• Published 5th Jul 2017
  • 1,742 Views, 151 Comments

Purple Point: His Life in Space - Alden MacManx

How Purple Point manages his life in space aboard the Cosmic Lotus, and how others handle him. Let the battle begin!

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On Leave (his way)

Radiance Point raced to Engineering from Medical, so he could meet up with the repair staff that was going to do work on his beloved Lotus. Getting to the duty room, he found Sunrise, Fornax and Crystal Twist meeting with three identical beings, who were all black in color, had six limbs, and wearing shirts of different colors. Nearly skidding to a stop, Radiance hollered, “I’m here, I’m here! Don’t start without me!”

All the ponies and others looked at Point. “We weren’t starting, brother dearest. We are in the process of educating our guests about the Lotus. You can admit I know something about how she was put together. Why don’t you go grab a mug of coffee and put your uniform on, okay?” Sunrise said to her brother.

Radiance looked at himself, let out a little ‘eep’ sound, then dashed out of the Duty Room, heading to his quarters to get dressed. “Is he always like this?” asked one of the black beings, whose name tag read ‘Voyager’.

“Only when he’s caught off guard. That’s not easy to do.” Fornax said in his gravelly voice.

“I have to admit, I like the plans he laid out. They actually make sense, which is not exactly a common happening,” said another of the black foxtaurs, whose name tag read ‘Apollo’.

“Oh, Brother always knows what he’s doing, when he puts his mind to it. What you see is the result of a thirty-six-hour brainstorming session. He didn’t even notice my slipping anesthetic gas into his office last night,” Sunrise told the visitor.

“Rather focused type, isn’t he?” asked the third of the group, whose name tag read ‘Vostok’.

Crystal Twist laughed. “You don’t know the half of it. He REALLY puts the cuss in focus!”

“What do you mean by that?” Apollo asked.

The three Lotus crewponies shared a long Look. “I think we’ll let you find out about that later, okay?” Crystal Twist said, trying to hide a smile.

When Radiance Point returned, fully dressed and carrying a mug of mud in his glow, the team sat down to plan and plot. “I feel what should be done first is to finish removing the solar sail masts. They will make good mounting points for what we have planned.” Voyager told the group.

“Planned? What could you possibly have planned?” Point asked.

“How would you like your own warp and impulse drive system? Not installed in-hull, but on a mountable barge canister carried aft,” Voyager said.

Dead silence echoed around the planning room, followed by the sound of Point’s coffee mug hitting the floor. Fortunately, he had long since switched to a no-spill mug. “What?” Point managed to squeak. The other three just stared at the three foxtaurs.

Voyager pulled out a roll of drawings. Unrolling the top one, shi laid it on the table. “What I’m proposing is putting a large docking adapter on your ship. The mast points will be the anchor spots, ribs trailing aft from there to the stern, where they will all combine into a docking collar we use to link barges together, coming back from asteroid mines. Putting the drive and power system into a barge aft will make it easier on your systems and especially on your pilots. That way, any interfaces we need to make between your systems and ours can be kept to a minimum,” shi explained to the group.

“First thing we oughtta do is to remove all the rocket exhaust nozzles from the aft end.” Fornax growled. “We needed them at the start, but ever since, they been dead weight.”

“We can use the metal from the rocket nozzles to fabricate the barge support mounting ribs. That way, we won’t have to import any.” Vostok said.

“Wait a minute here…” Radiance called out. When he had their attention, he continued. “First of all, when we mount the damn thing there, who in Tartarus is going to be able to FIX it if it breaks?”

“Simple,” Apollo said. “You will, once we teach you how to operate and maintain a warp and impulse drive. It should not be that hard for you, after all, you did make it here on your own without it. Once you install the drive, you could head back home in a handful of days.”

“Okay, let’s get with the planning for the barge. Later, we’ll work on the teaching.”

All that day, the four ponies and three foxtaurs worked on plans for the aft docking collar. First problem was how to remove the rocket nozzles without breaking airtight integrity, which everyone there agreed would not be a good thing to have happen. Sunrise was put in charge of integrating the ship’s control systems with the new drive systems, with permission to draft whoever was needed to help. But, after being reminded she was going ashore later, Point took that chore on to himself. Danorax was put in charge of the removal of the rocket nozzles, working with Vostok, who oversaw the stellar foxtaur contingent of that phase. Fornax had as his chore the removal of the mast placements and their conversion to docking collar and support strut anchor points, working with his counterpart, Apollo. Radiance himself was to work with Voyager, learning about the new technology. Once that was agreed upon, the ponies treated the three foxtaurs to dinner aboard the Lotus.

The next morning, the engineering staff of the Lotus met with the entire Stellar Foxtaur contingent, to start forming good relations. The meeting was brief, seeing as much of the crew was going down to Amistad for the welcoming ceremonies. Point, however, put up with such stuff when necessary. This time, he was not going to go anywhere while his ship, his baby, whom he had nurtured for years during construction and flight, was going to be worked on. There were plans for minimum staff to remain aboard, fortunately Fornax and Danorax were going to be among those staying. The Captain did have other ideas, and Radiance found himself having to think fast on his hooves for his plans to come to fruition. When said Captain interrupted the skull session, Radiance went to work.

