Purple Point: His Life in Space

by Alden MacManx

First published

How Purple Point manages his life in space aboard the Cosmic Lotus, and how others handle him. Let the battle begin!

Purple Point: the foul-mouthed, poker playing (and winning) Assistant Chief Engineer of the Cosmic Lotus. Eidetic memory, triple doctorate, and holder of secrets. Does anyone really know him, other than how good he is in repairing systems so that they never to be fixed again? Well, not really. Few know just how determined he can be. Also, don't EVER cross him...

Based on my OC in Goldfur's Cosmic Lotus story. Hats off to you, Goldfur, if I was wearing one...

This story closely parallels Goldfur's Cosmic Lotus. To fully understand this story, read Cosmic Lotus as well and spot where the two stories intertwine. You'll like it!

Featured Story 17 May 2018. wowsers...

Purple Point Profanity Pool

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Sailors, since time immemorial, have found ways to distract themselves from the monotony of a long voyage. The crew of the Cosmic Lotus were no exception to this. Within a day of departure, betting pools were set up, permissions were sought to set up breweries (craft brews by three of the crew, it being a hobby of each of them,) and charts set up to keep track of elapsed voyage time, time until hibernation, and guesstimation on what they would find at the Far Star.

One pool that was set up became known officially as the Daily Raffle, and unofficially as the Purple Point Profanity Pool. Purple Point, the Engineer’s Mate, was widely known for several things, mainly an eidetic memory, an extreme talent with most technologies, a calm, dignified polite manner, a quirky sense of humor, and most of all, when working alone on damaged or malfunctioning equipment, what could be politely described as a potty mouth. His swearing, always directed at the equipment, was multilingual, literate, and so incredibly detailed, crewfolk who could understand what he was saying would take notes. While he could descend into crudity, and would on some occasions, he preferred the more literate profanity.

One thing to take careful note of is that he would NEVER knowingly swear in the presence of another pony. The swearing was a purely automatic function to him. When he became aware of another pony near him, the profanity flow was abruptly cut off, his ears turning bright red in shame.

The Morale Officer brought up the subject of the Daily Raffle to the Captain of the Cosmic Lotus, Wandering Path. “What I would like to do is to set up two related pools, setting up a program with CONN (Crystalline Organizational Neural Network, the ship’s mainframe) to monitor Purple Point’s swearing. Each pony on board can, before noon, register their guesses for how long he would swear that day, day running from midnight to midnight, and how many languages he will use that day.

“Wagers will be given to CONN blindly, meaning you will know your own bet, but will have to ask others what their bets were. A standing bet system can be arranged, to record the same choice day after day. What I need to do is find a way to spread the word without him finding out.”

“What do you intend to offer as prizes?” Wandering Path asked.

“That will vary day by day. One day, you can win free drinks at the Nightclub. Another day, you can win a custom dessert of your choice at Sunday dinner. I have lots of options. That’s just for the time spent swearing. For the number of languages, I will award a cash prize, taking two bits from each entry, free or paid, into a pool to be split among the winners.”

“How will the winner be determined? Nearest guess either way, nearest without going over? What will you do if there are more than one winner, which I think would be the case?”

“I’m thinking nearest either way. Nailing it exactly, which I think will happen more often on the second part, will lead to doubling the prize. In case of one pony hitting both numbers exactly, well, I’ll think of something. The non-cash prizes are determined by the time guess. I don’t think very many will take both halves of the prize.”

Wandering appeared to consider the request for a few moments. What he was doing was reviewing in his mind all he had read about Purple Point, from the first phone call he made to offer himself to the Project, from background checks to interviews. The Captain knew that a similar scam had been done to him in every non-academic job he has held since he left Baltimare years before to join the Merchant Marine. Purple Point knows damn well ponies would notice his outbursts. “Hell, Captain, if those lackwits want to do something like that to me, the best thing I can do is ignore it officially, but closely monitor the progress. If something nice comes up as a prize, I may enter, at zero-zero. They can have their fun, but I always get the last laugh.”

Idly, Wandering tapped some controls on his screen, clearing a path for Purple Point to monitor progress, through CONN, of the new pool. “Request approved. How will you handle entries?”

“Through CONN. Everyone gets one free entry a day. More can be bought, at ten bits apiece for another ticket into the pool. Bets close at noon, final tallies are done at midnight and will be posted in the Plan of the Day, with the names of the winners posted, and that day’s prize announced.”

“What about the bits collected? What will you do with them?”

“They will go into an account which I will donate to charity when we get back to Equus, after the cash prizes have been awarded.”

“Sounds good to me. Post the Daily Raffle rules to each crewpony individually today, and start it as of midnight tonight. Heck, I might even take a stab at it once in a while.”

Several weeks into the mission, after the Lotus was checked, rechecked, and rerechecked, it was time to prep the crew for hibernation. Three days before hibernation, Captain Path announced that there would be an All Hooves party the night before hibernation starts, so all hooves could socialize together one last time before going into hibernation, the ship being crewed in shifts for the next ten years, voyaging to the Far Star. He also announced that one pony would get to choose who would be ‘assisting’ the cooks and servers that night, the positions open being server, table loader, dish washer operator, and trash disposal operator. The winner of the Daily Raffle will be the lucky pony to do the choosing.

In Engineering, Eon Path called together two of his friends, the part-thestral pegasus ColdFire, and the Blue Changeling Steam Shift. “Okay, here’s my plan to set things up so one of us wins the Raffle tomorrow. I’m willing to throw in a hundred bits for more chances. What we are going to do is cause a string of minor malfunctions all over the ship while Purple Point is Duty Engineer. All of us bet high, because our little glitches will infuriate him to such a point, he’ll be popping off continually.”

“Just what sort of minor malfunctions are you thinking about, Eon?” ColdFire asked.

“O-rings leaking by, insulation rubbing off wires, support bolts working loose. Nothing major, but enough to keep him running about for the twelve hours he is on duty,” Eon explained.

“Plus, if we have the failures in out-of-the-way locations, he will have to figure out how to get to the malfunction to fix it,” Steam Shift added, flipping his blue scarf over his shoulder.

“I like that thought. So, how much are we all in for?” Eon asked his compatriots. They agreed to throw in a hundred bits apiece, for ten guesses each, plus their free one. “Make your plans tonight, but let’s not tell each other. He will be on duty from noon to midnight, so let us plan well.”

ColdFire added, “Let’s all agree that whichever one of us wins, we will not name each other to any of the positions, okay? This sounds like a lot of fun!” she squealed happily.

Steam Shift nodded. “Sounds good to me.”

“And me,” Eon said. “Let’s do it to it.” He knew firsthand just how piquant Purple Point can get when annoyed. Personally, he was hoping to hear something in Draconic he didn’t already know. “I just can’t reconcile his pleasant manner with his absolutely foul language while working. It’s like he’s two different ponies.”

“I’ve noticed that too,” Steam Shift said. “But, if it was anything bad, he would not be here, right?”

“Right.” ColdFire said. “Let’s hope we don’t cause him to blow a head gasket.”

Purple Point, on the other hoof, took the news with his usual calm. He had a way in mind to get through the day, on duty and off, without swearing once. A matter of self-hypnosis, lots of strong black coffee on hoof, and striving not to be alone. “The crew thinks they can make me swear on demand? Well, we shall see who has the better will and the better skill,” he thought as he prepared for bed that night, waiting for the sleeping drug he required to shut his mind down enough to get to sleep to take effect. “My will is supreme. I dance to my own tune. Nobody commands me. For Purple Point to live, Radiance Glow must stay dead. I will be the best there is at my job. This mission WILL succeed. Now, how to make the Virtual Repair spell…” he thought as he faded out.

Upon awakening, Purple Point rarely sleeping more than five hours at a stretch, he first renewed his vow, committing his vast mental prowess to the task. “I will not swear today. Period.” he said to himself before leaving his cabin and going to breakfast, greeting those he met politely, in their accustomed fashion. Being Engineer’s Mate, he had to do the departmental paperwork, which he did with his accustomed ease, compiling and inputting what was required of him. After that, an inspection of ship’s systems through the Engineering monitor display, flicking through subsystems at a high rate of speed, looking not for actual readings, but variations from the normal. Satisfied the ship was in good health, he then prepared his personal tool and equipment saddlebags for when he was on duty.

Having about three hours before his shift began, Purple Point made his way to the magic research labs. He had an idea for what he called Virtual Repair, casting a spell on a defective piece of equipment and making it last until either a replacement was available or the equipment could be safely shut down. The spell was a series of spells that needed to be woven into one integral unit. It’s been a project he has been working on for over ten years, ever since he had attained his ThD, in addition to his two PhD’s.

He was jolted out of his researching by the on-duty Engineer, Crystal Twist, a dark green crystal pony mare. “Point, snap out of it. You got half an hour for lunch before taking over.”

Point jumped some, barely remembering in time not to utter an oath, however mild. “Thank you for reminding me, Twist. I’ll be there on time. Anything to report?”

“Not hardly. Been a quiet watch so far. Meet you back in Engineering,” she said before heading out.

Point put away his research material, returning the area to neatness. Lunch was quick, and after, he headed to Engineering, his mug of black coffee trailing steam. Precisely on time, he relieved Crystal Twist. “Do have a pleasant off shift, Twist.”

“I intend to,” she said with a smile as she put her tool bags up. “I’m helping Willow do the decorations for the party tomorrow night.”

“Then I know the party will be a success.” Point said kindly as he put his belt on. “Go, have fun. I relieve you.”

“I stand relieved!” Twist laughed as she trotted off.

Fifteen minutes into his shift, a call came in. “Leak detected in Hydroponics Bay Two. Duty Engineer, attend,” came the call from CONN.

“Hydroponics leak? That’s not good.” Point said as he gathered some specialized repair parts for the job before hurrying to Hydroponics. There, he found the head of Hydroponics, Fatima Dashar, and two of her assistants standing around a puddle on the floor.

“A good day to you, delight of the eyes.” Point said in Saddle Arabian. “How may this one help you?”

“A seal blew in the tank corner, underneath. Can you patch it?” Fatima asked, blushing just a touch at Point’s greeting.

“Easily. It will just take some time to get in there, see the damage, and select the proper patch.” Point said in Equish. “Give me some space, please.”

As the hydroponics techs moved away, Point got down on the floor after removing his saddlebags, to peer at the trouble spot. “I wonder how this happened,” he said quietly as he looked at the small hole that was dripping water. “Looks like it was corroded in.”

“We noticed it barely ten minutes ago. Best catch it before it gets bad.” Fatima told him.

“I can do a temporary patching, but when this tank is down for cleaning and maintenance, do let Engineering know so a better repair can be made.” Point said as he pulled patching material from his bag, along with a cutting tool. Carefully, he cut the patch to the right size, flexed the patch to activate sealant, and applied it, holding the patch with his purple glow as it set.

Five minutes later, all was set. Getting up and stowing his tools, he then bowed to Fatima and the other techs. “May many blessings shower on you all this day, instead of a leaky tank,” he said politely.

“Thank you for getting it fixed so quickly, Point.”

“That’s my job.”

He left Hydroponics Two, heading back to Engineering. He was at the door when another call came in. “Lighting failure in corridor 17, level H, frame 120. Duty Engineer, attend.” CONN reported.

Point snorted, but changed course to head to the problem site. “Okay, how did that happen?” he asked himself as he trotted.

Once there, he found the lights were indeed out in the corridor. Pulling out his circuit tester, he started to look. As he tested spot after spot, he felt the urge to let out his frustration, but nipped his tongue gently. “Remember, this is a no-swear day, Radiance,” he muttered.

Half an hour of testing led to the fault- the light switch itself had malfunctioned. Not because of failure, but by somepony messing with the switch, causing it to fail. Point felt the urge to swear building, but he forced it down before going to Stores for a replacement.

Just as he finished the job, putting the damaged switch into his bag, another call came in. “Corrosives leak in primary sciences lab. Damage reported. Duty Engineer, attend.” CONN said.

Purple Point almost turned purple as he got the news, but headed there, fighting to keep his composure, a fight he won, of course. Upon arriving at the lab, he found Techbird outside the door, being treated by a medical technician and a magitek technician. “What happened, Techbird?” he asked politely, because if there was one being he truly respected on board the Lotus, it was the aged griffoness.

“I was mixing some acids when I had a power failure to my claw. I dropped the mixing container and it shattered, severing some tubing. It’s a bit of a mess in there, I’m sorry to say,” Techbird said, a little mournfully.

Purple Point smiled up at the griffoness. “Don’t worry nor apologize, Techbird. I can put everything to rights. Maybe now you will get your systems tuned like I suggested earlier.”

“That’s what I’m here for,” said the magitek technician, Gizmo Gears.

“You take care of yourself, Techbird, and we will all take care of each other. We have an appointment to keep at the Far Star,” Purple Point said before activating his suit’s protective spells and going in to the lab.

After passing through the mini-airlock, the first thing he asked was, “CONN, atmosphere reading, please.”

“Acid fumes present in laboratory atmosphere. Laboratory ventilation isolated from shipboard ventilation system. Warning: While atmosphere is not toxic, long term exposure is not indicated.”

“Thank you, CONN. Rig ventilation lineup from laboratory to Atmosphere Purification Unit Three for processing. Any damage to major systems in this laboratory?”

“Negative. Damage restricted to table and apparatus in use at the time. Neutralization and cleanup is called for. Ventilation configured to your specifications, ready to begin at your order.”

“Begin atmosphere purification. I’ll clean up the equipment. Please advise as to what equipment is salvageable and what is not as I clean.”

“Understood, Duty Engineer. Atmosphere purification is underway.”

“Thank you, CONN.” For the next hour, Purple Point cleaned the acid spill, carefully adding neutralizing agents to the spilled acids, putting broken equipment into a sealed container for recycling, and, most importantly, remaining silent the whole time, except to answer requests for information, progress reports, and asking questions about pieces of equipment he was not familiar with.

He handled his tasks with only part of his attention, most of his mind locked in a battle with himself to REMAIN silent and not give anyone any ammunition to use against him. It was not an easy chore, because his natural reaction was to cuss a blue streak, but his respect for Techbird did aid him in keeping control of himself. Only once did he stop in mid-action and say clearly and firmly, “No, Radiance!”

When all his work was done, he exited the lab. “All safe to use, Techbird. You may now resume your previously scheduled incomprehensibilities,” he reported to the aged griffoness, who laughed at his witticism.

“Thank you so very much, Purple Point. Will I get to see you at dinner?”

“Probably not. On duty until midnight. I might be assistant chief engineer of this ship, but you can’t learn how the ship feels sitting in an office, you have to get out and FEEL him or her. That’s why I like doing duty shifts every so often.”

“Another time, then. Any progress on your VR spells?”

“Tomorrow morning, I can give you a report. I may have figured out the binding spells, but I have to do some more experimentation.” Purple Point said. One of his goals is once he got the Virtual Repair spells crafted, it could be integrated into a magitek device, so others could use it.

“I look forward to finding out,” Techbird told the unicorn before looking to her assistants. “Back to it!”

Purple Point made it back to the Duty Engineer’s office, where he first recharged the protective spells on his ship’s uniform, then checked on ship’s status. All was well, including the atmosphere lineup from the lab, all traces of acid fumes cleared. Restoring the ventilation lineup to normal, he then repacked his tool and parts bag, replacing what he had pulled out, brewing up a pot of coffee, HIS way, which meant that if you put a spoon in it, the odds were equal if it would stand upright or dissolve. Sugar would dissolve in it, but creamer or anything like it would get tossed out of the mug. He did not care, it kept him awake.

Thirty minutes later, he received another call, for a mishap in the Linear Park- a pegasus and a changeling had a collision in mid-air, and their fall damaged some support struts. With a sigh and a mutter, he headed out to see.

Arriving at the park, he found the duty med tech just leaving. “Everypony all right?” Point asked.

“Bumps, bruises and a few cuts. Nothing major. The struts for park upper level, though, are a bit bent out of shape,” the tech reported.

Purple Point snorted once. “As am I. Been a busy shift for me, and it’s only four. Let me go in and see.”

Getting to the scene of the incident, Point found ColdFire and Steam Shift on the growing grass of the lawn, both sporting a few bandages. “What in Tartarus happened in here?” he demanded.

“ColdFire was teaching me some stunts,” Steam Shift explained. “We cut it a little too close to the upper level struts.”

“It’s not too bad, but a few are bent, and some support strands have gone slack.” ColdFire added.

Purple Point grumbled some, actually looking a little angry before composing himself, his lips moving but saying nothing at first. “I would dragoon you two into the repairs, but not only are you two off duty, I can see the bandages on your wings. So, it’s up to me. As usual.” He then snorted. “Okay, you two, get out of here. I’ll deal with you later. I got a job to do.”

Without looking back at the two reprobates, Purple Point went to the damaged area. Looking up, he saw the bent struts and slack wires. Under thrust, it would collapse like a paper fan in a rainstorm. He felt his rage build, but he squelched it with a loud, determined, “NO, Radiance!” before starting to work, the purple glow from his horn reaching up to the bent struts, feeling them out, deciding if they need replacing. To his chagrin, two of them did. He bit his lip as he discovered the extent of the damage.

ColdFire and Steam Shift saw Point’s reactions. “Looks like he’s going to blow his stack.” ColdFire muttered.

“He never loses his temper in public.” Steam Shift whispered back. “But, I can tell you, he’s not happy.”

“First time for everything. Let’s get going before he does lose it. We still have a few more incidents to create before midnight. I have twenty to twenty-five minutes in the pool.”

“I chose between ten and eighteen in my picks. I wonder what Eon has in mind next.” Steam Shift whispered as they left the park.

“That’s why we are working independently. We just came here together because we both wanted some flight time in. I’ve got something wicked in mind.” ColdFire said.

“You are one devious pegasus, ColdFire.”

“Thank you for the compliment, Steam Shift.”

All told, it took Point two hours to fix the damage, between gathering parts and tools, replacing the struts and tightening the stays so everything is restored to an as-was condition before cleaning up and putting tools and lift away. He had dinner sent to the Duty Engineer’s office, rather than going to the mess deck. He had just barely finished one of Kale’s better creations when the first of three calls in a row came in, first for a bad lighting panel in Engine Ops, a broken ventilator grille in the Captain’s cabin (Wandering admitted he tried to force it the wrong way), and another cracked nutrient feed line in a hibernation bay, that one being reported by Princess Galena.

“I don’t know how that happened, Point, but we need to get it patched before we start putting folk in them,” she said with obvious dismay.

“At least I won’t be standing fetlock deep in the stuff. Makes my hooves itch. Good thing I have the sealant required, Princess. Now, please to pardon me, and I’ll get started.” Point said politely. As he looked it over, he said loud and clear, “NO, RADIANCE! NOT NOW!”

Princess Galena was perplexed at the shout, but decided to let it go as Point swiftly, effectively and permanently fixed the crack, lip caught between two front teeth, seeping a little blood. She backed away as he worked, confused at his demeanor. He is always polite to her, as he is to all the folk. Why would he shout at nothing, and who or what is Radiance? Plus, she tasted a lot of anger, but it was directed inward, towards himself, not outward. Still, it was strong enough to give her a reason to get clear.

Within twenty minutes, the leak had been sealed, and the area cleaned up. Point sought out Galena, telling her that all is well now, and just who was in here within the past half hour?

“Why, Eon Path was here, helping me check out all the pods. He left just before I found the leak.”

“Okay, then. I have an idea about something. A pleasant evening to you, Princess.”

“And to you, Point. Thank you again.”

“Hey, we’re all in this together. I’m going to be in one of these pods soon enough, and it had best be working when I is in it. It’s in my best interest to make sure they work,” Point told the princess, sending her good thoughts and feelings, but she could still taste the undercurrent of hostility.

Back at the duty office, Point looked at the clock as he ‘poured’ himself another mug of coffee. “Three and a half hours more of this. Can I stand the strain? No, Radiance. Ouch!” he yelped as the hot mug touched his bitten lip. He took a deep breath to utter a malediction, but this time he bit his tongue. Literally. Painfully. Then, CONN called again.

“Hole reported in ventilation duct, Deck C, frame fifty-three.”

Purple Point’s face and ears purpled. “What in Tartarus is going on here?” he said angrily as he prepared his gear for another trip. On scene, there was indeed a hole in the duct, as if somepony carelessly banged against it while carrying something large and hard. As he patched the hole, noting the location for further repair, he took a deep breath to curse, and bit his lip again. Hard. Very hard. Painfully hard. Messily hard. He sucked carefully on his bit lip as the patch set, before making his way to Medical to get his lip patched before he lost too much blood, making sure he didn’t leave a trail behind him.

“Having a rough day?” asked Dr. Zubon as she mended his lip.

“Ohnlee cuz ah kep on bitin myshelf,” he slurred as the wound was healed.

“Next time, not so hard, okay?”

“I will do my besht, Doctor. Thank you for the treatment,” he said before the intercom sounded off again.

“Hydraulic valve failure, auxiliary machinery room three. Duty Engineer, investigate,” CONN said in its pleasant female voice.

The grimace on Point’s face amused Zubon, for about five seconds. “Pardon me, Doctor, yet another problem,” he said in a kind tone, but the undercurrent was plain.

“Go in peace, Point.” Zubon said as he hurried out.

In AMR3, Point found an O-ring had failed, blowing a seal on a hydraulic valve. Fluid had sprayed out of the flaw, spraying a fine mist into the air and coating almost everything within five meters with fluid. He stomped his right front hoof several times on the floor, marshalling his temper. “No, Radiance, don’t you dare,” he muttered. “Almost there…”

Automatic systems had isolated the system, so all Point had to do was disassemble the valve and inspect it. He did note a scratch near the O-ring seat, making him not only very suspicious, but causing him to nearly detonate. Sparks flew up and down his horn, and he bit his lip again, even more severely than last time. Working fast, he replaced the O-ring, coated it liberally with sealant, reassembled the valve, and reconnected the valve controller to CONN. He then literally stomped his way back to Medical. The duty tech summoned Dr. Zubon.

“Again, Point?” she said as she readied treatment. He could only nod, keeping his mouth shut until she was ready. After the healing was completed, Point looked at Zubon with an apologetic expression.

“Sorry, Doctor. I don’t plan on being a frequent visitor.”

“When do you get off shift?”


“I’ll wait here until then. I think you’re going to need an extra strength sleep med tonight. I had best compound it.”

“May Celestia smile upon you, Doctor.” Point managed to say when the intercom sounded off with yet another call.

“Broken water valve, exercise room one, shower booth five.” CONN announced. “Duty Engineer, attend.”

Point shut his eyes and moved his lips, but said nothing. Another spark flew off his horn. “I’ll be waiting,” Zubon sighed.

Point made his way to the designated place, to find the earth pony cook, Kale Robe, standing in the shower room, a towel around his neck. “I’m sorry, Point. I just lost a game of hoof ball, and, well…” Kale trailed off, looking at the remains of the valve on the floor.

Point looked at Kale, his eyes blank at first before warming up. “You, I believe, Kale. I’ll have this fixed in ten minutes.”

“Make it five and I’ll make you your favorite coffee cake.”

That was all it took. With a blur of purple glow, tools and parts, the valve housing was cleaned, damaged parts removed, new parts installed, the bonnet tightened down, and tested. “Three minutes thirty-nine seconds. I’ll take it at breakfast,” Point muttered, his lip sore, having nipped it from the inside.

“You got it, Point! Thanks, and thanks again!” the earth pony said before going back into the shower booth and turning it on. As Point was leaving, Kale let out a yelp. “HOT!” Point just put his nose to the floor for a moment before looking up.

“CONN, secure water to shower booth five, exercise room one,” he said in a tired voice.

“Unable to comply. Cyber controls have been rendered inert.”

Point sighed, feeling tired. “CONN, review security scans around all damaged areas this watch, from one hour before incident to one hour after my repair. Send all scans to my terminal for review. Secure all water lines in to exercise room one shower stalls.”

“Understood, Assistant Chief Engineer. Reports are waiting. Water isolated to exercise room one shower stalls.” CONN said in her level tones.

“And repairs are starting.”

Swiftly, Point pulled out a diagnostic tool from his bag, finding out the remote controls to that valve had been damaged when the valve was broken. Sighing, he dug through his bag to find a replacement part, which was quickly located and installed. When CONN reported normal function, Point turned to Kale. “It’s working now. CONN, reactivate water service to exercise room one shower stalls.”

“You’ll have your coffee cake tomorrow, Point!”

“Thank you, Kale. Just doing my job,” Point said as he left the shower room, mind thinking about coffee.

Back in his duty office, Point put on another pot of coffee as he restocked his saddlebags, getting ready for the next problem call. Coffee ready, he added sugar to his mug before pouring in the coffee. Just as he was raising the mug for a sip, a loud snap, crackle and pop was heard echoing throughout the area, and the office went dark.

“Lighting Circuitry Panel Six-Nine reporting main breaker failure. Power disconnected to aft lighting panels Six-Nine, Seven-Zero and Seven-One. Duty Engineer, investigate cause of failure of Lighting Circuitry Panel Six-Nine,” CONN reported.

“What do you think I’m going to do, you cracked crystal contraption? Write poetry?” Point shouted, retaining control of his temper only by the barest of margins. Lighting his horn, he took a big gulp of liquid tar before putting the mug down and exiting the office for the lighting panel, which was only a few meters away, around two corridor turns. CONN, not being sentient, did not reply to Point’s outburst.

By the light of his horn, Point saw the lighting panel door open, with a hole and a char mark evident on both the inside and outside of the panel door. The main input breaker had failed spectacularly, with only bits and pieces still in the mounting. He sat down, sighed deeply, shut his eyes and recited a mantra, “No, Radiance, stay out of this. No, Radiance, stay out of this,” fifty times before opening his eyes and getting to work.

He tested the panel to make sure it was de-energized before removing the failed breaker. Examining it, he found a faint sign that the breaker had been tampered with, but he could not be sure until later. Setting it aside, he made his way to Stores to get another master power breaker, chanting his mantra the whole time. Installing the new, he checked it thoroughly before calling to CONN to re-energize the lighting bus.

“Power restored to after lighting panels Six-Nine, Seven-Zero, and Seven-One.” Conn reported as some lights came on, but not in the immediate area.

Point then ordered, “Shut breaker to Lighting Panel Six-Nine.” There was a clunk from the panel, the breaker flipped to the shut position, and the lights came back up.

“Lights are on, but is there anybody home? Conn, time check, please.”

“Time is now twenty-three hundred fifteen hours. Fifteen minutes until end of shift.”

“THANK you, CONN. Let me clean up here before Eon arrives,” Print said before doing just that, getting the area tidy before going back to the office, where Eon Path was waiting, his own saddlebag tool and parts pack on and ready.

“Rather busy shift, I see,” the dracopony said, looking up from the log display.

“Very much so. Suspiciously so. I’ll investigate tomorrow. For now, it’s midrats, medication, and bed for me, hopefully until about oh-seven.”

“Very well, Point. I relieve you.”

“I stand relieved.” Point said as he took off his saddlebags and placed them in his locker, until the next time he took a duty shift. Once that was done, he took his mug of cold tar and headed to the mess decks, where he partook of what was there before reporting to Medical.

“Now, this is a more potent form of your usual sleep medicine, Point. Just use this pressure hypo and inject yourself where convenient. It should work within twenty minutes.” Zubon said, hoofing over the hypo. “Wait until you are back in your cabin before doing so.”

“Yes, Doctor, and thank you for making this. I hope I won’t need this compounding too often.”

“I hope so too. It could be habit-forming.”

“That would be bad. I have enough bad habits already.” Point said, taking the hypo and leaving for his cabin.

Once there, he settled himself into bed. Before he injected himself with the sleep dose, CONN spoke up. “Incoming message for Purple Point.”

“Read message aloud, CONN.”

“You have won the Daily Raffle with a correct submission of zero-zero. You have won the right to name the cook’s assistants for the party tonight. Whom do you choose?”

“I will decide before noon, CONN.”

“Very well. Incoming call, from Eon Path.”

“Put him through, please.” Point looked up at the image of Eon in the intercom display. “What you need? I’m about to go to sleep.”

“How in Tartarus did you manage to win the raffle?” Eon said, confused. “I thought you would be swearing up a storm!”

“Now, why would you want to think that, Eon?”

“Because I, ColdFire and Steam Shift have been doing minor sabotage all day, trying to piss you off!” Eon blurted.

Point sprang out of bed. “You WHAT?” he bellowed. “YOU were behind all that happened today?

Eon smiled. “Most of it. Nothing harmful to the ship at large, just enough to make you swear up a storm. How did you manage not to?”

“Willpower and the fact this has been played on me before, you…” Point shouted before the dam broke. For over forty-five minutes he swore, both crudely and literately, in a total of thirty-eight languages before he passed out colder than yesterday’s pancakes, which were cold enough yesterday. The sheer magnitude of the cussing turned the air in his cabin blue, okay, purple, because of the purple smoke and sparks coming from his horn. The intercom circuit failed within the first thirty seconds due to overload.

When Point passed out, his going unconscious was enough of a shock to cause CONN to notify Medical and the Captain. Wandering arrived to find Zubon scanning the sleeping Point. “Will he be all right?”

“I am seeing something I have not seen from him before- a deep, sound natural sleep without the aid of chemicals,” Zubon reported, holding up the spray hypo she had prepared earlier.

“I hope he wakes up in time for the party tomorrow. Er, today.”

“I will see to it. CONN, what were his numbers for that outburst?” Zubon asked.

“Forty-five minutes eighteen seconds non-stop, plus thirty-eight languages, from Equish to Yakyakistani, Doctor.”

“Wow! That must be a record somewhere,” Wandering exclaimed in admiration. “My bet was fifteen minutes ten seconds and ten languages.”

“While mine was twenty-two minutes and eighteen languages. So that’s why he was biting his lip so much. I had to heal it twice.”

“You have to hoof it to him, he really puts the cuss in focus.” Wandering said as the alicorn and zebra left Purple Point’s cabin, leaving him to sleep.

Upon awakening at about eleven in the morning, the first thing Point noticed was how refreshed he felt. When he looked at the clock, he jumped in surprise. “I missed the morning meetings!” he bellowed as he headed for the toilet and shower.

“Messages are waiting for Purple Point. Should I read them aloud?” CONN asked.

“Please do, CONN.” Point said from the toilet, draining coffee.

“Message from Doctor Zubon. If you are not awake by lunchtime, I will come get you. I want you here in Medical after lunch for an examination. Message from Commander Bluequill. You are to consider yourself on off duty status until cleared to return to duty by Medical. I will let you punish the pranksters. Message from Willow. I need your nominations for the party tonight by noon. Please message them to me. Message from the Captain. How and when did you learn Yakyakistani? Message from Eon Path. I’m in it deep, right? Did you know you blew the comm circuits from your cabin to the Duty Room, taking out a whole sector’s communications until I reset matters? Call me when you wake. Messages end.”

By that time, Point was coming out of the shower, toweling himself off. “Message to Willow. My nominations are Steam Shift for the serving table loader, ColdFire for dishwasher, and Eon Path for trash disposal operator, and Willow herself as server. I’ve had this trick pulled on me behind my back before. I always get even. Message ends.”

“Understood and delivered. Anything else?”

“Message for Doctor Zubon,” Point said as he brushed his mane. “Tell her I have received her message and will see her after lunch, as ordered. Message ends.”

“Understood and delivered. Anything else?”

“Yes. Message for Techbird. I hope you are doing better than yesterday, and with good fortune we will meet over lunch. Message ends.”

“Understood and delivered. Anything else?”

“Message for Eon Path. You’re in for it now. Check your messages, trash pony. Message ends.”

“Understood and delivered. Anything else?”

“Message for the Captain. I met a yakety yak some years back. He taught me a few things. Message ends.”

“Understood and delivered. Anything else?”

“No further messages, CONN. Thank you and out,” Point said as he brushed his tail before getting into a clean ship suit. The screen on his desk monitor dimmed, indicating CONN had gone, for him, from active to passive mode.

He did meet Techbird for lunch, and he discussed an idea for an integration spell, to knit the disparate parts of his planned Virtual Repair spell together. Just another step forward on a dream he has had for ten years now.

Reporting to Medical, Zubon scanned Point with everything she had at her disposal. “Just what are you looking for, Doctor?” he said in a polite tone tinged with confusion.

“You passed out after your tirade. You had yet to inject yourself with the compound. Yet, I found you in the deepest, most restful sleep I have ever seen you in. I want to know why.”

“For that matter, so do I. You may investigate to my heart’s content, Doctor. You examine, I will think.”

Zubon looked over Point’s readings, while Point thought about making his Virtual Repair spell together. “You are unusually calm today, Point. Last night, you were wound up tighter than I have ever seen you, but now, you show as calm, relaxed and rested. Your tirade last night really drained all your negative feelings out,” she told the waiting unicorn.

“How bad was the tirade?” he asked.

“Forty-five minutes eighteen seconds before you ran down, along with what CONN counted as thirty-eight languages.”

Point grimaced at the report. “Forty-five minutes?”

“Non-stop and at full power the whole time. How do you do it?”

“Natural magic talent. Am I cleared for duty?”

Zubon smiled. “There is the party tonight. The way you are now, you really should attend. Let the crew see you in a good mood and a relaxed state, when you are not cleaning them out at the poker table.”

Point hesitated. “Well, I was thinking of taking Command Duty Officer tonight so others could attend. You know I don’t like parties.”

“It will do you a lot of good, too. Maybe you can do some performing. I know you have a good voice.”

“You know my music is a private joy, Doctor.”

“I will not clear you for duty until you agree to go to the party!” Zubon snapped.

“Pick you up here at a quarter to seven?” Point said quickly.

“Make it seven exactly. Us senior officers can make a decently late entrance. Oh, just one little caveat before I release you for duty, Point.”

“What’s that, Doctor?”

“If you even think of performing ANY of the verses of ‘Barnacle Tail the Sailor’, your next sleeping drug will put you out until two months AFTER we get to the Far Star, WITHOUT using a hibernation pod!” Zubon said sternly.

“Yes, Doctor.” Point said meekly. “I’ll do something pleasant I learned in Mexicolt a while back, in Esponial.”

“Good colt,” Zubon said as she tapped the keys on her panel, releasing Point from medical restrictions. “You need some fun, and if I have to prescribe it with a crowbar, I will!”


View Online

When Purple Point was released to go back on duty, the first place he headed was to the mess deck, to grab himself a mug of coffee before going to his office. He had some research to do and malefactors to punish. However, once logging on, he was refused access to the security scans he had requested the night before.

“CONN, explain reason for the deletion of the records I asked for.”

“Access denied by both Captain Path and Commander Bluequill. Message for Purple Point from Commander Bluequill. Point, the three you caught were not the only ones gunning for you. Others did as well. If you would like to know who did what, ask CONN. Message ends.”

Point snorted. “Figures most ponies aboard would. CONN, display and recite list of those who were involved in the minor sabotage on my duty watch yesterday, please.”

“Listing begins: Incident One, Leak in Hydroponics Bay Two, perpetrator Fatima Dashar,” CONN reported in its pleasant female voice.

“Huh… didn’t know Fatima would do something like that,” Point snorted.

“Incident Two, Lighting failure in Corridor 17, perpetrator Eon Path.”

“Incident Three, corrosives leak in primary science lab, no deliberate cause detected.”

“Didn’t think Techbird would do something like that deliberately,” Point muttered.

“Incident Four, damage to Linear Park support struts, perpetrators ColdFire and Steam Shift.”

“Sorta figured that.”

“Incident Five, lighting panel in Engine Ops, perpetrator Steam Shift.”

Point nodded in appreciation. “He’s a better mechanical engineer. Good to show he has the courage to try electrical work. I’ll have to remember that.”

“Incident Six, broken ventilator in Captain’s cabin, perpetrator Captain Wandering Path.” In this case, CONN displayed the footage, revealing it truly was an accident… he skidded on something and fell into the ventilator, breaking the handle tab.

“Nice dance step, Captain Graceless.”

“Incident Seven, leak in hibernation bay two, perpetrator Eon Path. Incident Eight, hole in ventilation duct, perpetrator Ortzi Goldbeak.”

“Ortzi? When will he realize he simply can’t play poker at my level?” Point muttered.

“Incident Nine, Hydraulic valve failure in Auxiliary Machinery Room Three, perpetrator Steam Shift.”

“Now, that’s more his style.”

“Incident Ten, broken water valve, exercise room one, shower booth five, perpetrator ColdFire.”

“Sneaky… no traces left. I like that.” Point said.

“Incident Eleven, main breaker failure lighting panel Six-Nine, perpetrator Galen Bluequill.”

“WHAT?” Point shouted, leaping to his hooves. “Galen did that?”

“Affirmative. Message from Galen Bluequill. Gotcha! Message ends.”

“Why, that sneaky, low-down…” Point said before blasting out a few choice epithets in Griffonian.

“All that and a whole lot more.” Galen said from the office door.

Point looked at Galen, ears reddening. “Why would you do such a thing, Commander?”

“Just to keep my claws in practice. Rigging the breaker to blow on demand was not easy. I was just glad you took some time in the shower while I rigged the panel. I thought for sure you would lose it then. Also glad the Captain would let me tinker with the lighting breaker. We both knew you were on duty, and would fix it right.”

“I did not intend on letting anyone get me to dance to their command yesterday, and I didn’t. Teach them to try to pull a stunt like that on me. I’m going to let Willow know today at the party that she should have involved me from the start,” Point griped.

“I listened to some of your tirade. I’m going to have to remember the one of plucking all the feathers out of a griffin, numbering them and putting them back on, with anesthetic. You sure know how to insult a griffin, don’t you?” Galen asked, sitting at his own desk in the small office.

“You ought to know, Commander. You challenged me to an honor duel one time, when you overheard me cursing out a broken water pipe to a fountain in the Griffonian Embassy grounds.”

“Yes, well, once I sobered up, you did allow me the honor of backing out honorably. We’ve been friends ever since. Can’t say the same about Lord Razortalon, though.” Galen said quietly, harkening back to an honor battle from a decade earlier than his own aborted battle, where a drunken Lord Razortalon overheard Point swearing during a delicate repair.

“Razortalon would not listen to his aides, even after sobering up. He insisted on the honor fight, so, we fought” Point said bleakly. “So, I beat him in forty-four seconds. Not without cost.”

“Nearly getting castrated would qualify as a cost. Getting your tail cut off didn’t help, either.”

“Took six months for it to grow back, and two before I could move without pain. Three weeks before they took the catheter out and I could piss without pain. His fortune did pay for my doctoral studies, after I ransomed back what his family truly considered heirlooms. I’m not cruel, just determined.”

“That you are, Point. You earned your way here, and don’t you forget it,” Galen said before wincing. Too late, he remembered the two words never to say in Point’s presence.

Point looked as if all the sadness on all Equestria had landed on his withers. “I can’t. I can’t forget a thing, no matter how much I want to.” he whispered before walking out of the office, tail limp.

He stopped by his cabin to grab his portable music player before going to the Park. There, he found his favorite patch of grass and sprawled, letting the ventilator blow the scents of his favorite plants into his nostrils as he listened to music, trying to jolt himself out of his depression. Took an hour or more, but it did work. Other ponies using the Park knew not to disturb him while he ‘meditated’.

Invigorated, he sought out one particular crew pony, one Gomez Sanchez Caballeros, the youngest member of the crew, whose skill at piloting the landing and orbital craft impressed everypony since he was barely in his teens. Flying came naturally to the young pegasus, be it himself or a small craft. Point had known the pegasus since he was a colt, having stayed with the family for six months while studying for a PhD in Ciudad de Mexicolt. Not only did Gomez have a good voice, he also played one hot guitar. Point himself only had moderate skill with harmonica, accordion and keyboards, but his best instrument is drums. Point’s singing voice, while not stage worthy, was not bad to listen to.

The green and orange pegasus readily agreed to assist with Point’s performance at the party that evening, and so the two went to Point’s cabin for a little practice, it being larger than Gomez’ own. The two songs they decided on posed a challenge to both their voices and instrumental skills. Ninety minutes of practice was enough for the two before breaking for dinner and party preparations.

