"Crepusculum Base, we confirm transmission from the experiment control hub," Starlight Glimmer's voice echoed through seven sets of headphones. "All experiments show up and running. Good work, Princess."
"I told you, you can call me Twilight," said the mission commander of ESA-81 and, as of three weeks prior, sole ruler of all Equestria.
"Not on an open channel I can't, Traveler Actual," Starlight replied primly. "Anyway, that's everything except for sample collection. Just let us know when you want to lift off."
"Will do, Baltimare." Twilight looked up at the hard black sky, and the half-circle of blue and white that hung in it. "It's still a beautiful sight up here. I wish you could see it first-hoof."
"Thanks, I've been," Starlight said dryly. "It loses its appeal when you can't leave for a year and a half. I'm turning over capcom to Spike. Baltimare out."
"Everybody, switch to private channel," Twilight said, and the other six ponies echoed acknowledgement as each flipped a switch on the front of their spacesuits.
Flicking her own comms switch, Twilight turned her attention from the sky to the large, squat-looking object fifty meters away. Technically it was CSP Traveler; although the engines and certain other systems had been built by the Equestrian Space Agency, the ship itself had been constructed by the changelings for exploration of Bucephalous. Those missions would have joint crews, but for this flight- the shake-down flight of the new ship- Twilight Sparkle had pulled rank like only a newly crowned ruler could.
"A lot easier trip this time than last time, huh?" Rainbow Dash bumped against Twilight Sparkle's shoulder. "And no Chrysalis. That makes it a hundred twenty percent better right there!"
Twilight grinned. "She wanted to come," she said. "Said she could feed the hive for a year from one afternoon."
Rainbow Dash giggled. "And then we'd have to get her tongue unstuck from her helmet again."
Twilight added her own giggle. "But seriously, girls?" She pointed up, over the ship, at the small circle of Equus. "This is what I wanted you all to see."
"Not the moon?" Fluttershy had turned out to be a natural in zero-G, but here she shuffled her hooves to keep from bouncing uncontrollably. "Though the moon's nice too," she added unconvincingly.
"I must say, it's far nicer seen from a distance," Rarity added, trying in vain to shake the regolith off her spacesuit.
"But then we couldn't bounce like this!" Pinkie Pie hadn't spent her entire time since landing jumping over their ship in single jumps. It only seemed that way.
"Pinkie, dear, you bounce like that anyway."
"Girls! Seriously! Look up!" Twilight jabbed her hoof skyward again as the others gathered around her. "Look at it. That's what we've been saving all those times."
The others stood silently for a long moment, looking and thinking.
"It sure is pretty," Applejack said for them all.
"Yes," Twilight said, reaching her forelegs up to rest on the backs of Applejack's and Rainbow Dash's spacesuits. "And we helped keep it that way. I wanted you all to see it for yourselves."
The seventh pony, standing a little way off, added, "You certainly did an excellent job."
Twilight looked over her shoulder. "So did you," she said. "You held Equestria together for over a thousand years and faced all sorts of perils. You're a big part of the reason our home is still so beautiful."
"Perhaps, Twilight." Celestia, recently retired ruler of Equestria, took a few steps closer to the others. "But you did a far better job than I did." She stopped well short of the group, obviously still looking more at the barren sun-bleached rock around them than the blue and white dot in the sky. "I sent my own sister to this place. You restored her to me."
"You did the best you could," Twilight said, releasing her hug and walking over to her former mentor. "Didn't you teach me that was all anyone could ask of a pony?"
"I certainly tried," Celestia said, unable to keep a wry note out of her voice. "But someone decided that anything worth doing was worth overdoing."
"Yeah, that's our Twilight, all right!" Applejack chortled, and the others joined in the laugh.
The seven ponies went quiet again, still staring at their homeworld.
"So, this is why you brought us here?" Rarity asked after a minute or so.
"Mostly," Twilight said. "I thought of it as a reward for a job well done. And..." She slumped a little and said, "With how our lives are going in different directions now, and with all the new responsibilities we have, I figured this was our last chance to go to space as a group. And... well, I really wanted all of you to experience this, not just myself and Rainbow Dash."
"Yeah," Rainbow Dash added. "I mean, we could go to orbit any time now, what with the new launch systems and all. But coming here? This is special." She dug a booted hoof in the moon dust and added, "And I'm glad we could all share it together."
"Yeah," Twilight nodded. "Exactly. One last adventure together."
"Hold on a minute!" Pinkie Pie interjected. "One last adventure? You really think we're not gonna save the world about a dozen more times together?"
"That's right," Fluttershy said. "Maybe we won't go to space again, but that's not the same as not having adventures."
"Maybe we won't all be in one place," Applejack said. "But when trouble calls, we'll come runnin'."
"And it's not like you won't have plenty of opportunities to bail your students out of trouble," Celestia added. "I seem to recall doing that for you occasionally. Just once or twice."
"And besides," Rarity said, pointing up at Equus overhead, "having seen just how beautiful our home is, how could we stand by and let someone else ruin it?"
Twilight looked at Equus, then at her friends. "We won't let that happen," she said. "I promise."