“Captain! Did you know that the starwalkers have plans to adapt our old solar sail mounts to attach a barge docking ring? With a barge fitted with warp drive, Cosmic Lotus can travel light years in days!”

“Yes, I knew that, Point. I would never have given them permission to modify the Lotus so radically if I didn’t know exactly what they had planned.”

“Oh.” The unicorn’s face fell momentarily before he brightened again. “This is going to be fascinating stuff. I’ve been working with Voyager here on the retrofit.”

Wandering gave an acknowledging nod to the starwalker before saying to Radiance Point, “You are supposed to be accompanying your sister down to Amistad for the welcoming ceremony, remember?”

Point waved a hoof dismissively. “Sunrise Flight can go without me. She needs to be able to fly under an open sky for the first time. I need to be here.”

Wandering sighed. “I have an equally stubborn griffon up on the bridge. One of you has to go. Frankly, it should be him, and seeing as you have command rank too, that eliminates his argument for staying. So, I’m letting you stay, but with the proviso that you give me daily updates. And you will take at least a day before we leave Chakona to take your sister somewhere nice, and just be siblings without responsibilities for once.”

“You’ve got a deal, Captain,” Point replied with a grin.

“Good. Carry on.”

“But I don’t WANT to, Captain! I have work to do!” Radiance whined. Wandering just rolled his eyes at his Engineer’s Mate’s antics. He knew a happy unicorn when he saw one, and Radiance was indeed happy at staying aboard.

Refit they did, the crew of foxtaurs proving themselves very efficient at working the strange (to them) materials that comprised the Lotus, with the help of those aboard, of course. Once the rocket exhaust bells were removed, the support struts for the docking ring were quickly forged and put into place. Radiance spent a lot of time studying the docking adapter, the controls for the warp and impulse drives, how they worked, and making an interface so they can be operated from the Bridge. He also demonstrated to the entire family of foxtaurs that he REALLY put the cuss in focus, impressing many of them, and scaring a few with his command of invective. Not that the foxtaurs UNDERSTOOD what he was bellowing, but they can tell it was on the nasty side. Radiance was introduced to Titan, another member of the family. The family member who had a hobby of swearing in different languages. The two, after a little initial hesitation, soon became fast friends.

Radiance did show due diligence in keeping the reports flowing to the Captain, omitting little from his daily missives. He did have a little bit of a shock, though. Late the first day, while he was busy studying schematics, he was approached by one of the foxtaurs, whose shirt tag read ‘Apastron’. “Sir, it is time to knock off for the night,” shi told the unicorn. Apastron was a bit smaller than the others, being just old enough to start helping.

“I’m not tired, Apastron. I need to comprehend these systems first,” Radiance said a little gruffly.

“Sir, I am empowered to take drastic measures to make sure you get some sleep as well as eat regularly. This comes from instructions given to me by three of your crew,” the little foxtaur said almost apologetically.

“Oh? Whom?” Radiance fumed.

“The Captain, the doctor, and your sister, sir.”

“I’m here, they are not. Let me work.” Radiance snapped.

“I’m sorry, sir. You asked for it.” Apastron said before leaving the engineering office. Radiance turned back to his task. He felt a tingle spread over him from his right side before blacking out.

Radiance woke up in his cabin, in his bed, feeling like he had a hangover. “CONN, what happened to me?” he called out when he was able.

“You were hit with a stun blast and brought back to your cabin to sleep it off. It is now zero-four-hundred Chakona Mean Time,” the ship’s computer said.

“Who ordered that done to me?”

“Sunrise Flight suggested, Doctor Zubon recommended, and Captain Path approved. Your sister sends a reminder that you are to be on your best behavior while in command and says plan on a two-day trip groundside when work is complete.”

“Henpecked… that’s what I am… henpecked!” Radiance muttered as he got up. “Have breakfast waiting for me when I get to the mess decks, please, and coffee.”

“Yes, Lieutenant Commander Point.”

The time sped by productively, Radiance and the few changelings aboard essentially overseeing the family of foxtaurs as they not only built the docking unit struts, removed the mast support structures and made anchor points for them, removing the engine exhaust bells and making struts out of them, they also refilled the fuel tanks for the thrusters and checked over every essential system on the Lotus.

Each evening, after dinner, the remaining crew and the Stellars gathered in the Park for socialization time. Radiance discovered the foxtaurs not only liked music, they liked Equestrian music. With only Radiance and one changeling being skilled musicians, they demonstrated what they could. Swearing the foxtaurs to secrecy, Radiance taught the foxtaur family all one hundred thirty-nine verses of ‘Barnacle Tail the Sailor’, to much raucous and risqué approval. “Mind you, I’m only doing this because Doctor Zubon is planetside. If she was aboard, she would put me to sleep for the better part of a decade!”

Radiance did make an interface system, to connect the Federation controls to the Lotus’ operating system. To fully manage that, Radiance used the Virtual Repair spells to study the systems in detail. Sure, it cost him a migraine that lasted for several hours, but he did learn how the Federation systems operated. He took what he learned and copied his knowledge into a Virtual Vacation crystal, so others could learn. The VR and VV mechanisms fascinated the foxtaurs, but they were willing to wait to learn more about them or to even try them out. He also made sure to listen whenever Apastron said it was time to stop.

