AMICITAS FLIGHT THREE – MISSION DAY EIGHT
ARES III SOL 12
“Spitfire,” Starlight Glimmer said, the sound of fraying nerves popping through her low-toned voice, “if you try to put me back in bed I will bucking well use my last ounce of magic reserves to throw you through the airlock. Without opening it!”
“Spitfire, please, back off a bit,” Cherry Berry said, stepping between the other two ponies. “And Starlight, I know you’re tired, but we shouldn’t argue in front of Mark.”
Once nudged to neutral corners, the pegasus and the unicorn mumbled brief apologies. Cherry let out a sigh of relief. I’m so not cut out for this, she thought. I fly the ship. That’s all I do, I fly the ship. I’m not a leader!
She so wanted another cherry just then. She’d had one fifteen minutes before. She now had fifty-two left, and once gone there would be no others, and she’d had her one for the day, but how she so very badly wanted one. In truth she wanted a whole basket, enough to wash the stress of being a fake leader away. But even one would steady her nerves.
But no. There would be bad days in the future when there were no cherries left. And they wouldn’t keep forever in the human’s ice box, so sometime in the next week or two she would probably have to scarf them all anyway. So she needed to learn to handle life without cherries.
Life without cherries. It hardly seemed worth the effort.
Focus. Everypony’s looking at you, even Mark. They’re waiting on you, Cherry. “What did he say, Starlight?”
“He says alfalfa and potatoes,” Starlight said. “He’s a farmer- at least I think he said he’s a farmer. He said he had parts of plants and tinkering. For some reason he thinks that will make it work, but our alfalfa sprouts and seeds and his fresh potatoes are the only viable crops he can find.”
“So, is he going to go out and plant them today?” Cherry asked.
“No. ‘Need plan,’ he said, so I’m guessing he’s going to stay in today.” Starlight Glimmer’s mouth curled into a frown as she added, “He also said he’s working on a plan to move the ship.”
“That ship’s not going anywhere!” Spitfire insisted.
“It’s half buried in the ground!” Fireball added.
“And there’s a break in the rear quarter that could make the whole back of the ship fall off!” Dragonfly finished.
“That’s what he said!” Starlight snapped. “And it makes sense, too. We can’t keep going miles back and forth every day, especially if we’re going to limit EVAs to eight hours or less. We lose over an hour just for the round trip!”
“But it’s impossible without magic!” Spitfire insisted.
“Then we’ll just have to use magic,” Starlight Glimmer said, smiling. “Both the emergency mana batteries still work. They’re up to just over one percent charge now. If we all spend the day here doing nothing, and if I push magic into one of them-“
“What is WRONG with you??” Spitfire shouted. “Are you TRYING to kill yourself? Every day you cast that spell to talk with Mark, you get mostly nonsense back, and end up flat on your flank! You need to rest, for Faust’s sake!!”
“Spitfire,” Cherry Berry said, bringing the Wonderbolt to attention.
“No, let her talk,” Starlight Glimmer said. “She has a point. But I can’t rest.” She forced herself to stand a bit straighter, to pretend she wasn’t as tired as she obviously was. “Look at all the things our host has! Machines to make this place livable! Cameras and recording devices and computers unimaginably superior to our own! Power tools and spare equipment-“
“Yeah,” Dragonfly butted in, “and the only time he was ever angry at me was when I found his tools and began poking through them. I just wanted to see what I could recognize.”
“And what do we bring to the table?” Starlight asked. “A pile of alfalfa seeds, a broken spaceship, and magic. Dragon magic. Changeling magic. Pegasus magic. Earth pony magic. And unicorn magic. That’s all we have. Spitfire’s right that we don’t have much, and that we risk hurting ourselves if we use it. But if we don’t use it at all, we die. That’s all there is to it.”
The group went silent, so silent that Mark got out of his chair and walked over to them, an inquisitive look on his strange flat face.
“Is that the deal?” Cherry Berry finally asked.
“That’s the deal,” Starlight said flatly, her temporary energy burned out, as she finally allowed her rump to touch the cool Hab floor. “No magic, no ponies. As it is, I think Mark would have a better chance at survival if we weren’t here at all.” She stared Spitfire in the eyes as she added, “We have an obligation to do everything possible to be less of a burden on him.”
Cherry Berry tried to keep her face blank, but in her head she thought: Wow. I think I know how she persuaded all those ponies to give up their cutie marks now.
Spitfire was the first to break eye contact, but only for a moment. “My official duty,” she said slowly, “is to ensure the health of the crew of Amicitas.”
“Precisely my point,” Starlight began again, but Cherry Berry put a hoof on her shoulder. It was time to stop this.
