• Published 20th Oct 2012
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Out of Touch - ToixStory

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And The Stars Did Wander Darkling - I

The light faded only to be replaced by a splitting pain in my new ponytail—the one I wasn’t born with, anyway—that felt like somepony was physically pulling my hair out. I groaned and grabbed at the new hairband, only to receive a slight shock for my trouble.

My head eventually cleared enough for me to open my eyes and get a good luck at the area around me. Unfortunately, said area was pitch dark, so it was no different than before.

I was afraid that I had gotten separated from Twilight again, but a purple glow of magic lit up the room we were in and revealed Twilight standing in her cape just a few feet from me. She didn’t look very amused.

“Where are we?” I said.

“How would I know? All I can see is a dark room,” she said. “Just give me a second.”

Her horn glowed brighter until a white-purple light covered the entire room like it was day. Dark gray metal that started below my hooves and stretched up to form a cavernous, spherical room. Besides that, there was only a small platform against the far wall and what looked like a control panel.

So we were quite a bit past Luna’s return, at least. How far, I couldn’t tell. I wish I’d taken that machine class they had offered at the yard, I might have known how to work the panel.

“Hmm, quite the boring place we’ve landed,” Discord said. “Where are we, a library?”

“Shut up,” Twilight hissed, walking up to the platform and its panel.

She looked down at the control panel, raised a hoof, and then lowered it. She squinted her eyes at it for a second before lighting her horn and fiddling directly with the podium through magic.

A few seconds of this, and suddenly a grinding sound filled the air. I looked all around me to find the source, until I looked down and found myself standing on nothing.

I screeched like I was a little foal and tried desperately to run, only to find my hooves were still on something as solid as steel, but thoroughly transparent. Now that I noticed it, too, below me was a vast sea of stars that flowed out in every direction.

Space! I was in space! My real dream had at last come true. My heart wouldn’t stop skipping as I watched the silent race of balls of nuclear fusion as they soared across the cosmos. It was a quiet miracle.

“It’s called transparent aluminum,” Twilight said. “It’s made for moments like these.”

She looked down at the panel again.

“And you might want to keep watching for the next, oh, twenty seconds.”

I backed up a bit to give myself a better view of whatever was coming. I noticed for the first time that the stars below were actually passing by: we were moving.

“I remember your first time in space,” Discord said to Twilight. “A combination of screaming and crying, wasn’t it?”

“I wasn’t very old then,” Twilight shot back.

“And, compared to me, you still aren’t.”

They continued to talk, but I paid them no heed as my prize came into view. Far below us, in all its glory, was a sun that glowed in the furious heat of a billion nuclear explosions all going off at once. It wasn’t excessively large: just about the size of the one back home. But it was underneath me!

The transparent aluminum adjusted itself to allow for the glare and let me watch it without my eyeballs boiling. It was by far the most beautiful thing I had ever seen . . . to feel as an ant does to a giant and completely at the mercy of the ship around me to keep me safe.

“So we’re in space . . . orbiting a sun,” I said, more for my benefit than anything else.

“That seems to be the case,” Twilight said.

“But what ship is this?”

Twilight used her magic to press a few buttons on the panel. “The only thing I can get off of this is a name: Venture. Anything else, we’ll have to get from the crew, wherever they are.”

On cue, doors hidden in the grooves of the wall slid open on tracks to reveal a crowd of ponies on the other side. They all wore dark combat suits with helmets and visors and such. The pattern was unlike any I had seen before: interlocking hexagonal plates that fit together to form the armor. We may have gone a little farther into the future than I thought.

Twilight saw them at about the same time I did, and jumped down to stand beside me. Her horn glowed.

“We come in peace,” she said. “We are lost travelers and only wish to speak to a member of the crew.”

It was then that I noticed that each pony had a amorphous blob of a gun built into their suits that glowed a faint green. And they were all pointing them at us.

“I said,” Twilight began, more agitated than before, “we only wish to speak to a crewmember. Guns aren’t necessary.”

When they still did not lower the weapons, Twilight’s eyes pulsed a bit and her horn glowed brightly and suddenly all of the guns wrenched themselves from their mounts on the suits and flew through the air to orbit around Twilight’s head.

In short order, the guns rotated slowly in the air until all ten were pointed at their former owners.

“Talk. Now.”

The visor on a pony near the front of the group turned from opaque to transparent to reveal the muzzle of a bright green mare. Her eyes seemed to be permanently narrowed and a long scar ran from her mouth back up into the helmet.

“If you want to talk, any official speech must be made with the Captain,” she said tersely.

Twilight wagged the guns at her. “Alright, take us to him.”

“Unauthorized passengers are barred from speaking to the Captain-”

The guns began to glow a bright green and Twilight brought them better to bear, pointing the weapons at each of them individually.

“I didn’t stutter.”

The green mare gulped and reluctantly began to lead her troop farther into the ship, allowing us to follow at a safe distance. Discord slithered out a little.

“You go, girl!” he said.

“Try to keep quiet,” Twilight hissed. “We don’t need them freaking out on us.”

“Because two ponies suddenly appearing on their ship out in deep space isn’t weird enough already.”

