In orbit around Harpagornis, Chakastra system.
Waiting, waiting, waiting.
With Captain Path and Starry gone with Admiral Kline on the Pegasus, it was hurry up and wait time aboard the Cosmic Lotus. Radiance Point and his sister, Sunrise Flight, hated to just simply stand around and wait. True, they had managed to convert the Decel system into a torpedo launcher, with a firing arc of twenty degrees from right ahead in all directions, but they did not feel it was enough. With Planned Maintenance caught up, most everyone awake, and repairs done, Radiance and Sunrise were getting bored. Such a situation is dangerous for all involved.
While Sunrise could always find something to do, in this case helping Ixia doing mane-cuts, hooficures and massages, Radiance was not so lucky. He did set himself down and caught up on Engineering Department paperwork, which did need doing, but only took him four hours to complete. Once that was done and read into CONN, Radiance was again at loose ends.
With personnel awake and moving about the ship, he could not use the excuse of taking over a watch, there being more than enough crew available. He headed to the research labs, thinking to lose himself in pure research. What he came up with was an idea to turn the torpedo into a beam weapon.
Radiance threw himself into the research, looking up the force field intensities, detonation parameters of the force balls, and means to collimate the blast into a single beam before starting the spell equations. Of course, doing that, he lost track of time.
Sunrise found him in the lab, sitting in a corner with a display console in front of him, his horn flickering with violet light as he thought. “Brother, you missed dinner,” she said to him. No response.
“Wake up brother, it’s time to go to sleep,” she yelled in his ear. Other than the ear twitching, he didn’t respond. “Okay, brother dear, time to jolt you out of your fugue!”
Spying his coffee mug, she took it, so she could refill it. She did, with an addition. She slipped in some lemon juice to the coffee and set it back by his side. Absently, he reached for the mug and took a gulp. That did it.
Radiance came out of his fugue with a scream, followed by coughing and a dash for the sink, to rinse his mouth out. “Who in the name of sweet damn all tainted my coffee?” he shouted.
“<I did, brother dear,>” Sunrise snapped in Twinspeak. “<You wouldn’t answer me, so I had to get your attention!>”
“<Whyinhell you interrupt my thoughts?>” Radiance snapped back.
“<It’s time to go to bed, brother. I bet you forgot dinner today, didn’t you?>”
“<So what if I did?> Point asked. The answer was Radiance being physically dragged out of the lab.
“<Time for dinner, then sleep, big brother!>” Radiance knew that this was not time to argue with his sister.
The next morning, after breakfast, Sunrise asked Radiance just what had captivated him in the lab. After explaining his idea, Sunrise thought about it, for about a minute. “Won’t work, brother. Changing the blast to a beam will lead to enough losses along the way that it would be better to stay with the torpedoes. Now, if you really want something good, how about developing a magazine, so we can rapid-fire a volley of torpedoes without waiting for the recharge cycle?”
Radiance mused, sipping his coffee. “You saw the same problem I did, then. About a magazine, I can see a way to load up to three discrete torpedoes into a chamber. Holding them in suspension should not be a problem, the only problem is rapid-firing. Extracting, targeting and firing will take long enough so that the firing rate won’t show much of an improvement.”
“You’re thinking one at a time. Instead of one holding chamber, make three. In case of combat action, have all stations crewed at the same time and fire out of all tubes at once, different teams controlling different torpedoes.” Sunrise suggested.
“That can work,” Radiance said. “Let’s get to Decel and see if we can make this work.”
The brother and sister team went into Decel and did not come out until after dinner, a pile of designs stored in CONN and the Decel station half torn apart for measurements. The two, eyes red-rimmed but aglow with excitement, went up to talk with Commander Bluequill.
After hearing the proposal, Galen said, “You overlooked something here, you two.”
Radiance blinked in surprise. “Just what is that, Commander?”
“That the Lotus is an exploration ship, not a ship of war. Converting the Decel system into a torpedo launcher is a logical outgrowth of a system we had, yet do not need any more. Just how long do you think we will hold out in case we were attacked by a true warship, even a little one? Just how fast can we turn the ship to bring weapons to bear?” Galen asked in a very mild tone of voice, which they knew was a red flag warning of trouble.
Sunrise broke the uncomfortable silence. “Not very long for the first, too damn long for the second,” she said in meek tones, something she hardly ever used.
“Correct, Sunrise. This ship is not a warship and should not be considered as one. If you must do anything, look towards our defenses. Maybe you can upgrade the shields or tune them finer.”
“I’m going to need some data on the opposition weapons, Galen. I need to know what to tune against,” Radiance said, eyes getting a dreamy faraway look as he started to think.
Until we get that data, Point, do what you do best. Improvise.”
“I’ll do what I can see, Galen. For now, let me see what I can look at,” Radiance said as he started walking out of the office and to the lab, lost in thought.
“Great Celestia, he’s at it again…” Sunrise sighed.
“That he is, but while thinking, he’s not tinkering. It will keep him occupied for a while.”
“That it will, Commander. Now, to find something for me to strain my brain at,” Sunrise said quietly, thinking about what to do with herself.
