• Published 2nd May 2016
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Changeling Space Program - Kris Overstreet

The space race is on, and Chrysalis is determined to win it. With an earth pony test pilot and a hive full of brave-but-dim changelings, can she be the first pony on the moon? Inspired by Kerbal Space Program.

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Chapter 4: Missions 1 and 2: Trashcan Full of Boom

Excerpt from the Appleoosa Territorial Booster:


Issues of Grave Import to be Addressed

Sherriff Silver Star Calls for Calm

PONYVILLE- Sources from the inner circle of advisors to Princess Twilight Sparkle have informed us that the Princess will arrive on the morning train to enter into negotiations with the infamous queen of the changelings, Chrysalis.

While Appleoosa has suffered in recent weeks from repeat and open visits by Chrysalis’s subjects, heretofore edicts from Canterlot have instructed our civic government to treat them as any peaceful visitor to our young but vibrant community. As a result, our settlers have grown rapidly more unsettled as the prospect of a quiet changeling invasion becomes more real.

While our mayor has pledged to bring to the princess’s attention the danger to Princess Celestia’s loyal subjects, Sheriff Silver Star has asked the people to remain calm and extend our renowned Appleoosan hospitality even to such creatures as the changelings. We at the Booster can only hope that Princess Twilight Sparkle’s negotiations will finally keep the changelings out of our fair city. Civilization in this wilderness can only come with a changeling-free environment.

The crowd of Appleoosans stood watching the tiny, dusty train station in Appleoosa with undisguised hatred. The enemy herself, Queen Chrysalis, had taken in recent weeks to coming to and from the town as if she owned the place. Now she stood there, alone and unguarded on the train platform, awaiting the arrival of the Friendship Express.

Silver Star swished his mustache nervously. He wanted nothing more than a nice, peaceful life, and so long as the changelings who had come and gone through his town made no trouble, well he had no trouble with them. The same couldn’t be said of his fellow townspeople, though. And the looks they were giving the lone changeling on the platform worried him.

“That train had better not be late,” he muttered to himself.

“What train is that, Sheriff?”

Silver Star turned to look behind him, then relaxed as the tall, slender, elegant mare strolled up to him. “Oh, good morning, Ms. Cool Drink,” he said. “How’s Dodge treating you these days?(28) What brings you into town?”

(28) When in Appleoosa, Cool Drink was from a homestead near Dodge Junction. When in Dodge, Cool Drink had a spread near Appleoosa. She’d used the identity for over four years, and so far as she knew, nopony in either town had compared notes with anypony from the other. It only reinforced her low opinion of pony gullibility.

“Why, Miss Berry’s new enterprise,” Cool Drink drawled, gesturing casually towards the tall, brand-new warehouse next to the tracks. “It seems that the only way I can make a profit of my Badlands investments is to accept a portion of the changelings’ enterprises.” She shook her head in disappointment. “Really, what’s this country coming to?”

“Nothing bad, I hope,” Silver Star replied. “Princess Twilight Sparkle is supposed to be here any minute for a meeting with Chrysalis herself. That’s her on the platform.”

“Really?” Cool Drink replied. “You know, I’ve dealt with her through my lawyers, but I’ve never set eyes on her in person. Perhaps I should go introduce myself.”

“Ma’am, if it’s all the same to you, I’d as soon you didn’t,” Silver Star replied. “The townspeople been kinda nervous for weeks now about th’ truce with th’ changelings. And right now if they saw a lovely filly like yourself talkin’ with any changeling, never mind th’ queen of ‘em all, I don’t wanna think about what they might do.”

“I understand, Sheriff,” Cool Drink nodded. “Maybe I’ll meet her another time. Meantime, I’m supposed to meet an old griffon and four minotaurs. Do you know if they’re here?”

“That old buzzard Goddard hasn’t come out of that barn since he got here,” Silver Star said, jerking his hoof at “Cherry’s Rocket Parts.” “Dr. von Brawn arrived a few days ago, and his friends got in on the afternoon train. I saw them walk over there from the saloon this mornin’.”

“Thank you ever so much,” Cool Drink said.

“Aw, it ain’t nothin’, Miss-“ A train whistle squealed up the line. “Aw, hay! There’s the Princess’s train! Pardon me, Miss Cool Drink, but I have to perform my duties.”

“Quite all right, Sheriff,” Cool Drink replied. “And thank you for doing such an evenhanded job. It must be very difficult right now.”

“Thank you, it is,” Silver Star said simply. “Excuse me.” With a last duck of his head he trotted to the station, one hoof holding his white hat on his head.

Cool Drink watched, keeping her distance, as the sheriff joined the mayor near- but not too near- to Queen Chrysalis on the train platform. The train’s brakes squealed, the car couplings rattled and banged, and the train gradually came to a stop with the last passenger car directly facing the platform. As soon as the train stopped, the boxcars towards the front of the train were opened, and workers began shifting bundles of sheet metal and piping from the cars into the open doors of Cherry’s warehouse.

The passenger cars opened, and two of Celestia’s royal guards stepped out, flanking the doorway. A moment later Twilight Sparkle stepped out, followed by a pink earth pony with poofy pink hair and a yellow pegasus with long pink hair that threatened to cover her face.

“Greetings, Princess Twilight Sparkle,” Chrysalis said, nodding her head to the purple alicorn as one equal to another.

“Welcome to Equestria, Queen Chrysalis,” Twilight Sparkle replied, her voice a bit deep and hoarse. “I’m glad to see you visit us peacefully for a change.”

“Indeed, it is a novelty, isn’t it?” Chrysalis said, smiling.

“Ah, welcome, Princess Twilight,” the mayor said, cutting off Chrysalis and bowing and scraping at Twilight’s hooves. “Thank y’all SO much for choosin’ our lovely town for this important international summit-“

“Please, Mr. Mayor,” Twilight said, “I’ve got a cold and my voice is going out. If the queen and I could just go someplace private so we can talk quickly?”

“No rush,” Chrysalis purred. “We have so very much that needs negotiation.”

Cool Drink watched with bemusement as queen and princess were carefully steered towards the town hall with its recently rebuilt clock tower. She noted, idly, the orange earth pony with the cowboy hat organizing the unloading of the cargo from the train. She particularly noticed a purple-maned white unicorn carrying a large trunk in her magic while, behind her, two ponies in coveralls and caps followed her into the warehouse. Nodding to herself, she walked most casually across Appleoosa’s sole street to the warehouse, opening the door and shutting it behind her.

The instant the door cut off all sight by the outside world, green flame bathed the statuesque unicorn mare. When the flame died it left behind Queen Chrysalis, who chuckled quietly to herself, satisfied by a well executed stratagem.

