• Published 10th Mar 2013
  • 1,212 Views, 25 Comments

Red Shetland - archonix



Luna and a bevy of unusual companions (an AI modelled on Celestia, a hyper service droid, a holographic Blueblood and a sapient cat) struggle to survive in the face of interminable boredom on a deserted starship three-million years from home.

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This represents a significant diversion from the familiar

This represents a significant diversion from the familiar

"So. Where is everypony?"

Luna glanced at her companion-slash-tormentor, trying to hide the incredulity that she knew was showing on her face. At first, despite her worries, there had been a relief in hearing a voice other than Tia and the dratted toasting machine and a comfort in the knowledge of another pony's presence, no matter how tenuous and unreal that pony might be. The novelty of both had quickly worn off under the friction of Blueblood's boorish personality and now Luna was left with the certainty that the rest of her life, however long she remained aboard this ship, would be a living hell that made Tartarus look like the moon and the moon look like the summer lands themselves.

They had been wandering the corridors of the Red Shetland for about an hour, Luna looking for some area of the ship she hadn't yet explored and Blueblood following along behind her like a confused puppy as he tried – heavens help him – to understand what had transpired in his absence. The same question had been asked several times and Luna had given the same answer at each one.

"We don't know."

Luna slowed as they passed another of the uncountable identical corridor junctions that riddled the ship from stem to stern. The corridor widened out here, opening onto what might have been an office lobby or some sort of communal area for the crew at one time but which now was as deserted and useless as the rest of the ship. Ancient cracked planters that had once held potted plants now played host to their distantly evolved descendants, miniaturised forest groves that had somehow remained confined to their prisons even as they had transformed into the inch-high pastoral landscapes that Luna now found herself examining.

"Surely there must be some record?"

"We couldn't find anything," Luna replied. She glanced at Tia's screen on the far wall but it remained empty, not even displaying the usual array of useless system information that normally scrolled and slid about like so many electronic fish. The princess walked slowly to a bank of windows and stared out into the endless depths of space. "Don't you remember?"

"The last thing I remember was going to bed after a very boring dinner. Video recordings?"

"All gone."

"So where's the command crew?"

Luna put her hoof against the magically protected window – some form of crystallised aetheric matter, if she remembered right – and tried not to think about her moon or the connection she should have felt to it. "We don't know."

"The kitchen staff?"

"Gone. We don't know where."

"The escape pods–"

"All accounted for."

He fell silent for a few blessed moments then, perhaps trying to understand what he'd been told. Perhaps he wasn't thinking. Perhaps he wasn't even alive and was just a collection of cleverly scripted responses and a crude holographic facsimile of a living being sent by the gods themselves to torment her. Perhaps Luna was already dead and this was her mind's last fantasy. Perhaps this was Tartarus. Perhaps–

"So. Where is everypony?"

Hell would not be so cruel as this, she decided. "Tia, tell this buffoon what you told me before I toss him out of the same airlock as the toaster."

A few moments of glaring at Tia's screen and the familiar face swam into view, still smiling as it always had. Twilight must surely have programmed it to be so insufferably happy all the time, there was no other reason for it to behave that way.

"As you wish, Luna. Reporting status." Tia's face blanked for a moment, its eyes doing a reasonably good impersonation of someone reading a page extremely fast. "Current standard date is Platinius fifteenth, anno celesti three million eight thousand and seventy six. Ship's logs were automatically activated two hundred and thirty-two days ago upon the awakening of acting Mission Commander Luna de Losna. Last notable event recorded in the ship's log prior to reactivation took place on Hurricanus eleventh, fourteen hundred forty-seven, oh nine seventeen hours, order from Mission Commander Twilight Sparkle to investigate anomalous readings from the ship's main reactor. Supplementary log notes that Lieutenant Commander Luna de Losna was voluntarily committed to stasis following adverse reaction to an unspecified influence same date, fifteen thirty hours. Reactor service logs indicate the automated reactor safeties scrammed fifteen days later, however no record of what caused the scram has been retained and no record of crew status was recorded following Command Sparkle's final entry. Sensor logs indicate a sustained period of ship-wide aetheric flux at levels considered likely to be lethal to biological matter immediately prior to the reactor scram, however they contain no record of what caused this event, nor any record of crew activities prior.

