• Published 6th Apr 2019
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Distant Reflections - David Silver

Equestria and Everglow have brushed against one another through the course of their histories, each time fleeting, but memorable to those involved. Many many years later, the unaging Twilight captains a space vessel to explore the universe.

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3 - Episode 1: Uncertain Ground

Under Score watched the two magic ponies with undisguised interest, one hoof stroking at his beard as he did so, finely braided rather than the wispy mess it was in some lives or the wild and expansive thing it could also become. "You have no idea what you two represent."

Twilight cocked a brow at that. "I get the feeling, um, actually I'm not sure what I think right now."

Octavia thinly smiled, which was not far from her usual smile. "I know this feeling. You spent countless moons in the company of one... I didn't have that. Accepting each day as it came with none before or after was all I could do to... deal with it."

"How are--"

Under coughed softly, demanding their attention. "You two are carriers of ancient, forgotten, magic. With the coming of technology, the pursuit of magic changed with it, harmonizing with it, and flowing alongside it, rather than from the empty void. Dawn Event's callings to higher powers remain close to the roots, but arcane magic... That has changed much."

Octavia twisted an ear towards Under. "You mean my history magic?"

"Precisely so." He waved a hoof towards her lightly. "You may be the only living practitioner of it." He lowered that hoof slightly and a glowing panel appeared in front of him. He pressed several glowing glyphs among a staggering collection of others. "My magic is held within technology, and technology enhances it. The two are quite co-dependant upon one another."
Twilight's eyes widened, taking in the subtle weave of floating magic, already trying to decipher it, but it wasn't quite what she knew. The technology that helped form it made it quite alien, like a related but different language being spoken before her.

"I am still powerless to explain much of my magic..." Octavia's horn glowed the shade of her eyes as a regal scepter floated free of her collection.

"Wait, isn't that--?"

"It was Princess Celestia's," agreed Octavia. "She dropped it and had it replaced long ago, but I retrieved this one." She opened her mouth just as the scepter floated into it, taking a firm grip. "Its history is full of a sort of violence, but it can be used for good, much like the elements you and your friends once bore."

Under Score hiked a shaggy brow at that. "Let's keep displays of violence to a minimum unless we relocate to a proper setting. Hm, Twilight, yes? Where is Spike?"

Spike jumped over the charging pony with a merry laugh, tagging her on the back before he landed heavily with the scrape of claws on steel, even if the ground appeared softer than that.

Fast wheeled to face him, her hanging lance crackling with angry energy. "For wasting away for years, you remain in fighting spirit, but--" She started forward without warning. When he tried to repeat the move, she brought up her lance and tagged him on his exposed belly, leaving a line of glow across his midsection. "and now you're dead."

"Ugh, not like this... not..." He flopped to the ground, one hand reaching out, his tongue lolling free. "Tell Twilight I said... hello." His eyes closed and his head flopped bonelessly.

Fast rolled her eyes softly. "Very dramatic, but I doubt a little glow is ending your big scaley rump. You certainly have gotten larger since last we met. I remember your small stature quite clearly." She approached her fallen opponent on easy hooves. "Now get up, we have more practicing to do."

Spike rolled up to his feet even as his tail lashed, knocking Fast off her hooves in a sudden crash of limbs. "I never said we stopped."

"Cheeky devil!" she roared as she scrambled to her hooves. "It only gets worse now." But Spike greeted her fury with a smile. They clashed, natural weapons against her technological edge. He did not always win, but he was always laughing and smiling.

"Captains." Under Score's voice echoed near both of them. "We are approaching Star System DF890-W. Star Charts updated by Luminace's will and sent home. With her blessing, we detect four planets. Two are gas giants, two are rock. One is in the habitable zone."

Steel raised a hoof to his ear to respond. "Scan the habitable planet for signs of life and sweep the system for interesting minerals and materials."

"Already ahead of you, Captain." Dawn tapped at his console with a content expression. "The second gas giant has useful materials for refueling some of the subsystems, I recommend taking a sip from this oasis the gods have seen fit to lay in our path."

Fast replied, "any life?"

"Unusually high oxygen levels... Mmm, yes. Not detecting any of the usual hints of advanced sapience, but there may be simple life to be seen." Up until a point, the higher a life form was, the noisier and more obvious it became, emitting all kinds of increasingly dense chemicals of energy until it flattened dramatically, but if they were that advanced, they would likely cover the entire planet and sensors would not even be required to know they were there from that close up.

"We should take a look." Fast turned to Spike. "Looks like our session's over."

"Aw." He sat up tall. "That was fun while it lasted at least. You have any idea how much prodding it takes to get Twilight to really start moving?"

"I should imagine," she laughed at his plight. "More opportunities will come, I assure." She tapped at her ear. "Bring us close and figure out a safe place to send a shuttle. Make sure we're safe down there. Dying to some local bacteria would defeat much of the point."

"Sun Queen watch over you." He didn't say it directly, but he was working to do as was asked of him. Dawn took his job seriously.

Under's ear twitched softly. "It seems we will soon be called upon as members of this crew."