Dinner was rather sparse, but the party would make up for the scanty meal, Kale going all out for it. Back in his cabin, after a long shower and grooming, Point put on his one main concession to the party atmosphere- a rainbow colored tie-dyed bow tie over his uniform. Promptly at seven, he was outside Zubon’s door. As he raised his hoof to buzz, the door slid open, revealing Zubon in a nice party dress, her mane groomed in a Zebrican style. “My dear Doctor, you look spectacular!” Point said in rather stilted Zebrican.

“You’re looking fine yourself, Point. So, shall we?”

“Yes! Let’s go to the party!”

The park was dressed spectacularly for the occasion, that being the one space that would hold all the crew at once. Tables were set along the walls, servers keeping them stocked with some of Kale’s best creations. Canned music was playing, but a small bandstand was set up at one end for later, many of the crew having musical inclinations. Point guided Zubon to a table. “What would you like from the buffet, dear Doctor?” he asked.

Zubon sniffed some at all the aromas dancing about. “Grilled corn and banana leaves, please, with a glass of wine.”

“Thine desire is a command to me!” Point said gallantly, bowing dramatically before fetching her desired choices, along with his own choices, a triple thick hayburger with the works, fries, and his usual mug of coffee, carrying them in his purple-white glow.

The two dined slowly, chatting often with passers-by, because both knew who was going into hibernation the next day. Some couples danced out on the lawn to the canned music. “Not bad music, but I think I can do better.” Point said after a bite.

“Oh? You sure of that?”

“Well, I have some help. Once the crew settles, I’ll go up and play, with my partner in tunes.”

“Just remember my warning, Point.”

Point held up a hoof. “Hey, I promised, and I will ensure you will NOT hear me do ‘Barnacle Tail the Sailor’ tonight. Something lively in Esponial. Two somethings, actually, and a final instrumental I find soothing.”

“I think I know what they are, but I can’t wait to hear.”

“Patience, my dear Doctor, will reap wonderful rewards.” Point said, as he watched Eon hauling out a bin of food trash for recycling, giving Point a nasty look as he passed by.

It was about half an hour after they had completed dining when Captain Path climbed up onto the bandstand. “Okay, crew! Who wants to help with the festivities?”

Gomez stood up. “I do! Point, get up here, please. We have some music for everyone!” he called out.

“That’s my cue,” Point said as he stood up and pushed his way through the crowd to the bandstand. Once there, he sat down behind the electric drum set, adjusting matters to his taste before picking up the sticks in his glow. Gomez had brought his favorite guitar, and the two set up their microphones.

“Our first offering tonight is called ‘Vive’.” Gomez said as the opening chords were sounded, CONN providing the tracks not supplied by the musicians. Point and Gomez alternated on the vocals, Gomez’ high tenor contrasting well with Point’s baritone. Of course, the words were all in Esponial, but the infectious beats soon had many of the crew up and dancing.

After that song ended, the two musicians wiped themselves down with napkins as the crew cheered. “Our next selection is called ‘Oye’” Point said as he started the opening beats, shifting from the drum set to the keyboard. This one, more of the crew knew, and they joined in on some of the verses, even if they did not know the language. The cheering was even louder after the second song, many either stamping or clapping in approval.

“That’s all we have rehearsed. I’ll be back later with something completely different, but now I’ll let someone else try their luck up here. For sure, they won’t beat me at the poker table!” Point laughed as the crowd applauded, ColdFire giving him a dirty look as she returned with a cartload of dishes.

Point returned to his seat. “Did I pass your test, Doctor?”

“Very much so. That was very passionate, exuberant, and fun!”

Point blushed a little at the compliment, his ears turning faintly pink. “Music is a passion of mine, because it can jolt me out of loops, given time. I know a lot of songs, and when the mood strikes me, I’ll share them. Today, I felt in the mood to do so.”

“I’m glad you did. I don’t know Esponial, but you made it sound wonderful.”

“I lived with Gomez’ family for six months some years ago, when I was in Ciudad de Mexicolt. I took the time and made the effort to learn the language. Glad I did,” he said before taking a sip of coffee and making a face. “Cold. May I get you another drink?”

“Please. Another glass of wine would be wonderful.”

Point got up. “On its way. I need a fresh coffee, even though they make it weak.”

“Nobody takes coffee like you do. Do you drink it or eat it?” Zubon asked.

Point smiled back. “I’ll leave that as an exercise for the doctor, Doctor. Be right back.”

So engrossed was Point in getting through the crowd, both to get drinks and return, he did not notice the new group that took over the bandstand, nor what song they were playing, until the first words were sung, and by then, it was too late. When he heard those first words, almost back to the table, he let out a scream of pure fright, the shock causing every changeling in the room to stagger in place.

“Radiance! Get back where you belong!” he bellowed, his mug and wine glass dropping to the ground as his pupils constricted to mere pinpoints.

“Oh, horseapples…” Wandering said as he felt the waves of fright coming from Point being relayed through his network from the changelings closer to Point. Quickly, he threw up a restraint field around the stricken unicorn. “Starry! Get some restraints, fast! I’ll hold him!” he shouted to his sister, who promptly ran out of the park.

The band stopped as every crew member in the Park looked at Point, who was trembling all over, held in Wandering’s restraint field, eyes staring at nothing.

“Captain, what’s going on?” asked the lead singer of the band.

“You know what song you were playing, right?” Wandering said, finding it a struggle to hold the unicorn.

“Yes, The Wreck of the Gowanus Herald. What’s wrong with it? What’s wrong with Point?” the singer asked.

“You know what the song is about, right?”

“Yes, how a merchant ship went down in a big storm, killing twenty-nine, but twenty were saved by the sacrifice of one unicorn, Radiance Glow. What has that got to do with Purple Point?”

“He IS Radiance Glow. They never found his body, right?”

“No, they didn’t. But, Radiance Glow was chestnut brown, with a red and white mane, a green tail and white hooves and horn. I saw the movie more than once,” said another crew pony. “Point is gray and purple.”

Starry charged back in to the Park, carrying a suppressor ring in her glow, which she slipped over Point’s horn. Point did not react to that, still standing there, trembling, eyes staring at nothing. Wandering dropped his restraint field. “Time to tell a story that really should remain within the crew alone. He’s been running from the memory for thirty-two years.

“Everyone knows Point served in the Merchant Marine for over six years before going to university. Ever notice he NEVER says what ship or ships he sailed on?”

Eon spoke up. “I noticed that. It seemed like he knocked around several ships as he moved up in rank, but he never says any ship names, just ports.”

“Nor has he ever mentioned the full names of anyone, referring to them by title or by a partial name. He will go into detail about jobs he had done, but never about the crews.” Crystal Twist supplied.

“There’s a reason for that. Radiance Glow is described in the song, and in films, as a brave, heroic unicorn, tying himself directly into the ship’s mana battery to get the power to teleport those who were close enough to him from the sinking ship to Vanhoover. In truth, Radiance Glow was very hard to get along with, arrogant, foul mouthed, and cruel. He was a vicious card player, as well as a brawler and fighter. What is known is that he has killed at least four ponies in brawls, with his hooves alone.

“Nobody aboard liked him, but they respected his native talent for keeping the ship running. The song describes the Gowanus Herald as a proud ship, the pride of her fleet. Actually, it was an aging rust bucket operated by a company who was determined to squeeze every bit out of it as they could.”

“Why would he ever go aboard such a ship?” ColdFire asked.

“It was the first ship out of Baltimare. He was wanted by the authorities for questioning in an assault.” Wandering said.

Doctor Zubon was looking over Point carefully. “It’s like he’s in some sort of catatonia, replaying something over and over in his memory,” she said.

“He is, Doctor. He’s replaying the scenes from the loss of the ship, from the time the ship rolled over to the time he teleported the last pony off, a pegasus deck crewpony by name of Jerdian Lighthoof.”

“Jerdian Lighthoof? She wrote the song, as well as the script for the movie!” the lead singer said from where he was listening.

“She was also the last off the ship. How does that one verse go?” came a question from the crew.

“When the last one did go, so did Radiance Glow, claimed by the magics that burned him all over. Where he did go, no one does know, because they never did find him in Vanhoover,” the lead singer recited, along with about a dozen crew members.

“Radiance Glow was not found in Vanhoover, because he showed up five days later, in Baltimare.” Starry said, looking sad.

“In Baltimare? From fifteen miles off shore of Vanhoover? That’s impossible!” Gizmo Gears exclaimed.

“He didn’t teleport all in one shot. He teleported again and again, mind fixated on only one thing- to go home. He was found shambling around his old neighborhood in Baltimare, his fur already turning gray where it was not charred, his hooves and horn changing color, mane and tail burned off, still in a state of shock. Starry and I know about this, because House Path was asked to track down the past of this mysterious unicorn found wandering around Baltimare.

“Tapping into the ship’s mana crystal did give him enough power to save the others aboard who were not already killed by then, but at a terrible cost. His already formidable mental skills were amplified to a great degree, as well as altering his personality. He also acquired a couple of phobias, namely he will never go on the ocean or even look at water for long, and a profound phobia of sleep.”

“His interview!” Skye suddenly spoke up.

“What about his interview, Skye?” Starry asked.

“He did his interview with the media right after I did, between the boost phase and the Oldbird Effect we did around the Dim Star. When he was asked about his eidetic memory, he did say that the talent does have its drawbacks.”

“It does, Skye.” Wandering said seriously, addressing not just her, but the crew at large. “He literally cannot forget anything at all. If he sees something, hears it, reads it, he remembers it, be it good or bad, down to the last detail he can detect. Right now, he is locked in a memory loop, remembering every event that happened when the ship went down.”

“When he was repairing the broken nutrient line yesterday, he said, ‘No, Radiance’ quite distinctly. I remember being confused about it.” Princess Galena supplied.

“He can’t forget just how nasty Radiance Glow was, and he vowed to be the opposite of what he was, whenever possible. Radiance Glow lives on, deep inside him. The only way Glow shows himself is the compulsive cursing Point does while working alone.”

“That’s why one of the cardinal rules of dealing with Point is to NEVER say ‘forget it’ around him,” Galen said. “It hurts him so much to be reminded that he can’t.”

“Why did you put the suppressor ring on him?” Playbitz asked.

“If we didn’t, he would try to teleport home. He would try to tap our mana source here to do it, and the power would fry him in seconds if he tapped it. Don’t worry, we have a means of bringing him out of the fugue, but I want to caution the crew not to mention this incident to him. It will only make him either very mad, or very ashamed,” Wandering informed the crowd there, ponies, griffins, zebras and changelings alike.

“I have known him since I was a colt,” Gomez said, “but I never knew this about him. He did tell fun sea stories. Watching him trying not to swear in front of us fillies and colts was very funny.”

“He only uses the mildest of his coarse language when in public. Even then, he tries not to. He’ll make up words to vent his feelings.”

“Why did he turn down the chance to study with House Path?” Skye asked. “I remember that from his interview, too.”

Commander Bluequill answered that question. “He simply does not want to fight. He can, and well. He does not want to be any better at it than he already is. He won an honor fight with a griffin twenty-five years ago, defeating the griffin Lord in under a minute, without magics. Not without cost, though.”

“Some lessons you can never forget, he said.” Skye said, more than a little sadly. “That’s the only time I have ever heard him use that word.”

“He will recover, Skye.” Wandering said gently. “He did not study under House Path, but it was House Path psychologists who put him back together again. Starry and I know methods to bring him back to his normal state of mind. It’s not hard, because the psychologists put some, well, call them resets, in him.”

“Can’t he ever face the truth about himself?” Cosmic Dawn asked.

“He faces it every minute of every day, Dawn. He just feels he can’t burden anyone else with it. It’s his fight, and his alone. That was the biggest stumbling block the psychologists had to work around. It’s burned into his brain.”

“He has more courage in one hair of his tail than most griffins have in their entire bodies. I’ve seen it in action.” Commander Bluequill said quietly.

“We all know of his courage and dedication to the project, the mission, and the crew,” Princess Galena said, “but, can you get him treated? I can still feel the fright and pain emanating from him.”

“I could feel him all the way up at the mess decks,” Steam Shift said.

“Starry, please escort him to Medical. You know what to do,” Wandering said.

Starry nodded. “That I do. Come on, Point. Let’s go. I’ll get you home.”

At the word ‘home’, a little hope crept into Point’s eyes. Not much, but some. He followed Starry tamely, putting full trust in her, Doctor Zubon following. As the doors to the Park closed, Wandering addressed the crowd. “One thing I have to say to the entire crew. While betting on Point’s swearing is one thing, damaging the ship, however minor, cannot and will not be considered acceptable behavior. To that end, I will meet with all those identified as causing damage deliberately… but privately. I will not go so far as to name the perpetrators publicly, but penalties will include extra duties and fines, as well as a written apology to Point. He doesn’t mind the pool, it’s been pulled on him before, but trying to push him into doing something that he considers shameful is pushing matters a little too far.

“The profanity pool will continue as before, but remember, he’s in on it too.” Wandering paused to look over the crew, who were paying attention to his words. “Well, what are you standing there for? We party tonight, because many of us will be going to sleep tomorrow!”

In Medical, Starry had Point sit down. His expression had barely changed as he was guided, sight and thoughts turned inward. “Just how will you bring him out of his fugue, Starry?” Zubon asked.

“When he was reassembled, to use a poor word, several key phrases were implanted in him to bring him out of his withdrawn state,” Starry told the doctor. “I will teach you the phrases and the intonations needed to cut through his mental fog. He will remember events as he went into the state, but he will not remember what happened while he was entranced, not even time passing.

“He will be confused for a moment, then he will feel exceptionally guilty before he recovers. Just how did you get him to escort you to the party?”

“Threatened him with not releasing him to duty unless he went to the party. He did offer to escort me.”

Starry smiled. “He may have a severe dichotomy, but he is so pleasant to be around, you tend to overlook his bad traits.”

“He is pleasant. Always polite and gallant, willing to help anyone. I take it his… alter ego… was a lot different, from what we were told.”

“Almost a complete opposite. When he recovered, he swore to never be like his prior self in any way, shape, or form. However, he did find that he had to release the bit of his prior self, to keep him under control.”

“His compulsive swearing as well as his prowess at poker.” Zubon said.

“Yes, or rather, how he acts playing cards. He shows no slack or no mercy while playing. But, if you beat him, he’s so pleasant about it, it makes one not mind losing. You should see him and Galen playing cribbage.”

“War across the board?”

Starry nodded. “Oh, yes. After, they shake hooves, complement each other, and go on their ways.”

“Interesting. So, how do you wake him up?”

“Watch and listen carefully. The tones are just as important as the words,” Starry cautioned before looking at Point.

In severe, upset mother tones, she snapped out, “Purple Point! Radiance Glow! Behave! You’re causing a scene!”

The effects were almost immediate. Point’s eyes snapped into focus, and he shook himself so hard, his mane went every which way. He looked up at Starry, his ears turning right red. “How bad?” he asked in a small voice.

“Grade Two flashback, possibly a grade One. You seized up in public, to that tune. Why didn’t you hear it coming?”

Point’s nose almost hit the floor in shame. “I was fetching drinks for the Doctor and myself. I was trying to get through the crowd without spilling a drop. I wasn’t paying attention,” he said mournfully. “Now everyone knows my shame.”

“No,” Zubon said firmly. When Point looked at her in surprise, she went on. “Not your shame, your bravery. You saved lives when all appeared lost. What prompted you to even do such a thing?”

Point looked at Zubon, his eyes reflecting his internal pain. “He hated them all, the entire crew. Dregs of society,” he said in a dull voice. “When the storm hit, he was off duty, in the lounge. Some of the newer crew were there, more than a little frightened. When the big wave hit, and the ship started rolling over, one of the youngest of them looked at him and said, ‘What can we do, sir? I’m not ready to die yet!’

“After the ship steadied, upside down, something broke inside him. Maybe it was the way that new hire looked at him with so much trust, wondering what to do, needing guidance. We grabbed the 1MC mike in the lounge and put out an all-call for all survivors to go to the power room. Help any pony who needed it, but get there quickly!

“Some crew called in from various points in the ship, saying they were on their way. Two were hurt, and we sent the two with us to get them while we went to the power room. We knew where to go in Vanhoover, but we hadn’t the power to reach it on our own.”

“Tapping into a mana battery crystal that size, that old and that damaged was a foolish thing to do, Point,” Starry said. “Not even I would do such a thing.”

“He and I could hear the ship breaking apart, the load shifting, pouring out the fill hatches unevenly. The keel was snapping. We didn’t have much time. We got to the power room. The crystal was failing, cracking, releasing power randomly. We gathered up what we could and we started sending every pony to Vanhoover. The last one to get there, as the noise of the keel cracking got louder, was the pegasus who asked us what to do. She asked me if we were all right. We could feel the power raging through us, burning us from the inside out. We told her, ‘No, but you will be,’ as we sent her to Vanhoover. That was the last we remember,” Point said, nearly in tears. “The next thing I knew, I was in Ponyville, at the House Path facility, knowing just how much of a patoot he was, and I had to keep him locked away inside me, vowing never to be like him.”

Point was saved from collapsing by both Starry and Zubon, supporting him on either side. “Patoots like him should never be inflicted on anyone, no matter what they be. He hated every being that was not his equal. I won’t put up with it.”

“Patoot?” Zubon asked Starry as Point started weeping.

“He will not swear in front of anyone knowingly. He makes up words to vent his feelings when swearing would not be ‘appropriate’, in his mind.” Starry said quietly.

Point took a breath. “Always leave them wondering what in Tartarus you meant,” he gasped out between sobs.

“Is he always like this when he comes out of a fugue?”

“For a while. He will recover in an hour or so. Right now, he needs a nap. He’s made his confession, now he can rest. When he wakes, he’ll be the way you normally see him.”

“How can he get to sleep? He needs his medication to do that!” Zubon exclaimed.

“Just watch,” Starry said as he turned her full attention on Point. “Take a nap, Purple Point. You need it,” she said firmly. Point went totally limp, Starry using her magic to put him onto a medical bed.

“Just out of a fugue, he’s extremely suggestible. Also, he won’t remember this part. He must go through it fresh every time it happens. All he will know is that it happened, details won’t stick.”

“So, the eidetic memory has gaps in it?” Zubon asked, trying to make a joke out of it.

“I would consider these gaps a blessing. Here, he can confess his life, tell his tale, and not remember doing so. He believes he’s keeping the monster that is Radiance Glow away from ponies, where he can’t do harm. When he wakes, he will be back to his normal. Want to wait for him to wake up?” Starry asked.

“Not a bad idea. I think he would appreciate a friend who knows his secret, but doesn’t care. He’s a good pony. He needs me, knows it, and strives to do right by me. I’ll wait for him. What should I do when he wakes?”

“Have his coffee ready. Tell him you know, and don’t care. Ask to be his friend. Take it from there. I’m heading back to the party. He should wake up before the party’s over.” Starry said before leaving.

When Starry returned to the party, everyone there stopped what they were doing to look at her. “He’s doing fine. Doctor Zubon is with him. Expect him back in an hour or so,” she told the crew, who all cheered at the news before resuming the party.

Wandering made his way to Starry. “What recovery mode did you use?” he asked quietly.

“Mode One. He did another confession. The ‘we’ part started at the same place. It looks like it was the shock of being asked a question by Jerdian was the trigger that caused the change, but the crystal tap, well, crystallized it. We just have to make sure he stays Point side up,” Starry reported.

“It was his first relapse in over two years. He’s just too talented, too skilled, to reject. When most go into hibernation, we need somepony with his wide array of skills and talents.”

“He’ll be just fine. Doctor Zubon will need a briefing on the pass phrases to bring him out of a shock. We should have done that earlier.”

“I know, Starry,” Wandering sighed. “You, me, Galen and now Zubon. I’ll select some more after we salt everypony down.”

“Right. Now, let’s party!”

An hour and ten minutes later, Purple Point and Zubon returned to the party to much cheering and stomping. Point made his way to the stage, hoof bumping all who offered one to him. “Okay, ponies and other assorted what-have-yous! Zubon has agreed to do a little dance for us while I play, so, give her your attention, please! I would, but I’m going to try not to make a mistake,” he said loudly, then went on in a more hushed tone, “If I do make a mistake, the next time I wake up will be two months AFTER we reach the Far Star, WITHOUT a hibernation pod!”

Zubon shot him a look as the crowd laughed, a look that promised mass mayhem with a twinkle in her eye. Point sat down, not at the drums, but the keyboard. “Wind her up, because it’s time to start the music box!” he said as he started to play.

The combination of Point’s music and Zubon’s dance enthralled the crowd, Point putting passion into his playing, this song being one he practiced, not just memorized. When the song and dance ended, the watching crew paused for all of ten seconds before a spontaneous cheer went up, one that shook the hanging plants along the roof line.

When the cheering ended and Zubon sat down, Point looked at her and smiled. “Of course, you know this was her idea…” he said a little snidely, to much laughter. “I have one more song for you all. If you know the words, join in, okay?” he said before pounding out the opening chords to ‘Balls of Fire’.

Wandering, Starry and Galen stood in the back of the park while the crew either cheered or joined in the song. “Looks like Purple Point is back.” Galen said.

“That he is,” Wandering said. “I just wonder what his bank account will look like before we arrive.”

“Better than ours, more than likely,” Starry said.

“Next time he relapses, can we try to edit his card playing?” Galen asked with a small groan, not looking forward to his next cribbage game with his assistant.

“Wish I could,” Wandering sighed. He expected to lose more than a few bits to Point, whose card playing was legendary or nightmarish, depending on who you ask.

It Came From the Cargo Bay!

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What it was, nobody knows. From the cargo hold it came, sparked to life by who knows what combination of magic, speed, or plain dumb luck. It wasn’t much at first, just a little spot of Stygian blackness that oozed out of a crate labeled ‘organic chemicals’. It did not have desires or intelligence then, just a need. A need to feed. A real need to feed. So, it sought its food.

It crept through the darkness of the hold, seeking the source of the compulsion that drove it on, a thin sliver of light that seeped into the hold from under the door to passageway Six. Sliding under the door, it first recoiled from the light and warmth, but soon felt a supply of something wonderful moving closer and closer, so, the little dot of blackness paused there, waiting, ready to pounce at what it desired.

A crewpony walked to the cargo hold door, not suspecting that any trouble was near. As she opened the door, the little blot of black leaped onto the pony’s back left hoof, eagerly sensing food, which was the life essence, the vitality, of the pony. The pony went into the hold, intent on finding what she was looking for, a new flat panel display link to replace the one she broke when she had tripped over a table leg in the lab. Finding it, she headed back to work, not knowing she had a passenger.

It fought to assimilate the boundless energy of the earth pony, not giving in to its hunger, but limiting its draw, so it can feed longer. As it fed, the black blot grew from a pinpoint to about the size of a pen tip. As it grew, its awareness grew as well. It felt like it had a good thing going, so it decided not to rock the boat and feast slowly.

The mare finished her work in the lab, yawning some. She felt more tired than usual, but attributed that to a vigorous workout before shift. Deciding to go for some dinner, she put up her lab work and headed to the mess deck for a healthy meal of spun greens and peppers before yawning hugely and heading for bed.

The blot, on the other hoof, felt the presence of the other ponies on the mess decks and thought that it had arrived in Paradise, all the food surrounding it making it a very happy little blot indeed. Sliding off the mare’s hoof, it slid around under the table, choosing whom to feast from next. Picking a griffin, it slid up and hid in its fur, soaking up energy, growing larger still, from a pen tip to an eraser in size, increasing its draw on the griffin, which had more to give than the pony.

The griffin yawned, feeling very tired suddenly. He got up and stumbled out of the mess decks, heading for an early bed time. The blot, sensing that its host was about to leave, slipped off the griffin before he left the room and slithered to a corner, to think, which was becoming easier as it grew bigger.

Soon all that was left in the room was the duty cook, ready to turn in himself after another day of pleasing the crew with his delicacies. As he puttered about, setting up the midnight meal (for those who wanted it) the blot slid onto his hoof, going inside the hoof to rest and feed. This pony did have a lot of vitality, and so, the blot started feeding from him. That led to the blot growing to the size of a hoof ball, sliding out of the cook’s hoof and on into the ventilator. The cook slept deeply that night, deep enough to be late for breakfast the next morning, to the consternation of the crew.

The blot roamed the ship through the ventilators, visiting each waking crewman to feed off their vitality, growing larger with each feed, its morphic structure allowing it to ooze through tight spaces. A few days of this had the blot the size of a buck ball, and the crew noticing their increasing lethargy. The Captain called the crew together to have them find out what is causing the increasing fatigue before every crew member falls asleep, never to wake again.

The crew scattered to their posts, thinking about the problem. It was the sensor operator that discovered the intruder, noticing a void in life readings aboard the ship. The sensor operator decided to chase down the void he detected, tracing it to the ventilation system on the crew quarters deck. Poking around with his portable sensor, he soon located the anomaly. Using the light from his horn, he looked in. The blot, sensing the power and magic use, leaped to the source of the delicious energy, landing on the unicorn’s horn and feasting, spreading out to cover the sensor tech with its blackness, absorbing the life energy, leaving the poor unicorn passed out in the passageway, barely alive.

Gathering its newly found wits, the blot formed itself into the shape of the unicorn, but not his color, remaining blacker than black can be. It walked around, searching for more food. One by one, the waking crew encountered the blot, and getting absorbed by it, increasing its power to take, take, take!

Soon, most of the crew was asleep, dropped where they were when they met the blot. One of the last left alive was the brave and resolute Engineer’s mate, whom all this time was working on a complicated repair of the hot tub in the ship’s spa, turning the air around him purple with his frustration over how difficult it was to repair the temperature regulator to make it work right!

The blot sensed the engineer at work, as one of the last that it had yet to feed on. The ones he ignored were asleep, and not radiating power, but this one, was shining like a beacon to the blot. He had escaped detection by being in the spa, which was aft, while the blot was around the crew’s quarters, forward. Eternally hungry, the blot made its way aft.

Frustrated, the Engineer took a break from his labors, stopping to make a pot of coffee in the spa, HIS way, which to all others on the ship was like chewing on coffee-flavored tar. As the pot filled with the thick brew, the door to the spa slid open, to reveal the unicorn-shaped blotch of darkness.

“You are mine…” the blot breathed, it being powerful enough by now to have a voice.

“What in Tartarus are you?” the Engineer asked.

“Hungry… crave food… you radiate it… I am coming for you…” the thing breathed as it approached the Engineer, who sprinted to the far side of the spa.

“Good buddy, you may catch me, but, brother let me tell you, it’s gonna be after a fight!” The Engineer shouted as he found a defensible position, in a corner by where he was working.

“A fight you can only lose…”

“Do you wanna bet?”

“My life against yours!”

“Deal!” the engineer cried as the thing approached. Using his telekinesis, the Engineer levitated the pot of fresh coffee up and over the thing, dumping the whole pot onto the black unicorn shape.

The black unicorn let out a howl as the coffee burned through its mass. “No! Not that! I can’t take it!” it screamed. “Water… and it burns!”

“Nice to know,” the Engineer said as he lifted the thing with his telekinesis and dumped it into the big hot tub. The thing howled, bubbling and boiling in the tub as the water seared its negativity with positive effects.

“Good riddance to bad stuff, thing,” the Engineer snarled as he watched the thing bubbled its life away, smoke rising from its dissolving corpse. “I don’t know where in Tartarus you came from, but I hope you like the return trip.”

He then called for the duty janitor to come clean up the mess in the tub, but no one answered. “Spa to Engineering Control, wake up!” No reply. “Spa to Bridge.” Silence. “Spa to Captain.”

After still more silence, he snorted. “Typical, leaving me to get everything done…”

The crowd at the Nightmare Night festivities applauded as Purple Point concluded his story. “Nicely done, Point!” Willow, the host of the festivities, called out.

“Not something I like to do normally, but Ixia threatened to throw me in the hot tub if I didn’t do SOMETHING for tonight,” he said, looking at the crowd. “I’m sure she would get plenty of help doing so!”

After the laughter subsided, Kale Robe shouted, “I knew your coffee was toxic, Point!”

“Only to those not immune to that weak pisswater you call coffee, Kale!” Point fired back with a smile.

Ixia called out as he was leaving the stage, “Too bad it was just a story.”

Purple Point stopped at the edge of the stage. Using his telekinesis, he pulled a small vial of something pitch black from a pocket. Holding it high, he smiled evilly at the audience. “Who said anything about it being JUST a story?” he snickered as the lights went out in the mess hall, his maniacal laughter echoing through the pitch-black space, followed by the sound of the vial breaking and something rushing out…

Wild Ideas

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Wandering Path, Captain of the Equus Light Sail Ship Cosmic Lotus, was in his office aboard ship, about eight months after leaving Equus, ships time. He was reviewing ship’s operations using his changeling network, just checking over how everything was going. Normal routine all over the ship, until he looked in on Ixia, the ship’s stylist, massage therapist, and spa operator. She was sitting at her desk, feeling frustrated and worried about something. Curious, he called her, using the intercom. “What’s on your mind, Ixia?” he asked when she came up on screen.

“Captain, it’s about Purple Point. He just cancelled his massage appointment for today, and according to records, he has not come out of his cabin for two days!” she said, her concern apparent in her voice. Purple Point has been a priority project with her for months now, since Point’s breakdown during the first All-Hooves party.

“Two days? That’s not like him at all. What has he been doing in there?”

“I was about to call you, to see if you can find out. He’s put a block on his researches that I can’t get through.”

Wandering sighed a little. “Meet me at his cabin door in about fifteen minutes. I’m going to do some checking first. How has he been recently?”

“Improving steadily. He has never cancelled an appointment before. He does like the conversation and the massages, but I can’t get him into the hot tub. Understandable, given his phobias, but I was not aware of how bad it truly is,” Ixia reported.

“He has been known to go on research binges, where he gets an idea and runs with it to see if he’s right or wrong. What I don’t understand is why he would have one now. Fifteen minutes, at his door, okay?”

“I’ll be there.”

Wandering accessed the ship’s computer, asking what Point has been looking up. Holography was highlighted, as were mind-affecting spells and force field control. “What in Tartarus can all this add up to?” he muttered as he kept on looking. Later, Point had made inquiries about the ship’s water tanks, spare piping and filtration units, and ship’s plans for the Linear Park. All told, Point had been in his cabin for over sixty hours. “Now, I’m really confused.”

Meeting Ixia at Point’s cabin, Wandering asked, “Can you feel anything from him here?”

Ixia thought, extending her emotion senses, ignoring Wandering and focusing on what she could feel from Point. “Determination, resolution, intensely directed will. He should have passed out some time ago, yet he’s not letting himself break down.”

“Yes, he does redefine focus. Given a job, he won’t stop until it’s done, unless it has been planned to take a long time to do. So, shall we enter?”

“Yes. Go ahead and open the door.”

Wandering used his command override to defeat the lock, and the door slid open. “SHUT THAT DAMN DOOR, YOU BUCKING IDIOT!” Point bellowed from the middle of his cabin, as he was projecting a spell diagram from his horn into the air. The gray unicorn was looking haggard, mane and fur unkempt, and the purple spark of his cutie mark glowing a bright purple. Caught completely off guard, Wandering and Ixia backed out of the cabin, the door sliding shut.

Ixia shook her head as the door closed. “I don’t believe it… I’ve never felt that from him before…” she said quietly.

“Felt what?”

“Anger. But, it’s not hatred, it’s more like he was interrupted. He has something in mind, but he’s not done yet. The best example I can give is that someone is preparing a surprise.”

“He’s never barked like that at anyone before, that I know of.”

“But notice WHAT he said, and who he said it TO.”

“Either he’s improving, or he didn’t know who was there.”

“Try calling him over the intercom. You, I know he respects.”

“Right.” Wandering raised the commlink on his left foreleg to his mouth. “Captain to Purple Point. Your presence is demanded in the corridor within one minute, or I’m coming in again.”

Twenty seconds went by before a reply came. “Something wrong, Captain? I’m trying to get something done in here.”

“There will be something wrong if you don’t come out of there in thirty seconds. You’ve been in there for over sixty hours.”

“What? That long? Be right out.” It was only ten seconds later when the door slid open, revealing Purple Point. “What you need, Captain? Hi, Ixie, I’m busy.”

“Just what are you working on in there?” Wandering asked.

Point deliberated with himself for a few seconds before he said, “C’mon in. I have a few ideas I’ve been working on.” He backed up to let them in.

Once the Captain and Ixia were inside, Point closed and locked the door. “This first idea I got when talking with Techbird last week, after her massage.” It was well known aboard that Point truly respected Techbird, which was more than he respected anypony else aboard, save a bare hoofful. “She mentioned something about taking a vacation. Obviously, on this trip, nopony’s going anywhere. So, I thought, if we can’t do it physically, why not virtually?”

“Virtually? Like a GemVee game?” Ixia asked.

“Like a GemVee game stepped up to the next level. GemVee games fool the eyes and the brain. My idea will fool all the senses, so, if you want to hike Canterlot Mountain, you will feel like you are hiking Canterlot Mountain. The climb, the drop, the vistas, the breezes, it would be like you are actually there doing it, not in a room someplace unkty-bunk light-years away!” Point said, excitement apparent in his voice, despite the fact he was shaking from fatigue.

“How do you plan on doing that?” Wandering asked. He soon came to regret asking, because Point launched into an explanation, projecting out a spell diagram and explaining matters to an utterly bewildered Captain, becoming more and more animated, lapsing into magical technobabble before stopping abruptly and collapsing into a heap on the floor.

Ixia held up a spray hypo. “I figured the partial dose left in this would be enough to knock him out,” she said.

Wandering’s horn lit up as he put the sleeping Point on his bed. “He does have a propensity for mania, BUT, only for what he feels is important. Good thing being his feelings tend to be accurate.”

“Once he started talking, I could feel his excitement build. I could also tell he was dangerously exhausted. He could sleep for ten hours or more before waking up.”

“I’m going to go over his head on this, Ixia. I’m calling in three others to help him out.”

“Techbird for sure, but who are the others?”

“Gizmo Gears and Playbitz. Gizmo because he’s a good magitek technician, and Playbitz for his GemVee expertise. Put the four of them together, add imagination and stir.”

“Will Playbitz go along with the idea?” Ixia asked.

“Once Point wakes up, and I can understand his proposals better, I’ll speak with him. Point never goes off on these tangents without good reason.”

It was almost twelve hours later before Point woke up, hungry, needing coffee, grungy, needing coffee, angry, needing coffee, and bent at the sneak sleeping. After a long shower and brushing, he dressed and went to eat, finding midrats up. Not being picky, he raided what was there, along with a pot of coffee. Not a mug, he took the whole damn pot. Black. He sat there for about an hour, thinking, eating and drinking until the pot was empty before heading for the labs, to get to work on his spell crafting.

When breakfast time came around, Point was feeling blunted. Yes, he held a ThD, but that was for engineering spell craft. Illusions and perception control had not been a favorite subject of his, seeing as he had his own form of mind control going on for a long time now. Frustrated at his non-comprehension, knowing WHAT he wanted, knowing it COULD be done, just not HOW to do it, he hurled his mug the length of the science lab and stormed out the door, heading for some peace and quiet. Namely, Linear Park.

Finding his favorite meditation spot, he flopped down on the grass to think and relax. He started thinking, but not relaxing, because his mind was hard at work on his OTHER idea, that being an idea to put a pond and small waterfall in the park. Not a big or deep pond, but one that could allow some wading and relaxing, but not enough for swimming. Looking up, he instead gazed at the ceiling. He watched Epic Prose doing slow laps, getting some wing exercise in, when yet ANOTHER idea landed on Point’s head with the force of an anvil dropped from a height. Just a small height, but still…

After Breakfast, Ixia went looking for Point. She found him in the park, on the grass, looking up at the ceiling, eyes with the thousand-kilometer stare. “Point? Are you all right?” she asked.

Point came back to reality with a yelp and a jump. “Easy, Ixia, I was thinking!”

“What about, Point?”

“Ixie, I’m a unicorn, not a pegasus. But, has anypony aboard thought about giving the pegasi a workout on their weather talents?” Point asked.

“The park is too small to have any sort of weather control, Point.”

“True, but what is one of the most basic pegasus abilities known? Hint: It’s something they can’t do aboard. YET.” Point declared with a glint in his eye.

Ixia thought for a few seconds. “Cloud walking?” she ventured.

“YES!” Point shouted. “I can think of a way to enable cloud formations in here, enough so the pegasi can work their magic. Not big, but enough to give them a workout.”

“Not a bad idea, Point. Why don’t we go to the spa so I can give you a massage?”

“I think I can get under that idea, Ixie.”

“You’re going to have to get up first, Point.”

“Why? Am I lying down?” Point asked innocently. In reply, Ixia picked Point up and threw him across her back.

“You lost weight, Point. I can feel your ribs.” Ixia muttered as she carried him aft.

“You feel my ribs every time you give me a massage, Ixie.”

“Shut up or I’ll throw you into the hot tub!” Ixia snapped. Point shut up.

It took several days of work, combining the efforts of Point, Gizmo, Playbitz, Techbird, Starry, and several other unicorns to come up with the appropriate spells to override a pony’s senses, inscribe the spells into crystals, and mount them into a headset. What was harder was the programming of the ‘memories’ to be read into the wearer. Point, being an eidetic and a bit of an outdoorspony on Equestria, had plenty of hikes to record, was a perfect subject, but extracting his memories and recording them proved to be difficult. It took some conversations with Princess Galena to figure out that problem. They wound up using a similar method used by the changelings to allow a non-changeling into the hive network to record memories from Point into a crystal. The playback proved to be a bit problematical, however.

While Point had indeed done some hiking and exploring, as well as a couple of sports, it turned out that everything would be from Point’s point of view, following exactly what he did, with no chance to stop, divert, or enjoy the sights, except to do what he did. He was universally praised for his ideas, but it just would not work properly, much to his regret.

After a few days moodiness, he got to work on his next idea, that being the cloud-forming system in the Linear Park. That proved to be far simpler to make, merely needing plumbing and a heating system to produce water vapor at one end of the park. That project was successful, producing enough vapor for pegasi to form into clouds and rain, even to form little storms, but at a cost of making the Park rather hot and humid whenever the system was turned on. Good for the pegasi to keep sharp, yes, but it could not be operated for long. In this case, the pegasi thanked him, as did the Captain, but, the two main caretakers of the Park, Skye Path and Emerald Green, challenged him to a game of hoof ball. Point willingly took part, even though he was not a good hoof ball player. Point came out of that game heavily bruised from ‘errant shots’, but the ladies were satisfied by the outcome.

His last project idea, the pond and waterfall, met with resistance by many. Slowly, patiently, he marshalled his attack on the skeptics, providing detailed plans, resource needs, and offering to do much of the work by himself, except when redoing the floor of the park and setting up the fountain and waterfall. It took a month of persuading all involved to get approval to try, with the caveat that if it went bust, he and he alone would be the one to restore the Park to an as-was condition. With that agreed to, he set to work.

The first thing he did was to mark off a spot at the extreme aft end of the Park, extending out six meters at the widest, and ten meters in extreme width. After getting all the plant life moved out of the work area, he plunged in to the effort. The waterfall climbed four meters up the back wall, trickling down into the pool in a third-meter wide zig zag path to the main pool, with the appearance of rocks along the length, making the stream ‘babble’ as it flowed from the small fountain at the top to the bottom.

The pool itself was four meters in diameter and two meters deep in the middle. The outer meter and a half was a shallow slope, to be lined with grasses all the way down to the bottom of the pool. Isolating that area proved to be a challenge, which he met in his own inimitable fashion. Meaning, he swore constantly, fortunately behind a tarp. Fortunately for him, because the others in the crew liked to listen to him sound off. After the heavy welding and metal work was done, he worked alone.

Once the pool basin was complete, he lined the pool with green growth media mats he had requested from Hydroponics. Next was filling the pool. He ran a line from the ship’s water supply to the fountain and let it fill that way. Once it was filled, he set the level monitors so it would fill by itself when needed, as well as turning on the filtration and return system to keep the water circulating. Content that all was working well, he notified the Captain that he wanted an All Hooves meeting in the park the next day before turning in for the night. Between working on his projects, and his normal duties, he was quite pleased when all was done.

The next day, at the All Hooves meeting he had called, Purple Point stood in front of the shielding tarp. “I know damn well all of you have been wondering why I have been working so blippin’ hard on projects that will bring me no benefit at all,” he said before looking at Ixia. “Okay, almost all of you.”

