• Published 13th May 2016
  • 4,132 Views, 219 Comments

Friendship is Sufficiently Advanced - Cordial Nova



A first-in scout from the Associated Worlds investigates a very odd star system.

  • ...
5
 219
 4,132

I. Prologue: The Anomalous Planet

A massive object hung in space, cautiously – meaning barely – inside the orbit of Senna’s Belt, the mass of icy planetoids that marked the edge of the system. In form, it resembled a massive arrowhead: one end turned toward the distant sun, bristling with antennae; faint bluish light spilling from its midsection where a bulge wrapped around some hidden object; quadruple parallel arms reaching out towards the depths of space.

Quietly, with no more than a flicker of distortion to mark it, a tiny starship appeared from nothing only a few thousand miles away. Silver-gray in color, except for the twelve-pointed golden star emblazoned amidships on a field of blue, two small counter-rotating gravity wheels rotated around a central cylinder. A gold-glazed viewport surmounted its bow, and behind the gravity wheels a truss held quadruple strapped-on tanks and the paired radiators that shed heat from the stern’s fusion torch, currently cool and black.

Had there been any knowledgeable onlookers, they would have identified it as an Aval Cyprium-class microscout, and known from its markings that the Imperial Exploratory Service had arrived.

But there were no observers at all.

* * *

Some time later

“Log this and prepare it for relay back to the Orrery, copy to DEMIURGE ERRANT. Routine update from CSS Istry Lochran, Cordelia Vintar-ith-Vidutar Iriliselen commanding, insert timestamp here. I have now been present in the IGS 254672 outer system for three days.

“My presence does not appear to have been detected at this time, as no response has been made. The stargate appears uninfluenced and records no attempts to access it or traffic in its proximity. The majority of the system appears quiescent and undeveloped. The thick inmost asteroid belt manifests no signs of colonization or industrial development. Nor do either the first planet of the system, a greenish gas giant with multiple icy moons, or the second planet, a purplish ice giant. However, sampling by probe suggests that both these planets are unusually depleted of hydrogen and other light gases. I would presently ascribe this to a catastrophic past event for reasons to follow.

“There are, however, clear signs of an active Power, type unknown, within the system. I have confirmed spectroscopically the VLBO report that IGS 254672 itself is a ‘yellow straggler’; stellography suggests the presence of a number of organized masses at the boundary between the corona and chromosphere which could represent power generation and/or stellar husbandry equipment. Moreover, there are indications of previous stellar catastrophe visible on planets of the system.

“The anomaly is to be found in the third planet of the system, a light superlithic world with a large moon, provisionally classified as atypical sylithopaludial or postsylithic. This is itself extremely unusual, since it orbits at a distance of approximately 12,000 light-seconds from the system primary, which appears as merely an unusually bright star. However, there is some evidence that it may not always have occupied this orbit.

“Approximately three-quarters of its surface area is… seared, for want of a better word, with desert conditions, deep cracks in the planetary crust, and residual levels of radioactivity. The remaining quarter, a roughly circular area concentrated in one hemisphere, resembles a typical life-bearing garden world. Complex electromagnetic emissions are detectable emanating principally from this region of the planet, in particular from a mountain near the center of the region.

“This planet and its satellites – I hesitate to say ‘moons’ – is the source of the gravity-wave emissions detected by our far horizon probes. The natural rotation of the planet appears to be exceedingly slow, with a rotation period in excess of 400 hours. However, it possesses a day-night cycle of 22 hours due to its two satellites, one of which appears to be a relatively conventional, if large, moon. The other, however, seems to be a miniature sun, with an emission spectrum similar to that of the system primary or other Hearth-class star. While observation is difficult at this distance, as the planet is in opposition, there is some evidence of organized masses, possibly including exotic matter, within the coronal region of this body also. Mass estimates clearly indicate, in any case, that it is insufficiently massive to sustain gravitic-initiation fusion.

“Moreover, both satellites move in forced orbits, which is the source of the planetary day-night cycle; the moon appears to be partially synchronized with the sun in near-syzygy. I have detected emissions from both suggesting a mechanism analogous to vector-control technology is in use; however, needless to say, to thus manipulate objects of planetary mass on a continuous basis would require technologies of large angelic or weakly godlike potency.

“I have therefore copied this update to DEMIURGE ERRANT and will commence minimal-hazard god-bothering protocol within the next few hours.

“Cordelia Vintar, etc., append the detailed reports, encrypt and send, please. (2)

“Message encrypted… Dispatched,” the ship said.

