The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 90: Sol 157

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Dragonfly closed her eyes and basked in the feeling of magic, full-strength Equestria-level magic, rolling across and through her body. It was the most peculiar thing; she’d never had any sense of being in magic back home, and even here she didn’t really miss it until moments like these, when Starlight Glimmer had a mana battery rigged to dump its charge into the environment.

Right now, both batteries, or both of the batteries salvaged from Amicitas anyway. She was using the third battery, plus her own reserves and the artificial field, to enchant two more battery-sized amethyst crystals. Colors and rainbows flickered all around the cave farm, which added its tiny, tiny little boost to the field, along with all the Martian castaways present.

Spitfire soared around the heavy crystals embedded in the ceiling, doing rapid figure-eights in the air while she could. Cherry Berry fussed over the cherry saplings, which had started to send out limbs from the leaf-covered central trunks. Fireball and Mark just stood and watched the light show, with Fireball taking still photos while Mark used his video camera to capture it all.

Dragonfly just sat, eyes half-lidded in bliss, enjoying the temporary feeling of… well, not-hungry wasn’t quite it, since her hunger for love was about as sated as a changeling’s hunger ever got. What she felt, at the moment, was complete, as if a piece of her was missing without magic in her life. A hole inside her was being refilled, almost as literally as love surplus filled the holes in her limbs and wings.

But the moment was brief- a couple of minutes at most before Starlight, trembling, shut down the switches on both batteries. Spitfire glided back to the cave floor, Cherry trudged back to the others, and the rest, Dragonfly included, felt the ache of the sudden absence of magic again.

But Dragonfly was pretty sure her ache was worse than the others’. Oh, the brief dose of a proper field helped immensely, just as it had the last time Starlight had done this using only one of the old batteries. She even felt better now than she had at the end of the previous enchantment session, which gave her hope that even the brief exposure had gained back ground she’d lost to the literally soul-sucking environment of Mars.

She’d stopped talking about the feelings the environment gave her. The others laughed, or worse told themselves not to laugh but blew it off anyway. But she still felt them, every day, and she suspected that in some small way the others felt them too.

Certainly everybody felt the planet. She could feel it now, surrounding the currently safe bubble of air and early-spring-chill air in the cave farm. Mars felt something not of itself and wanted it gone, wanted to wipe it out. Dragonfly was convinced of this in her own mind, and even the others could feel, in their dim, unconscious pony/dragon/Mark ways, the world’s inherent hostility.

But Dragonfly could feel other things too, feelings from some of Mark’s equipment. The Hab had a feeling that reminded her of that last moment, during the invasion of Canterlot, before the big shield collapsed, as if it were holding Mars back by some feeble, wavering, but yet unconquered will. I will protect you, it said, not in one weak voice but in a hundred thousand whispers in a cacophony of will. It didn’t inspire as much confidence as it ought to, not to Dragonfly.

Rover 2, the modified one, felt stolid, like a patient donkey; it would go someplace, it would go in its own time, and it would definitely get there. Where? Didn’t matter. How far? Didn’t matter. How long? Give it power, and it didn’t matter. I will get you there.

And Sojourner, the little rover Mark had brought back from his long trip, sitting inert on a Hab workbench, had a very faint aroma of confusion; what happened? Where is everything?

Dragonfly would have to ask Mark for permission to tinker with Sojourner. The technology was years beyond Equestrian electronics, she knew, but she wanted to get it working again, just so she could go, See? Here we are. Here we all are. It’s all right now. It was a very un-changeling thing to want, but the rest of the hive wasn’t here to tease her about it, so she didn’t care.

And then there was the RTG, or as Dragonfly knew it, the Can of Hot Burning Indifferent Death. Unlike the others, it had no sense of doing or intent of any kind. Death just sat there, inert for the moment, and bided its time with the patience of tides.

Not everything of Mark’s had feelings like that, of course. The equipment inside the Hab had no sensation apart from the Hab as a whole. The computers were utterly emotion-dead to Dragonfly, intriguing as they were to play with. Even Mark’s tools, which he’d finally allowed her to inspect under close supervision, had no more emotional scent than any pony workman’s beloved tool kit- less, really, since Mark had only had these tools since he landed on Sol 1 and unpacked them from the supply probe they’d been shipped in.

