The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 138: Sol 234

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Starlight Glimmer looked at her math one more time.

Six batteries were sequestered for making more batteries. At a recharge rate of six percent per day (a little less than that, really, since the new alfalfa plantings were still immature and the potato plants Dragonfly had eaten to make her cocoon had generally not sprouted back), the six batteries would make four new ones at full strength, with a comfortable power margin, every eighteen days.

Three batteries (two regular ones and the half-power prototype) stayed at the Hab for immediate use. The Hab’s farm, being slower, only added a little to the recharge provided by the permanent inhabitants, giving the batteries a four percent per day recharge rate.

This left, for the moment, a bank of ten batteries to be used for major projects, to be swapped out when one of the hab batteries had to be completely drained, or- most important, now- providing a brief daily dose of magic energy for all the occupants of the cave, including the cocooned Dragonfly.

If the batteries were all full (they weren’t- the harvest, the dismantling of the engines, the engine test, and the fact that four of them were made only a couple of days before explained that), then the daily charges of nine of them would add up to fifty-four percent of the capacity of the tenth. That meant one battery could be rigged for field projection and run for about seventeen minutes, then connected in series to the others and recharged from them.

But since the batteries were not in fact full, that seventeen minutes became eight. If Mars had taught them anything it was that magic power could never be taken for granted, and you could never have enough of it. It collected in the batteries slowly and discharged so fast you could watch the manameter dropping. And major workings, cast in a dire emergency, could- and in the past did- wipe out four or eight or however many batteries in a single spell. You couldn’t burn a whole day’s charging on a few minutes of magic, not if you wanted the juice to be there when you really, desperately needed a spell to prevent disaster.

So. Eight minutes.

There ought to be something productive she could do with the magic field during the eight minutes it would run today. Unfortunately she couldn’t think of any. Mending spells would suck up most of the field, and anyway they had nothing recently enough broken for the spell to be effective. There wasn’t enough power to spare yet to make a new battery, even if they’d brought a casing for one. She could gather salt… but the soil in the cave had had quite enough stuff magically yanked out already.

“Mark,” she said to the human sitting beside the cocoon, helmet off but the rest of his suit still on, “I need a timer for eight minutes.”

“Okay, can do.” Mark’s suit had two display modes: a keyboard and micro-monitor on one arm, and a larger heads-up display projected inside the helmet. For this application the helmet wasn’t required, and Mark punched keys for a little bit before saying, “Ready to go on your mark.”

“Now,” Starlight said, and as Mark hit the button to start the countdown she switched the battery to discharge, sending arcs of pure mana up the improvised aerials. The colors around them lost their washed-out, ghostly appearance, becoming what they ought to be. The cave felt a little bit more like home, a feeling that ran down into Starlight’s bones.

Home. Heh. At home she’d have been able to think of something useful to do with magic. But at home there was all sorts of magic, all sorts of possibilities.

Before she realized it, she began singing:

I can’t help but feel its pull
Where everything’s magical
There’s nothing that’s impossible
If I were home

If I were home
The spells I’d cast would hypnotize
Rainbow lights to fill the skies
Nobody would believe their eyes
If I were home

The magic field swirled slightly, and Cherry Berry, caught in the eddy, sang as well.

If I were home
My pleasures would be plain and few
I’d eat a cherry, maybe two
There’s nothing I couldn’t do
If I were home

The field’s ripples caught Spitfire in their grip next, and she completed the verse:

If I were home
I’d fly straight back to my home town
I’d soar the skies for miles around
You’d never get me back to ground
If I were home

The three ponies joined in harmony for the chorus:

You’re so close and yet so far away
We miss you more each and every day
We go to bed every night saying
I want to go home

The magic light of the arcing mana battery sparkled across the crystals around and above them, and as the colored lights glittered music began to play, a tinkling, chiming music that echoed from the crystals, sweet and yet lonesome beyond words.

The magic swept up Mark, which to Starlight’s sight took a double wrap around him before his untrained voice managed to find the tune and the words:

If I were home
I’d spend a week just going outside
Get in my car and enjoy the ride
All of my wishes satisfied
If I were home

Fireball, the most resistant to magic songs, was the last to be caught up, his voice deeper and rougher than the others, but perfectly suited for the moment.