In only eight and a half Chakona days, the installation and refit was completed, and those who stayed aboard had a chance to go groundside. The changelings were willing to head down, while Radiance needed a little coercion to go. Okay, a little more than a little coercion. Captain Path literally walked up to him in Engineering, tapped him on the shoulder, and teleported the Engineer’s Mate down to the hotel in Amistad that was reserved for their use. Before Radiance got his bearings, Sunrise was there, waiting for him, with a set of saddlebags. “Brother, it is time to go. If you so much as say a word about the ship, except in response to a direct question, ANY time in the next two days, you will not like what you are going to find, understood?” she growled at him.

Radiance, caught completely off guard, realized there was only one prudent course of action to take. “Of course, Sunrise. Do you have something in mind?” he said in reasonable tones.

“I sure do! Now, get that uniform off, wash up and put on what is waiting in the bath room. We start here in Amistad and are going to go to a couple of choice places on this continent. Now, MOVE!” Sunrise barked. Radiance moved, his uniform staying in place as he moved rapidly to follow orders before falling to the floor in a limp heap.

Fifteen minutes later, Radiance came out, groomed immaculate and wearing the loose shirt and necktie that was waiting for him. “Fast enough for you, Sister?”

“Fast enough, Brother. Now, put your bags on and let’s go. We have twenty minutes before the train pulls out.”

Radiance lifted the bags in his glow and strapped them on. “Where are we going?”

“Today, we are going to Dewclaw University in Berdoovia where you are going to deliver an hour-long lecture on how we got here, followed by an hour of questions and answers with the students. I met up with an Engineering teacher while on leave, and when I told hir about you, shi insisted you come and speak to hir class. I know you will like something like that,” Sunrise told her brother.

Radiance paused in his buckling on of his saddlebags, but only for a couple of seconds before finishing the task. “You know, you are right. On the trip there, you can tell me about this university, the teacher, and the state of matters here.”

“<I know you, brother, better than you know me.>” Sunrise said in Eyrish.

“<That ye do, fair lassie, that ye do. What we be doing after school?>” Radiance asked in the same language.

Sunrise shifted back to Equish. “After the lecture, Silverdream will take us on a tour of the University before taking us to hyr house for the night. Tomorrow, we are going to a nature reserve around Marpletown and just enjoy the scenery all day. We can either camp out overnight or stay in a hotel, but we have to be back here in Amistad by noon two days from now,” she told him as she led the way out of the hotel and out on to the street, heading for the train station.

“I only have one question for you now, sister,” Radiance said. “You are comfortable with these arrangements you made? I want you to enjoy the leave time, too.”

“Oh, I have been,” Sunrise said happily, telling him all she had done while on leave as she led him to the central train station. “Flying is such a joy!”

“I’m sure it is. Mother would be proud of you.” Radiance said as they arrived at the platform. He looked at the train tracks but noticed there were no train tracks where they were standing. “If this is a train station, where are the tracks?”

“This train runs on magnetic levitation, I’m told. I don’t quite get how it works, but it does, quickly and quietly. It’s a smooth ride.”

“I sure hope so,” Radiance said dubiously, looking at the concrete channel the train was supposed to ride in. “Magnetic levitation, yes. Magnetic levitation to drive trains, not quite,” he muttered. Two minutes later, the train hissed in and settled to a stop. “Magnetic levitation to do this, not at all. Something for later,” he said under his breath as he watched the train settle. Louder, looking at Sunrise, he asked, “You got the tickets?”

“Of course. Think I would overlook them? I’m not you.” Sunrise said as she got aboard, followed by Radiance. She showed the tickets to the conductor, who guided the two ponies to a comfortable cabin. “Berdoovia in ninety-nine minutes. This train is an express,” she told him as the train rose on its magnetic fields, gradually increasing speed until the near scenery was just a blur outside the windows.

Radiance made himself comfortable on the padded seats. “So, how did you meet this professor?”

“At a reception last week. Shi invited me to speak to her class three days ago, and I did. It was a wonderful experience, the students asking a lot of good questions. You are getting her collegiate class, while I had the early schoolers. I think that would make you much more comfortable,” Sunrise told her brother.

Radiance shivered enough so his mane disarrayed, meaning his horn was no longer centered in the red stripe. “You got that right. Not that I would not be willing, but a whole class at once is still a bit much. What sort of class is this?”

“Shi teaches starship design and engineering at Dewclaw University. Teaching a high-level class, so be ready,” Sunrise warned.

“<Oh, I be ready, lassie. I be ready. Could not be worse than teachin in Eyreland. Faith, that bunch sometimes strained me equanimity teu the limits and past it, they did,>” Radiance sighed in Eyrish, before continuing on in Equish. “And me without my discipline enforcers.”

“Check the right inner pouch in your right saddlebag, brother.”

Radiance did, to find three small rubbery balls, colored red, yellow and green. His face lit up in a smile. “Ye remembered!”

“How could I forget? You got the reputation of never missing your target, no matter how much they tried to evade!” Sunrise laughed. “I told Silverdream not to tell the students. Some surprises are best served suddenly, yes?”

Radiance snickered with evil undertones. “Oh, yes!”