Once the laughter died down, he went on. “The answer is simple, really. It’s not for ME, it’s for WE. Each and every one of us put ourselves on this long flight, of which we are at one year down, and nine or so more to go. My initial pseudo-vacation sense-surround idea fell flat on its back. Next came the idea for the pegasi to keep in practice. That worked out a little differently. I wound up flat on my back,” he said, looking at Emerald Green and Skye Path.

“Now, I have come up with something every one of us, be they pony, griffin, zebra or changeling, can find of benefit. I shall now reveal to you Purple Point’s Pool of Peace and Prosperity!” as he pulled back the tarp to reveal…

…the park as it was before he started, with no trace of a pool or water cascade. As he stared in open-mouthed shock at the sight, Ixia started to laugh, a laugh that spread throughout the crew.

Purple Point went to his knees in shock as the laughter and cheering went on, before the illusion fizzled out, revealing the pool and cascade in all its glory. The crew surrounded Point, the unicorns lifting him above their heads in their combined glow. “Three cheers for Purple Point!” Wandering shouted, as the crew did just that.

Point looked out at the crew, a tear coming to his eyes. “You are the best, really. Do enjoy. I think I’ll work on getting my heart restarted. Whoever did that illusion, good going. I’ll get my vengeance later,” he managed to say before passing out.

After awakening in Medical, he looked at Doctor Zubon. “How well did it go over?”

Zubon smiled down at Point on the bed. “Spectacular. Emerald Green and Skye Path are now considering ways of planting dwarf trees at each of the cascade turns, and hanging plants along the fountain wall. Over your faint now?”

“I should say so. Am I all right?”

“You? All right? I hope that never happens. What would Ixia and I do with our time if you were all right?” Zubon said with a straight face.

Point stared back at Zubon before laughing. “Well, I can’t have you and Ixie getting bored now, can I?”

The Duel

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Aboard the Cosmic Lotus, distance to target 27.923 light-years (give or take a furlong), all was running as normal on this Saturday night. Most of the off-duty crew were gathered on the mess decks, it being converted into a lounge for the evening. After Willow’s entertainment for the week, which was duly appreciated by everyone watching, the card games began. This week, the game of choice for the tournament being held was cribbage. Sixteen entrants were quickly whittled to eight, then to four, Commander Bluequill playing Radiant Spark, while Purple Point battled Ortzi. To be honest, it was Ortzi doing the battling, while Point was his usual calm, utterly ruthless self. Ortzi won the first game of the set by a bare two pegs, earning compliments from Point on his play. After that, the heat was on.

The second game, Point won by ten pegs, making Ortzi work for every point he got. The third game, Point went all out, skunking the griffon with what looked like contemptuous ease, moving up to the final match.

“If I not know for sure you not use magic, I would call a duel on you.” Ortzi grumbled as he usually did when losing to Point, which he did with regularity. Then again, so has everyone else on board.

Point sighed as he gathered together the cards and reset the board. “Ortzi, a duel you want, a duel you will have.” he said quietly before continuing in a louder voice. “I, Purple Point of House Razortalon, do declare an honor duel with Ortzi Goldbeak. You have maligned my honor one too many times, by saying aloud that I would even think of cheating while playing cards. The duel will take place in the Park in three hours, after the tournament has been completed here.”

A deafening silence fell over the mess hall as all hooves looked at Point in shock. Captain Path was the first to break the quiet. “Point, are you sure you want to do this? You know Ortzi and Commander Bluequill fought in the finals of the Cosmic Games. You are not known to be a fighter.”

Point looked coolly at his commanding officer. “I am quite sure, Captain. The duel will be to the maiming, or unconsciousness. I choose the Park, so Ortzi could call upon all his griffon skills to fight. If he should win the fight, I will clear all his debts for the rest of the voyage. If I should win, I will clear his debts to me, in a fashion to be determined later. Commander Bluequill I request to be the referee, and the witnesses to the fight also take steps so the damage to the park will be minimized.”

Looking at Ortzi, Point said quietly, “Bring your top form, Ortzi. You will need it.”

The crowd in the mess hall buzzed with speculation as Point got up to get some more coffee. Wandering looked over at Ixia. “Point is up to something, but what?” he asked, obviously confused by Point’s behavior.

“He’s not angry at Ortzi. That I’m sure of. All I feel is determination for something. I can’t tell what,” Ixia replied.

Willow spoke up as well. “I don’t feel anything from Point at all, emotionally. I usually don’t, but this time, he’s more of a blank slate than usual. He has feelings, yes, and good ones, but not now.”

“I don’t feel anything from him, either,” Xanth piped up.

“Looks like we’re going to have a duel to fight. I’m going to have a few words with Point privately,” Wandering said, getting up to go get some coffee and join Point. “A few words with you, Point?”

“Of course, Captain. Do sit down.”

Wandering sat across from Point at the table. “Just what in Tartarus do you think you’re doing?” he hissed in an agitated whisper.

“Speaking to Ortzi in a language he knows well. I want him to stop accusing me of cheating. This way will get him to do so, as well as leaving an opening for something more.” Point said before sipping his coffee.

“But what? Ortzi’s an excellent unarmed fighter. You don’t stand much of a chance!”

Point smiled at his commanding officer, a bit of a twinkle coming to his eye. “More of a chance than you think, Captain. Ortzi is a griffin, I am a unicorn. We are fighting in the Park. I will wear a suppressor ring, if Ortzi demands. Are you sure I don’t know what I am doing?”

Wandering thought at that statement, going over in his mind all he knew about his Engineer’s Mate, his skills, strong points and sordid past. After a few seconds of thought, a smile crossed the red alicorn’s features. “I’m sure you know exactly what you are doing, and what he would do. House Razortalon?”

“After defeating the then-Lord Razortalon in a duel, I officially got his title and possessions. I sold them back to his heirs, but I claimed membership in the House for life as a condition of ransoming back the lands and property. Do look up the battle. It was filmed. Look fast, though.” Point said as Radiant Spark won her semi-final match with Commander Bluequill. “I have another victim to send down in flames of defeat tonight, but not the last.”

“Point, why did Ixia con you into joining the Saturday night festivities, anyhow? When you enter a competition, you win more often than not.”

“No point in entering if you don’t intend to win, is there? So, I win seventy-eight-point three percent of the time. You must admit I am the best loser of the bunch.” Point got up to go over to the game table.

“Yes, you are, Point.” Wandering said to himself. “The very model of a modern cultured gentlepony.”

Commander Bluequill joined Wandering at his table after getting a beer from the bar. “Are you going to let Point have this duel with Ortzi?”

“I will. You’ve known Point longer than any of us on board. I know he is up to something, something that will benefit Ortzi more than anyone else. Why would Point do such a thing, here and now, when all Ortzi has been doing is bitch about losing to Point at cards continually for years now?” Wandering asked his Exec before having some coffee.

Galen had a pull of his beer and thought. After half a minute, a smile crept across his face. “Oh, that sneaky, sneaky bastard… He sure does know griffons, yes?”

“Sometimes I wonder just how much Point knows about everyone on board. It’s like he could run every pony in whatever direction he chose to, IF he chose to.” Wandering mused.

“Oh, he could, but I can assure you, he does not want to run anypony but himself. Now, I do know that as a teacher, he does so in ways the student will never forget. I’ve heard tales from some of his students, both on the Lunar base, and before that, in Eyreland.”

Wandering looked a little surprised. “When did he teach in Eyreland?” he asked.

“Right after he settled the Razortalon affair. He thought it would be a good idea to lie low for a while, so he got himself a teaching appointment in a university in Eyreland for a year. The faculty didn’t want him to leave, but his students sure liked seeing his tail return to Equestria.” Galen explained as he finished his beer.

“Now, how would you know that, Galen?” Wandering asked as he finished his mug of coffee before it got too cold to taste good. “Were you one of them?”

Galen laughed. “No, not at that time. Later, but not then. A cousin of mine just happened to be there, taking some classes while attached to the Embassy there. She did say that Point did have a way with unruly griffons, to make them listen to him, gaining their respect. Something about a kick to the chest and tail of a diving….” he trailed off as an idea hit him.

Wandering nodded. “Just how did he defeat Lord Razortalon?”

“By bucking him in the abdomen as the Lord dove for an attack. However, Lord Razortalon was well named. His talons almost cut Point in half, but the buck sank home. Razortalon died quickly, but in pain from ruptured organs. Point took several months to heal from a near castration.”

Loud cheering was heard from the cribbage area as Radiant Spark defeated Purple Point in game one of the finals. “If you can do that twice, that would be nice.” Point said to the pegasus mare gallantly.

“I’ll bet you a glass of my beer that I can!” Radiant Spark said with courage.

“But, if I win, you have to drink it. In front of me. Sure you want to keep that bet?” Point asked as he reset the pegs for game two.

“I got a bad feeling about this.” Galen mumbled into his empty beer glass.

“Ten bits says Point will double-skunk her for the match win,” Wandering said.

“Seventy-two points, give or take four, and you’re on.” The two got up to watch the second game, which was interesting to behold. Point remained cool and calm through the game, while Radiant Spark found the going getting rough from the initial deal. She dealt Point the twenty-eight hand to start, and the game went downhill from there for her, losing the game, match and tournament by a total of sixty-six points.

“A most excellent game, dear lady. Perhaps we will play again next Saturday?” Point asked as he put away the cards and board. “Oh, and do enjoy your drink.”

Spark just shook her head as she got up from the table. “Why does anyone ever bet against you, Point?” she wondered.

“Because I do lose. Sometimes. Not often. Do pardon me, I have a duel to prepare for.” Point said as he got up and bowed respectfully to his opponent before taking his leave.

Ortzi, during all this, just stayed at a corner table, thinking hard. Sure, he had always been griping about Point’s skill at cards, but he had never intended to actually fight a duel with the unicorn. He thought about the terms and conditions the challenger laid out. Fighting in the Park would give Ortzi a lot of advantages, the main one being that he could fly when Point could not. It was like Point was going out of his way to give him every possible advantage he could, but remained cool, calm and collected. Point usually WAS calm, cool and collected, except at certain times, like when he was induced to perform at the weekly gatherings, or when he was playing cards, where he showed enough ruthlessness across the card table to make a dragon want to think twice about playing him.

That one trait of Point’s was what unnerved Ortzi the most. Across the table, Point’s looks at his opponent made said opponent feel like he was looking into his or her head, seeing through their eyes, thinking what they thought. “Just how does he do that?” he asked himself.

“How does who do what?” Ixia asked, coming up beside Ortzi.

“Purple Point. How does he manage to batter down any opponent across a card table? Why would he even call me out for a duel? Yes, I say so all the time, but I never intended to fight him!” Ortzi exclaimed, displaying his confusion.

“I’m sure he knows that, Ortzi.” Ixia said, sitting down at the table with the griffon. “He’s out to teach you a lesson. A lesson you will never forget.”

“A lesson? What sort of lesson?” Ortzi asked.

“One he feels you need. I don’t know what it is, but he is determined that you learn something. I can say for sure he does not dislike you in the slightest. In fact, he admires everyone on this crew, finding something to like in every pony, despite pranks pulled on him.” Ixia explained, harkening back to the Daily Raffle, which is still going on.

“Even me?”

“Even you. I will tell you that he has said he likes you as an opponent across the poker table.”

“Why? Because I’m an easy mark?” Ortzi snorted.

“No, because he has to work to read you. When he focuses, like when working on a tough task, or playing cards, he becomes hyperaware of his surroundings. He can read his opponent and in essence know what they are going to do. He also knows the effects his concentration has on others and changes accordingly.” Ixia explained.

“Then, how can he lose?” Ortzi asked. “With a gift like that, he should win all the time.”

“He can’t control what cards you or he gets. Although, playing him, he can make a pair of threes look like he’s holding a straight flush.”

“That’s the truth. I’ve folded more times than I like to find out he was bluffing, but when I go on ahead, he usually trumps me, or folds before going too far. How I won the first game tonight, I don’t know. Maybe he let me win.”

Ixia made a sharp gesture with her forehoof, one that brought Ortzi up short. “That, I’m sure he does not do. He does not like to lose, and I know he will not deliberately lose at anything. If you win against him, you earned the win.”

“Then, why is he going out of his way to make matters easy for me, Ixia? As the insulted party, he can dictate the terms of the duel. If I back out, that is equal to me admitting he is in the right, and I would lose honor. Right now, all I can see to do is go through the duel and count on his honor.”

“Just remember, Ortzi, Point does have his honor. He has a reason to do this, and he will brave any injury to prove the rightness of his decisions. Just do your absolute best.

“If I may ask, what do you feel about Purple Point? Do you like him?”

Ortzi paused in thought, examining his feelings. “I find him very likeable, but he does not allow anyone to get close to him. There are a couple of exceptions, like Doctor Zubon and Commander Bluequill, but I cannot say he is close to anyone aboard. His manners are impeccable in public, yet in private, he does have some interesting epithets that he tosses about.” He essayed a small smile. “I like the one about pulling out a griffon’s feathers, numbering them and reattaching them. That’s original.”

“Do you want to lose honor to him?”

“No! He’s worthy of all honor and respect. I cannot honorably back out from the duel. I can just hope I do not harm him too badly. He did say unconsciousness to be equal to maiming, so that leaves us both an out that will not lead to too much harm. Just how good a fighter is he?”

Ixia frowned. “Better than you think, Ortzi. Remember, he turned down an offer to attend House Path schooling because he did not want to learn how to be a better fighter. I can tell, as far back as his records go, both as he is and as his alter ego, he has five definite kills and two probables.”

Ortzi’s eyes widened in alarm. “FIVE kills?”

“One was Lord Razortalon, about thirty years ago. The fight lasted about forty-four seconds. Point was grievously hurt, but Lord Razortalon was killed.”

“Ho, boy.” Ortzi breathed, sweat dripping from his beak. “I better come up with a way to get in past his defenses fast.”

“You’re good, Ortzi. So is he. He’s giving you a chance for something. What, I don’t know. Want some help getting ready?” Ixia asked.

“Please. This is such a surprise. I can use some calming.”

“Come with me to the spa. I can give you a massage, at the very least.”

At the designated time, just about the entire ship’s company was at the park to witness the duel. Betting on it was hot and heavy, with Ortzi being the favorite to win, but not by much. The two contestants met in the middle of the park, with Commander Bluequill as referee. The combatants were not wearing their uniforms, in a bow to Griffonian tradition.

“An honor duel has been declared! Purple Point, House of Razortalon, has claimed that Ortzi, of House Goldbeak, has maligned his honor by accusing him of using magic to cheat at cards to his advantage.

“Ortzi, do you recall your words?”

“No, Commander, I do not. I have said them often enough.” Ortzi said firmly.

“Purple Point, do you withdraw your challenge?”

“No, Commander, I do not. Such a stain to my honor can only be cleansed by combat. To regain my honor, I am going to kick his ass.”

“Griffon law not allowing an alternative, the honor duel is formally declared. You will fight until one of you has been formally declared to be maimed or unconscious. Take your places!”

Purple Point marched to one end of the open space, turned and faced his opponent, his face impassive. Ortzi flapped to the other end, his face less than impassive. Commander Bluequill took his position, raised a small flag, then dropped it.

Ortzi took to the air with a squawk, sizing up what approaches he could use in the limited space available. Point kept his gaze firmly on his opponent, watching, waiting. Ortzi swooped, letting loose a war scream that made the onlookers wince. Point did not move until Ortzi was very close, then he dropped to the floor, Ortzi’s claws just missing Point by millimeters. The crowd oohed at Point’s move.

Point rolled back up to his hooves, watching Ortzi as he rose out of his swoop, hovering and turning near the ceiling of the park. “You’re going to fall now, pony!” Ortzi called from his high location.

Point just looked up. “So will you, griffon,” he said, just loud enough for Ortzi to hear.

Ortzi let out another war scream, louder than the one before, and swooped down again on Point, claws extended. Again, Point did not move until the last second, where he once again dropped to the floor. This time, his right forehoof shot up, connecting with the underside of Ortzi’s beak with an audible crack. The punch caused Ortzi to pivot up out of his dive just enough for Point’s right hind hoof to kick up, catching Ortzi in the chest, knocking the wind out of the stunned griffon. As Ortzi headed to the floor, Point’s left hind hoof twisted up to kick the griffon in the rear end as he went by.

Onlookers had to catch Ortzi before he crashed into the wall. The griffon, being quite unconscious, did not complain. Point carefully got up, favoring his right forehoof. Commander Bluequill got up from his spot. “I declare this duel over! Purple Point, of the House of Razortalon, has prevailed!”

Point nodded to the Commander. “Do call a doctor for my opponent. I hope I did not break his beak. Once he is revived, send the doctor to me. I think I broke my wrist,” he said in a slow dignified voice.

Wandering Path made his way to Point. “Interesting lesson you teach, Point. How will Ortzi pay back his debts to you?”

“I did say I would absolve his debts to me, and so I shall. Next, he is to spend fifty days as ship’s janitor, to be served at your discretion, Captain. Last, I will take Ortzi on as an apprentice, to try to teach him how to play cards better, and not lose to me as often.” Point said in measured tones, holding his right forehoof high. “I take no pleasure in victory, nor even in the combat. I would take great pleasure indeed if Ortzi would accept the terms I have offered. He will be a fine student.”

“Let me guess, you are in pain, are you not?” Wandering observed.

“Just a little, Captain. My calculations were a touch off, and I paid the price.”

“You did say you were going to kick his ass, and you did. Where did you learn a move like that?”

“I developed it at sea, Captain. I’m used to fighting in close quarters, while griffons prefer more space. Besides, the unexpected does lead to a quick resolution, yes?” Point said, the expression on his face getting more wooden by the second.

“I don’t think the duel lasted more than thirty seconds.”

“Thirty-eight-point-one, Captain. Please bring the doctor this way. The pain is intensifying.” Point managed to say, his eyes going a bit glassy.

By then, Ortzi had been revived. He made his way to where the Captain and Purple Point were. He stood in front of Purple Point, head bowed. “What was mine is yours,” he said submissively.

“I restore to you your property and your honor. Your debt to ME has been absolved, you are to spend fifty days as ship’s janitor, to be served at the Captain’s discretion, and last, you are to become my apprentice, spending an hour a week under instruction by me in order to become a better card player,” Point said woodenly, his hoof swelling.

Ortzi looked astonished, because he was. “Why have you restored my property to me? I have lost an honor duel!”

“Your honor was never in doubt, Ortzi Goldbeak. I merely wanted you to stop accusing me of cheating with magic, and I will now endeavor to teach you how I do what I do. I may not be able to accomplish that task, but the training will do you good. Do you accept my terms?” Point asked.

Ortzi smiled wide. “Of course I accept! I want to know how you are so good at cards, and everything else. You show much honor in turning a defeated foe into an ally and student.”

Captain Path spoke up. “Indeed you do, Point, but why did you have to call a duel to do that? Why did you not just offer this to him?”

“I wanted him to know that I am not taking this action frivolously, but very seriously indeed. He is one of the best card players aboard. Now, I must see the doctor. The pain is reaching intensity eleven. Student, you have done me proud. You also have a hard beak.” Point managed to say before he slowly tipped over, unconscious from severe pain.

A medical team brought Point to Medical for treatment. Commander Bluequill joined the Captain and Ortzi. “He knows griffons better than most griffons do,” he commented.

“What makes you say that, Commander?” Ortzi asked.

“You did exactly as he expected you to do, using your wings in the initial attack. He dodged the first attack, baiting you to come lower, so he could slug you with his hooves on the second. You should watch his battle with Lord Razortalon, because what he did there was similar.”

“I’m still going to have some words with Point, for bringing matters this far.” Captain Path said dourly.

“Don’t be too hard on him, Captain. After all, it did liven up a Saturday night, yes?” Commander Bluequill responded.

“I will not press for any discipline against him, Captain.” Ortzi said. “He behaved with honor, believing I was insulting him and his. The matter is now behind us. Why drag it out any further?”

Wandering Path considered the words of the two griffons. “I will still have words with him, but I will not discipline him any further. A broken wrist should be enough punishment. I just don’t want him to go to this extreme again. It’s hard on the ship and crew.”

“That may be, but it sure does add some thrills to the monotony of the voyage.”

“What, and he has not added enough?” Wandering asked, gesturing to the pond and waterfall on the aft wall of the park, now lush with plants up the slope of the falls and thick grasses along and in the pond, a good place to rest or wade.

“Point has to be the most unselfish crewpony aboard. I cannot recall anything he has done purely for his own benefit.” Commander Bluequill said.

Ortzi spoke up. “What about his winnings at cards or the Raffle?”

“Ortzi, you don’t know what Point does with his money, do you?”

“No. What does he do with it?”

“He has a rather large fortune back on Equus, from patents for spells and inventions. He keeps only ten percent of the money for himself, and his salary, donating the rest to a foundation he has set up, one that supports orphanages and early schools throughout Equestria. He mentioned that to me years ago, when I asked him why he lived in such a small apartment.

“He looked at me and said that he did remember his upbringing, or some of it, and he does not want any colt or filly to have to go through what he did when he was young. He would not elaborate any further on it, nor did I ever press him for more details. Last I checked, that foundation controlled some tens of millions of bits, with a reputable firm looking over it.” Bluequill told the surprised griffon.

“A foundation supported by House Path.” Wandering added.

Ortzi shook his head in disbelief. “Why, then, would he want to walk away from all that?”

“I am not positive, but it has something to do with his early life. Something about money not buying happiness or love.”

“And he wants me as a student. He does show me more honor than I deserve.” Ortzi said with a small sigh.

“That he does, Ortzi,” Commander Bluequill said. “I don’t know about him, but accusing me of cheating like that would definitely anger me. Does he ever get angry? I can say he does, when he chooses to.”

Captain Path was about to say something, but a medical attendant came up to the group. “Captain, Point wants to talk to you, in Medical.”

“Thank you, I’ll be right there.” Turning to the two griffons, he excused himself and made his way to Medical, to find Point lying on a bed, his right foreleg from the knee down encased in a bone regenerator. “You wanted to see me, Point?”

“Yes, Captain. I want to apologize to you personally for injuring myself like I did. I am willing to submit to any punishment you deem fit. I also apologize for distressing you,” Point said in a distant tone of voice, his eyes still a bit glassy.

“Galen did point out that you did bring some entertainment to a dull voyage. Just, before you try something like that again, consult with me first. I don’t mean ten minutes before, but a day before. Got it?” Wandering said in severe tones.

“I got it, Captain. Next time, I will do better. I promise.” Point said drunkenly before passing out again.

“What sort of painkillers do you have him on?” Wandering asked Zubon.

“Very strong ones. He needs sleep, and his pain levels were off the scale. He did insist he speak with you while he could. He should be all right in a day or so.”

“Good. How much did you lose in the betting?”

“Ten bits. I got the winner, but I bet for two minutes in the time pool.”

Wandering looked up to the corner of Medical. “CONN, how many of the crew won both ends of the wager?” he asked the ship’s mainframe.

“Two, Captain, picked both the winner and the correct five-second interval.”

“Was Purple Point one of the two?”

“Affirmative, Captain. Commander Bluequill was the other.”

Doctor Zubon shook her head in wonder. “I don’t know how he’s able to do it.”

Lifting A Curse (in one easy jolt)

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Aboard the Cosmic Lotus, 21.973 light-years from destination (plus or minus a few meters)

Periodic maintenance is a mainstay aboard the Cosmic Lotus, ensuring all systems are in peak operating condition at all times, even systems that are hardly ever used. Operating Procedure Six-Two is a breaker check of every major and minor breaker on board, a procedure that keeps the engineering department busy for the better part of a month. This shift, Purple Point was forward, checking the breakers on Shroud Eight.

“CONN, check function of breaker Sierra Delta Eight Oscar Papa Two,” he ordered.

“Operating breaker Sierra Delta Eight Oscar Papa Two.” CONN replied, operating the breaker. Point observed the breaker operate remotely.

“Positive function breaker Sierra Delta Eight Oscar Papa Two confirmed.” Point moved his probes to the next breaker in line, the main output breaker from the transformer that powered Shroud Eight’s deployment system. “Conn, check function of breaker Sierra Delta Eight Oscar Papa One.”

This is where a problem cropped up. During programming of CONN, someone had become careless, and confused two breakers. While CONN thought it was operating SD8OP1, in actuality it was operating SD8IP1, the input breaker to the transformer. When the input breaker shut, a surge of power went through the transformer into the output lines, where Point’s probes were waiting to monitor OP1’s action. The tester was not designed to handle high voltages, and it sparked and blew. The spark caught Point on the horn, electricity coursing through his body and out his hooves. All Point could do was let out a grunt before falling to the floor.

CONN sensed the change of status of Point, and sounded an alarm. “Code Blue, Code Blue. G deck, frame eighteen, starboard side. Code Blue, Code Blue, G deck, frame eighteen, starboard side. Medical casualty assistance team, respond.” CONN reported in its calm, pleasant female voice.

It took exactly twenty-three seconds for Doctor Zubon to respond with the crash cart. She found Point on the floor, out cold. Initial check found Point to be more than out cold, his heart having gone into fibrillation. Immediately, Zubon applied countermeasures. It took three countershocks to stabilize Point’s heartbeat. As Zubon worked on Point, other members of the medical team arrived. Loading him on a cart, Point was brought to Medical for a more detailed examination.

An hour later, Zubon reported to Captain Path. “Point has suffered a severe electrical shock, his heart going into fibrillation. I’ve restored that, but he took the shock to his horn and through his body. His magic system took a severe jolt, as has his brain. Brain activity is much higher than I would expect from such a shock.”


“Honestly, I do not know. He’s stable, but I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I’ll have to do some research on the matter. It’s not something that is commonplace. Let’s hope for the best and plan for the worst.”

# # #

Just after the shock:

Point came to in a strange place. The area was greyish white, a flat plane, somewhat lit, stretching into the distance as he looked around. His horn and head ached as did the rest of him. Groggily, he looked around. “Where in Tartarus am I?” he muttered as he tried to get up.

“You’re not in Tartarus, but you might as well be, dear brother of mine,” came a voice. Looking around, Point beheld his alter ego, Radiance Glow, a chestnut unicorn with a red and white mane, a green tail, and white hooves and horn. “Welcome to my world. Won’t you come on in?”

Point made it to his hooves. “I’m here already, you rotten ego. What am I doing here?”

Glow smiled evilly. “Why, dear brother, you’re dead. When you wake up, I will take over the body and set it to rights. You’ve kept me down for too long, brother. Now, it’s my turn to live while you stay here in the fog.”

“You don’t think I’m just going to let you take me over, will you? I’ve dominated you now ever since the wreck, and I have no plans on inflicting you on my shipmates!” Point snapped.

Radiance stepped up until he was horn to horn with Point. “Brother, you don’t have a choice. You got zapped, and you’re dead. When you wake up, I’ll kick you aside like a used cleaning wipe and live again! You owe me that much!”

“I don’t owe you anything! You stepped in when Father abused me one too many times! He’s been crippled ever since, living in a hospital for years!” Point yelled back.

“He deserved nothing less for what he did to me! Making me feel I was worth nothing, despite my achievements!” Radiance screamed.

“No, MY achievements! I was the one in charge then!” Point riposted.

“You did nothing to stop him or defend yourself! For years, all you did was sit there and take all the abuse he handed out. I’m all that rage that built up inside of you, rage that finally found a release when he sneered at your application for Canterlot University being accepted, when he wanted you to go to college in Baltimare!” Radiance yelled.

“You didn’t have to break all his legs doing so, Glow!” Point snapped back. “We had to go on the run, signing on to the Gowanus as an oiler before the City Guard caught up with us!”

“The Gowanus was the best escape we had, Point! I did good there, didn’t I?” Radiance said smugly.

“You didn’t, I did! You were constantly summoning me for advice on how to do things. Now, I’m going to beat you back into submission again!” Point snarled, rearing back to start striking with his forehooves.

Another voice broke in to the argument. “Purple Point! Radiance Glow! Behave! You’re causing a scene!” the voice shouted in upset tones.

The two unicorns stopped in mid shout and looked toward the source of the voice. “Mama?” they said simultaneously.

Forming out of the mists was a pegasus, with white fur, blue wings, and a blue striped mane and tail. “Yes. I’m your mother, Cyan Flight. You two had best stop arguing and listen up!”

The two unicorns immediately sat down in front of their mother. Cyan Flight had died in an accident when Radiance was only six, leaving him in the tender mercies of his father, Radiance Shine. “Yes, Mama.”

Cyan walked around the two. “Now, Radiance Glow, you are the original,” she said, tapping Point with a wing. “You were the first born.”

Cyan then tapped Radiance with her other wing. The image of Radiance Glow faded, morphing into a female red-orange pegasus with white wings, mane and tail, the orange encompassing her head, the red shading in as one looked down her body and legs, her hooves being a bright red in color. “You, Sunrise Flight, were the second born. You, however, suffered complications and died shortly after birth. Your soul leaped to your brother, and became intertwined with his. After I died, your father became a shell of his prior self, becoming quite abusive to you, Radiance.

“Sunrise, you saw how abusive your father was to your brother, and finally, you erupted to protect him. However, you did not know who or what you were supposed to be, so you became his ‘alter ego’. So determined were you to protect Radiance, you changed his personality so radically, no one knew who you, and he, really were, especially after going aboard that ship.”

“Mama, it was necessary! The authorities were looking for us after I beat Father to a pulp. No one could connect the quiet, scholarly Radiance Glow with anyone who could do that to his own father, yes?” Sunrise said plaintively.

“Sunrise, your ‘help’ has led to your brother’s soul being damaged. The accident aboard the ship locked the two of you apart again, with the former Radiance Glow soul changing so radically, it also changed his physical appearance and shattered his mind.” Cyan Flight told her daughter. “You believed you were simply part of his mind, which you were, but you didn’t have a chance to form your own identity. Now, what should we do with you, eh?”

Point spoke up, “Mama, don’t harm my sister. I would like to get to know her. How could we manage things so she won’t constantly be trying to take over my body? Now that I know more than I did, I can’t hate her.”

Sunrise looked shocked. “What? You’ve been trying to either repress or get rid of me for years! Why would you not hate me anymore?” she said in a surprised squeak.

Point went to his sister and hugged her close. “Because now I know the truth, Sunrise. So do you. You know what you have done, as do I. Shall we try to learn how to get along? I can’t let you fully out, it will confuse many on the ship, but I will be more willing to share experiences with you. I accept you for what you are, not what you were. Can we try to be the brother and sister we never had the chance to be?” he said quietly. Sunrise just hugged back, wrapping her brother in her wings, crying uncontrollably.

Cyan Flight came up to the two and wrapped her wings around the pair of them. “Don’t ever change, Radiance. I’m so proud of all you have done, are doing, and will do” she told Point. “There is also a way for you to help your sister have a real life.”

“Oh? How?” the two siblings said at the same time.

“Radiance, your first daughter, whatever she may be, will have Sunrise Flight’s soul. She will not remember this life, as we never remember our past lives, but you will know, and she will know, that the two of you share something special.”

Point looked like he had just been slapped in the face while Sunrise went from uncontrolled tears to uncontrolled laughter. “Mister Straight-Lace has to bang a mare!” she managed to choke out before she fell to the ‘floor’, laughing. “This is too good!”

Cyan gave her son a Look that demanded an Explanation and fast. “I vowed to be the opposite of my other side in every way possible. He banged every mare that came aboard the Gowanus Herald! He could never get enough! I can’t be like he was!” Point said, horrified. “I won’t even try to detail all the ports where we were chased back to the ship!”

“You have time to get over that mental block, Radiance,” Cyan Flight told her son. “Now, you will be able to sleep without medication or exhaustion, because you will never have to fear your sister will try to take your body. Not if she knows what’s good for her.”

“You mean, I’ll be able to rest? Find some inner peace?” Point asked.

“Yes, son. You can start healing now. You can be whole. No more will you have to run from your past. Be who you are, not a shell to hide behind because you have been badly hurt. You have years to learn. Ixia and the others on the ship will help you. Follow their lead and you will begin to be your own unicorn. Know I am proud of you. I love you, son.” Cyan said as the landscape began to fade.

“I love you too, brother. Let me help you now. We can be friends.” Sunrise Flight said as her image faded, as well as Cyan Flight. Pain lanced through Point as the landscape faded to black. “Will we ever meet again?” Point yelled into the darkness.

“You’ll never be alone, Radiance. You have our love now. Don’t ever forget it.” Cyan’s voice said from the darkening void.

# # #

“I think he’s coming around.” Doctor Zubon said some hours later.

Point slowly opened his eyes, immediately regretting it as the light lanced into his head. Quickly, he shut them. “What in Tartarus happened?” he managed to groan.

“You got electrocuted by an overloaded breaker tester, Point. The shock went down your horn. You have been out cold for hours. I had to resuscitate you three times before you stabilized.”

“No wonder why I feel like I have been shoved through a recycling unit. Got any coffee?”

“I could give you an I.V. drip of your coffee, but I came up with something better. Coffee flavored pudding.” Zubon said with a laugh as she produced a cup of what looked like brownish black sludge, with the aroma of very strong coffee.

Point went to levitate a spoon with his glow, but he stopped with a yelp of pain. “Damn! That hurt!” he exclaimed, gently touching his horn.

“Looks like you will need that I.V. drip, Point! But, instead, how about a mug with a straw?”

“Please. I need to get some caffeine back into my bloodstream.”

“Don’t you mean blood in your caffeine stream, Point?”

“Yeah, that too.”

Zubon fetched the promised coffee. After a sip, Point asked, “How long before my horn heals?”

“Four to seven days, best guess. You took a heavy jolt through your horn while you were holding something up. Total rest of your magic is indicated. You’ll be staying here until I feel you can be released.” Zubon said with a smile.

“Great. You now have a captive audience of one,” Point groaned before sipping more coffee. “This tastes almost palatable.”

“I know your taste in coffee, Point. Everyone aboard does,” Zubon told him, hiding her surprise. The coffee was far from Point’s standards, which is like sipping coffee syrup. This was more like normal coffee.

“Good. Is there any way I can link to CONN from here? I want to know how OP-62 is going, then I have a story to tell. After that, work. Just because I was electrocuted is no reason to be lazy.”

“That’s the Purple Point we all know. I’ll get you an interface and you can get to work. Deal?”

“Deal. My sister wants to know how things work aboard, and what better way to learn than watch me work?” Point said as he settled more into the bed, twitching a little at the biomonitors he was wearing as they pulled a little.

“Sister?” Zubon asked in surprise.

Point tapped the side of his head. “Sister. Sunrise Flight has been dwelling up here all my life. Now we know each other for what we really are, there should be no more conflict. Mother will come in and spank us with her wings if we fought like we did.”


“Mother,” Point said matter-of-factly. “How she found me all the way out here, I don’t know. I’m glad she did. She set Sunrise and me straight, and now we can get along instead of fighting.”

Zubon was getting quite confused at Point’s words. “I thought Radiance Glow was your other half.”

“No, Radiance Glow is me. Sunrise Flight was my twin sister. She died immediately after birth, and her soul joined mine. Not knowing who she was supposed to be, she became my other side. When Father became too abusive, she erupted and became all the nastiness I repressed.” What worried Zubon was how calmly Point was speaking about this. Before, he would never talk about his family, except under duress, and then with high anxiety. “Purple Point, well, I am not sure how that came about.”

Zubon fetched the asked-for interface. “Here. Knock yourself out, Point. I have some reports to get filled out, then see about getting you some breakfast.”

Point took the tablet. “Settle down, Doctor. I’m not going to take your mane off with a razor cutter. I’m coming to grips with having my sister as an unwitting passenger. Best we get along, yes?”

“Sounds good, Point. Back in a while,” Zubon said as she left the room. “He really IS aware of all around him…”

Zubon called the Captain, asking for a personal visit to discuss Point, a request that was quickly granted. In the Captain’s cabin, Zubon gave a full report. “So, Point is now saying that he is Radiance Glow, and his alter ego is his twin sister? They are not hostile, but are getting along?” Wandering asked, trying to understand what was going on with his Engineer’s Mate.

“So he says, Captain. What surprised me is how calm he was when he told me. That’s not like him at all.”

“Family, to him, is a sore subject. He’s always felt his family has betrayed him, and he does not need a family. According to the House psychologists, anyway. When it comes to friends, even he admits he has a strange way of picking them. Look how he and Ortzi get along now, as compared to before.” Wandering said, trying to put the pieces together.

“I know they spend an hour a week together, practicing observational skills and mental drills. Their bantering does have an unusual tone to it, Ixia has told me. If you just listen, they are still hostile, but she feels a lot of mutual respect between them.”

“I want you to have Ixia look in on Point while he’s in medical. Has Point slipped a cog or two, or is he saner than ever? I know, with him, it’s hard to tell at times, but his madness has borne fruit. Back on Equus, his virtual vacation ideas are under development by Chrome Hive. His ideas for the fountain and pool in the Park have come through. Even the pegasus training idea is effective, just needs refinement.”

“I’ll do that, Captain. I know suffering an electrical shock has unusual effects on unicorns, but Point, well, I can write up a paper on my observations so far,” Zubon said, shaking her head some.

“I will release to you all the psychological reports of Point’s rehabilitation from years ago. Maybe that will help you. It’s baffling to Ixia, but this incident may provide some insight.”

“We can use it. He’s so open, yet so baffling at the same time. It’s like he’s deliberately making himself mysterious, just to keep everypony guessing about him.

“Would you believe, he called the Medical team’s coffee almost palatable?”

Wandering shook his head. “Right now, the more outrageous news is about Point, the more believable it would be.”

# # #

Ixia was given a full report, and started looking in on Point as he recovered. The first confusing point was how easily he acquiesced to being a patient in Medical, not even putting up a token resistance to Zubon’s orders. Next, he started talking to himself more, not swearing, but conversing, to somepony only he could hear. He displayed every sign of being more comfortable in his hide than he had ever shown.

Two days after he woke up, Ixia walked Point back to the spa, for a grooming and massage. Point readily agreed, because he did say he was getting a bit stiff being in bed. In the spa, during the grooming, Ixia made a discovery. Point’s cutie mark was that of a black staff with a purple spark at one end. Now, she saw the purple spark had gone white, on both sides. “Point, when did this happen?” she asked, indicating the white spark.

Point twisted around to look. “Hmm… must have been while I was shocked. Mama has said my soul will start healing. I like the thought of healing. When I was a colt, the spark was white. It didn’t turn purple until sometime before I came to in Ponyville, because I have been told it was purple when I arrived there,” he said calmly.

Ixia could feel emotions coming from Point, ones she did not expect. Pleasure at the fact his cutie mark had changed, calmness at the fact it had changed, and anticipation for something. What was even more surprising to Ixia was that the adamantine will Point possessed was not present, he was relaxed, calm, and open. Openness was something that had to be cajoled out of him, not something he easily gave. “Are you feeling all right, Point?”

“Yes, why? Do you think I shouldn’t?” Point asked back with an absolutely straight face.

“You’re not usually this relaxed until after the massage, not during the grooming. Just what DID happen while you were unconscious?” Ixia asked as she started on his mane.

Point described the entire event as he remembered it, describing his mother and sister, what happened, and how it finished, leaving only one detail out. “Sunrise appeared to me last night while I slept, and we had a conversation. She apologized again for what she did. She was trying to protect me from our father. Looks like I needed the assertiveness, but not that much!”

Ixia paused in her brushing of Point’s mane. She could see red and white roots on some of his mane hairs. “You actually believe whatever happened, did happen…” she said in surprise.

“Of course, it did. I wish I could prove it to you, Ixia. You know I don’t like to lie. Especially not to you.”

“Either you are now saner than you have been, or you have completely flipped your nut. Come on, onto the massage table.”

Point obeyed the command, getting out of the chair before sprawling onto the table. “I can understand why you would feel that way, Ixie. Sunrise finds you interesting. She says hello, by the way.”

“Hello, Sunrise,” Ixia said as she started work. “My, you are relaxed today! Usually you are quite tense.”

“I don’t have to worry about my other half deciding to come out and shove me aside. My other half only wanted a chance to live. One day, she will.” Point said before shuddering some.

Ixia felt him tense up, then relax. “What brought that on?” she said as she continued her work.

“Nothing I’m ready to discuss just yet.” Point said quickly before relaxing into the massage.