The door at the other end of the hallway opened, and the white unicorn and the two ponies in coveralls stepped in. In moments the coveralls and caps lay on the floor, and a light blue pegasus and lavender alicorn stretched their wings. “Don’t get used to me saying this,” Twilight Sparkle said, “but thank you, Queen Chrysalis. You were right, and I was wrong. This time.”

“You’re quite welcome, of course,” Chrysalis replied. She’d anticipated that news of their conference would leak, and that petty politicians and anxious ponies would hijack the Princess of (ha!) Friendship, preventing any work from getting done on space things. And quite frankly Chrysalis wouldn’t have spoken a word to Twilight Sparkle willingly on any other subject, at least not until the little princess was helplessly encased in gel and had exhausted all variants of, “You’ll never get away with this!”

(ha!) This is not a footnote marker, and shame on you for following it anyway.

So, while she entered town disguised as Cool Drink (an identity which was no business of Twilight Sparkle’s), she’d sent Dragonfly ahead to pose as herself. Having used the most intelligent space-program changeling already, she’d had to deploy her third most intelligent space-program changeling, Lucky Cricket, to briefly take the role of Twilight Sparkle.(29)

(29) Occupant, the second most intelligent non-royal changeling in the space program, was disqualified on the grounds that at least a few ponies would have had a double-take moment upon seeing a profoundly buck-toothed Twilight Sparkle.

As if reading her own momentary reflections on a plan well come together, the rainbow-maned pegasus grumbled, “Yeah, about that. What’s the idea of sending a male changeling to imitate Twilight?”

“A changeling can imitate either gender flawlessly, at least physically so,” Chrysalis said. “Unfortunately, I had no changeling who could imitate the princess’s voice at all, or hold up her end of a prolonged technical conversation. So I chose a changeling who is good at improvising, who plays sick well, and above all is extremely lucky.” She shrugged and added, “I knew it would work so long as the time exposed to outsiders was reduced to the absolute minimum.”

“So what happens now?” Twilight Sparkle asked.

“In about half an hour the changeling replacing you collapses of illness,” Chrysalis said. “We’ve replaced Doctor Sawbones McColt for the day- a temporary measure, and he will be set free by sunset.(30) Our imposter will certify the princess as suffering from a twenty-four hour flu, insist on quarantine in the saloon for the rest of the day, and cover while our imposters disappear. Tomorrow morning we reappear in public, have the negotiations neither one of us want to, only agree on more negotiations another time, and part ways.” Chrysalis smiled, not realizing the smile was halfway to genuine and non-threatening. “Which leaves us all day today to exchange knowledge and work out the glitches in our respective systems, without interruptions or side-tracks.”

(30) A lie, but not for the usual reason. The fact was that there had never been a pony named Sawbones McColt. Keratin had been a holdover from Chrysalis’s mother’s rule, and it had suited both queen and subject fine to put distance between one another. “Bones” had become a doctor first in the hills near Smoky Mountain, then briefly in Ponyville, and finally in Appleoosa, being one of the town’s founders. Chrysalis still gave him orders on occasion, but she’d left him completely out of the Canterlot invasion, not knowing which side he’d take. He still kept the hive’s secrets, and for this operation that was all that mattered.

(31) All true, and in Chrysalis’s opinion lamentably so. True, avoiding both Canterlot and Ponyville had been the right tactical decisions in the wake of the invasion, but Chrysalis regretted not even making the attempt to get a changeling into the guard.

(32) Labelled, from front to rear of the hallway: Reception (the secretary’s desk, and waiting area, basically), CEO Cherry Berry, Chief of Research Warner von Brawn, Chief of Operations Dr. Goddard T. Griffon. (That last notable slept in his office and used the worker sanitary facilities for showering- all the more reason to keep visitors out of any of the individual offices.)

“A likely story,” the white unicorn protested. “And what’s to stop you from vanishing with all of us and returning to your hive with three valuable hostages?”

Chrysalis affected a look of shock. “Me do such a sneaky, underhanded thing?” she asked. “Why, I would never do such a thing like that! I’ve turned over a new leaf, after all.”

Alicorn and unicorn glared at her. The pegasus snorted derisively.

“And if you don’t believe that,” Chrysalis continued, “you have three friends who, at my own suggestion I might add, are never setting foot inside any building where they know changelings are present, all of whom know exactly where you are. As do your two royal guards, who I have had no opportunity to subvert or replace.”(31) Chrysalis frowned and added, “And such a thing would thus be instantly known and result in immediate war with Celestia and Luna, a war I am in no condition to fight at the moment.”

“Yeah, I’ll buy that last one,” the blue pegasus replied. “So where are the other eggheads?”

“In the conference room.” Chrysalis pointed to the only door on the side of the hallway away from the railroad tracks. Four doors lined the other side of the hallway, leading to smaller offices.(32)

Inside the conference room, seated at a large table and surrounded by chalkboards and corkboards half-covered with papers, sat Cherry Berry, Goddard, and the four members of the former minotaur space effort. Introductions were given all around, and after a couple minutes of Twilight Sparkle in full fangirl mode over Goddard and von Brawn(33), the group settled down to thrash out the day’s agenda.

(33) Which embarrassed von Brawn quite a bit, but satisfied Goddard to a T. The elderly griffon, delighted at his first honest flattery in ages, warmed to the princess at once, and to Chrysalis’s private amazement remained (mostly) pleasant and positive to everyone for the entire day. Looking back, she found herself grateful to frightening levels that Cherry Berry had insisted on recruiting the old buzzard as the top priority.

(34) Chrysalis hadn’t told the scientists about the Princess Shuffle plan, and the ponies assumed she had, so no questions were raised about what duties Dragonfly had. Not that she thought she couldn’t calm the scientists if they’d objected, but better to keep them in ignorance if possible and avoid the objections.

Chrysalis put off Twilight Sparkle’s suggestion that the changeling program lead with its technology in the morning, with the pony program exchanging its discoveries after the lunch break, by pointing out that one of the important changelings was not present. Dragonfly, in addition to being the number three pilot-designate, was the changeling program’s materials specialist, and thus the issues associated with that, mainly pressure suits and ship survivability systems, would have to wait until her duties were complete.(34)

This took the conversation to spaceship design. Cherry Berry admitted that the changelings were lacking in that department, their first control pod having failed miserably in their first rocket launch. von Brawn disagreed, pointing out that they had gained just as much data from the failure as they would have from a success. When Twilight Sparkle called it silly to perform a test you knew would fail, Chrysalis pulled out the still uncashed check from the Royal Astronomical Society and spent a minute or so mocking the “second place” space program.