Galen smiled, well, as much as a griffin could. “Go to Sciences and ask for the team leader studying Harpagornis’ atmosphere. You have a pegasus’ instincts combined with Point’s intellect and observation skills. I’m sure that will help in our understanding of this type of planet.”
Sunrise let out a grin at her orders. “Sounds good to me, sir!” she said with excitement, saluting her commander with a wing before dashing out of the office.
“If all of my problems were that easy…” Galen muttered to himself as he went back to his paperwork.
The two attacked their problems in their own ways, Radiance by looking over the shield plans, and Sunrise by taking active observations. Radiance may have all the plans memorized but looking at the diagrams and manuals could spark a stray thought that could lead to success. Sunrise had a crazy idea to go down into the Harpagornis atmosphere for some first-hoof observations but was rapidly dissuaded from doing so by the science staff. Besides, they were too far out for her to get there and back before her life support failed.
Radiance worked on first ideas, that being how could he defend against his own weapon. Seemingly easy, because the shield acted as a thrust block for the explosions to move the ship. Altering the fields to cover the entire ship instead just at the front took him over a day to figure out how to configure them without having any holes in the overall field. Once that was settled and programmed in, he tried another principle, that of having smaller, more localized shields scattered around the ship. Doctor Zubon had to clock him one while he was distracted to get him to get some sleep. She also had to give Sunrise a whack, because she was rapturously working out atmospheric flow patterns. “Damn overachievers…” Zubon complained as she had the two of them dragged to Medical for IV feeding and solid rest.
After awakening, and a stern lecture from Zubon, the twins went back to their work, under supervision. While they slept, the initial reports came in from Captain Path about their first findings of the Swarm, and the fact that the beams were indeed raw mana. Radiance took that information and applied it to his shield work, finding a way to take the raw mana fired at them and collect it, using the collected mana to boost the shields, so continued fire would only make the shields tougher. That earned a commendation from Commander Bluequill, along with an order to take half a day off and rest.
As Radiance was heading to the Park after dinner for some relaxation, he heard someone calling his name. Turning, he saw Xanth running up to him, a message sheet held in his glow. “Just what is this all about?” he asked, holding up the message sheet.
“Oh, that. It means what it says, Xanth. I set up a hundred-thousand-bit account for Skyborn, for him to use after he gains his cutie mark. Until then, you and Cold Fire can use the interest from the account, while I can deposit more if I feel like it, but not withdraw any.” Radiance explained, looking just a little uncomfortable.
“But, why? You have not even seen him yet!” Xanth said.
“I have not looked upon him for a reason, Xanth. I’m afraid to.”
“Afraid? Afraid of what?” Xanth asked, confused at the statement.
“Afraid for myself, Xanth. Afraid that when I finally lay eyes on him, an urge would come over me, to open my heart to him, to show the love I never received as a colt. For years now, if I did, HE would be lurking in wait for me, eager to seize on my weakness and take over the body. Now that he is gone, I’m still scared. Habits of a lifetime are hard to lose.” Radiance explained, eyes downcast.
“Skyborn deserves his parent’s love, not mine. I will not try, in any way, shape or form, to get in the way of that love. But, I can try to make his life a little better, if not now, then in the future.”
Xanth put a hoof around Radiance’s neck. “You do have a lot of love in you, Radiance. Love for children of any type. You should not be afraid to show it. It will not cause you to fall apart.
“Now, I think you should get a look at Skyborn. If you insist on helping him, I insist you see him first.
“I can feel your own emotions about your own colthood, and your resolve that no foal should go through what you did. I can understand that and respect it. However, you can’t just run away from it. Come on, let me help you get over your anxiety about meeting him.”
“Anxiety? Try outright phobia, Xanth.” Radiance muttered.
“I was trying to be polite, Point,” Xanth said dryly, “just like you try to be to everypony. Just remember, it is okay to feel emotions. You won’t lose yourself to your other side. Let yourself feel this one, okay? I’ll watch over you.”
“Okay, that sounds like a good idea. I’m feeling a little tired. Maybe this will help.” Radiance said. He let Xanth lead him to his quarters, and there beheld Skyborn for the first time. He gazed into the little colt’s pale blue eyes. The little blue colt returned the look.
The two locked gazes for well over a minute before breaking off the looking contest. Xanth could feel the war going on inside Radiance, the desire to express love for the little one battling with the fear that if he let his guard down, his other half would come out.
“Easy, Point. You won’t hurt him by spending time with him. I’ll supervise, if you think that would help.”
“Thank you, Xanth. I’ll be sure to take you up on that sometime soon. He is such a wonder.”
“That he is, Point. I accept your support of him with no further questions. Now, how about going to get some sleep?” Xanth suggested gently.
“Good idea. Don’t mind if I do.” Xanth agreed, leaving Xanth’s quarters for his own.
Once there, Radiance sprawled on the bed, thinking about Skyborn, his desire for foals of his own, and his utter aversion to settling down with a mare and making foals of his own. He could only remember the assaulter of his youth, the look on his face, and the words he said. ‘If you tell anyone about this, kid, I will search you out and kill you in the most horrid way possible,’ ran through his head again and again and again.
