• Published 13th May 2016
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Friendship is Sufficiently Advanced - Cordial Nova

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

  • ...

VII. HH-704/IES 4129: "Building a Home from the Wreckage of Your Starship"

The wreck of the Istry Lochran
On the verge of the Everfree Forest

The discussion could be heard approaching long before those having it were in sight.

"...you really can't do that? I thought you used a similar technique to get here?"

"Yes, but I needed two stargates each the size of a small moon to do it. And they use wormholes, and you can't have been using wormholes because the drift equations get rapidly chaotic in bent space-time. Even a short distance jump on the planet's surface would have turned us both to quark fog. Give me the short explanation of yours?"

"Okay! So, the matter doesn't move at all. You define your departure and arrival volumes as fivespheres in sixspace encompassing the pieces of threespace you want to move, and then you can exchange them along the free axis at minimal energy cost, swapping the threespace volumes. The matter comes along with it. But there's more to it -"

The millimetrically raised eyebrow of one of the Royal Guards keeping gawkers away from the wreck was, had an onlooker been versed in the body language of these imperturbable gentlestallions who happened to have been stationed in Canterlot during a certain mentorship, a shared acknowledgement that this was a Twilight Sparkle full-flow explanation, of the kind that routinely caused headaches for anypony listening other than Princess Celestia (1) herself, and a speculative wager that that would be true for her current visitor, as well.

1. And while they were much less of a problem for her than for most ponies, the contents of the bottle of migraine pills in the lower left-hand drawer of the Glorious Solar Desk had dwindled somewhat more frequently on those days on which Twilight was feeling particularly creative.

"- and that compensates for the difference in energy density!"

"Wouldn't that let you travel in time just as easily as in space?"

"Oh, no, you have to use a completely different spell for that, because the universe is expanding and so the swapped fivespheres wouldn't fit."

"Argh." The Royal Guards watched as the unicorn in question and the alien came into view along the rough path leading back to Ponyville, the latter pressing her hands to her temples, and such a well-versed onlooker would have noted the tiny eye-flick on the part of the first guard's partner that acknowledged bits to be exchanged later. "I think we may have to come back to this later, somewhere we can have mathematics and paper. Probably lots of paper."

Then Cordelia looked up and caught her first clear sight of the wreck since the crash, her face falling as she stopped in her tracks. "Oh. Oh, bugger. Istry..."

The wreck of the Istry Lochran was a pitiful sight. The drenching the weather teams had given it to put out the deuterium fire had turned the ground to mud, and the great mass of the ship had subsided further. The forward section had leveled out, its weight driving the lower halves of the spoked wheels into the soft ground, which caved in again on top of them. The aft section had fractured again, the heavy, unsupported reactors of the torch drive sinking into the ground, canting the charred midsection steeply up into the sky, mirrored by the twisted wreckage of the magnetic nozzles on the far side. Metal stalactites dribbled from fractured pipes near the roots of the radiator wings, with matching stalagmites beneath them.

"I'm sorry." Twilight's ears drooped. "I'm sure Princess Luna didn't mean to -- I mean, this isn't how we'd want to --"

Cordelia closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath, then exhaled, once, twice, and ended with an explosive exhale, coupled with a aching half-chuckle. "The average first contact with a worldbound (2) society involves being segregated from the public in some government facility, lots of interviews with people who've had their sense of humor surgically removed, and a laboratory or two - with suspicion, concealed information, and tedious politics thrown in for spice. A bad one involves lynch mobs and dissections. You made me breakfast, answered my questions, gave me some lovely new clothes, and are throwing me a welcome party tonight with what sounds like most of the town in attendance. I have not taken a poor impression of your hospitality, I assure you."

2. A pre-spaceflight society. Of course, the whole banished-to-the-moon issue will complicate that just a bit, once Cordelia hears about it.

Twilight's ears twitched, but didn't rise. "Even with your sky-ship destroyed, and you stranded here? You're not angry?"

"Well, I can't tell you that I'm happy about losing my starship like this, but I also believe that it was unintentional. Unless you're running a well hidden space program of your own, it wouldn't be obvious that Istry wasn't built to stand up to gravity, so Princess Luna could easily have missed it." She shrugged. "Getting angry over something that might just be a contact misunderstanding only makes it more likely that we're both going to lose out in the long run. And starships can be rebuilt much more easily than relationships."

"Really," she continued after a moment, "I'm not - oof!"

Cordelia staggered slightly as Twilight reared up on her hind hooves, hugging the eldrae with her forelegs, her horn about level with her neck. Cordelia returned the hug a little stiffly (3), brushing aside Twilight's mane to wrap her arms around her withers.

3. Although, in fairness to her, she was trying to figure out how to say "hugged by an adorable purple unicorn" on an Exoplanetary Biological Contact Report without the home office assuming that she'd found the planet of Really Good Drugs.

"I need to talk to the guards. I'll be right back!"

Cordelia smiled as Twilight headed over toward the ship, ears once more upright and bounce restored to her step. Then, while she exchanged a few words with the guards, Cordelia contemplated the wreckage. The spokes linking the gravity wheels were near-vertical, which was enough to give her an idea of the interior layout, even with the core hull's starboard list. She was sketching out the best route through the ship in her head when Twilight returned.


"Ready. It would have been easiest to go in and out through the small craft bay - with some of the bigger items I want to salvage - but it ended up on the bottom, and now that it's sunk into the ground, that'll be a lot of digging. So," Cordelia continued, leading Twilight over to the starship, "let's try the main airlock."

Between the gravity wheels, an unblemished stretch of hull stretched in front of and above them, emblazoned with the roundel of the Empire, twelve-pointed golden star on indigo, to the left of a circular, windowed depression in the smooth grey surface leaning down towards them. Paired rows of symbols, larger above and smaller below, hexagons and part-hexagons - larger and smaller shimmered to its right in more inlaid gold, which Twilight examined with interest.