"Processing additional information." The computer paused and blinked a few times. "Logs now record the activation of Sub-commander Blueblood's holographic simulation routine on this date at fifteen thirty hours via personality matrix transfer from long-term storage substrate to holographic systems. Long-term personality storage backups performed Hurricanus ninth fourteen hundred forty-seven."

Blueblood scoffed and rapped a hoof against the screen. "So you're saying you don't know?"

"Yes!" Luna stomped a forehoof against the floor, ignoring the spike of pain that shot up to her elbow as she turned to face the bumbling prince. "We don't know. We never knew. Nopony is left, we're all there is, we have no idea what happened to the crew. They're all gone."

"But there must be some sort of record, surely?"

"My records are incomplete for reasons that I have not yet been able to ascertain. It is possible that they were tampered with, but I can see no means by which this would happen nor any reason for it to have occurred."

"I see." Blueblood stumbled over to a nearby chair and made to sit, then paused as he belatedly realised his lack of physical form would make sitting difficult. He opted instead to wander over to the window and stare at the stars in what he presumably thought was a noble, thoughtful and commanding stance.

"I realise this is a difficult fact to take in, nephew," Luna said, mustering as much calm as she could under the circumstances. "We're alone. We're millions of light-years from our home. I have had to live with this for almost a year already."

"You're right, it is a difficult thing to comprehend." Blueblood's voice was subdued, so unlike his usual demeanor. He bowed his head. "But there's one thing I don't understand."

"I am sure I and Tia can at least attempt to enlighten you."

Blueblood nodded slowly. He looked at the stars again, then at his hooves and finally at Luna. "Where is everypony?"

"That's it! Tia, switch him off right now!"

"Aunty Luna this is hardly–"

"Don't you 'aunty' me you pathetic collection of charmless photons! I am not going to tolerate another second of your existence! Tia, give me Twilight, or Rarity, or even Pinkie Pie! Somepony other than this imbecile!"

"Luna."

"Princess, please, I only just–"

"Have at thee knave!"

"Luna."

"WHAT?" Luna turned from the cowering lump of mortal light and glared at Tia's screen. The computer avatar smiled back at her. "Are you going to turn it off or shall I deactivate the entire ship?"

"I'm afraid there are more pressing concerns than your resentment toward Sub-commander Blueblood," Tia replied. As she spoke her avatar shrank down to a corner of the screen whilst the majority was taken up with a schematic of the area immediately around their position. A trio of bright lights flared into existence, two in one section, a third in another. "My sensors indicate the presence of another lifeform in your section."

Luna advanced on the screen, her feud with Blueblood pushed aside for a moment in the face of something genuinely novel. "Are you sure?"

"I am quite certain, Luna."

"I recall that you previously claimed we had found an entire civilisation of sapient fish orbiting a black hole until I had the servitors clean your telescope array."

"A regrettable oversight." The avatar displayed an appropriate level of chagrin as Luna turned to examine the schematic in more detail. She tapped at the screen, bringing up different overlays to be sure the reading was genuine and not a sensor ghost. It seemed to be moving, whatever it was.

"We should investigate, yes?"

"It is the appropriate response. One of the ship's Special Operations servitors was already on station to observe and report any unusual activity. It was that which initially raised the issue."

Luna nodded and turned from the screen. Half way to the corridor she paused, a wave of uncertainty flooding over her as she considered what Tia had told her. "This servitor..."

She glanced over her shoulder at Tia. The avatar had resumed her position at the centre of the screen, her smile back to its usual level of smug. "Yes?"

Visions of the toaster's overly cheerful personality inhabiting a mobile body filled Luna's mind. She tried not to show her concern as she spoke, but it was obvious from the way Tia's smile grew broader that she had failed to hide it.

"Have you altered it in any way?"

"The servitor has not been altered or adapted in any way from its original programming and design parameters as specified by the ship's Technology Specialist," Tia replied. She tilted her head back and smiled. "I have not attempted to insert any personality upgrades, nor have I altered its physical appearance in any way."

"I see. Good." Luna turned again, closely followed by a chastened and nervous Blueblood. Though she couldn't physically harm him, nevertheless he carried a certain mortal fear in his eyes that Luna hadn't seen before. Good. Let him be scared. It might make him smarten up.

"Aunty, this servitor–"

"If it is unaltered, then I see no reason to be concerned about it."

"Yes, yes." Blueblood looked thoughtful. It was a surprisingly good look for him. Luna suddenly wondered if there were more to the stallion than she had previously thought. "It was designed by the ship's 'technology specialist' was it not?"