The rest of the trip, Sunrise filled Radiance in on what she had been doing while on leave, and in answer to her questions, told her all about working with the Stellar Foxtaurs refitting the Lotus. “There are two in particular whom I like a lot. Titan added to my vocabulary, while Ariane added to my song library.”

“Vocabulary?” Sunrise asked. Radiance demonstrated, swearing up a storm big enough that the cabin became lightly clouded with purple smoke from his horn. Sunrise winced at some of the words. “That’s bad, all right. What about the music?”

“We won’t have time here. Maybe tomorrow, while walking in the woods,” Radiance said with an easy smile. “I know you will like some of them. By Tartarus, I even had CONN record some of our evening sessions!”

“Bring any along? I’d love to hear them!”

“As a matter of fact,” Radiance said, extracting his music player from his saddlebag. “I’m just glad I had it on me. Because the Captain outright FOALNAPPED ME!” he shouted as he passed them over.

“At my suggestion, Brother. I didn’t think you would be willing to just go, so I had you teleported down.”

“One of these days, sister, one of these days, BANG, ZOOM to Luna with you!” Radiance ranted with a smile, waving a hoof dramatically.

“Promises, promises, dear brother…” Sunrise laughed as she fitted the earbloom in.

The rest of the trip to Berdoovia, whenever Sunrise let fly what she was listening to, Radiance joined in. The two of them, as a duet, had turned some heads on the Lotus. Individually, they were okay, but together, they synergized into something more than the sum of the parts. It took the train stopping to get their attention. Hurriedly, the two stowed their bags and got off before the train headed to its next destination.

The ponies were met by a large chakat (to them, all chakats are large) with a mottled yellow and gray coat pattern. “So, this is your twin brother, Sunrise?” shi said.

“It is. Silverdream, this is Radiance Point, Engineer’s Mate of the Cosmic Lotus, triple doctorate, inventive, outstanding, and a real pain in the plot to everyone he meets. Radiance, meet Professor Silverdream, Professor of Starship Sciences at Dewclaw University. May you two find a lot in common. As for me, I think I’ll bail before it gets too deep in here,” Sunrise said, preparing to take off.

Silverdream grabbed one of Sunrise’s hind legs as Radiance’s glow grabbed the other. “Oh, no, you don’t, sister! You got me into this, you’re staying the course!” Radiance said, keeping his eyes on Silverdream, who returned the look measure for measure, getting an empathic read on him.

“May you two get along.” Sunrise grunted as she hit the ground hard.

“I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t.” the two said simultaneously.

“Shall we head to class? I’m going to surprise them. There was a test scheduled for today. You will be better than any test, Radiance,” Silverdream said.

“Let us head to class, Silverdream. I think the class is going to be very surprised indeed,” Radiance said politely, releasing Sunrise and walking up alongside Silverdream.

“Hey, don’t forget, I’m here, too!” Sunrise said, walking behind them.

Silverdream flicked Sunrise’s nose with hir tail. “We know, and we won’t forget,” shi said as shi walked, reading Radiance and liking what shi felt. Radiance, meanwhile, felt more comfortable than he had in a long time, meeting up with someone he was sure he could relax around and not forcing himself to dumb down his speech.

“A lightsail? How did you manage to make it here with lightsail propulsion?” Silverdream asked.

“Without your warp drive, or the concepts behind it, we just had to work with what we had, that being magics of unprecedented scales. Mass reduction and focused energy. Takeoff was exciting. Deceleration was up to me.”

“Just how could you decelerate without using a laser from your destination?” Silverdream asked, plainly curious.

“Mass reduction spell and a launcher up forward, launching balls of force which we changed to light, imparting retro thrust on the sails. That part worked until we passed through the gate. Then, I had to improvise,” Radiance said. “With some help from sister dearest,” he added quickly.

“You better not forget my help there, Brother…” she growled, raising her wings in a menacing manner.

“I can’t forget. You know that.” Radiance said in calm tones.

Sunrise immediately calmed down. “You’re right. I do know that,” she said, settling her wings.

Silverdream looked at Radiance. “Are you two always like this?” she asked.

“Only when we are together,” they chorused without breaking stride.

“Either I’m going to love the two of you, or I’m going to go insane trying to figure you out,” Silverdream commented.

Radiance piped up with “Fifty bits say you will love us both,” while Sunrise said, “Forty bits on temporary insanity before you resolve us.”

Silverdream rolled hir eyes. “I pity my students,” shi sighed as they neared the Engineering building.

“You should,” the twins chorused.

The trio arrived at the lecture hall an hour before class, which gave Radiance time to prepare a lecture, complete with images. Drawing on his phenomenal memory, he prepared ‘slides’ composed of images of the ship and crew. As he thought, putting his lecture together, Sunrise and Silverdream greeted the early students, who were indeed surprised at two colorful ponies in the classroom, one sitting by itself blurred by images, and the other standing with the Professor, wearing a simple shirt over its forequarters. That one had wings furled at its sides. Of course, early students phoned ahead to those running a little later, talking about the surprise waiting for them. They, of course, told others, so by the time the lecture was supposed to start, the hall was packed with all the species present on Chakona.

