• Published 12th Oct 2012
  • 15,665 Views, 442 Comments

Eclipse - IncoherentOrange

A human colony vessel is sent to Equestria, and does not expect sapient inhabitants.

  • ...

Chapter One: Standard Operating Procedure

Chapter One: Standard Operating Procedure

A timer installed at the front of the bridge was counting down the little time that remained. It had been set nearly twenty years ago, and the bridge crew, an assortment of dedicated experts in their respective fields, watched it anxiously. Seated deep within the colossal metal hull of Eclipse, the bridge wasn't a large place; no part of a starship is larger than it needs to be. In chairs that sat in front of workstations, the ship's command crew of four stared at the decrementing timer. A screen dominated its front, and handholds adorned many surfaces of the room's uniform gray interior, a provision for maneuvering in microgravity.

The timer reached zero with a tone, indicating arrival at the coordinates designated by the navigator at the start of the voyage. Eclipse slowed to sublight velocities. They had arrived at last, hopefully. "Navigation, check," the Skipper ordered. "Fire boosters, eliminate gravitational spin."

If they had arrived, that would mean they were in high orbit over the planet designated P-0134-A. In a figurative sea of stars, planets, and other matter, this particular world was chosen primarily for one reason. 'One-Thirty-Four' was no regular planet, but a habitable one.

"Uh huh," Killian acknowledged in an ever-so-slightly jovial tone, scanning his workstation's readouts. "Firing boosters, simulated gravity disabled. I was off by ten thousand kilometers, but we're here, Skipper." Killian Reynolds was the chief navigator aboard Eclipse. His brows were arched in sternness, and even in such an exciting time as this, he did not smile. As the ship became oriented with the planet being 'downward', the interior of the ship was filled with the distinctive feel of microgravity.

"Ventral camera. Let's see our new home." The Skipper could barely keep his voice level. He, along with over seven thousand others, had long waited for this day, the day that they would arrive to stake a claim on the first earthlike planet ever to be visited by mankind. The excitement, he was certain, was felt by every man and woman aboard.

"Sure thing, Skipper." The display at the front of the bridge lit up as communications officer Marcus Thorne flipped a switch on his console. He was younger than the other two men and perhaps more eager than both combined. An all-encompassing view of the lone planet in the system, as blue as Earth was with its water covering, but with a distinctly alien geography, appeared on the large screen situated at the front of the bridge.

"Close enough, Killian," the Skipper said.

"No, no, not close enough, Skipper. Had I made that mistake in some other direction, or misplaced a decimal another place-"

"Killian, why does it matter? You won't be plotting another FTL course in your entire life!" Marcus exclaimed, then glanced back at his console. "Skipper, Topography A reports that their survey is underway. Launch bay reports that atmospheric analysis drones have been launched." He spun, strapped down in his chair, to face the Skipper. "Isn't this exciting!?"

The Skipper did not answer the communications officer's question; it was answered well enough by the wide grin on his face. "Sensors, what have we got?"

Life support officer Kathy Wright doubled as sensors officer and would triple as chief xenobiologist when they made planetfall. She began to list off the various bits of information displayed by her workstation, as relayed by those manning sensory instruments aboard. "Orbit path is clear. That star is... orbiting around the planet, as I've got it here. Looks like those kooky theories were correct after all. One natural satellite, as probe telemetry has, well, already told us. No other planets, as we already know." She paused, inputting several commands on her workstation before looking up again at her display. "Oh, preliminary geographical analysis coming in. Three continents, one bigger than the others. Eighty-one percent water coverage, one hundred and one point six percent Earth gravity. No peculiar noise on radio frequencies, radiation levels within acceptable limits-"

The Skipper interrupted her with an order. He didn't need to hear how earthlike this place was another time. All he needed was confirmation from one of his crew instead of those guys sitting on Pluto that spent their days listening for probe telemetry. "Killian, bring us into geostationary orbit over the center of the largest continent. Let's give the boys down in topography something more important than the ocean to look at."

"Um-hm," came the navigator's reply. The ship shuddered slightly as its plasma engines came online for the first time since Eclipse departed the shipyard.

Several anxious minutes went by. It was established as procedure for this type of mission that no action to land would be undertaken until topographical studies were conducted thoroughly enough to find an optimal spot for planetfall. A tone rang out, and Marcus scanned his console. "Skipper," the communications officer began, "urgent from topography A."

The Skipper nodded, and Marcus hit the intercom switch. "Skipper, there's something down here you've got to see!" said the voice from the speaker, with enthusiasm never before expressed by the chief topographer.

"Would you mind telling me from there?" the Skipper asked. "Or, even better, give us your feed."

"Yes, Skipper, right away–here you are." The monitor at the front of the bridge lit up with a different image, this time from the powerful imaging system used by the topography lab. What it showed was something the Skipper–and the rest of the bridge crew–didn't expect to ever see. Appearing on the monitor was a clear aerial view of a modestly-sized... town.