“It involves bringing your sister back to life, right?”

“Yes.” Point said tersely, stiffening again. “She won’t remember anything, but we will share a bond. Now, please don’t ask about it anymore, okay?”

“Okay, Point.” Ixia could feel his distress at that line of questioning, as well as the root cause. The rest of the massage went on with casual chatter before Point let fly with the biggest surprise of the day, for Ixia at least.

“Ixie, how about a dip in the hot tub? Sunrise wants to see what it feels like. So long as my nose stays above water, I should be able to handle it.”

Ixia froze in position for a few seconds, taken completely off guard. Point’s phobia of the hot tub, okay, being immersed in water being more accurate, was a standing joke among the crew. Despite designing the relaxation pool in the Park, he never once entered it while there was water in it. Her emotion sense told her he was being completely casual about it, no fright apparent, unlike the other times she had suggested it. “Sure, Point. I’ll keep your head above water. Shall we?”

“Surely. Just don’t dump me in, okay?”

“For that crack, I ought to!” Ixia said as she wheeled the table in to the hot tub room, before turning it around and sliding him in tail first. That was when she noticed some green hairs at the base of his tail.

Point sighed in bliss as the warm water engulfed his body. “I knew what I was missing, but I didn’t want him to come out,” he said, resting his chin on the rim of the tub, letting the rest of his body go limp.

“Enjoying yourself?” Ixia asked.

“You tell me. I know Sunrise is.” Point murmured, relaxing.

Ixia was more than surprised to feel something she had not felt before- a second wash of emotions riding on top of Point’s relaxation. This one radiated joy, and the freedom it, no, she, felt, like flying or gliding should feel like. “Point, will you be all right for a few minutes? I have to check something.”

“Sure, Ixia. I’ll be fine. I won’t hurt him.” Point said, in a slightly different voice.

Ixia casually made her way back to her office. Shutting and sealing the door, she hurriedly called Wandering Path. “Captain, I can definitely say something about Purple Point. He is not insane. He’s currently in the hot tub, and I think I just felt and spoke with his sister!”

Wandering looked out of the comm unit at his hidden counselor, who was trembling with either surprise or shock. “You are not joking, are you?”

“Not at all, Captain. I can play you recordings later, but he is now in the hot tub by himself, at his own suggestion. He’s completely relaxed, and is enjoying the experience. I’m sure I have just spoke with his sister. She said she would not hurt him while they relaxed in the hot tub.”

“Keep him under observation, and pull him out when you feel he needs to. I’ll call Equus to see if anything like this has been documented. I’ll ask Mama Twilight to look.” Wandering ordered.

“You bet I will, Captain. I’ve never seen this before.”

“Go watch him. We will speak later. Captain out.”

Ixia went back to the tub to find Point limp in the water, sound asleep, head propped up on the edge of the tub, legs moving slowly. “Having fun, Sunrise?” she asked.

“Oh, yes! This is like resting on a cloud, except for the rim under my chin.” Point said in Sunrise’s voice.

“Glad you like it. How is he?”

“Sound asleep. He needs it. I’ll watch over him now, not take him over. He won’t need medication to sleep anymore.”

“Why won’t he talk about how he could bring you back to life?” Ixia asked, genuinely curious.

Point giggled, his eyes coming open. His eyes were not purple like before, they were orange. “He has to knock up a mare! Mama told him so, and I’ll become his first daughter!”

Ixia started giggling as well. Purple Point was so shy when it came to sex, or sexual relations in general, he would either lock up and stutter, or just walk away from the conversation. When cornered, he would say that if others wanted to, that was fine, but he didn’t want to. “No wonder he clammed up! Can I be your friend as well, Sunrise?”

“Sure! But only when he’s asleep. I can’t talk until he’s not awake. He likes you a lot. He cares about you, and everypony else on board.”

Ixia sat down next to the tub, where she could be eye to eye with Point/Sunrise. “He does care, but he has unusual ways to show how much he does.”

“He’s such a nerd… always has, always will! It took me to break through and get out from under Father’s abusive hooves. He’s so reluctant to fight.”

“But that won’t stop him when he needs to.”

“It’s why he’s so vicious. He hates fighting so much, he gets it over with fast.” Sunrise said before giggling girlishly. “He took my lessons well, yes?”

“You showed him how to fight? No wonder he has such an odd fighting style… he fights like a pegasus, not a unicorn!”

“but then, I thought I was a unicorn, not a pegasus.” Sunrise said. “I just did what felt right.”

“You did good. Why do I see different color hairs growing in, and why did his cutie mark change color?”

Sunrise paused before answering, looking thoughtful. “Because his soul is changing, going back towards Radiance Glow’s soul. It won’t go all the way back, but he will get a red and white stripe in his mane, and a green stripe in his tail. Other than that, he won’t look any different.”

“How could two souls inhabit the same body at the same time?” Ixia asked, curious.

“I don’t know, Ixia. Mama says I had trouble being born, so my soul jumped to Radiance’s body. How I did that, I could not tell you. I just wish he would have listened to me much sooner, but I didn’t know how to communicate with him.” Sunrise said plaintively. “Uh oh… he’s waking up. Gotta go, Ixia!”

“See you later, Sunrise.” Ixia said as Point shut his eyes, then re-opened them, the color back to purple.

“Think you can help me out of the pool, Ixie? I feel like I’m turning into a stewed prune!” Point said in his normal voice.

“Okay, Point.” Ixia got Point out of the hot tub. A difficult chore, because he was limp as a wet noodle. She got him dried off and hefted him onto a gurney. “Try this again in a couple of days?”

“Sounds good to me. I can tell, she liked floating in the water.”

‘She did. I assure you, she did.”

“I believe you, Ixie. Until I can use my magic again, I’m sort of next to useless, so, back to Zubon’s tender mercies and back to my researches.”

# # #

Later that night, Ixia went to Wandering Path’s cabin to give her report. After listening to her, Wandering pulled up a crystal. “Everything matches with what Mama Twilight managed to find out about phenomena like this. Apparently, it is quite rare, even among twins. Maybe one in a million manage the feat. When it happens, the souls usually wind up battling, causing insanity in the survivor as the two souls conflict. It’s also very hard to find, unless you even suspect there is a soul issue.

“When he was examined years ago, the soul problem was masked by the magical trauma he had undergone. Now, having had a similar form of trauma, it, well, jarred things loose. Next time Destined comes out here, he will examine Point, after getting some pointers on what to look for. No rush in this, seeing as he’s not going anywhere.”

Ixia took the crystal and tucked it in a pouch. “I’ll study this closely before his next appointment. Maybe I can prize more information out of Sunrise. She sounds like a good soul to know.”

“You do your job, Ixia, I’ll do mine. Get him healthy.”

“Will do, Captain!”

Sunrise Point

View Online

20.471 light-years from the Far Star, give or take five miles:

Purple Point and Sunrise Flight sat across from each other at a table on the mess decks, demolishing one of Kale’s better creations between them. Ever since Flix created Sunrise at the Halfway Happening, the two were almost inseparable. Flix refused to banish her at the end of twelve hours, so she remained alive and alert, a pegasus mare that not only had Point’s experiences, but also had her own perspective on what had happened. She was very much her own pony, as the crew came to find out.

The crew were still getting used to Purple Point’s changes, not only the red and white stripe in his mane and the green stripe in his tail, but how his whole demeanor had changed. No longer needing to maintain his rigid will to prevent a hostile takeover, he was much more relaxed, affable and friendly. There were other side effects, one of which was taking to swearing in public, no longer using almost incomprehensible euphemisms to express his feelings.

Sunrise shared her brother’s expressiveness, but taking it in a completely different direction. She was much easier to talk to and with, Point slowly unlearning his reticence. She also shared his technical knowledge, but, being a pegasus instead of a unicorn, there was a lot she could not do. Didn’t stop her from thinking, though.

“Point, I know a way to improve your pegasus training simulator in the garden. I’m surprised you didn’t think of it first.” Sunrise told her brother.

“Oh? Just how do you propose a solution, sister dearest?” Point said after a mouthful of Kale’s best.

“With a force field, one dialed down almost to nonexistence.” Sunrise told her twin. Holding up a forehoof to stall an interruption, she went on. “All you need to do is decrease the field intensity. You don’t need to keep objects or ponies from passing through the field, just the water molecules. Pegasi can go through it with ease, but the water vapor will stay in the upper half of the garden. True, over time, the temperature in the lower half will increase, but a lot slower than the way it is now.”

Point downed some coffee while he thought, his eyes focused on nothing. That was one difference between them, while he subsisted on coffee, she would not touch the stuff, preferring tea. “I never thought of that. Problem being, the fields will be so low-intensity, they won’t have much range. We will have to place emitter gems all along the length of the Park, and even then, I’m not sure if it would reach across.”

Sunrise sighed a little. While Point was extremely versatile in thought and deed, especially when it comes to repairing equipment, sometimes he can be maddeningly blind to the obvious. To get his thoughts going in the right direction, she shifted to what they called Twinspeak, a language that bore little relation to anything on Equestria, but fully understood by each other. “<Start the field at high intensity, then dial down the power from there. Once initiation is made and the field established, then it can be thinned down to almost nothing without losing coverage, you thoughtless nitwit!>” she snapped out.

Point snorted. “<Thoughtless nitwit? I’m no nitwit! You ought to know, being in my head for however so long! What you describe is good on small scale, but I don’t think it’s able to be ramped up to the scale we need for the park, brainless slut!>”

“<Brainless slut! Me? I at least know what to do in bed, which is more than you could ever do! Now, let’s get to the lab and test this out!>” Sunrise snapped back, her wings and nostrils flaring some.

“<You know damn well I know what to do in bed, because I was watching when you were doing it! Q7X field do it?>”

“<You enjoyed every minute of it, Point! I ought to know! Q series, yes, but not a 7X. A 10E would do it.>”

“<10E? A 10E will be too thin! Enjoyed it, my dying ass! It was disgusting!>”

“<Tordenkakkenlak!>” Sunrise shouted. Immediately, both brother and sister calmed down, looking like someone took the wind out of their sails, anger dissipating. The crowd watching them argue went back to their meals, knowing the show was over. The Purple Point Profanity Pool had been replaced by the Twinspeak Tirade, monitoring how many times, from midnight to midnight, the two will lapse into Twinspeak, and the Angry Birds pool, monitoring how many times they raised their voices to each other. This was the third time today for both.

The two made their way to the magic research lab, where they started small scale testing of the idea. Six hours, eight arguments, three Twinspeak lapses and one smoke crisis later, they had tried enough variations to move up to moderate-scale testing next. For that, they needed a larger space, and they had one- Cargo Bay One.

The ship had been planned and provisioned for a forty-two-year flight. With dilation reducing trip time to about ten years, that meant they had more than enough supplies on hand for just about any conceivable occurrence. Cargo Bay One had been designed to be emptied first, and the large empty space was available for use. Skipping dinner, they headed straight there, taking their equipment and field crystals with them.

There, it took both to set up their field emitter crystals about halfway up the walls of the empty space. Once set, Point initiated the field, then started dialing it back. At his signal, Sunrise attempted to fly through the field, bouncing off it. “<A little lower, brother dearest.>” she said a little sourly. Bumping into a Q10E field is a bit uncomfortable.

“<Try it now, sister.>” Point said after a few adjustments. She managed to penetrate the field, but not without effort.

“Bring it down a bit more, Point. We want the field to be just barely there, holding moisture back, but allowing penetration.” Sunrise called down.

Point brought the field down even lower. “<Something you know all about, sister dear.>” he said snidely in Twinspeak, referring to her desire to having sex with anyone who wanted it who were awake and moving. So far, she has had six bed partners, something that annoyed Point.

“<Not now, brother.>” she snapped as she dropped a smoke bomb from the top of the cargo hold to the bottom, the bomb easily penetrating the field, but the billowing smoke did not.

Point shut off the force field, dialing the ventilation up to high speed, coughing at the acrid scent of the smoke. “I’m going to get you for that, you know,” he managed to say through the thinning smoke.

Sunrise landed, her wings blowing the smoke away from her. “Promises, promises. Ready to bring this up with the Captain?”

“It definitely shows promise. I just wonder why I never thought of this before.” Point said, putting the testing gear away, pulling the crystals off the walls.

“Because, brother of mine, YOU are not a pegasus. You don’t know what it is like to make weather. I know the requirements, you don’t.”

“And YOU are not a unicorn, so you can’t set up the experiments like I can.”

“We work together well, brother.”

Point paused in the stowing to hug his sister, who returned the hug warmly. “That we do, sister, despite the arguing. Now, shall we find the Captain?”

“Sounds like an idea to me. CONN, where is Captain Path?” Sunrise asked the ship’s maneframe, which is always listening to everything on the ship.

“Captain Path is currently in the mess hall, Sunrise Flight,” came the reply in CONN’s pleasantly modulated voice.

“Please let the Captain know we are coming to pitch an idea to him. Do not let him know the subject matter.” Point amplified.

“Will do, sir.” Quickly, the testing equipment and field crystals were put away, and the pair made their way to the mess decks and the patiently waiting alicorn.

“I take it you have something interesting to propose, Engineer?” Captain Path asked the approaching pair.

“Yes, we do, Captain.” Point said as he started outlining the tests they had run and the idea they had to improve the pegasus training area in the Park.

After listening to Point, with only the occasional amplification from Sunrise, Wandering Path nodded in agreement. “Okay, you have my permission to set up full scale testing. If this works, you can pick what sort of entertainment you would like to see Willow do Saturday after next. If it fails, one of you will be ship’s janitor for a month. If it fails spectacularly, BOTH of you will be janitors. Got it?”

The pair stood in front of the Captain and saluted, one with a hoof, the other with her wing. “Yes, we got it, Captain!” they chorused before making their way out of the mess decks.

“I don’t know what I did to deserve those two,” Wandering muttered under his breath. “But I’m not sure if I ever want to find out.”

The twins worked throughout the night setting up their force field array, not stopping for anything more than a cup of coffee (or tea) while they put the crystals in place, moving any plant that was in the plane of fire out of the way first. Such consideration was appreciated by both Emerald Green and Skye Path.

Once the array was complete, Point started programming in the spells that would control the field, while Sunrise went around and carefully shut off the misters that were located below the force field. It was not until breakfast that all was in readiness.

“Brother, let’s get something to eat, shall we? I can’t go three days without food.” Sunrise complained.

Point looked like he was going to refuse, but a look at his sister’s face convinced him otherwise. It also could have been her one forehoof and both wings prepared to clock him a good three having something to do with his decision. “Sure, sister. Let’s do that before we do our testing,” he said quietly. Point had learned that his sister was much faster than he was before deciding to fight. He may be the better fighter, technically, but she was also very, very fast. A couple trips to Medical in the first month attested to that.

After breakfast, the two made their way back to the Park and the screen controller. Breaking out his testing gear and hooking it up, Point said, “Here’s hoping I got the spells right,” before activating the screen.

A bright golden glow erupted from the crystal array, cutting the Park in half before dimming to a barely detectable shimmer in the air. Sunrise activated the water vapor system, admitting vapor to the upper half of the cylinder. “How long before I can try it out?” she asked.

Point got a thoughtful look, tapping his hoof on the floor as he pondered the question. “Ten minutes before there will be any possibility of doing anything. Half an hour would be better,” he said.

“Enough time for a shower before starting. You should take one too, brother.”

“I think I should monitor the force screen stabiliGACK!” Point squawked as Sunrise grabbed him around the collar of his uniform and started dragging the unicorn towards the pond he had set up years before.

“The shield will take care of itself. You need to get yourself presentable before we show this to the rest of the crew!” Sunrise snarled before letting Point go. There was a shower stall rigged up near the pond, for those who did not want to track bits of leaves or any other stuff picked up from the pond back through the ship. “You first, so you can get back to the shield!”

“Okay, sis.” Point said quietly, not wanting to raise her wrath any more. Quietly, he went to the stall, shed his uniform, and took a refreshing shower. After a few minutes, he could admit to himself she was right.

When he came out, Sunrise had already shed her uniform and nosed past the still dripping Point. “My turn!” she squealed happily. Point could hear her sigh of joy when the water came on. Feeling impish, he went to the water controls and shut the cold water down to the merest trickle before heading back to the screen control, using a spell to dry himself.

Point had just made it back to the controller before a high-pitched scream came from the shower. “RADIANCE GLOW, I’M GOING TO POUND THE SHIT OUT OF YOU!” Sunrise bellowed as she came out of the stall and took flight, passing through the screen easily.

“You’re going to have to catch me first, Sunrise Flight!” Point laughed as he dialed up the screen power.

Sunrise headed for Point, but splatted against the screen, sliding to, over and past him on the slick impenetrable surface of the Q10E shield before smashing into a tree’s planter. “You are so going to get it, big brother!” she snorted, clouds gathering around her, white at first, but darkening by the second.

Point stepped away from the controller, eyes on his sister and the clouds. “You wouldn’t…” he said in a whisper. There was a flash, a crack and a sinister snicker. When the smoke cleared, Point was standing there, his mane and tail all frizzed out.

“I would. Shut down the systems, Point. I think it works.”

“Shutdown is not called for. Let’s keep the field up at minimum level until the atmosphere mix top and bottom match, then secure the field.” Point said as his glow turned the field down and shut off the vapor system. Once that was done, he looked at his sister. “Ground me, please?”

Sunrise flipped a piece of wire at him, grounding out his charge without too much pain. “Don’t even think about playing a prank like that on me again, Radiance!”

“Okay, Sunrise. Let’s come back in an hour or so and see how things are, okay? I think I need a cup of coffee, okay?” Point said with a twitch or two.

“I think you need a nap, brother mine. Go now or I’ll give you another dose of what I already gave you.” Sunrise said firmly, pointing a wing at the door to the park.

“Okay, Sunrise.” Point plodded out, twitching a little as he went back to their cabin. Sunrise headed back to the shower stall to shut off the water, reset the cold-water valve, and dry off. When she came out, Skye was waiting for her.

“He at it again?” Skye asked.

“We are.” Sunrise said before explaining their invention to her.

“Good for you both. If this works, we will have many happy pegasi.”

“Of which I will be one.” Sunrise said. At that second, the force screen shut off, releasing a blast of warm, moist air, as well as a layer of water that had condensed on the force screen. Due to irregularities in laying out the crystals for the field, a slight slope had formed, causing the water to pool at the aft end, where they were standing, soaking them both.

“I think you have some more work to do, Sunrise.” Skye said before shaking off the water.

A Letter to Flix

View Online

Cosmic Lotus, 19.847 light-years from destination, or thereabouts…:

Radiance Point, the engineer formerly known as Purple Point, sat at his desk in the Engineering office, a tablet in front of him, stylus held in his glow. He glanced at a reflective surface, looking again at the white stripe in his mane, a thin red stripe running down the center of the wider white. Knowing his sister, Sunrise Flight, had just started a session with Ixia, he began to write, confident he would not be interrupted.

To: Flix Path, also known as Flix the Magnificent, Flix the Prognosticator, Flix the Wish-Granter, Flix the justifiably arrogant pain in the ass, Flix the Chaotic, yadda, yadda, yadda….

From: Radiance Point, Engineer’s Mate, Cosmic Lotus

Decryption key: BPH9895

Subject: Just what in Tartarus were you THINKING of?

Flix, it has been six months and a couple of days since you brought forth my sister, Sunrise Flight, removing her soul from where it had been entangled in mine, giving her form, substance and life. Ever since you have done that, my life has become a mix of embarrassment, torture, and humiliation at her hooves. She knows me better than I know me, or her, for that matter.

Let me tell you about one of our recent disagreements.

“Point, for Celestia’s sake, you’ve been approaching this problem from the wrong direction!” Sunrise snapped at her twin brother, clearly vexed.

“What do you mean, the wrong direction? I’ve been working on the Virtual Repair spell now for a decade! How can I be doing it wrong?” Point snapped back. This argument was in the privacy of their cabin, so they did not need to lapse into Twinspeak.

“The way you have it plotted right now, the only way it can work is if the pony casting the spell has detailed knowledge of the system before starting to fix any possible problem. The only one here who has that in-depth knowledge of every system aboard is you! Nopony else can even use the spell!” Sunrise hollered at him.

“So, what do you think should be done?”

“You need to add a spell component to either interface with the ship’s maneframe for data, or scan the systems affected so the user would know what to do to restore normal function!”

“And just how do you propose to do that?”

Sunrise then launched into a description of more than one spell equation, outlining the interface with maneframe as well as the system scan. Her equation also included options for the user to find all malfunctions, and ignore some to focus on the most critical. The spell duration she had described caused Point to snort.

“Instantaneous duration for system scan?” Point asked.

“Why use any more time than that? Maneframe access to start as soon as spell is initiated, to give the user more decisions. If this is going to be used in critical situations, why waste time hunting for the issue?” Sunrise asked back.

“Just how could you even understand all the equations? It took me decades to learn it all!” Point said, more than a little startled.

Sunrise sighed. “Brother, dear, I was in your head the whole time, remember? I may not be able to do anything with the spells now, not having the equipment to use magic like you do, but I remember it all. You may be innovative and creative when repairing a broken system, but how in Tartarus did you EVER get a thud?” she asked, referring to Radiance Point’s doctorate in thaumaturgy.

“Good luck, good skill, and filling a need. The patents I got from that spell alone will keep the bits flowing in for a long time to come. Some of the spells are in use on the ship, in fact.” Point said smugly.

“Yeah, upgrading and increasing efficiency of the recycling systems to scavenge trace minerals from waste products. Rerun the VR spell including the additions I suggested. You might be surprised, big brother.” Sunrise said saucily, getting up from her chair. “I’m going to stretch my wings.”

Flix, she was right! The problems I have been bashing myself against for a decade, she resolved in a matter of minutes! You made her, yes. I love her more than I love anyone, I’m getting the sleep I need, I feel better now than I have in decades, but why didn’t you include a tech manual for her?

That was merely one incident, Flix. Why did you have to give her my observational skills as well? Sunrise is the only pony on board who can clean my clock at the poker table, or ANY card table, for that matter. When we meet at a card tournament, she beats me roughly sixty percent of the time. Okay, not just beat me, trounce me! Yes, I know the shoe is on the other hoof now, but, what were you trying to teach me, humility?

Here’s another incident I want to tell you about.

Radiance and Sunrise were at dinner one Saturday night, awaiting Willow’s weekly after-dinner show.

“Radiance, have you ever tried stand up?” Sunrise asked.

“You know full well I have not. Why would you ask me that?”

“I challenge you, brother dear. I challenge you to a joke-off during Amateur Hour tonight. Loser gets to be janitor for a day. Winner gets bragging rights.” Sunrise said with a smile.

Radiance could smell a trap coming, but could not conceive exactly how the trap was being laid. “Okay, sister dearest. A joke-off it is. Shall we sign up?”

“No need to. I already did, yesterday. Hope you have some good material in that dry filing system you call a memory store, brother!” Sunrise laughed.

Everyone near could swear they saw smoke coming out of Point’s ears, as well as a spark or two leaping from his horn. “Oh, you’re on, sister dear. You are so on! Add this- the loser, on their janitor day, gives up tea or coffee for twenty-four hours.”

“Deal!” Sunrise called out. “I would love to see you in withdrawal, brother!”

Flix, she humiliated me on stage! She won by such a margin, Willow asked her to join him in comedy acts! I decided to work the night shift for a week, to avoid ponies braying at me! What can I do? Guide me, Flix the Omniscient! Send a letter, send a video, send a text, send me off to Appleoosa (no, don’t do that… Appleoosa is a nice town, let’s leave it on the map). Send me guidance! Coffee withdrawal was absolute agony!

Here’s another incident:

Radiance was in Linear Park, doing some maintenance in the upper levels. It was hot and humid up there, because Sunrise and two others were up there, fogging system on, bowling with cloud pins and balls. One of ColdFire’s shots went astray, engulfing him in cloud. Point snorted, clearing the mist away from his work area, but kept on working.

“Sunrise, can anything distract Point when he’s working?” ColdFire asked.

“Yes, but it is a real dumb idea to push him that much. You will feel the sharp edge of his tongue. Now that I’m out of his head, he feels free to swear at ponies, rather than in private.” Sunrise replied as Epic Prose set up the cloud pins.

“You sure of that?”

“I’m sure. Remember back at the start of the voyage, when you messed up the water valve in the shower room?”

“Yes, I do. That was difficult, but I pulled it off!”

“Well, he admires the skill involved, but he was cursing up a storm inside his head. Something about plucking all your feathers, dyeing them, then putting them back in just such a way they will display obscene imagery both furled and spread?” Sunrise told her friend as she formed up a cloud ball and made ready to throw.

“Oh, come on, he wouldn’t do that to me, would he?” ColdFire replied.

“He would, and he could.” Sunrise sighed before explaining in excruciating detail just how the procedure would have been done. ColdFire went pale as she followed the explanation, realizing Point WOULD do such a thing to her.

“I’m just glad he likes me now,” she said as Sunrise rolled her cloud ball, getting a strike.

“Of course, he does. You’ve paid him enough. And me, too.” Sunrise said as Epic Prose set up the pins again.

“Just how does he do it? And you, for that matter?” Epic Prose asked once the pins were reset.

“Well, we…” Sunrise started to say before she was interrupted by a loud shout from Point, “NO TELLING SECRETS, YOU BUCKING AIRHEAD MARE!

The bellow caused all three pegasi to jump in surprise, as well as Skye Path, who was tending her herb garden below and aft. Point glared at the pegasi, nostrils wide, horn sparking different colored motes of light. All three could have sworn there was smoke coming out of his ears, too. Point snorted once and went back to his maintenance.

“He is aware of everything around him…” ColdFire whispered, stunned some by the outburst.

“I swear, I’ve never heard him lose his temper like that before.” Epic Prose said quietly.

“Now that I’m out of him, he has little reason to show restraint.” Sunrise said, equally quiet. “How many more frames left?

“Three in this match, then you play pinsetter while Epic and I play.” ColdFire whispered.

“Let’s go to the other end. Otherwise, he may get louder.” Sunrise whispered back to her friends, all three taking wing to the far end of the park, where they marked off another lane and finished the match.

Flix, I’m finding it harder and harder to keep my temper under control! What am I doing wrong now that she’s out of my head and no longer hostile? I don’t want to hurt anypony! What shall I do? Then, there was this incident…

“Big brother, I’ve been thinking.” Sunrise Flight said to Radiance Point one morning at breakfast.

“Little sister, when you say that, I don’t know if I should be exultant or go into hiding. What have you been thinking about?”

“Your virtual vacation idea. I feel you left a step out of the process.” Sunrise said after a mouthful of egg.

“Oh? Like what?” Point snorted as he dipped his toast in his coffee.

“After you map the memories, what you should do is turn the memories into computer programs, then back again for reading. That way the vacationer can control what she does, instead of being constrained to the memory’s playback. If she wants to stop and look off a cliffside or admire a flower, she can.”

“And how do you propose to do that?” Point snapped. Sunrise then launched into a spell formula recitation that would boggle most Th.D.’s, programmers and system operators, but not Point.

“You know, I never thought of that. One would think simply writing a program would be enough, but to get enough resolution, it would be easier to simply take a scan of a memory. The recorder must look all around each area, to capture everything around them,” Point said, seeing where Sunrise was leading to.

“Exactly! Now, think you can handle the memory/machine conversion interface?” Sunrise said sweetly, in just such a manner that alarm bells went off in Point’s head.

“I’m sure I can, but do you have any ideas you would like to share with me?” Point asked gently, hesitantly, wondering what would happen next.

“Of course, I do! Finish your breakfast and let’s head up to the lab. It will be easier to explain there.”

Flix, her method worked, and worked well in small scale testing! We sent our findings back in the data stream. Still waiting on an answer. Is it natural to feel threatened by a family member? I’ve worked hard all these years and have built up quite a reputation. Now she comes along and is upsetting my applecart. I don’t want to hate her like I hated her other form. She’s my sister, and I want our relationship to be a pleasant one, after years of unpleasantness. Whatever can I do?

In gratitude,

Radiance Point

Engineer’s Mate, Cosmic Lotus.

Point encoded the letter and had it inserted into the data stream heading back to Equus. To his surprise, he received a reply less than four hours later. Going to his office, he had CONN display the message. Flix appeared on screen, an orange changeling partially visible behind the hippo-whatever. Words appeared at the bottom of the screen as he spoke.

To: Radiance Point, Engineer’s Mate, Cosmic Lotus

From: Flix Path

Re: Your recent message.

Radiance Point, you surprised me. Not by contacting me, but how you did it. Most ponies would send a verbal or video message. No, you wrote it out. How old-fashioned can you get?

Sunrise Flight is heavily influenced by you, since her soul and yours were entangled for so long. She got your observational skills and memory, along with your education, but from her own viewpoint. How she got her pegasus skills, all I can say is, ask your mother. I just built her body, not her mind or soul.

She is very much her own pony, as you have discovered. Don’t see her as a rival, see her as a colleague that looks at matters very much different than you would. She’s the sister you never had. Treasure her, as family and as an ally.

You’re too stodgy, Point. Learn from your sister and loosen up! Thinking only one way only leads to stillness. Time to put a little disorder in your life! You’ll be a better pony for doing so. Extend your innovation to other than making things work! Be a pony! Be alive!

This is a recording, operator seven-seven-two.

Now, how do I turn this thing off? Orlonda, can you show me how to the screen went black as the orange changeling leaned into the picture clearly to push something with a hoof.

Point snorted as he read the note. “Loosen up, indeed. I am what I am and that’s all that I am.”

“But you can be so much more, brother dearest. Sleep on it.” Sunrise said from right behind him.

Point let out a yell and headed up to the ceiling before falling, landing with a spraddle-legged splat on the floor, fortunately missing everything in the small office. “Going to try for the high jump record in the next Cosmic Games?”

“Sunrise, how in Tartarus did you get in here?” Point gasped once he got his breath back.

“You didn’t lock the door, Point. Flix sent me a note as well. He wants me to be more than just your sister, but your friend as well. Loosen up, bro!” she said as she helped Point back to his hooves. “Seems like you need a drink or two.”

“I don’t drink, Sunrise. You know that.”

“Well, it’s time you started! Just one, no more. I’ll help you back to the cabin, if you need it.”

“Sunrise, I don’t want to do something so radical…”

“<We’re going to the bar and I’m buying you a drink, and I’m going to watch you enjoy it!>” she snapped in Twinspeak.

Point hung his head. He knew not to go any further. If he did, she would uncork on him, and that would not be pleasant. “Bourbon. Neat.”

“Rum and cola, in a tall glass. I want you mellow, not blitzed.”

Point could only nod. “As you say, sister dearest.”

“Change is never easy, Radiance. You need it, I can give it. You’ll like it, in time.”

What To Do Now?

View Online

Cosmic Lotus, 19.329 light-years from destination, according to the navigator’s best guesstimate…

Sunrise Flight oofed some under the force of Ixia’s massage. “My, you’re tense today, Sunrise,” the yellow changeling told her friend.

“Yeah, trying to get used to being without Radiance for a while. With him hibernating, it feels so strange not to feel him around.” Sunrise said, face through the hole in the table. “I’ve never felt the like before.”

“I’m sure it has to be a strange feeling. Like disconnecting from the hive is to us changelings.”

“It could be. Since we were separated, we don’t read each other’s minds, but our thought processes are so similar, the effects are almost the same. We have the same database, but our differences allow us to come to different conclusions. Our similarities, on the other hOOF…” Sunrise grunted as Ixia found a particularly tough knot in her back.

“You are not him, neither is he you. It’s perfectly normal to have anxiety about being away from your brother for the first time since you were born. Just relax, okay? You will be all right.

“Just how do you manage to be able to be a pegasus, anyway? You do well in flying, cloud walking and weather control.”

“I cannot say for sure, Ixia. When Mother formed me in Radiance’s head, bringing me back to what I should have been, it was like she had gifted me with all the experience I needed. She was a Wonderbolts auxiliary in Baltimare, and must have passed on the information.”

“Good enough an explanation as any.” Ixia said as she managed to untie the big knot in Sunrise’s back before working on her right leg.

“Ixia, the way you’re untying my knots, I won’t be walking for a while.”

“Nonsense! After you steep a bit in the tub, you’ll jell together nicely. That I’m sure about!” Ixia laughed as she got the knots undone. No knot could withstand the assault of her trained hooves!

Once the massage was done, Ixia tipped Sunrise into the hot tub and let her steep like a tea bag. “This is so much better, Ixia. I should have come yesterday, but I let too much pile up after Radiance went to sleep.”

“You’re forgiven, just don’t let it happen again. You know what it will be like, resetting you.”

“Painful, but so worth it!”

Ixia took a seat outside the tub, her head level with Sunrise’s. “So, just what were you doing yesterday?”

“Training under Eon to pull a duty engineer shift. He’s a hard taskmaster, but Radiance and I have faced tougher, and triumphed.”

“So that’s why Eon was so torqued last night,” Ixia said quietly. “Just what did you do to him?”

“Showed him that I know just as much as my brother does, but I don’t have his telekinesis, so I have to use workarounds. So, I tied him up in knots. I also showed him my command of invective is just as good.”

“Just what did you say to him?”

“When he became too condescending, I snapped this at him,” Sunrise said before saying something in Saddle Arabian. “Translated, that means ‘may a thousand thousand fleas make a nest in your space suit’s lining.’”

“I’m going to have to remember that one. So, what else have you trained on?” Ixia asked.

“I have worked my way through this ship from one end to the other since the halfway party, learning how to stand watches on just about every station aboard this ship, or at least a helping hoof. I saved Engineering for last because brother dearest knows that cold. So do I, but I must remember to use tools, not spells.” Sunrise said as she soaked up the heat in the hot tub, wings out and relaxed.

“So, you have all Point’s knowledge and spells in your head?” Ixia asked.

“I have it all in here,” Sunrise said, tapping her head with a hoof. Ixia noticed she tapped her head in unicorn fashion, alongside the horn, if she had one. “I can’t USE the spells, but I have them all. Everything he knows about this ship, I know as well. He knows EVERYTHING, down to the source codes for CONN.”

“I didn’t know Point was a programmer.”

“He’s not. He read the programming for CONN one night as it was being set up. That’s how he knows it.”

“Being an eidetic brings its own problems, he has said.”

“That is so true, Ixia. However, I’m not as rigid as he is, so it’s easier for me to move on. He just could not let go of thoughts that caused him issues. His biggest fear was for ‘him’ to take over again, so, he lived his life in a constant state of paranoia. I bet now he is sleeping soundly, and enjoying the time off.”

“I’ll bet you’re right, Sunrise. I know not to make a bet against you. You’re just too good at figuring the odds.”

Sunrise furled her wings as she struggled to get out of the tub, Ixia lending a hoof with her own telekinesis. “So is he, but to him, the calculating is a cold hard decision. With me, it’s more instinctive. I don’t care how I get to the conclusion, I just take it and run.”

“Just how do you manage to beat your brother much of the time?”

“Simple. I trust my feelings. He thinks it out, I go by what I feel. Works, doesn’t it?”

“Passion does beat logic, much of the time.” Ixia said as she helped Sunrise dry off.

“Point does not like to show his passions, because he thought it was an outlet for his other half. Problem is, he was right. Being passionate about anything was his other half’s domain, not his. Say what you would about Radiance Glow’s other half, he sure did live life to the fullest.” Sunrise said as she spread her right wing and started preening.

“And that scared him. I know. He was so badly frightened of his other half. Once he got electrocuted, and you came out right in his head, he started relaxing a lot more.” Ixia said.

“That he did. When Flix separated us, it took another load off his mind- that of not having to knock up a mare to help me live. He would have done so, no matter how distasteful it is to him, but he’s glad he does not have to do so.” Sunrise explained.

“Just why is that? Is he gay or straight?”

“Neither, actually. He was assaulted when he was nine years old, sexually assaulted. He managed to escape, but he never told anypony about it. The assaulter moved out of the neighborhood shortly after, and we never did find out anything more about him. I remember it, but I can’t feel it, if you know what I mean. I think it woke me up some, because it was after that incident my memories become sharper.”

“He’s never mentioned that to anypony I know. That’s not in his records, not even the in-depth one House Path did after the wreck.”

“Point is passionate about secrets. He will never betray a confidence, nor will he ever say anything he does not want heard. Thing is, I know all about them, and I’m under no compulsion NOT to talk about them. However, I will not willingly hurt my brother. He does care, but he has to allow it to happen.”

“Maybe the hibernation will do him good, giving him a chance to rest and think things over.” Ixia said as Sunrise finished preening her right wing and started on the left. “What about you? You’re fitting in quite well aboard. You’re pleasant, approachable, and taking Point down a peg or two at the card games.”

“So, there is a dichotomy between us, despite my being in his head all these years. I know what he knows, but I am quite my own pony. I have a different perspective on everything. Witness my help with the inventions he has been bashing his head against for years.”

“You’re doing well, he is on the mend, and may you find a place that suits you aboard here.” Ixia told her friend.

“Mare of all trades, master of some. I just have not decided what to master.” Sunrise said as she finished her left wing.

“That will be up to you, not me, him, or anyone else. Think on it.”

“Oh, I will, Ixia. Same time in four days?”

“Already have you blocked in!”

Sunrise took her leave of the spa, refreshed and looking her best. Thinking, she decided to head to the park before dinner, to see if anypony was about. There were some ponies and others about, Commander Bluequill and Ortzi getting some wing exercise in, while Skye Path was working on her herbs.

Curious, Sunrise walked over to Skye. “Just what are you growing here? I don’t know those herbs.”

“Some exotics I grow for potions. Not good for much else until they are prepared.” Skye told her.

“I had best keep my distance, then. One thing I will never be is a farmer or any type of horticulturalist.” Sunrise said wryly. She had proven that earlier, one of the first things she had tried. Didn’t work. How she managed to poison an entire hydroponics tank, she really didn’t want to think about. Fatima has yet to forgive her.

“Don’t worry, Sunrise. Just stay back a pace or two, and all will be fine.” Skye assured her.

“Believe me, I will!”

Sunrise wandered about the park for a while before taking wing, doing some laps, enjoying the feel of the air going through her wing feathers. As she flew, Ortzi called her over.

“Ae you going to be taking part in Saturday night games, Sunrise?” Ortzi asked as she settled on a perching place.

“I missed the last two, standing watches. I should be there this week. Any other questions, student of my brother?”

“You are not going to clean me out, are you?”

“Now, why should I do such a thing?” Sunrise asked in mock surprise. “You should know by now how to defeat me. Did you not take first place in the last competition Point and I took part in? You and Galen took out Point and I in the bridge tournament.”

“That we did. I practiced Point’s lessons in observation and pony studies. You two are very hard to read, but I managed it. I figured out one of Point’s tells.”

“Which one did you catch?’ Sunrise asked.

“His nostrils flare a little when he gets a bad hand. Very slightly, but it is invariable with him. From that, I know when he is bluffing or is in a poor position.” Ortzi reported.

Sunrise nodded in approval. “Not bad, student. Have you noticed a similar tell in me?”

Ortzi smiled as much as his beak allowed. “I will not tell you your tells. You will have to tell me mine, and I know you will not do that, because that will be telling.”

“Well told, Ortzi. If the game selected for Saturday is one with teams, shall we pair up?”

“Yes. I would rather battle with you than against you. The way you handle Point in some of the games is frightening.”

“About time someone gave him a challenge, yes?”

The next day, Captain Path had Sunrise report to his office for a review. When she arrived, the Captain had printouts scattered across his desk. “Do sit down, Sunrise. I have been trying to decide what to do with you, seeing as you arrived under ‘unusual circumstances’, as can be explained.”

“Have you come to a decision, Captain?” she asked, sitting down opposite Wandering.

“I have. I could simply assign you to be the ship’s janitor, but that would be a waste of your talents and skills. For the past few months, I have been sending you to various places around the ship, seeing where your talents lie, being sure you are not simply a copy of your brother, who is extremely talented in his own right.

“From the reports I have here,” he said, looking at the printouts, “You have performed with distinction in almost every task put to you, with a few notable exceptions. For instance, I will not assign you to Hydroponics nor food preparation. Fatima would have at me if I put you in hydroponics, Emerald Green would be upset if you were assigned to the Park, and Doctor Zubon would not be happy if she had to stitch you shut again.”

