• Published 16th Apr 2014
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Horizon - Nagmeister



Five kerbals go on an interstellar mission and run into a planet of colorful ponies.

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Horizon's Beginnings

The Horizon was truly a marvel of its time. Constructed out of top-secret military alloys, it housed seven crew; it had twelve main rooms, including a personal bedroom for each crew member; it had a gravity ring, providing constant one-gee feeling; but, perhaps the most impressive part was the propulsion. Up until that point, all Kerbal spacecraft designed to go anywhere other than Kerbin's moons were equipped with LV-N nuclear engines. While they were reasonably efficient, they were extremely heavy, expensive, and low-thrust. Then, a crazy scientist came up with an idea that could propel a spacecraft to multiple times the speed of light. This was called the Space-Time Dilaton Drive, or STDD.

The Horizon was the first ship ever to be made using this new technology. It was also the first to need it. Unlike any other Kerbal spacecraft, Horizon wasn't just headed to any old planet in the Kerbol system. Instead, it was headed to a nearby star, Skolo-138. This was the only planet to be proven to have an atmosphere and composition of the crust capable of sustaining life. In hopes of finding the first extra-solar candidate for colonization, the Kerbal Space Program scrambled to construct a new vessel capable of reaching this spacecraft. And thus came the Horizon.

Her crew consisted of seven brave astronauts: Jebediah Kerman, famous for conducting the first manned landings on the Mun, Duna, Eve, Moho, Tylo, Laythe, and Eeloo; Bill Kerman, famous for flying with Jebediah and staying in the command module on all those missions; Bob Kerman, a renowned scientist who has an innate fear of flying but is still one of the most experienced members of the space program; Hanald Kerman, an ex-military fighter aircraft pilot hired to fly the ship's spaceplane; and Alsted Kerman, a radio operator and scientist whose job it was to keep contact with the Kerbal Space Center(KSC) and to control communications traffic between the ship, the lander, and the spaceplane.

This is their story.

“All systems check out, she's ready to fly,” Jebediah proudly stated as the last systems check on Horizon was completed.

“Make sure you're comfortable, because this ship's going to be our home for the next six years,” Bob said, making sure the snack closet was securely strapped down.”

“STD at thirty percent,” Bill said, watching slowly as the supply of exotic matter slowly increased.”

“Reactor at full power,” Hanald reported.

“Warp jump in thirty minutes,” Bill warned. “If you have any last-minute messages to send before we leave, now's the time to do it.”

“Oh yeah,” said Jebediah, “I almost forgot.” As he said this, he drifted towards the comms terminal before quickly typing out, “By the way, Gene, you now owe me twenty bucks.”

“What was that about?” Alsted asked, rather timidly.

“It was an old bet we made,” Jebediah said, “when the space program was just starting. He bet me twenty bucks I'd never make it to another star. I can just imagine the look on his face when they announced the crew roster with me on it.”

“Horizon, do you copy?” Mission Control cut in.

“Roger, mission control, what's up?” Jebediah replied.

“Just checking up on you. Just going to let you know, you're live on national television and half of Kerbin is watching to see you leave right now,” Mission control said, “so no more talking about your bets.”

Jebediah sighed. Mission Control was always like this, from the start; they wouldn't let him bet he could flip the lander on the surface of the Mun thirty years ago, and they wouldn't let him collect on his bets now.

Suddenly, the flight computer cut in. “One hundred twenty seconds to jump.”

“Alright, everyone, flight positions!” Jebediah shouted over the intercom. He was known for being rather lax in low-stress situations where nothing much was going on, but when something had to be done, he was certainly going to make it happen.

“Sixty seconds to jump,” the computer said as he and the other four crewmembers strapped themselves into their seats.

“All systems nominal, exotic matter storage full,” Hanald relayed from the screen.

“Thirty seconds.”

“Life support nominal,” said Jebediah.

“G-Ring retracted,” Bill said as a whirring filled the cabin, followed by a resounding clang.

“STD extended,” Bob said rather nervously.

“All connections secure, ship is primed and ready for jump,” Alsted said.

“Fifteen seconds.”

