• Published 28th Sep 2014
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Luna's Return Trajectory - Stainless Steel Fox



Princess Luna has found herself on a very different moon after some strange force interfered with her banishment. She doesn't know what the metal objects that keep orbiting and sometimes landing there are, but she's going to find out.

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First Contact

Ex-princess Luna bounded across the plains of a moon that was not her own, chasing a falling star. For the first time, she would arrive to see one land, rather than just finding some dead metal object. It had been just under a hundred of this satellite's long, slow days since she had been cast here, and at first her greatly diminished magic had been barely enough to protect her against airlessness and the pitiless rays of an unguided sun, or the surface temperatures that varied between sufficient to boil water and low enough to liquify air.

Her body was that of a yearling filly, and even walking more than a few miles at a time had exhausted her to start with, so she'd simply found a place, a shadowed canyon that nevertheless got some light and heat reflected from its sun facing wall and used the barest minimum of magic to create a pad of vacuum foamed rock to insulate her from the lunar surface.

There she had rested, half dozing the day and night away as she carefully husbanded what magic she had. Slowly, over many lunar days she learned to tap this moon's thaumic field, begin to repair her own magical powers and consider the many puzzles this world offered. If the not-Equis that hung eternally in the sky hadn't been clue enough, the conditions, the very cycle of day and night would have proved this was no part of her moon.

While her own moon had a cycle of phases, it had come from the inclination of its orbit with respect to Celestia's co-orbiting sun. They had guided their respective orbs to always remain on opposite sides of Equis in an eternal pavane. But here it appeared that the very structure of things was different, a world and moon circling one another and both orbiting a far distant and far vaster sun than Celestia's, which had been little bigger than her moon.

The main clue had been the stars in the sky, which returned to a particular position at a particular lunar time of day one every 12 and a bit days. This could only occur if the sun was orbiting the twinned worlds, but the distance needed to explain the slowness of the circuit and the difference in actual size needed to explain its apparent diameter implied that the opposite was true. She has a facility for calulating orbits, a side effect of having managed her own moon for so long, and she had repeated them many times with that same unbelievable answer, even expending carefully hoarded magic to manifest an abacus to double check her calculations.

It seemed that, unlike their own planetary system which needed daily adjustment to avoid orbital perturbations building up, this 'solar' system appeared to run without magic, though she shuddered to think what some wandering planet or asteroid would do to its careful balance. There were even other planets, also orbiting the sun from the paths they followed in the sky, a far cry from the scattering of minor moons and comets that circled Equis.

However the star she followed now was no wandering planet or falling meteor, but some manner of crafted object under intelligent control. As she'd slowly healed the hideous tear in her magic and soul that had happened when Nightmare Moon and most of her power had been ripped away, she'd seen other objects cross the skies. At first she'd taken them for the rare shooting stars that occurred even in the almost non-existent atmosphere of this moon, but as she traced their movements across the sky, she'd seen them show stable orbits, and in some cases even changed their orbit as she'd watched.

Even years later, having partly restored her magic, though not her physical form, Luna's senses were still too attenuated to reach out and sense them directly. However her eyesight was far better than any pegasus, and she'd been able to track them, even calculate where the ones that had fallen to the surface had landed. With a rough knowledge of their positions, and experience of the geography (or rather selenography) of the moon, it had taken many lunar days to find them, especially as even now she had to lie dormant through the coldest part of the lunar night.

The ones she'd found intact were of two distinct types. One reminded her of a three legged metal spider or a caltrop used by earth pony warriors, while the other was really two pieces, a large spindle and an open clamshell-like object some distance away. They were clearly artefacts and not creatures, and showed an amazing degree of craftsmanship, but why some-pony would send them to land here was beyond her.

All that would hopefully be resolved this time around. It was larger and brighter than any of the previous ones, and had appeared to separate from another object still in orbit. Something similar had happened only four days ago, and the star then had skirted across a large dust plan on the surface facing the planet, in what she'd come to call the north-east. It had come almost low enough for her to reach out and brush it with her telekinesis, if she'd been directly underneath it.

However, by the time she had bounded there, it was already ascending, and far beyond her reach, though she had been able to vaguely discern that its form was similar to the spider type, and that it had a bright light under it. It appeared to return to the orbiting star and join with it if her estimates of its path were correct. She had 'played a hunch' and stayed in the same general area watching for another one, and now her patience was being rewarded.