Once Cherry Berry and Goddard got things back on track, conversation turned to engines. von Brawn provided the data from the first test launch and pointed out that, although further refinement of the delivery system would make the solid-fuel rocket a reliable booster, the existing engines didn’t have sufficient thrust or control to reach space safely, let alone return. Goddard then showed a model of his throttle-capable prototype engine and the chemical composition of his fuel-and-oxidizer system. “I have also developed a single-chemical fuel,” he said, “but it’s far less efficient for thrust. It might be more suitable for fine maneuvering thrusters, and I’m working on designs for that, but for main thrust the two-chemical system is the way to go.”

Twilight Sparkle brought forward her own paperwork. “I’ve been working on a propulsion system that converts mana directly into thrust,” she said. “Unfortunately, although I get positive thrusts in bench tests, it’s nowhere near sufficient to lift even the smallest rocket off the ground. I haven’t given up on development, though.”

Chrysalis and Goddard almost fought over Twilight’s paperwork, and eventually the two ended up looking over each other’s shoulders. The three of them, with occasional input from von Brawn and one of his associates, discussed Twilight’s proposed magic thruster for about half an hour(35). At the end, Cherry Berry, who had barely followed the gist of the conversation, said, “What’s the charge limit on this thruster?”

(35) Twilight Sparkle spent more time translating rocket-into-layman for Chrysalis and magic-into-layman for Goddard than she did actually explaining her creation. The other ponies in the room, of course, remained completely lost the entire time. Rainbow Dash was snoring in her chair after the first ninety seconds.

“By itself, about five thaums,” Twilight said. “But if a thruster is close enough to an Equestrian- any of us- then our natural magic will gradually recharge the system.” She sighed. “Unfortunately you pretty much have to be wearing it to get the recharge effect. So any ship using the system would have a limited supply.”

“So what you’ve invented here, Twilight,” Cherry Berry said, “is the engine for a pony maneuvering system in free-fall, I think.” She walked over to a chalkboard, picked up a piece of chalk in her teeth, and sketched out a rough picture of a pony with a fishbowl helmet wearing a backpack. “The astronaut wears the backpack when outside the vehicle,” she said after dropping the chalk. “With training it would make the astronaut in their spacesuit a very small spacecraft in its own right.”

Twilight’s magic picked up the chalk and refined Cherry’s sketch slightly. “That’s an interesting idea,” she said. “It would certainly be better than the tether system I was considering. A pony could get tangled in the rope.”

“Yeah, I kept telling you that every time you suggested it!” Rainbow Dash said. She hadn’t bothered looking at the paperwork, but she found Cherry’s sketch very interesting. “I like this a lot better,” she pointed out, “but it means we’ll have to teach the pilots how to fly all over again.”

“I think we’re coming to realize that we have to train up from scratch anyway,” Cherry said. Rainbow Dash shot her a nakedly hostile glare, then settled back into her chair, apparently to return to her daydreaming.

“It is still an intriguing concept,” von Brawn rumbled. “It is unfortunate that it cannot be recharged from the natural aether. The single largest stumbling block to interplanetary exploration, as I see it, is the extreme limitation of how many resources we can put into the spacecraft for each launch. Each mission must be completed with only what is on the ship at the start, and the more that is put on the ship, the less able it is to fly.”

“I think I’ve stumbled on a way to help with that.” Twilight Sparkle brought out a second sheaf of papers from her saddlebag. “I also did a little experimenting based on Dr. Goddard’s monographs. Unfortunately, since we’re focusing on developing a fully reusable vehicle, my calculations showed that we couldn’t store more fuel for more than a very brief and probably terminal flight using our current design. But then I tried combining the mana engine research with the fuel systems. My idea was to allow the engines to summon fuel directly from a tank back at base.”

Two crystals, one small gemstone and a much larger crystal shard, joined Twilight’s second monograph at the table. Chrysalis’s attention was riveted to the runes and etheric lines carefully engraved within both crystals. “This… this is most interesting,” she said at length. “The larger crystal not only teleports the material in a closed beam to the smaller, but it provides the mana to operate both. Have any tests been done to determine the system’s maximum range?”

“No appreciable difficulty from Los Pegasus to Manehattan,” Twilight shrugged. “That’s as far as I’ve been able to test, but across a continent isn’t bad.”

“Most intriguing indeed,” von Brawn said. “This solves all our scarcity issues.”

“No it doesn’t,” Twilight said. “My first test was with simple water. That worked perfectly. My second test was with an alcohol-based test fuel.”

“I remember that one,” Rainbow Dash chuckled. “That was cool. Not often you see a flame that blue.”

“Further tests revealed that the teleportation matrix disrupts carbon bonds,” Twilight said. “Er… violently. And not just rocket fuel. Pinkie Pie tried using it to send cupcakes into the rocket.”

“That wasn’t so cool,” Rainbow Dash muttered. “We all had to help clean what looked and smelled like puke out of our test ship.”

“The problem must be fixable,” Chrysalis muttered. “Have you tried a polarizing filter in the transmission wavelength matrix? That might inhibit any destabilizing factors in mid-transmission.”

“We’re still working on it,” Twilight said. “But that’s not the important thing for today. The important thing is, this,” she pointed to the crystals, “works just fine for water and oxygen.”

“So?” Chrysalis asked.

“So?” Cherry Berry asked. “Remember the most important thing about a rocket?”

“Yes. Survivability.”

“And this,” Cherry Berry said, pointing herself at the crystals, “solves three very big problems we have with survivability. Air, water and food.”

“Now you’ve lost me,” Twilight protested. “Where does food come into this?”

“Dehydrated food plus hot water equals a meal,” Cherry said. "And dehydrated food weighs maybe a tenth as much as regular rations and can be stored in much smaller space, without refrigeration.” She shrugged and added, “We won’t like the taste or texture, but with this we can breathe, drink and eat for maybe months at a time from the contents of a tiny space capsule.”

This excited all the scientists, who immediately adjourned to the chalkboards to sketch out calculations and rough designs for implementing the system. Rarity tried to butt in here and there, attempting to add fashionable flourishes to the stick-drawings tucked between columns of equations, with little success. Chrysalis, whose scientific knowledge was strictly limited to magic, was left alone to closely study the crystals(36).

(36) The more she studied them, the more intrigued she became. She thought of the Dumb Idea file cabinets back in the hive, and without even trying she could think of twenty-six ideas which this one device would move out of the the Really Stupid category and into Potentially Usable. Not that it would perfect any of them, but oh, the possibilities… and that trusting, naive Twilight Sparkle probably didn’t see any of them…

Cherry Berry was completely failing to get a word in edgewise with the boffins when she felt a hoof on her shoulder. She looked back to see Rainbow Dash’s furious face. “How could you?” the pegasus asked.

“How could I what?” Cherry Berry asked.

