The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 73: Sol 111

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Quite literally a million miles from anything, a metal thing about the size of a small bus appeared. One moment it did not exist; the next, it did.

Electronics inside the metal thing went to work. They checked a meter monitoring the drain on the object’s electric and mana batteries. Finding the electric system charging from the solar panels and the mana batteries discharging at an acceptable rate, it abandoned the emergency-revert program and entered its short protocol of exploration.

The object took a series of photographs of its surrounding area, including two that included the blue-white planet and its large gray moon not too far away. It attempted to connect a telepresence spell and failed. It listened for radio signals and found none. It observed the heat from the local star, the lack of air pressure outside, and a few other minor pieces of scientific equipment.

Finally, it triggered a complex spell, one which had its own separate battery. The magic detected a planet of the proper mass within five percent, oriented the craft so the scanning device faced that world, and conducted a rapid, broad sweep of the world and anything orbiting it. It found only the planet and its one moon, and a host of life forms on the planet’s surface. When its scans were later replayed, they would show continents familiar to the beings that created it.

With all experiments having been completed and with mana batteries still holding sufficient charge, the object shut down all nonessential functions, aligned itself with exquisite precision, and ceased to exist again.

And a few inches away in a direction not perceivable by mortal senses, the space probe ESA-58, also known as Angel Two, reappeared, recharged its mana batteries, and reported success to its creators.

“It worked! It worked! It worked!”

The sight of an alicorn princess doing the most discoordinated happy dance imaginable was restricted to the small group of people in Cape Friendship’s research and development main office. Most of the observers thought this for the best.

“Variable magic environment requires variable magic output for spells! Adjustable spell arrays allow for operation of technomantic systems under multiple conditions and for multiple purposes!” Twilight Sparkle hopped, kicked, stepped, and even pronked around the room, oblivious to the others present.

“And more to the point,” a deep and resonant voice cut through the giggling and babbling, “Angel Two detected the interdimensional beacon and followed it home. The backup system wasn’t required.” Warner von Brawn, the minotaur chief scientist of the Changeling Space Program, stretched his beefy arms and added, “Though we should test the backup system live in the near future.”

“Test, schmest! Let’s just go get them!” The lanky, greasy-maned figure seated next to the minotaur rocket scientist- the person who signed his paychecks- slapped a hoof on the conference table. “We’ve got a robot that can hop from one dimension to another. Just keep hopping until we find the one that has our people in it, and then follow the probe!”

“It’s not that simple,” von Brawn rumbled, not the least ruffled. “Starlight Glimmer’s and Cherry Berry’s reports both make clear that the Bucephalous- like planet they crashed on was much closer than Bucephalous should have been when they made their unplanned hop. We have only a vague upper-dimensional vector to trace them by, determined by scans of their life support connections. We have yet to test a piloted ship making the same hop to ensure the system can be successfully run manually.”

“Blah blah blah,” Queen Chrysalis replied. “We’ll work it out as we go. We always have! So quit stalling and do it!”

“Hold yer horses, Yer Queenship,” Applejack, present as Cape Friendship’s senior flight controller, replied. “We ain’t got Concordia’s Sparkle Drive built yet, much less on orbit an’ docked.”

“Oh. Right.” Chrysalis slumped back in her chair. “How long?”

“More testing,” von Brawn said. “At least a month just for the drive, then two weeks to get the drive unit attached to the rest of Concordia.” The minotaur made an equivocating motion with one massive hand and said, “Call it six weeks. Six weeks from whenever the princess stops dancing.”

The words cut through Twilight’s self-congratulation, and the Princess of Friendship finally remembered where she was. “Oh. Right, sorry,” she said, returning to her own seat. “What is Concordia’s status, anyway?”

“Right where we left it,” Chrysalis muttered. “Rainbow Dash and Occupant go up next week to relieve the station-keeping crew. Their mission will also top off the rocket fuel tanks. Fleetfoot and I relieve them two weeks later. After that all that’s left is the Sparkle Drive unit and to stock the ship with emergency food for twelve.”

The others in the room, a mixture of ESA and CSP senior staff, nodded their heads.

