• Published 15th Jan 2020
  • 837 Views, 91 Comments

In From The Cold - Cackling Moron



Twilight's prized pupil finds something in space.

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4
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#5

Author's Note:

Well I'm having fun, at least.

Can't speak for the rest of you!

Nova was honestly lost for words. None of the inflight captain training material had covered this. Covered all sorts of other first-contact procedure, but nothing for aliens in what appeared to be silk shirts just lazily wandering up to your shuttle, knocking, and then apparently knowing who you were already.

For his part - Nova assumed ‘his’ - the alien appeared utterly unruffled. If anything, he looked more and more delighted with each passing second. He even took a step forward so he could lean on the inside of the outer doorframe, causing Nova to take a few faltering steps backward.

“Hail, spacefarer, you doing alright there? So how was that big magic spaceship of yours? Guess it must have worked, eh? Shame I never got to see it. Ah well. Life, am I right? Full of, uh, things,” he said, arms folded, one hand waving.

This finally snapped Nova out of it, and more than anything she found herself feeling oddly annoyed. There was no gravitas in this! And, more’s the point, where the hell had this guy been ten minutes ago? Where had he come from?

And, perhaps most importantly:

“How do you know any of this?”

“It’s a very long story. Ooh, quick question before we continue: Twilight’s still alive, right?”

“Princess Twilight?”

His face immediately lit up.

“Yes! Her! Kind of a lavender colour? Or purple? Or whatever I’m colourblind I don’t know. Used to be colourblind, heh. Was when I knew her. But that sort of colour, you know? Horn? Wings? Really lovely lady? Maybe a little bit of a workaholic sometimes?”

By the time he’d finished asking this he’d advanced on Nova and bent forward down to her until he was basically in Nova’s face with her backed up all the way to the inner door. She found this alarming. The gun held (appropriately enough) defensively in front of her. Not that the alien seemed concerned.

“Uh, yeah, she - she’s still alive, why?”

The alien was set to say something very obviously enthusiastic before noticing that his excitement was perhaps threatening to get the better of him. Stepping back and putting a more comfortable distance between the two of them he adjusted his collar and straightened out his trousers and instead said, calmly:

“Just wondering. We were friends, you see.”

“I find that very hard to believe,” Nova said.

The alien pouted, actually pouted.

“Why? I’m not friendly?”

“No, it’s more that she’s thousands of years old and thousands of light years away. And you’re some guy. On some planet,” Nova said.

“Thousands of years? Really?” He asked, stunned, ignoring the other parts. Nova nodded.

A pause. All at once the alien looked very distant.

“Can’t have been - no, no, not that long. S’probably time dilation, that. Has to be. Otherwise that’d mean...nevermind, not important. And yes well, that as maybe. Stranger things have happened, haven’t they?” He said, verging onto the defensive.

“Not that often! Not like this!” Nova said.

He looked set to press his particular point only to decide against it at the last minute and shrug.

“Hmm, suppose. My experiences aren’t universal, I’ll grant you. But she’s alive, yeah?” The alien asked again with a level of eagerness that might have been starting to creep into the nakedly desperate. Nova raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah. She is. Why do you keep asking?”

“I couldn’t, uh, have a word with her, could I? You guys have a space phone or something?”

“Why do you want to talk to Princess Twilight?” Nova asked, aflame with suspicion. The alien just shrugged again, going for casual but doing very little to disguise what was obviously mounting excitement.

“We just - I just miss her, is all. Is that okay by you?”

That flame of suspicion still burned, just with a less intense heat. This whole thing was bizarre. Not to mention improbable. Space was big and a lot could happen in it, sure, but there were limits. Weren’t there?

“Right…”

“Please? I’ll help you out here, if you want. You’re bold and intrepid space explorers, aren’t you? Having a poke around the planet? I can be a local guide, right? Answer any questions you got, anything you need. I’d just really like to talk to her. Or even just see her. Or her just know that I’m…”

He clearly wasn’t sure what he wanted, really, and realised this about halfway through what he was saying.

Nova sighed.

She was probably going to regret this.