“You know what!” Rainbow Dash walked around Cherry, cutting her off from where Goddard and von Brawn were fighting over a piece of chalk. “You turned your back on Equestria and went off to join the enemy!”

“You know I can hear you, right?” Chrysalis said calmly, still closely examining the enchanted crystals.

“I did not join the enemy!” Cherry Berry insisted. “I applied for a job with a neutral power, thank you very much!” When Rainbow Dash snorted at this, she added, “A job, I might point out, I was turned down for by my own friends, who I asked FIRST!”

“Yeah, and I know you were disappointed by that,” Rainbow Dash said. “But I can’t believe I taught you as much as any earth pony can ever know about flying just so you could take it all to those evil changelings!”

“I’m sitting right here,” Chrysalis reminded the two ponies.

“Well, you certainly didn’t teach me all that stuff just so I could haul a cart around an airfield all day!” Cherry Berry retorted. “I hauled carts, babysat foals and fillies, picked up garbage, and did all sorts of things for years just so I could fly, and then you and Twilight expect me to keep hauling carts and picking up garbage with no hope of flying?”

Rainbow Dash looked a little uncomfortable. “Look, I understand how much you want to fly-“

“I really doubt that, Ms. Best Young Flyer!” Cherry Berry snapped.

“But you could have gone to the Crystal Empire-“

“I did.”

“Or to the griffons-“

“I did.”

“Or to, I don’t know, ANYPONY,” Rainbow Dash insisted, pushing through Cherry Berry’s objections, “before you signed on to work for this double-crossing love-sucking monster!” She jabbed a hoof at Chrysalis, who only now looked up from her study of the crystals.

“Well,” the queen said lightly, “I know one pony who’s not going to be asked to be a bridesmaid at my next wedding.” Setting the crystals on the table, she raised her voice slightly. “Sparkle? I think we should adjourn for lunch. We could send our test pilots out to pick up food.” She smiled at the two ponies and added, “It will give them time to catch up on old times, I’m sure.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Twilight agreed. “Hopefully we can get Dragonfly in here while we’re eating.”

Rainbow Dash let Cherry Berry go for the moment, focusing her entire attention on Chrysalis. “Just remember,” she said, “I’m watching you. From the skies.”

“That’s nice,” Chrysalis replied. “Just remember to keep looking up. And follow the trail of smoke,” she added, raising her voice to catch Rainbow Dash as she walked out the door.

Twilight looked at von Brawn. “I’m very sorry about that,” she said. “I’ll speak to Dash later about her behavior.”

von Brawn shrugged. “Politics,” he said flatly. “I don’t concern myself with it. So long as my rockets go up, who cares? Not my department.”

After lunch, with the arrival of Dragonfly, discussion turned first to her parachute design, which even Rainbow Dash admitted was impressive, especially considering the fabric base for the thing resembled a patchwork quilt rather than a single, smooth sheet. Rarity, taken by the substances used to reinforce the canopy and to make the ropes, swiftly turned the conversation to spacesuits, bringing out her designs and pointing out where Dragonfly’s materials would assist in keeping the suit both airtight and puncture-resistant. Cherry Berry and Rainbow Dash joined the conversation, pointing out potential issues with comfort and range of movement and keeping both makers on task.

While the spacesuit discussion took over one end of the conference room, Twilight and the boffins took over the other end, discussing the minotaurs’ tracking and guidance systems. For once Chrysalis held up her end of the conversation when it came to the magical illusion displays, pointing out potential glitches and apparent motion with the telepresence illusion’s point of view and suggesting refinements to how the system displayed trajectories and orbits. Twilight Sparkle pointed out the decay rate of magical detection, proposing that special tracking stations be built to make it easier to find the desired objects and follow them accurately at long distances. Even Goddard couldn’t follow the new logic-based math used by the minotaurs, limiting himself to a soft snarky comment about how fitting it was that a cloven-hoofed creature could only count to two.(37)

(37) Though Twilight Sparkle was picking up concepts towards the end of the discussion, and asked George Bull to send her his monograph on logical expression.

Eventually the two groups reunited for the final item of discussion, von Brawn’s proposed control system. First von Brawn demonstrated his “reaction wheel,” a modified gyroscope which would transform electricity into rotation and thus, with care and patience, allow a ship to rotate through all three axes. “Of course,” he said, “inertia is still an issue. Reaction wheels are effective according to the ratio of their size to the mass and length of the ship overall. For atmospheric flight some control surfaces will still be desirable, at least for now.”

The test model was nothing more than the reaction wheel system itself, mounted on gimbals. Using only the small flashlight batteries of the device and a handheld remote control, von Brawn demonstrated his ability to turn the assembly left, right, three hundred sixty degrees around, and even upside down, holding the device in place against gravity for half a minute before powering down the wheel and allowing the gimbals to flop back down.

“No magic,” Twilight Sparkle said, awed.

“No wings, no flapping,” Rainbow Dash added, equally impressed.

“No thrust of any kind involved,” Cherry Berry agreed.

From this signal success von Brawn advanced to the center of what he called the “pilot interface.” At the center of the various gauges lay a large blue ball. “This is an advancement over the artificial horizon used by airships and the most advanced experimental aeroplanes,” von Brawn said. “Since a spaceship goes where there is no horizon, this ball is designed for full spherical rotation without gimbal restriction.”

He flicked a switch, and a strange symbol, a circle with three lines sticking out at right angles to one another, appeared on it. “We can also project markers showing references for the ship’s motion. This one is the prograde marker- in short, it shows the direction the ship’s actually moving in at the moment. At least during launch you want to keep this marker in the blue zone and out of the brown. That means the pointy end of the rocket is aimed at the sky.”

“Really?” Chrysalis asked. “What does it mean if you have that marker in the brown?”

von Brawn paused before replying, “It means your ship is pointed down. At the ground. Or, at least, towards whatever mass you’re orbiting.”

“And when your rocket is pointed down,” Cherry Berry said, a note of warning in her voice, “it means you are having a very Bad Day.”

“And will not be going to space today,” Dragonfly finished.(38)

(38) Chrysalis enjoyed being queen of the hive and had no interest in naming a successor and training her for the sudden yet inevitable betrayal and overthrow. But after witnessing Dragonfly be competent on a regular basis, she was beginning to wonder if she had any royal jelly stored away somewhere…

Chrysalis took the point, settled back in her chair, and resolved herself to attentive silence.

von Brawn demonstrated the other features of the system- the digital velocity display, the gauge for speed of ascent and descent, the throttle control and indicator, the automatic systems staging list- “Literally changeable on the fly if the pilot discovers she needs a particular system activated sooner than later,” he pointed out- and, finally, a small black box he referred to as the Stability Assist System. “It’s not quite a true autopilot,” he said. “Its purpose is to gradually damp out motion outside the ship’s current trajectory to keep it going straight. Unfortunately, it’s very stupid, so it has a tendency to overcorrect, oscillate, and burn a lot of electric charge in the process. Pilots will need to be trained to use it as an assistant, not a substitute.”

