The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Sol 47


Starlight Glimmer looked at the whiteboard, which showed two pictures. One was a globe turning on an axis; the other was a sun and a planet orbiting it, a large circle and arrow defining the orbit.

“Day,” Mark said, pointing to the globe. Then, pointing to the orbiting planet, he added, “Year.”

“Day, year, yes,” Starlight responded. This was so tedious, but anything that got words out of Mark. The other Amicitas crew members had their ways to pass the time; Starlight used her free time to wring more English out of their host. She had to, now, since both Spitfire and Cherry Berry had decreed an absolute two-week moratorium on further unicorn magic.

Mark then drew a smaller globe, adding a little Hab and Amicitas to it, then drawing the rotation arrow around it. “Sol,” he said. “Little more than day.”

Sol.” When Amicitas’s ship clock had been reactivated, Starlight had found out that Equestrian time and this planet’s day didn’t line up. The day here was between thirty-seven and thirty-eight minutes longer. It made sense that Mark had a different name for it, in retrospect.

Then Mark drew a second orbit outside the first, sketched a little Mars next to Earth, and added an arrow, showing it moving in the same direction- counterclockwise- as Earth. “Little less than two years,” he said.

“What days?” Starlight asked.

“How many days,” Mark corrected. “Six hundred eighty-seven.”

That made sense. Longer, slower orbit obviously meant a longer year.

Then Mark drew a funny-looking squiggle by Earth. “Hermes,” he said. “Ares Four.”

Hermes was the name of the ship he’d come by, the one that had left him behind. His crew had been Ares Three. Obviously he was talking about the next mission.

Mark drew a dotted line from the Earth to the Mars on his drawing. “Four years,” he said. He wrote a note by the little Mars: Sol 1412. “Go home four years.”

That… well, that was ridiculous, and no question about it. “Why four years?” Starlight asked. “Why… big…”

“Why so long?” Mark prompted.

“What ‘long?’”

Mark held out his arms as wide as he could vertically. “Tall,” he said. He shifted them to bracket a horizontal space and said, “Wide.” He then held one to his chest and the other as far forward as he could. “Long.” He brought the outstretched hand back almost to his chest and finished, “Short.”

Starlight wasn’t sure she was absorbing all this, but for now she got the idea. “Yes, why long?”

“Home not know we here,” Mark said, speaking slowly and thoughtfully. “Ares move every four years.”

“Need talk home sooner!” Starlight insisted.

“Yeah, no kidding,” Mark muttered.

“What ‘kidding?’”

Mark groaned and shook his head in frustration. “Never mind,” he said. “How soon you home get here?”

Yes, that was the trick, wasn’t it? “Not know how,” Starlight said. “We come accident.” Accident was the longest English word in her vocabulary, but it got a lot of use. “Home not know how come Mars. Here Mars,” she added, pointing down to the ground to emphasize this planet and not another alternate world.

Mark shook his head, sighing. “Damn,” he said.

Starlight didn’t know that word, but she was pretty sure it was profanity of some kind, considering how Mark used it when he got upset. “Yeah, no damn kidding,” she replied, using the same surly undertone he’d used before.

This triggered a laughing fit in Mark which took almost a minute to subside.

“Somebody call lunchtime?” Dragonfly asked, popping up next to Starlight.

“What? No! I mean…” Starlight took a deep breath, deliberately pushed away her annoyance, and focused on her thoughts of Dragonfly the inventor, Dragonfly the pilot, Dragonfly the schmoozer, Dragonfly the buttinksy… no, that was the wrong track. Dragonfly is my crewmate. She’s helped save our lives a couple of times already. She’s clever and concerned and fun to be around. And she needs our love.

Despite her intense concentration, it took quite a long moment before she could embrace the changeling, and the hug only lasted a couple of seconds.

“Er… thanks, I’ll take all I can get…” The changeling’s ear-fins twitched uncertainly. She pointed to Mark, adding, “But I was making a joke about him.”

Mark, meanwhile, watched all of this with interest. “Hello, Dragonfly,” he said slowly.

“Hello, Mark,” Dragonfly replied. “What are you doing?”

Mark’s eyebrows jumped. “Well!” he said.