“Just because I’m curious I am going to allow this. Once. I’ll contact her, and you can be there. Okay? You follow me. You step out of my sight I shoot you. You touch anything I shoot you. You act too suspicious for too long I shoot you,” she said, giving the gun a waggle.

“Jesus you guys got prickly! What happened to friendship?”

“Strangers are friends you just haven’t met yet, but some strangers are stranger than most.”

Took a second for both of them to really, properly appreciate that she’d just said this.

“...you practise that one?” The alien asked.

“No. Made more sense in my head. Shut up,” Nova said, turning her away, swapping the gun into a field and raising a hoof to her helmet. She didn’t have to do this, but it was a force of habit.

“Crew, I’m coming in with a local. Everyone either hole up and seal your door or put your suit back on.”

Better safe than sorry.

“I’m perfectly clean, you know,” the alien said.

“Yeah. Great. Come on.”

Allowing a moment or two for the crew - who she knew had heard, because she’d broadcast across the shuttle’s address system and most had probably been listening in anyway - to get ready she opened up the inner door and made to step through only to stop and whip around, bringing the gun up.

“I will shoot you.”

The alien held his hands up in front of him.

“Fuck! I get it! I’ll be right behind you.”

She held the gun on him a moment longer - appalling weapon handling, in all honesty, but this was the first time in her life she’d so much as touched a gun - and then continued on in, the alien following behind and grumbling to himself about how Twilight had never threatened him with a firearm.

Blithe (helmet back on) was the first to react, being the closest, and his reaction was about what Nova had expected.

“Captain! What are you doing?!” He squealed, attention flicking from Nova to the alien and unable to pick which it should settle on.

“Taking a punt. Just trust me on this one, I think it’s worth following up on,” Nova said.

“That’s right, I’m a risky venture,” The alien said proudly, tapping a thumb against his chest. Nova didn’t even bother to look.

“Really not doing yourself any favours there,” she said.

“Not meaning to unsettle you or anything Captain but I can’t get any readings off the alien. That doesn’t mean anything, but I just thought you’d like to know,” Xide said, hovering, tentacles wafting. The alien gave the machine a look and if he found anything strange about synths he didn’t show it.

“Just don’t really appreciate being bathed in strange waves,” he said.

Xide’s wafting paused for a second or so, about the closest to actual shock or surprise that Nova had ever seen (or recognised) out of him.

“You’re blocking me?” He asked.

“Yes,” the alien said.

“How?” Xide asked.

A fair question.

“I ‘unno,” he said.

An unhelpful answer. Nova grunted.

“Look, enough. We’re doing a thing. We go do the thing, the thing is done, that’s that. Enough of this wheel-spinning. You, come with me. Everyone else, back up,” she said, marching on, alien in tow.

She marched him right to her own personal cabin (why the shuttle had a personal cabin for the Captain given that the Captain wasn’t really ever supposed to go on these missions was anyone’s guess - the Hegemony was a meritocracy with a hereditary emperor, you figure it out) and once in there got busy setting up the sub-aether communicator built into the desk console.

The alien let out a low whistle.

“Very swish. Everything is so shiny,” he said, shambling over to stand beside Nova, backing off to the side a moment later when she gave him a pointed look. Even with the helmet he could tell that giving space would be the polite thing to do. “What you doing there?” He asked from the side.

He was looking over Nova’s desk, on which the console had unfolded grandly. The main screen was what took up the most space and, at that moment, it wasn’t really showing anything other than some gently twirling progress symbol.

“Waiting for a connection. The Princess is a long way away. Probably the middle of the night where she is too, knowing my luck,” Nova said.

It was. When the connection got through and when it actually got picked up Twilight appeared to have just woken up, mane untidy, crown clearly having been put on in the dark. She squinted and blinked at the bright screen, reading who the communication belonged to.

“Nova? What - what is it? Why are you wearing that? Is something wrong?” She asked once she’d got it, concern quickly mounting. Nova headed this off.

“No, nothing wrong. Well, not really. But, uh, something’s come up,” she said.

“What?”

“We found an alien.”

If they’d been back in Hegemony space or even near to it than communication would have been borderline instantaneous. Given that they were out the sticks though things were a little slower, and there was a gap between response times.

