The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 187: Sol 331

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The testing team was half and half- half pony, half changeling. The pony half, in turn, was also half and half- unicorn and pegasus, with only those unicorns Twilight Sparkle could muster who were good at long-range teleportation.

The tests were simple: set up the test vehicle on the launch pad, with its array of fifteen enchanted pylons, trigger the enchantment, and get the heck out of the way of ten tons of rapidly rising (or falling) metal.

“Test Fourteen at T minus thirty seconds,” echoed the call from the dozen or so loudspeakers scattered around the little island well off the coast of Horseton Space Center. “All personnel prepare to evacuate. T minus twenty-five seconds…”

Well offshore, on a small barge that rocked gently in the slow swells of the Celestial Sea, one unicorn after another popped into existence with a flash of light (and, in one instance, with a splash of water, having unexpectedly been bumped aside by the spell’s failsafe when another unicorn arrived at the chosen destination a split second earlier). Some pegasi and most of the changelings followed at a more normal flying speed, while the four fastest pegasi and the two fastest changelings, plus one alicorn princess, hovered and watched for whatever was about to happen.

The princess in question, Twilight Sparkle, wore one of the new wireless headsets, and as she counted down every word echoed over the little island launch pad. “… seven… six… five… four… three… two… one!”

What happened next, in tests one through eight, had been the sudden appearance of a magical blast wave, a force dome that rapidly expanded and left trees standing while carrying the test vehicle- and usually a lot of things that hadn’t been intended to become test vehicles- up into the air along with it.

Test Nine had been the first test to see if less of the dome could be generated. Subsequent tests had reduced the dome into a more or less round magical plate- or, rather, a trampoline, since what it did was essentially bounce whatever was above it into the air at tremendous speeds.

But, as with the prior tests, Test Fourteen proved that the spell had extreme difficulty discerning which things it should toss into the air, and which it shouldn’t. The mock-up spacecraft caught only the edge of the field, which was still enough to lift it in the air a bit before it slipped out of the forcefield’s effect and almost immediately plunged back to the ground.

The launch tower, on the other hoof, went almost straight up and kept accelerating, driven swiftly through the sound barrier by the fifteen pylons that generated the spell.

“Forget the capsule! Track the tower!” Twilight called out over her headset. “It’s still valid data!”

Inside the earphones of her headset, an imperious and grating voice snapped, “I don’t care if it’s data or not, it’s heading directly for my space center!!”

“Pssh,” Twilight scoffed. “It’s still accelerating upwards. I can follow it and prevent it from-“

Far, far up in the sky, the launch tower, already not at all well from having been ripped up off its foundation by the spell and then accelerated to over three times the speed of sound, gave up what structural integrity it had remaining, turning from one slightly mangled object into over a hundred smaller, but still very destructive, ballistic projectiles of tremendous weight. The spell lost its focus, and without its target it shut down.

“My space center, princess!” Chrysalis demanded over the radio.

“Shoot. Hold on one moment.”

Twilight Sparkle had heard the occasional joke about her being the Alicorn Princess of OCD, but even her detractors would have to admit that a miles-distant telekinetic grab of almost a gross of different objects, collectively massing about seven tons, followed by a mass teleport that left the metal neatly stacked in careful rows next to the launch pad for reassembly, was a feat not even Celestia would have been able to perform.

“There. All sorted out. What did we get?”

“Tracking reports maximum speed at breakup of twelve hundred sixty-two meters per second,” came the response from the minotaur chief scientist of the Changeling Space Program, Warner von Brawn. “Altitude approximately fourteen thousand, five hundred meters. Rate of acceleration had dropped by fourteen percent below launch estimate, with numbers inexact due to not tracking the tower for the first six seconds of flight.”

“Perfect!” Twilight Sparkle cheered. “Mares and gentlecolts, we have proof of concept!”

“What?” Chrysalis wasn’t having it. “Did it escape your attention that the actual capsule flew about two hundred meters, came down, and exploded on the pad? Or that we still have no way of actually steering the thing without a unicorn controlling the spell in person?”

“Oh, those? I solved those problems a week ago,” Twilight said, her voice too chipper to be smug. “The only question was whether or not the same kind of projectors that Starlight Glimmer will have available, at her much reduced power levels, would be able to produce sufficient force to be worth bothering with! Today’s experiment shows that, if anything, the spell might be slightly overpowered!”

“There is some truth to that,” the minotaur rumbled over the radio. “The estimated G forces for the tower’s launch would severely inconvenience a changeling and would pose lethal danger for practically anyone else.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you solved the other problems?” Chrysalis asked.

“Aren’t you going to ask how I solved them?” Twilight asked, pouting a little.

“Would I understand it? No. And I have no need to understand- not the theory, anyway. All I need to know is how to make it go in the right direction.”

“I’ll show you when I get back to your space center,” Twilight said. “I need to call Rainbow Dash, anyway. Test Fifteen will require a live pilot.”

“Tell her to stay home,” Chrysalis replied. “I’ll fly Fifteen.”

“Aren’t you two weeks overdue to relieve Concordia?” Twilight asked.

Concordia is in good hooves,” Chrysalis said.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles overhead, the current officer in command of CSP Concordia looked sternly at her subordinate and said, “I don’t care if you can teleport here in one go, I’ve told you, you’re not allowed to visit Mama when she’s at work.”

“But Mama!” Flurry Heart whined.

“No buts,” Cadance replied. “Now go sit in the corner and think about what a dangerous thing you’ve just done.”

“Isn’t a corner, Mama.”

“Fine. Over by the ladder, then.”

“An’ can’t sit in zero-G.”


As the overpowered alicorn child floated past one of the changelings on duty on the half-ship, half-space station’s bridge, she asked, “Can Mr. Changeling play with me?”

“No,” Cadance said, but her glare was reserved for the drone whose crimes were (a) Being a Changeling Who is Not Thorax, and (b) Being Here.

The changeling, remembering that his current commanding officer had once launched himself, his queen, and tens of thousands of his friends hundreds of miles at ballistic speed, bent back to his console and thought small thoughts.

Author's Notes:

Cadence is really regretting "keeping an eye on things for a day or two." And she holds one particular grudge a very long time, especially when her daughter is in close proximity. But the two changelings currently on crew regret it even more. She gets tetchy when you say "Princess of Food" in her hearing...

KWLP tonight is the July 4th show. First thing tomorrow I hit the road for Sausomecon, up by Kansas City airport. Vacation is over; time to get back on the road. I'll have tomorrow's chapter finished before I sack out tonight.

Oh- and by the way, here's my favorite Martian post-Mars fanfic. It's a shame the ponies act as kind of a curb on Mark's more manic side, because this writer really gets Mark: https://archiveofourown.org/works/8879638

Next Chapter: Sol 332 Estimated time remaining: 10 Hours, 38 Minutes
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