Sunrise blushed a bit, her ears reddening. “So, I managed to drop a knife and it cut me.”

“Thirty-six stitches worth of cut. Point was livid after.”

Sunrise snorted some. “Don’t I know it.” She could remember the tongue-lashing he had given her, he being upset enough so the normal back-down password they use, Tordenkakkenlak, did not stop the harangue. Privately, she had to admit she deserved it.

“What I have decided is to make you a generalist, a supernumerary I can plug in just about anywhere to help out. Up in Control one day, power systems monitor the next, helping in the labs the day after, working with Willow on the weekends, ultimately answerable to either Commander Bluequill or myself. Willow specifically asked me to assign you to him, but I won’t do so full time. Willow is unique.” Wandering told Sunrise.

“That he is, Captain. I like working with him, be it a drama, a comedy, or a dialogue.”

“Your skill complements his, for sure. Now, one thing I can do for you, for the rest of the week, is to assign you to Ixia. You may not be able to do massages like she can, but you can learn to do mane cuts and hooficures, right?”

“That I can, Captain. I will not have you regretting my appearance aboard your ship.”

“I don’t. Your coming out has improved Point to such a degree, I do not have to worry about him being happy and whole, because now he is. Before, he was an extremely competent, highly skilled half a pony, running from himself because his other half was too dreadful to contemplate, for him.”

“In Point’s eyes, the former I was indeed dreadful. I am so glad he is now stable. He can now face his greatest fear and conquer it.” Sunrise said with a slight smile.

“Conquer it?” Wandering asked with a questioning look.

“Look me in the eye and argue, with a good chance of winning. Plus, once whacked with a clue-by-four, his stuck thoughts can find resolution. So, I have a powerful left.” Sunrise said with a slight smile.

“He told me before going into hibernation. I know Techbird is going gaga over finally getting the VR spell to work, at least in small scale. I have a report from Chrome Hive saying that your insights were a big help. The patents from that spell alone will pad Point’s coffers for a long time, as well as yours.”

“Not to mention the Foundation’s. That’s a real driving passion for him. No foal should go through what he did at the hooves of others. You want to hear something funny, Captain?”

Wandering smiled. “I’m willing. What’s so funny?”

“Point is afraid of being around children, or he was. He could not think he could be around a foal without his will crumbling some and allowing the other I to take over, a perfectly justifiable phobia in his eyes. Now, I can’t be sure. He will do anything for them, except be around them.” Sunrise reported.

Wandering took in the information with a bit of a frown. “Why am I just finding out about this now?”

“Because Point never talked about himself. I do not have his limitations, so I am free to talk about him. He wants to save small children from his past, but he could not stand to be around them, hence the Foundation. Maybe now, he can handle being around them.”

“He’ll be in for a rough time when we get back home. Schools will be fighting to get us aethernauts to lecture. Primary schools especially.”

“That will be his problem, Captain, not mine. I’m going to enjoy life, now that I have it. Let him be grumpy. I’m not!” Sunrise said with a smile.

“Dismissed, Sunrise. Your new duty postings will be up starting Monday, so, until then, wander about some and see what you like, okay?”

Sunrise saluted smartly with a wing. “Yes, Captain!” she said before marching out of the cabin.

Sunrise kept busy the rest of the week, working with Ixia part of each day, and helping wherever she could the rest of each day, keeping herself occupied productively until Monday. Upon waking, CONN informed her that her first duty shift will be in Medical, assisting the duty med techs as well as learning more medical procedures. She tackled the assignment with enthusiasm and gusto, impressing Doctor Zubon and the medical staff with her ability to learn. She explained that she was drawing on Point’s knowledge, but needed practice to use it, since she was not a unicorn. Epic Prose took her under his wing to show her first aid and advanced medical procedures a pegasus could use. A week of that and she was moved to Navigation, then Sensors. Each week, her position rotated, exposing her to more and more systems aboard the Lotus.

After six months, Sunrise was honored in front of all the crew on Saturday night at an All Hooves assembly by the Captain in recognition of her flexibility of thought and skill in learning. She was permitted to put a broken ring of rank stripe on her uniform cuffs. “Not because we think any less of you, Sunrise, but for the fact you personally have not been through the various preliminary classes and tech schools all of the crew have attended. Once we get back to Equus, and you undergo the training, you will be allowed to sew a full rank stripe on your cuffs.” Wandering announced while presenting her with a certificate of achievement.

“I understand, Captain. Just because I went through it as Point, not as Sunrise, does not mean I should be credited with the classes. I have no difficulty with accepting that premise. We’re all friends here, and you all know where I stand with you, right?” Sunrise said from the stage, tucking the certificate under a wing.

“You got that right, Sunrise!” Willow called out from where he was at in the audience. The sentiment was echoed by everyone in the mess hall. Blushing, Sunrise stepped down from the stage, happy to be recognized for her achievements, not her brother’s.

Cosmic Lotus, 15.553 light-years from destination, more than likely…

Radiance Point woke up from hibernation, still covered in the goo from the pod. He let out a yawn and a long stretch before rubbing the goo from his face so he could open his eyes. “How are you feeling, brother of mine?” he heard from close by.

Point managed to get his eyes open, to see his sister next to him, holding a large towel. She began cleaning his face off, so none of the goo would drip into his eyes. “Better than I can recall feeling in a long time, save when Mother got us sorted out. Has it been a year?”

“Exactly one year subjective time, as you asked for. I made sure I had the duty here this day, so I could help wake you up.”

Point accepted Sunrise’s support as she guided him to the shower stall. “Duty? In the hibernation area? Just how did you manage to pull that off?” he asked.

“I’ll give you the full story over a mug of coffee after you get cleaned off, Radiance,” she said as she got him into the shower stall. She turned on the water, adjusted to the temperature she knew he liked. Point showered off the goo, emerging from the stall looking good, feeling better, and wide awake.

Sunrise passed him a clean towel, giggling. “Your mane looks a mess like that, Radiance,” she said, his mane lying flat on his neck, the striping not as prominent as usual.

“Book me an appointment with Ixia soon, then.”

“No need to, I can do it myself. That is, if you trust me to do it right.”

“When did you learn to style manes?” Point asked in surprise.

“Radiance, you have been asleep for a year. What do you think I have been doing since you went to bed, sit around and eat bonbons?” Sunrise snapped.

“Whoa, easy there, sister!” Point said with a small smile. “Just what have you been doing for the past year, anyhow?”

As they walked from the hibernation area to the mess deck, Sunrise filled her brother in on just what she had been doing, and what the results were. Point listened closely to all her achievements. Just outside the mess decks, he stopped and looked at his sister. “Sunrise, I’m proud to be your brother. I’m so fortunate to have you as a sister, out of my head and beside me, where you belong,” he said with sincerity.

Sunrise hugged Point with forelegs and wings. “I’m proud to be your sister, Radiance. Think the Far Star can stand up to our presence?”

Point hugged back. “Far Star? Let’s hope the ship and crew can stand up to the two of us now!”

Over Point’s first meal in a year, and between welcome backs from passing crew members, Sunrise brought Point up to speed on ship’s gossip. “You have got to be kidding!” he said at one point in the tale.

“No, I’m not, Radiance. It’s quite true. ColdFire and Xanth had a colt together, named Skyborn. More of Flix’s meddling. He’s such a cute little one, too.”

“I heard something about ColdFire being pregnant, but I never really gave them any credence.” Point looked around. “Where are they?”

“In hibernation, all three of them. Don’t worry, you won’t have to put up with a little colt just yet.”

Point looked into the depths of his coffee mug, looking for comfort. “That’s not it, Sunrise. Mother and I had a long talk while I was hibernating. Now that you are out, I have figured out what has been missing from my life all this time. The support of a family. Once this expedition is done, I’m going to find me a mare and raise a crop of foals, ensuring I raise them properly. I’ll take the lessons Father taught me and most definitely NOT follow them.”

Sunrise looked as if Point had slapped her across the face with a hoof. “You intend WHAT?”

“You heard me, Sunrise. You’re not blind. I’m sick and tired of being lonely. All this time, I thought I was doing the right thing. Instead, all I have been doing is making a mess of myself. A highly successful, ruthlessly determined mess of a pony. I need to get fixed. Fortunately, I have a few years yet to effect repairs before our job really begins.”

When Point finished his little speech, the silence on the mess decks was almost complete, broken only by the sound of four trays, three coffee cups, two forks and a spoon hitting the floor. All eyes were staring at Point. “What are you all staring at? Do I have some gel behind my ears or something?”

“Radiance, they are as surprised as I am about what you said.” Sunrise said quietly. “You sleeping with a mare is the last thing anypony expects to hear from you.”

“So? I’m entitled to change my mind! A good sleep is conducive to new thoughts, right? I’ve been asleep for a year! If I can’t change my mind after that nap, something’s quite wrong!” Point declared firmly.

“You’re not known for changing your mind, Point.” Crystal Twist said, picking up her dropped tray.

“I am known for learning, and if I can’t learn from some more information given to me while I slept, then what good am I, Twist?” Point asked.

“Your reputation precedes you.” Twist retorted.

“Buck reputations, enjoy reality!” Point snapped out before draining his coffee mug.

“Your new reality is a lot different than your old one, Point!” some pony called out.

“Get used to it!” Point shouted. “Come on, sister, let’s go to the Park.”

In the park, brother and sister wandered the trails. “So, how is the training field holding up?” he asked.

“Very well indeed. We now have it on twelve hours a day, four days a week. That does not harm the upper level plants any,” she replied.

“Good. You in charge of maintaining it?”

“Who else would Galen trust to make sure it works right?”

“Me, but I was asleep. You’re a good second choice.” Point replied just before Sunrise kicked him.

“Brother, you still haven’t learned not to be an ass at times.”

“That’s why I became so good at what I do, sister. So, they would want me no matter how much of an ass I am.” Point replied, shaking the leg Sunrise had kicked.

“That and your swearing is literate, elaborate, and interesting to those who could understand you.”

“And incomprehensible for those who don’t.”

“Too bad I already know them all.” Sunrise said just before Point muttered something that earned him another kick. “I am not!”

“You could have fooled me.”

“Welcome back to the waking world, brother.”

“Does it have to be so painful?” Point asked before getting whacked with a wing.

“Yes. Don’t be an ass, and I’ll stop.”

“Good learning tool…” Point muttered.

Deceleration Profile

View Online

The Cosmic Lotus, sixty or so light-days out from the Far Star (opinions vary):

Radiance Point looked over the unicorns and changelings that comprised the deceleration team. “At long last, we are about to arrive. Deceleration mode will start in under an hour. Sunrise Flight, Crystal Twist and I will be monitoring the production and launch of the mana balls, while the rest of you put the spells on them to change them into photon bombs for the light sail. It’s up to us to get this ship stopped, and we’re the team to do it! So, let’s all get into position and get to work!” he announced to his team.

“Brother, has anyone told you that you that you really can’t deliver a motivational speech to save your life?” Sunrise commented as she and Radiance moved to the mana ball production console.

“If I have to motivate anypony here, Sister, the Selection Committee made some bad choices.” Radiance replied as he started final diagnostics on the production unit.

“Point made, brother dearest.” Sunrise said as she backed up Radiance’s checklist.

“That’s my name. Don’t misuse it.” Radiance countered as he turned on the intercom. “Engineering to Bridge. Ready to start deceleration procedures on your signal.”

“Thirty-eight minutes and counting, Engineering.”

“Thirty-eight minutes, aye.” Radiance looked to his team of unicorns. “Anyone need coffee or a head call, do so now.” Three of them did so, one last time before the work really began. Three teams of three, to trade off while the deceleration profile was in effect.

Radiance poured himself a mug of his coffee before getting some tea for his sister. “You watch over the port side team, I will handle the starboard, and Crystal Twist will control the backup team. We’ll alternate shots for the first thirty minutes, then we’ll go on eight-hour rotation until we’re done.”

“Yeah, you’re nervous, brother. Why else would you tell me something I know perfectly well?” Sunrise countered before sipping her tea. Fortunately for Radiance, he knew better than to slip his sister some bitterant in the tea, not at this time.

“At least, with you, I can be nervous without worry.” Radiance said before taking a bite of his coffee, his eyes widening a touch as the caffeine kicked in.

“We can’t hide anything from each other, can we? Not for long.”

“No, not for long.”

Precisely on time, the word came down to start deceleration. Every thirty seconds, a mana ball was produced, altered and fired out of the launch tubes. The three teams alternated shots at first, then, once the routines had set themselves in, swapping out every eight hours, to allow each team of three plus one some down time between shifts. The backup team will fill in two or three times a week, to give one team or the other some additional down time, or if one of the team members needed additional off time.

This went on, day after day, slowly decelerating the light-sail craft, until, just before a shift change, came a call from the bridge.

“Bridge to Engineering!”

“Radiance Point here, Bridge.”

“We need an immediate increase in the rate of light bomb production to triple its current rate,” came the order from Commander Bluequill.

“WHAT?! No way, Commander. Double is no problem, but triple is virtually impossible.”

“You have your orders, Point. Get it done however you can!”

“On it, Commander.” Point said before looking to his crews. “You heard the commander! Port team, settle in, starboard team, step it up! He wants us to stand on the brakes, for some reason! CONN, alert the backup team to get to their deceleration stations, code red!”

“Alerting backup deceleration team to get to their deceleration stations, code red, yes, Lieutenant Commander.” CONN said in its pleasant voice.

Sunrise watched over the port team while Radiance stepped up the mana ball production, the starboard team increasing its pace. Minute after minute, the two teams took the mana balls, worked their magic, changing them to light balls, and firing them out. Sunrise started shouting out a cadence for the port side team, which helped them maintain the pace. Radiance could not do that for the starboard team, because he had to focus on the production process.

“Shit! I didn’t get that one right!” cried the detonator unicorn on the starboard team.

Immediately, Radiance called the bridge. “Engineering to Bridge! We have a misfire – one of the light bombs did not have its detonation spell set correctly. Commander – the crew can’t keep up with the demand. They’re starting to make mistakes.”

“Engineering, we don’t have a choice. Keep up the pace.” Commander Bluequill said.

Radiance pondered the implications of those words for a few seconds. “Aye, sir,” was all that he could say.

He called up the view from the Bridge main screen, to try to figure out just what in Tartarus was going on. He saw the rapidly approaching sextet of moonlets, feeling a chill start from the tip of his horn, moving along his body to his tail. Memories of the sinking of the Gowanus Herald came to the forefront of his mind, but his adamantine will, which had seldom seen any use in the past five or so years, rose up and beat down those memories. He read the bridge instrument feeds, not liking what he was seeing.

“Engineering, is there any way to increase the output of the light bombs?” Commander Bluequill asked from the bridge.

His mind racing ahead, considering the question, Radiance said in a bleak voice, “No sir, we’ve already done that. Commander, I’ve looked at the feed from the bridge instruments. We’re not going to be able to overcome both our inertia and the pull of whatever that is. We just aren’t equipped for it.”

Commander Bluequill did not reply, shutting off the intercom as Radiance heard Starry start to say something. He checked his team, then Sunrise’s, making sure there were no more bobbles as the teams got the light balls out. Looking back at the instrument feed, he noticed something he hadn’t noticed before. “Cerberus fuck us all eight ways at once…” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. “They’re furling the sails…”

Seconds, then minutes, crept by very slowly to Radiance’s perceptions. He could see what was going on, thanks to the instrument feed, but he knew damn well there was no way they could reef in the entire sail structure in time to miss the ring of moonlets. As a senior officer, he knew all the protocols the commanders had, as a backup in case of need. Instantly, his glow flashed over one set of controls on his board, knowing what was going to be coming next.

“Halt production of the light bombs,” came the order from the bridge.

“Thank Celestia!” Radiance exclaimed as he dialed production of the mana balls to zero. “Production halted, sir.”

Radiance then shouted to both crews, “ALL STOP, EVERYPONY!”

Immediately, the two teams stopped making the light balls, the starboard team sagging some in their seats, the port team not showing much signs of wear. “What’s going on, Radiance?” Sunrise asked, sounding more than a little perplexed. She had not been paying attention to much behind her, all her attention focused on making her team work accurately and rapidly.

“They’re detaching the sails. Explosive bolt commands have been sent.” Radiance said bleakly as a muffled thump shook the ship.

“Detaching the sails? Why?”

Radiance sent the images from the bridge to monitors visible to both teams. “So we can fit through that,” he said in the same bleak, hollow voice.

All seven members of the team watched in stunned silence as the sail booms were severed, number four boom failing to detach fully before breaking in half, the sails shredding, falling into the hole between the asteroids. The all-call from the Captain shook all of them out of their shock.

When the Captain had finished, Radiance looked at his team of ponies. “You heard the Captain! We have six minutes to batten everything down before we strap ourselves down! Rough seas are ahead, and we better be ready for it, because it ain’t gonna wait for us!” he declared. The six unicorns and changelings took off to get to their acceleration stations.

“What are we going to do, Radiance?” Sunrise asked, still a bit shaken.

“You are going to go back to the cabin and lie down on the bed, after putting everything loose away into any place possible, the drawers, the closet, under the bed, it doesn’t matter. Keep your ears open for further announcements.”

“What about you, brother?”

“I’m heading aft, to Engineering Control. If this is a rough passage, we’re going to be busy putting the ship back together. Once everything stabilizes, come back aft.” Radiance ordered, looking very determined indeed. “We’ve come this far, we’re going all the way!”

“You got that right, brother!” Sunrise said, saluting Radiance with a wing before tearing out of the deceleration control room. Radiance did as he said he would do, heading aft, getting to his post thirty seconds before entry into the whatever-it-was.

He had time to get strapped in before the going started to get rough. “Come on, Lotus! You have a stout heart! You’ll get through this!” he shouted as the ship bucked and shook, sending loose items flying about. “You can do it!”

Radiance saw the shields working to deflect not only stray bits, but keeping the radiation down as well. He boosted power to the shields, hoping the rough ride would end soon. After a short time that was far too long, it did. “Ah, ye fair lassie, ye did it! Ye pulled us through!” he said with an Eyrish accent. “Now, to see where ye be hurtin, and put ye back to rights.”

He called up the Damage Control readouts, and winced some at the extent of the damage. Not major, but widespread all through the ship. “All damage control teams, report to Engineering Control for assignment!” he called through the shipwide intercom.

After he handed out assignments, Radiance put on his own equipment saddlebags and went to work as well, leaving Sunrise in Engineering Control to monitor situations. He worked non-stop for hours, righting wrongs in the ship’s systems, until exhaustion overcame him in mid-coffee, causing him to drop his favorite mug, not breaking it.

After waking up back in his cabin, he showered, changed, grabbed some coffee and something to eat, and went right back to work. His work ethic spread among the Engineering crew, who also worked until they were ready to drop, caught some sleep, and went right back to repairing the ship again.

Radiance listened to the Captain’s speech while working on repairing equipment in the spa. The hot tub cover had leaked, soaking some equipment. When Starry mentioned ‘Wandering’s Flatulence’, he let out a snort and went right on working. “Of course, space is extremely gassy,” he muttered.

Once the spa was put to rights, he went forward to get something to eat, finally listening to the complaints of his empty stomach. He found Sunrise there and sat across from her. <Brother, I have an idea.> she said in Twinspeak.

<Let me hear it.> he replied. Sunrise launched into an explanation of an idea she had while watching the monitors. He thought for a while, mapping out her idea. <Good idea. Let’s refine it some.> Together, they talked back and forth in Twinspeak, before heading to their cabin to do some research. It took the pair three hours to get their idea down in both their heads. “I’ll take this to the Captain, after I get things started. You head down to Deceleration Control and start on the retuning figures.”

“Will do, brother.”

As Sunrise left the cabin, Radiance called out, “CONN, where is Captain Path?”

“Captain Path is currently in his office with Commander Bluequill.” CONN reported, its smooth feminine voice unharmed by the rough passage.

“Please inform Captain Path that I wish to speak to him immediately. I am on my way to his office.”

“Captain Path has been informed. He is awaiting your arrival.”

Once in the office, Radiance looked at the Captain and the Executive Officer. “I believe I have a way for us to propel ourselves,” he reported to them. Radiance outlined his idea, and received clearance to go ahead. Outside the office, Radiance called his sister. “It’s a go. I’m heading for Shield Control to work on the retuning, you call the members of the decel team to the decal room and work on recalibrating the mana balls.”

“Need any help in Shield Control?”

“If I do, I’ll call. We need less light and more force behind the blasts. You can launch test firings with a minimum of a thirty-second delay as I get the forward shield retuned to be a shock absorber. Up to us to get the ship stopped!”

Radiance spent hours recalibrating, retuning, and reinforcing the massive forward shield, making it a thrust plate for the Cosmic Lotus, with Albite Feldspar a willing aide. Sunrise and her team had the force balls reset long before he was finished with the shield, so they got to work on other ship repairs while he settled the shield into place. Once all was ready, he called the team in for some calibration testing, to find the optimal distance for deceleration thrust detonations. Without the mass reduction spell in place, the force balls had little effect, but what little they had were enough to plug values into equations to work everything out.

Twenty hours from the initial proposal, Radiance called the captain. “Skipper, you now have an engine for the ship. Give me a course so I can figure out deceleration parameters.”

After getting the data he needed, he considered matters. “Okay, Captain, we can handle that with about forty percent of our capacity for safe thrust. Just give the word.”

“The word is given, Radiance Point. Commence deceleration thrust on the profile outlined.”

“Commence thrust, aye.” Radiance said, then called the deceleration room. “Sunrise, commence thrust. Forty percent of max. Sending you the course.”

“Forty percent, aye. Get some sleep, brother. You’ve been awake too long.”

Radiance did not reply, having passed out from exhaustion in the field control room. He did not wake for many hours, having driven himself to his limits getting the ship moving. Fortunately, he had trained his staff well, and they were able to get the work done while he rested. He woke in Medical, wondering what in Tartarus had happened to him, finding an IV line in his right foreleg.

Doctor Zubon came into Radiance’s room, looking a bit worn about the edges herself. “Have a nice nap?” she asked.

“No, why? Do you think I should have?” Radiance replied, a bit blearily. “What’s this?”

“Just some IV feeding. You trying to starve yourself as well as setting records for lack of sleep? Albite dragged you in here after you passed out in Field Control.”

Radiance blushed a little, the inside of his ears pinking some. “Well, I was needed…”

“Just rest a while, Radiance. While our situation is not optimal, it is a lot better than it was three days ago. The ship is out of danger, and the crew needs to recuperate. This means you, too. So, recuperate!” Zubon said a bit sharply.

Clearly, she was tired and snippy too. Radiance caught that loud and clear. “I will do so, ONLY IF you do so as well. The ship needs me, and the crew needs you,” he snapped back, catching the doctor seemingly off-guard. Then the import of some of her words sank home. “Three days? How long was I asleep?”

“Over thirty hours. You needed the sleep. Now that I know you are all right, I’ll get some as well. Tablet to the right, and I’ll have some food sent in before I get some rest. You worried me.”

“Well, you look worn yourself. Now, go get unworn!” Radiance snapped as he pulled up the tablet.

“That’s the Radiance Point I have been wanting to see. Don’t you dare leave that bed until I come back, or else you’ll be spending more time in it!” Zubon fired back, raising a hoof in warning. Radiance didn’t notice, calling up reports.

Radiance stayed in bed, reading repair status reports, absently eating the double-sized lunch that was brought to him without even noticing what it was he ate. He stayed right there until a white feather brushed across his nose. Looking up, he saw his sister standing by the bed, furling a wing. “Sunrise? What are you doing here now?” he asked.

“Looking in on you before I take over from Crystal as drive supervisor. Once the doctor releases you from care, you can rejoin the rotation,” Sunrise told him.

“How is everypony doing? I can read the equipment performance, but you see the ponies.”

“Quite well. Now that we have a clearly-defined goal, everyone is willing to work hard to get there. We’ve come this far, we’re not stopping now!”

“You got that right! We’ll get this ship to our destination, then call Equus and celebrate!” Radiance said with a smile, one which was not returned by Sunrise. “What’s wrong?”

“We’ve lost touch with Equus. I’ve used the VR horn to check the gear, but it’s not damaged. It’s like we’re cut off, or been thrown so far, we’ve broken the connection and can’t yet re-establish the link.” Sunrise reported.

Radiance frowned from the bed. “I can’t think of anything that would cause us to lose signal like that. Suggest to the Captain that we send a drone back to the outlet of that tunnel and see if we can stick some sort of antenna through.”

“I’ll bring it up with him. You just rest and get better, brother. I don’t want to see your ribs poking out when you walk around.”

Radiance sighed. “Yes, mother…”

Radiance was released several hours later, and he immediately checked in on the drive systems, making sure all was well before going to the mess deck and having a prescribed double sized dinner. He then checked the crystal comms himself, merely confirming Sunrise’s report. There was nothing obviously wrong, just no signal to be received.

Watch after watch, day after day, the Cosmic Lotus slowly backed down, shedding the remains of its speed, so they would not go sailing through the system ahead and beyond. Radiance kept occupied by supervising what repairs remained to be done, taking his turn as decel supervisor, and getting the rest he needed. He was on watch when the order came to secure deceleration.

“Engineering to bridge, why the all stop bell?” he called, using the intercom.

“We’ve discovered another ship out there, Engineering. We’re taking a closer look.”

Radiance’s thoughts raced for a few seconds. “Bridge, Engineering, aye,” he said before hanging up.

“Did they say another ship?” the changeling on duty for the shift asked.

“That’s what the pony said, Zirath. Another ship. This is the start of something interesting, for sure.”

Boarding for Parties

View Online

Distance from the Far Star: two light-days (at best guess, he’s an engineer, not a naviguesser)

First Contact having been made, and the ship stopping its deceleration for the time being, Radiance Point had the decel team go to stand-by mode, meaning if the call came to resume deceleration, the duty section at that time would take over. Until then, they were to go back to their regular jobs.

Sunrise Flight caught up with Radiance at dinner. “Have you heard what’s going on? The Captain is taking an advance party over to the aliens’ ship for a visit!” she squealed eagerly.

“Who’s going with him?” Radiance asked around a mouthful of hayburger.

“Amethyst Scroll, Eon Path and Phalanx. Hopefully progress will be made today!’

“I hope so, too. It’s not like we can go anywhere fast now. Keep an eye on the clock, and remember when you are on decel duty. I have the system primed for immediate startup.”

“We will be ready, brother dearest. We’ve come this far, we’re going all the way!” Sunrise said with enthusiasm.

“Got that right.”

Several days went by as the Cosmic Lotus drifted through space, communicating with the unknown ship, which they learned was named Pegasus, a name that sent Sunrise into a fit of laughter. When the Captain announced that he was going to host a party for the others, to be held in the Park, Sunrise eagerly volunteered to help set up the party, while Radiance occupied himself with keeping the ship maintained. The job list had been steadily getting shorter, thanks to the trained team of engineers.

Before the party, Radiance submitted to Amethyst Scroll’s language lesson spell, as did many of the others on board. While most of the visitors would be at the party, one could encounter a visitor while on duty. “Definitely different. I wonder what sort of profanity exists in this tongue,” he remarked to Amethyst Scroll.

“Point, only you would ask a question like that after a language lesson,” Amethyst replied.

“Hey, I have a reputation to live up to, true?” Radiance said as he left the lesson room to go back to work.

Radiance was not part of the welcoming committee, that being Starry, Galen and Galena, but he managed to look in at the meeting while Captain Path went to fetch the second group. Looking at Admiral Kline, he felt a rush of atavistic fear wash over him, a wash that threatened to engulf him in its grip and carry him away. He called up his adamantine will to cause the fear to wash over and past him. It worked, but he remained locked in place for almost two minutes before being able to look at the Admiral without worry. “Definitely unusual,” he muttered to himself as he went back about his business. “May that not be an omen.”

As the party went on, Radiance found himself at work, fixing one of the last chores on the to-do list. As he was cleaning up, Crystal Twist called to him. “Hey, Radiance, you up to a game of cards?”

“Always am, except when I’m asleep. Who’s willing to lose bits today?”

“One of the visitors says she is good at poker. I told her that if she was truly good, she could defeat you in a poker game. You up to the challenge?”

Radiance Point smiled in a way that reminded Twist of a predatory sea animal, one that promised the recipient an empty purse in a short time. “Oh, yes. Where and when?”

“She’s in the Park, and as soon as you get there. Gomez is willing to be a fourth for the game. Put up your tools and I’ll meet you at the entrance in a few minutes.”

“Shake a leg, lady, I don’t like to be kept waiting!” he said as he headed to the duty office to shed his saddlebags.

Twist shook her head. “Some things don’t change. He likes a fresh challenge,” she said to herself before heading to the park.

Crystal met Point at the park entrance and led him to a secluded area, where a table was set up. Gomez was there, chatting with a very tall cat who walked on her back legs only. Gomez smiled when he saw Point. “Our poker master has arrived. Doctor M’Lai Saarath, may I introduce you to Radiance Point, our Engineer’s Mate and slightly disputed poker champion aboard. Everyone has lost bits to him.”

“Is that a fact?” M’Lai said with an accent that only enhanced her voice, in Point’s ears.

Point bowed as gallantly as he knew how to. “Indeed, it is, Madam Doctor. I am highly skilled in playing cards, a talent I have cultivated since I was a teenager in the Merchant Marine, and have only improved on since. Shall we compare styles of play, as well as different games?” he asked.

M'Lai smiled at Point’s gallantry. “Of course. Let us begin. Gomez has explained your cards as well as some of your games. Shall we learn as we play together?”

The four sat down, chips were distributed, and the play began. Point began cautiously, watching M’Lai as she handled her cards and her betting. As they played, the two chatted about their lives, their ships, and shipmates. Crystal and Gomez realized that Point was being very selective in his tales, careful to not embarrass anyone on board, including himself. He never truly bragged, just described his achievements aboard the Lotus in a mild tone of voice, and listening attentively to M’Lai’s descriptions of her life aboard the Pegasus.

It soon became apparent to all that the skills of both Point and M’Lai were about equal. Once Gomez and Crystal busted out, they stayed to watch as the two masters slowly lost their politeness and started playing in a cutthroat manner, which for Point meant he was playing in his usual style. Back and forth chips went, stacks generally staying even with only a little variation. So intent were the two on their play that when M’Lai’s combadge beeped, it startled the two of them to the point where the chip stacks fell over.

“Kline to M’Lai. Party’s wrapping up, and we’re heading back to the Pegasus,” came from the little piece of jewelry on her uniform.

M'Lai tapped her badge. “Understood, Admiral. I shall meet you at the shuttle airlock in a few moments,” she said before looking at Point. “You play a very fine game of cards. May we wind up on the same team in any tournament.”

“Madam Doctor, you play a game of poker unmatched by anyone aboard, save myself and Sunrise Flight. It is to be hoped that we can play again, with a larger company so we can play more and different games. I thank you for the opportunity to play against you, and I do look forward to meeting you again soon,” Point said politely, extending a hoof, which M’Lai shook before departing.

As Point cleaned up the chips and cards, Gomez asked his friend, “What you think of her for real, Point?”

“I think she can be a very dangerous foe across a poker table. From what I gathered, she is as exceptional a card player as I am. Next time we play, I’m taking the gloves off and going after her hoof and tooth,” Point said as he racked the chips.

“I thought you were doing that today,” Crystal said with a smile.

“No, I was studying her and her reactions, learning her plays and tells. I did my best to disguise mine.”

“So, THAT’S what was bothering me! After I busted out, I thought you seemed a bit different,” Crystal exclaimed.

“I was. I’m not going to show ALL my cards at first meeting.”

“You sneaky demon…” Crystal muttered.

Point looked back at Crystal with a surprised expression. “It took you THIS long to notice?”

Some time later, deceleration resumed. Point was on watch with his team, two unicorns and a Chrome Changeling. Thanks to the delay from meeting the aliens, decel had to be ramped up to ninety percent of max, a rate one team could easily handle for a time, at a cost of putting the backup team on duty in a three-section rotation, and cutting watches to six hours. They had only just started when orders came down to shut down deceleration, with no explanation forthcoming. Point looked at his crew, Clarion Call, a white unicorn mare, Red Light, a red unicorn stallion, and Danorax, the chrome changeling. “Looks like we wait until we find out what’s going on upstairs,” he told the crew. “Something’s come unbonded somewhere.”

“But, what could it be, Point?” Clarion Call asked.

“Pick a spot and start there. If it’s from the aliens, then it could be anything.”

It was not for a couple of hours that the call came to resume deceleration. Point acknowledged the order, and had the system tuned to fire, when Danorax just said “Trouble!”, pointing to where the port team would be.

Point looked over his shoulder to see two columns of sparkling light appear right behind him, a large one and a small one, gradually resolving into one of the big creatures Eon was drinking with, and a smaller foxlike one. He didn’t hesitate. Leaning against his console, Point lashed out with his right back hoof.

“Everybody, you are UHHH!” cried the large catlike being as Point’s hoof caught the being solidly in the lower part of the body, dropping the unusual device in his hands. Point followed up the kick with a blow to the face, but by then, the catlike being was on his way down. Danorax took care of the smaller being with a stun blast from his horn.

Point checked over the fallen big catlike being. “No matter what the species, a kick to the bits is going to ruin your day,” he said before applying a stun blast of his own, to keep the being down. “Looks like it’s repel boarders time.”

Danorax smiled. “Not any more. Captain got the warning out through the changeling network. Fornax took care of the one that appeared in the engine spaces. Boarders throughout the ship have been neutralized. Captain will be coming around to send these losers back to their ship.”

Point picked up the device the big cat was holding. “I wonder what this is,” he said, holding it in his glow.

“A weapon, Point.” Danorax supplied. “One was trying to shoot the Captain with one like it. He had a shield up, so no harm came to him.”

“A weapon, eh?” Point snorted. He dropped the device in a convenient drawer. “Think I’ll confiscate this, so it won’t hurt anyone. Someone help me get these losers out of here?” Point then looked at Danorax, then at a coil of wire. “Book them, Dano.” The changeling quickly trussed the two in knots of wire.

All three of the team worked with Point to get the two fallen invaders out of the decel room. In Engineering, Fornax, the Chrome Changeling duty tech, was moving a large four-legged catlike being towards the hatch to the main part of the ship. “This one here tried to get the drop on me. I dropped it.”

“Good thing, Fornax. These two came in to Decel. Didn’t last long. Let’s dump them in the corridor, shall we?” Point said sarcastically. “I would dump them overboard, but I’m sure they don’t have any vacuum protection like we do.”

“Good riddance to bad trash,” Red Light said angrily.

“Now, now, Red… we are in their space. I’m sure they have their reasons to come in like this. Obviously not good ones, or they would have talked first. Maybe they will learn to play nice with us,” Clarion Call said.

“We shall see,” Danorax said as he opened the hatch. “Captain’s coming to send them home.”

“I would, but I don’t know where they came from. I’d likely miss. Captain’s been there.” Point grunted as he dropped his big load out in the passageway.

“Indeed, I have,” Wandering said as he came around a corner. “Point, give me the weapon you took off this one. I’m trying to play nice with these folks, and taking a weapon would not be nice.”

Point sighed. “By your command, sir.” He went back into Decel and fetched the weapon, bringing it back to the Captain, who teleported it back with its owner.

“Just because they tried something nasty does not mean we should.” Wandering said as he sent the other two back. “Get ready to start decel on command.”

“Will do, Captain.”

The four filed back into Decel and waited. Soon, they felt the mass-cancellation field come up, followed by the call from Playbitz to resume deceleration, which the team did with enthusiasm and skill, firing off a concussive ball every twelve seconds, geared to have a bigger blast than before. It wasn’t long, no more than a few minutes, before Playbitz called back down, this time to suspend operations.

“What’s going on up there, Playbitz?” Radiance Point asked.

“Negotiations,” was the terse reply.

“If I was in charge, I would be negotiating with a spanner wrench and my hooves.” Point muttered, neglecting to shut off the intercom.

“That’s why Prince Destined is handling it.” Playbitz informed him.

“Prince Destined is here? Good!” Point said with a little joy. “He can get us some comm crystals, so we can call home again.”

“Right now, he’s more concerned with the others. At least he can bring word back home about us.”

“That’s true, Playbitz. Decel standing by.”

Point looked at his team. “Prince Destined has arrived, and we are no longer alone!” he declared to cheering from the unicorns. Danorax already knew, but didn’t say.

The Waiting Game

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Cosmic Lotus, shortly after the events of the previous chapter:

Radiance Point stared open-mouthed at both his commanding officer and his immediate superior. “They can WHAT?” he said in a voice somewhere between a shriek and a scream.

“The Federation Admiral has agreed to tow the Lotus into orbit around one of the more remote planets of the Chakastra system. Apparently, he is under some orders to detain us, and this is one way for him to creatively interpret them,” Wandering Path told his Engineer’s Mate.

“Tow the Lotus? How in Tartarus is such a thing possible?”

“I don’t know, but they say it can be done, so, I’m going to let them do it,” Captain Path answered.

“What do you want me to do with the decel teams?”

“Here’s what we want you to consider.” Captain Path said before he and Commander Bluequill laid out their desires. Point could only smile after they were done talking.

“Captain, I know we can do it. I may even be able to throw something else in as well. Let me do some studying and conversing with Sunrise. She may see something I don’t.”

“You know what we want, Point. How you do it is up to you.” Commander Bluequill told his friend.

Over the next few days, the Pegasus towed the Cosmic Lotus to a stable orbit around Harpagornis, a gas giant planet orbiting Chakastra. Point, as well as Techbird and the science staff, went over all the readings they took while the move was in place. He could conceivably see how to do such a thing magically, but to do it, in his opinion, requires an alicorn to do the job right. Techbird had other ideas, so she pursued one line of thought while Radiance pursued his given task. He brought Sunrise Flight into his confidence early on, and the two spent several hours a day in Decel, working out possible ideas.

Sunrise made sure Radiance took breaks and down time while pursuing the request. The first time he balked, she flung a coffee mug in his direction. The second time, she didn’t miss. After that, Radiance listened to his sister regarding time off. After an hour in Medical getting the lump treated and ceramic removed, he headed aft for a good, thorough massage and soak before getting some rest.

After waking, Radiance called upon a member of his decel team, Danorax. Since the Halfway Happening, Radiance found he got along well with Danorax, as well as another changeling in Engineering, Fornax. Radiance outlined his ideas, and Danorax supplied some suggestions. Testing showed the ideas viable, so Radiance added the changes into his idea, bringing Sunrise up to speed later. “Hey, any improvement is good, right?” she said.

“Got that right, sister dearest. Is the mail in?” Radiance asked, knowing Playbitz had installed the comm crystals Prince Destined Path had brought.

“Already in. I looked them over. The Foundation is doing better than expected, what with your Virtual Repair and Imaginary Vacation spells sending plenty of bits into the Foundation coffers.”

Radiance grinned. “Sister, you always know what I am thinking,” he said in admiration.

“Not always, but close enough. Details are stored in CONN, in our mail folder. You handle the replies.”

A day or so later, the Princesses arrived to begin talks with the Federation, Celestia, Luna, Twilight, as well as Prince Destined. Radiance had nothing to do with the negotiations, which was fine as far as he was concerned, but he did want a few minutes with Princess Luna. His request was granted, while he was working away in Engineering.

“You asked to see me?” Princess Luna asked.

Radiance put down his tablet and stylus. “Yes, I did, Your Highness,” he said humbly. “I want to ask your forgiveness.”

“Whatever for, Radiance Point?”

“For the longest time, I hated you. My dreams were never calm, my sleep needing drugs to aid it. All that time, you never once entered my dreams to ease my sleep. Now that Flix has excised my other half, and Mother changed him into what she should be, my sleep is now much more tranquil,” he explained.

“Due to thine condition, it was difficult for me to enter your dreams. Your mind was closed to my influences, all attention drawn inside. When you were asleep, the drugs also blocked me. Now that you have no more need of them, once you return home, we can visit in your dreams.

“I forgive you, Radiance Point. You had reason to not like me, but now, you no longer do. I look forward to learning more about you, my little pony,” Princess Luna said, drawing close to Radiance and giving him a gentle hug.

“Thou hast my blessing, Radiance Point. May your mind find even more peace, and the unthinkable become possible for you.” she said quietly. “I must go now. Fare thee well, Radiance Point.”