Her bounding mode of travel, though undignified, was almost effortless and would easily see her reach its projected lowest point ahead of it. She raced over a smooth surfaced plain, and then into a boulder field as the object descended. The sun, low in the sky created long shadows that should be even more visible from above. Surely it didn't mean to land here? A wrong move would land it on a boulder. Or maybe it would simply leave as the last one had. She wasn't sure what she would do in that case.

She hoped she was wrong, and raced ahead, even using some of her magic to increase her speed, hoping to be in place well before it came down. She would help clear a landing area if she could, to encourage it to land. Fortunately, the field thinned out to another more open plain, so her aid wasn't needed. She was well ahead of it by now, and stopped on a ridge to turn and look back at it as it approached.

It definitely had the wide splayed metal spider legs, four of them, but the 'body' was much larger, bulkier. If she'd thought it truly an insect, she might have considered it a queen, come to lay her eggs here, and the others drones or scouts sent to find the best place. In fact, if she remembered correctly, one of the spider ones had landed no more than a few leagues to the south, hadn't it?

She watched in fascination as it glided towards her. floating with a tongue of flame flaring beneath it. It puzzled her; then she realised it was similar to the exhaust from a firework, though this flame was far more controllable and powerful than black powder. Maybe the lower structure contained some igniferous liquid or alchemical preparation. She realised it must also contain saltpetre or some similar substance to provide the anti-phlogiston to make it burn without air, as there seemed to be no trace of magic in it.

But it was the upper body that was most fascinating. It had the same graceless, angular design as the others, but on one side there seemed to be lit triangular windows, if her more than pegasus keen eye-sight told her true, and between them a pony sized hatch and ladder, though their narrow rungs and steepness would prove a trial for even an earth pony. This was not merely an object, but a vessel, some form of carriage that had travelled here, possibly from the blue world in the sky!

She was suddenly both elated and terrified. At last she would have company, some-pony to talk to, assuming she used magic to create an air-bubble around them both. Would they even be ponies though? Considering the array of forms intelligence had taken on Equis, this new world, this new dimension might have anything. Would they be spider-like, as their creations were? Would they be terrifying? Would they be terrified of her? Would they be friendly or hostile to anything different?

While her current power level was only a fraction of her full potential, she was already powerful enough to defend herself against most mortal threats, even a unicorn arch-mage, but who knew what other powers these beings had. They were clearly peerless artisans and alchemists, and did not lack for courage or imagination to have travelled here without a trace of magic, and such inventiveness would lend itself to other fields of endeavour, such as weapons.

She stilled her wild emotions. She might no longer be a Princess, but she had been, and the bearer of the elements of Loyalty and Honesty. She had faced dread foes, from Discord to Sombra, and oft-times been the envoy to other nations. She had taken tea with zebras, talked medicine with buffalo chieftains and mathematics with camels, stared down dragons and even flown a wild hunt with griffins, though she had declined to make a kill of her own, and beaten into the ground a flock leader who called her weak because of it. Diplomacy in the lands beyond Equestria took many forms.

She would face these new beings with honesty, friendship and an unlit horn. But first she would watch them and seek to understand them further beforehand. She found an outcropping on the ridge that formed a shadow and stepped into it, watching as the 'space' vessel floated across the surface below, only a few pony-lengths above it, and throwing up dust as its flame scoured the surface. It slowed, hovered for a moment and sank gently to the ground, coming to rest on its four wide-spread legs.

It rested there, and she waited for the hatch to open, for some sign of life beyond its presence. There were some fumeroles of gas venting, movement behind the lit triangular windows, and the blinking of odd lights. However for a long time, several hours by her guess, there was no real change. Several times she stopped herself from galloping down there to find out what was going on, but she managed to restrain herself. That design implied that they intended to leave the vessel, so she would possess her soul in patience.

Then, there! The hatch came down, and a creature climbed, more wriggled out of it to rest on the platform it created. It reached out and manipulated something on the body of the craft, and a golden coloured section folded out further down, revealing some sort of box on it. After a moment it turned round and clambered down the ladder. It paused at the lowest rung for several moments, then dropped down. It moved around a little, taking short steps, clearly cautious about the new environment.

Its body-plan was closest to a minotaur, though there was no indication of large horns on its head. The huge, blank golden eye that made up its face disturbed her slightly, as did its wrinkled white skin and the tendrils that wrapped around it in addition to two stout arms. But after a few moments she realised this was probably not its body but instead some form of armour against the airlessness and sun.