Not a huge gap, but still. Enough of a gap to be galling to those who were used to it not being there at all and doubly galling to those who wanted to hear what the fuss was all about. Like Twilight.

“Alien? What alien?” She asked, fully awake now, and fully serious.

“It’s not any kind I’m familiar with. New one. Seems friendly, if a bit odd. Translator works fine with it but that could mean anything,” Nova said.

The translator was a powerful and versatile piece of technology, after all. Almost conveniently so. So far Nova had never run into anything or anyone it hadn’t been able to work on, after a little moment to adapt. Hell, it even let her communicate with Gorf and half of what they said was in smell.

“So the planet has indigenous life? Intelligent life?” Twilight asked, face and tone utterly unreadable. She could have been thinking anything. What she was probably thinking was why this was something that Nova felt the need to tell her about.

“Uh...kind of? It’s just him,” Nova said. Twilight blinked. Again, could have meant anything.

“What?”

“He is the only sapient life on the planet. Just him. Just this guy.”

This was unusual, assuming it was actually true.

“...are you sure?”

“Very. Unless they’re hiding underground or over the horizon. And even that we’d probably be able to pick up on somehow. Scans showed nothing, landing crews found nothing. We’ve found nothing. It’s just him,” Nova said, very, very slightly annoyed that the Princess would even obliquely suggest she hadn’t checked first.

Twilight allowed the very tiniest hint of a frown to just crease her features.

“That seems unlikely,” she said.

“It is. But he’s here.”

“Here as in ‘present on the planet’ or here as in ‘actually next to you right now’?” Twilight asked.

“Actually next to me right now. Says his name’s - what did you say your name was?”

“I didn’t,” Came the alien’s voice, offscreen for Twilight, off to the side for Nova. .

“Well what is it?”

“Jack.”

Nova turned back to the screen again.

“Says his name’s Jack. Says you know him?”

Twilight said nothing and did not move, though her eyes did get just that fractionally wider. Had Nova not been hyper-attuned to these little details she probably would have missed it completely.

“Princess?” She prompted and Twilight snapped out of it, shaking her head.

“Sorry Nova I think there has to be something interfering with communications - it sounded like you said, well - could you repeat that, please?”

“About what? The alien’s name?” Nova asked, ignoring an agitated ‘I’m standing right here, come on’ gesture from Jack to her side. On-screen, Twilight nodded and so Nova repeated: “Says his name’s Jack.”

“...c-could you describe the alien please, Nova?”

Nova again turned to the alien - Jack, apparently - and looked him over.

“Kind of lanky. Tall. Weird eyes.”

“Now you’re just being rude,” said Jack. Nova ignored him.

“Wearing clothes. Maybe they’re tasteful to its species, I don’t know. Uh…”

“I’m right here! Can I just talk to her?” Jack protested.

“Fine, fine, whatever,” Nova grumbled, hopping off the seat and stepping aside, presenting it to him grandly. Jack, elated, perched himself on the chair and took a second to get used to the weird, multi-species design so he didn’t have to worry about falling off.

“Hey Twilight, how’s it going? You’re looking good,” he said once settled, beaming ear-to-ear.

Twilight said nothing and just stared back at him, so utterly unmoving that Jack gave the screen a smack on the side, crazing the picture. Technically speaking that should have been impossible, but it had happened anyway.

“Hello? Is this getting through?” He asked, earning himself a jab in the leg from Nova’s horn.

“Don’t hit that!” She hissed.

“Sorry! It’s just - it’s been a while since we spoke is all. Lot to catch up on. So Twilight, how’s it going? Hear you live in space now? That’s cool. I live in space too. Kind of. On a planet though. I like the classics.”

Still nothing. Onscreen Twilight continued to remain utterly and completely still, face frozen in an entirely unreadable expression that could have been anywhere from surprise to horror to elation or perhaps somewhere in all three and more.

“...hello?” Jack ventured, turning to Nova. “This thing is on, right?”

Twilight finally let out the breath she’d been holding and it came out long and shaky.