Twilight canted her head to the left slightly. "Are we... members of this crew?"

"Would you rather not be?" He peered at Twilight intensely. "As guests, there will be precious little for you to do. Your memory is faint, but I do not recall you to want to be idle in the face of possible knowledge."

Octavia lifted her shoulders in a mild display. "After so long being confined in my lie, this is... overwhelming, and terrifying. Part of me wants to go find a comfortable little room to hide in and await the next time someone needs music played." She sat and worried her forehooves together. "But that would not be healthy, and I resist..."

"'tavia..." Twilight set a hoof on her side. "I'm so sorry." Her eyes widened suddenly. "I confessed things!"

Under blinked at the admission of confession. "What did you confess? Being sorry is hardly an unusual feeling."

Twilight took a step back, her cheeks burning. "I said things in front of you, thinking you were just an uncaring automaton. You... replied, but I thought it was good programming, not... an actual pony. Dear Celestia."

Octavia reached out, placing her hoof right on Twilight's nose. "They will remain with me in secrecy and I do not think less of you."

Twilight groaned loudly, flopping backwards onto her haunches. "Thanks, I suppose... Ugh!" She turned back to Under. "What's going on that needs us?"

"That's the spirit." Far better in his eyes to focus on knowledge that could be had than petty embarrassments. "It seems we are entering a charted but un-scanned star system. We are performing a suite of scans now, adding to the knowledge of the universe."

Twilight's embarrassment evaporated with wide eyes. "You mean later, I imagine?"

"Later?" He hiked a brow at that. "No, everything we see is being broadcasted back home as we make discoveries. They do not arrive instantly, I will admit, but they are sent. Even were we to meet an unpleasant end, what we have seen already will not be lost. That is the purpose of our coming, to learn, see, and make the universe less of a gaping unknown by some tiny amount."

Octavia placed a hoof at her cheek, just the top tip of her hoof. "Have you already shared that you met us, what happened?"

"I should think so." He was moving for the door at a light walk. "I am needed at my station. Come with me? I feel certain the captains will have things for you two to do."

They progressed as one unit through the halls and elevator, arriving at the command deck. Fast and Spike were already there, as were most of the others at their stations. Fast and Steel sat on their command chairs as others were pressing busily at their stations.

Steel gestured at the main screen where the slowly spinning planet was displayed with the blues and greens of a world clearly enjoying the throes of an earth-like life. "The question remains if we should actually approach this world or be satisfied with what readings we can obtain from here."

Fast smiled softly. "To send organics into such a delicate time could disrupt things through no direct action, but we have a crewmember that can be completely sanitized before and after her visit. Computer?"

A soft chime sounded.

"Where is Bullette Belle?"

She was seated on her haunches in front of the great form of a horse-sized pony with snakes for a tongue. "She is still a queen," sang Bullette with amazed tones. "I have avoided her."

"Ya shouldn't do that," sighed out one of the snakes. "I bet she'll be happy to see you," added another. "At least you're still there."

Belle frowned at her big friend. "You are still there too," she argued with discordant tones.

"Belle, you know that ain't 100% true." He stood up and casually walked through her as if he were a ghost. "I'm only here because you want me to be."

"Is that not a sufficient reason?" she asked, turning to keep him in view. "Do you not enjoy our time together?"

"You know I do, but ah'm just an echo, not the real thing. He died, you know that."

"He did not," she argued with a raising crescendo, a smile on her metal face.

"Bullette Belle," came Fast's voice on the intercom. "To the bridge immediately."

Belle swiveled an ear with faint internal clicks. "I must go, they need me." She bounced up and came down facing the right way. "Cease unhappy thoughts. I will return with the lost puppy."

No Name watched her go quietly, sighing despite the lack of air inside him. "At least you'll have a new friend, a real one." He flickered out of existence, holograms not needed when there weren't others around to enjoy their presence.

Belle rushed out onto the bridge. "Bullette Belle reporting for duty," she sang with digital delight. She spotted Octavia standing there and a discordant squeak emerged from her. "Plan adjustment: You were not supposed to be here."

Octavia blinked softly at the metal filly. "Is... Are you... Belle? Truly?" She rose to her hooves, staring at the little robot that was shying away.

"Plan adjusted." She nodded to herself with satisfaction. "Greetings, Octavia Melody, designation: Lost Puppy. Were you successful in reaching your home?"

"I was... Twilight, this is Bullette Belle, a delightful filly that is perfectly standard for her age." Octavia gestured towards Belle, her eyes on Twilight in the introduction. "Belle, this is Princess Twilight Sparkle, my captain, though our ship has... met an unkind end."

"Friendship file already created," sang out Belle. "Archived friendship file found." Her electric eyes widened a moment to pure black. "You had many points! Tag detected: Responsible Adult. Where is Vinyl Scratch? Friendship patterns indicate she should be in your presence."

Octavia shrank away at that, not answering. Fast broke the awkward moment before it could become much of a thing, "Belle, we called you here for more than getting to know our new crew."

