is going on, and literally the first sentence spoils the crossover.

Tropes that don't spoil The Reveal:

Tropes that do spoil The Reveal, so scroll down at your own risk and expect unmarked spoilers below:

  • All Planets Are Earthlike: Played with. The Kerbin system has two habitable worlds, Kerbin itself and Layhe, a moon of the gas giant Jool. The Kerbals are fully aware that this is probably not common, and Laythe having surface temperatures that allow for liquid water and some sort of photosynthetic life despite being well outside the system's "Goldilocks Zone" is the result of several improbable coincidences. When Starfarer 1 arrives in a neighbouring star system and her long-range telescopes start taking pictures of its various planets and their satellites, the crew are astonished when spectrographic analysis reveals that no fewer than eleven of them show evidence of oxygen atmospheres. They immediately, and correctly, conclude that this can only be the result of terraforming.
  • Artificial Gravity: Lampshaded, played straight and invoked all at once. You know how it's an Acceptable Breaks from Reality trope here on 21st century Earth because simulating an aversion convincingly on screen is difficult and expensive, and shooting on location in space even more so? Well, the kerbals have much the same problem, and had presumed that the same applied to their new neighbours. Boy, were they surprised!
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Despite being a race of peace-loving explorers and scientists with a deep societal connection to nature, the Kerbals really know how to blow shit up.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Kurt is seen employing the Mozambique Drill against a Blue Sun agent in the climax.
  • Bothering by the Book: Admiral Liu and Captain Tarrant, confronted by a Kerbal who's apparently gone nuts and forced his way aboard the Blue Sun ship carrying a weapon, immediately deploy a squad of Space Marines to "render assistance".
  • Bulletproof Vest: Used rather realistically in the confrontation at the climax. Kurt has cracked ribs and a spectacular array of bruises from one pistol bullet, noted to be both a hollowpoint and cold-loaded for use with a suppressor. The Blue Sun agent who shot him takes eight rounds from Jeb's hold-out pistol and... Well, see below.
  • Burning the Flag: Blue Sun has not made itself popular with the average Kerbal on the street.
  • Casual Interplanetary Travel: Played straighter than in the KSP side of things, but as in the other source material, somewhat averted. While certainly more common than in the Kerbal's home system, getting to other planets in the 'Verse still takes days or weeks.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A literal gun, as it happens.
  • Child Soldiers: Child Super Soldiers, in this case. Christopher isn't even a teenager yet.
  • Cruel Mercy: The surviving Blue Sun agent's body armour prevents a whole panic-fired magazine of pistol rounds In the Back from Jeb from killing him outright, but still leaves him with a crippling spinal injury.
    Jeb: "Maybe he'll get lucky, and they'll shoot him instead of making him do thirty to life in a wheelchair."
  • Dark Fic: By the standards of KSP fanfiction, anyway.
  • Dead Man's Switch: It turns out that Blue Sun build these into those nasty little sonic weapons of theirs, which the good guys use to their advantage at the climax.
  • Does Not Like Guns: All the civilian kerbal astronauts, none of whom had ever owned or even fired one before training for this mission. Bob adjusts surprisingly well though.
  • Dull Surprise: Outright invoked in the epilogue.
  • Elsewhere Fic: For Firefly anyway. The canon characters don't show up in person until the epilogue.
  • Enhance Button: Played with. The Fredricksson takes some long-range images of Starfarer 1 while thinking she's an old human ship that fell victim to a nasty reactor accident. These are subsequently passed on to the backroom boys at Naval Intelligence who put it through the computers... and come back with something very grainy and contrasty but good enough to give them a rough idea of her shape. It's still enough to tip Admiral Liu off that the ship is unlike anything known to be in Alliance space.
  • Fainting: Captain Tarrant, who was under quite a lot of stress already before the aliens turned up, suffers a combination of the Emotional Faint and the Exhaustion Faint type the moment the Starfarer 1 sets up a video-conference link.
  • First Contact: Played with, kind of, because the aliens are the POV characters and it's a first for them as well.
  • Face Palm: Turns out Kerbals do it too.
  • Flat "What": Jeb's reaction to finding out that Bob's absconded from Starfarer 1 and taken a number of firearms with him.
  • Genre Savvy: The Kerbals, most prominently Jeb, are very familiar with the tropes they're acting out.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: In deference to the all-ages nature of the KSP forums, enough is said to make it clear that Pretty Little Headshots is being averted rather thoroughly at the climax while still keeping the gore to a minimum.