"CSS Istry Lochran," Cordelia said quietly. "Registered at Almea, Lorhalia Yards, hull number 1129".

"1129? But that," Twilight pointed with her horn, "looks like a three-digit number?" Her eyes brightened. "Different radix?"

Cordelia frowned. "This is why I actually need to learn the language soon. This translator is convenient, but it glosses over too many nuances. By digits, in our numbers, that's seven-ten-one. Seven dodecen (4), ten dodectave, and one. And in yours?"

"Two-one-five-one, or two octiad, one octcen, five octave and one. So you use duodecimal?"

"And you use octal."

4. A brief note on the vocabulary I'm using for Eldraeic and Equestrian numbers can be found here: https://eldraeverse.com/2016/09/18/all-my-base-are-belong-to-you/ .

Of course, this does imply that the rise of Nightmare Moon happened two octennia ago, and in this AU timeline in which everything doesn't happen at once, the Sombran Coup and the disappearance of the Crystal Empire approximately three octennia ago. The defeat of Discord and the end of the Discordant Era happened very roughly four octennia ago, although it's hard to tell precisely because of his playing around with time - which persisted for some time after his petrifaction, and involved a lot of hitting individual out-of-sync pieces of Equus with the Elements of Harmony.

They grinned at each other. Then Cordelia began reaching out with her psychokinesis, dragging rocks over from the nearby forest to form a crude ramp to the airlock door. A few moments later, Twilight joined her, her magic gathering more rocks, while binding and smoothing them into a solid structure, blue photon-discharge glow and lavender field entwining and working together.

The ramp built, they stood before the door. Cordelia poked at a small panel beside it, and a loud clunk from within suggested some mechanism uncoupling. The door itself rolled slightly to the right, with a brief hiss of inrushing air through the crack - wide enough to let Cordelia wedge a hand in the crack and roll it the rest of the way back into its recess. Stepping in, she held out a hand to Twilight.

"Welcome aboard!"

Twilight looked around, curiously. The airlock chamber itself was mostly rubberized metal on all sides other than the door behind them and the matching door in front of them, each painted with red-and-yellow warning stripes; lit only by curious glowing globes of pale liquid set into the room's four vertices.

Cordelia, meanwhile, had pulled a panel off the wall beneath the darkened controls that did break the bareness of the room, and was fiddling about with the contents.

"What's that?"

"We're going to want to get some fresh air in there with the life support not running. But usually, these two doors should never be open at the same time -"

"So you don't let all the air out?"

"So we don't let all the air out. And so to make 'em open, I've got to bypass all the interlocks designed to stop that from happening. (5)" Another clunk sounded from within the wall. "Got it!"

5. Specifically, she's making the emergency circuit lie and claim that there's a fire on board, which is one of those rare circumstances in space for which dumping your atmosphere into vacuum can be the right answer.

With that door rolled aside, too, the two of them moved on to a corridor, stretching off left and right. Plush indigo deep-pile carpeting covered floor, walls, and ceiling, save for a few signs inset here and there, illuminated by the ghost-pale light of more of the glowing globes. "The quick tour is," Cordelia began, "technical stuff's all in the aft ring. Engineering space up top, small craft at the bottom, lab and workshop in the middle. To our right, the for'ard ring. My cabin below - we should probably go there first - galley and 'fresher above, storage and the computers in the middle, which is where we'll find the -"

"Library!" Twilight broke in, but was looking at a niche in the opposite bulkhead, a rack of a few dozen spiral-bound booklets held carefully in place by individual snaps. "Bookshelf? I thought you had -"

"I do. But that's not it. These are just a few checklists and such-like that need to be accessible in emergencies, and printed on paper in case the power fails." Cordelia ran her finger along the spines, then pulled out a volume from the right-hand end of the shelf. "And here's the Least Useful Book."

Twilight fought a brief internal battle over which part of that sentence to pursue as they moved off, then picked the one that was less strange, but more offensive to her sensibilities.

"Least useful book?"

"Service in-joke, sorry. There's a group of retired scouts writing what they call 'hypothetical handbooks' - advice on situations that haven't come up yet, diplomacy with extinct species, what to do if you find yourself in the distant past, what to do if you meet someone from the distant future, martial arts with arbitrary numbers of limbs, that sort of thing. Or in this case, number 704, Building a Home from the Wreckage of Your Starship (6), which should never, ever be needed 'cause there's no way to land one of these in any shape to be salvaged. Well, until today. Now I get to put it into practice."

6. The paired volume, How to Construct a Habitat From the Wreckage of Your Starship, isn't part of the hypothetical handbook series, because that's much more likely to happen.

"You have somewhere to stay," Twilight pointed out.

"And I appreciate it very much, Twilight Sparkle, please do not mistake me. But I cannot think you'll want me sleeping in your spare bed forever - and apart from building a shelter, it tells me what useful equipment I ought to salvage and what I can do with it. I think you'll find some of that quite fascinating," Cordelia grinned, "judging by what I saw of that list of yours. And -"

She stopped, abruptly, as the floor and ceiling of the corridor gave way to open shafts leading up and down, lined with the same plush carpet, now striped in a pattern of interlocked blue-and-yellow arrows.

"Hm. This could be a problem, though."

Twilight leaned over, and looked down. "There's no ladder?"

"Never needed one. Istry's spin was slow enough that you could fall down slowly and jump right back to the axis, given a little practice. Wouldn't like to try that now, though." She thought for a moment. "Those rocks - how do you feel about a quick game of you-levitate-me, I-levitate-you?"

Author's Note:

This chapter has taken me so ridiculously long to write and so forth that I decided to split it in two. Next part later.