A town. A town of buildings and movement. Not just life, but civilization. Jaws dropped. "You haven't seen the best of it, yet," said the voice from the intercom. The image enhanced, tracking one moving object. It enhanced further and further, until the alien was clearly visible. A light-blue quadruped with a horn protruding from its forehead, a basket... levitating, as it seemed, immediately in front of it, full of what appeared to be some sort of fruit.

"Are you sure these... life forms are not simply wildlife?" The creature looked like a horse, but more specifically like some sort of unicorn. Whatever it might have been, it was oddly-colored, that was certain.

"Positive. There is no indication of any other creatures that might be influencing their movements. Skipper, we're looking at aliens. Sentient horse aliens, you fancy that? Oh, wait, there's more." The topographer adjusted the zoom and acquired another specimen of this species, this one a shade of yellow. "This one has wings..." He moved it again, to yet a third specimen, burgundy. Each one, had some sort of mark on their hindquarters, though none of these could be made out clearly at this altitude, even with such powerful magnification. "This one has neither a horn nor wings..." He panned once more, this time to a pair of the colorful natives. "And these two, Skipper, are talking."

Kathy carefully observed the creatures' deliberate movements. They were looking at just what the topographer had said–horse aliens, or, more accurately, horse aliens, pegasus aliens, and unicorn aliens. Remarkable, she thought, that such variety could exist. The unexplainable levitating basket, however, was almost as remarkable. Either this was evidence of advanced technology in this town of theirs, or more evidence that this world did not follow the same rules as the only other life-supporting planet ever observed, that being Earth. She let out a thoughtful sigh, but said nothing. She'd wait for hands-on analysis to make heads or tails of these creatures. She could hardly wait to get her hands on some specimens.

"What are we going to do, Skipper?" the topographer asked through the intercom. "Let the crew know?"

The previous Earth day, the Skipper had gone over standard operating procedure for various scenarios Eclipse was prepared for. This particular one, finding P-0134-A to be inhabited, had been one of them. A course of action would be determined by the commanding officer depending on various factors such as technological sophistication. It hadn't been thought likely that this scenario would come to pass, and yet, here it was, shown clearly on a monitor, right in front of him.

He cleared his throat. "Yes, let them know. We're no longer colonists, ladies and gentlemen: we're visitors. It's up to them whether we stay or go." He paused for a moment to gauge the reactions of the bridge crew, who nodded in turn when he looked at each of them, then smiled. "Let's just hope they have room for seven thousand more. Kathy, what have our drones uncovered?"

"In short, air's breathable, Skipper. We don't know anything about local microbial life just yet," she replied.

Alien viruses and bacteria. Human immune systems were completely unprepared to deal with such things, should they find humans to be valid targets, which was unlikely, but possible. Eclipse's crew had immune systems strengthened with genetically-engineered microbes, though at any rate, any cross-contamination was a risk.

"Alright, come nightfall, we're going down there. Topography, find out all you can before nightfall on this area of the planet. We're looking for signs of technology, population centers, a landing site, and a colony site. Inform Topography B."

"Yes, Skipper, right away. We'll take a peek and send our findings your way," came the reply from the intercom. The Skipper gestured at Marcus to toggle the communication line.

"Well, this is unexpected," Killian said. "This place is so... odd, I don't like it."

"What don't you like?" the Skipper asked. "Alien life, sentient life. It's a discovery to go down in the history books. We're here, we're safe, and we may be welcomed here." The Skipper knew how optimistic he sounded, but when other outcomes soured his mind to believe in their likelihood, he decided it best to project the best possible scenario: that their mission was not compromised by some colorful horse aliens, and that they'd allow the colony to exist peacefully.

"It's just not right, here. The star is not obeying the laws of physics–that I know for sure–and this place is so uncannily-earthlike that it seems too good to be true. I just don't like it. All we've learned about this place makes me uneasy, and we've only just got here."

The Skipper chuckled, scratching his mustache. "Are you suggesting that this is some sort of trap? A mirage?" he asked, half-jokingly. Killian always had been a worrywort; few days went by during which he'd not raise some concern or another about any number of things. Caution was an excellent attribute for someone of his position, but ambition was a must for explorers.

"No, Skipper, it's just-"

"For crying out loud, Killian, nothing has gone wrong, and there's no indication that something will," Marcus interrupted. Killian shot him a glare. While on relatively good terms with both himself and Kathy, Killian and Marcus merely seemed to tolerate one another. Their personalities, the Skipper supposed, just didn't match. Even their physical appearances clashed; Killian was a heavy-built man of below-average height, while Marcus was thin and tall.

"Or that it won't," Kathy interjected, with an unexpected joviality. "We shouldn't jump to conclusions about anything out here. Meeting intelligent life is a very delicate matter, one we won't get another shot at until we find another inhabited planet, which may never happen. The star throws all of our rules out the window and blows a raspberry at them, sure, but it hasn't done us any harm, and neither has this planet or its inhabitants. There is much more to this place than meets the eye, I agree with you on that, but we can not let that hold us back, or scare us off."