Whereas Amicitas had been based on an existing Equestrian Space Agency ship, Concordia was new construction based mostly on Changeling Space Program modular design. The ship was essentially a second space station, manufactured in pieces, launched on boosters, and assembled in orbit. It was as kludgy and graceless as Amicitas had been sleek and beautiful… but the project had gone from blueprints to orbit in less than eighty days. Now it sat in orbit, conventional rocket engines fully fueled and ready to launch it to the Moon or Bucephalous or wherever. It was the largest thing in orbit over Equus that wasn’t made of rock or ice.

“We should probably select the final crew for the rescue mission,” Twilight Sparkle said. “After all, once Mark’s people have their ascent ship ready, we need to be ready to go at any time. We’ll need to train for the mission, probably including a shake-down cruise for Concordia.

“What’s to choose?” Chrysalis muttered. “Me for CSP, Rainbow Dash for ESA- our two best remaining pilots. Pick four other names out of a hat. All we’re doing is popping over a universe or three, making a rendezvous, and popping back.”

“We need an experienced commander and a backup pilot,” Twilight Sparkle insisted.

“Myself and Rainbow Dash,” Chrysalis repeated matter-of-factly.

“And an engineer, someone to monitor the Sparkle Drive, a medic for the ponies, and someone to take care of Mark if his people can’t retrieve him,” Twilight said. “With a racial balance-“

“We take the best,” Chrysalis insisted. “This isn’t a publicity stunt this time, princess. We are going to bring back our own. Dash and I are the best pilots. Find the best medic, the best engineer, and your best assistant for that magic hoppy drive of yours-“

“I’m going myself,” Twilight said quietly.

There had been times, and circumstances, when Chrysalis would have delivered some snarky comment, generally attacking Twilight Sparkle’s fitness for space. This time she simply nodded and said, “All right. Three to go, then. Who else?”

Twilight noticed, allowed herself to feel warm and fuzzy at the changeling queen’s tacit endorsement, and began listing options for Concordia’s engineer.


ESA: To Starlight Glimmer. Message begins. Quote.I know you don’t like to remember this, but we think you need to. You’re very good at making things work even when broken. When you ran Our Little Town, you kept everything running, even after you stole our cutie marks. The food wasn’t good, but we had plenty. The houses weren’t pretty, but we were dry and warm. We lived in a barren wasteland just below the snowline, and we built a town that’s still here. You did that, and you can do it again. We believe you will survive, Starlight, and we’re all rooting for you! – Double Diamond and the ponies of Our Little Town. End quote. Over.

AMICITAS: Message received. Starlight just buried her head in her cot, over.

ESA: Twilight says she believes in Starlight too. And that Starlight doesn’t need to worry about the past. Get her head out of the cot and put it to use, over.

AMICITAS: Who is this, Chrysalis? Moondancer? Over.

ESA: Drying Paint. Just observing. Out.


What is your name? Fireball.

What did you do on your ship? I was second pilot. Also, if we need go out in space, I go first.

How did you get into space flight? Was ordered to.

Who do you have waiting for you back home? My stuff if no stolen.

What are your impressions of humans? Dipsticks. But you make cool machines.

Do you look forward to visiting Earth after your rescue? Yes. Want to learn to drive a car.

What will you do when you finally go home? Take my stuff back, find cave, tell world to (untranslatable noise).

What is your favorite disco song? The song that plays after turn radio off.

If there were one little thing (not a ship) you could have from home, what would it be? Book of English bad language with pony translation.

What message do you have for the people of Earth? You might be near dragon if you make more car chases.

Author's Notes:

I left Memphis at 5:25 PM yesterday afternoon. I crawled into my own bed and turned out the light at quarter after 3 AM. The telemarketer woke me almost eight on the dot.

I've been drowsy and half-asleep all day, and I can't focus, so no writing today. On the other hand, I got the mission-critical stuff for this weekend's trip to Biloxi taken care of , so tomorrow is more or less mine.

No, Angel Two didn't make its test run into Watney's universe.

When finished, the ship the ponies are sending to rescue the Amicitas crew will be almost three times the size of what the ponies call their space station. (But then, their space station is only a little bit bigger than Skylab.)

Next Chapter: Sol 113 Estimated time remaining: 22 Hours, 16 Minutes
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