And then there was Amicitas. Dragonfly hadn’t noticed until one day, while going with Mark to install the circuit board to add a Mares’ Code key to the ship backup radio, she’d felt the quiet weeping of the ship, the scent of regret and shame.

It wasn’t bad enough that Starlight blamed herself for the crash. It wasn’t bad enough that sometimes Cherry blamed herself, when she was feeling really depressed. But even the ship itself blamed itself for stranding its crew on Mars. That, so far as Dragonfly was concerned, was bucked up.

She hadn’t used to feel these things from inanimate objects. Oh, she was the fastest changeling in the hive, one of the best front-line warriors and a skilled infiltrator. She’d learned to be a passable rocket pilot, and then a very good rocket in-flight engineer. And, well, everyone knew there were places in Equestria where even the land itself was, to put it in pony terms, Not Your Friend.

These feelings were different. They weren’t like those moments at the stick, when she could feel the ship responding to controls, the two of them partners in a dance with the Pale Horse. There was something about Mars that awakened her to these… really bizarre sensations. Maybe it was the absence of the magic field, her body reaching out for any possible substitutes? Maybe she was changing somehow, adapting to a new environment? Maybe she, forgive the blasphemy, was becoming more queen-like? Chrysalis always went on about the feelings she had when above atmosphere…

The others would say- in a couple cases had already said- that she was cracking her chitin. She had to admit, it was the simple answer, and not one she could exactly argue against.

Starlight disconnected the Jacolt’s ladder rigs from the batteries, using her hooves and horn to transfer power (with losses, Dragonfly knew- magic had its own forms of entropy) to the new batteries. “Looking good,” she said in English. “I saved a bit of power for the harvest, just in case we need it.”

“Good,” Mark said. “I was afraid I might have to build my own scythe.” Dragonfly didn’t know what the word scythe was, but she could sense Mark was lying. He’d love to build a scythe. He was happier when his hands were doing things.

“One more test…” Starlight switched on the crippled battery, the one she called C, and cast her scanning spell. The light from her horn flicked back and forth across the four batteries in front of her; A, slightly scuffed from use around Mars; B, battered but functional after coming loose during Amicitas’s crash; and the two freshly enchanted batteries, just clamped in the shells salvaged from the Sparkle Drive’s power systems.

The spell shut off, and Starlight allowed herself to flop back onto her rump. “Looks like we have a success,” she said. “I can barely tell the four apart. The new batteries should be at least 95% of the…” She stumbled her way through the next word, “…capacity of the old.”

Dragonfly joined in the cheer with the others. More magic meant more options. And enough batteries might mean… might…

“I’ll need at least twelve fully charged batteries to enchant a new crystal for the Sparkle Drive,” she continued. “I should ask Twilight to work on a way we can meter the output of the field generators. If we could run twelve batteries at twenty percent power instead of two batteries at a time full-out, it would prevent any risk of the enchantment failing from power loss during switch-over.”

The others lost interest as Starlight techno-babbled magic theory to herself. Dragonfly kept listening, or at least pretended to. She was going to be Starlight’s helper every single time she made new batteries. She was too afraid of what might happen to herself if she didn’t. Tartarus take it, she needed that magic field!

But also, she enjoyed being in the farm. Not just for its tiny magic field, which to be honest wasn’t that much larger than the Hab’s now that the potato plants had come up nice and green. People put off more magic than the same mass of plants. But the Hab had that fainting-warrior feeling, that eternal feeling that something might break at any moment.

The cave had its own feeling, the feeling of something very small looking up at the malevolence of Mars and saying, matter-of-factly, I am here.

No bravado. No challenge. Beyond fear, beyond courage. Just the statement of fact: I am here.

Dragonfly liked that feeling. For all the times she’d flipped the high hoof at the Pale Horse, she’d never had the guts to tell Her, I am here.

Author's Notes:

Buffer is currently 1 3/4.

We'll see what writing I get done tomorrow.

Next Chapter: Sol 162 Estimated time remaining: 20 Hours, 45 Minutes
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