• Published 30th Sep 2022
  • 1,917 Views, 174 Comments

Diplomatic Solution - Starscribe

Equestria joins the galactic community to discover an bloody eternal war. They resolve to find a solution in the pony way: diplomacy. All the Young Six have to do is negotiate an alliance with violent, xenophobic aliens. What could go wrong?

  • ...

Chapter 12

Ocellus remained alert for any chance to speak privately about what her friends would do next. Even a few seconds would be enough, if only she could manage them. But he didn't give them the opportunity, never leaving their private chamber.

Instead of traveling to "make preparations" to go with them, Ha’luu had his slaves visit to carry supplies back and forth. A group of mixed aliens including a few humans, a few Zecrin, and some stranger things she had no names for, arrived together with several heavy wooden crates of supplies. Actual wood, built with actual nails. Like something Equestria would've used before the discovery of spaceflight.

Only when they reached the Fortuna did Ocellus finally have a free moment. For all Gallus’s objections to the strange Zecrin and their inhumane society, he and Smolder had ended up in the lounge with Ha’luu, discussing the recreational hunts popular among the nobility.

"There are some very interesting prey for an enterprising young hunter. They breed them for speed and cleverness, in jungle preserves indistinguishable from the real thing."

"But what's the point?" Gallus asked. "You have spaceships, you're so advanced. You don't need to hunt for food anymore."

"Does a creature not need training? Do they not need to strengthen their body? Do they not need to be prepared to hunt at any time? Besides, we do eat it. There's nothing more satisfying than the thrill of pursuit. You chase for hours into the jungle, fighting dangers of all kinds, only to finally reach your quarry and slay it in brutal, deadly conflict."

"That does sound... interesting. Have you ever done it before?" Gallus asked.

"Have I? Let me tell you about the time—"

Ocellus ducked out the door, hurrying down the hall for the helm. She wasn’t the only creature eager to get away. Though the idea of hunting another living thing for the fun of it sounded particularly upsetting to her.

Gallus and Smolder are both carnivores. It's not wrong for them to enjoy hunting. Logically, that made sense. But like so many other changelings, Ocellus had been a vegetarian since the moment of her transformation. It was hard to rationalize the idea of eating other creatures when she had been so many of them.

She found Yona and Sandbar together in the helm, pouring over a sensor readout. It showed the planet from orbit, based on the readings they'd taken on their way in.

It was many times more detailed than anything the Stellar Compact had in their archives. No friendly ship had ever come so close and made it back again.

"Anything on our destination in there?" she asked. At Sandbar's worried expression, she spread both wings. "Don't worry, Ha’luu is in the other room. Gallus and Smolder are distracting him."

"Where Degara told us," Sandbar said, pointing. The planet had less detail on that side, but orbit had still told them some things. The computer was already adapting to incorporate them, judging by the high consumption report she saw scrolling along the bottom of the screen.

"We don't have a way of measuring the magic from space, but the wilderness looks way different."

"There is more life than anywhere else we saw," Yona said. "They are wrong to think magic is needed. Without magic even more grows. Just different."

Wilder, deadly.

"Have you thought about what's going to happen when we get in there?" she whispered. The question was mostly for Sandbar, since he came from a culture that understood its own magic. Whatever magic yaks had was small enough to be insignificant to a pony. The cold wasn't the only reason changelings had never used them for food.

"Been through it before," he said. "Not my favorite memories. But we know more than they do. Magic isn't their weird religion, and it isn't the unseen particles humans are looking for. Magic comes from our friendship. No jungle can take that away, no matter how dangerous."

"Yona is big and strong," she said, raising her voice so loud that Ocellus jumped back, wings buzzing with surprise. "Yona will protect the tiny and fragile creatures. Smash anything that gets in our way!" She stomped dramatically on the deck, denting the metal there.

"We know you will," Sandbar said, grinning. "We know we can always count on you to protect us."

A set of claws sounded on the deck behind them, causing all three of them to turn.

Silverstream entered, half gliding and half running as she went. "We don't have much time!" she said. "Ha’luu is distracted. What are we going to do? Do we lie? You remember what Degara said. If the Watchers find out, they'll try to kill us."

"We need to keep a secret long enough that they can't stop us," Ocellus agreed. "That means some deception. I can imagine some, but with a creature traveling with us, it will not work forever. But what if we tell him we intend to travel somewhere else. We set a course to whichever of the destinations is closest, and change at the last possible moment."

"This sounds... devious. I like it!" Yona smashed her forelegs on the deck again, even louder than before. "I wonder what they will do. If they were yaks, they would be so angry! Will he try to break things?"

She lowered her voice, as close to a whisper as any yak could reach. That meant about a normal speaking volume for anyone else. "We should be careful. It is not just Ha’luu here. He has servants too. We should not look away from them, they might try to break the Fortuna when we are away."

And there won't be any way to stop Ha’luu from harming it either. The computer had every human security measure, genetic keys, data lockouts—things that Ocellus could barely describe, but would be simple for the bugs rapidly taking to the data security field back on Equestria.

