• Published 13th Apr 2017
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Fate of the UNS Moon Dancer - Shrink Laureate

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Chapter 3

“She’s going into shock!”

“How? She’s still healing every…”

Sunset shoved the air cage towards the next corner. It was awkward pulling the bulky box-shaped tent around the narrow corridors when the only way of moving was to push yourself from one hand-grip on the walls to the next. It was slow, repetitive work.

She found her thoughts drifting to other ships, other sailors, other centuries. The crew of the mining ship Blossomforth, their sanity tested by time and isolation. Or the officers and men of the HMS Star Swirl, trapped by their own greed.

Movement caught her eye. The people inside the cage were waving their arms, and the subtitles of their silent shouting helpfully read “Look out!”, “Ahead!” and “Sunset! Look!”

She turned and saw a jagged section of hull twisting slowly towards them. A sharp, ragged edge was spinning straight for the air cage. It wasn’t fast, but she’d nearly missed it. It would take only a tiny scratch to make the balloon pop, spilling its vital contents.

She pushed off the wall, made a grab for the heavy gnarled blade with both hands, and missed. It sliced open her fingers and thudded into her chest. The disturbing crunch as it scraped against her ribs was the first real sound she’d heard in hours.

“How am I supposed to know? I’ve never operated on somebody immortal before! It’s not like we’ve got a ready supply of immortal lab rats to try things on.”

“And here to receive the award, Admiral Sunset Shimmer!”

The stage lights near blinded Sunset as she walked up to the podium, but when her eyes adjusted she saw the usual mix of reactions among the audience. Some looked up at her in awe, some with respect, but others were confused, suspicious or resentful. As she stepped up to the microphone, a few actually looked around to see if there was some mistake or trick, and the real Admiral was coming in another door.

She knew what they were all thinking: ‘she looks so young’. In a room full of students, she looked like the youngest one present. Well, two could play at that game.

“You are all so young,” she began. Further confusion spread across the audience’s faces. “Imagine where each of you will be in four years. You will have graduated. Some of you will be married, some of you will have children. Some of you will have written books, created software, crafted sculptures or designed spacecraft. Some of you will be famous for having made astounding discoveries and put your stamp on history.” She looked out at the sea of hopeful students.

“Consider, then, how great a barrier it is that the closest world beyond Sol is four light years away. How big a step it would be to leave your friends, your family and your homeland behind, never again to even receive a letter that isn’t years out of date. Humans have made such great and uncertain migrations in the past, and they will again, but is it practical to spend centuries terraforming such a distant world as we have Mars? Is there any hope of extending the wings of peaceful government over such a frontier?

“Since before you were born, field-enhanced engines have allowed us to press up against the speed of light, but not exceed it without tearing a ship apart. We had the science, but lacked the technology. With your help, that’s going to change. We will bring the stars to us.

“All of you have made critical contributions to our understanding of the field, but three, in particular, stand out.

“Team Panama with their craft, the Jumping Shark, reminiscent of the scramjets that unlocked the skies. Directing the interstellar medium through the middle of the craft allows waste energy to be recaptured, making the engines substantially more efficient.

“Team Phobos with the Skein, a flock of autonomous probes flying in laser-guided formation, where those in front protect and carry those behind. I have no doubt that a scaled up flock of these will be on its way to Proxima within the next two years, and to other nearby stars soon after. We will soon have more information about other systems than ever before.

“And finally my own Team Canterlot with our craft, the Rainbow Dash, and its characteristic ‘rainboom’ as a means of overcoming the Cherenkov radiation barrier.”

She took a deep breath. “You have all demonstrated the capacity for invention that most defines humanity. In this contest we were rivals, but now is the time for us to work together for the good of everyone.”

Pretty lights. Pretty pretty lights all over the place.

“Gahh! Where’d this blood vessel come from? It doesn’t make any sense. I can’t get the needle in when everything’s moving like this!”

“Is that stuff even going to work?”

“It’d better, or she’s going to tear herself apart.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“I’ve got a bottle of whisky in my office. I’ll hold her down, you hit her with it.”

A circle of light burst forth in beautiful colours, as the tiny craft surged forwards through the middle of it.

Eris was a little over twelve light-hours from the launch point above Phobos. Thanks to the innovative design their craft, the Rainbow Dash, reached the finish line in just four hours, well ahead of the other teams.