“Please fasten your seatbelts, make sure your seats are in the upright position, and put your tray tables up for takeoff,” Jebediah said.”

“Five. Four. Three. Two. One.” said the computer.

Almost instantly, the spacecraft disappeared from low Kerbin orbit in a pale rainbow left behind by the compression of space-time around the spacecraft. Within thirty minutes, it was out of the system and on its way to Skolo.

(Nine and a Half Months Later)

Jebediah watched the pulsating blue of the warp bubble, stuck deep in thought. He knew that within the hour they would be out of warp seven hundred thousand kilometers from the target planet, and so this was his last not-busy time to think about what was actually happening. They'd been out of contact with Mission Control since the drive was activated; the only way to communicate in warp with an object behind you is to use the STD to create a micro warp bubble for the radio waves to pass through, and that couldn't be done if the drive was in use. So, he sat and thought. What kind of planet were they dealing with? Would it be like Kerbin, or wildly different? Would there be pink-skinned space babes? Would there even be life? They knew it was a planet there, but besides its composition that was about it. All these questions and many more ran thorough his head as he stared into the hyperspace. Suddenly, the ship's AI started speaking.

“Captain Jebediah, your presence is requested in the control room.”

“Alright, I'm coming,” sighed Jebediah, slightly annoyed at having his trancelike state broken.

The ship's control room – it was originally going to be called the bridge, but considering it was about the size of an average bedroom it could barely even be called a control room – was a small room, with walls covered in various graphs, pictures, and computers, many of which nobody knew what they were even there for, considering the ship had a dedicated computer room. The captain's chair was in the middle of the room, with a few windows facing out to the sides of the ship; having any windows on the front would be pointless, as they'd be blocked by the heat-shield. It had a small indent into the wall for the radio operator to sit, and three chairs with more screens than could possible be necessary in front of them on the opposite wall for the other three crewmen to monitor the state of the ship.

Jebediah took his seat in the captain's seat as Bob sat at one of the screen chairs. “We're about ten minutes from stopping the jump, Jeb,” Bob said.

“Did you notify the rest of the crew?” Jebediah asked.

“Yep, and they're all busy making sure everything's secure.”

“Perfect. I guess all that's left to do is sit and wait.”

Sitting and waiting is a skill that one develops rather quickly when put into interplanetary spacecraft that can take anywhere from one to seven years to reach their destinations and return. Jebediah had been on plenty of that type of spacecraft, and so was used to sitting and waiting. When the ship announced warp was stopping in five minutes, the rest of the crew rushed in only to find Jebediah taking a nap. He was stirred awake by the sound of the G-ring retracting as the ship said, “Thirty seconds till drop out of warp.”

He quickly said, “Computer, what's our status?”

“Heat-shield ablative material at 99.9%. G-Ring rotational capacity at 100%. Ship structural integrity at 99.763%. Speed 10c. Time to de-warp seven seconds. Relative velocity –“

The computer was interrupted by a resounding boom through the spaceship as it decelerated from 10 times the speed of light to seven kilometers per second within a fraction of a meter. A general sigh of relief escaped from the crew as the ship turned to expose the planet, much larger than they were accustomed to seeing at this distance, in its full glory. “Computer, run scan of planet,” Jebediah asked.

“Computing...” the computer replied. “Equatorial radius: 6413 km. Orbital Velocity: 29,800 meters per second. Natural satellites detected: 1. Planetary mass: 5.97219x10^24 kg. Rotational period: 24 hours.”

Jebediah Kerman stared in disbelief. “This planet... it's ten times the size of Kerbin but it has the same mass!”

Bob replied, “You know, we've discovered a lot of planets like this. In fact, our planet's probably the one that's unusual, considering it's the densest one we know of so far.”

That didn't stop Jebediah from staring in disbelief. What did was the spacecraft announcing, “Aerobraking in three hours. Please prepare for aerobraking.”

Three hours passed as the spacecraft dropped from deep space towards the alien planet below. During those three hours, the crew of the Horizon checked, double-checked, and triple-checked each system and fastening before preparing the G-tank. This aerobraking was predicted to have a maximum gee amount of about seventeen gees – while still under the vehicle's survivability limit, it required the use of the tank specifically designed to dampen the forces.