"So I understand," Luna replied as they turned a corner. The life form was only a short distance away according to the map and the servitor was between them, which meant they should find it any moment now.

"Was that specialist not the lady Rarity?"

"I don't see how that alters–"

They turned the corner. The first thing Luna saw was a large creature at the far end of the corridor. It had its back to them and was prowling away in a most cat-like manner, sniffing at the walls and investigating every nook and cranny as it moved toward the far junction. Luna halted and Blueblood, oblivious, walked right through her before he too saw the creature.

The second thing she was was a small pony, or something very much like a pony, crouching behind a vending machine and occasionally leaning out to stare at the creature. A flash of magic muffled Luna's hooves and she carefully walked toward the pony-creature; it appeared to be wearing some form of armour that consisted of a black carapace wrapped around its entire barrel and a series of jointed greaves and curiasses and other such devices attached to its limbs.

The illusion was shattered as she drew near. One of the pony's ears snapped around at an unnatural angle and began tracking her. A moment later the servitor – for it could be nothing else – turned its head completely backwards and stared at her with disturbingly organic-looking eyes.

"Oh! Hi!" The servitor bounced and turned its body to face her, servos whining and squeaking as it somehow contrived to keep its head completely stationary while its body moved beneath it. "You must be Luna!"

Several things occurred as the servitor's voice echoed along the corridor. The creature at the far end stiffened and its ears fell flat against the back of its head. The servitor itself suddenly seemed to realise that it had given their position away. Blueblood bolted back toward the junction and leaped into the lee of a potted plant with a yelp not unlike that of a foal stung by a wasp.

Luna, not knowing what else to do, put a hoof to her face and sighed. She moved out to the centre of the corridor and took a few steps toward the alien.

"Creature, whatever you are, we mean you no harm."

The beast's only response was a broad sweep of its thick tail. It continued its prowl, though its ears were still laid flat and its movements had become more purposeful. The creature padded around a corner and slunk from sight. The last Luna saw of it was its tail curling out of sight.

"Snappy dresser," Blueblood said once he had crawled out of his hiding spot. "Did you see that suit?"

"The use of clothing indicates it is obviously sapient," Luna replied. "Tia, what is it?"

The intercom screeched as Tia began speaking. "Scans are inconclusive. It bears superficial similarity to a number of species in my database but I am not able to ascertain its origin. Nor am I able to find out how came to be aboard the ship. The closest match appears to be some form of feline, though it is a species I have no familiarity with."

"We have never encountered any sapient cats," Luna said slowly. She took a step toward the junction as she thought, and then another. "It made no effort to attack us. Either it considers us to be not much of a threat or it is peaceful."

Blueblood stepped around the princess and stood in front of her with a hoof raised. "Aunty, if I may, have you had much experience with cats?"

"I have not. They are fickle beasts whose habits I find disturbing."

Blueblood's hooves skittered on the deck as he shifted uncomfortably - an impressive feat considering they weren't real. The stallion glanced over his shoulder at the departed interloper and he made the strangest sound Luna had ever heard. It was something like a whine.

"What–"

"You've never seen a cat playing with a mouse have you?"

"I am not interested in your idle fairy tales of small creatures and their games, Blueblood! We must follow this creature." With a huff Luna turned from the shivering hologram and gave her full attention to the servitor. It really did look very familiar, but she couldn't quite place why. "You, servitor, do you have any scanning abilities?"

"I can hear pretty well," the servitor replied, bouncing on its metallic hooves with a whir of gears and pistons. It looked expectantly at Luna and grinned as if it had imparted the greatest of great knowledge in its admission. Luna grit her teeth and shook her head slowly.

"Just walk ahead of us."

"Okay!"

With a fresh whine of servos and humming a little tune the servitor turned on the spot and trotted jauntily toward the corridor junction. It took Luna a moment longer to realise where she had seen the machine's face before and when the memory hit, she closed her eyes very slowly and let out a long sigh.

"Rarity made a robot of her sister."

Blueblood didn't answer. When she looked at him the normally dour and overbearing prince had covered his mouth and was shaking with silent laughter. Luna raised her snout and glared at the overgrown child who affected the position of her nephew.

"I was not introduced to the Special Operations servitors before I entered stasis," she said and sniffed loudly. Blueblood remained silent, though only because he was still holding back his mirth.