I ignored them, for the most part. Instead, I was far more interested in the interior of the ship I found myself in.

We followed them down a narrow corridor that sloped above us to meet the lights that glowed a faint blue. Around us, airy rooms branched off on all sides. With no doors, I was able to see that most of them were made for habitation, but looked to have not been used in years, if at all. Dust had begun to settle in, and some of the furniture looked visibly decayed. Besides bunk rooms, there were untouched kitchens and immaculate lounge rooms with models of vidscreens that I had never seen before.

“Why are so many of the rooms empty?” I asked.

At first, I did not think my question would get an answer, but the bright green mare went ahead and did me the favor.

“We launched with only a quarter of our crew,” she explained. “Most of it was due to troubles back home; this mission never required a full force, anyway.”

We arrived at the end of the corridor and an elevator whose doors creaked open to reveal a large freight tram. Inside, there was plenty of room for us to all fit in with Twilight keeping her distance and the guns firmly out of reach.

“To the Captain,” she ordered.

One of the armored ponies mashed a button and the elevator lurched upward with a sickening grind of gears. My stomach flip flopped as we shot up, only to come to a lurching stop a few moments later.

We all filed out and soon came to another door, this one much larger and heavier than the rest. One of the guard ponies—with a reluctant nod from their bright green commander—punched in a code and the blast doors lumbered open to reveal a mighty chamber.

It was easily the size of a transport ship and lined with transparent aluminum windows that gave the room the feeling of a mighty cathedral dedicated to the Empress with the light that streamed in through the windows from the breathtaking view outside.

Workstations with all numbers of screens and dials were cut down into the deck itself and lined the room in a horseshoe shape, and in the middle of that horseshoe was a massive table and an even larger monolith of unknown origin, shaped like some sort of obelisk.

The workstations were empty, but the smooth, holographic top of the table was bright and busy as little figures and readouts danced across its polished surface around a large representation of what I presumed to be the ship in miniature orbited around a to-scale model of the star outside.

The ship itself resembled a long, thick spoon covered in spires and lights with the inwardly-curved part turned upside down. Small claws lined the underbelly of the ship while the top was segmented into various decks. The command deck was at the very tip of the ship.

We were led up to the black, smooth-faced obelisk and the guard ponies backed off. Twilight and I stared up at it with a mix of fear and wonder.

“Is this . . . thing your Captain?” Twilight said.

The ponies didn’t answer, but they made to move away. Across the blank surface of the monolith, lines began to appear and the surface split in half as sections unfolded away from each other, stretching away to reveal a chamber within.

Inside the chamber sat a completely gray unicorn, covered in wires that stuck out from points across its body. Its eyes were closed, but the machine began to hum.

“Who are you?” a voice thrummed from inside the chamber, neither male nor female.

Twilight stepped forward. “We are weary travelers who have come a long distance and arrived here by accident. Who are you?”

“I am the Captain,” it answered.

“What about your real name?” I asked.

It paused. “I am the Captain.”

“But . . . don’t you have a name for yourself?”

“I was grown above the desert moon of Eridanus VI within the vats of Titan Eridanus Shipyards and inserted into this ship as soon as she was laid down. I am the Captain of the ERS Venture and that is all I am. It is your turn to speak.”

Twilight eyed the pony eerily while I gulped. “I am, uh, from the planet Kaishi in the Wolf 359 system. My name is Tinker.”

“Wolf 359 system . . . you are very far from home, Miss Tinker.” Though it did not move, there was an eerie feeling of it turning its attention to Twilight. “I would ask your name, but I believe it already is somewhere in Venture’s databanks . . . but yet my mind slips over it. Interesting.”

“I tend to have that effect on other ponies,” Twilight said.

“Indeed.”

It hummed a bit in a way that was both mechanical and organic. And very unnerving.

“I do not believe in pleasantries,” it said, “or coincidences. You have arrived here for a reason, and though I do not know it, I sense that you are also unable to leave.”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed. “And I sense a certain captain wishes to strike a bargain.”

“A necessary measure. In truth, I, er, we have been in need of assistance for quite some time now.”

“What kind of assistance? Twilight said.

The leader of the guards pointed out one of the windows toward a small, dark shape just off the bow, orbiting slightly closer to the sun. “That’s why.”

“What’s going on over there?” I said.

“That is the Venture’s engineering section,” the Captain answered. “It was ejected from this ship following a dispute between the crew. While we remain in our respective positions, neither group can move from this system until both sides agree.”

The guard leader coughed. “The problem is, they’ve gone a little . . . wrong . . . in the heads. This kind of work, especially around the drive core: it gets to you. So attempts to reason with them haven’t exactly, uh, gone over very well.”

“So why us, then?” Twilight said.

The Captain hummed. “Attempts to send over my crew have been met with hostility, but now that you have shown up, you present the possibility of negotiation with the crazed members of the crew.”

“We don’t have much of a choice, do we?” Twilight sighed. “I suppose it’s better than staying here and doing nothing.”

“Sergeant, lead them to Airlock Six,” the Captain said.