If I were home
Back to my cave and I’d walk right in
I wouldn’t leave it ever again
My wandering would be at an end
If I were home

Another chorus, as the crystal chimes played sweeping glissandos and arpeggios behind the astronaut voices, all woven together by the unleashed magic:

Home (the third planet from the sun)
Back to the place where we belong (Had my mission, now I’m done)
Never meant to stay away this long
Wouldn’t have to sing this song
If we were home

The music subsided a bit, swimming around the theme for a moment as Cherry Berry wandered over to Dragonfly’s cocoon. She laid a hoof on it and sang:

If you were home
You wouldn’t have to stay in there
You could run and fly without a care
You’d do what no one else would dare
If you were home

And Starlight took the rest of the verse, as the others hummed agreement to her words:

If I were home
I’d have options without end
I’d spend more time with my friends
I’d see my father once again
If I were home

The music rose again as five voices (Mark echoing the pony voices) sang their homesickness in perfect tune with the sounds of light glinting off quartz:

Home (over two hundred million miles)
Back in the arms of the ones we love (I close my eyes and see their smiles)
Safe return from the stars above
What wouldn’t we do if only we could go home

The music ceased its swooping, picking clean, distinct notes as the song bounced from singer to singer in a building frenzy:

Wake at dawn to go ballooning
Eat a gem and sleep till noon-ing
Fly a kite up to the cloudtops
Swoop so low I scatter dewdrops
Walk the beach at Galveston
Surf lava from dusk till dawn
Ride the train to anywhere
Read a book, Wash my hair
Los Pegasus, Magnificent Mile
See the world, Rest a while
Cherries, pizza, ruby ice cream
Luna guarding every dream
Baseball games at Wrigley Park
The way the stars shine after dark

The crystal music crashed together, as did the singers’ voices, as the song reached its climax:

To see again familiar places
To see the smiles on people’s faces
The fact that cannot be erased is
This rusty rock in outer space is
So far
So very, very far…

The music died for a moment as the singers named their homes:


So far, and yet so close
If I were home

Softly, bittersweetly, the five voices sang the last words, the cave chimed its last chimes, and then the magic released them, replacing the music pulled out of their hearts with the silence of Mars.

“Um,” Mark muttered, reluctantly breaking the moment, “maybe we should turn the battery off?”

“Let it run to the timer,” the unicorn said. “The song just dropped us. Turning off the magic right now would drop us harder.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I can get behind that,” Mark said. “I mean, it’s one thing to watch you guys doing that, but to become a part of it-“

“We don’t talk about it,” Starlight Glimmer said.

“Ever,” Fireball added with emphasis.

“I don’t blame you,” Mark said. “I don’t think I have words for what I just… I mean, wow. The words were just… well, I guess they came from the same place the music-“


“Yeah, Starlight?”

“When I said we don’t talk about it, I meant stop talking about it.”

“Oh. Yeah. Sorry about that.”

Author's Notes:

How this happened:

"I feel a need to crunch the numbers for how much magic time Dragonfly actually gets every day, so let's have Starlight do the math in the story."


"Huh. I have absolutely nowhere else to go with this. I'll sleep on it."


"Huh. I STILL have nowhere to go with this. What do I do?... I have an idea. I will give this problem to Starlight. Have her think what she could do?"

"... Starlight has no ideas either."

"Okay. Jim Henson rule. When you write yourself into a corner, you eat something, blow something up, throw penguins in the air, or have a song and dance."

"Only one of those things is helpful at this point in the story. Besides, Mars is noticably deficient in penguins. So it's time for a musical number. At least that'll be simple. I have a few ideas already."


"Damn, I'm really having to work for these lines."


"If the tune in my head was actually in my ears I'd be crying my eyes out, and I'm the one WRITING this."


"There. Done. GODDAMN that hurt."


"I've spent a day and a half on this one damn chapter. And I meant to build a buffer this week. Goddamn it."

Next Chapter: Sol 235 Estimated time remaining: 15 Hours, 8 Minutes
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