Finally, once it was clear that von Brawn and his friends had completed their demonstration, Chrysalis said, “And this is what you spent all that time and money crafting?”

“Goodness, no!” von Brawn said. “We really had this all knocked out within a week. Except for the SAS, this is mostly existing technology applied in a novel way. No, our main efforts were devoted to creating a fully autonomous automated pilot. Since the four of us,” he gestured at his almost identically large, muscular and heavy brethren, “are simply too large to be pilots, and we couldn’t find a goat willing to fly on our behalf.”

“And we are making progress on that front,” George Bull added. “Much more slowly with our current funding and priority restrictions, though.” He shot a look of resentment at Dr. Goddard, who pretended not to notice.

“That’s amazing!” Twilight Sparkle exclaimed. “This is a simple yet efficient-“

“Oh, wait, no,” von Brawn said, waving off the praise. “This is only the piloting system. There will still be a host of switches and controls unique to each spacecraft. Please don’t refer to any spacecraft control system as simple. There’s no such thing, not for such a dangerous enterprise.”

“And speaking of enterprises,” Chrysalis purred, “why don’t the rest of you go find some dinner?(39) The princess and I have some negotiations to conclude, since we’ll be too busy with meaningless drivel tomorrow to take care of it then.” As the others began to file out the door, Chrysalis added, “No, Miss Dash, you should remain. How else can you keep your eyes on me?”

(39) Chrysalis wasn’t in the least hungry, herself. Between the ponies, the griffon and the minotaurs, and the love of flying, the love of science, and the love of making things, she’d been snacking all through the meetings. If this kept up, she thought, she’d end up like that guard, Neighing Mantis, who had hogged Cherry Berry’s flying-cherries dream all to herself for a solid week. (The guard commander told her Mantis would be able to resume guard duties after another week of crash dieting.)

The negotiations were brief and, surprisingly to at least one side, entirely in good faith.

Assembled parachutes with protective covers and an electric deployment system, plus raw changeling materials, in exchange for pressure suits. Rarity would take measurements for Cherry Berry, Dragonfly and Chrysalis before the ponies returned to Ponyville. This was settled quickly, as both sides required the other side’s aid to make these systems work.

von Brawn’s control systems in exchange for Twilight Sparkle’s ether thrusters and air-water supply crystals. Again, settled quickly, because each side thought the other’s innovative system was equally ground-breaking.

When it came to engines and space vessels, however, negotiations dragged out and eventually broke down. Twilight Sparkle wasn’t willing to give up on her idea of a fully-functioning magic-powered spaceship. Chrysalis, for her part, didn’t want to adopt the pony ship design sight unseen.

On the final point, each side exchanging pilots in order to standardize astronaut training, there simply wasn’t enough trust between the sides to do anything more than mention the idea and “take it under consideration.”

After dinner, in the darkness of night, Twilight and Chrysalis replaced their imposters, and the next day they played out their scripted public negotiations… up to a point. As the ponies of Appleoosa gathered to see the princess off (regretfully) and bid farewell to the queen (forever, they hoped), Twilight Sparkle went distinctly off-script.

“We have many reasons to distrust the changelings,” Twilight Sparkle said, “especially after the battle in Canterlot. But as my teacher Princess Celestia reminded me, everypony deserves a second chance to make up for past mistakes. I’ve made many mistakes in my life, as has she. And yet our friends forgave us, because that’s what ponies do.

“So when I hear ponies saying bad things about the changelings, when they’re trying to work with ponies and make up for their past misdeeds, I’m really disappointed,” she continued. “They tried to conquer Equestria, and we won’t forget that anytime soon. But we must also remember that we are ponies. We believe in friendship and harmony… and forgiveness. Each of you have made mistakes. Each of you will make mistakes in the future. And if you want to be given the chance to fix those mistakes, you have to be willing to give the same chance to other ponies… even changelings.”

Twilight Sparkle’s eyes swept the crowd, whose anger had begun to give way to shame. “So I don’t want to hear any more ‘throw out the changeling’ talk,” she concluded. “No more talk about traitors to ponykind. If the changelings betray their word we will deal with that then- but not before.” She stomped a hoof on the train platform and shouted, “So start acting like ponies for a change! And give them a chance!” With that the princess turned and walked into the train, followed by her two guards(40) and the rest of her friends… except for one.

The yellow pegasus with the long pink hair- Fluttershy, Chrysalis recalled the name- stopped just before boarding the train to whisper(41), “I had to talk her into that last part,” she said. “Twilight still hasn’t forgiven you for what you did to her, or what you did to Princess Cadence. But she’s willing to try anyway. She’s giving you a second chance, just like she did with Discord and Starlight Glimmer.” Then the shy, retiring pegasus locked eyes with the ruthless changeling queen, and for an eternal moment two gentle eyes pierced to the bottom of Chrysalis’s ragged, perforated soul.

“Don’t blow it,” the Stare whispered.

When Chrysalis recovered, the train doors had shut and the Friendship Express’s whistle was blowing. As she stumbled back from the departing train, she almost bumped into Sheriff Silver Star, who held a hoof out to her. “Good evenin’, Your Queenieness,” he drawled. “In th’ spirit of Princess Twilight’s words, I’d be right honored if you’d join me for dinner at th’ saloon.”

“Er… certainly,” Chrysalis answered, still off-balance. For the first time in, well, ever, she felt a tiny sliver of guilt, and the emotion was foreign to her except as a liquorice-like taint on the love of married ponies she’d seduced.

“I’ll see you at eight, then,” the sheriff said. In a lower voice he added, “I’m looking forward to talking with you about a mare named Cool Drink. I have a cousin in Dodge, you see, who wrote me asking how Cool Drink was doing on her Appleoosan ranch. Seein’ as you do business with her of late, I figured you’d be best placed to answer a few questions.”

A shiver went down Chrysalis’s spine. Drat, she thought. Where can I steal a small but respectable farm house from… overnight?


(40) Who Chrysalis still hadn’t replaced with infiltrators, darn it. And she had tried the previous night. Unfortunately Twilight Sparkle seemed to have found the only two royal guards in Celestia’s service who were immune to the temptations of pie. They’d accepted her gift, boxed it up, and had it put aboard the train for the ride home. By which time, worse luck, the fast-decaying, untrackable sleeping draught baked into the pie would have broken down into nothing more than a faint aftertaste of grape. Curses, foiled again.

(41) Actually Fluttershy was speaking in her normal voice, but that’s softer than most other ponies’ whispers anyway.