If they came from the blue planet above and lacked alicorn powers they would need air, possibly held in that pack which the tendrils, or rather hoses, attached to. The head was a helm, and the 'eye' must be some sort of visor of darkened glass to ameliorate the power of the unfiltered sun, similar to the smoked glass used by astronomers to view her sister's sun. Assuming the world above was similar in size to Equis, the being should also be used to five or six times the gravity it was now under, which explained it's caution.

The being was joined several moments later by a second creature, and together they started moving around the vessel. They tore away golden foil from around the legs and took objects from cunningly fashioned compartments in the exterior of the craft. She had no idea what most of them were for, but she was eager to find out. However it was clear that they were following some careful plan, and she didn't want to make a bad impression by interrupting them.

Then they set up an object that she did recognise, a standard, made of cloth, but with a solid bar at the top holding it spread in the absence of a breeze. It showed barry gules and argent, and in the first quarter canton azure with molet argent of five points sans nombre, alternating six and five. Whether the standard of their princess, or their nation, it was most definitely a flag and gave her some point of reference to start with.

They now seemed to be standing, facing their vessel, no longer occupied with work. She left the shadows and moved down towards them.

&&&

“Tranquility base, this is Houston. Could we get you both on camera for a minute please?”

Neil Armstrong, now the first man to walk on the surface of the moon, couldn't quite hear Capcom's full message due to a slight wash of static. “Say again Houston?”

“Roger, we'd like to get both of you in the field of view of the camera for a minute.” Charlie Duke, capsule communicator or Capcom for the mission went on to explain, “Neil and Buzz, the President of the United States is in his office now and would like to say a few words to you, over.”

“That would be an honour.”

As they moved over in front of the video camera that had been mounted on the leg of the lander, they could hear Charlie say, “Go ahead Mr President, this is Houston. Out.”

The next voice in their headsets was instantly recognisable. “Neil and Buzz, I am talking to you by telephone from the Oval Office at the White House. And this certainly has to be the most historic phone call ever made. I just can't tell you how proud we all are of what you... for every American, this has to be the proudest day of our lives. And for people all over the world, I am sure they too, join in recognising what... what is that!?”

The two astronauts looked at each other confused. “Uh... say again Mr President?”

The three second delay that the moon's distance imposed on all communications was never as maddening as right now. “Behind you, right behind you!” There was a crackle and Capcom cut in just as they turned around. “Can you confirm what we're seeing, Tranquility base? “

The two of them did indeed spot what everyone watching the camera feed could see. Both of them started to reply, then Buzz said, “Uh... if you're talking about the small blue horse that appears to be bounding towards us, yes we see it too. Please advise.”

It was an inane thing to say, but it was an insane situation, and both of them were trained to deal with the unexpected, not freak out about it. Doctrine said to relay information back and get Control's advice on anything that went outside the mission parameters, and if this didn't fit that, nothing would.

Another three second pause and Charlie's voice came back. “Uh, Tranquility base, we don't have a procedure on tap for this. Professor Sagan wrote up a set of first contact procedures, but we're going to have to hunt them down. Wait one.”

As the horse got closer it slowed down, flaring feathered wings slightly to stabilise itself, and finished the last few steps at a trot, leaving hoof-prints in the regolith. Now that it was close enough they could see large, intelligent looking eyes, and the horn peeking from under mane. Armstrong raised his sun shield to see it more clearly, and said, deadpan, “Houston, be advised, we have a unicorn.”

“Say again, Neil?”

“The 'horse' appears to be a unicorn, with wings, and is about the size of a small pony.” Beside him, Buzz stifled a snort of laughter. It was either that or start gibbering. Neil moved sideways so the video camera on the lander leg would have a clearer view and considered the look of interest that he'd seen on its face when he raised his visor. The initial shock had passed, and now he felt intensely curious, in part to find out if what he was seeing was real, and if so, how.

“It doesn't seem to have any form of vacuum protection. It's just sitting there, watching us. Capcom, I intend to approach the creature. It's clearly waiting for us to respond, and doesn't seem to be hostile.”

There was a long moment of undecipherable chatter after the pause, and then Charlie called back. “We're still trying to locate those First Contact protocols, but Gene Krantz agrees that you can't just stand there and do nothing. You have a go to attempt closer contact with the creature. Be careful, and don't do anything that could be construed as hostile. Buzz, retreat to the lander and enter. Start pre-flight check-list for emergency take-off.”