2. Also, as our protagonist will discover when she gets to spend some time in Twilight's library, the central star (i.e., sun-as-we-know-it) of the system is Phosphoros (the brightest star in Luna's sky), the gas giant is Epona, the ice giant is Rhiannon, and the superlithic is, of course, Equus. (At least if you're from Equestria. The griffons, zebras, etc., may dispute this point.)

The sun-as-we-don't-know-it and moon of Equus are Celestia and Luna, to astronomers, for obvious reasons. They may well have had other names before the era of the Two Sisters, but you'd have to go rump-deep in the Canterlot Archives to even find that much out.

Cordelia flicked red-gold hair back over the points of her ears, then scanned the navigational displays.

“When’s the next occultation coming up?”

“The outer gas giant will hide us from the target planet in 1.3 hours.”

“Lay in a course, assuming burn in 1.5 hours. Nice and easy, a slow arc across to planetary intercept. I want to hide our full drive capabilities behind the planet, but keep the torch warmed up just in case.”

“Plotted and on the glass.”

“Looks good; execute at discretion. Thanks, Istry. I’m going to get some sleep.”

* * *

Even later still

A dishevelled redhead floated into the bridge and strapped in as the shriek of the master alarm cut off, replaced by even louder silence.

“Talk to me, Istry. What have we got?”

“We have incoming from the planet on intercept brachistochrone course. On your glass now.”

Cordelia looked, blinked, and looked again.

“Double-check that.”

“Sensors have already passed two deep diagnostics. The target is closing with an acceleration of one hundred and twenty standard gravities.”

“Target profile?”

“Insufficient data for full analysis. Target is enveloped in a high-power vector-control field or equivalent technology, detected by gravity-ripple analysis. No further data.”

“Can we evade?”

“We do not have maneuvering capacity to evade a target of such superior –”

There was a pause, a machine hiccup.

“Additional data. Target composition appears biological, carbon-based. This data was gathered during a field lacuna as target appears to have switched to deceleration. On current course, target will achieve zero-zero intercept in one point four minutes, assuming we do not maneuver. Or even if we do maneuver.”

“Prepare for the major-hazard god-bothering protocol, then. Lock everything down. Make sure we’re not radiating anything that could even begin to suggest a hint of the possibility that we might maybe -”

“Safing protocol activated,” the ship interrupted. “Secure cognition systems engaged. Warm, nerve-calming brandy in the bulb at your left hand.”

Cordelia grinned, lifted the bulb to her lips, and took a long drink. “Thanks, Istry. Good thought. I –”

She stopped and looked up at a blue flash outside the viewport, and gaped at the sight thus revealed. That… was a sevdra. Except that they were mythologae, and didn’t exist, and didn’t have broad, feathered wings, and she was pretty sure that none of her childhood storybooks had mentioned them having midnight-blue coats or manes filled with captive stars, or wearing armor of some impossibly silvery metal, and yet there one was staring at her through the viewport (which shouldn’t be possible given the gold-anodized surface, and yet) with uncannily large eyes, spiral horn, and all —

“WHO AND WHAT ART THOU? AND WHAT ART THOU ABOUT IN OUR SKY?” (1)

The voice – and the communications panel remained confusingly empty of channel markers – rattled the consoles on the bridge, and Cordelia’s skull with them. She flicked open the standard hailing band, hoping fervently that it would be audible.

“I am Cordelia Vintar-ith-Vidutar Iriselen, an eldrae of the Imperial Exploratory Service. I’m on a mission of peaceful exploration, and intend no harm to any. May I know with whom I am speaking?”

“WE ARE THE PRINCESS LUNA, KEEPER OF THE MOON, QUEEN OF THE MIDNIGHT SKIES, AVENGER OF THE HERD, AND DIARCH OF EQUESTRIA… WHAT DOES THY EMPIRE SEEK HERE, ELDRAE OF THE IMPERIAL EXPLORATORY SERVICE?”

“We seek knowledge and friendship, Your Highness.” After a moment she added. “And possibly trade and other exchanges later on, but those first and foremost.”

“KNOWLEDGE AND FRIENDSHIP.” A blue glow began to encompass the horn of the – princess – outside the ship, quickly reaching intolerable brightness. “THEN WE WILL SEND THEE TO ONE WHO MAY HELP AND JUDGE THEE BEST. PREPARE THYSELF.”

“Alert!” The ship broke in, “We are encompassed by an externally generated vector-control field of increasing magnitude. Automatic core shutdown in progress.”

Oh, hells. “Crash shutdown, engine and reactor systems. Go to auxiliary –”

“Exponential field spike –”

“– scram and vent!”

Blackness.

1. The Royal Canterlot Voice sneers at mere vacuum!