  • Guile Hero: To a great extent, Jebediah Kerman. Fanon might play him up as a Fearless Fool, but this is the same Jeb who smooth-talked his way to getting the Kerbin Interplanetary Society a set of very expensive high-pressure gas tanks for free in return for painting the manufacturer's logo on the side of a rocket stage in First Flight.
  • Gunboat Diplomacy: A rather subtle example, as in the spirit of cooperation and brotherhood the Kerbals send along some information about their FTL drive... including details of its tendency to launch high-energy particles in all directions at light-speed whenever one turns it off, with before-and-after pictures of the dwarf planet they accidentally pulverised in the course of finding this out.
  • Hard on Soft Science: Outright defied by Kurt's "Reason You Suck" Speech at the climax. Sociology is far from being A Degree in Useless when you're on a First Contact mission... or when you work for the Kerbal equivalent of the NSA in the Psychological Warfare Department. (Strangely enough, sociology was the author's favourite subject in high school.)
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Captain Tarrant has a bit of an anger-management problem, but he's got his coping mechanisms.
  • Hauled Before a Senate Subcommittee: A heroic version of this is about to happen to Blue Sun, thanks in large part to the crew of Serenity.
  • Higher-Tech Species: With the sole exception of FTL, humanity is this to the Kerbals, which makes sense, considering that Kerbals have been playing around in space for about thirty years, while humans have had interplanetary starships for about five hundred.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: Downplayed, but still played straight.
    • Humans Are Divided: Compared to the Kerbals, yes. Not counting the Independent movement, there's the Alliance and Blue Suns. The Kerbals aren't unified either, but they present a much more unified front than the humans do.
    • Humans Are Flawed: Fortunately, so are the Kerbals.
    • Humanity Is Insane: Well, Scott thinks so anyway.
    • Humans Are Survivors: What Scott also thinks of us:
      Scott: "You've got to admire these people. They've been through such a cataclysmic catalogue of awful shit they're practically a whole race of unsympathetic sitcom protagonists, a fair bit of which they've done to themselves I might add. But not only are they still here, they've built themselves a thriving interplanetary empire! And an empire that hasn't destroyed itself in an orgy of blood, violence and fire despite apparently being run by a committee stuffed with cartoon supervillains, opportunistic plunderers and total cretins. I don't know how they do it!"
      Bill: "I'm pretty sure that was a little bit racist."
      Scott: "I dare say. But that doesn't mean it's not true."
    • Humans Are Warriors: Hasn't really come up in this volume yet, but bits of background worldbuilding information posted on the various forum threads have revealed that the Kerbals have a tiny standing military compared to the Alliance even after they drew down pretty heavily post-Unification, and much less recent experience with armed conflict.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: Averted. It's mostly just a bubble of greyness.
    Jeb: It's not that I particularly wanted to be stricken blind or go gibbering mad the first time I looked out of the window, mind you. But it would at least have created a certain sense of occasion.
  • I Come in Peace: Played straight, lampshaded and then subverted all in the space of two sentences by Jeb, who would make an excellent troper.
  • In Memoriam: In-Universe, The Kerbal Government wishes to name a star after the Alliance Scientist from the Miranda Broadcast.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Multiple examples.
    • When Bob receives a psychic distress signal from Christopher, the first thing he does is reach for the bottle of good whiskey in his desk drawer.
    • A deeply shaken Jeb retreats to the Fredricksson's wardroom to steady his nerves with medicinal rum.
    • Seeing Jeb on Alliance-wide TV explaining about everything that went down, River's dad declares he needs something stronger than coffee.
  • Internal Reformist: Admiral Liu and Captain Tarrant are a mix of Types 1 and 2, looking for any excuse to send a troop of Space Marines over to the Blue Sun vessel and serve a search warrant. Bob Kerman provides that excuse.
  • I Minored in Tropology: Jeb is a little surprised that his Communications Officer actually has a Sociology degree.
    Jeb: "They called you a 'signals intelligence specialist'. I took that to mean you did the interception, not the analysis."
    Kurt: "What can I say? We're a small Air Force, I have to wear several hats."
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: The cutting edge of Kerbal laser weaponry is basically about where 21st century Earth is; it can reliably shoot down a missile but as an offensive weapon it's pretty worthless. It also works well with the Starfarer because of the simple, robust nature of the ship and its associated tech; as the Fredricksson's officers note, it has between zero and one moving part, making it very easy to maintain.
  • Latex Space Suit: Played semi-straight; the kerbals have suits that work more or less like this, but they're intended for short-term use in emergency situations and only have a small internal air supply. Proper EVA suits look pretty much like what NASA use today, and are correspondingly heavy and awkward outside of microgravity.
  • Little Useless Gun: You can have a sidearm that's effective against even the crudest body armour, or you can have a sidearm that won't punch holes in important bits of a spaceship and/or send you spinning like a top in microgravity, but not both.