“I - I - Nova, I’ll back get to you. Get back to you. Soon. Get back to you soon,” she said, then looking off to the side. “C-Cadence? Cadence where are you?!”

Followed by her falling over and out of frame.

The connection then cut and the screen went dark. Jack frowned.

“The fuck?” He grunted, moving to smack it again only to remember he wasn’t meant to and instead looking for buttons he could jab at. The haptic, hyper-intuitive interface went completely over his head. Meanwhile, Nova was honestly astounded by what she’d just seen.

“She disconnected,” she said. Jack rounded on her so suddenly she flinched.

“What did I say?! Why would she leave me again?! Why - calm, calm. Phew, all this excitement, eh? Calm. I’m sure it’ll all become clear,” he said, parting his hands in a gesture of calm, closing his eyes and taking a breath before giving Nova a nervous glance. “She’ll - she’ll come back, right?”

“Looked like she needed a minute so probably won’t try again for a while but - you okay there?”

Jack was gripping the edges of the desk and leaning forward, breathing rather quickly.

“Sorry, heh, feeling a little, ah, whoo! Strange. Which, uh, which way out of this thing again?” He asked.

“Out of the shuttle?” Nova asked. Jack nodded.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Just follow the blue line on the floor,” Nova said, pointing toward the door. Jack stood up and swayed, one hand going for the desk again to steady himself.

“Blue line? Neat. Cool. Just going to get some air.”

And off he went, only briefly staggering into the doorframe on his way out.

Nova looked at the door through which he’d staggered, then back to the screen still showing a glaring, blinking [DISCONNECTED].

“‘Go to space’, they said. ‘Be a Captain’ they said…” she grumbled to herself, closing the console and leaving the cabin.

Outside, she bumped into Blithe.

“The alien left! Really quickly, too. Basically ran out. Even managed to work the doors. Not sure how it knew how to do that…” He said.

“Something very strange is going on here, Blithe. I think like we’ve arrived late to something that happened,” Nova said, walking and talking, Blithe following.

“Like what?” He asked.

“I don’t know. But that guy says he knows the Princess? Then he talks to her and she freaks out? That’s not normal. I’ve never seen that.”

That caught Blithe off-guard.

“She what?”

“She got all frozen up and then fell over. I’m not even kidding!”

“The Princess?”

This just didn’t sound believable.

“I know!” Nova said.

The two of them took a moment to try and comprehend this.

“So what do we do now, Captain?”

“Now? Well, the Princess said she’d get back to me so I’m waiting on that. In the meantime we still have to give this place a proper look, don’t we? How can we not? And I should probably keep talking to that guy.”

“The alien?”

“Yeah. He’s got to know something, right? Only guy on the planet. Has to have something going. This place has more questions than answers as it is, so my hooves are tied I’d say.”

“I don’t know, Captain…”

“Hey, look, if nothing else it’s something interesting. Could we have a conversation with your gas giant ecosystem? No, no we could not. Whereas I can ask this guy questions and he might even answer them. That’s something. So I’m going to go do that.”

“Do you want the gun?”

Nova had left it behind in her cabin, and would have forgotten it completely if Blithe hadn’t mentioned it.

“...no. No I think I’ll be alright,” she said. In all honesty she hadn’t liked having it around.

“Is it - is that safe?” Blithe asked.

For a chap so brimming with the love of life he was showing an alarmingly wide nervous streak. Nova put it down to the circumstances being just so wildly out of the ordinary. Even by their space-trawling standards.

“What is safe, really? Is he dangerous, you mean? I don’t think so. Seems more lonely than anything. But, uh, maybe just keep an eye on me, eh? Maybe send up a drone or just one of the external sensors. Just to, uh, just so you know. Yeah?” Nova said.

Blithe gave a small salute. Unnecessary, but undeniably adorable.

“Can do, Captain.”

With that settled Nova girded her loins and set herself to the task at hand. The alien - Jack - had said he was going to get some air, so he hopefully hadn’t gone far. She’d just pop out, have a look round and if he was there, have a chat. If not, no harm done, wait for the Princess to get back to her.

Sounded like a plan.

“Alright,” Nova said to herself, following the blue line. “Alright alright alright…”

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