The light-green sergeant led us back to the elevator and we screeched our way down further into the bowels of the ship. The guard remained silent and with her back turned to Twilight and I.

“So why exactly are we trusting this Captain, again?” I said.

“We’re not,” Twilight said. “We just don’t have much of an alternative right now.”

I paused. “Well couldn’t we just wait around if we’re teleported away again? I mean, this seems pretty dangerous.”

“This magic doesn’t work that way,” Twilight said. “I spent a month in ancient Trottingham until I figured that out. If we don’t solve whatever problem faces us, we’ll be stuck here.”

“How do you know every time what you have to do to leave?”

“It’s usually pretty obvious.”

The elevator ground to a halt and we were let out into a long, dank corridor with a large heavy door at the end. As we walked along, it was easy to tell that there were scratches and dried blood stains around the wall that got more frequent as we got closer to the door.

“Anypony else getting the creeps?” Discord said.

“This is one of the places that the two crews fought,” the sergeant explained. “We . . . we lost a lot of good ponies that day.”

“Who ejected the engineering section?” Twilight asked.

“Nopony knows; most of our crew involved in that died from their wounds before our auto-docs could reach them.”

Discord coughed. “Well that didn’t help at all.”

The sergeant stopped beside the door and Twilight and I caught up to her moments later. She typed a few buttons on a keypad to reveal a small room within.

“This is where I leave you two,” she said.

Twilight and I walked in to and looked at the small room. “Is this like a, uh, really small chamber to board a shuttle?”

“Not exactly.”

The door whooshed shut and we were left alone in the chamber whose interior door clearly read: “AIRLOCK”. I began to beat on the door, believing us about to be flushed out into space, when some sort of goop dripped onto my hoof.

As I looked at the dark spot, more of it began to pour from the ceiling until Twilight and I were almost completely covered in it. Before we drowned in it, the thick, black goop began to harden and take shape around our forms until it had transformed into a sturdy and flexible suit. A transparent bit of goop stretched around our heads to give us a view of the world outside.

“Pretty nifty,” I heard Discord say over a built-in intercom.

A red light on the wall began to flash and the outer door slowly creaked open to reveal only a pallet of stars outside. Eventually, the air had fled out the door and left only silence in its way.

The mike in my pseudo-helmet crackled.

“Hold on to me if you don’t want to go falling into that star,” Twilight said.

I obeyed and clung to her as tightly as I could. Our suits melded together, startlingly, to form a tight bond. With that, Twilight jumped out into space.

* * *

Space is big. Really big. Like . . . way bigger than, well, anything! Especially when you’re floating through it while clinging to a mare of questionable sanity who is using her magic to guide you along.

Twilight’s magic propelled us through the void toward the black spot against the massive sun that grew bigger by the second. While we moved, I took the opportunity to watch—through my tinted visor—the star below us, blazing in all its majesty.

Strangely, the star almost had a feeling of . . . malevolence out here. Like it watched me as its tendrils of fire leapt out to me.

“Tinker, you okay?” Twilight asked.

I shook my head. “Yeah, I’m fine. Why?”

“Your eyes were getting a little glazed over.”

“Just looking at the sun, that’s all.”

Twilight followed my gaze and squinted a little. “Solar flare activity is picking up rapidly in our area,” she said. “That’s . . . odd, to say the least.”

Another burst of her magic increased our speed to the engineering section that was now clearly outlined against the star.

Suddenly, another flare reached up almost as if to grab us. It felt as if the vacuum had caught fire until Twilight extended a shield around us. The tendril missed us by a comfortable margin, but only just.

“Uh, that was really close,” I said.

Twilight said nothing and only spurred us on. I could see her begin to strain as she pushed her spell as much as she could, but space is vast and the gulf between the two parts of the ship was great.

“Can’t we, uh, teleport over there?” I asked.

“No,” she grunted. “These ships are magically-shielded. My spells would just bounce off of it.”

Even with the massive distance to the engineering section, Twilight began to draw us close to it, enough that I could see its irregular box shape quite clearly. The only remarkable thing about it were the dark thrusters near the back.

“Almost . . . there . . .” Twilight said.

Almost wasn’t close enough, though. Like a beast reaching for its prey, a massive flare extended out directly toward us. It wasn’t even very large—no wider than a starcruiser—but it didn’t need to be. Before it even reached us, Twilight’s shield popped under the pressure.

I closed my eyes to keep them from being immediately seared away. But what did it matter? We were dead anyway.

Suddenly I heard a loud, magical pop around us like when were teleporting and then all was silent. I realized quickly that I couldn’t be in space: there had been a noise! I cautiously opened my eyes to find myself surrounded by a crowd of ponies within some chamber in a foreign ship. The engineering section, I supposed.

Remembering the warnings from the ponies on the main ship, I clung closer to Twilight, who was herself finally waking up.

When she saw the same thing I did, she stood up and dropped into a fighting stance. But when we expected them to fight, they did not.

Instead, a pony with a graying beard and a twinkle in his eye stepped forward and looked at us. “Thank Celestia you’re not hurt!” he said. “How did you ever make it off that deathtrap alive?”

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