Meanwhile, on the planet's surface, a purple alicorn princess watched the night sky. With her telescope, she took intricately detailed notes of the location of the stars before noticing one that moved rather quickly. As she watched, it slowly grew brighter until it started to look like a meteor. As the firey object moved swiftly overhead, creating a resounding boom as it entered the atmosphere, Twilight stared in awe. “Spike, bring me a scroll and pen,” she said, still focusing on the meteor. It seemed to be unlike any meteor she'd seen before; instead of being spherical or rounded, this one seemed to be rather flat and wide at the front, then quickly taper off to a rather narrow cylinder. She took the scroll and pen that Spike had brought and started writing.

“April 18 ,1891. 11:02 P.M. A strange meteor went through the atmosphere; it seemed to be about twenty meters wide, but I couldn't even somewhat accurately guess its length. It's mostly shaped like a cylinder, which is about seven meters in diameter, but it has an extremely wide front end that is rather flat.”

The situation on Horizon wasn't very intense even though they were streaking through the atmosphere faster than mach forty. The heat-shield on the front did a rather good job of keeping the fiery plasma from scorching the rest of the ship, and the G-tank prevented the crew from becoming paste on the back wall as they decelerated extremely quickly. As the ship rose back out of the atmosphere, the G-tank opened and the crew spilled out.

“Well, that thing is actually a lot better than I thought it was,” Jebediah remarked, “considering we barely even felt one gee.”

They proceeded to get to their stations for the orbital insertion burn and waited. All of a sudden, Horizon said, “Aerobraking complete. Remaining ablative material: 73.152%. Apoapsis: 1031 kilometers. Time to apoapsis: 1:14:39.” Jebediah went to the cupola on the side of the ship to observe the planet below. He stared at the planet's dark night side, and was just looking at the horizon when dawn broke. The sun slowly crept over the side of the planet as they rose, tinting the top of the atmosphere slightly orange. As it continued to rise, the Horizon broke his trance-like state once again with a status update: “Captain to the bridge, your presence is necessary for the orbital insertion.” Jebediah navigated through the ship's corridors to the command room, took his seat, and requested some information.

“How long till the burn?” he asked.

“Three minutes, four seconds. Burn length four minutes. Maximum acceleration during burn ½ gee.” the computer replied.

Jebediah waited one minute before throttling up the ship's engines and executing the burn, watching as the ship slowly gained velocity until it entered a roughly circular orbit of about 1031 by 986 kilometers. He instantly left the chair and went to draw straws for the landing party.

Meanwhile, back on the surface, Twilight was watching. She noticed that about every ninety minutes, the star would reappear over the horizon and cross the sky to the other horizon. She took note of this, and put it in her log. She was going to watch it some more until Spike belched up a scroll from Celestia. “My faithful student,” it read, “as you probably know, a strange object passed by us earlier this night. Because of this, I am calling a meeting of all the princesses. You must come to this meeting at seven this morning, because there are important matters to discuss.”

Twilight nodded her head at the scroll's message, signaled to Spike to pack her saddlebags, and prepared to leave.

There was an air of tension on board Horizon. Whoever was the first to go down would be the first ones to make contact with whatever life was on the planet, for better or for worse. The ship's storage did include an old hunting rifle for self-defense, but nobody knew if that would be enough if something was indeed hostile down there. As Jebediah began to prepare the sticks for the selection, Bob secretly hoped that he would be selected. All the scientific progress that could be made simply by meeting one extraterrestrial species of life would benefit Kerbalkind greatly in the long run. Meanwhile, in the room next to him, Bob pondered what would be down there. Would it be just another oxygenated planet with no life, like Laythe? Or would it be another Kerbin? In the room next to him, Hanald was wondering how fast they'd have to resort to the weapon to defend themselves from the monstrous creatures that were surely down there while Alsted was sitting in a corner, convincing himself he wouldn't be picked as the first to go. “Surely they can't pick me, I'm their only communications officer. If I died, they wouldn't be able to talk to Kerbin at all!” he frantically said to himself.