“Let's pray it won't necessary.” Buzz seemed to have recovered his professional mein too.

“Amen to that.” Charlie echoed.

Neil stepped forward slowly, and went to his knees, making sure the camera could see them both. The pads covering them were not as robust as the overshoes that protected his feet, but they would survive the hot surface of the moon for a short time, especially as this close to lunar dawn the ground would not yet have heated to boiling point. Coming down to its level seemed a good way to avoid startling it... no, her. It might have been an illusion, but the long lashes framing its oversized eyes and the way its long mane hung gave it a distinctly feminine appearance.

He slowly offered a suited hand to the pony, and was surprised to find it raising a fore-hoof and touching it in return. He almost sprang back when the horn on her head started to develop an aura, like a coronal discharge, but deep indigo. However, he held himself in place. Whatever this alien wanted, running away wasn't going to change it, and finding out was of paramount importance. The ground beneath her hooves seemed to fizz, the dust on it vibrating like the surface of a drum.

“Hello? Canst thou understand me?”

The voice sounded feminine but it wasn't coming from his head set. It was coming through the faceplate of his suit, actual sound. Well, one more impossibility more or less wasn't a big deal. He replied.

“Yes, I can understand you, though I don't know how. How can we even talk without air?”

“'Twas a simple matter of alchemy to break some of the rock into its separate parts, and contain those that were gaseous to form an air-bubble around us, though costly in magical energy. As to understanding, I cast a translation spell on myself that makes my speech understandable, and translates what I hear into Equestrian. I do thank thee for your courtesy, but I am no longer a princess. Please, rise, the coverings on thine boots indicate that the rest of your protective armour is not designed for over-long contact with a hot surface.”

“Thank you.” Neil heard the explosion of chatter in his earphones, obviously the sound had been loud enough to be caught by his microphone. As he stood back up, he muttered, quietly, “Everyone stay off this channel, I need to reply.”

The face of the unicorn frowned in a puzzled manner. “You talk to others? But where are they? Do you count some manner of far-speaking talisman among thy accoutrements?”

“Yes, more or less, I can talk to my friend in the capsule, and my superiors back in Houston.”

“In?” The unicorn tilted her head in a gesture both curious and adorable. “That is the name of thy capital or country if my spell has it aright, rather than the world you came from?"

“You are correct ma'am.” Neil felt he should take back some control of the conversation. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Neil Armstrong of the United States of America of planet Earth. I am commander of this mission to visit our moon. Behind me is our lunar excursion module, the Eagle, and inside is the pilot, Edwin Aldrin.”

“I am most pleased to meet you, sir Neil. Thy farspeaker is a most puissant artefact if it can reach so far. Unless backed by alicorn magic, even the best far-speaking spell has a range of less than a thousand leagues.” The wiged unicorn gave a curtsey with its fore-legs, dipping her head politely. “I am Luna, once Princess of the realm of Equestria on the world of Equis, now simply an exile on this moon which is not even mine own.”

“I'm sorry to hear that ma'am.” It could have been just an empty courtesy, but the hurt and, more deeply the resignation he heard in her tone made his heart go out to her. “Your Equis has a moon too? From your name, I assume you had some association with it.”

“Indeed so, but to someone of this universe, it would sound like madness.”

“This universe?” Up till now her archaic speech and mannerisms had him pegging her as sort of medieval, but this didn't fit.

“Have thy philosophers considered the notion that this one universe is not all there is?”

Neil nodded, then bobbed his suit to make it clear what he was doing. “You're talking about multiple universes like sheets of paper in a book, each page different, yes?”

“Tis sooth, though a stack of thick blankets is a better analogy, as no universe is a single sharp plane. While the core, a prime material plane...” she tapped the regolith with a hoof, “... is the most stable,'real' if you will, a universe has many demi-planes, less real, but still tangible under the right circumstances... but I digress. What small experiments I have been able to perform indicate that the very laws of this dimension are different to my own, though thankfully not enough to make my powers inoperable, or I would not have survived.”

On the face of it, her matter-of-fact statement sounded bizarre, but then this whole situation was crazy. “How did you get here?”

The pony, Luna, shook her head in a very human gesture. “That is something I would like to know myself. The force that was sending me to my moon was interfered with, that much I could feel. My form was semi-substantial, vulnerable to change, when a new power, some great disruptive wave of energy merged with the power of the Elements and struck me. It tore my semi-solid form apart, the greater part of my power and... strength being carried onwards while most of my soul and memories coalesced into this part.”