The Servitor had reached the end of the corridor and was peering back and forth down the junction. It turned a curious gaze on Luna and beckoned her forward with a hoof.

"I think it ran away!"

"We shall concern ourselves with it later," Luna replied as she cantered up to the servitor. The Equoid grinned up at her. The question of how Rarity had managed to make the servitor's face so expressive would provide at least a few days diversion, once she had solved the immediate mystery. A few days where she might not be so interminably bored. The thought was appealing to Luna.

"Machine, what is your designation?"

"My what?"

"What?"

They stared at one another. The servitor looked confused now, rubbing the side of its head with a hoof. "You mean my name? I don't think I have a name."

"Perhaps a model number?"

"SweetAI Bee Three One One dash E, I guess. Nopony ever asked me that before. Then again I have only been awake for three days and you're the first pony I've met! Where is–"

"Do not ask that!"

"Oh, okay." The servitor grinned as if it hadn't just avoided treading on a verbal landmine.

"You say you have been active for three days?"

Another grin. "Yep! Three days, six hours, eleven minutes. It's kinda boring most of the time."

"Tia?" Luna turned from the machine and glared at the ceiling, given she had little else tangible to focus on. The intercom crackled as Tia's voice came online again.

"If you are going to ask, yes, I did activate the servitor three days ago and no I didn't think I should tell you. It was unlikely to have become an issue had I not confirmed the presence of an alien lifeform and I felt it would not be a particularly high priority once that presence was confirmed."

"Tia, you referred to me as acting mission commander–"

"I did. Unfortunately you are not a very good actor," the computer replied. Luna could almost hear the smug grin. "I must inform you that the life-form appears to be approaching your position again."

"Oh, then we should–" Luna began as she turned. The creature was directly in front of her, staring at her with enormous, wide-set eyes and a grin filled with extremely sharp teeth. It looked Luna up and down and raised an eyebrow, the grin only growing wider.

Primal instincts she had thought long forgotten rose up inside Luna, flooding her body with adrenaline and setting every muscle into a frenzied shiver. Given the circumstances Luna felt she acted with admirable dignity and grace. She only let out a very small scream, barely more than a whimper really considering the power she could put behind her voice. And when she briefly teleported herself outside the ship it was an entirely rational decision, an attempt to seek a momentary safe haven that only a functional immortal could use and not the mad flailings of a terrified mind incapable of controlling its magic.

She must have included the servitor in her field because it was floating out there with her, mouthing silently as it tried to speak and flapping its limbs for balance. The servitor's movements slowed as it noticed where they were and an incongruous look of awe spread across its mechanical features.

Though her eyes were beginning to feel just a little sore and a tiny bit frozen – even for one such as she vacuum exposure still had certain unavoidable physical effects – Luna paused to watch the machine as it became transfixed by the endless starscape surrounding them. She tried to take a breath as she considered this odd reaction, then realised that perhaps the dead of space was not the most conducive of atmospheres for an ontological introspection and in any case her lungs really were starting to make serious demands for something to fill themselves with. She closed her eyes to teleport again.

Alicorn and robot landed on the deck in her cabin, the first she had occupied when the voyage began so many millennia ago. The servitor bouncing and squeaking with excitement and Luna sucking down deep, refreshing gulps of air that she knew she didn't technically need, but that felt so very nice when she could take them.

"That was amazing! Lets do it again!" The servitor leaped across the cabin with a squeak of gears and attached itself to the wall with a loud clunk. "I never saw stars before, that's what they were right? Stars? There were so many of them all over the place! Space is so cool!"

"It is rather chilly." It was unusual for the machine to behave this way. The daemons Tia had incorporated into the various appliances that had tormented Luna over the past year had shown little interest in anything beyond their designed purpose. This servitor seemed genuinely curious about everything. Luna stood and slowly her quarters as she considered the robot's reactions again.

The rooms were far cleaner than she had thought they would be. After three million years she had expected there might be a little dust or some sign of decay, but they were as clean as the day she had left them. Luna ran a hoof along a nearly empty shelf. Not even a single speck of dust came away with it.

"Where is this anyway? I don't know my way around the ship much yet, I was just told to follow that big kitty."

"My quarters," Luna replied absently. She poked at the photo frame by her bed, the one that had borne a picture of Celestia. The photograph had faded until all that was left was a cracked and yellowed sheet of paper, but the frame was still clean as the day it had been made. "I have not been back here since I was released from my stasis. Once I realised the ship was abandoned I– I didn't– wait."