Suddenly, Jebediah called all of them into the command room for a meeting. “As you all know,” he said, “the lander holds three of us, and needs three of us to operate it. We have five crew members; that means that two must stay on the ship. Each of you come here and pick a straw; the two who get the shortest get to stay on board, while the other three get to land. Hanald, you take first pick, followed by Alsted, Bob, and Bill.” Hanald floated up to Jebediah and grabbed a stick, looking at it carefully and trying to judge its length against the others. Alsted timidly went up, grabbed a stick, and then disappeared into his communications terminal. Bob picked up a surprisingly long stick, and Bill got one of decent length. When the time came to compare the sticks, it was found that Jebediah, Bill, and Bob were to be the ones to go down; Alsted had picked the shortest, followed by Hanald. Jebediah shouted “Awwwh, yeah!” while Bill and Bob looked somewhat scared.

The lander had already been prepared for the landing before the stick-drawing, so all its crew had to do was to enter it, undock, and land. They severed the docking connection between the ship and the lander, used the thrusters to back away slightly, then put themselves into a deorbit trajectory not thirty kilometers from where they had originally passed over during their aerobrake. By this time, it would be in the daylight side of the planet, so they wouldn't even need to worry about using the spacecraft's lights.

Down on the surface, important deliberations were going on. “What even was that?” asked Cadence. Twilight responded, saying “Nobody knows, but I have a good idea of what it looked like. It was extremely wide on the front, and quickly tapered off into a cylinder.” Celestia had a ponderous look on her face. “I think it may be connected to the disturbance I felt yesterday,” she said. “I felt as if something with enormous power was close, and getting closer. I thought it was coming from the Moon, but I fear that my suspicions may be wrong. I know that this star you've been tracking has come recently, and I believe it's not a star.” Luna interjected, “If you knew of this, why didn't you tell anypony?” “I did not want to cause fear in the masses,” Celestia admitted. “It would be better to let them think that nothing had happened than to cause a mass panic.” Suddenly, a guard outside said, “Your highnesses, it's happening again!”

All four of the princesses ran out to see what he meant. Just as before, a strange meteor-like object was coming down like a giant fireball. Unlike before, this one seemed it was going to touch down.

“Altitude twelve thousand meters, velocity five hundred meters per second.” Jebediah said.

“Heat shield at sixty percent.” the computer chipped in.

“We're slow enough that we don't have to worry about burning up, so I'm retracting the heatshield.” Bob said.

There was a whirring and a clunk as the large heatshield folded up and entered its compartment.

“Chutes deployed!” Bill said as he pressed a button. There was a big jerk as the orange chutes came out of their holders and started slowing the ship down.

“Altitude five thousand meters!” Jebediah said. “Are the engines ready?”

“Engines at 100% readiness.” the ship replied.

“Altitude three thousand meters above ground! Velocity sixty meters per second!”

“Get ready for chute deployment!”

There was another big jerk as the chutes opened completely, slowing the ship down from sixty to six in a fraction of a second.

“Altitude five hundred meters!” Jebediah shouted.

“Engines to ten percent!” said Bob.

“Speed four meters per second!” Bill replied.

“That's good, we can land at that speed.” Jebediah said.

The ship touched down in a large clearing in the Everfree forest with a thud. “Structural integrity of lander 98.76%.” the ship said. “Atmospheric scan: Density 100,000 pascals. Composition: 21% Oxygen, 70% Nitrogen, 9% other. Temperature: 20° centigrade.”

Bob stared at the screen. “The atmosphere here's breathable!” he said in surprise.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” Jebediah said.

Jeb depressurized the airlock, took off his helmet, and stepped outside. The spaceman stared into the forest, looking for any sign of civilization. He picked up a blade of grass, took off his glove, and ran it through his fingers. “Are you sure we're not just back at Kerbin?” he asked. Without waiting for a response, he entered the lander, changed into his jeans, shirt, and leather jacket, and sat on one of the lander's legs, tossing a stone up and down into the air. Bob and Bill followed his example, got their civilian clothes on, and went out exploring. About fifteen minutes later, Bill returned with an apple-looking fruit. “There's a few of these in the forest, but I don't know if they're edible,” he said. They sat down, waiting for Bob, when suddenly they heard him running back through the woods. “Guys, I think I found a road!” he shouted, without waiting for anyone to ask what was going on.