“Brother, dearest, it’s time for the lecture.” Sunrise told Radiance, who, being lost in his thoughts, did not respond.

“Does anypony here have some coffee?” Sunrise called out, exasperated at her brother.

“You drink coffee?” one of the front row students asked, a Voxxan holding a cup with some sort of logo on it.

“I do not, but Radiance drinks something he calls coffee. I call it sludge,” Sunrise said with a little heat.

The Voxxan offered her cup to Sunrise. “Here, try this.”

“Thank you. Now, let’s get this show started.” Sunrise grumbled, taking the cup in a wing and bringing it to where Radiance sat, surrounded by his lecture note images. “Coffee, brother.”

Absently, Radiance took the offered cup in his purple-gray glow, taking a sip. Immediately, he looked up, the images dispersing as his focus was broken. “What in Tartarus is THIS?” he hollered, to the class’ amusement.

“Coffee, brother, as sold here.” Sunrise said, lifting off and backing out of range with slow strokes of her wings.

Radiance grumbled, “Well, if that is coffee, I’m an earth pony.” He set the coffee cup down gently, eyeing it warily.

“Lecture time, Radiance!” Sunrise snapped.

Radiance blinked, looking out at the packed lecture hall, seeing all the different species there. “Oh. Sorry about that. That’s the problem with last-minute scheduling. I was only told a few hours ago I was going to be here, and I had to put something together on the fly.

“To those of you who don’t know me, which should be everypony here…” he muttered before resuming his lecture tones. “I am Lieutenant Commander Radiance Point, Assistant Chief Engineer of the Equian solar sail ship Cosmic Lotus. I have been asked to give a talk on how a light-sail ship works. Seeing as I had a hoof in building the ship, my lovely twin sister, Sunrise Flight, volunTOLD me for this.

“Just a little about myself. I hold three doctoral degrees, one in mechanical system design and another in advanced crystallography impression and design, as well as a doctorate in thaumatological engineering.” Radiance paused for a sip of coffee, looking out at the crowd. “For those who don’t know what thaumatological means, think magic.”

Sunrise jumped in with “If you have been following the news these past couple of weeks, you should know what magic is. If you have not, then more fool you.”

“My brightly colored sister has a cogent point. I will not try to explain to you all of what magic is, because I can’t talk that fast long enough to fit in to the allotted time. Besides, I’m an engineer, not a theoretical thaumaturge.

“I would advise you all to pay attention during my lecture. I have taught at three different universities before going to the Cosmic Lotus project, and I have ways of dealing with recalcitrant students.”

Radiance used his glow to open his saddlebag and pulled out the three balls. Bouncing them in front of him, he said, “I have a reputation of not missing my target. Don’t make me hit you. There will be questions asked after this talk, so be ready to answer. ‘I don’t know’ is not accepted in my classes,” he said warningly. “Okay, off to the Cosmic Lotus!”

Radiance used his magic to create an image of the ship to appear in the front of the lecture hall. “Behold the Cosmic Lotus, the ship which brought us here.” For the next thirty-eight minutes, he gave a basic lecture on how the ship was built, how it operated, and how it flew, all with visual illustrations.

While Radiance lectured, Silverdream whispered to Sunrise, “I must hand it to him, he sure does know how to lecture. I’ve never seen my class so attentive before.”

“He’s had lots of practice, let me tell you.” Sunrise whispered back before the two of them were hit by two of the balls, the red and yellow ones, Radiance not breaking stride or pace in his lecture. “Did I mention he’s also always aware of his surroundings?” as the two balls rolled back to Radiance.

“You picked a hell of a time to tell me.” Silverdream whispered back.

When Radiance wrapped up his lecture, he dispelled the images in the air. “Okay, then, it’s question time! Hope you all have been paying attention!”

A forest of arms, hands, paws, what have you were raised so fast, a breeze swept through the hall. “You there, the black and white one with the red mark in the second row. You’re first. State your name first, then your question.” Radiance said, pointing with a hoof.

The skunktaur stood up. “I am Tormyn, of House Redpaw. I know full well you are telling the truth. What I don’t understand is how this magic works. Your power source is a STAR?” he said in surprise.

“It sure is, kid. A nicely tame star, giving us power, light and magic all throughout our voyage. It has a long time to go before even coming close to running out. We had planned on a voyage of how long, Tormyn?”

“Forty-two years, but you did not know about time dilation. Do you think a tour of your ship can be arranged? My poppa has a ship of his own, and I want to compare differences.” Tormyn asked.

“Not up to me to say yes or no, Tormyn. I suggest you ask either our captain or chief scientist. If you can get through to them, power to you. Next?” Radiance said, indicating a Rakshani next.

“Keedair ap Morath na Jenzyne, Professor. How did you manage to stay sane throughout the flight? Ten years on a ship would drive most sentients we know of crazy!”

“Who says we weren’t crazy BEFORE we set hoof aboard, Keedair? No sane sentient would ever think of isolating themselves for so long, but we did, and I’m glad we did it! Next, you there in the red in the sixth row!”

For over an hour, Radiance fielded questions of all types about life aboard a ship like the Lotus, how the crew got along, how the ship worked, questions like that. When the bell rang Radiance stopped in mid-sentence and called out, “All of you whom I have answered today, please come down close, so I can shake hooves with you before you go. You have been exceptional students today, and I thank you for the chance to lecture to you.”