Before Chrysalis’s date with the sheriff, she called Cherry Berry, von Brawn, and Goddard into a final, private meeting. “I want your opinions on what we accomplished,” she said to open the meeting. “Now.”

“The good news,” Cherry Berry said, “is once we get the parts exchanged, we have everything we need for a control pod… except the pod itself.”

“Warner and I have a rough design already,” Goddard replied. “We need to measure Chrys- er, Your Majesty- in her pressure suit, but with a crash program and enough hands, we can go from scratch to a training pod in seventy-two hours.”

“And we can assemble a training simulator tomorrow,” von Brawn added, “as soon as you tell us where to put it. We can use the test equipment for that.”

“Better to do as much training as possible in the actual ship,” Cherry Berry insisted. “Anyway, the bad news is, once we trade components, the Equestria program will be directly even with us. And although you two gentlemen are rocket geniuses,” she nodded at Goddard and von Brawn, “Twilight Sparkle is an everything-genius, and she’s got at least three other geniuses working for her. All respect, Your Majesty,” she shrugged at Chrysalis, “but you’re not a genius, and neither am I. So we’re going to be on the back hoof if we don’t move faster than her.”

“Heh. That won’t be hard,” Goddard said.

“What’s that mean?” Chrysalis asked.

“That princess is a sweet girl,” Goddard said. “Intelligent, respectful. I like her. But she’s got her heart set on starting out with the perfect space ship. And her idea is years away from being workable. I doubt it will ever be workable. There’s one big flaw…” The griffon trailed off, leaning back in his chair and almost closing his eyes in thought.

“What?” Chrysalis asked. “What flaw?”

Slowly Goddard shook his head. “No,” he said, “I had better save that for now. I might be wrong. I need to do some tests, and I need data from at least one proper Flea launch to be certain.” He grunted and added, “And besides, I have to focus on my liquid-fuels work. I’m still working on a modular fuel tank system that not even a changeling can muck up.”

“Ouch. Good luck,” Cherry Berry said with feeling.(42)

“But I will say,” Goddard added with a twinkle in his eagle eye, “that if my idea is right, then we might be in a position to make a major jump ahead of Twilight Sparkle’s effort. As for the yaks, the Crystal Empire, the griffons, the whoever else, that I can’t tell you.”

“Can we rely on that?” Chrysalis asked.

“Absolutely not,” Goddard said. “That’s why I’m not saying why I think that. Until I know more, I figure we have to assume that the princess’s obsession with perfection is our only advantage. She wants the best? Then we get ahead of her by accepting Good Enough.”

“Just so we’re clear,” Cherry Berry said sternly, “in this case ‘good enough’ means ‘live healthy pilot at the end of the flight.”

“Agreed,” Chrysalis nodded. “Tomorrow we bring the rest of the space program staff here and focus on building the first test ship. And Cherry Berry will supervise,” she added with a grin, “since, after all, she’s going to be the first pony inside it.”


(42) Chrysalis would have been sorely tempted to do something painful to the pink earth pony for that remark, if she hadn’t agreed with it one hundred percent. She knew better than anypony how nearly impossible it was to changeling-proof anything.

Cherry Berry stormed into the tiny cubbyhole at the changeling hive’s entrance where Occupant had established his office. The little hole, once stuffed with junk mail of all kinds, had been cleared out and was now stuffed with letters to and from news media, purchase orders and receipts, reports, memos, and correspondence of every kind. “WHAT,” the pony shouted, pulling a piece of paper out of a saddlebag and shaking it in Occupant’s face, “WHAT is THIS?”

“Mission One’s specs and procedures list,” Occupant said simply. “I had it printed in Equestrian. Do you not read Equestrian? I think I can translate it into-“

“I can read it just fine,” Cherry Berry insisted. “Especially the part where it says Mission Pilot Queen Chrysalis!” She shook the paper again until her hoof came free and it fluttered to the floor. “The deal is, she flies NOTHING until I’ve flown it first! That’s not just my vanity, that’s for HER SAFETY, darn it!”

“But Mission One isn’t going to be a flight,” Occupant said. “Read the whole procedures list. There’s no launch.”

Cherry Berry’s eyes widened. She flipped the paper on the floor over and read it carefully. Sure enough, the test was listed as capsule-only, no engine. “Why?” she said at last.

Occupant shape-shifted into a griffon form(43) and held up the talons of one hand. “We have a contract to ground-test scientific equipment,” he said, counting off one talon. “We need to make sure someling as large as our queen can fit comfortably in the ship, get in and out of the hatch, and walk around in the suit while it’s inflated.” A second talon ticked down. “And if any of that goes wrong, we don’t want a live rocket under the capsule when it does, or else someling might have a Bad Day.” He ticked off the third and final talon.

Cherry Berry considered this. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I shouldn’t have shouted at you. You’ve really thought about this.”

“I know!” Occupant exclaimed, dropping the griffon disguise with a flash of green fire. “And it was SO HARD!” He reached over behind one huge stack of paperwork and pulled up a large canister with rounded ends. “I even took the time to design the scientific equipment myself!”

Cherry Berry awkwardly accepted the large canister, which was almost as large as she was. She set it on the floor, looking it over. Noticing a latch and lid along one side, she opened it with a hoof and looked inside.

“Occupant,” she said carefully, “this is a can that some changeling has been very sick into.”

“It’s goo!” Occupant insisted. “It’s very versatile! It has many unique scientific traits!”

Cherry looked in the container again, and wished she hadn’t. “Like what?”

“Er….. it’s green!” Occupant said.


“Um… it’s gooey!”


“And it’s the only thing we could get,” Occupant admitted. “I’m just a bug that likes to read, not a rocket scientist. That’s what I could make two of to put on the capsule for tomorrow. We can at least observe it, see what it does in different places, and figure out what that means about those different places, right? That should be good enough to complete the contract and move on.”

Cherry Berry grunted. “Fine,” she said. “I just hope Chrysalis appreciates the honor.”


(43) The author dares you to imagine a griffon beak with buck teeth and not laugh out loud.

Chrysalis didn’t appreciate it at all.

Step zero: be packed like hay-hash in a can into her brand-new suit, activate the air systems, and then be stuffed even more into the one-mare capsule. The thing looked a bit like a metal gumdrop, or a bell minus the handle. The two “mystery goo” pods on either side of the hatch(44) made the thing look like some kind of weird Everfree Forest mouse-monster-thing. Then, once this was done, ride along helplessly as the capsule was carefully transported by a changeling crew to the launch pad.

All this trouble, she grumbled, for a ship which isn’t going anywhere.

The capsule settled onto the ground, and the pod’s mission clock started running.

Step one: record crew report of current conditions. Fine.