She turned to the robot. To her surprise it flinched under her gaze, reacting more like a foal faced with an angry parent than any machine. Luna tried to soften her expression. It seemed to work, the servitor visibly relaxing again as it sat on the deck.

"You spoke of a 'kitty'? You know what that creature was?"

"Well, yeah, Celestia told me. She said it must have evolved from a cat Rarity left behind."

"How does–" Luna turned to the blank screen on her wall. "Tia."

The face of the ship's AI appeared immediately at the sound of Luna's sing-song voice. It was turned to one side, pouting and refusing to appear as if it were looking directly at her. "What?"

"You knew where that creature came from." It wasn't a question. Tia's pout disappeared as if by magic (which was perhaps ironic considering the ship's power source) and she turned a limpid eye toward Luna.

"I was concerned for your welfare," the computer replied. She turned her face toward Luna and gave her a timid smile. "I wanted to give you something that would keep your mind occupied for a short while and perhaps give you incentive to bond with Blueblood. I did not mean to deceive."

"Unfortunately you did. In addition you left me ill-prepared to deal with the creature and potentially in great danger."

"He would not have harmed you," Tia replied. She lowered her eyes. "He is a gentle soul, like you the last of his kind, though he does not appear particularly troubled by this fact. I have been aware of his presence aboard for quite some time but until a few days ago he had generally confined himself to the cargo decks."

"If you had told me from the start–"

"He is also outside the door."

"What?" Luna wheeled to face the door just as it opened, readying herself to teleport again. An empty corridor greeted her. She took a single tense step forward, the clank of her hoof on the deck seeming unnaturally loud in the silent space. Suddenly an oversized paw thrust through the door, followed by a large white head bearing a swept-back lock of hair between two enormous and very mobile pointed ears. "Um... hello?"

The cat-creature oozed around the door frame and slide along the wall, carefully refusing to pay attention to Luna as he investigated his immediate surroundings. His tail whipped up and around, dodging the door as it slid shut, before carefully caressing Luna's neck. Then and only then did the creature deign to look at her.

"Hi there. Nice place. I think I'll stay for a while."

"B-but this is my–"

"Nah. I don't smell you on it, that means it's mine."

"Oh." Luna frowned. She shook her head. "No, no that isn't how this works. You can't just come and take over my quarters, they're mine!"

The cat hopped onto a chair and spun around to face Luna. "Fight you for it."

"You want to fight me? I'm an immortal princess with more power in my hoof than you could muster in a lifetime! I could teleport you into space before you could even think!"

The cat paused to consider this new piece of information. He shrugged and crawled from the chair onto the bed. "You win then. Mind if I crash here for a few days?"

"Tia."

She was whining and she knew it, but how else could she react? The computer giggled. "I am sorry Luna, I can do nothing to alter his behaviour. You are on your own."

"But Tia, he's on my bed! He's licking his– Tia he is licking himself on my bed!"

Tia's laughter only grew louder. Before she could even calm herself the door slid open and Blueblood stepped in, a demand for answers dying on his lips even as he spoke it. The stallion stared at the cat, who was occasionally adjusting his jacket and curling up at odd angles on Luna's bed as he continued his grooming. The prince's jaw dropped.

Luna could think of nothing to say. She flopped her haunches to the floor, ignoring the cold of the deck on her dock, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She let the air flow out of her mouth between barely parted lips and prayed to whatever powers that might be able to hear her all the way out here for some sort of release from the madness. When she opened her eyes very little had changed, though that was hardly a surprise. The servitor had clambered onto the bed and was watching the mysterious cat with intense curiosity. Blueblood was still staring at Luna with his mouth wide as the door. Celestia was still laughing. The cat had fallen asleep with all four legs in the air and was snoring away in some happy little dream, his tail twitching fitfully.

It was insane. That was the only thought to come to mind and at that moment Luna felt it was profound enough to be given voice. "Tia, this is insane."

"A little madness here and there is relished by the wisest mare," Tia replied. Her giggle reminded Luna of all the practical jokes her sister had played on her in the past. "And you must admit, Luna, you are no longer bored."

As she took in the scene, the Princess was not able to disagree. Her life had become quite bizarre, so much so that she almost wished to have the boredom back.

After a moment, Luna smiled.

Almost. But not quite.