She gestured to her body with a hoof.

“As the force subsided I was drawn away on the ebb, across the dimensional planes like a... leaf being carried away from shore after a great wave has washed upon it. And eventually I did arrive in this universe, which I surmise must have been the source on the interfering force. I suspect your Earth is correspondent to Equis, and our moons are similarly linked. So the remains of the original spell did cast me here, and allowed my physical body to reconstitute, though as a filly. And here I have stayed since, as I have not the power to return, nor to send myself forth from this orb.”

“For how long?” Neil asked.

“Does thy world's cycle of seasons coincide with its circuit around its sun? Its year?”

The astronaut felt non-plussed. “Of course, what else?”

That seemed to amuse the pony as she gave a small smile. “What else indeed? Then I have been here, as best as I can make out, two lunar days short of eight years.”

That floored him, figuratively at least. She must be made of very tough stuff mentally to have avoided becoming a raving lunatic after being so utterly alone for eight years. “I'm sorry.”

“'Tis none of your doing,” she replied, shaking her head and making her mane wave. “but my thanks anyway.”

That got him thinking. “That would be... September or October of 1961. One moment, Miss Luna.”

He spoke again, this time to a different audience. “Houston? You've been monitoring everything?”

Charlie answered. “Yes, and there's a lot of very freaked out people down here. We've switched to frequency 3 for Buzz and Mike, though they're listening in, and Buzz is working the pre-flight by the numbers. Deke is talking to the President right now and going quietly mad. Dr Paine is on the line too. We cut the live feed to the networks almost as soon as you started your conversation, but I suspect every reporter, journalist and cameraman on the planet will descend on us in short order. Not to mention the ones already in the press room.”

“Oh boy, it must be brutal down there. But you heard the arrival date? If Luna's date is right, what could it have been?”

“We'll check. It would help if we knew more about what it would have looked like from this side.”

Neil spoke out. “Miss Luna, can you give me more information? Where it might have happened on this side, what sort of things might have caused it.”

“Hmm...” Luna mused, bringing her hoof to her chin in an unintentionally adorable pose. “Once again, correspondence plays a part, sympathy if you will. Wouldst have been on the world or more likely in it's air, as that was where my journey started. An intense, brief release of power, not some ongoing force like a storm. Intent, as my journey was no accident.”

Charlie spoke up in his headset. “Okay, that narrows it down some. by the way, you're down to one hour ten on the planned EVA profile. Right now, keep getting this Luna to talk, but you're going to have to retreat to the capsule before long.”

“Understood. But I'm winging it here, we didn't cover how to talk to an alien princess during training. If we see a Chinese girl or a big rabbit, I'm leaving!”

Mike Colins's voice came back in on the channel. “Just think 'What would Captain Kirk do?'”

“Uh huh.” Neil could hear the smirk in his friend's voice.

Buzz said what he was thinking. “I don't think ripping his shirt and getting in a fist fight, or seducing this Luna will help matters.”

Capcom spoke next. ”Wait, we've got a match on the event. Of course! Tsar Bomba, that Russian bomb they were waving about. The time period fits, and at over 50 megatons yield, it's the biggest explosion on the planet since Krakatoa.”

“Understood.” Neil looked back at the pony, who was observing him with polite interest. “A nation called Russia set off a large bomb around the right time. That may have been what caused your problem.”

“A bomb?” Luna looked distant for a moment. “An artificial eruption or explosion like the head of a firework? Equestrian has no direct translation, but that is the sense I get, of a weapon also.”

“That's right. Your people have explosives too?”

Luna nodded. “Indeed. Earth ponies did invent them for mining and use fireworks to fend off flying enemies, but this must truly be a vast device, and of something more than simple black powder.”

“Yes... Wait, Earth ponies? We have ponies on Earth, but they're not intelligent beings, just simple animals.”

“Oh, the name of your world, I see. How curious that you should have a race akin to ours on your world, another correspondence mayhap. However, I mean it in the sense of ground or the land. Equestria is home to several races, and Equis many more. Chief among the Equestrians are the three pony races, earth ponies, pegasi and unicorns. Maybe I have enough power to spare for a small illusion.”

A glowing window appeared in front of him showing a scene that would not have been out of place in a display on early medieval Europe; thatched single story cottages and cobbled roads in a verdant forested countryside, with a grey fairytale castle in the distance. Of course, in medieval Europe the inhabitants would not have been small technicolour horses in various period attire.