Tormyn stood up and shouted, “You are an exceptional professor, Commander Radiance!”

“You’re going to go places, Tormyn! Where, I can’t say, but you’re going places!” Radiance said, making his way to Tormyn. “May we meet again sometime.”

Tormyn shook hooves with Radiance. “I hope so, Professor. You are good at this!”

“Thank you, Tormyn,” Radiance said before he did the meet and greet with the other students. Tormyn walked over to Sunrise. “Miss, how do I manage to keep in touch with you?”

“Ask Professor Silverdream. We will leave contact data with her. I have to say, you impressed Radiance. That’s not easy to do,” Sunrise said.

“All I did was to be honest with both himself and myself,” Tormyn replied.

“Brother does indeed prize honesty the most. I swear, he can detect it in others.” Sunrise said with a smile.

“He believes in what he is doing. Apparent to any telepath.” Tormyn said. “Pardon me, next class in fifteen minutes,” hy said before hurrying out.

“Was that a compliment?” Sunrise asked Silverdream.

“From him, it most certainly was.”

Once the class finally emptied, Silverdream took the pair on a tour of the Engineering building, which took them long enough that they had to hurry to catch the train to Silverdream’s house outside of Berdoovia. There, the twins got to meet Silverdream’s lifemate, Verdant Line, a chakat whose fur was a swirl of colors, save for a verdant green line extending along hyr backbone from nape of neck all the way down hyr tail, and their three cubs, Silvertone being the six-year-old and the twins, Sunny and Moony, about eight months old. Radiance hesitated some around the younger cubs, but soon shrugged and let the two crawl all over and around him as they had a dinner Verdant Line prepared. That night, Radiance wound up with the cubs in bed with him, at their insistence. He slept soundly the whole night.

The next morning, Verdant Line walked the two to the train station, Silverdream watching the cubs that day while shi worked, as an associate professor of botany at the University. With many promises to keep in touch, one way or another, they parted with joyous hearts.

On the train, which was a local heading to Marpletown instead of a maglev express, the two talked about the night. “It was strange, having the cubs cuddled up to me, but it was oddly pleasant. Not at all what I expected,” Radiance told his sister.

“Well, they are just out of infancy. How could they do anything to you other than purr and demand attention?” Sunrise said in return. “We have to build good ties with this university, and we got off to a good start last night. They do want us to return.”

“All depends on what happens next, sister. We are going to be presenting our planet’s credentials in a couple of weeks, and we have that Swarm coming our way here to deal with. Once that is taken care of, we will come back here. This planet, these beings, deserve a closer examination.

“Plus, I want to know if anyone plays cards here, other than Doctor Saarath.”

“Thought you had an ulterior motive, Brother. Don’t be too hard on them, okay?” Sunrise said with a laugh.

“You should have seen Doctor Saarath play. She made me WORK to steal chips from her!”

“First time for everything, eh?”

“If we double-team her, she will never stand a chance!”

At the Marpletown station, the two ponies decided to have some brunch before hitting the trails, so they stopped at a place called the Cat’s Eye Pub for something to eat. Yes, they attracted attention, but it was just startled looks from those who have never seen a pony in person before. Service was as good as the food. “Kale should find this place.” Sunrise said.

“Indeed. He will be impressed.”

“Just who is this Kale?” asked Chakat Blacktail, the host for this time of day.

“Kale Robe is simply one of the best cooks there was to be found in all Equestria. In ten years, his skill has not lagged one bit. Every day, everypony on board looked forward to what he would fix next,” Radiance told his host.

“Sounds like a pony I would want to meet. Think you can send him this way?” Blacktail asked.

“We can try. Up to him, though,” Sunrise said. “We can urge him to.”

“I can’t ask for more. Will you be staying the night, or will you rough it?”

The twins looked at each other for a few seconds. “Rough it,” they said together, with Sunrise amplifying with “If we can find that lake Silverdream told us about, we will camp there and return in time for the train to Amistad tomorrow.”

“It’s six kilometers northwest of the Pub. Look for the three islands in the lake that appear to have one tree each on them. Shi’s told me about the spot several times.”

“That’s why we came here, Blacktail. Shi went on and on about the lake and the Pub, so naturally I had to see them. Glad I did,” Sunrise said with a bright smile.

Radiance snorted a little. “Well, the Pub at least has lived up to advance billing. I hope I can handle nature in the raw again.”

Blacktail smiled at hir guests. “You should not have any problems, Mister Radiance. The really dangerous life forms live elsewhere. Would you like a camera, to take pictures of your trip?”

“I don’t need one, Shir Blacktail. I have my own methods, thank you very much,” Radiance told his host, “but the offer is definitely appreciated.”

“Not a problem, Mister Radiance. If you will exit the back door when you are done, and take the trail on the left, a nice walk will get you to Silverdream’s lake spot. Would you like a wake-up call tomorrow?”

“Good idea, Shir Blacktail,” Sunrise said. “You have my comm number?”

“Got it when you called ahead yesterday, Miss Sunrise. Do enjoy your day and night here. We will call you at… six fifty?” Blacktail asked.