“A road?” Jebediah asked.”

“Well, it's at least a dirt path. I think if we follow it, we might be able to find some sort of civilization!.”

Bill looked obviously nervous. “I... think I'll stay here and guard the lander,” he said.

“We can follow it to the edge of the forest, but we have to stay hidden. We don't want any natives seeing us and thinking we're a threat.” Jebediah said, rather smartly. So the two of them disappeared into the forest in the direction Bob had come from while Bill went into the lander and opened up the communications with Horizon.

“Hey, Bill, how's it going down there?” said Alsted.

“Well, Bob found a road of some sort about half a kilometer from the landing site, so he and Jeb are going to check out where it leads.” replied Bob.

“Well, tell them to make sure to follow it west. If they go east, they're just going to go deeper into the forest, according to the scans we've done,” Alsted warned.” That forest you landed in is only about three kilometers deep to the west, but over seven hundred kilometers deep to the east.”

Bill picked up one of the handheld radios that they had each been issued and called Jebediah.

“What's up, Bill?” Jeb said through the radio.

“Not much, just wanted to let you know that you should follow the road west, not east,” Bob replied.

“Why not go east?” Jebediah asked.

“Well, I guess you can if you want to go through seven hundred kilometers of forest. It's only three kilometers deep to the west, though,” Bill said.

“Point taken.” Jebediah replied.

The two of them walked through the forest for about ten minutes before they found the path. Jebediah took out his compass, and noticed that he road did in fact run east-west. Without hesitation, he went down the westward path as Bob followed.

They walked down the unkempt-looking dirt road for half an hour before they heard some sort of noise. Instinctively, both Bob and Jebediah jumped into a bush, with Jebediah having his camera ready. The noise turned out to be some sort of humming that changed pitch and tune as it went along its path. In fact, it almost sounded like some sort of melody. Suddenly, a pastel yellow something that seemed to have pink hair running from the top of its head to the top of the tail, as well as a tail with the same color, came down the road. Jebediah instantly snapped a picture, but forgot to turn off the camera's sound effects. A large click escaped from the camera's speaker as Jebediah fumbled with it to turn its sound off. The creature jumped rather high and then ran off in the direction from which it came. As it ran, Bob noticed two folded wing-like structures on its sides, as well as a strange mark on the side of the area where its rear leg met its body. Jebediah quietly said, “Well... that was something,” before being interrupted by Bob.

“I think that we might have stumbled upon this planet's dominant species,” he said.

Jebediah looked at him with a look that said, “Are you serious?” before actually saying, “Probably just one of the indigenous species.”

Bob replied, “Do animals hum like that?”

“Perhaps it was a mating call?”

Bob sighed as he said, “Just be more careful next time.”

Meanwhile, Bill sat inside the lander. He was busy running some scans on the surrounding area when the creature appeared. It looked to have a kind of equine structure, but had large wings protruding from either side. It was also strangely colored, at a bright cyan. It almost blended with the sky of the planet, but not quite. Even more strange was the rainbow color that was protruding from its back. Suddenly, the creature descended towards the lander but stopped about at window level. Bill ducked into one of the storage containers as the creature slowly circled the lander, maintaining altitude. After giving the lander a few curious knocks, it suddenly sped away at speeds that Bill, peeking out of his container, could only estimate to be in excess of sixty meters per second, and possibly closer to 120. He quickly began a radio call to Horizon.

“This is Bill, calling the spacecraft Horizon with an urgent message!”

“What's the problem, Bill?” asked Hanald.

“First, where's Alsted?”

“He's maneuvering the satellites for the new communications array into position. This way, we won't have almost any blackout periods.”

“Makes sense. Second, I think I've just had an encounter with one of the natives.”

“You? What about Bob and Jeb?” Hanald asked, sounding almost worried.

“They haven't reported back yet, but I'm quite sure they're fine,” Bill replied.