“Not how are you doing,” Dragonfly corrected, “what are you doing?”

Starlight looked at Dragonfly. “You can make grammatically correct sentences in his language?”

“Some simple ones, yeah,” Dragonfly replied. “I’ve been watching what Mark does with his computer. The last couple nights I’ve been getting up and turning it back on to watch more of that educational show.”

“You what??”

“Don’t let on, he might get upset,” Dragonfly insisted. “So, Mark, what are you doing?”

Mark glanced back and forth between the unicorn and the changeling, looking like he’d rather not be caught between the two. “We are talking about days and years,” he said deliberately, pointing to the whiteboard. “And space.”

“Really? Sounds like fun,” Dragonfly said. “How many years… um… darn it, how do I say this…”

Mark wrote a number on the whiteboard: 41. He pointed to himself. “Forty-two years old,” he said. “How old you?”

“That wasn’t what I was going to ask!” Dragonfly protested.

Starlight Glimmer pointed to herself and said, “Twenty-six.” She nudged Dragonfly. “Tell him how old you are.”

“I don’t know how old I am!” Dragonfly hissed back. “The queen’s only been giving out birth certificates for a few years now! It was years before I ever stuck my head above ground! Anyway, what’s a year to a changeling?”

Starlight narrowed her eyes, smirked, pointed at Dragonfly and said, “Thirty-one!”

“Nark,” Dragonfly grumbled.

“Did I guess it?” Starlight grinned.

“Mark,” Dragonfly said, changing the subject, “how many years space?”

The alien didn’t answer immediately. He leaned back in his chair, twiddling the marker in his fingers, thinking carefully about the question. Finally he took the whiteboard and erased it, then wrote a number on the far right of the board: 2035. “This year,” he said. He drew a line back to the left edge of the map, wrote the number 1957, drew a little ball with antennas- a little like the much-ridiculed Stayputnik- and said, “First make-moon. Satellite.”

“Satellite.” Starlight repeated. An artificial satellite, she guessed. She wondered why Mark’s species began with robots instead of piloted craft. It seemed to her like doing it the hard way round.

A little farther on Mark drew a little rocket and the number 1961. “First man in space.” A little farther on, he drew a little rocket sitting on a planet and the number 1969. “First man on moon.” He drew a little can with wings above a curved line; 1971. “First space station- first place to go that stays in space.” A winged thing vaguely similar to the Amicitas; 1981. “First ship go back space, use again.”

After a bit of thought, Mark back-tracked on the line, drawing a planet-with-Hab for Mars underneath it. 1965. “First make-moon fly past Mars.” A second line to 1969. “First make-moon orbit Mars.” 1974. “First make-moon land Mars.” 1997. “First rover land Mars.” And, finally, 2027. “First man land Mars.”

Starlight wondered about all of this. Mark was the product of over seventy years of his species learning how to fly through space, developing all sorts of technology without the benefit of magic. That was incredible. That was amazing. That was-

“Slow,” Dragonfly said. “Why slow?”

“Slow?” Mark asked, obviously dumbfounded. “Slow because hard, that’s why!” He handed the marker to Dragonfly. “How long for you, then?”

Dragonfly took the marker in her hooves, adjusted it so she could grip it in one perforated fetlock, and drew a new line on the whiteboard. On the right she wrote the number 1009. “Us this year,” she said. On the left of the line she wrote 1006. “First rocket.” She then dragged the marker back and forth above the line several times. “All that,” she said.

Mark’s jaw dropped. “Aro tellyng me you whent phrm your first rocket phlyte to here in four years??”

“Slow, please,” Starlight warned. “All words not have.”

Both Mark and Dragonfly threw up their forelimbs in frustration. “All space, four years?” Mark asked, sarcasm bleeding into his voice.

“By my long-devoured cocoon,” Dragonfly groaned to Starlight over Mark’s simplified response, “you know we sound like stupid little children, right? We have got to -”

“Will you two stop it?!” Starlight shouted in Equestrian.

Mark froze, then bent his head. “Sorry,” he said quietly.