Chrysalis keyed on the cockpit recorder. Unfortunately the thing could hold only one report at a time, and although it was just possible to swap recording crystals, it was extremely difficult, and effectively impossible while sitting in the pilot’s chair. “Er… Changeling Space Program Mission One, pilot officer Chrysalis recording,” she said awkwardly. Faust, I sound stupid, she thought, but this is for history, so I can’t buck this up! “The capsule is… well… actually a lot roomier inside than I’d expected,” she said. “All switches are within hoof’s reach. The pilot’s seat and spacesuit backpack are digging into my wings a bit, but not uncomfortably so.

“Loading into the hatch was awkward but doable,” she continued. “In a minute I’m going to climb out of the hatch, perform what Doctor von Brawn calls an ‘extra vehicular activity,’ which I don’t understand because it’s not like we have an extra vehicle, but I guess it’s a scientist thing.” Oh drat, I forgot I was recording. I can’t erase it without starting over, so let’s go on. But drat!! “I can see blue skies through the hatch window… that’s about all I can see. It’s a little disappointing, especially since it’s not at all pointed in the direction this thing would be going if I were actually flying. I guess we’ll be entirely dependent on the instruments to keep this thing going where we want it to.

“And… and… that’s all I can think of, really,” Chrysalis said. “Everything inside the capsule seems to be working fine, I’ve got power and air pressure and, well, everything’s good. So… yeah. CSP Mission One, Chrysalis signing off.” She cut off the recorder. I sound like such an idiot, she thought. Maybe I could erase it and do it over anyway?

Do you really think it’d go any better?


Right. Onward.

Step two: Observe Mystery Goo canister 1. If it malfunctions, observe backup canister.

Chrysalis flipped the switch. The canister opened, and a camera took a picture of the contents, showing it to Chrysalis within the capsule.

Hm. It’s goo. Next?

Step three: E.V.A. Go outside, take a walk, take a report, get back into the capsule.

Chrysalis opened the hatch and climbed out, clinging first to the inside and then to the outside of the hatch as it closed behind her. Once the latch shut with a surprisingly hard thud, she carefully stepped down the two rungs to the launchpad surface, let go, and dropped to all four hooves.

“Suit recorder system test, CSP Mission One, Chrysalis.” She looked around, walking as fast as the suit would allow her(45). “Look,” she said, “I don’t really think a spacesuit was necessary to get here, was it? I can see the hive entrance from here, for goodness’s sake! Chrysalis out.” The earpiece in her suit beeped the tone for a successful recording.

Fine, she thought, now to get back into the pod.

As she stepped up to the hatch, she suddenly thought: You know, I could swap out the recording crystals and record a new report. Nopony would know, right?

Hanging half-in, half-out of the hatch was a little precarious, but it let her grab the recording data and slot a fresh crystal into place.

Once back in the seat, she keyed on the recorder. “Changeling Space Program Mission One, pilot officer Chrysalis… er… um…”

Her mind went completely blank.

“I… er… oh, buck it,” she said, and killed the recording.


Mission summary: Test function of Capsule Mk. 1, standard pressure suit, Mystery Goo container
Pilot: Queen Chrysalis

Flight duration: 2 minutes, 27 seconds
Maximum speed achieved: 0 m/s
Maximum altitude achieved: 0 meters

Contracts fulfilled: 1
Milestones: first scientific experiment, first EVA test

Conclusions from flight: We’ve got a ship, we’ve got science, we’ve got a spacesuit. Let’s launch this filly and see what happens!



(44) Occupant had heard that balance was important. Actually, what he’d heard was that a balanced diet was important, so he ended up being absolutely right for a really stupid reason, but the being right bit still counted.

(45) Which wasn't very. To put it bluntly, Chrysalis waddled. She swayed back and forth like a sailor who'd drunk all the grog on the ship just before the hurricane hit. The suit simply wouldn't let her keep her legs close to each other, much less allow her the slow, graceful stride she'd spent years cultivating. And the worst part was, on her orders, no fewer than five of her changelings were photographing the whole thing.

“There!” Chrysalis gasped as she finally got her helmet off. “The capsule works. We know the parachute and the rocket work. Let’s put them all together and just go, already!”

Cherry Berry shook her head. “A week from now,” she said, “and not sooner. We need to train on the controls. I don’t know what I’m doing behind that stick, and neither do you or Dragonfly yet. So we all three spend the next week in simulations in and out of that pod, under Dr. von Brawn’s supervision, until we have the controls down pat. And the terminology. And as much as we can cram into a week.”

“But that Sparkle-“

“Twilight Sparkle is doing the exact same thing with Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy,” Cherry Berry said. “And probably a lot more of it. A week is cutting a lot of corners, believe me. We ought to be doing a lot of tests to make sure we’re even fit to fly.”

Chrysalis checked the urge to continue arguing. Remember, she thought, this is possibly the one being on all Equus that wants to do this more than you do. And she says wait. “Is that the deal?” she asked.

“That’s the deal,” Cherry Berry said. “We have to do at least this.”

“One week,” Chrysalis grumbled. “And then you take the glory.”

“Look on the bright side,” Cherry Berry said. “If I so much as get a sniffle, it’ll be you instead. No pony rides up unless they’re perfectly healthy.”

Chrysalis contemplated various ways she could infect her chief test pilot with ponypox over the coming seven days. Not that she would do it… but it was so very, very tempting.

A week passed, half utter boredom in classrooms, half total frustration in the simulator and in capsule tests.

And then, almost before she realized it, Cherry Berry felt the rocket underneath her back settle onto the surface of the launchpad, and the flutter of wings as the changelings who had levitated the rocket into place evacuated.

I am so not ready, Cherry Berry thought to herself, but I’m going to do this anyway.

The mission was simple: get the rocket into the air, test its maneuverability by steering it as close to due east downrange as possible, pop the parachute as soon as safe, and land the beast. Check one mystery goo canister while under thrust, the other after landing.

Underneath her was as simple a rocket as could be imagined; a single Flea booster, like the hilariously terrifying first launch. Above her, on the nose of the capsule, the parachute system. If the electronic release system didn’t work… very bad day.

It’ll work.

Between her hooves, the flight stick. Around her, a host of switches, mostly dead for lack of systems to connect them to on this flight. The navigation ball, dubbed the “8-ball” by Goddard in a moment of humor, showed all blue, pointing straight up.

OK. Time to do this.

Cherry Berry engaged the stability system, set throttle to full(46), and triggered the first stage- the booster.

Almighty Faust Herself put Her world-carving hoof on Cherry Berry’s chest and tried Her best to push the earth pony pilot clear through the seat.