But would they be enough to keep the ship safe against someone with magic? What if they found the scepter only to make it out of the jungle and discover their ship was missing?

Problems to solve when we get there. Stealing our ship would hopefully count as harming another magical creature, and be against their religion.

"Where's the destinations he sent us?"

Ocellus watched as Sandbar poked about at the files they'd been sent. He found it after a few moments, pulling up the coast near to their real destination. There was a series of large buildings along the beach there, resorts with floating settlements spread out over shallow reefs.

A vacation destination that many creatures would pay outrageous sums to see, no doubt. A shame Ocellus wouldn't get the chance.

Unless we win. When they're friends with the Stellar Compact, maybe I can come back.

"Here. Get clearance from traffic control. Don't commit to a destination, just ask for a flight plan to take us near the resort. Take off as soon as you're ready."

Silverstream settled into the pilot's chair, placing both forelegs on the controls. Atmospheric flight was far easier for creatures with claws—human controls weren't built for hooves.

"And Ha’luu?" Sandbar asked, swiveling his chair back around. "What do we do about him?"

"Keep entertaining. He's the one who insisted on coming along. But we couldn't think of anything better, Sandbar. There's no way to win this war without the Zecrin. Unless we can convince them that the rest of the galaxy is alive, they're just going to sit in their jungle, doing nothing, and letting everyone else get invaded."

"They're not exactly the friendliest creatures," he muttered. "This war thing is so... backwards. If the Enti would just leave everypony alone, we could all make friends and there wouldn't be any fighting. They seem a lot more reasonable than the Zecrin. Are you sure we couldn't convince them to make peace?"

Before she could open her mouth to reply, Silverstream looked back. "We have takeoff clearance! Everyone hold on!" The ship rumbled, its engines coming roaring back to life. Whatever part of Ocellus might've feared their new “friends” would make some covert modifications to ensure they never left the planet was dissuaded by the presence of their guest.

If the Zecrin planned assassination or subterfuge, they probably wouldn't have an important beurocrat riding aboard the ship with them.

The engines all reported green, and soon enough they were lifting into the air. They shot off into the sky in a wide, parabolic path. "Change course at the last safe moment," she said. "Be ready to hide the navigation data if Ha’luu takes a tour in here. How long to transit the planet?"

Silverstream adjusted the controls, and didn't look away from her work. "There are requirements about speed and flight-lanes we have to follow. Should be four hours, assuming we can find a good place to put down."

Ocellus turned on her hooves, pacing back the way she'd come. Now she knew how long she had to keep the Zecrin distracted.

"Oh, and Yona." She stopped in the hallway, turning around. "Prepare the artifacts. Have all six of them out and ready for us. We won't have any magic ourselves, but there's no telling what dangers will be waiting for us."

"Is that a good idea?" Sandbar asked. "I know Twilight gave us all that to help us complete this mission. But taking magical artifacts into a place without magic..."

"It's not without magic." With a flash of concentration, Ocellus transformed into the lanky unicorn mare she often used around ponies. Sometimes it was just easier to pretend to be one of them than to explain why it was okay for a changeling to be there.

"Living creatures rely on external forces for our magic. This is how Tirek was able to steal the magic of Equestria, or Cozy Glow for that matter. But artifacts like those, or the Elements... they're magical monopoles. They will be in far less danger than we are."

She walked back the way she'd come, keeping up the disguise for now. Her ability to transform should serve as an interesting distraction for their political stooge.

As it turned out, she was right. Ha’luu asked which of the locations they'd decided, and she gave her guarded answer about heading in the direction of the resorts, before quickly transitioning the subject of conversation to something else.

As it turned out, the Zecrin lacked anything quite like her powers, and were eager to see her demonstrate them. She even had a chance to learn the precise way to imitate one of the half-lizards, and get advice about her posture and plausible colorations.

Not quite the full suite of genetic data to send back to the Compact in their quest for the source of magic, but still valuable. Ha’luu proved a pleasant enough guest, if they were willing to ignore the shackled slaves serving him bits of meat from a tray.

But his politeness went only as far as his belief that things were still following his plans. Then Silverstream made a hard course-correction at the last second, taking them away from the sprawling white stone buildings and the inviting black sand.

He rose from his seat in a rush, dislodging the books he'd been reading. He stormed past his servants, to where Ocellus and Smolder were pretending to be interested in the book of fashions he brought.

"I believe something must be wrong, Ocellus. I see our destination retreating out the window there. We should speak to your pilot at once.

The ship rocked and shook under them, pivoting with such a hard burn that Ha’luu was smacked to the ground. Ocellus held herself in place with unicorn magic, but she'd been expecting it. It was easier when you knew what was coming.

"What kind of primitive ship is..." Ha’luu crawled his way over to a nearby couch, with straps waiting to receive them. "Where's your gravity-compensator magic? Your pilot is completely off-course, and—"

The pressure grew more intense, crushing them downward. "Nevermind. We'll have to... discuss this on the ground. See how lost you strangers have gotten yourselves."