The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 179: Sol 311

Previous Chapter Next Chapter



AMICITAS: Friendship calling Earth, Friendship calling Earth, Friendship calling Earth. Operator Starlight Glimmer. We are exploring an alternative boost system which would not repeat not require Friendship main engines or batteries on MAV. Request calculation for three engines thrust for three minutes plus normal MAV liftoff. Also ask Rich Purnell if his theories cover Mars atmospheric decay of magic over distance. Will discuss in greater detail after comms blackout ends. Will repeat this message every two hours if no acknowledgement is received. Over.

NASA: Message received. Thanks. Good luck. Out.

The film flickered.

Angel Eleven had been the first of the Angel series to include a movie camera that would run for the minute or so of a full-length dimension-hop survey. Five of these films had been collected from the probe, returned to Equus, developed, and spliced together into this one silent reel. Now Twilight Sparkle and the available senior staff of the world’s united space programs watched the film, noting the magic numbers on the top of the screen that showed the level of magic drain from the batteries and the time elapsed since the probe arrived in that universe.

Chrysalis, of course, wasn’t there. She was still on Concordia, tending to the little probe between its jaunts. Thus far Angel Eleven had made twelve trips, three of which were aborts. In none of the nine non-abort worlds so far had the agreed-upon beacon signal been detected, so the probe kept going back out, and likely would until it met the same fate as its ten less-advanced predecessors.

Whatever else the effort to rescue the Amicitas crew was or wasn’t accomplishing, it was teaching the space programs how to build a better space probe.

On the projection screen, in a field of black, a glowing disc came into view. After a moment it resolved into familiar features- the continents and oceans of Equus. The camera continued to pan across the planet, making a full rotation of three hundred sixty degrees, then stabilizing itself for the trip back to its home universe. Obviously an uneventful, uninteresting world.

The film flickered, and the cycle repeated. This time, however, the continents were different. The oceans were larger, the coastlines completely different. Not Equus, but a world in the exact same time and space as Equus in this world. Thousands of detected radio transmissions scrolled across the bottom of the screen, faster than the enchantment that burned them into the film had been able to keep up with. But aside from this, nothing happened.

Flicker. The blue-green planet was visible in the initial frame this time, but distant, much farther than the first two, so much so that it looked more like a flaw on the screen than a picture. No one could make out the continents. And then, as it rotated, the camera caught first the rounded edge, then the whole of a giant glowing pockmarked sphere- the moon, far too close for comfort. It looked like the back of Equus’s moon- it was obviously between the probe and the planet, so it must be the back- and it had begun to noticeably get larger in the picture when the film flickered again.

This time the planet was closer than the third time, but farther than the first two. The continents could be identified, at least in part, as matching the second one. Another vast flood of radio signals flooded the crawl on the bottom of the screen. And then, as the camera began to turn away from the planet, for just a couple of seconds, the viewers saw what looked like an alien spaceship- angular, streamlined in places, armor-clad in others, oozing steel-gray menace- fly past the probe.

Then the probe’s lens turned away, facing out into space, making its fifty-second-long rotation. The screen filled with blackness… and then, suddenly, it filled with gray, not in the shape of a spaceship, but in the shape of some kind of metal biped…

… with, Twilight Sparkle recognized in shock, a vaguely human-like face. It had a chin, a nose, and two glowing reddish-purple eyes. The face was framed in a sort of bucket helmet, the sort of thing that gladiators wore back in the days before the founding of Equestria. So far as she knew, she was the only one in the room who’d actually seen humans, and she certainly hadn’t expected to see anything like them while on this side of the mirror…

The probe continued to turn. The camera passed over the metal figure, which seemed to study the probe with interest… and, after a moment, with a most unpleasant smile. (What, Twilight thought idly, did a metal creature need with teeth?) The planet drew back into view as the timer ran out for the scan…

… and then, as the probe was charging up the Drive for the hop back, the camera saw a truly immense hand, gleaming black metal against dull black nothing, reaching for the interloper. It became obvious, in the last second, that the hand was large enough to enclose the entire probe… and that it would have done so had the probe remained in that universe half a second longer.

The new scene was no improvement. What appeared to be magic bolts lit up the depths of space. Radio signal detection again flooded the data crawl, but at a slower pace than before. The slow rotation of the camera brought into view a world more or less like the second and fourth, but one that seemed the worse for wear.

Another giant metal biped appeared, soaring out of the darkness on jets, then coming to rest next to the probe. This wasn’t quite as large as the one from the prior universe, but it was immense; a gray, squat-looking thing carrying some kind of firearm in its hands, a single glowing eye sweeping back and forth in its otherwise expressionless face as it scanned the area. Then the eye focused on the probe, and again a giant metal hand reached for it…

… only to be stopped as bolts slammed into the thing, sending up an explosion in its jets and blasting holes through its armor. The blasts and shrapnel barely missed the probe, which continued turning, unconcerned for its fate.

And to her horror, just before the colossus was lost to view, Twilight saw a limp human figure floating half-extended through one of the holes caused by the blasts. The robot- for obviously that’s what it was- had had a pilot. The others in the room saw, and almost to a one they gasped in shock at the sight.

And then the camera saw another robot flying into view, this one white and gold and black, bearing a gigantic shield on one arm. Its face had two tiny eyes rather than the first robot’s one giant glowing one, but that was the only way it resembled a human face at all. It too braked to a relative stop to the probe, firing one-handed with a huge blaster rifle at something the probe couldn’t see. Its blaster went dead, and in a flash of motion it dropped the giant gun, reached behind its back, and drew out what appeared to be a sword made entirely of lightning, lightning caught and forced to hold a saber-like curve.

And then the sword whipped up just in time to parry an axe made from red energy coming down-

- and the film ended.

Someone switched the lights back on in the Cape Friendship conference room.

Occupant, the changeling who ran the Changeling Space Program these days, hissed, “Is that what our probes have been going through all this time?”

“For all we know,” Moondancer said, “it could be.”

The buck-toothed changeling in the white vest shivered. “Dimensional travel is scary,” he said.

Twilight Sparkle certainly couldn’t argue with that. What if any of those robots had been touching the probe when it made its hop home? Would the Drive have failed to function? Or would they have come to Equus along with the probe? If they were hostile, what could Equestria possibly do to stop them? The astromares currently on orbit would be sitting ducks for certain…

I will be so glad when we rescue our friends, she thought. Then we can be done with universe-hopping once and for all. One universe is more than enough to explore. The danger involved with these other worlds just doesn’t bear thinking about…

Author's Notes:

Buffer holds at one.

This chapter exists for two reasons: (1) to give the ponies an even more blatant reason than ten lost probes to regard dimensional exploration as Bloody Dangerous, and (2) I wanted to give Megatron a cameo. (Transformers Prime version, both because it's my favorite version of Megatron as a character and because that Megatron, if the Hub was to be believed, might not actually be as obnoxious a visitor to Equestria as others... at least he seems to have a soft spot for musical numbers.)

The other robots were generically Gundams. Well, a Zaku and a Gundam, anyway, but you know what I mean.

MLP: the Maretian... A FAMILY SHOW!!

Buffer remains at one.

Next Chapter: Sol 314 Estimated time remaining: 11 Hours, 26 Minutes
Return to Story Description


Login with