  • Lock-and-Load Montage: Bob, of all kerbals, gets one of these when he tools up to rescue Christopher. Complete with tying on a bandana just before putting his helmet on, which he admits privately is for pure Rule of Cool.
  • No Gravity for You: The first thing Bob does after boarding the Blue Sun ship is jam a fire extinguisher into a mysterious spinning thing that "looks important". He's right; it's the Artificial Gravity generator. This levels the playing field considerably, because while Bob has very little training with firearms and even less with real combat tactics, as a veteran astronaut from a society without artificial gravity tech he's got much more experience doing without it than the people he's up against.
  • Noodle Incident: Just what exactly did the crew of Serenity do to get the Alliance gunning for them, again? We only find out at the very end: They broke into the Academy and grabbed almost all the children, and are laying low while Simon and River's father raises an Army of Lawyers.
  • Magnetic Weapons: Starfarer 1's only offensive weapon is a spinal-mounted railgun, and the Kerbals make more extensive use of railguns in their space combat doctrine than the missile-focused Alliance Navy.
  • Mook–Face Turn: A random Blue Sun employee who didn't particularly like his job anyway says "the hell with it" and throws his lot in with Bob.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Done just the once, purely for Rule of Funny:
    "There was a tremendous crash, followed by the Captain yelling every swearword in every language he knew. Him being a career naval officer, this was quite a lengthy process."
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Played with; when they first meet the humans face to face the Kerbals wear full spacesuits and get hosed down with disinfectant to prevent cross-contamination, but it turns out to be unnecessary.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: The crew of Serenity staged a massive jail-break at Blue Sun Academy. Word of God would like it known that this will not be staying off-screen if he can possibly do it justice.
  • Plant Aliens: Not the Kerbals themselves, but they have a symbiotic relationship with the pre-sapient Kerm trees.
  • Plug 'n' Play Technology: Averted, it takes several weeks and no small amount of effort on the part of the engineering teams on both ships to even display each other's text files.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Admiral Liu got posted as far away from the Core Worlds as possible without sending him to another star system entirely because he has a tendency to speak his mind without thought for the consequences. If being the senior officer present for First Contact hadn't already turned this into a Reassignment Backfire, the events of the climax surely have.
  • Roaring Rampageof Rescue: Bob Kerman gets his Action Hero on versus Blue Sun, trashing the ship, shooting dead at least two personnel and badly injuring several more.
  • Schizo Tech: The kerbals are still using spacecraft propulsion technology that was already well on the way to obselesence when humanity left their home system several centuries earlier... on the spaceship fitted with their prototype warp drive. Having Faster-Than-Light Travel but no Artificial Gravity also counts, something that most contemporary theorists don't think is actually possible, but the Kerbals had a Negative Space Wedgie to poke with a stick; their understanding of the underlying physics of its working principles is very incomplete, by which we mean their method of figuring out FTL travel involved firing probes into the NSW and cobbling together a drive based on what they found.
    • Some of the Schizo Tech is justified- it's a lot easier to make something simple and durable, especially when the nearest parts store is several light years behind you. And Starfarer 1 is an older, somewhat outdated vessel that the Kerbin Space Agency acquired secondhand to use as a testbed.
  • Science at the Speed of Plot: Lampshaded in-universe, when Captain Tarrant notices that the Kerbals went from their first sub-orbital rocket flight to colonising the solar system in an awfully short period of time. Turns out they had some unique incentives.
  • Simple, yet Awesome: Kerbal tech from humanity's point of view. Take for example the Homesteader utility spacecraft, a descendant of their original Mun lander. It's cramped, slow and can't take off from anywhere with an atmosphere, but replacement engine parts can be churned out with any half-decent CNC mill and it runs quite happily on 95% kerosene and 5% Avgas. A rather impressed petty officer compares it to something the late, great Mr Kalashnikov might have designed if he'd got a job in the Soviet space programme.
  • Space Battle: Alliance Navy and Kerbals vs Reavers.
  • Space Elves: The kerbals have some elements of this, being a peaceful race of explorers, scientists and scholars with a deep connection to nature through the Kerm groves. Without being a smug Utopia full of Perfect Pacifist People, hopefully.
  • Standard Sci-Fi Fleet: Played with; the Fredricksson is called a "patrol cruiser" by the Alliance, which is roughly equivalent to what the kerbals and many 21st century Earth navies would call a frigate. She also has a fighter complement.