As the Princess of the Night teleported away, Radiance looked at where she was. “I can only do my best, Your Highness,” he said quietly before turning back to his plans and equations. “And so, I shall.”

When Captain Path and Lieutenant Commander Path left on the Pegasus, leaving Commander Bluequill in charge, that left Radiance Point as Acting Chief Engineer. Seeing as they were stuck in orbit around Harpagornis until the alicorns returned, Radiance had his staff focus on planned maintenance that can be done, including OP-62, which had become due. With the ship in station-keeping mode, the OP went smoothly and swiftly, and they started work on removing the broken stump of Mast Four as well as the rest of the solar sail assemblies, seeing as they did not have any more solar sails.

Radiance, when not involved in Chief Engineer duties, kept pace with his sister and Danorax on the other project they were given. Two days after the Pegasus’s departure, they were ready for trials.

Having secured permission to do some, Radiance gathered his cohorts in Decel. “Are we ready?” Point asked from his station.

“Ready here,” said Sunrise Flight from her station at the main control console.

“Set here,” said Danorax from his position.

“Then, let’s go. Target bearing zero-one-six degrees to port, zero-zero-five degrees ascent, range one hundred thousand. Fire One!” Radiance called out.

Sunrise launched the mana ball, Radiance provided the directional forces, and Danorax provided the detonator. The little sparkle of light raced away from the ship, aimed precisely at the three-meter chunk of ice and rock drifting in its own orbit. Two seconds after launch, the projectile impacted with a flash of light. “Did we hit?” Point asked.

Sunrise looked at her instruments. “Target destroyed as expected. Getting force readings now.”

Radiance let out a cheer, pounding a hoof against the flooring. “All right!” he shouted before calling the bridge. “Torpedo Room to Bridge, we have positive confirmation of weapons ability! You now have an armed ship!”

“Very well, Torpedo Room. Stand down from testing. Well done, Point. Well done, all of you.” Commander Bluequill said.

“Happy to help, Galen!” Point shouted into the intercom as he hugged Sunrise and Danorax.

“Let them try to mess with us now!” Sunrise shouted from the hug.

“’Them’ being the Federation’s opponents, whatever they are.” Danorax added.

“Got that right, Dano!”

Later that day, Radiance and Sunrise went to the Park, where Radiance relaxed in the pool, listening to the water trickle down the falls, while Sunrise lounged on the shore, eyes closed, wings spread. “Now that we’re here, I can’t wait to do our real jobs,” Sunrise said.

“That’s the problem with the waiting game, waiting for others to do their jobs so we can do ours.” Radiance said from the pool. “Once the Captain and Starry get back, we’ll find out what to do next. Until then, we make sure the Captain and the crew has the tools to do their jobs.”

“You ought to know by now, I hate to wait, Point.”

“So do I, but I can get things done while waiting. Like, remember when you soaked me at the one party here, and I swore vengeance?” Point asked in a sweet manner that sent shivers up Sunrise’s mane.

“That was four years ago. I’m still waiting for the venge-ACK!” Sunrise squeaked as Point levitated a glob of pond water over Sunrise and let it go.

“One act of vengeance done, sixteen more to go.” Point said smugly as Sunrise shook herself somewhat dry.

“You are SO in for it, big brother!” Sunrise shouted.

“Promises, promises, little sister,” Point said as he got out of the pond, tossing Sunrise a towel.

Sunrise let fly with a string of invective as she caught the towel. Point said something in reply in Yakyakistani which could be roughly translated as ‘all that, and proud of it’ as he dried himself off.

“I’m going to take foal-sitting duty tonight, Point. You’re not safe for me to be around today!” Sunrise said as she dried herself off.

“Foal-sitting! Thanks for reminding me!” Point said as he galloped off, heading forward.

“Where is he going? I’m doing foal-sitting, not him!” she muttered as the doors to the Park closed.

Point, back in his quarters forward, sent a directive to his foundation, authorizing a one hundred-thousand-bit account to be set up in the name of Skyborn, with Xanth and Cold Fire as guardians of the account, as well as himself. Interest can be drawn off, but the principal would be held by the Bank of Canterlot until Skyborn achieved his cutie mark. “That should set up the colt for his life.” Point said to himself as he touched ‘send’. After that, he sent a copy of the order to Xanth and Cold Fire, to be delivered when he got confirmation of the account being set up. He did like foals, but did not feel comfortable around them... yet.

The Waiting Game (Part Two)

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In orbit around Harpagornis, Chakastra system.


Waiting, waiting, waiting.

With Captain Path and Starry gone with Admiral Kline on the Pegasus, it was hurry up and wait time aboard the Cosmic Lotus. Radiance Point and his sister, Sunrise Flight, hated to just simply stand around and wait. True, they had managed to convert the Decel system into a torpedo launcher, with a firing arc of twenty degrees from right ahead in all directions, but they did not feel it was enough. With Planned Maintenance caught up, most everyone awake, and repairs done, Radiance and Sunrise were getting bored. Such a situation is dangerous for all involved.

While Sunrise could always find something to do, in this case helping Ixia doing mane-cuts, hooficures and massages, Radiance was not so lucky. He did set himself down and caught up on Engineering Department paperwork, which did need doing, but only took him four hours to complete. Once that was done and read into CONN, Radiance was again at loose ends.

With personnel awake and moving about the ship, he could not use the excuse of taking over a watch, there being more than enough crew available. He headed to the research labs, thinking to lose himself in pure research. What he came up with was an idea to turn the torpedo into a beam weapon.

Radiance threw himself into the research, looking up the force field intensities, detonation parameters of the force balls, and means to collimate the blast into a single beam before starting the spell equations. Of course, doing that, he lost track of time.

Sunrise found him in the lab, sitting in a corner with a display console in front of him, his horn flickering with violet light as he thought. “Brother, you missed dinner,” she said to him. No response.

“Wake up brother, it’s time to go to sleep,” she yelled in his ear. Other than the ear twitching, he didn’t respond. “Okay, brother dear, time to jolt you out of your fugue!”

Spying his coffee mug, she took it, so she could refill it. She did, with an addition. She slipped in some lemon juice to the coffee and set it back by his side. Absently, he reached for the mug and took a gulp. That did it.

Radiance came out of his fugue with a scream, followed by coughing and a dash for the sink, to rinse his mouth out. “Who in the name of sweet damn all tainted my coffee?” he shouted.

“<I did, brother dear,>” Sunrise snapped in Twinspeak. “<You wouldn’t answer me, so I had to get your attention!>”

“<Whyinhell you interrupt my thoughts?>” Radiance snapped back.

“<It’s time to go to bed, brother. I bet you forgot dinner today, didn’t you?>”

“<So what if I did?> Point asked. The answer was Radiance being physically dragged out of the lab.

“<Time for dinner, then sleep, big brother!>” Radiance knew that this was not time to argue with his sister.

The next morning, after breakfast, Sunrise asked Radiance just what had captivated him in the lab. After explaining his idea, Sunrise thought about it, for about a minute. “Won’t work, brother. Changing the blast to a beam will lead to enough losses along the way that it would be better to stay with the torpedoes. Now, if you really want something good, how about developing a magazine, so we can rapid-fire a volley of torpedoes without waiting for the recharge cycle?”

Radiance mused, sipping his coffee. “You saw the same problem I did, then. About a magazine, I can see a way to load up to three discrete torpedoes into a chamber. Holding them in suspension should not be a problem, the only problem is rapid-firing. Extracting, targeting and firing will take long enough so that the firing rate won’t show much of an improvement.”

“You’re thinking one at a time. Instead of one holding chamber, make three. In case of combat action, have all stations crewed at the same time and fire out of all tubes at once, different teams controlling different torpedoes.” Sunrise suggested.

“That can work,” Radiance said. “Let’s get to Decel and see if we can make this work.”

The brother and sister team went into Decel and did not come out until after dinner, a pile of designs stored in CONN and the Decel station half torn apart for measurements. The two, eyes red-rimmed but aglow with excitement, went up to talk with Commander Bluequill.

After hearing the proposal, Galen said, “You overlooked something here, you two.”

Radiance blinked in surprise. “Just what is that, Commander?”

“That the Lotus is an exploration ship, not a ship of war. Converting the Decel system into a torpedo launcher is a logical outgrowth of a system we had, yet do not need any more. Just how long do you think we will hold out in case we were attacked by a true warship, even a little one? Just how fast can we turn the ship to bring weapons to bear?” Galen asked in a very mild tone of voice, which they knew was a red flag warning of trouble.

Sunrise broke the uncomfortable silence. “Not very long for the first, too damn long for the second,” she said in meek tones, something she hardly ever used.

“Correct, Sunrise. This ship is not a warship and should not be considered as one. If you must do anything, look towards our defenses. Maybe you can upgrade the shields or tune them finer.”

“I’m going to need some data on the opposition weapons, Galen. I need to know what to tune against,” Radiance said, eyes getting a dreamy faraway look as he started to think.

Until we get that data, Point, do what you do best. Improvise.”

“I’ll do what I can see, Galen. For now, let me see what I can look at,” Radiance said as he started walking out of the office and to the lab, lost in thought.

“Great Celestia, he’s at it again…” Sunrise sighed.

“That he is, but while thinking, he’s not tinkering. It will keep him occupied for a while.”

“That it will, Commander. Now, to find something for me to strain my brain at,” Sunrise said quietly, thinking about what to do with herself.

Galen smiled, well, as much as a griffin could. “Go to Sciences and ask for the team leader studying Harpagornis’ atmosphere. You have a pegasus’ instincts combined with Point’s intellect and observation skills. I’m sure that will help in our understanding of this type of planet.”

Sunrise let out a grin at her orders. “Sounds good to me, sir!” she said with excitement, saluting her commander with a wing before dashing out of the office.

“If all of my problems were that easy…” Galen muttered to himself as he went back to his paperwork.

The two attacked their problems in their own ways, Radiance by looking over the shield plans, and Sunrise by taking active observations. Radiance may have all the plans memorized but looking at the diagrams and manuals could spark a stray thought that could lead to success. Sunrise had a crazy idea to go down into the Harpagornis atmosphere for some first-hoof observations but was rapidly dissuaded from doing so by the science staff. Besides, they were too far out for her to get there and back before her life support failed.

Radiance worked on first ideas, that being how could he defend against his own weapon. Seemingly easy, because the shield acted as a thrust block for the explosions to move the ship. Altering the fields to cover the entire ship instead just at the front took him over a day to figure out how to configure them without having any holes in the overall field. Once that was settled and programmed in, he tried another principle, that of having smaller, more localized shields scattered around the ship. Doctor Zubon had to clock him one while he was distracted to get him to get some sleep. She also had to give Sunrise a whack, because she was rapturously working out atmospheric flow patterns. “Damn overachievers…” Zubon complained as she had the two of them dragged to Medical for IV feeding and solid rest.

After awakening, and a stern lecture from Zubon, the twins went back to their work, under supervision. While they slept, the initial reports came in from Captain Path about their first findings of the Swarm, and the fact that the beams were indeed raw mana. Radiance took that information and applied it to his shield work, finding a way to take the raw mana fired at them and collect it, using the collected mana to boost the shields, so continued fire would only make the shields tougher. That earned a commendation from Commander Bluequill, along with an order to take half a day off and rest.

As Radiance was heading to the Park after dinner for some relaxation, he heard someone calling his name. Turning, he saw Xanth running up to him, a message sheet held in his glow. “Just what is this all about?” he asked, holding up the message sheet.

“Oh, that. It means what it says, Xanth. I set up a hundred-thousand-bit account for Skyborn, for him to use after he gains his cutie mark. Until then, you and Cold Fire can use the interest from the account, while I can deposit more if I feel like it, but not withdraw any.” Radiance explained, looking just a little uncomfortable.

“But, why? You have not even seen him yet!” Xanth said.

“I have not looked upon him for a reason, Xanth. I’m afraid to.”

“Afraid? Afraid of what?” Xanth asked, confused at the statement.

“Afraid for myself, Xanth. Afraid that when I finally lay eyes on him, an urge would come over me, to open my heart to him, to show the love I never received as a colt. For years now, if I did, HE would be lurking in wait for me, eager to seize on my weakness and take over the body. Now that he is gone, I’m still scared. Habits of a lifetime are hard to lose.” Radiance explained, eyes downcast.

“Skyborn deserves his parent’s love, not mine. I will not try, in any way, shape or form, to get in the way of that love. But, I can try to make his life a little better, if not now, then in the future.”

Xanth put a hoof around Radiance’s neck. “You do have a lot of love in you, Radiance. Love for children of any type. You should not be afraid to show it. It will not cause you to fall apart.

“Now, I think you should get a look at Skyborn. If you insist on helping him, I insist you see him first.

“I can feel your own emotions about your own colthood, and your resolve that no foal should go through what you did. I can understand that and respect it. However, you can’t just run away from it. Come on, let me help you get over your anxiety about meeting him.”

“Anxiety? Try outright phobia, Xanth.” Radiance muttered.

“I was trying to be polite, Point,” Xanth said dryly, “just like you try to be to everypony. Just remember, it is okay to feel emotions. You won’t lose yourself to your other side. Let yourself feel this one, okay? I’ll watch over you.”

“Okay, that sounds like a good idea. I’m feeling a little tired. Maybe this will help.” Radiance said. He let Xanth lead him to his quarters, and there beheld Skyborn for the first time. He gazed into the little colt’s pale blue eyes. The little blue colt returned the look.

The two locked gazes for well over a minute before breaking off the looking contest. Xanth could feel the war going on inside Radiance, the desire to express love for the little one battling with the fear that if he let his guard down, his other half would come out.

“Easy, Point. You won’t hurt him by spending time with him. I’ll supervise, if you think that would help.”

“Thank you, Xanth. I’ll be sure to take you up on that sometime soon. He is such a wonder.”

“That he is, Point. I accept your support of him with no further questions. Now, how about going to get some sleep?” Xanth suggested gently.

“Good idea. Don’t mind if I do.” Xanth agreed, leaving Xanth’s quarters for his own.

Once there, Radiance sprawled on the bed, thinking about Skyborn, his desire for foals of his own, and his utter aversion to settling down with a mare and making foals of his own. He could only remember the assaulter of his youth, the look on his face, and the words he said. ‘If you tell anyone about this, kid, I will search you out and kill you in the most horrid way possible,’ ran through his head again and again and again.

“Don’t go away mad, mister, just go away…” he could only mutter again and again into his pillow, weeping tears he never allowed himself to shed before.

Sunrise came in to the cabin some time later to find Radiance on his bed, still weeping, still muttering to himself. “Oh, horseapples… why did he have to be right about this?” she asked herself as she called Ixia to come to the cabin.

Radiance woke up in the morning, feeling confused. Something was missing, but he wasn’t certain what. Shrugging, he got up quietly, so as not to disturb Sunrise in her own bed. Seeing as he was still in uniform, he let out a sigh once in the bathroom. “I hate it when I sleep while dressed,” he muttered as he shed the ship suit and showered thoroughly.

Looking at the water going down the drain, he felt like something bad was going down the drain as well, some dirt on his mind that finally broke free and washed away. He was confused by it, but shrugged and finished his shower, then spent ten minutes getting his mane just so, the red stripe bisected by his horn, the white stripe evenly spread on each side of the red. He then got dressed and headed out. He was still Acting Chief Engineer, along with his other chores, and he would not shirk his duty.

Radiance went about his business that morning, handling Engineering Department paperwork first before going on a walkabout, ‘just to look things over’ he told himself. He started in Engineering forward and worked his way aft, not saying anything, just looking about, greeting ponies politely, as was his manner. Finding little amiss that the engineers could not handle on their own, he decided to check in with Commander Bluequill, to see if he had anything that needed doing.

“You’re looking good today, Point.” Galen commented.

“To be honest, I feel like something rotten finally fell off in the shower and got washed away. Don’t know what, but I’m glad it is gone, and I’m feeling better for it,” Radiance replied.

“That’s good, because I have heard from the Captain. He’s on his way back, and once he is, the ship is going to be towed to Chakona orbit, and once there, we are going to be completely refitted, refueled and reprovisioned. Apparently, what he and Starry found out is putting relations between us and the Federation on a whole new footing.

“I want you to oversee the refitting of the Lotus. Whatever teams they have, everything will go through you. You know this ship inside and out, and any least thing you feel can be upgraded, upgrade it. You have several days to get ready before we move. Think you can handle the job?” Galen asked, already knowing the answer.

“I’m going to need some time to study Federation technology. Maybe they have something we don’t that can help. I’ll arrange for a link through CONN to the monitor ship to help me study,” Radiance said in cool, confident tones.

“Get to the point, Point. I’ll even allow you thirty-six uninterrupted hours for study time. I will call Sunrise myself and tell her not to disturb you until…”, he glanced at a clock, “…midnight tomorrow. However, I will tell her that there will be no limits on pulling you out of your trance, so keep that in mind, okay?”

Radiance grimaced a little, knowing the methods his sister would use to get his attention. “Sounds good to me, Commander. I had best get started on my studies.”

“Dismissed, Radiance. Get to work!” Galen commanded with a small chuckle.

“Will do! Don’t expect any mercy in the next cribbage game, though!” Radiance said with a laugh before saluting his superior and heading out.

This time, Radiance headed to the Engineer’s office to do his studying, for the privacy. There, he called up the Lotus’ design plans and looked them over thoroughly before asking CONN to contact the observer ship, asking for information on the tools and equipment available at Chakona that can be used to refit, refuel and reprovision the ship. Once he had his data, he began constructing a chart of what needed doing, what he wanted to have done, and what would be nice to have.

Radiance could not remember how he got to Medical, but that’s where he woke up. A quick check of his body showed no lumps, bumps, or healing surgical lines. Even more surprising, to him, is that he was not restrained. Looking about the room, he saw a note left on the table next to the bed. Picking it up with his purple-gray glow, he brought it to reading distance.

“Point, good going, making the work progress chart. It’s so easy to read and follow, even I can figure it out. I’ve run it through a translation matrix so the repair teams can read it. I want you to supervise the refit until you are sure they know what they are doing, after which you and your sister are to take a two-week leave to explore Chakona. The leave time is NOT optional! Yes, you may take a comm unit with you while on leave, both of you.” That was signed by the Captain’s cutie mark.

In different hoofwriting, under that, was this. “Better get a move on, sleepyhead! The crews are here! They’ll leave you behind!” which was signed by Sunrise’s cutie mark.

Letting out some choice expletives, Radiance got out of bed and raced to Engineering, not noticing he was not wearing a uniform nor carrying coffee. That he did not notice until he arrived at Engineering Control.

Back in Medical, Doctor Zubon and Commander Bluequill looked out from the privacy screen they were hiding behind. The griffon looked at the zebra. “Pay up.”

Zubon sighed as she gave over ten bits. “You even got the curses right!” she griped. “How could you know?”

“Point may be a genius, but if you know him, you can predict exactly what he will do in certain situations. Now to see how well he reacts to the shore leave demand.” Galen said a little smugly.

“Double or nothing on his complaints?”

“You’re on!” The two shook, hoof to claw.

On Leave (his way)

View Online

Radiance Point raced to Engineering from Medical, so he could meet up with the repair staff that was going to do work on his beloved Lotus. Getting to the duty room, he found Sunrise, Fornax and Crystal Twist meeting with three identical beings, who were all black in color, had six limbs, and wearing shirts of different colors. Nearly skidding to a stop, Radiance hollered, “I’m here, I’m here! Don’t start without me!”

All the ponies and others looked at Point. “We weren’t starting, brother dearest. We are in the process of educating our guests about the Lotus. You can admit I know something about how she was put together. Why don’t you go grab a mug of coffee and put your uniform on, okay?” Sunrise said to her brother.

Radiance looked at himself, let out a little ‘eep’ sound, then dashed out of the Duty Room, heading to his quarters to get dressed. “Is he always like this?” asked one of the black beings, whose name tag read ‘Voyager’.

“Only when he’s caught off guard. That’s not easy to do.” Fornax said in his gravelly voice.

“I have to admit, I like the plans he laid out. They actually make sense, which is not exactly a common happening,” said another of the black foxtaurs, whose name tag read ‘Apollo’.

“Oh, Brother always knows what he’s doing, when he puts his mind to it. What you see is the result of a thirty-six-hour brainstorming session. He didn’t even notice my slipping anesthetic gas into his office last night,” Sunrise told the visitor.

“Rather focused type, isn’t he?” asked the third of the group, whose name tag read ‘Vostok’.

Crystal Twist laughed. “You don’t know the half of it. He REALLY puts the cuss in focus!”

“What do you mean by that?” Apollo asked.

The three Lotus crewponies shared a long Look. “I think we’ll let you find out about that later, okay?” Crystal Twist said, trying to hide a smile.

When Radiance Point returned, fully dressed and carrying a mug of mud in his glow, the team sat down to plan and plot. “I feel what should be done first is to finish removing the solar sail masts. They will make good mounting points for what we have planned.” Voyager told the group.

“Planned? What could you possibly have planned?” Point asked.

“How would you like your own warp and impulse drive system? Not installed in-hull, but on a mountable barge canister carried aft,” Voyager said.

Dead silence echoed around the planning room, followed by the sound of Point’s coffee mug hitting the floor. Fortunately, he had long since switched to a no-spill mug. “What?” Point managed to squeak. The other three just stared at the three foxtaurs.

Voyager pulled out a roll of drawings. Unrolling the top one, shi laid it on the table. “What I’m proposing is putting a large docking adapter on your ship. The mast points will be the anchor spots, ribs trailing aft from there to the stern, where they will all combine into a docking collar we use to link barges together, coming back from asteroid mines. Putting the drive and power system into a barge aft will make it easier on your systems and especially on your pilots. That way, any interfaces we need to make between your systems and ours can be kept to a minimum,” shi explained to the group.

“First thing we oughtta do is to remove all the rocket exhaust nozzles from the aft end.” Fornax growled. “We needed them at the start, but ever since, they been dead weight.”

“We can use the metal from the rocket nozzles to fabricate the barge support mounting ribs. That way, we won’t have to import any.” Vostok said.

“Wait a minute here…” Radiance called out. When he had their attention, he continued. “First of all, when we mount the damn thing there, who in Tartarus is going to be able to FIX it if it breaks?”

“Simple,” Apollo said. “You will, once we teach you how to operate and maintain a warp and impulse drive. It should not be that hard for you, after all, you did make it here on your own without it. Once you install the drive, you could head back home in a handful of days.”

“Okay, let’s get with the planning for the barge. Later, we’ll work on the teaching.”

All that day, the four ponies and three foxtaurs worked on plans for the aft docking collar. First problem was how to remove the rocket nozzles without breaking airtight integrity, which everyone there agreed would not be a good thing to have happen. Sunrise was put in charge of integrating the ship’s control systems with the new drive systems, with permission to draft whoever was needed to help. But, after being reminded she was going ashore later, Point took that chore on to himself. Danorax was put in charge of the removal of the rocket nozzles, working with Vostok, who oversaw the stellar foxtaur contingent of that phase. Fornax had as his chore the removal of the mast placements and their conversion to docking collar and support strut anchor points, working with his counterpart, Apollo. Radiance himself was to work with Voyager, learning about the new technology. Once that was agreed upon, the ponies treated the three foxtaurs to dinner aboard the Lotus.

The next morning, the engineering staff of the Lotus met with the entire Stellar Foxtaur contingent, to start forming good relations. The meeting was brief, seeing as much of the crew was going down to Amistad for the welcoming ceremonies. Point, however, put up with such stuff when necessary. This time, he was not going to go anywhere while his ship, his baby, whom he had nurtured for years during construction and flight, was going to be worked on. There were plans for minimum staff to remain aboard, fortunately Fornax and Danorax were going to be among those staying. The Captain did have other ideas, and Radiance found himself having to think fast on his hooves for his plans to come to fruition. When said Captain interrupted the skull session, Radiance went to work.

“Captain! Did you know that the starwalkers have plans to adapt our old solar sail mounts to attach a barge docking ring? With a barge fitted with warp drive, Cosmic Lotus can travel light years in days!”

“Yes, I knew that, Point. I would never have given them permission to modify the Lotus so radically if I didn’t know exactly what they had planned.”

“Oh.” The unicorn’s face fell momentarily before he brightened again. “This is going to be fascinating stuff. I’ve been working with Voyager here on the retrofit.”

Wandering gave an acknowledging nod to the starwalker before saying to Radiance Point, “You are supposed to be accompanying your sister down to Amistad for the welcoming ceremony, remember?”

Point waved a hoof dismissively. “Sunrise Flight can go without me. She needs to be able to fly under an open sky for the first time. I need to be here.”

Wandering sighed. “I have an equally stubborn griffon up on the bridge. One of you has to go. Frankly, it should be him, and seeing as you have command rank too, that eliminates his argument for staying. So, I’m letting you stay, but with the proviso that you give me daily updates. And you will take at least a day before we leave Chakona to take your sister somewhere nice, and just be siblings without responsibilities for once.”

“You’ve got a deal, Captain,” Point replied with a grin.

“Good. Carry on.”

“But I don’t WANT to, Captain! I have work to do!” Radiance whined. Wandering just rolled his eyes at his Engineer’s Mate’s antics. He knew a happy unicorn when he saw one, and Radiance was indeed happy at staying aboard.

Refit they did, the crew of foxtaurs proving themselves very efficient at working the strange (to them) materials that comprised the Lotus, with the help of those aboard, of course. Once the rocket exhaust bells were removed, the support struts for the docking ring were quickly forged and put into place. Radiance spent a lot of time studying the docking adapter, the controls for the warp and impulse drives, how they worked, and making an interface so they can be operated from the Bridge. He also demonstrated to the entire family of foxtaurs that he REALLY put the cuss in focus, impressing many of them, and scaring a few with his command of invective. Not that the foxtaurs UNDERSTOOD what he was bellowing, but they can tell it was on the nasty side. Radiance was introduced to Titan, another member of the family. The family member who had a hobby of swearing in different languages. The two, after a little initial hesitation, soon became fast friends.

Radiance did show due diligence in keeping the reports flowing to the Captain, omitting little from his daily missives. He did have a little bit of a shock, though. Late the first day, while he was busy studying schematics, he was approached by one of the foxtaurs, whose shirt tag read ‘Apastron’. “Sir, it is time to knock off for the night,” shi told the unicorn. Apastron was a bit smaller than the others, being just old enough to start helping.

“I’m not tired, Apastron. I need to comprehend these systems first,” Radiance said a little gruffly.

“Sir, I am empowered to take drastic measures to make sure you get some sleep as well as eat regularly. This comes from instructions given to me by three of your crew,” the little foxtaur said almost apologetically.

“Oh? Whom?” Radiance fumed.

“The Captain, the doctor, and your sister, sir.”

“I’m here, they are not. Let me work.” Radiance snapped.

“I’m sorry, sir. You asked for it.” Apastron said before leaving the engineering office. Radiance turned back to his task. He felt a tingle spread over him from his right side before blacking out.

Radiance woke up in his cabin, in his bed, feeling like he had a hangover. “CONN, what happened to me?” he called out when he was able.

“You were hit with a stun blast and brought back to your cabin to sleep it off. It is now zero-four-hundred Chakona Mean Time,” the ship’s computer said.

“Who ordered that done to me?”

“Sunrise Flight suggested, Doctor Zubon recommended, and Captain Path approved. Your sister sends a reminder that you are to be on your best behavior while in command and says plan on a two-day trip groundside when work is complete.”

“Henpecked… that’s what I am… henpecked!” Radiance muttered as he got up. “Have breakfast waiting for me when I get to the mess decks, please, and coffee.”

“Yes, Lieutenant Commander Point.”

The time sped by productively, Radiance and the few changelings aboard essentially overseeing the family of foxtaurs as they not only built the docking unit struts, removed the mast support structures and made anchor points for them, removing the engine exhaust bells and making struts out of them, they also refilled the fuel tanks for the thrusters and checked over every essential system on the Lotus.

Each evening, after dinner, the remaining crew and the Stellars gathered in the Park for socialization time. Radiance discovered the foxtaurs not only liked music, they liked Equestrian music. With only Radiance and one changeling being skilled musicians, they demonstrated what they could. Swearing the foxtaurs to secrecy, Radiance taught the foxtaur family all one hundred thirty-nine verses of ‘Barnacle Tail the Sailor’, to much raucous and risqué approval. “Mind you, I’m only doing this because Doctor Zubon is planetside. If she was aboard, she would put me to sleep for the better part of a decade!”

Radiance did make an interface system, to connect the Federation controls to the Lotus’ operating system. To fully manage that, Radiance used the Virtual Repair spells to study the systems in detail. Sure, it cost him a migraine that lasted for several hours, but he did learn how the Federation systems operated. He took what he learned and copied his knowledge into a Virtual Vacation crystal, so others could learn. The VR and VV mechanisms fascinated the foxtaurs, but they were willing to wait to learn more about them or to even try them out. He also made sure to listen whenever Apastron said it was time to stop.

In only eight and a half Chakona days, the installation and refit was completed, and those who stayed aboard had a chance to go groundside. The changelings were willing to head down, while Radiance needed a little coercion to go. Okay, a little more than a little coercion. Captain Path literally walked up to him in Engineering, tapped him on the shoulder, and teleported the Engineer’s Mate down to the hotel in Amistad that was reserved for their use. Before Radiance got his bearings, Sunrise was there, waiting for him, with a set of saddlebags. “Brother, it is time to go. If you so much as say a word about the ship, except in response to a direct question, ANY time in the next two days, you will not like what you are going to find, understood?” she growled at him.

Radiance, caught completely off guard, realized there was only one prudent course of action to take. “Of course, Sunrise. Do you have something in mind?” he said in reasonable tones.

“I sure do! Now, get that uniform off, wash up and put on what is waiting in the bath room. We start here in Amistad and are going to go to a couple of choice places on this continent. Now, MOVE!” Sunrise barked. Radiance moved, his uniform staying in place as he moved rapidly to follow orders before falling to the floor in a limp heap.

Fifteen minutes later, Radiance came out, groomed immaculate and wearing the loose shirt and necktie that was waiting for him. “Fast enough for you, Sister?”

“Fast enough, Brother. Now, put your bags on and let’s go. We have twenty minutes before the train pulls out.”

Radiance lifted the bags in his glow and strapped them on. “Where are we going?”

“Today, we are going to Dewclaw University in Berdoovia where you are going to deliver an hour-long lecture on how we got here, followed by an hour of questions and answers with the students. I met up with an Engineering teacher while on leave, and when I told hir about you, shi insisted you come and speak to hir class. I know you will like something like that,” Sunrise told her brother.

Radiance paused in his buckling on of his saddlebags, but only for a couple of seconds before finishing the task. “You know, you are right. On the trip there, you can tell me about this university, the teacher, and the state of matters here.”

“<I know you, brother, better than you know me.>” Sunrise said in Eyrish.

“<That ye do, fair lassie, that ye do. What we be doing after school?>” Radiance asked in the same language.

Sunrise shifted back to Equish. “After the lecture, Silverdream will take us on a tour of the University before taking us to hyr house for the night. Tomorrow, we are going to a nature reserve around Marpletown and just enjoy the scenery all day. We can either camp out overnight or stay in a hotel, but we have to be back here in Amistad by noon two days from now,” she told him as she led the way out of the hotel and out on to the street, heading for the train station.

“I only have one question for you now, sister,” Radiance said. “You are comfortable with these arrangements you made? I want you to enjoy the leave time, too.”

“Oh, I have been,” Sunrise said happily, telling him all she had done while on leave as she led him to the central train station. “Flying is such a joy!”

“I’m sure it is. Mother would be proud of you.” Radiance said as they arrived at the platform. He looked at the train tracks but noticed there were no train tracks where they were standing. “If this is a train station, where are the tracks?”

“This train runs on magnetic levitation, I’m told. I don’t quite get how it works, but it does, quickly and quietly. It’s a smooth ride.”

“I sure hope so,” Radiance said dubiously, looking at the concrete channel the train was supposed to ride in. “Magnetic levitation, yes. Magnetic levitation to drive trains, not quite,” he muttered. Two minutes later, the train hissed in and settled to a stop. “Magnetic levitation to do this, not at all. Something for later,” he said under his breath as he watched the train settle. Louder, looking at Sunrise, he asked, “You got the tickets?”

“Of course. Think I would overlook them? I’m not you.” Sunrise said as she got aboard, followed by Radiance. She showed the tickets to the conductor, who guided the two ponies to a comfortable cabin. “Berdoovia in ninety-nine minutes. This train is an express,” she told him as the train rose on its magnetic fields, gradually increasing speed until the near scenery was just a blur outside the windows.

Radiance made himself comfortable on the padded seats. “So, how did you meet this professor?”

“At a reception last week. Shi invited me to speak to her class three days ago, and I did. It was a wonderful experience, the students asking a lot of good questions. You are getting her collegiate class, while I had the early schoolers. I think that would make you much more comfortable,” Sunrise told her brother.

Radiance shivered enough so his mane disarrayed, meaning his horn was no longer centered in the red stripe. “You got that right. Not that I would not be willing, but a whole class at once is still a bit much. What sort of class is this?”

“Shi teaches starship design and engineering at Dewclaw University. Teaching a high-level class, so be ready,” Sunrise warned.

“<Oh, I be ready, lassie. I be ready. Could not be worse than teachin in Eyreland. Faith, that bunch sometimes strained me equanimity teu the limits and past it, they did,>” Radiance sighed in Eyrish, before continuing on in Equish. “And me without my discipline enforcers.”

“Check the right inner pouch in your right saddlebag, brother.”

Radiance did, to find three small rubbery balls, colored red, yellow and green. His face lit up in a smile. “Ye remembered!”

“How could I forget? You got the reputation of never missing your target, no matter how much they tried to evade!” Sunrise laughed. “I told Silverdream not to tell the students. Some surprises are best served suddenly, yes?”

Radiance snickered with evil undertones. “Oh, yes!”

The rest of the trip, Sunrise filled Radiance in on what she had been doing while on leave, and in answer to her questions, told her all about working with the Stellar Foxtaurs refitting the Lotus. “There are two in particular whom I like a lot. Titan added to my vocabulary, while Ariane added to my song library.”

“Vocabulary?” Sunrise asked. Radiance demonstrated, swearing up a storm big enough that the cabin became lightly clouded with purple smoke from his horn. Sunrise winced at some of the words. “That’s bad, all right. What about the music?”

“We won’t have time here. Maybe tomorrow, while walking in the woods,” Radiance said with an easy smile. “I know you will like some of them. By Tartarus, I even had CONN record some of our evening sessions!”

“Bring any along? I’d love to hear them!”

“As a matter of fact,” Radiance said, extracting his music player from his saddlebag. “I’m just glad I had it on me. Because the Captain outright FOALNAPPED ME!” he shouted as he passed them over.

“At my suggestion, Brother. I didn’t think you would be willing to just go, so I had you teleported down.”

“One of these days, sister, one of these days, BANG, ZOOM to Luna with you!” Radiance ranted with a smile, waving a hoof dramatically.

“Promises, promises, dear brother…” Sunrise laughed as she fitted the earbloom in.

The rest of the trip to Berdoovia, whenever Sunrise let fly what she was listening to, Radiance joined in. The two of them, as a duet, had turned some heads on the Lotus. Individually, they were okay, but together, they synergized into something more than the sum of the parts. It took the train stopping to get their attention. Hurriedly, the two stowed their bags and got off before the train headed to its next destination.

The ponies were met by a large chakat (to them, all chakats are large) with a mottled yellow and gray coat pattern. “So, this is your twin brother, Sunrise?” shi said.

“It is. Silverdream, this is Radiance Point, Engineer’s Mate of the Cosmic Lotus, triple doctorate, inventive, outstanding, and a real pain in the plot to everyone he meets. Radiance, meet Professor Silverdream, Professor of Starship Sciences at Dewclaw University. May you two find a lot in common. As for me, I think I’ll bail before it gets too deep in here,” Sunrise said, preparing to take off.

Silverdream grabbed one of Sunrise’s hind legs as Radiance’s glow grabbed the other. “Oh, no, you don’t, sister! You got me into this, you’re staying the course!” Radiance said, keeping his eyes on Silverdream, who returned the look measure for measure, getting an empathic read on him.

“May you two get along.” Sunrise grunted as she hit the ground hard.

“I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t.” the two said simultaneously.

“Shall we head to class? I’m going to surprise them. There was a test scheduled for today. You will be better than any test, Radiance,” Silverdream said.

“Let us head to class, Silverdream. I think the class is going to be very surprised indeed,” Radiance said politely, releasing Sunrise and walking up alongside Silverdream.

“Hey, don’t forget, I’m here, too!” Sunrise said, walking behind them.

Silverdream flicked Sunrise’s nose with hir tail. “We know, and we won’t forget,” shi said as shi walked, reading Radiance and liking what shi felt. Radiance, meanwhile, felt more comfortable than he had in a long time, meeting up with someone he was sure he could relax around and not forcing himself to dumb down his speech.

“A lightsail? How did you manage to make it here with lightsail propulsion?” Silverdream asked.

“Without your warp drive, or the concepts behind it, we just had to work with what we had, that being magics of unprecedented scales. Mass reduction and focused energy. Takeoff was exciting. Deceleration was up to me.”

“Just how could you decelerate without using a laser from your destination?” Silverdream asked, plainly curious.

“Mass reduction spell and a launcher up forward, launching balls of force which we changed to light, imparting retro thrust on the sails. That part worked until we passed through the gate. Then, I had to improvise,” Radiance said. “With some help from sister dearest,” he added quickly.

“You better not forget my help there, Brother…” she growled, raising her wings in a menacing manner.

“I can’t forget. You know that.” Radiance said in calm tones.

Sunrise immediately calmed down. “You’re right. I do know that,” she said, settling her wings.

Silverdream looked at Radiance. “Are you two always like this?” she asked.

“Only when we are together,” they chorused without breaking stride.

“Either I’m going to love the two of you, or I’m going to go insane trying to figure you out,” Silverdream commented.

Radiance piped up with “Fifty bits say you will love us both,” while Sunrise said, “Forty bits on temporary insanity before you resolve us.”

Silverdream rolled hir eyes. “I pity my students,” shi sighed as they neared the Engineering building.

“You should,” the twins chorused.

The trio arrived at the lecture hall an hour before class, which gave Radiance time to prepare a lecture, complete with images. Drawing on his phenomenal memory, he prepared ‘slides’ composed of images of the ship and crew. As he thought, putting his lecture together, Sunrise and Silverdream greeted the early students, who were indeed surprised at two colorful ponies in the classroom, one sitting by itself blurred by images, and the other standing with the Professor, wearing a simple shirt over its forequarters. That one had wings furled at its sides. Of course, early students phoned ahead to those running a little later, talking about the surprise waiting for them. They, of course, told others, so by the time the lecture was supposed to start, the hall was packed with all the species present on Chakona.

“Brother, dearest, it’s time for the lecture.” Sunrise told Radiance, who, being lost in his thoughts, did not respond.

“Does anypony here have some coffee?” Sunrise called out, exasperated at her brother.

“You drink coffee?” one of the front row students asked, a Voxxan holding a cup with some sort of logo on it.

“I do not, but Radiance drinks something he calls coffee. I call it sludge,” Sunrise said with a little heat.

The Voxxan offered her cup to Sunrise. “Here, try this.”

“Thank you. Now, let’s get this show started.” Sunrise grumbled, taking the cup in a wing and bringing it to where Radiance sat, surrounded by his lecture note images. “Coffee, brother.”

Absently, Radiance took the offered cup in his purple-gray glow, taking a sip. Immediately, he looked up, the images dispersing as his focus was broken. “What in Tartarus is THIS?” he hollered, to the class’ amusement.

“Coffee, brother, as sold here.” Sunrise said, lifting off and backing out of range with slow strokes of her wings.

Radiance grumbled, “Well, if that is coffee, I’m an earth pony.” He set the coffee cup down gently, eyeing it warily.

“Lecture time, Radiance!” Sunrise snapped.

Radiance blinked, looking out at the packed lecture hall, seeing all the different species there. “Oh. Sorry about that. That’s the problem with last-minute scheduling. I was only told a few hours ago I was going to be here, and I had to put something together on the fly.