“Don’t go away mad, mister, just go away…” he could only mutter again and again into his pillow, weeping tears he never allowed himself to shed before.
Sunrise came in to the cabin some time later to find Radiance on his bed, still weeping, still muttering to himself. “Oh, horseapples… why did he have to be right about this?” she asked herself as she called Ixia to come to the cabin.
Radiance woke up in the morning, feeling confused. Something was missing, but he wasn’t certain what. Shrugging, he got up quietly, so as not to disturb Sunrise in her own bed. Seeing as he was still in uniform, he let out a sigh once in the bathroom. “I hate it when I sleep while dressed,” he muttered as he shed the ship suit and showered thoroughly.
Looking at the water going down the drain, he felt like something bad was going down the drain as well, some dirt on his mind that finally broke free and washed away. He was confused by it, but shrugged and finished his shower, then spent ten minutes getting his mane just so, the red stripe bisected by his horn, the white stripe evenly spread on each side of the red. He then got dressed and headed out. He was still Acting Chief Engineer, along with his other chores, and he would not shirk his duty.
Radiance went about his business that morning, handling Engineering Department paperwork first before going on a walkabout, ‘just to look things over’ he told himself. He started in Engineering forward and worked his way aft, not saying anything, just looking about, greeting ponies politely, as was his manner. Finding little amiss that the engineers could not handle on their own, he decided to check in with Commander Bluequill, to see if he had anything that needed doing.
“You’re looking good today, Point.” Galen commented.
“To be honest, I feel like something rotten finally fell off in the shower and got washed away. Don’t know what, but I’m glad it is gone, and I’m feeling better for it,” Radiance replied.
“That’s good, because I have heard from the Captain. He’s on his way back, and once he is, the ship is going to be towed to Chakona orbit, and once there, we are going to be completely refitted, refueled and reprovisioned. Apparently, what he and Starry found out is putting relations between us and the Federation on a whole new footing.
“I want you to oversee the refitting of the Lotus. Whatever teams they have, everything will go through you. You know this ship inside and out, and any least thing you feel can be upgraded, upgrade it. You have several days to get ready before we move. Think you can handle the job?” Galen asked, already knowing the answer.
“I’m going to need some time to study Federation technology. Maybe they have something we don’t that can help. I’ll arrange for a link through CONN to the monitor ship to help me study,” Radiance said in cool, confident tones.
“Get to the point, Point. I’ll even allow you thirty-six uninterrupted hours for study time. I will call Sunrise myself and tell her not to disturb you until…”, he glanced at a clock, “…midnight tomorrow. However, I will tell her that there will be no limits on pulling you out of your trance, so keep that in mind, okay?”
Radiance grimaced a little, knowing the methods his sister would use to get his attention. “Sounds good to me, Commander. I had best get started on my studies.”
“Dismissed, Radiance. Get to work!” Galen commanded with a small chuckle.
“Will do! Don’t expect any mercy in the next cribbage game, though!” Radiance said with a laugh before saluting his superior and heading out.
This time, Radiance headed to the Engineer’s office to do his studying, for the privacy. There, he called up the Lotus’ design plans and looked them over thoroughly before asking CONN to contact the observer ship, asking for information on the tools and equipment available at Chakona that can be used to refit, refuel and reprovision the ship. Once he had his data, he began constructing a chart of what needed doing, what he wanted to have done, and what would be nice to have.
Radiance could not remember how he got to Medical, but that’s where he woke up. A quick check of his body showed no lumps, bumps, or healing surgical lines. Even more surprising, to him, is that he was not restrained. Looking about the room, he saw a note left on the table next to the bed. Picking it up with his purple-gray glow, he brought it to reading distance.
“Point, good going, making the work progress chart. It’s so easy to read and follow, even I can figure it out. I’ve run it through a translation matrix so the repair teams can read it. I want you to supervise the refit until you are sure they know what they are doing, after which you and your sister are to take a two-week leave to explore Chakona. The leave time is NOT optional! Yes, you may take a comm unit with you while on leave, both of you.” That was signed by the Captain’s cutie mark.
In different hoofwriting, under that, was this. “Better get a move on, sleepyhead! The crews are here! They’ll leave you behind!” which was signed by Sunrise’s cutie mark.
Letting out some choice expletives, Radiance got out of bed and raced to Engineering, not noticing he was not wearing a uniform nor carrying coffee. That he did not notice until he arrived at Engineering Control.
Back in Medical, Doctor Zubon and Commander Bluequill looked out from the privacy screen they were hiding behind. The griffon looked at the zebra. “Pay up.”
Zubon sighed as she gave over ten bits. “You even got the curses right!” she griped. “How could you know?”
“Point may be a genius, but if you know him, you can predict exactly what he will do in certain situations. Now to see how well he reacts to the shore leave demand.” Galen said a little smugly.
“Double or nothing on his complaints?”
“You’re on!” The two shook, hoof to claw.