  • Tension-Cutting Laughter: There's a bit of an awkward moment when the Kerbals set foot onboard the Fredricksson for the first time. Everyone's on edge, and when the small party of Alliance sailors who are there to make sure no alien pathogens get aboard the ship see that Kurt is carrying a sidearm they get even more nervous. Kurt immediately takes steps to defuse the situation by surrendering the weapon, and as per proper Gun Safety procedures he informs the security personnel that there's a magazine inserted but the chamber is clear. They look a bit surprised, prompting Kurt to jokingly ask them if they were expecting a Death Ray. One of the sailors admits they actually were, and everyone shares a chuckle and the mood thereafter is much more relaxed.
  • That Was Not a Dream: After keeling over in a dead faint from shock at making First Contact, Captain Tarrant regains consciousness in his ready-room being checked over by a medic. His first reaction is to apologise to his superior officer, because he's clearly gone round the twist. Admiral Liu helpfully points out that he did not in fact hallucinate the aliens. Captain Tarrant does not find this very comforting.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Or, as one reader put it, "Overkill is just a state of mind."
  • Translator Microbes: Averted. The "universal translator" is a hybrid of quite ordinary speech-recognition software and the Kerbal equivalent of Google Translate, running on a laptop computer. The first exchange between the Starfarer 1 and the IAV Fredericksson even contains a bit of Engrish because Jeb hasn't installed the latest version yet.
  • Two of Your Earth Minutes: A variant; Jeb makes reference to some technical information that will simplify the exchange of data between human and Kerbal sources taking "two local days" to arrive. Although they're essentially the same thing; see below.
  • Universal Universe Time: The Alliance is still using Earth That Was years and days for official purposes, which becomes a minor plot point when the Kerbals eventually figure out from the local TV broadcasts they've picked up that the standard day and year doesn't correspond to any of the planets the Starfarer 1's telescopes have found. This is one of the first clues that they've stumbled across someone's Lost Colony.
  • Values Dissonance: Invoked and then defied. Apparently, someone in the media back on Kerbin suggested that taking sides on the whole Miranda thing was "cultural imperialism". Jeb feels compelled to write a rather testy blogpost explaining that no, Crimes Against Humanity are not "part of their culture". This was inspired by someone on the SpaceBattles forum thread taking a similar position, which didn't go down well.
  • We Have Those, Too: More examples than it's convenient to list, including several tropes.
  • What a Piece of Junk: Starfarer 1. An old Asteroid Mining factory ship that's years obsolete, has a single gravity wheel instead of two contra-rotating ones so it has to de-spin to change course, has almost crumple zone between the main airlock and the pilot's knees... But that single gravity wheel is simpler and more reliable, and once the ore processing equipment is stripped out there's a huge amount of internal volume for the FTL drive and enough food and other consumables to support a multi-year mission in another star system. Not to mention the power trunking and structural reinforcement is in place to swap the cargo mass-driver out for a heavy cruiser-grade railgun.

Tropes found in Beyond the Next Frontier include:

  • Alien Arts Are Appreciated: Human television shows and other entertainment recorded prior to First Contact ended up circulating on Kerbin once the linguists were able to translate them well enough to add subtitles. Some shows have developed quite the cult following, including Star Trek.
  • Drunken Song: Bob performs a cheerful and not very tuneful rendition of "The Ramblin' Rover" while tipsily wandering the Persephone Docks with a slightly more sober Jeb in tow.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Bob mentions that "Alliance Social Services" fits perfectly.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: Literally the first line of this story spoils the crossover that was kept secret for a fair part of the first story.
  • Mythology Gag: When he first meets Mal and Jayne, Bob comments that there was talk of erecting a statue of the crew of the Serenity. Mal and Jayne look uncomfortable at that, most likely remembering the episode "Jaynestown."
    • Mal still hasn't bought a new compression coil. And it blew out again.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Played with. Humans and Kerbals can eat each other's food, but humans need different nutrition than Kerbals. Mention is made that Christopher is going to need to take supplimental pills if he is going to live in Kerbal Space. There's also mention of need for Antacids for the Kerbals to eat some types of human food.
  • No Such Thing as Alien Pop Culture: We at least get to see that Bob's little sibling is what a person of earth would call a "tumblrina," so Kerbals at least have social media. They also have their own TV shows, and really enjoy human sci-fi (specifically, Star Trek).
  • Space Marine: The Kerbals don't have marines for space travel, they have a branch called "Espatiers." It functions basically the same.
  • Time Skip: The previous story ended with the announcement to the Alliance that aliens -specifically Kerbals- are real. This story starts with the asteroid Jessenstein established as an outpost of the government of Kerbin, multiple FTL-capable ships, a tourist industry, and many, many more Kerbals. The novelty of all this has more or less worn off.