“Okay, that’s all I need to hear,” the pink earth pony said. “Spitfire, if any of us shows actual symptoms of magic exhaustion, you can make us take a break. But we’re going to use Starlight’s plan.” There. Decision made. Cherry turned to Starlight and said, “So what is your plan?”
“Life generates a magic field,” Starlight said. “The more life, the more magic. Growing crops means a lot more life and a lot more magic, so we want to help Mark as much as possible with that.”
“But how is he going to grow anything?” Fireball asked, waving a clawed hand at the airlock. “That isn’t exactly central Fillynois out there!”
“I don’t know,” Starlight admitted. “I’ll ask him when I get a chance. But he’s going to need a lot more compost to make it happen.” She looked straight at Cherry Berry as she said this, leaning a little forward on her forehooves.
“What are you looking at me for?” Cherry Berry asked.
“Earth pony magic,” Starlight replied.
“What? What does that…” The light dawned. “Oh no. Ooooooooh, no. Nononononono.”
“You’re an earth pony. You have a unique connection with the soil.”
“Growing cherries is not my special talent! Eating cherries is my special talent! That was why I left the family farm!”
“But you can still make things grow, right?”
“Well… kind of, yeah,” Cherry admitted. “But nothing like other ponies!”
“Better than any of us?”
Cherry looked around, sighed, and slumped in defeat. “But I hate messing with night soil!” she moaned.
“Twilight tells me you used to do it all the time,” Starlight said. “When you used to do all those odd jobs around Ponyville.”
“But then I was chasing a dream!” Cherry insisted. “My dream of flying!”
“Well, now we’re all chasing a dream,” Starlight replied. “A dream of not dying. So put on your big-horse saddle and get composting.”
“You did say,” Fireball chipped in, his voice dripping with amusement, “that we’re going to use Starlight’s plan.”
“Well… shoot,” Cherry Berry swore.
“Close,” Dragonfly said, and everypony, even Cherry, chuckled at that.
“But we need to keep at least two ponies here,” Starlight said. “I’ll go with Mark and take one battery with me. I think I can get the ship out of the hole if we can get a twenty percent charge to start with. But the other battery needs to be here recharging, and the more ponies present, the better.”
“Not it,” Dragonfly said immediately.
“Double not it,” Fireball added.
“You’ll need me to lower the landing gear,” Dragonfly continued, “and to fix the wheels if they’re broken.”
“I’m the strongest one here,” Fireball said. “I can help dig out the ship, at least. But I’d probably sterilize the cra... the compost.”
Starlight looked at the two of them, then at Spitfire. “I wanted Spitfire with me,” she said at last. “She’s not wrong about the risk. And… I’m not very good at judging risk.”
The Wonderbolt considered this, then shook her head. “They’re both right,” she said, shaking her head towards Dragonfly and Fireball. “You’ll need them to move the ship. I’ll help with the KP.” She smiled a little and added, “Usually I’m handing out the punishment details, not taking them.”
Cherry Berry let out her breath. Thank Faust for crises that averted themselves. If only all their arguments dissolved that easily. She so hated when these conflicts popped up. If she were in a flying machine, any flying machine, she’d know exactly what to do. Otherwise… otherwise she just wanted a princess to show up, or even Queen Chrysalis on a good day, to tell her and everypony else what to do.
Look at Spitfire. She was backing down to prevent conflict and taking responsibility. She’d been a leader for years. She knew how to handle fractious ponies. Okay, there was her short temper and lack of patience with civilians… and all four of the others were either civilians or Dragonfly…
Or Starlight Glimmer! She knew what needed to be done, and she could persuade the other ponies to do it! Okay, so she once persuaded a whole village into giving up their individuality and making her their supreme leader… and she thought magic was the solution to absolutely everything, like the time she swapped the princesses’ cutie marks… or brainwashed Twilight’s friends… or almost destroyed all of space and- yeah, maybe not…
And what about Fireball? He’s big… and loud… and large… and really surly and grumpy all the time… and, well, not Fireball then.
And Dragonfly? Intelligent, experienced, tough… flighty, adrenalin-addicted, so self-centered it was a miracle they didn’t need to account for her ego in orbital trajectory calculations…
Oh, buck me, I really am stuck with this job, aren’t I?
“Okay, if we’re agreed,” she said, “I’ll go get the markers and show Mark what we intend to do.”
“Tell him about the landing gear!” Dragonfly insisted. “We never dropped them, and the wheel well covers are reinforced for re-entry heat. They’re probably still good!”
New crisis, Cherry Berry thought. How do I draw a picture that says our spaceship probably doesn’t have a flat tire?