Dragonfly took a moment to follow suit, but the changeling had the good sense to do it before she said anything else. “Yeah, I shouldn’t have said that,” she said. “I’m sorry, Starlight. But we really need to work on learning his language the right way.”

“We’ll start tomorrow,” Starlight sighed. “I don’t have the energy for it right now. But I am curious…” She took the whiteboard and eraser from Dragonfly, cleared the board, and then took the marker in her teeth and began drawing. First Cherry’s cutie mark, then her own, then Spitfire’s; then the emblem off the changeling flag; then a cute little dragon.

“Why do you keep drawing Spike instead of Fireball?” Dragonfly asked.

“Shut up,” Starlight grumbled, adding a drawing of a CSP-style rocket stack launching, complete with flaming clouds of rocket exhaust. At last she showed this to Mark, then turned back to writing with her teeth. This would be so much easier, she thought, if they’d let me use my magic again. I’m feeling much better… my horn only throbs a little now.

Spitfire was easy: a single hash mark.

For herself, three hash marks.

The Spike-and-not-Fireball representation of Fireball got six hash marks. Dragonfly, nine.

And then Cherry Berry. That took some counting, and Starlight made a couple of corrections before settling on twenty-eight.

Twenty… eight… flights?” Mark gasped. He glanced over at Cherry Berry, who was doing something with the dirt near the mostly-grown alfalfa sprouts.

Starlight nodded. Then she tried to draw a small version of Mark’s flag, messed up, erased it, and drew the swoosh pattern on the patch on his other shoulder. “You?” she asked.

Mark groaned and held up a single finger.

“Ha-HA!” Dragonfly cheered triumphantly. “Ask him his word for ‘rookie,’ Starlight!”

Ha-HA yerzelph, Dragonfly,” Mark said. “How many days in space, hm?”

Starlight thought about that. According to reports from home via water-telegraph, this was ESA-54 Mission Day 44. She wrote a 44 next to each symbol for the Amicitas crew, then a plus sign, and then paused. For Spitfire she added a zero. Starlight had had one short visit and one three-month shift on the space station, so she added a 96 to her own. Fireball had had one three-month station visit and Dragonfly two station shifts plus her moon flight, so… Starlight did a bit of math… 103 to Fireball, 193 for Dragonfly plus a little circle for her moon landing, plus the word “Moon” spoken.

And then Cherry Berry. Minmus mission. Moon mission. Space station launch. So many other flights, including VIP flights past both the moon and Minmus… It took more calculation, but she finally settled on 198 plus two moons. “Moon, small moon,” she said.

Mark took the marker and wrote next to the swoosh symbol 47 Sols + 124 Days. He then scratched out 47 Sols and wrote instead 49 Days, and then added an equals sign and 173. “Ha HA ha,” he said to Dragonfly as he capped the marker with a deliberate flourish.

“Still want me to ask him for the word ‘rookie’?” Starlight asked smugly.

“Feh,” Dragonfly grumbled. “I still say more launches is a better metric than more days in space.”


I learned an interesting factoid from my guests today: they’ve only been flying into space for four years.

That’s right. They went from Sputnik and Mercury to warp drive in four years. And in that four years they have had DOZENS of flights, and apparently half of them included Cherry in some fashion.

In fact, if I’m understanding this right, Cherry has landed on both their homeworld’s moons. That means I’m sharing this Hab with the pony version of Neil Armstrong. Or possibly Alan Shepard. Or, considering the sheer number of launches, the pony version of the Mercury Seven, the New Nine, and the Next Thirteen all at once.

But apparently this is Cherry’s twenty-eighth flight in four years. Let’s say they launched their first rocket on January 1, 1006 and launched the flight that landed them here on December 31, 1009 (their dates). That’s an average of one launch every seven weeks or so.

One launch every seven weeks. For just Cherry Berry.

I don’t think NASA has allowed the same astronaut to launch more than once every two YEARS.

And how much training can you cram into seven weeks? Less, really, since Cherry Berry has apparently got almost two hundred days in space counting her time here. I was training as part of Ares-III for five YEARS.

Much becomes clear about my guests. Many of the questions I’ve been asking about them now have a simple, easy to understand, impossible to refute explanation.

Specifically: these ponies are all CRAZY!