She showed several scenes as she talked about them, ponies tilling fields while pegasi marshalled clouds and created precise rain showers in their wake; unicorns with horns alight with coloured auras crafting jewellery or scribing scrolls with tools that floated in mid-air with a matching glow and a market day scene of all three types along with a smaller number of sheep, goats and donkeys, trading and haggling with abandon.

The final image was what he guessed might be the interior of the castle he'd first seen, grey stone and stained glass windows enclosing a hall hung with banners. It was populated with pony guards of all three races in hoplite styled barding and on a throne at the far end a white alicorn with a multicoloured mane and tail that seemed to float of its own accord, wearing a golden tiara, peytral and hoof-shoes.

“My sister Celestia getting ready to hold the day court...” The image flickered and faded as Luna's voice cracked and came to a halt. “I'm sorry, but remembering her like that... I miss her so!”

Neil was too stunned to speak for a moment, but finally managed to say, “Don't apologise, that was amazing! What other things can you do?”

Luna sniffled and blinked away teary eyes, but looked grateful to get away from what seemed to be a sore subject. “'Twas a small illusion, nothing to what I could do were I to have my full power. But I am versed in many of the magic arts, though my magic lends itself best to illusions and conjuration and, to a lesser extent, abjuration magic. I am learned in arithmancy, alchemy, magical artificing, and astronomy, and have studied philosophy, rhetoric, statecraft and diverse other arts of a noble nature.”

“I'm not sure what some of those even are. Arithmancy? Abjuration?”

“The first is the application of mathematics to magic, vital to describing and decomposing spells as well as modifying or creating new ones. The second is the creation of wards and shielding spells.”

“A pony for every season?” Neil quipped.

“You are too kind...” Luna gave an actual grin. “My circumstances gave me much time to study.”

Neil saw her happy expression fade as her eyes grew distant. He could almost see her remembering something that pained her, and found it pained him. “Are you alright?”

Luna realised she what she was doing and waved a wing in a dismissive manner as she focussed on him again. “'Tis nothing I wish to remember. We were talking of these Rushing people, and what alchemy they used to produce such a vast explosion.”

“Not alchemy.” Neil said. “I don't know if your language has the terms for it. Breaking apart atoms of an element to form lighter atoms, or fusing atoms together to form heavier ones?”

Luna looked thoroughly shocked, her eyes widening and her wings flaring. “You mean it employed elemental transmutation, the art of transforming one unique element to another? And if so, what mad-pony would deliberately unleash such a power as a weapon?”

“Unfortunately, quite a few nations on Earth, including my own. When someone figured out it could be done, there was a war, with nations who would have used it to attack others indiscriminately. The only way to prevent it was to have similar weapons of our own,and be able to say, 'If you destroy one of our cities with it, we can destroy yours.'”

“Ah I see, diplomacy.” Luna said, wryly.

She shook her head. “I did not mean to impugn your county's character. I am the last pony who has call to act the high horse. 'Tis simply that such an art is risky in the extreme. While simple alchemical transmutations of compounded substances is simple enough, to apply sufficient power to transform elements requires a team of powerful unicorns, and if done improperly, can result in vast explosions and a burning fever in those who are nearby or even inhale the dust. But 'twould make sense, such a powerful, concentrated explosion could breach the boundaries between dimensions.”

“No-body's happy such weapons exist, but no-one's found an alternative to threatening each other. Wait, you said 'if done improperly'. Does that mean that your people can do 'elemental transmutations' without a big explosion or poisoning?”

“Not so much do without it as draw away the energies to other uses. Some is fed back into the transmutation spell to control the rate of reaction, preventing the material being boiled to a vapour and the formation of poisons, while the rest goes into empowering a warding shield that blocks both energy and substance. The very magnitude of the energy released allows for some very powerful wards.”

“Something like that would be very valuable to people on earth, if you could figure out how to apply it to protecting a city from an explosion outside it.”

Luna thought for a moment. “I know the theory of it, and with my skills I could make an honest attempt to adapt what spells I know, but the idea of controlled elemental transmutation is the conversion of cheap metals to more expensive ones, such as lead to gold or tin to silver. The containment and absorbtion of the energy released is a side effect. I couldst not promise what I might not be able to deliver, but I could try and would. Though it would require more power than I can spare, as much of what I have is needed to support my body in this inhospitable environment.