"Tag added to files: Crew." She nodded firmly, proud of herself. "What do you require?" she sang, bouncing in place.

Fast pointed up at the main screen where the world turned slowly. "We need a completely sterile crewmember to visit the surface of the planet and perform exploration and scans that are not possible from this far away."

Steel nodded in agreement. "When you are ready, proceed to the transporter bay for cleaning and transport. This is an exploration mission. Leave only hoofprints, take only images."

"Cameras at 98% efficiency," she assured with a soft click of a picture being taken. "If something of sufficient interest is detected, it will be reported for later action." Belle saluted sharply before turning in place for the elevator.

"Be careful," bid Octavia with a little smile. "We have much to discuss, later."

Twilight hiked a brow at Octavia as Belle wandered away. "You know her? How is that even... possible?"

"You know half the crew here," she retorted. "How is it that odd that I know two? That was forever ago... She used to have a very large guardian with her... What was his name...? I fear I've forgotten it."

Wandering looked over his shoulders from by the communications station. "No Name? She usually keeps that to herself. I'm surprised you know about him."

"He is alive as well? Truly your world is--"

Wandering was shaking his head. "Sorry, but no. He passed quite some time ago, and he isn't a champion. To be honest, we're not even entirely certain why she is still with us. Steelhearts can live quite a long time, but she's made a mockery of the entire thing."

"I have theories about that," grunted Under Score from his station. "But that is a topic for another day. For now, let's focus on the matter at hoof and making sure she remains with us."

Steel raised a hoof to his ear. "Star, has she arrived? Status?"

"I'm spraying her down with disinfectants as we speak," assured Star Dancer, covering Belle with sudsy foam before the rinse cycle began. Belle was singing joyfully as if enjoying a shower. Soon she was bright and sparkling clean from within the fully contained transporter room, transparent material only allowing light in, and even the air pumped out completely to ensure that she was entirely clean of contaminants that could harm the world she was to visit.

"She's ready for transport, disinfection complete."

"Belle, ready to begin?"

"Affirmative!" came her cheerful declaration, bouncing in the airless pocket. "Proceed with mission."

"You heard the mare, send her down."

Star pressed buttons with her mind, her horn glowing. "Sending her down."

With a warm glow of technomagic, she was bathed in energy that whisked her way, carrying her down through the void of space and the rush of air of the new world. She appeared with an almost comical pop a few inches above the ground and landed with a metal jingle. "Teleport successful!" she sang. "Initiating chemical analysis." Her nostrils flared as little fans began drawing in air to sift through and consider.

"Fresh, alive." Belle looked around at the mossy ground she had landed on. "No trees detected."

Dawn gestured at the image back on the bridge. "Perhaps this world is still quite young yet, with life only just barely reaching from the sea in the form of sturdy mosses. How enchanting that we were able to witness it, even vicariously through the eyes of our crewmember."

Being at least as much robot as living thing, Belle's vision was shared with them, on another window just beside the overall view of the world that showed a blinking dot where she was. She was wandering slowly, examining the many colors the moss took, though green seemed to be the dominant shade. Despite its dominance, other shades did their best, showing it to be a wondrous display when viewed from up close.

Twilight clapped her hooves to her cheeks. "This is amazing! I... never thought to look at random worlds before. I was... so sure looking for intelligent life was the only real thing to look for. Are there any animals?"

Fast smiled gently. "Intelligent life is certainly worth finding, but even the smallest of life can unlock secrets to the workings of this vast universe the Author saw fit to bless us with."

"Amen," added Dawn with a soft nod.

Fast was watching the screen with the others. "Speaking of animals, keep an eye out for any signs of those. They're likely in the water if I had to guess, but you know what guessing can do with entirely alien worlds."

"Affirmative!" The camera began to bounce as she pronked towards the closest lake, a wide pond of blueish-purple fluid. Water, or so the sensors implied, making up most of it. "Scanning for animals..." Her eyes swept back and forth over the water, simply looking for anything that moved. "Not detected..." she sadly reported. "Error! Energy detected." She turned sharply.

Her vision suddenly included a cloud of numbers and a targeting reticle zeroing in on something that wasn't there, some far off point. "Aetheric activity. Scale level... 2. Investigate?"

Steel frowned sharply. "Magic... Why would a world so primitive have a trace of magic, unless it is entirely wild."

"--and dangerous," finished Fast.

Under raised a hoof. "This is exactly what we should investigate."

Twilight leaned forward, eyes sparkling. "Alien magic?! What are we waiting for? I have to see this. Can I join her?"

"You may not," flatly replied Steel. "This is a sterile mission and you would not enjoy how we would try to sterilize a living person."

Spike snorted at that. "Nice try, but I'm not that dumb. You'd just put her in a suit and clean that."

Many eyes turned towards him. "What? I thought it was obvious."

Fast put a hoof over her face. "Yes, of course... Sometimes the most obvious answers are the last we consider."

Author's Note:

Begin the first mission! We learn more about our crew, and they have started exploring a new young world. What mysteries does it contain?

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