Cherry Berry struggled to reach the controls. Must… activate… mystery goo… She just managed to reach the switch, triggering the canister open. She couldn’t rest; the rocket was still going straight up. Push… over… east! The reaction wheels whined, and despite the rocket roaring like an angry centaur the little craft pushed right over, thrusting first thirty degrees east, then forty-five, then fifty.

And then, scarcely ten seconds after liftoff, the rocket burned out. The pod still shook and bucked under intense air strain. Cherry glanced at the speed readout…

Over five hundred meters a second!

Twice as fast as a sonic rainboom!

And the ship is still going up!

Even as she thought these things, the ship steadied in its flight. The speed dropped off rapidly in the air; without thrust or magic the rocket couldn’t remain supersonic. With a boom the little rocket dropped back below the sound barrier, having left (sadly) no trail of magic behind it. But it was still going up…

The light for the parachute went green. According to mission specs, which she had insisted on during a conversation with Occupant, she was supposed to test the parachute as soon as possible. But… I want to see how high and far this bird will go, she thought.

She watched the altimeter climb. Thirty-seven hundred meters. Four thousand. Forty-five hundred. Five thousand and slowing. Fifty-three hundred and creeping. Fifty-five hundred, and the counter seemed to strain for every last digit.

Five-five-two-zero for about half a second… and then the numbers began rolling back, much quicker than they’d rolled forwards. The rocket was still going over a hundred sixty meters per second, and that number was beginning to climb again.

Can’t risk possibly going supersonic again on descent. Don’t know enough about the flight dynamics yet.

Parachute… NOW.

The chute deployed, and Cherry Berry felt the sudden jerk as the ship immediately slowed from one sixty-some meters per second to one twenty-some meters per second. Dragonfly and Goddard had adjusted the parachute to only partially open until the ship dropped below a thousand meters, but that was fine. So long as speed held below two hundred, she was safe as houses in the pod.

She had been aloft scarcely more than a minute.

Oh wait! she thought. Recording! I have to make the crew recording! “CSP Mission Two, chief pilot Cherry Berry recording,” she said. “I have just released the parachute after a very, er, educational first flight. I recommend that we put limiters on the solid rockets in the future to moderate burn and to reduce the acceleration forces on passengers. The readouts registered a maximum of seven times normal gravity during ascent. Prolonged exposure to that level of acceleration could lead to blackouts and loss of control, so that problem seriously needs be addressed.

“I can see some mesas outside my cabin window now… I’m afraid I’ve lost track of the hive, so I really don’t know what’s under me…”

Oh shoot. I really DON’T know what’s under me. I could be coming down on uneven ground, which would leave me rolling down the slope, possibly breaking up…

And if I am, I am. Can’t do anything about it now. Something else that needs to be addressed, though.

“Anyway, Dr. von Brawn’s control system works perfectly. Symbols for prograde and retrograde vector lit up as designed, and-“

For a moment Faust’s mighty hoof gave Cherry Berry another gentle caress.

“I… the parachute’s just finished opening,” Cherry Berry gasped as the ship decelerated to a leisurely seven meters per second(47). “Four hundred seventy meters and descending. Chute shows all green, so that’s a successful test. I’m about to be busy with landing and closeout procedures, so this is Cherry Berry, Changeling Space Program Mission Two, signing off.”

Twenty seconds after Cherry switched off the recorder, the still-hot bell of the rocket booster hit the top of a thankfully flat, mostly smooth mesa. The parachute fell slack, detached automatically, and drifted off to the ground. Cherry Berry triggered the second mystery goo canister, took its report, and then lay back in the pilots chair and breathed her first deep, deep breath of relief.

I think… I think we can actually do this.

Something banged on the side of the capsule. A changeling (48)peered in through the hatch’s window, smiled, and waved.


Mission summary: Test control systems and parachute system in flight; gather data from flight
Pilot: Cherry Berry

Flight duration: 3 minutes, 10 seconds
Maximum speed achieved: 540 m/s
Maximum altitude achieved: 5520 meters
Distance downrange at landing: 5.7 kilometers

Contracts fulfilled: 0
Milestones: none

Conclusions from flight: That… was… educational…



(46) Not that it mattered; the solid fuel had only one throttle setting, and that was Go.

(47) Still fast enough to potentially injure a pony, but the pilot seat in the capsule was specifically designed to absorb landings of anywhere up to ten meters per second. Beyond that, von Brawn had said, no promises at all except, probably, pain.

(48) Lucky Cricket. All the non-pilot Changeling Space Program changelings had drawn straws to cover the eight compass points for ship retrieval, just in case the control systems went wrong. Lucky had drawn due east.

Author's Note:

The bulk of this chapter, of course, was devoted to the last major things I wanted to explain away from Kerbal Space Program. Squad, the company who made KSP, doesn't simulate life support requirements because they felt it would be annoying without being fun- and the game is plenty hard enough already. For similar reasons a glitch that effectively allows kerbals infinite propellant for EVAs (if you return to the ship every so often for refills, that is) has been left in because the game is more fun that way.

In the long term, in a world where magic is strong enough that pegasi can tow apparently ordinary ground carts into the air and HOVER with them remaining level, Twilight Sparkle's idea of an infinite magic-powered engine would definitely be the way to go. Star Wars type ships would be right at home if you just say that the ships run on magic. KSP's base install doesn't allow for that, though. Fuel scarcity is one of the key points of the game- as it should be, since the object is to provide a semi-realistic rocket simulator accessible to armchair enthusiasts. So my explanation for infinite air also had to preclude infinite fuel, to say nothing of any possibility of just teleporting ponies across the stars willy-nilly. Ponies and people, remember, are ALSO made up of carbon compounds...

But for purposes of the story, spoiler alert: Twilight's going to be buying rocket parts from Cherry Berry hoof over fist, so to speak. The Magic Rocket Ship is going to be the Equestrian Space Agency's millstone, keeping them just one step behind the changelings... at least until and unless the game's mission contracts cough something up that requires me to say otherwise.

And Rainbow Dash is required by brony law or something to be mad at disloyal ponies, so the scene with Cherry Berry. It was fun writing in Chrysalis's reactions there, I admit.
For my playthroughs, Cherry Berry is Jebediah, and Chrysalis is Valentina. Dragonfly hasn't got a kerbal equivalent yet, because she's strictly backup for the moment.

Obviously, since KSP's mission control is on the beach on the equator, Mission 2 had a splashdown, not a touchdown. I decided not to attempt an EVA for that reason... and also for the fact that the ship was floating upright rather than on its side, and I didn't want to risk losing Jebediah/Cherry on the very first actual flight!

Oh, and Applejack remains best background pony.

Next time, Chrysalis demands her turn riding the trashcan, and the Changeling Space Program moves to a more suitable site for, well, pretty much everything...

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