The space around Eris was peppered with cameras, radio dishes, telescopes and laser relays, there to capture the event in every frequency imaginable. In visible light the rainboom was nothing special, but with the right selection of false-colour filters combining radio and X-ray images it shone like a circular rainbow. And that was the picture everyone wanted to see.

It would take twelve hours for the pictures to reach Earth. Five minutes for the media team to select and release the best pictures. Five minutes after that, pictures of that rainbow exploding into space would be on the cover of every news channel.

Is that my hand? My hand is pretty.

“Look on the bright side. With her skin glowing like that, it doesn’t matter that the lights are out.”

“Not helping! Keep that damned lamp steady!”

“Look into this mirror and tell me what you see.”

“A beautiful pony that has nothing but power and potential.” Sunset admired herself.

Celestia rolled her eyes. “Care to try that again with our talk about humility taken into account?”

Sleep now. Sleepy. Sleeeeeee…

“Oh, sweet Luna’s moon, it worked. Her heart rate’s dropping.”

“Huh? Who’s Luna?”

“Has a giant cake monster covered all the cakes in the world in cake?!”

“…the whole damned ship…”

“Miss Sunset Shimmer? I’m afraid it’s about your friend, Miss Rainbow Dash. She’s been in an accident…”

Sunset awoke, and immediately regretted it.

The myriad pains of the vacuum, that she’d more or less gotten used to, had been replaced with the hundred other pains of returning to an atmosphere. Her skin felt flushed and prickly all over, her lungs burned as oxygen worked its way back into shrivelled blood vessels, blood surged through her body, and her head was squeezed from extra pressure. Every injury she’d had recently throbbed as the freshly knitted flesh squirmed to keep healing. Worst was the one in her chest.

The dim red lights nagged at her eyes. She closed them, but it didn’t help.

She tried to take stock. There was air, clearly. There was gravity, since she was lying on a bed of some sort. There was at least some power, since various machines around her glowed and clicked. She was in one of the little recovery rooms near medical.

She remembered to breathe. It took an effort, especially with how it hurt.

“Good morning, Sunshine.”

Sunset turned her head against the complaints of her muscles. A young woman was sitting in a chair next to her bed. She had a data pad on her knees, and was looking at her with a smile. Sunset recognised admiration in her eyes.

“Dr Honeysuckle​?”

The woman saluted, but didn’t stand up or stop smiling. “Yes, Ma’am.”

“What happened? How did I get here?”

“A piece of shrapnel hit you as you were retrieving the fourth air cage. It pierced your lung and scratched your heart. Lieutenant Splashdown suited up and pulled you and the air cage back into section two.”

She looked down. She wasn’t in her uniform any more; a thin blanket covered her body. “I always wondered if being stabbed in the heart would kill me.”

“It very nearly did. Apparently your body was fighting like crazy to heal itself, but was… confused as to the best way to do that. Until they sedated you and managed to remove the pieces. You’ve got a nice scar, though.”

Sunset touched a hand to her chest. Her first new scar in four hundred years. She looked up. “Who’s in charge?” she asked.

“Silent Running is directing repairs. We’ve nearly got the forward bridge up and running.”

“Really? He’s not the most senior officer, surely?”

“No, but he knows the ship like nobody else. Nobody’s fool enough to stand in the way of the man who’s going to get them home alive.”

Sunset looked at the door. “Does everyone blame me?” she asked quietly.

“Blame you? For what?”

“For dragging them here.”

Honeysuckle looked askance at Sunset. “Are you serious? You just rescued a bunch of us from a depressurised area all by yourself – nineteen people in all, that’s everyone that was still alive in the third section – and you got stabbed through the heart while doing it. The whole crew saw it happen. So yeah, right now, I’m fairly sure they’d follow you into hell.”

Sunset didn’t find that very comforting.

“I need to see other patients. I’ll come in to check on you regularly, though.”

“Of course. Go, go.”

Honeysuckle closed the door with a gentle click, leaving Sunset alone with her thoughts and the gloom.

“I like her.” Celestia stepped out of the darkness, her focus on the door.

“You would,” said Sunset to the apparition. “She’s your kind of pony.” She buried her face in blankets and closed her eyes, hoping sleep would take her out of this discomfort and that she’d have a ship to wake up to.