“Sir Neil, I would ask you a boon. When you return home, please grant me passage on your vessel. What remains of the spell that brought me here acts as a geas to turn my power against me, slowing my attempts to restore myself, and preventing me from using my powers to escape, or attempt any spell requiring significant power. But if I left its influence by some other means, I could recover more of my old strength. I would of course offer my services and knowledge in recompense.”

Her eyes teared up, and she turned to look at the distant Earth. “It has been so lonely, trapped here with only my thoughts and regrets. I greatly desire to see your world up close, to meet your people and make friends among them, to discover the many wonders your people must have built with your mechanic arts. I implore you, carry me away from here and I shall owe you whatever aid I can muster.”

Neil could see the tears in her eyes now, watch them drip down her muzzle and boil away as they landed on the sun warmed regolith. He impulsively went down on his knees again and leaned towards her, opening his arms to give her a clumsy hug. Part of him was worried about what physical contact might do, but he was a test pilot, and in one of the most complete environmental protection suits known to man. If something bad did happen despite that, better to know it now than later. Besides, she looked like she really needed a hug.

She stiffened for a second then leaned into it, and though he couldn't feel it through the many layers of the suit, he could see she'd rested her head on his shoulder, and her wings had come forward to hug him in return. He hadn't turned into a radish, and he was fairly sure that any bugs would find direct solar radiation unpleasant.

“There there...” He gave a gentle squeeze. “It isn't my call as to whether you can come with us. That's for my superiors to decide. But I promise you I will do my darnedest to get them to say yes. It may not be on this mission, we may not have the fuel to carry you, but there will be other missions coming here after us, and I'm certain the next one could be set up to take you with them if we can't.”

Luna sat back on her haunches, eyes sparkling through the remaining tears. “Thank you, Sir Neil.”

“Give me a minute. Capcom, you heard the lady. Could you pass on the message?“

Charlie's voice spoke in his ears. “We're still recording everything, but I'll kick this up the chain as fast as possible. Wow, this is going to be huge! By the way, fifty five minutes on the EVA mission plan remaining, and you still have mission items to do, if you can. I'll see if I can authorise a second moon walk; the suits seem to be performing well above minimum expectations. Gene's given me the okay to cancel the emergency launch option.”

“Understood. Buzz, you want to come out and meet Luna?”

“Coming.” His friend's tone was light. “I look forward to it.”

“Luna, can you move around and maintain this air-bubble for us to speak to you? My friend Buzz and I still have work to do, but I don't want you to feel left out.”

Luna thought for a moment. “'Twould be easier for me, and less costly, to place a far-speaking enchantment on your helmets, if you would permit me. 'Twill last only a few hours without a properly prepared spell matrix to receive it, but that should suffice. And it will free me from maintaining the force field.”

“Alright then.” Neil knelt down and let her glowing horn touch his visor. A pattern of glowing symbols appeared at the point of contact, then faded. “You are just full of surprises!”

“Why thank you.” Her voice was different; clearer, as if she was in his helmet, and her horn had ceased glowing. “I shall do my best to help you with your tasks. Is there anything I can do?”

Neil started walking around to the Scientific Equipment Bay where the Lunar Surface Experiment Package was stored. “Thanks, but I'm not sure how you can help.”

He started to rig the gantry and pulley system that would allow them to haul the trunk sized main assembly out of its recess, a time consuming task, made no easier by the fact that some partial vacuum welding had made it stiff. He pulled on the lead rope but it would not budge. Then it was enveloped in a dark blue nimbus, and the package came forward without him pulling on it.

“I shalt find a way. Cans't loft this device if thou wish?” He could hear the humour in Luna's voice. "I have sufficient power to do so even in my current diminished state."

Neil decided to see what she could do. If the power was likely to compromise electronics, it was probably already too late. “Be my guest.”

The ALSEP drifted free and floated in mid-lack-of-air. “Where woulds't thou like it?”

He couldn't help himself. Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon and first human to communicate with an extra-terrestrial, burst out laughing.

Author's Note:

Reposted this revised version to take into account some of the feedback I've had in the comments. Particular thanks to FinalFan for his awesome proof read of the original. Some of the other concerns will, and were going to, be addressed in the next chapter.

Update: The heraldry of the flag has been corrected. Thanks pjabrony.

Update Update: Gone through and tweaked some stuff in preparation for chapter 5.

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