"Thank you, Kathy. Marcus," the Skipper began, changing the subject, "let the crew know."

Marcus nodded, and leaned in to the microphone on his station, then keyed the PA system. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have discovered that there is intelligent life on the surface of the planet. Quadrupedal herbivores, as far as we know. Stay tuned for further announcements, and remember to take your D-vitamin supplements. Review your protocol packets."


Twilight Sparkle's telescope was a gift from the Princess herself: one of the most powerful ever made, she'd been told. Tonight, she'd do some stargazing, a rather calming activity for the studious mare. Adjusting the instrument with her magic, she aimed the telescope at her usual reference point, the Moon, to finish her adjustments and leaned in to gaze through the layers of magnifying glass.

A small, peculiar grey object, apparently too small to be seen with the naked eye, could be seen in front of the moon. It did not move with the stellar object as it went through the sky. Levitating a cloth to the end of the telescope, she wiped it, then looked back through the optic and frowned. The object was still there. She switched lenses and focused it. Again, it was still there.

Upon closer inspection, the object was a long, almost cylindrical–or perhaps rectangular–thing. She'd seen nothing like it before. With no lenses more powerful to see the object through, she noted whatever she could about the object as the enticing notion of sleep became stronger and stronger until its call became irresistible.


The Eclipse's launch bay was home to a dozen collapsible Luna-class shuttles, for reconnaissance and transport. Provisions had been made to arm them, should it prove necessary to do so. There had been no telling what kind of creatures Eclipse would find on this planet, and they could well have been much stronger and hardier than those on Earth, for a variety of reasons.

As such, Eclipse had–unusually for a civilian vessel–an armory, a big one. Maintained aboard was a security force of sorts–one thousand of the crew were trained to a varying extent in handling weaponry. The C-40 assault rifle was their standard issue, a weapon that held many small armor-piercing projectiles in a magazine, and usually fired three-round bursts. Eclipse carried enough supplies of the weapon and its ammunition for the entire force. Along with it was the main 'armament' of the ship, which consisted of numerous railgun turrets intended for shooting down asteroids, and what the higher-ups of humanity's government, SolGov, had called 'handling other threats.'

The notion that any of these weapons could be necessary at all worried the Skipper, though he knew them to be justified; Eclipse was made to be equipped for any situation, including armed conflict with mutineers and boarding by hostile entities. Also visible in the launch bay were a dozen all-terrain six-seated vehicles, capable of being stored within a Luna. These vehicles resembled an armored personnel carrier more than a small bus or a van, but were unarmed, again with provisions for arming them. Equipped for anything, the Skipper mused.

"Are you sure we shouldn't wait until the next night to do this? It wouldn't hurt to wait, I think," Killian said. As with Kathy and many members of the crew, he had other responsibilities that started after Eclipse arrived at P-0134-A, or in his case, since he plotted the course; he was the chief of security. Along with a deputy, Sean Powell, he'd provide security for the landing party, the rest of which consisted of Kathy, her two assistants, and the Skipper.

"There's no reason to, Killian. The sooner we know more about this place's life forms, the sooner we can make contact and find out if these aliens won't kill us if we land in their backyard more overtly," the Skipper explained, bringing up a map on a nearby monitor. "We'll land on the eastern end of this forest, opposite this town–the one Topography showed us–take a look around, take samples, and take off before daybreak. If we encounter something we can't handle, or anything of that sort, we'll retreat."

"Once we know how the life here works," Kathy continued, "we can decide what actions to take depending on how compatible the biochemistry of life forms here is with ours. Local wildlife will not recognize our scent or appearance, and might be scared away. If they aren't, and decide to attack instead," she chuckled, "you're the security chief, not me."

Killian smiled for a moment, but that smile quickly faded into his usual stern expression. He looked at his rifle, the blue-taped box magazine firmly inserted within its receiver, with four more on his vest, two of which bore red tape. Most of the crew for this mission wore nothing out of the ordinary–thick jumpsuits composed of composite materials, gloves, boots, and dome-like helmets with air filters and built-in lights. The two security personnel had slightly different equipment, consisting of the same jumpsuit but with a body armor vest bearing markings denoting their status as security, a rifle, baton, and fingerless gloves to facilitate their use. The Skipper, along with each member of the xenobiology team, was armed with a Tranquijolt pistol, a shot from which incapacitated the target chemically and applied a long-lasting, non-lethal electrical charge to a target as well. The scientists each carried a backpack for samples. Only the fingers of the security team were exposed; the helmets came with an attachment for the neck.

"In the event of contact with hostile sentient inhabitants, we pacify them and make sure they're safe before we leave. If they're anything like us, their people will think they're nuts and ignore them, just as they did on Earth." This made the Skipper chuckle a bit as he thought about what he'd just implied, that aliens had indeed visited Earth, but they'd done the same thing they were prepared to do themselves. "We can't be too careful, though. We'll avoid any and all contact, understood?"

Each of them nodded at the Skipper before the team boarded the shuttle. It was time for a little bit of field work.