“To those of you who don’t know me, which should be everypony here…” he muttered before resuming his lecture tones. “I am Lieutenant Commander Radiance Point, Assistant Chief Engineer of the Equian solar sail ship Cosmic Lotus. I have been asked to give a talk on how a light-sail ship works. Seeing as I had a hoof in building the ship, my lovely twin sister, Sunrise Flight, volunTOLD me for this.

“Just a little about myself. I hold three doctoral degrees, one in mechanical system design and another in advanced crystallography impression and design, as well as a doctorate in thaumatological engineering.” Radiance paused for a sip of coffee, looking out at the crowd. “For those who don’t know what thaumatological means, think magic.”

Sunrise jumped in with “If you have been following the news these past couple of weeks, you should know what magic is. If you have not, then more fool you.”

“My brightly colored sister has a cogent point. I will not try to explain to you all of what magic is, because I can’t talk that fast long enough to fit in to the allotted time. Besides, I’m an engineer, not a theoretical thaumaturge.

“I would advise you all to pay attention during my lecture. I have taught at three different universities before going to the Cosmic Lotus project, and I have ways of dealing with recalcitrant students.”

Radiance used his glow to open his saddlebag and pulled out the three balls. Bouncing them in front of him, he said, “I have a reputation of not missing my target. Don’t make me hit you. There will be questions asked after this talk, so be ready to answer. ‘I don’t know’ is not accepted in my classes,” he said warningly. “Okay, off to the Cosmic Lotus!”

Radiance used his magic to create an image of the ship to appear in the front of the lecture hall. “Behold the Cosmic Lotus, the ship which brought us here.” For the next thirty-eight minutes, he gave a basic lecture on how the ship was built, how it operated, and how it flew, all with visual illustrations.

While Radiance lectured, Silverdream whispered to Sunrise, “I must hand it to him, he sure does know how to lecture. I’ve never seen my class so attentive before.”

“He’s had lots of practice, let me tell you.” Sunrise whispered back before the two of them were hit by two of the balls, the red and yellow ones, Radiance not breaking stride or pace in his lecture. “Did I mention he’s also always aware of his surroundings?” as the two balls rolled back to Radiance.

“You picked a hell of a time to tell me.” Silverdream whispered back.

When Radiance wrapped up his lecture, he dispelled the images in the air. “Okay, then, it’s question time! Hope you all have been paying attention!”

A forest of arms, hands, paws, what have you were raised so fast, a breeze swept through the hall. “You there, the black and white one with the red mark in the second row. You’re first. State your name first, then your question.” Radiance said, pointing with a hoof.

The skunktaur stood up. “I am Tormyn, of House Redpaw. I know full well you are telling the truth. What I don’t understand is how this magic works. Your power source is a STAR?” he said in surprise.

“It sure is, kid. A nicely tame star, giving us power, light and magic all throughout our voyage. It has a long time to go before even coming close to running out. We had planned on a voyage of how long, Tormyn?”

“Forty-two years, but you did not know about time dilation. Do you think a tour of your ship can be arranged? My poppa has a ship of his own, and I want to compare differences.” Tormyn asked.

“Not up to me to say yes or no, Tormyn. I suggest you ask either our captain or chief scientist. If you can get through to them, power to you. Next?” Radiance said, indicating a Rakshani next.

“Keedair ap Morath na Jenzyne, Professor. How did you manage to stay sane throughout the flight? Ten years on a ship would drive most sentients we know of crazy!”

“Who says we weren’t crazy BEFORE we set hoof aboard, Keedair? No sane sentient would ever think of isolating themselves for so long, but we did, and I’m glad we did it! Next, you there in the red in the sixth row!”

For over an hour, Radiance fielded questions of all types about life aboard a ship like the Lotus, how the crew got along, how the ship worked, questions like that. When the bell rang Radiance stopped in mid-sentence and called out, “All of you whom I have answered today, please come down close, so I can shake hooves with you before you go. You have been exceptional students today, and I thank you for the chance to lecture to you.”

Tormyn stood up and shouted, “You are an exceptional professor, Commander Radiance!”

“You’re going to go places, Tormyn! Where, I can’t say, but you’re going places!” Radiance said, making his way to Tormyn. “May we meet again sometime.”

Tormyn shook hooves with Radiance. “I hope so, Professor. You are good at this!”

“Thank you, Tormyn,” Radiance said before he did the meet and greet with the other students. Tormyn walked over to Sunrise. “Miss, how do I manage to keep in touch with you?”

“Ask Professor Silverdream. We will leave contact data with her. I have to say, you impressed Radiance. That’s not easy to do,” Sunrise said.

“All I did was to be honest with both himself and myself,” Tormyn replied.

“Brother does indeed prize honesty the most. I swear, he can detect it in others.” Sunrise said with a smile.

“He believes in what he is doing. Apparent to any telepath.” Tormyn said. “Pardon me, next class in fifteen minutes,” hy said before hurrying out.

“Was that a compliment?” Sunrise asked Silverdream.

“From him, it most certainly was.”

Once the class finally emptied, Silverdream took the pair on a tour of the Engineering building, which took them long enough that they had to hurry to catch the train to Silverdream’s house outside of Berdoovia. There, the twins got to meet Silverdream’s lifemate, Verdant Line, a chakat whose fur was a swirl of colors, save for a verdant green line extending along hyr backbone from nape of neck all the way down hyr tail, and their three cubs, Silvertone being the six-year-old and the twins, Sunny and Moony, about eight months old. Radiance hesitated some around the younger cubs, but soon shrugged and let the two crawl all over and around him as they had a dinner Verdant Line prepared. That night, Radiance wound up with the cubs in bed with him, at their insistence. He slept soundly the whole night.

The next morning, Verdant Line walked the two to the train station, Silverdream watching the cubs that day while shi worked, as an associate professor of botany at the University. With many promises to keep in touch, one way or another, they parted with joyous hearts.

On the train, which was a local heading to Marpletown instead of a maglev express, the two talked about the night. “It was strange, having the cubs cuddled up to me, but it was oddly pleasant. Not at all what I expected,” Radiance told his sister.

“Well, they are just out of infancy. How could they do anything to you other than purr and demand attention?” Sunrise said in return. “We have to build good ties with this university, and we got off to a good start last night. They do want us to return.”

“All depends on what happens next, sister. We are going to be presenting our planet’s credentials in a couple of weeks, and we have that Swarm coming our way here to deal with. Once that is taken care of, we will come back here. This planet, these beings, deserve a closer examination.

“Plus, I want to know if anyone plays cards here, other than Doctor Saarath.”

“Thought you had an ulterior motive, Brother. Don’t be too hard on them, okay?” Sunrise said with a laugh.

“You should have seen Doctor Saarath play. She made me WORK to steal chips from her!”

“First time for everything, eh?”

“If we double-team her, she will never stand a chance!”

At the Marpletown station, the two ponies decided to have some brunch before hitting the trails, so they stopped at a place called the Cat’s Eye Pub for something to eat. Yes, they attracted attention, but it was just startled looks from those who have never seen a pony in person before. Service was as good as the food. “Kale should find this place.” Sunrise said.

“Indeed. He will be impressed.”

“Just who is this Kale?” asked Chakat Blacktail, the host for this time of day.

“Kale Robe is simply one of the best cooks there was to be found in all Equestria. In ten years, his skill has not lagged one bit. Every day, everypony on board looked forward to what he would fix next,” Radiance told his host.

“Sounds like a pony I would want to meet. Think you can send him this way?” Blacktail asked.

“We can try. Up to him, though,” Sunrise said. “We can urge him to.”

“I can’t ask for more. Will you be staying the night, or will you rough it?”

The twins looked at each other for a few seconds. “Rough it,” they said together, with Sunrise amplifying with “If we can find that lake Silverdream told us about, we will camp there and return in time for the train to Amistad tomorrow.”

“It’s six kilometers northwest of the Pub. Look for the three islands in the lake that appear to have one tree each on them. Shi’s told me about the spot several times.”

“That’s why we came here, Blacktail. Shi went on and on about the lake and the Pub, so naturally I had to see them. Glad I did,” Sunrise said with a bright smile.

Radiance snorted a little. “Well, the Pub at least has lived up to advance billing. I hope I can handle nature in the raw again.”

Blacktail smiled at hir guests. “You should not have any problems, Mister Radiance. The really dangerous life forms live elsewhere. Would you like a camera, to take pictures of your trip?”

“I don’t need one, Shir Blacktail. I have my own methods, thank you very much,” Radiance told his host, “but the offer is definitely appreciated.”

“Not a problem, Mister Radiance. If you will exit the back door when you are done, and take the trail on the left, a nice walk will get you to Silverdream’s lake spot. Would you like a wake-up call tomorrow?”

“Good idea, Shir Blacktail,” Sunrise said. “You have my comm number?”

“Got it when you called ahead yesterday, Miss Sunrise. Do enjoy your day and night here. We will call you at… six fifty?” Blacktail asked.

“What time is sunrise here?” Radiance asked.

“Tomorrow, sunrise is at…” Blacktail looked aside, hir tail lashing a couple of times, “Five fifteen.”

“Wake us at four seventy-five, please. I want to watch the sun rise with Sunrise.”

“Very good, sir. Your bill will be ready when you return. Anything you would need for your hike; the camping store is through that door.” Blacktail pointed the correct way with his tail.

Radiance and Sunrise got up from the table. “Thank you for a most excellent meal, Shir Blacktail. Come, Brother, we have a little shopping to do!” Sunrise said, going to give Blacktail a warm hug with her forelegs and wings, which was warmly returned. Radiance did the same, without the wings.

In the store, they picked up some trail rations, two small sleeping bags, and a tent fly to shade under, as well as a lighter, for the evening’s campfire. Equipped, the two walked along the indicated trail, side by side, just looking and enjoying the sheer natural beauty of that part of Chakona. Once the Cat’s Paw Pub vanished behind a clump of trees, the only sign of civilization were the little signposts indicating the trail.

“It’s beautiful- no litter, no buildings, no sign of anything but pure nature.” Radiance said, looking about, storing all his experiences in his formidable memory. “After fifteen plus years off Equis, I have to say I missed this.”

‘Not exactly hiking up Mount Canterlot, but still good exercise. Mind if I take a flight? Maybe I can spot the lake from here,” Sunrise suggested.

Radiance smiled at his sister. “Go ahead. I want to see you fly. Outside the Park, that is.”

Sunrise took off in a flap of wings and a small breeze, climbing rapidly, corkscrewing her way up so Radiance could see. Radiance saw Sunrise’s sleek orange and red form climbing effortlessly through the clear blue sky, feeling the absolute joy his sister felt. A great calming peace fell over Radiance then, seeing his sister flying free, feeling any worries about her blowing away in the gentle breeze that stirred his mane and tail.

Faintly, Radiance heard Sunrise shout, “Follow me!” He started walking along the trail, then trotting, cantering, and finally a full out gallop, chasing his airborne sister, who enjoyed taunting him by flying near, buzzing him, then soaring off once more. Radiance loved the feel of running freely through the woods and grasses, finding a peace he hadn’t known in years.

Radiance was surprised when he broke through a bank of rushes to find himself at the shore of a lake. A ring of rocks circled a charred spot, and rings showed where a tent could be raised. Radiance skidded to a stop before running into the clear water, Sunrise spiraling down to land beside him. “Not bad, wouldn’t you say?”

“Not bad at all.” Radiance said, quickly unshipping his saddlebags to remove the camping gear and getting the camp set up. A little effort by the two had their tent, bags, and campfire set and ready to go, but they did not light the fire yet. Seeing as it was still before noon, they decided to swim some. The two gaily plunged into the water, enjoying its tepid temperature as well as its depth and clarity. They mixed swimming, floating, and water fighting for a while before fatigue drove them out to dry themselves by the light of the sun on the bank of the lake. A small stream nearby added its pleasing white noise to the scene.

“I’m going to have to record this on double-V when we get back. This place deserves to be shared,” Radiance said as he relaxed on the shore.

“It does. I owe Silverdream a lot for telling me of this place,” Sunrise replied.

“Just as long as you don’t try to bake her cookies. Kale still forbids you from going within three steps of the galley door.”

Sunrise grimaced. “I’m just glad you were asleep when I burned the cookies. Thick smoke…”

“I saw CONN’s records. How the hell did you set off the smoke alarm in the PARK?” Radiance asked with surprise.

“Adverse ventilation lineup?” Sunrise said in a small voice.

“And a week on janitor duty after. Hope you learned from that experience.”

“Yeah… keep out of the kitchen. And hydroponics. And helping Skye and Emerald in the Park. And…”

Radiance raised a hoof. “Enough of that, sister. You do good in what you DO do good in, and I could not be prouder of you.”

“I’m proud to be your sister, too, Radiance. I’m so sorry about what life was like before. I just didn’t know…” she said, sniffling some.

Radiance wiped the tear from her face. “Enough of that, sis. I told you I forgive you for that, and I mean it. What was, was. What is, is. You know better now, and I, no, WE, are much the better for it.”

“That we are, Radiance. Why don’t we take a nap, and do some more swimming and chasing later?”

“Plans like a sound to me!” Radiance squirmed a little, making himself comfortable on the tallish grass, something Emerald Green would not have tolerated in the Park. Within moments, soothed by the sounds of wind and water, the two snoozed for a couple hours in the warm sun.

Awakening hungry, they fixed a meal of the trail rations they had brought, Radiance doing the cooking. Sunrise went out and flew over the lake before diving with a splash and surfacing with a fish between her teeth. “Can ya cook thish up, bro?” she asked when she got back to shore.

“Ask me something hard.” Radiance soon had the fish scaled and gutted before frying it up in a little bit of butter and herbs. When it was done, Sunrise wasted no time, flipping the pan up off the fire, catching the fish in her mouth and swallowing it in one gulp as the pan hit the water with a hiss. “I’m impressed.”

“Hello, impressed. I’m hungry. Mind if I get another?”

“Of course, hungry. Happy to help!” Sunrise flew out over the lake, coming back with a bigger fish, which Radiance cooked up. “That’s so good, brother!”

“Glad you like, sister. See anything good on the islands out there?” Radiance asked, pointing towards the tree-covered blots of dirt.

“Haven’t looked. Think you can swim there?”

“Worth a try. It’s been a while.” After he finished cleaning the luncheon dishes and wrappers, Radiance got a running start and leaped as far as he could over the lake, splashing down in a deep spot he had noticed earlier.

“Nice jump, Brother!” Sunrise called down from where she hovered.

“Working out is good but being out here is beyond compare!” Radiance called back, treading water.

“You said it! Race you!” Sunrise laughed as she headed towards the nearest island. Radiance started swimming, but spotted a stout branch floating in the water nearby. He grabbed it in his glow and pulled it to him, getting astride the branch. He then dragged the stick swiftly through the water with his glow, buzzing by under his sister.

“Hey! No cheating!” Sunrise called down as he drove by.

“You can fly, I can’t!” he shouted back up as he neared the islet. Sunrise arrowed down while Point aimed for the shore, arriving virtually simultaneously, Sunrise ducking under tree branches to land.

“Good race, Brother!”

“Great race, sister!”

They sprawled on the bank together, under the tree’s shade, Sunrise with a wing over Radiance. “Too bad we can’t do that on the Lotus.” Sunrise said.

“The foxtaurs I have been working with said they DO have something that can allow us to do so. Something called a ‘holodeck’. I have not seen one yet, so all I have is hearsay.”

“Time enough to investigate later. Race back to camp?”

“You race, I’ll take my time. The rate we’re going through our trail rations, you may have to fly back and get some more.”

“I do the one, you do the other, and I’ll beat you back to camp!” Sunrise laughed, taking off.

“You wish!” Radiance said in return, getting into the water and swimming. Radiance easily beat his sister back to camp, so he puttered about, setting up the bedrolls and restoking the cook fire while he waited. It wasn’t long before Sunrise returned, carrying a full bag of supplies. “What did you do, buy out the Pub?”

“No, brought back enough so you can cook my fish right, brother!” Sunrise said after landing.

Radiance looked over what she had brought. “Okay, then. You go get some fish, and I’ll do them up.” Sunrise brought back three good sized fish before Radiance was ready to start cooking. He deboned, scaled and degutted them before putting them in the pan to fry. Sunrise prudently waited a little distance away as Radiance cooked up the fish, added some garnishes and arranged them just so on the plate before bringing the plate to her, setting it on a convenient rock. “Have at.” She did.

While she ate, he prepared something for himself, one without fish. He understood Sunrise required it, but he himself preferred not to. He cooked and ate while watching Sunrise enjoy her meal. “Having fun?” he asked.

“Radiance, we simply must come back here some time. It’s just wonderful.” Sunrise sighed happily.

“That it is. I wonder if I can cross-connect the VV array to this ‘holodeck’ and re-create this spot.”

“I have faith in your ability to do so, brother. Want to nap, or sleep?”

“Sleep. Once the dishes are done and firewood gathered, I’m going to sleep. After all, I do want to see the sun rise, Sunrise. It’s been busy for me, being in command.” Radiance yawned before glaring at Sunrise. “No fair siccing Apastron on me with a stunner!”

“You don’t play fair, brother. Why should I?”

When the camp chores were done, Radiance sacked out. Sunrise stayed up long enough to watch the sun set behind the trees before she turned in as well. While Radiance huddled under blankets because of the slight chill, Sunrise found the temperature refreshing, and instead slept ON her blankets.

Precisely at 4:75, Sunrise’s phone rang. When she answered, an artificial voice said. “Wake up time at four seventy-five as requested by customer.” Sunrise shut it off before the third repetition, getting in a good yawn and stretch. “Almost sunrise, brother.”

“I know, sleepyhead. I’ve been awake for a Chakonan hour already. Looking at all the different stars, the two moons, the dawn just starting to show over the horizon… my favorite time of the day.

“Want hotcakes for breakfast?” Radiance asked.

“What do you think? I would not have brought out the mix if I didn’t want some!”

“At least there’s enough for both of us,” he said, getting up to coax the fire alight. They paused in their morning actions twenty minutes later to watch Chakastra rise over the lake, Sunrise shading them with a wing.

“What a wonderful galaxy this is, to have such beauty in it.” Radiance said once the sun rose high enough to stop glaring at them.

“You have the right of it, brother.”

At the appointed time, they struck camp and left, heading back to the Pub to return their gear, thank their hosts profusely, and head for the train station to catch the high-speed unrail, as Radiance called it, back to Amistad, arriving a good fifty-five minutes before the Captain’s deadline.

“You both are looking very much better than before, I have to say.” Captain Path told them once they reported in.

“It was wonderful, Captain. Once I get the images downloaded, you’re going to have to see for yourself.” Radiance told his ultimate boss.

“I look forward to it. I also have a message from Dewclaw University, requesting your presence as a guest professor some time in the near future. Just how did you arrange that?”

Sunrise smiled, blushing a bit. “Well, you see, Captain, while I was on leave, I met up with a professor…”

That Shining Star

View Online

Radiance Point had a grin a kilometer wide on his face when the word came down from the bridge, ‘Engage!’. He watched the new monitors in Maneuvering as the warp fields took shape around the ship before giving the good ship one heck of a kick in the backside, sending them hurtling through space, faster than light. “Now, this is how one REALLY should travel through space!” he said exultantly to Fornax, who was beside him in Maneuvering.

“You got that right, Point.” Fornax said in his gravelly tones. “Who would have thought such a thing was possible?”

“Not I, for sure. Now that it is operating, I can think of some ways to do the same effects magically, but I don’t think it will be easy to. First, I’ll have to come up with a way to duplicate the warp field, then to scale it up,” Radiance said before snorting. “I’m still having trouble figuring out how their maglev trains work. If I can puzzle that out, the income from the patents will help my foundation no end.”

“Got an idea, Point. Take it up with Techbird. You and she speak the same language, on occasion.”

Radiance smiled at the suggestion. “You know, I just might do that. I’ll have to see if she’s free, though. She’s been in some sort of rapture for days now, just thinking.”

“Don’t remind me…” the chrome changeling groaned, rubbing his head absently. “We all take turns as backups in her network. Gives me a headache, it does. I’m an engineer, not a theoretician.”

“Well, I’m both, but I take greater joy in being an engineer. Theory is good in its place, but practice is where the theories become useful.”

Fornax waved a hoof around Maneuvering, indicating the displays, both old and new. “Can’t get more useful than this, right?”

“Right, Fornax,” Radiance replied, looking about himself before sighing. “Reminds me some now of the old Gowanus’ engine room. A ship should be moving under its own power, not dependent on sails.”

“Hey, you did good when we lost the sails, coming up with that pulse drive. Got us where we needed to go, right?”

Radiance nodded. “That it did, Fornax, that it did. I only have one small regret about all this new stuff, though.”

“Oh? What that be, Point?” Fornax asked.

Radiance pointed to a spot against the wall of Maneuvering occupied by an interface box between the electronics of the new drives and the ship’s magitek systems. “They had to take my coffeepot out of the room!” he shouted. “Now, when I’m on watch, I’ll have to send all the way to the galley for coffee, and they NEVER make it right!”

“You’re a smart pony, Point. You’ll think of a way around that.”

“I admire your confidence in me, Fornax.”

“Hey, we got this far, trusting you. That confidence is earned, believe me. Your imagination, your logical illogic, your generous nature, give us all a reason to believe in you.”

The third being in Maneuvering, the Stellar Foxtaur named Apastron, chose that moment to look up from hir monitoring of all the indicators. “Point, what you call coffee I call toxic waste. We made it a point to remove your coffeepot from here.”

“You did WHAT?” Radiance yelled, almost coming to a rage but holding himself back from a full out rant.

“You heard me, Point. We all agreed that pot had to go, so we removed it to a safe location. It should be ready to be recovered in a day or so.” Apastron answered without taking hir eyes off Radiance.

Radiance let fly with a blast of something guttural before stomping his way out of Maneuvering. Fornax shook his head. “No, Point, you’re wrong about that,” he muttered.

“What did he say?” asked Apastron.

Fornax thought for a few seconds before answering. “He told you to do something to yourself that is not only anatomically impossible, but extremely painful to do. I would not recommend it.”

“What, to go fuck myself?” Apastron asked.

“With a large metal appliance attached to a high-speed drill with a long-life power crystal.”

“I hope that’s a good sign.”

Fornax nodded. “Around him, it is. It means he thinks you are worthy of taking his maledictions without getting offended. Thing is, he will do so in languages most of us don’t know, so we’re always left wondering what he said.”

“But you understood what he said, Fornax.”

The Chrome Changeling grinned. “Only because he has said that to me sixteen times since we came through the portal, and to others in Engineering several times more that I know of. As to elsewhen and elsewhere, I could ask CONN, but I doubt she will tell me.”

“That’s another thing. I can’t properly visualize just how you can make a full ship’s control system out of a bunch of crystals and fiber optics,” Apastron said, hir confusion about that point plain.

“Apastron, we got what, a month before we get to where we are going, right? Plenty of time to learn you on magitek enough so you can figure things out,” Fornax said with confidence.

Apastron looked up at the changeling. “I hope you’re right, Fornax.”

Radiance, meanwhile, had stomped his way to his office to sulk a little and to cool down before he made his next move. Actually, he was still thinking of what his next move would be. He looked around the small office he shared with Galen whenever the big griffon decided to look in on Engineering. Looking up over his desk, he pondered if he could fit a coffeepot up there. Looking around, he found all the power taps were in use, all two of them. After a snort, he went to a cargo bay to get a fresh coffeepot, along with some shelving material. Another stop got him some power crystals. Back at the office, he mated the power crystals to the coffeepot, then got to making a shelf for the thing, measuring carefully to allow enough clearance space to slide the pot in and out without banging the ceiling.

Satisfied with his progress, Point went to his coffee cache and prepared a pot, his way. Listening to the slow drip, smelling the aroma of the brew, went a long way in settling him down. When the coffee was done, he poured himself a mug full and took a long, satisfying sip.

The scream of horror echoed all through Engineering, followed by a stream of the foulest language anyone has ever heard from Point all journey, language foul enough to have a purple haze start forming, drifting through the ventilation systems.

Fornax winced at some of the words. “When Princess Galena hears that, she’s not going to like it, and he knows it. I wonder what set him off?”

Apastron had the grace to look embarrassed. “While he was on leave, we took the coffee from his office and hid it in a vacuum-tight packaging. We replaced it with what we felt was an appropriate substitute.”

“What’s the ‘appropriate substitute’, if I may ask?” Fornax asked. “Point never gets that way unless he means it.”

“Coffee, grown on Arisia, that if not prepared right, has the flavor of excrement. If it is done properly, it makes Chipinge coffee look plebian.”

Hoofbeats went by Maneuvering as Point raced flat out to the nearest head, slamming the door shut, followed by the sound of him losing his lunch for the past two weeks. “You people are evil, you know that?” Fornax said in what sounded like admiration.

“So is his coffee, as if you didn’t know.”

“Oh, I know full well how bad it can be. That’s why he uses his own coffeepots, so as not to poison everyone’s coffee. We still don’t know if he drinks it or chews it.”

Apastron blinked in surprise. “Even after ten years?”

“Longer than that. Point’s a plankowner. Last time he was on Equis had to have been fifteen years or more. That’s why he had to be ordered and dragged to take a couple of days off. This ship has been his life for a long time,” Fornax explained.

“His dedication is admirable. His methodology, however, leaves a lot to be desired,” Apastron said as shi checked the instrumentation again.

“Giving you a stunner sure helped. Sometimes he needs a clue-by-four the size of a planet for him to change his mind.”

“It was figured he would not hurt a child, or one he thought of as being a child. So, I’m a little small.”

“He won’t. He loves foals, wanting to make their lives better. Maybe now, he will let himself associate with them,” Fornax said before describing Point’s former split personality and why he would not allow himself to be near a foal for a long time.

“How do you know all that about him?”

“Changelings are all connected telepathically, Apastron, through our Princess or Queen. She can choose to let every changeling know something or not.”

Apastron nodded at the news, thinking. “I’m impressed.”

“I thought your name is Apastron…”

Radiance Point had taken himself to Medical, looking for something, anything, to get the foul taste out of his mouth and to stop the nausea. Dr. Zubon found something that would do the job on her third attempt. “Just what did you do to get this?” she asked, once Radiance managed to stop groaning.

“The foxtaurs switched my coffee for something else. It’s unbelievably foul…”

“Unlike what you call coffee? Your blend is toxic!” Zubon replied.

“That stuff is far worse. There’s a sample of it in my office,” Radiance panted, the urge to revisit last month’s Sunday dinner slowly fading.

“Wait here. I’ll go get it and have some tests done on the stuff.”

“Plans like a sound to me, Zu…” Radiance sighed, flopping on the exam table, preparing to nap. Power puking the last month’s meals is draining on a pony.

Zubon went to Engineering, specifically Point’s office. There, she took a sample of the coffee remaining in the pot for analysis. As she was leaving, Apastron came up to her. “All it needs is a brown paper filter to remove the bad esters. Is he all right?”

Zubon nodded. “He will be. It takes a lot for him to come to Medical on his own, especially for nausea. You know, messing with his coffee is one sure way to put a big strain on his equanimity.”

“What does that mean?” Apastron asked.

“You’re pissing him off. That can only lead to one of two things, either he will start a prank war more vicious than his card playing, or he will consider you and yours absolutely reliable allies.” Zubon said in a bland voice, remembering the few times Point became involved in a prank war on the trip.

“Vicious? Radiance is not vicious! He’s kind, polite, suave, and a whole lot of other nice things to say! He was very complimentary of what we were doing to the ship!” Apastron said, amazed. “We’re considering adopting him into the family when we get back together. He’s sharp, witty, a good musician, and quite funny as well. He even taught us a new song during installation!”

Zubon stopped short, almost spilling her coffee sample. “A new song?” she asked in almost a whisper.

“Yes! It’s funny, it’s long, and the verses fit a nice working cadence.”

Zubon snorted. “He promised me he would never do that song!”

Apastron looked a little abashed. “Well, you weren’t around, and we did want him to loosen up. ‘Barnacle Tail the Sailor’ is fun! Don’t put him to sleep for a decade, please.”

Zubon smiled at that bit of news. “He said that?” At Apastron’s nod, she laughed. “I won’t put him to sleep for a decade, but I will let him know of my unhappiness. MY way.”

“Can I help?” Apastron asked. “It’s nice to see him smile.”

“It is. Before launch and the first half of the voyage, while he was quite polite, he never relaxed. Now, he can. No, don’t help me. But, thanks for the information about the coffee. Just how good is it?”

“Properly made, wonderful. Improperly made, it, well…” Apastron said, gesturing to the sample, indicating she should try it.

Zubon sniffed at the coffee, then took a taste. She recoiled from it, nearly dropping the sample and almost backing into a power switching panel. “That’s horrible!”

“Run it hot through a brown paper filter and all the bad esters come out. Just try it and see.”

“Not a bad idea, don’t mind if I do.” Zubon said as she made her way out of Engineering. Analysis of the sample revealed the bad tasting esters, and a little experimentation with filters proved the foxtaur correct. “You know, I just might switch to this,” she said in admiration.

After filtering a full pot, she brought the pot to Medical. Radiance was sound asleep on an exam bed. She filled a mug and put it on the table next to Radiance’s bed before waking him. “Here, try this,” she told him.

Radiance picked up the mug in his glow, sniffing it carefully before taking a sip. His eyes went wide at the taste, taking a bigger gulp. “A little thin, but great flavor. Where you pick this up, on Chakona?” he asked, smiling up at the doctor.

“You can say that, Point. Behave and I’ll tell you the secret of making it taste the way it does. Otherwise, you will get the raw, which will bring you here almost every day...,” she said with a growl.

Radiance knew he had put his hoof in something nasty. “Something bothering you, Zubon?”

“Why did you teach the Stellars ‘Barnacle Tail the Sailor’?” she shouted at him. “I warned you about even thinking about that song!”

Radiance set the mug down with a thump. Getting off the bed, he glared right back at the doctor. “Hey, I like it, they like it, and it made us happy to both teach and learn the song, Zu! So, what if it is one of the filthiest, dirtiest, most pornographic songs in my repertoire! It made new friends happy, and that’s all that matters! We traded songs all week, and if you ask nicely, I MAY share some of the better ones with you and the crew on the trip, but if you want to act like an offended ass about a song which I promised you I would not do in your hearing, I will happily remain silent the whole trip to Earth!” he ranted. “I got enough to do, making the impossible comprehensible!”

Zubon was taken completely by surprise by the outburst from the normally quite polite unicorn. “I didn’t know you cared so deeply, Point,” she said in apologetic tones.

“Oh, I care, Zubon. I care a lot more than most ponies aboard think. I have ideas about merging Fed tech with magitek that will startle many folk all over. What irritates me is people who try to hobble me in any way, shape or form,” he said in a low, but powerful voice. “Their attempts are ludicrous compared to what I can do to myself, by myself. I tolerate it from you because I like and trust you. Please, don’t make me question that trust, okay?

Radiance then glanced at a clock. “Please to pardon me, Doctor, but I have a meeting coming up. I’m willing to overlook this, provided you do so as well.” He set the coffee mug down on the side table. “Do enjoy the coffee. Good flavor, even if it is a bit thin for my taste.”

Radiance quickly left Medical, leaving a startled Zubon in his wake. “Just when you think you know a pony, he can come back and surprise you with something you would never suspect,” she mused as the doors closed behind the departing unicorn.

Radiance made his way back to Engineering, where he brought Apastron and Helen Baines into a conference to discuss the warp engine light off. Helen was there because shi had come up with more than one insight that increased the efficiency of the power converters, which drew power from the miniature star that powered the Lotus into power usable by the warp drives. While the warp drives, by themselves, were of a proven Federation design and quite durable, using them in the fashion they were being used to move the Lotus at supraluminal velocities was quite unusual to Federation engineers in general and the Stellar Foxtaurs in particular, which called for close monitoring by the Engineering staff to make sure they stayed working properly.

The discussion turned to a question and answer session, mainly Radiance asking and Apastron and Helen answering, of just how ship design worked with the warp fields to control speed through warp space. Ideas started flowing fast and furious as Radiance started seeing applications of nautical engineering applying to warp sciences. The trio began sketching out plans for a whole new ship to be built from the keel up, merging Equestrian science and magitek with Federation warp sciences.

When the Captain walked in, it took several minutes for the three to become aware of his presence. Actually, Radiance knew full well the Captain was there, but he was following an argument- the Captain could wait a moment or so. The Captain wanted a report, and Radiance was pleased to give him one.

“The system is working perfectly, Captain. The power conduits to the warp engines are coping exactly to spec and the warp field is stable. Since the engines are rugged and highly reliable, there is very little that we have to do on top of our regular work.” He gestured to a monitor screen which displayed the view from a camera mounted on the hull at the rear of the craft. It showed two of the three warp engines which had been fixed into position at 120° to each other, thereby creating an even warp field around the ship. The nacelles glowed blue along their length as the energy made its way through them to be converted into space-time contortion fields that let them slide into hyperspace and out of the tyranny of the limits of light-speed. “These little beauties will get us to Earth in thirty-four days. That sure beats the years it would have taken us previously.”

“It sure does,” the Captain replied, “although Boyce tells me that commercial ships can do the journey in only about twelve days, and the Pegasus can do it half of that.”

“Well, sure – any ship designed for the purpose will do better than our adapted version, but what Apastron, Helen, and I are working on could blow even the Admiral’s ship out of the cosmos. The Federation knows nothing about magitek, and with the efficiencies introduced by our technology, interstellar travel will become even more practical and cost-effective.”

Wandering smirked. “I can see that you’re enjoying yourself, Point. Just let me remind you that I won’t let you overwork yourself anymore.”

Radiance glanced at Apastron who grinned back at him innocently. “Okay, Captain – I get the hint.” He had no intention of letting the black-furred foxtaur stun him into compliance again.

“Excellent. I’ll check back with you tomorrow to see what your brainstorming session has achieved. Have fun,” the Captain said before heading off to his next destination.

“Us? Have fun? Perish the thought.” Radiance snorted before going back to the discussion, which went on until dinnertime. Apastron and Helen went off to dinner, while Radiance sought out his sister, to bring her up to speed on the day’s events. Most of them, at least.

Radiance and Sunrise met in their quarters, bringing each other up to speed on their doings. She asked for access to the notes and specs on the warp drive. When her brother asked why, Sunrise said to him, “I have a feeling, Brother. The flow patterns remind me strongly of fluid patterns through different media. I’ll have to do some more digging to see if I’m right or wrong, and if my thoughts will have any effect.”

Radiance quickly consulted CONN, giving Sunrise access to the desired information. “Sister, when you have an idea or even a feeling, I have learned enough to listen.”

“Good of you, brother. Now, what’s up with your coffee?”

Radiance grimaced. How had she found out? Slowly, he told the story of the coffee.

“Serves you right, Brother. Now, let’s get something to eat. I can’t subsist on coffee alone.”

“Don’t tell anyone my secret, okay?”

Going to the mess decks, they found out about the duel Ortzi had fought with Marlo Firefeather, about Helen. “Looks like Ortzi learned from the training we gave him on observation,” Radiance said.

“That, and the way you kicked his ass years ago. Then, he went high, you went low. This time, he went low. I’m glad he prevailed. Helen is a nice…” Sunrise paused, trying to think of a word. “…person. I like working with her.”

“So do I. Shi’s smart, capable, and innovative. I’m glad Ortzi and Helen are forming a relationship.” Radiance said with a bit of a snort. “He got hir first, so I shan’t get in his way.”

“Have feelings for her, Brother?” Sunrise asked with a little surprise.

“Feelings? Me? I would not go that far, Sister. I like working with hir. Shi’s bright, capable, and sharp. I don’t have feelings like that- I reprogrammed myself with a crowbar a long time ago, and I have yet to repair the damage,” Radiance said after a bite of dinner.

“You will, Brother. I have faith in you, as do a lot of others.”

Thirty-four days of warp travel sped by. Radiance, along with his crew, made the time go by faster by learning more and more about the warp systems, how to run them, how they worked, and most importantly, how to fix them when they broke. While learning how to do things using the Virtual Vacation setup does speed learning, nothing beat hoofs-on training, putting systems together, tracing field flow paths, learning a new system and making it an ‘old’ system. The Engineering staff aboard the Lotus, as well as the Science staff, when it came to learning aptitude, were far ahead of the curve.

Sunrise’s surmise proved to have value, so, working with Radiance, Techbird, Apastron, Fornax, M’Ranna, Helen, and others from Engineering, Sciences, and Star Fleet, they had come up with plans for a starship, utilizing Equestrian and Federation tech, that theoretically would have a speed through warp space an order of magnitude better than what Star Fleet possessed at the time. The last week of the flight was spent on checking, rechecking, rerechecking, and checking again their calculations and designs to see if it would work for sure. “We’ve done all the guesswork we can,” Radiance told Fornax and Apastron as they were on duty in Maneuvering as they neared their destination, “next step is to actually start building the thing, and that will have to wait for a while yet.”

“Hey, at least we got the foundation designed.” Fornax growled out in his gravelly tone. “Up to others to put it all together.”

Apastron chipped with, “May we be those others.”

“Got that right, Appie,” Radiance said, using Apastron’s gifted nickname. “If I have anything to say about it, we will.” Radiance had got over his mad about the coffee and had asked about getting a steady supply of the brew, along with a fabrication pattern of the brown paper filter needed to make the stuff properly. He would still make his own older vile stuff, but only in the privacy of his office.

“Bridge to Engineering. Prepare for warp drive shutdown.”

“Prepare for warp drive shutdown, Bridge, Maneuvering aye.” Radiance responded before looking at Apastron and Fornax. “You heard them. Let’s get to it.” They watched carefully as the ship came out of warp, ensuring all worked as designed.

On the main monitor, relayed from the Bridge, a pale blue dot hung in the black vastness of space. “There it is… that shining star, known as Earth.” Radiance said with respect.

“It ain’t Equestria, but I’m sure it’s a good place.” Fornax grumbled.

Third Rock From the Sun

View Online

After the Cosmic Lotus came out of warp near Earth and had settled into a parking orbit, Radiance Point and the Engineering staff got busy, inspecting the warp drive to see how it held up under over a month of being in operation. By inspecting, they did everything but disassemble the entire system in their quest to completely understand how it worked. It took the Engineering team a good ten hours before they felt ready to call their shutdown checks finished. To be honest, Radiance wanted to keep on going, but he found himself suddenly sleepy, passing out in his office.

Fornax picked up his sleeping boss, taking him back to his stateroom. “Just how did you manage to knock him out?” he asked Apastron, who was accompanying Fornax.

“I didn’t mess with his coffee, because I know he likes the coffee we gave him. However, that didn’t stop me from putting a sedative on the filter papers. He just leaves them on the shelf in his office, so I slipped in and put a doctored filter on top.” Apastron explained.

“Appie, you are one dangerous sneak, you know that?” Fornax said in his gravelly voice as he opened the door to Radiance’s quarters.

“I may be a dangerous sneak, but I could feel his excitement and desire to keep on going until he dropped. I have noticed he has unusually high stamina for a unicorn. The rest of us would have dropped before he did.”

“You’re right about that. How long is he going to be out for?” Fornax asked, settling Radiance on his bed.

“Six to ten hours, depending on how fatigued he is. I better go back and clean his office. The most successful crimes leave no traces that a crime took place, right?” Apastron said with a smile.

“Very well said, Appie.”

Radiance awoke to find himself in bed, fully dressed, and hungry. Grumbling, he got up, removed his uniform, tossed it into his laundry basket, and went in for a long, hot shower to wake up fully. Coming out, he asked for a time and status update. Finding out, he headed to the mess decks for a late meal. He heard about the drawing to see who would accompany the Captain down for the official introduction to the Earth government but did not put his name into consideration. He had work to do!

Heading back to his office, the first thing he noticed was that his desk was rather neat, compared to the last he saw of it. Papers were in order, tablets in their proper place, even his coffee mug was cleaned and in position. Checking the pot, he found that cleaned as well, with fresh grounds in it, ready for brewing. “I know I had just brewed a pot… I wonder who cleaned up?” he said to himself, looking to see who was in Maneuvering.

“Dano, who cleaned up my office?” he asked the chrome changeling on duty.

“Can’t tell you that, Point. It was like that when I came on two hours ago. I was surprised you weren’t there. Knowing you, I would think you would still be awake.”

“Apparently, I passed out sometime last night. You haven’t seen Sunrise, have you?”

“Last I heard, she was in Sciences, helping Techbird work on a computer interface.”