“Well, what were the natives like?” Alsted suddenly popped in on the radio frequency.

“The one I saw was an equine-like creature, it seemed about a meter tall. It tapped on the capsule a few times before flying off in speeds likely in excess of sixty meters per second,” Bill said from memory.

Suddenly, a call from Bob came in on the radio frequency.

“Bill, we've encountered some sort of native animal species!” he said excitedly.

“Bob, I have too. One just left the lander,” Bill said, rather surprised.

“Well, we saw a yellow equine-like creature with folded wings on its side. It appeared to have pink 'hair' running down its neck as well as a tail of the same color. Jeb has a picture, he's uploading it now.” Bob reported.

“Well, make sure you come back to the lander. We don't want to have any more encounters with any natives. Also, it might be helpful to have the rover next time you two go out,” Bill suggested.

Bob hung up the radio, and turned to Jebediah. “I told you it was the dominant species, why else would one want to investigate our lander?”

Jebediah thought for a second, then said, “How do you know it's the same species? As Bill said, they're completely different colors.”

Bob replied, in a rather abnormal fashion for him, “Only one way to find out. But first, back to the lander.”

The walk back was rather uneventful. The two kerbals followed the path back east until they found the point where they had hit the path, then continued walking back towards the lander. When they came to it, they saw Bob eagerly looking out the window at them.

“Do you have that picture?” he asked.

“Right here,” Jebediah said.

Bill reviewed the picture, comparing it to the mental image he had in its head. The basic body shape seemed to be the same, as well as the wing structure. However, the colors and “hairstyles” were completely different between the two. “Maybe one's undergone transformative surgery?” he thought before scanning the picture with the computer and uploading it into the mainframe.

As night fell inPonyville, Twilight waited for Rainbow Dash to return from the Forest. She saw the blue pegasus on the horizon, slowly getting larger as she got closer. She also saw Fluttershy run out of the forest towards her. Rainbow arrived first.

“I saw that thing you told me to find,” she said.

“And what was that thing?” asked Twilight.

“It looked like a giant cylinder with a bell at the bottom and a cone on the top. The cone had some windows, so I peeked inside, but all I saw was three chairs, some sort of machine, and lots of equipment and closets.”

“Did you see anything else? Was there anything alive in there?” asked Twilight, hoping for a confirmation to her theory.

“I think I saw something duck into a closet when I peeked into a window, but I'm not sure .”

Suddenly, Fluttershy burst into the library, panting hard. Before anyone could ask what was going on, she said, “There's something near the forest! I heard it make a clicking sound!” before promptly hiding behind a pile of books. Twilight seemed curious and, without a word, prepared to walk to the edge of the forest.

Bill, Jebediah, and Bob were having a barbecue next to the lander. “I still wonder how you managed to hit that rabbit in one shot, Jeb,” said Bill. “I thought you were opposed to guns.”

“Just because I think something should be banned doesn't mean it doesn't come in handy at times,” Jebediah replied. “By the way, why did we shoot that rabbit when we have a stockpile of snacks in the lander, and can request Hanald to drop some snacks with the spaceplane?”

“Well, fresh meat is sometimes better than chocolate bars, no?”

“True. Anyway, back to that story of how I managed to...”

Twilight heard their talking and laughter from over a kilometer away, and saw the smoke of their fire from even further. She slowly stalked towards the source of the sound, taking care to be as silent as possible, when she reached the clearing. Using her magic and the pen and clipboard she had brought, she sketched the image. She was rather intrigued when she saw one of the three strange creatures pull out a small back rectangular object with what looked like a wire coming out of its top, and talked into it. Surprisingly, she could understand what he said. It sounded like he said, “Horizon, how long until sunrise?” She was surprised that a seemingly intelligent creature would have to ask this, but then she realized that his was their first day on the surface. Suddenly, she was surprised by one of them shouting, “Hey, what's that over there?”

Author's Note:

So, this is the first chapter of my first story on this site!
It's a bit hefty; at first I wanted it to be just over 1000 words, but I kept adding more and more until I eventually forced myself to stop.
If you want more, post in the comments!