“What time is sunrise here?” Radiance asked.

“Tomorrow, sunrise is at…” Blacktail looked aside, hir tail lashing a couple of times, “Five fifteen.”

“Wake us at four seventy-five, please. I want to watch the sun rise with Sunrise.”

“Very good, sir. Your bill will be ready when you return. Anything you would need for your hike; the camping store is through that door.” Blacktail pointed the correct way with his tail.

Radiance and Sunrise got up from the table. “Thank you for a most excellent meal, Shir Blacktail. Come, Brother, we have a little shopping to do!” Sunrise said, going to give Blacktail a warm hug with her forelegs and wings, which was warmly returned. Radiance did the same, without the wings.

In the store, they picked up some trail rations, two small sleeping bags, and a tent fly to shade under, as well as a lighter, for the evening’s campfire. Equipped, the two walked along the indicated trail, side by side, just looking and enjoying the sheer natural beauty of that part of Chakona. Once the Cat’s Paw Pub vanished behind a clump of trees, the only sign of civilization were the little signposts indicating the trail.

“It’s beautiful- no litter, no buildings, no sign of anything but pure nature.” Radiance said, looking about, storing all his experiences in his formidable memory. “After fifteen plus years off Equis, I have to say I missed this.”

‘Not exactly hiking up Mount Canterlot, but still good exercise. Mind if I take a flight? Maybe I can spot the lake from here,” Sunrise suggested.

Radiance smiled at his sister. “Go ahead. I want to see you fly. Outside the Park, that is.”

Sunrise took off in a flap of wings and a small breeze, climbing rapidly, corkscrewing her way up so Radiance could see. Radiance saw Sunrise’s sleek orange and red form climbing effortlessly through the clear blue sky, feeling the absolute joy his sister felt. A great calming peace fell over Radiance then, seeing his sister flying free, feeling any worries about her blowing away in the gentle breeze that stirred his mane and tail.

Faintly, Radiance heard Sunrise shout, “Follow me!” He started walking along the trail, then trotting, cantering, and finally a full out gallop, chasing his airborne sister, who enjoyed taunting him by flying near, buzzing him, then soaring off once more. Radiance loved the feel of running freely through the woods and grasses, finding a peace he hadn’t known in years.

Radiance was surprised when he broke through a bank of rushes to find himself at the shore of a lake. A ring of rocks circled a charred spot, and rings showed where a tent could be raised. Radiance skidded to a stop before running into the clear water, Sunrise spiraling down to land beside him. “Not bad, wouldn’t you say?”

“Not bad at all.” Radiance said, quickly unshipping his saddlebags to remove the camping gear and getting the camp set up. A little effort by the two had their tent, bags, and campfire set and ready to go, but they did not light the fire yet. Seeing as it was still before noon, they decided to swim some. The two gaily plunged into the water, enjoying its tepid temperature as well as its depth and clarity. They mixed swimming, floating, and water fighting for a while before fatigue drove them out to dry themselves by the light of the sun on the bank of the lake. A small stream nearby added its pleasing white noise to the scene.

“I’m going to have to record this on double-V when we get back. This place deserves to be shared,” Radiance said as he relaxed on the shore.

“It does. I owe Silverdream a lot for telling me of this place,” Sunrise replied.

“Just as long as you don’t try to bake her cookies. Kale still forbids you from going within three steps of the galley door.”

Sunrise grimaced. “I’m just glad you were asleep when I burned the cookies. Thick smoke…”

“I saw CONN’s records. How the hell did you set off the smoke alarm in the PARK?” Radiance asked with surprise.

“Adverse ventilation lineup?” Sunrise said in a small voice.

“And a week on janitor duty after. Hope you learned from that experience.”

“Yeah… keep out of the kitchen. And hydroponics. And helping Skye and Emerald in the Park. And…”

Radiance raised a hoof. “Enough of that, sister. You do good in what you DO do good in, and I could not be prouder of you.”

“I’m proud to be your sister, too, Radiance. I’m so sorry about what life was like before. I just didn’t know…” she said, sniffling some.

Radiance wiped the tear from her face. “Enough of that, sis. I told you I forgive you for that, and I mean it. What was, was. What is, is. You know better now, and I, no, WE, are much the better for it.”

“That we are, Radiance. Why don’t we take a nap, and do some more swimming and chasing later?”

“Plans like a sound to me!” Radiance squirmed a little, making himself comfortable on the tallish grass, something Emerald Green would not have tolerated in the Park. Within moments, soothed by the sounds of wind and water, the two snoozed for a couple hours in the warm sun.

Awakening hungry, they fixed a meal of the trail rations they had brought, Radiance doing the cooking. Sunrise went out and flew over the lake before diving with a splash and surfacing with a fish between her teeth. “Can ya cook thish up, bro?” she asked when she got back to shore.

“Ask me something hard.” Radiance soon had the fish scaled and gutted before frying it up in a little bit of butter and herbs. When it was done, Sunrise wasted no time, flipping the pan up off the fire, catching the fish in her mouth and swallowing it in one gulp as the pan hit the water with a hiss. “I’m impressed.”

“Hello, impressed. I’m hungry. Mind if I get another?”

“Of course, hungry. Happy to help!” Sunrise flew out over the lake, coming back with a bigger fish, which Radiance cooked up. “That’s so good, brother!”

“Glad you like, sister. See anything good on the islands out there?” Radiance asked, pointing towards the tree-covered blots of dirt.

“Haven’t looked. Think you can swim there?”

“Worth a try. It’s been a while.” After he finished cleaning the luncheon dishes and wrappers, Radiance got a running start and leaped as far as he could over the lake, splashing down in a deep spot he had noticed earlier.

“Nice jump, Brother!” Sunrise called down from where she hovered.

“Working out is good but being out here is beyond compare!” Radiance called back, treading water.

“You said it! Race you!” Sunrise laughed as she headed towards the nearest island. Radiance started swimming, but spotted a stout branch floating in the water nearby. He grabbed it in his glow and pulled it to him, getting astride the branch. He then dragged the stick swiftly through the water with his glow, buzzing by under his sister.

“Hey! No cheating!” Sunrise called down as he drove by.

“You can fly, I can’t!” he shouted back up as he neared the islet. Sunrise arrowed down while Point aimed for the shore, arriving virtually simultaneously, Sunrise ducking under tree branches to land.

“Good race, Brother!”

“Great race, sister!”

They sprawled on the bank together, under the tree’s shade, Sunrise with a wing over Radiance. “Too bad we can’t do that on the Lotus.” Sunrise said.

“The foxtaurs I have been working with said they DO have something that can allow us to do so. Something called a ‘holodeck’. I have not seen one yet, so all I have is hearsay.”

“Time enough to investigate later. Race back to camp?”

“You race, I’ll take my time. The rate we’re going through our trail rations, you may have to fly back and get some more.”

“I do the one, you do the other, and I’ll beat you back to camp!” Sunrise laughed, taking off.

“You wish!” Radiance said in return, getting into the water and swimming. Radiance easily beat his sister back to camp, so he puttered about, setting up the bedrolls and restoking the cook fire while he waited. It wasn’t long before Sunrise returned, carrying a full bag of supplies. “What did you do, buy out the Pub?”

“No, brought back enough so you can cook my fish right, brother!” Sunrise said after landing.

Radiance looked over what she had brought. “Okay, then. You go get some fish, and I’ll do them up.” Sunrise brought back three good sized fish before Radiance was ready to start cooking. He deboned, scaled and degutted them before putting them in the pan to fry. Sunrise prudently waited a little distance away as Radiance cooked up the fish, added some garnishes and arranged them just so on the plate before bringing the plate to her, setting it on a convenient rock. “Have at.” She did.

While she ate, he prepared something for himself, one without fish. He understood Sunrise required it, but he himself preferred not to. He cooked and ate while watching Sunrise enjoy her meal. “Having fun?” he asked.

“Radiance, we simply must come back here some time. It’s just wonderful.” Sunrise sighed happily.

“That it is. I wonder if I can cross-connect the VV array to this ‘holodeck’ and re-create this spot.”

“I have faith in your ability to do so, brother. Want to nap, or sleep?”

“Sleep. Once the dishes are done and firewood gathered, I’m going to sleep. After all, I do want to see the sun rise, Sunrise. It’s been busy for me, being in command.” Radiance yawned before glaring at Sunrise. “No fair siccing Apastron on me with a stunner!”

“You don’t play fair, brother. Why should I?”

When the camp chores were done, Radiance sacked out. Sunrise stayed up long enough to watch the sun set behind the trees before she turned in as well. While Radiance huddled under blankets because of the slight chill, Sunrise found the temperature refreshing, and instead slept ON her blankets.

Precisely at 4:75, Sunrise’s phone rang. When she answered, an artificial voice said. “Wake up time at four seventy-five as requested by customer.” Sunrise shut it off before the third repetition, getting in a good yawn and stretch. “Almost sunrise, brother.”

“I know, sleepyhead. I’ve been awake for a Chakonan hour already. Looking at all the different stars, the two moons, the dawn just starting to show over the horizon… my favorite time of the day.

“Want hotcakes for breakfast?” Radiance asked.

“What do you think? I would not have brought out the mix if I didn’t want some!”

“At least there’s enough for both of us,” he said, getting up to coax the fire alight. They paused in their morning actions twenty minutes later to watch Chakastra rise over the lake, Sunrise shading them with a wing.

“What a wonderful galaxy this is, to have such beauty in it.” Radiance said once the sun rose high enough to stop glaring at them.

“You have the right of it, brother.”

At the appointed time, they struck camp and left, heading back to the Pub to return their gear, thank their hosts profusely, and head for the train station to catch the high-speed unrail, as Radiance called it, back to Amistad, arriving a good fifty-five minutes before the Captain’s deadline.

“You both are looking very much better than before, I have to say.” Captain Path told them once they reported in.

“It was wonderful, Captain. Once I get the images downloaded, you’re going to have to see for yourself.” Radiance told his ultimate boss.

“I look forward to it. I also have a message from Dewclaw University, requesting your presence as a guest professor some time in the near future. Just how did you arrange that?”

Sunrise smiled, blushing a bit. “Well, you see, Captain, while I was on leave, I met up with a professor…”

Author's Note:

To Radiance, 'normal' is a setting on a dishwasher...