“Do you know if they are done yet?” Radiance asked.

“They were getting close. Should not be long now.” Dano told his boss.

“Okay, then. I’ll be in my office. When Fornax and Appie show up, send them over, please.”

“Will do, Point.”

Radiance retired to his office, picking up where he had left off the night before, reviewing how the warp engines performed exiting warp space. He could feel understanding of warp physics dancing just out of his reach, close enough to see, but not close enough to grasp…yet.

One mug of coffee was consumed, followed by another, as he chased that elusive goal… comprehension. His concentration was broken by a shrill whistle, sending him almost to the ceiling before landing back on his cushion. A look to the doorway showed a rather droopy-looking Sunrise there, with Apastron, who looked fresh and ready to start the day.

“About time, brother. That was the third whistle I gave you. The interface is done, you can now access Earth’s computer networks via CONN. Watch the tutorial first before using. I’m heading for bed- after lunch… or dinner… or whatever…” she said before yawning.

“Do you need me to carry you to bed, sister?” Radiance asked as he got to his hooves.

“Might be a good…” Sunrise yawned before falling asleep on her hooves.

“I take it that means yes.” Radiance said as he picked her up in his glow. Looking at Apastron, he told hir, “I want to talk to you later, Appie. My office was too neat.”

“Okay, Point. I’ll be here.”

Radiance put his sister to bed and returned to Engineering. “Apastron, in my office, please.”

The Starwalker Foxtaur quickly made hir way to the office. “You called, Point?”

“Yes. What did you do in my office last night?”

“Why, clean it up after you fell asleep. I found you there with your head on the desk and coffee all over. So, Fornax and I put you to bed, and I came back and cleaned up. I thought you would appreciate the kindness.” Apastron explained.

Radiance considered for a few seconds before speaking. “You are right there, Appie, I do appreciate it. I’m just surprised I passed out in here. Last time I did that was after coming through the portal, and that was after a forty-plus hour repair session. I wasn’t doing that yesterday.”

“Well, you did go off on a tangent, examining the warp drives after shutdown. Dedication and drive is good, but don’t drag the whole department with you in your enthusiasm, okay?” Apastron advised.

“You do have a point, Appie. I do tend to get excited when pursuing a goal. If I taxed you, I apologize. Deal?”

Apastron extended a paw. “Deal.” They shook hands before Apastron spoke again. “We do have the internet interface set up. Do read the tutorial before starting. Will save time in working out how to navigate it.”

“Internet? Rather unusual name. Okay, I will read it before looking. Thanks for the advice. Now, do pardon me so I can get started.” Radiance said before looking at his terminal and sent in a request for the tutorial, Apastron quietly slipping out of the office, glad he didn’t notice the tampering shi did.

Radiance, after reading the tutorial, started diving in to the Earth’s Internet, looking first at warp drive theory, trying to confirm his surmises. Within three hours, the comprehension he had been seeking hit him full on at near light speed. Waking up after the shock, he reviewed the earlier logs, using his new understanding. “I got it! I got it!” he shouted in excitement.

Danorax hollered from Maneuvering, “It better not be one of mine, Point! I’ve only got three its left, and I’m taking leave next week!”

“This one’s all mine, Dano!” Radiance called back, laughing in relief at his new-found comprehension. Finding out that all was indeed well with the Lotus’ drive systems, he next plunged in to starship design.

He sat there at his desk, reading and reading, absently drinking cup after cup, pot after pot of coffee, just taking in all the information he could about true starships. He did not hear anyone calling on him, did not notice CONN trying to get his attention, did not feel the stun blast Apastron hit him with after hours of study. Radiance woke in his bed, seeing Sunrise still asleep in hers. With a sigh, a yawn and a stretch that made his joints snap and crackle, he made his way into the shower. Once fully awake, he consulted the time.

“What in Tartarus? It’s been two days since we arrived?” Radiance exclaimed as he looked over the messages waiting for him. He saw liberty was being granted to those who wanted it, but he wasn’t interested, yet.

A message from the Captain told him that while he was on leave, Princess Galena will be in titular command, but Point was expected to help her out whenever she asked for help, or needed it, in his opinion. “Good enough for me. I have a lot of research to do before I start on what I want.”

Radiance then headed for the mess decks, where the snack bar was set up. Building himself a big meal, he brought it to a table and slowly went through it, his mind and attention on his portable terminal, reading some more. Sunrise walked in before he was finished. “Good to see you awake, brother,” she said drily.

“How long was I asleep?” Radiance asked.

“Long enough, brother. You were in so deep, you didn’t notice us trying to shake you out of your trance. Apastron had to stun you again.”

“Shi did? I didn’t even notice!” Radiance exclaimed.

“You were in that deep. I ought to put a twelve-hour block on your computer access time, so you can come join us on occasion.”

Radiance had a gulp of coffee. “You do that, sister. I know I have tunnel vision at times, but here, I’m just so excited at this I can hardly contain myself.”

“Brother, I can’t fault you there. I’m that way too. Working on the interface with Techbird, I was just as driven.”

“Sister, when you reported it done, you fell asleep on your hooves. I took you to bed myself.”

“Yes, well…” Sunrise said, trailing off in embarrassment.

“Question is, what shall we do, other than bury ourselves in research?”

“Take steps not to get too buried. And make plans for some leave time, in a month or so.”

“Got any ideas?”

“Not yet, but we have time.” Sunrise said. “Let’s get back at it.”

The duo went back to their respective work spaces while most of the crew headed planetside. Radiance did some preliminary outlining of building a ship from the keel up that would incorporate both magitek and warp tech, and Sunrise went back to her studies of gas giant wind and cloud patterns, something that caught her interest and did not let go.

Radiance took breaks from his starship plans by researching the space-based life form he had heard about, the Stariionae. He studied their physiology, then ran comparisons to the Swarm bioships, looking for correlations. He came up with an idea that would change the force balls they used for ship handling into something that would detonate with a stunning charge, hopefully incapacitating the bioship. He could do calculations and submit them for analysis, but for actual use, he would just have to wait and see, knowing full well that the best laid plans can and most likely will go sour upon meeting the enemy.

Day after day passed in this fashion, the pair working away at their tasks, Radiance also helping Princess Galena as required, which wasn’t often. By the time four weeks had passed, they both had sizable volumes of notes stored in CONN of their workings for the past month. Just because they were in orbit did not mean they would remain idle.

Sunrise sat with Radiance at dinner one night, four weeks after entering Earth orbit. “I’ve got a preliminary plan for our vacation, Brother,” she told him, setting papers down on the table.

“Okay, talk to me. What you have in mind?” Radiance asked.

“Three days in this one city here, called Las Vegas. There, we can play poker for as long as we want. Then, we will go here,” pointing to her map with a wing feather, “to a former national park, for four days of camping and visiting with some red foxtaurs. We both liked that spot on Chakona, and I’ve been told we can find similar spots here. Would be nice to do some camping and fishing again.”

“Did you say poker?” Radiance asked, his eyes lighting up some.

“Oh, yes. The city is a place for gambling, like Las Pegasus back on Equus. Think we can turn a small stake into a big one?” Sunrise asked in return, her eyes aglow with the same gleam as her brother’s.

“All depends on the other players, and if the casino deals an honest hand. But, the odds are in our favor, for sure. You and me, playing poker against common folk, should be little contest. I just hope we don’t get tossed out. I don’t think Las Pegasus has ever forgiven me, and that was twenty years before I went to the moon to work on the ship.”

“Yes, Las Pegasus was upset that you took them for several million bits, after uncovering the cheating dealers. Okay, then, I’ll make the arrangements, and we will be ready to leave day after tomorrow, after breakfast. Deal?”

“Deal!” Radiance exclaimed, the two bumping hooves.

That morning found the two shuttling down to the planetary surface, then catching a flight to this Las Vegas place, arriving late morning, Las Vegas time. The pair of ponies did attract a lot of curious attention, but little more than odd looks, as well as some curious children coming up to ask if they were ‘for real’. Radiance handled the check-in, and they went up to their room, up on the sixteenth floor. There, they took off their saddlebags and sprawled on their respective beds.

“I haven’t felt this strung out from travel in a long time. It was rough, but we made it.” Radiance said from his bed.

“That we did. Let’s just rest here a while, order up something to eat, then head down and show these people how poker is supposed to be played!” Sunrise said with joy from her bed.

Together, they looked through the menu. When they were ready, Radiance handled the telephone to place the order. After a very satisfying dinner, the pair headed down to the casino floor to do some serious gambling.

Radiance went up to a well-dressed human wearing a jacket with the casino’s logo near the poker tables and asked, in cautious Terranglo, just how to get chips and start playing. The manager explained carefully how to use their credcards to get chips and guided the pair to a table, exchanging chairs for taur cushions for them. Sunrise thanked the manager politely, using even more stilted Terranglo than Radiance, gave the manager a chip, and settled down to play. The pair started with five hundred credits in chips each, just to start with.

Sitting at the table are a Voxxan, a human female, a skunktaur with a black pawprint, and a Caitian female, introducing themselves as Tyrrenth, Sonya Harding, Preswin, and M’nora respectively, and their dealer is a human male whose name tag said ‘Rocco’. After introductions all around, Radiance doing much of the speaking, Rocco quickly ran through the games played at that table. Once Radiance said they understood, the play started.

There was a lot of curious crosstalk at the table as the unicorn and pegasus demonstrated their skills handling the chips and cards with glow or feathers, which Radiance handled with his usual style and grace, explaining that while they did learn Terranglo on their way here, they have been aboard since arrival and have had little chance to practice the language. As a cover, Sunrise generally spoke in Twinspeak, with Radiance translating.

Radiance answered all questions politely, but in general terms, explaining that he has not yet received instructions on where, when and how to discuss specifics, despite his being a command-grade officer. “Captain Path has been on leave much of the time, and Sunrise and I have been up to our noses in research, learning all we can about your wonderful Federation,” he said when he was pressed for some details on how the ship worked.

Slowly, steadily, the pile of chips in front of the two ponies grew larger as they seemingly bumbled their way through the games, acting like they were seriously trying to win big while looking like country bumpkins. The dealers changed every half hour or so, and beings of all types and species started gathering around the table, to watch the ponies play. Players also circulated in and out, leaving with much less than they started with.

After four hours of play, Radiance and Sunrise decided to cash in their chips and head out, to see some of the sights of the city. Cashing in, Radiance had over five thousand credits, Sunrise four thousand. They acted surprised at the amounts they had won, but they had been keeping a running tally ever since they sat down. They made sure to tip the dealer fifty credits each before heading out, other patrons gossiping some at their game play as they departed, heading outside to see some more of the city.

The pair chatted in Twinspeak as they walked down the sidewalk of ‘the Strip’. <Did you spot what I spotted about that dealer before the last one, Brother?>” Sunrise asked.

“<That she was as crooked as a river course? Oh, yes, I noticed. A smooth operator, she was, rigging the deal and the shuffle almost every time. Good move on folding almost every hand while she was doing the dealing.>”

“<Like I had a choice. The best hand I had the whole half hour was two little pair!>”

“<I was not much better. One dealer out of eight being bad bears watching. We’ll try that table again tomorrow.>” Radiance said, looking around. <Where would you like to go next?>”

Sunrise pointed with a wing. “<How about over there, that place that looks like a badly-designed castle?>”

Radiance shrugged. “<Good a place as any.>”

The two visited three other casinos before heading back to where they were staying at, having banked a total of fifty thousand credits each, playing for bigger and bigger stakes at every stop. Back in their room, they sprawled out on their beds, which were far larger than they were used to. “<Brother, this whole city smells fishier than the Baltimare Quay.>” Sunrise said to Radiance in Equish.

“<Believe me, I noticed too. Most of the dealers we found cheat in one form or another. Cheating with some skill, I must add. If we hadn’t trained ourselves to be hyper-vigilant, I doubt we would have spotted them cheating.>” Radiance replied.

“<So, what should we do about it?>” Sunrise asked.

“<We’re fifty thousand up now. Shall we expand on that by an order of magnitude or two?>” Radiance asked with an evil smile, sipping on some coffee which was far too weak, but had good flavor.

“<Back at the place that cheated the most?>” Sunrise countered with a similar evil smile.

“<Why, Sister, you read my mind!>” Radiance laughed. “<Let’s get some sleep.>”

Early the next morning, after a breakfast that would have sent Kale Robe into a conniption fit, the two went back to their suspect casino. There, they made their intentions clear to the poker room management- they were there for some high-stakes poker. By high stakes, they were starting with fifty thousand in chips each, and wanted to do some serious gambling. The management was very happy to oblige them at that time, so the two settled at a table with some other high rollers and got to work.

It was less than an hour when the first complaint was lodged by one of the high rollers, who had lost a good two hundred thousand by herself. She griped to the managers that the ponies just HAD to be cheating, to be so successful. A quick investigation showed that the two were not cheating in any way, just aggressively pursuing advantages, so she withdrew her complaint and got back to playing. The casino did try to cheat in return, to help their ‘resident high roller’, but the ponies completely refused to bite, rapidly folding as soon as they spotted any form of sneaky dealing by the dealer.

Hours went by, Radiance and Sunrise continuing their steamrollering of the high roller table, being absolutely merciless on the house, the other players, and each other (apparently). Radiance did much of the talking, Sunrise only speaking Terranglo to raise, call, fold, or number of cards. Radiance explained to the table that while Sunrise could understand Terranglo to a degree, her command of speaking it was limited, so he would be doing much of the talking. What really spoke was their game play, the stacks of chips building higher and wider by the two. The other players, and the management, were starting to get more than a little bent at their continuing success as well as their ‘intimidation’ of the casino’s best customers. After the sixth snide comment they overheard from the table, Radiance stood up, Sunrise quickly following suit.

“Not only do I resent any comment that we are cheating at this game, I would take such a matter personally. I have fought a duel and won against a griffin who accused me of cheating at cards, which is something I will never do, because I like the game too much to cheat at it.” Radiance declared to the table and management, who were watching closely.

“I know laws here do not allow for duels, so I will not call for one. Instead, my sister and I will cash out right now and go elsewhere. Rest assured, we will pass the word about what we found here. Manager,” Radiance said, addressing the pit boss, “We will cash out NOW.”

The management tried to convince the Equestrians to relax and continue playing, but the pair dug in their hooves, saying they did not want to stay in a place that accused them of cheating. So, the manager called for some security folk to escort the pair to a cashier’s cage. When they went to pick up the chips, Radiance waved off the security folk, gathering each pile of chips up in his glow, keeping them separate. “It’s not that I don’t trust you folk, but after the insult we were given, it’s that I really don’t trust you folk. Now, let us go cash out.”

The count out showed that Radiance’s pile of chips totaled to almost one million seven hundred thousand credits, while Sunrise’s was just short of one million eight hundred thousand credits. Once verifying the appropriate amounts had been deposited, the two rapidly exited the casino, walking down the street away from their hotel.

“<Brother, we are being shadowed…>” Sunrise said in Twinspeak.

“<By those three big, hulking human males who are doing their best to look like pissed off Ursa Majors? I see them.>”

“<Plan X, brother?>”

“<Plan X it is. Quick, into this alley.>” Radiance ducked up an alleyway between two buildings, Sunrise following. He fired up his horn and teleported the two of them back to their hotel room.

“<Do we want to hit up another casino?>” Radiance asked in Equish.

Sunrise glanced out the window, which overlooked the casino they had come out of. “<Let’s check out and head out of town. There’s a train that leaves Las Vegas and heads to Salt Lake City, stopping at where we planned on camping at. Those goons are just now finding out we are not where they thought we were.>”

“<So, shall we head on out of here?>” Radiance said, only half seriously.

“<With extreme alacrity, Brother. Last thing we need is a pitched battle with goons.>”

“<Back in Las Pegasus, I wound up killing one and wounding two when they came after me.>”

“<I know, Brother.>” Sunrise said drily as she got her saddlebags on. “<Grab your gear and let’s get going. I’ll use the express checkout.>”

“<Sounds good to me.>” Radiance said, lifting his saddlebags in his glow and strapping them on.

The two ponies left their room at a sedate trot, going not to the nearest elevator bank to them, but to the elevator closest to the train station. Taking that, they didn’t have to wait long before a train came, taking them to Vegas Central Station, and from there onto a maglev train to Salt Lake City. Once on the maglev, Sunrise called ahead to their next stop, alerting her friend that they were arriving early.

“I really have to get one of those comm units. Maybe you can show me how to work it.” Radiance commented, looking over Sunrise’s shoulder.

“It’s not that hard, Point. We’ll pick one up at our stop.”

Sunrise’s confidence was a bit misplaced, as the station they were heading to was little more than a platform for the train, the town being rather rustic. They were met at the platform by Keylara, a red foxtaur that Sunrise was introduced to over the phone but had yet to meet.

“Sunrise! Good to meet you at last!” Keylara said, going up to Sunrise and giving her a hug, which was returned warmly.

“Good to meet you too, Keylara. Thank you for meeting us here on such short notice. We thought it best to get out of Las Vegas fast.”

“What happened?” Keylara asked.

“We committed a cardinal sin in a place like Las Vegas or Las Pegasus. Winning. Winning big, winning fast, and winning despite the casino’s efforts to make us lose.” Radiance said in a voice so dry, dust fell from his horn. Purple-grey dust.

“This is your brother, Sunrise?” Keylara asked, letting go of the pegasus.

“That’s my big brother, Lieutenant Commander Radiance Point, Engineer’s Mate of the Cosmic Lotus. Point, this is Keylara, one of the managers of Zion National Park. Apastron suggested I call on her, and while we were sitting in orbit, I did.” Sunrise said with a smile. “You were too busy either researching, redesigning, or captaining that you never did ask about why I locked you out of the cabin three days a week.”

“Captaining?” Keylara asked.

“I am a senior officer, but down some on the list. I have some above me in rank, but most of them were on leave, so, I took the duty on occasion. Let the crew have their time off. After all, senior officers are ponies too. I was happy doing research. It is indeed a pleasure to meet with you, Miss Keylara.” Radiance said in his most gallant tones, bowing gracefully to the red foxtaur.

Keylara hugged the unicorn when he came up from his bow, startling him. “As much of a pleasure it is to meet the two of you? I hope so! Come on, are you two up for a bit of a walk? My home is only a couple of miles from here.”

“Walk, yes. Walk it will be. You lead the way, Keylara. I’m sure Sunrise will want to fly, so give her instructions on what to look for. I will happily walk with you.” Radiance said, getting his composure back. Being hugged like that was highly unusual, but startlingly… nice.

Keylara gave Sunrise the directions to her home, and Sunrise took off, causing Keylara to look on in wonder. “Oh, my… what a sight…”

“It is, isn’t it?”

The ponies spent two full days and nights as guests of Keylara and her large family, enjoying the benefits of a calm home life, meeting the tod, the vixens and the kits of the herd (as Radiance called it, diplomatically only in his head) before being allowed to take camping gear and heading out to enjoy the beauty of the park.

“These foxtaurs are wonderful people, Brother.” Sunrise said as they went out of sight of the big house, following a marked trail.

“They are wonderful, yes. However, some of their sexual mores I find rather disturbing.”

“You would say that, Brother. However, knowing you like I know you, you are right. BUT, you have to get over that reticence sometime. You are missing out on a lot.”

“I may be, but every time I think about broaching the topic, that incident rears its ugly head, I remember what happened to me, and I lose myself in the panic I felt then. You know how I feel about it.” Radiance said as they hiked.

“I know enough about how you felt to convince Ixia to do all she could to help you and help her through the aftermath.” Sunrise raised a wing, forestalling an interruption. “No, you don’t need to know what was done, just be grateful you have shipmates ready to go to great lengths for you.”

“Not to mention friends. I can tell how much the whole family seemed to know when I was getting uncomfortable about the topics. I’m just glad they had a room for us to sleep in by ourselves.”

“Almost. The kits just loved being with you. I saw how they pleaded to have you tell them stories until you fell asleep with them.” Sunrise said as she spread her wings in a clearing, shaking them out before folding them back.

“Sneaky littles, but just plain good to be around. They liked me. They liked ME…” Radiance trailed off, his purple eyes going wide in some realization.

“They are empathic, Point. They are able to look inside you, read your feelings and judge from there. You are a good pony, Brother. They know it, I know it, and you know it. You just have to learn to admit it to yourself.”

“I’ve done a lot of bad things. Things I can’t forget. I try so hard to be polite to strangers, so they would like me even if they find out about me.”

“You have to be the kindest, most generous pony aboard the Lotus, Brother. Two examples are what you did for Skyborn and the pond in the Park.” Sunrise said, putting a wing around her brother’s back.

“Not to mention taking duty to remain aboard so others can get time off. I’m used to making my own way. Seeing others relax relaxes me. My needs are simple.” Radiance said as they walked.

“Just don’t forget you have needs, too. If you don’t fill them, then how can you help others?”

“What am I doing now, Sister? Knitting?” Radiance snorted as Sunrise laughed.

“Another couple of miles and we will be at the campsite Keylara told us about. Sunning, fishing, swimming, and total peace and quiet for three days. Can we stand the strain?”

Radiance snickered quietly. “Well, if you have any trouble, I’m sure we can come up with SOMEthing to keep you occupied!” He then danced out of the way of a playful wing slap.

The ponies found the campsite and settled in for a stay, setting up the tent, sleeping bags and other tools the modern camper needed. Radiance set up a campfire while Sunrise went fishing, pulling up several good-sized fish. Radiance cooked them up just the way Sunrise liked them, and after a nap, the two spent the rest of that day swimming, running, flying, and generally forgetting about their jobs and just chillaxed big time.

The first two days, they relaxed, enjoying the peace, quiet and solitude of the remote location. Both Radiance and Sunrise took a lot of pictures (cameras provided by Keylara and her family) of the scenery, the plant life, and the animal life. They were taught by the foxtaur family on what was good to forage, and so they spent time doing just that, enjoying the berries, nuts and flowers. Sunrise insisted on taking some seeds back to give to Emerald Green and Skye Path for the garden.

Late on the second day, their leisure was interrupted by the sound of feet pounding up the trail at a rapid pace. They looked to see Larik, the fox tod, come racing into the campsite. “Mister Point, Miss Sunrise, we have a problem at the house,” he gasped as he came to a stop.

“What’s wrong, Larik?” Sunrise asked as Radiance got up to his hooves.

‘Some people came up from Vegas, looking for you. They’re at the house, holding everyone hostage while I went looking for you,” Larik puffed as he caught his breath. “Something about three and a half million credits.”

“Is that a fact?” Radiance said, getting a little upset. “Have they hurt anyone yet?”

“No, but they will if I’m not back, with the two of you, in two hours. I bargained for lots of time, because we knew which way you went, but not precisely where you would be camping.”

Radiance and Sunrise looked at each other for a few seconds. “How long will it take you to fly back?” he asked her.

“About fifteen to twenty minutes, if I push it. It took us three hours to get here. Got your ship comm unit?” Sunrise asked in return.

“Never leave the ship without it. It’s in my bag. Take yours and get near the house. It will be dark by then, so hide out and call me when you’re in place. I’ll drop in on them and we’ll play what for.” Radiance said quietly, with an undercurrent of rage that made Larik shake some. He felt the same from her, but not as intense.

Sunrise went into the tent, coming out wearing her saddlebags. “I’ll ping you when I’m in position,” she said before taking off.

“Larik, let’s start walking back. When I get her call, I’ll teleport in and settle their hash. You make your best possible time, but it will probably be over before you get there. Okay?”

“Just douse the fire first, before you leave, okay?” Larik said, getting his breath back.

Radiance levitated a glob of water from the lake over the fire, letting the water into the fire until it was cold and out. “Let’s go. Nobody hurts my friends, and especially nobody hurts my little friends,” he growled.

The two made their way down the path towards the house. After about ten minutes, the ship comm unit activated. “<One-three-six to Eight. Intruder heading your way, on the path, about halfway up. Being casual about it, too.>” came from the speaker in Equish.

“<Eight to One-three-six. Has the intruder passed the little clearing with the big boulder where we found the berries?>”

“<It’s about three minutes from there. Come in up-path of the boulder and you should not be seen.>”

“<On my way.>” Radiance said before turning to Larik. “When I disappear, you come hurrying down the path. This situation should be rectified by the time you get there.”

“Okay. I’ll be there,” Larik said quietly. Radiance’s horn glowed purplish-grey, and the unicorn disappeared with a soft pop of displaced air, startling the foxtaur.

Radiance reappeared on the path, the aforementioned boulder in sight. Quietly, he slipped up next to the boulder, ears tuned to listen for the intruder. His wait was not long, as within a minute, he could hear the grumbling of someone coming up the path, someone not accustomed to walking up a forest path. A humanoid shape came into view, a flashlight pointed to the ground.

“Damn pony, taking our operating funds…” the being muttered just before Point’s rear hooves met its chest at high speed. The being let out a cough as the air was forcibly expelled from its lungs, followed by the sounds of ribs breaking and the being falling to the ground with a dull thump.

Radiance picked up the flashlight and looked at the being. It was a human male, on the large side for humans, an expression of pain on his face and blood seeping from his mouth. He checked to see if the man was still breathing, then applied an anesthesia spell, ensuring the one would be out cold for a good two to three hours. “<Eight to One-three-six. Target down.>” he reported in Equish.

“<Target down, aye. House is quiet, with a PTV parked near it, and not belonging to the park, either.>” Sunrise reported.

“<Think you can disable it without being caught?>”

“<Doubtful. But, if you appear about forty yards from the front door, bearing three-three-zero from looking out the door, you will appear behind the PTV.>”

“<Nice scouting, sister. Give me a moment. Call if any changes.>”

“<Will do.>”

Leaving the flashlight for Larik to find, Radiance teleported to the designated coordinates, appearing with the large PTV between him and the house. Going up next to the PTV, his horn lit up with a dim glow as he used his Virtual Repair spell to learn about the vehicle, especially how to paralyze it. Finding the proper wiring harness, he tugged at it with his telekinesis, rendering the vehicle powerless and helpless. “<Vehicle inerted. Got a distraction in mind?>”

“<Yes. I’ll land and knock at the back door. When I say the word ‘brother’, you come in the front. Will leave comm unit on and under my wing.>”

“<Do it, sister. I’ll be fast.>” Radiance slipped the comm unit back into the pouch on his saddlebag, volume lowered enough for him to hear. He levitated himself cautiously to the door, praising Celestia mentally that his glow is not particularly bright in the dark. He heard the knock on the back door, and footsteps along with some words in Terranglo he could not quite make out.

“I fly fast here. Larik say hurry hurry. I hurry.” Radiance heard faintly over the comm, followed by “Why you two want see me and Brother?”

At that, Radiance used his glow to open the door rather quickly. Seeing one human with a weapon drawn covering the vixens and kits, he didn’t hesitate. He fired a stunning blast from his horn, catching the human in the side, dropping him to the floor like a sack of flour. From farther back in the house, he heard the thumps of hooves hitting flesh, which he took as Sunrise taking out her opponent.

When the human fell, Keylara moved swiftly, taking the weapon and moving it far away from the stunned human. “Where do you want me to put the living trash, Keylara?” Radiance asked.

“What about the third one, the one who went looking for you?” she asked in return.

“Out cold and left for Larik to find. He won’t wake up for a while. Have you called for help?” Radiance asked.

“No, we haven’t. They would not let us near a phone to call out.”

“Okay, then, go ahead and call. Larik is all right and making his way back here.” Radiance then raised his voice. “<All okay back there, Sister?>” he asked in Twinspeak.

“All is well, Brother,” she called out in Terranglo. “How about a little help taking out the garbage?”

Radiance went to the back door, to find a third human there, out cold, bleeding from nose and mouth. He applied a stun blast to the human, ensuring he would stay out, before picking him up in his glow and moving him to the front room. “Just what did you do to him?” he asked.

“Just a quick one-two-three.He didn’t think wings could be used as weapons. Distracted him enough to punch him one in the chest.”

“Who taught you to fight, Kale? That’s one powerful punch.”

“Okay, kick.” Sunrise said, shrugging her wings as they made it back to the main room, where they were surrounded by the foxtaur family. Keylara called for help, and three of the vixens went up the trail to bring back the one they had left there, along with Larik. Before authorities arrived, Radiance and Sunrise spent some time comforting the littles, a job they apparently excelled at. Keeping the kits calm helped the two settle down after all the excitement.

By the time the miscreants were hauled off and statements taken from everyone, it was too late to go back to the campsite, so they decided to leave it for the morning, spending the night with the foxtaurs, in the communal sleeping room, each pony snuggling a young foxtaur in their forelegs, with another holding on to them from the back.

The twins spent three more days with Larik and his clan, two days and a night up at the campsite and the rest at the house before leaving to head back to the Lotus and work. They found out four days later that the three human males were part of a group called Humans First, and the casino that they had won at was a money-laundering front for them, the poker room being the place where they handled large sums of money without too much question. Two strange beings coming in and winning three and a half million credits upset some apple carts.

“Good thing we came home when we did, brother.”

“That’s true, sister, it is. However, they are not going to get their hooves on our money any time soon. We won it fair and square, and we proved it when we were interviewed by that skunktaur in Salt Lake City.”

“The authorities were surprised by all the detail we were able to give them. Surprised, but grateful.”

“Hey, always happy to help legitimate authorities, yes?”

“Oh, yes. Ready to head back to Equus?”

Radiance sighed. “If necessary, yes. Being capable of going back is good. Me going back is not.” Sunrise just hugged her brother, knowing full well why he left, and why he didn’t really want to go back.

Facing the Past

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As the Cosmic Lotus sped its way through hyperspace toward Equus, covering in hours what took months or years to do on the way out, Radiance Point found his enthusiasm ebbing. Out of all the ponies on board, as far as he knew, he had little reason to head home. Sure, he had his Foundation, which does a lot of good for a lot of orphaned and abused foals, but that was set up from the beginning to run without his supervision. No, he had fully intended to leave Equus and never return. If all had gone as expected when they left, he would have remained aboard the Lotus, maintaining the ship as an observation station for scientists. Now, he found himself heading back to Equus, with a lot of new information and friends, but still, he felt uneasy.

His unease made itself known to his friends aboard in different ways. The first, most obvious one was that his personality shifted to one of unease. His sparkling eyes became haunted, almost frightened as they neared Equus. Second, he stopped drinking coffee completely. Third, while he still did his duties up to his usual standards, he started delegating jobs around the department, leaving him with less to do. Fourth and most telling, he would spend much time in the Park, by the pond, with his music player on, just lying there.

Naturally, ponies picked up on this. The changelings, and Apastron, noticed that Radiance was by turns depressed, frightened or ashamed at the prospect of returning to Equus. When they asked him, he gave all the same answer. “I choose not to talk about it at this time.”

Undaunted, his friends went to the best source of information on Radiance Point- his twin sister, Sunrise Flight. She knew all about his past, since Flix created her during the Halfway Happening, plus she was much more approachable.

She gathered much of the Engineering staff, as well as Ixia, in the Park when she knew her brother was asleep. “You have been wondering just why Brother is becoming distressed at the thought of going home. I can tell you, just don’t say to his face you heard it from me. He will know I told everypony, in fact he expects me to, but if you do not say so, he won’t get mad.

“It all goes back to his time aboard the Gowanus Herald. There, Radiance Glow, as he was known then, was not as you know him now. He was under the control of his alter ego, a cruel, manipulative pony with a short temper, little tolerance, and an unbelievable skill in keeping that old rust bucket operating profitably.

“After the incident that led to the sinking of the Gowanus, he dropped out of sight for the better part of two years, under the care of House Path physicians and psychologists before being allowed out again, under a different name, Purple Point. His appearance was radically changed, as was his temperament and his very soul. He vowed to be completely different from the way he was as Radiance Glow, and he lived up to that vow.

“Then, the song came out, describing Radiance Glow as a hero, saving twenty out of the crew of fifty after the ship rolled over in a bad storm. He felt deep shame about it, knowing the truth but being unable to admit to it. After all, everyone thought Radiance Glow was dead, consumed by the magic power he used to teleport those who reached him to safety in Vanhoover. It got to where merely hearing the song, or even the opening chords, would send him into a panic attack. Everypony on the crew is aware of his breakdown during the first All Hooves party.”

After a pause for some water, Sunrise went on. “That was bad enough, but a decade later, the film came out, which went further in portraying him as a heroic figure, which could not be farther from the truth. This only deepened his shame, driving him farther along the path of proving he was NOT Radiance Glow.

“When the Cosmic Lotus program was announced, he immediately volunteered for it, having already made a name for himself in many of the circles required to fit in to the mission. He left Equus as the keel was first laid down, and never looked back.”

Ixia spoke up. “Now, he’s heading home, with a different name than when he left, as well as a different appearance. What he’s ashamed of is having to lie for all those years about himself, and now heading back. Everypony will know the truth about him and facing questions like that is by turns terrifying him and making him more ashamed.”

“It’s been over forty years since you left Equus. Who would remember the ship sinking after all this time?” Apastron asked.

“More than you would suspect, Apastron. You also have to factor in that many ponies on Equus now know the full story, seeing as a certain someone did happen to spill the beans some years back, a certain someone whom I owe a great debt to, but will not mention his name.” Sunrise said out loud before muttering, “Prince Flixtradamus Antithesis Path…”

After the laughter died down, Sunrise went on. “Most ponies will know of Brother’s past, and mine. Brother just does not like the thought of facing all the questions. To be blunt, he is deeply embarrassed and does not know what to do. He really hates being in the public eye, because Radiance Glow was quite the glory hound back then.”

“Any ideas on what we ought to do, Sunny?” Fornax called out in his gravelly voice.

“Basically, just support him. Don’t try to jolly him out of his depression, it won’t work. Listen to him when he does decide to talk and be supportive when we get to Equus. The publicity when we get back is going to frighten him to a great degree. I can’t predict how he will respond to it.” Sunrise told the group.

“Let us hope he is routed away from press conferences, and locks himself in with Pif’s working group, passing on all the technological information he’s found out.” Ixia said in hopeful tones. “I’ll suggest it to the Captain.”

“You do that, Ixia. The rest of you, lend support, but don’t smother him. He hates that. Now, let’s get back to work. We’ll be arriving the day after tomorrow.”

Later that day, Danorax and Apastron were on watch in Maneuvering. “I just wish there was something we could do for Point,” Danorax said. “Seeing him depressed is worrisome. Like Sunrise said, he has little to go back to. He does not think he is a hero.”

“The best heroes never feel they deserve to be called by that name,” Apastron replied. “He will take credit for things he has done, like fixing the ship after your first wormhole passage, because he feels he has earned the title, not that he would ever use it. In this case, he does not feel like he earned anything, because his alter ego was such an indescribable ass to everyone aboard the ship. Sure, he saved twenty ponies, but he feels that was just necessary to atone for Glow’s poor personality.”

Danorax froze in place for a few seconds, staring at the monitors as his mind raced before accessing the changeling network. “Did I say something wrong?” Apastron asked.

“No, you said something right.” Danorax answered. “The key word is ‘atone’. I think I know a way to help Point.”

“What’s your idea?”

“It goes back to his time aboard the Gowanus. His personality then was almost a complete opposite to the way he is now. There is one thing he has not done to the crew that he feels he should do but does not have the nerve to do so.”

“Apologize?” Apastron asked.

“Exactly that. He remembers his life there and can’t forget what he did to whom. I think he needs to apologize to all the survivors, not for saving them, but for his behavior before the wreck. Until he does, he cannot put the incident behind him.” Danorax explained.

“That’s not a bad idea. Are you going to bring it up with anyone after watch?”

“Yes, I will. First Ixia, then the Captain. I will suggest that the survivors of the Gowanus Herald be gathered together and have Point go in and apologize to them for his behavior as Radiance Glow. There is one other pony he should apologize to, but that will not be possible, seeing as he passed on over fifty years back. Maybe more. I’ll have to re-synchronize calendars when we arrive at Equus.”

“Who is this other pony?” Apastron asked.

“His father. What drove Radiance Glow to the breaking point was his abuse at the hooves of his father, never complimenting him on his achievements, just ridiculing him because he did not live up to Radiance Shine’s standards. One night, Radiance Glow snapped and beat his father to a bloody mess, all four legs broken in multiple places. That happened before he signed on the Gowanus, which left Baltimare not two hours after Radiance fled. By the time the City Guard started looking for him, he was long gone. I know this because Sunrise explained it to all of us while Radiance was in hibernation for a year.” Danorax explained.

“I can’t picture Radiance Point ever doing such a thing to anyone.” Apastron said, a little shock and horror tinging hir voice.

“I can believe it. Before Halfway, Ortzi, who had finished second to Commander Bluequill in the Cosmic Games not long before, said something about Point using magic to cheat at cards, something he had been saying for years. Point challenged him to a duel, giving the griffin every possible advantage. Point beat him in under forty seconds. Want to see the fight?”

“Yes, I would. I just can’t picture him ever doing anything like that.”

Danorax called up the fight and played it on the monitor. “Point never likes starting a fight, but he will not hesitate to end one.”

“Oh, my. I see Ortzi suffered no lasting ill effects from that.”

“No, he didn’t. In calling an honor duel, by winning, he legally had the right to everything Ortzi owned, but he gave it all back to him, handing down a penalty of fifty days as ship janitor, absolution of his debts to Point, and one hour a week in observational training.”

“Now that sounds more like the Radiance we know.”

Danorax sighed. “Just know this about him. Years ago, he was challenged to an honor fight by a Griffonian noble, to the death. Point won that fight in forty-four seconds or so, but nearly at the cost of his own. He sold back the estates to Lord Razortalon’s heirs, for a monetary consideration and lifetime House membership.”

Apastron shuddered a little. “Radiance does nothing by half measures, does he?”

“Not at all. That’s why he’s so good at what he does. But, sometimes he must be protected from himself. Now looks like one of those times.”

“In that, I have to agree, Dano.”

After watch, Danorax sought out Ixia and brought up his idea with her. After listening, she said the idea had merit, and will investigate it. “It’s something I have not thought of, that’s for sure.”

After Danorax left, Ixia did some research of Point’s psych profile, factoring in what she had learned from Danorax. “Captain, can I get a few moments with you?” she asked over the intercom. “It’s about Point…”

When the Lotus broke out of warp near Equus, Radiance was kept busy doing shutdown checks while the ship moved into orbit. He did his best to avoid any of the publicity, press conferences, and the other hullabaloo caused by the arrival of the Pegasus, a job he managed to succeed at for a day or so before being confronted by his friend Ixia, his friend Apastron, and his sister, Sunrise Flight. The confrontation was held in his quarters.

“Brother, we have something to tell you, and you will listen to us.” Sunrise said sternly.

Radiance easily caught which way the wind was blowing and sat down. “I’m listening.”

“Tomorrow, you are going to be brought to a private conference. There, you are going to meet with the seventeen surviving members of the crew of the Gowanus Herald that you rescued and apologize to them.” Ixia told him.

“I beg your pardon?” Radiance said, startled.

“You heard her, Brother. What is bothering you is that you feel that you have not atoned for your behavior as Radiance Glow. We’re in Equus orbit now, a place you never imagined coming back to. The prospect is terrifying you, and your job performance is as depressed as you are. If you want me to, I’ll go with you, but you are going to be doing all the talking.” Sunrise said in tones that Radiance knew meant he should not argue with her.

“You’re worried now, Point, but you shouldn’t. Think of this as a step towards forgiving yourself.” Apastron said in kinder tones.

“You have always felt you do not deserve absolution for what you have done,” Ixia said. “Trust us in saying we feel you do. What happened seventy-four years ago here deserves to be put to rest, first in your heart, then in theirs.”

Radiance just sat there, surprised by what he had just heard. “I never thought of that,” he said faintly, almost in a whisper.

Sunrise looked at Apastron and Ixia. “Come on, let’s leave him be for a while. He’s just been whacked with a clue-by-four, and it will take some time for the new thought to seep in,” she said before leading the changeling and starwalker foxtaur out of the room.

Radiance looked in the mirror he kept in the main room of his quarters. He studied intently the red and white stripe in his mane but remembering when the length of his mane was red and white stripes all the way down. “I am SO…” followed by a string of multilingual epithets that lasted a good two minutes, epithets so strong the metal mirror tarnished some under the force he put behind the words. “…screwed,” he finished before passing out on his chair cushion.

Late the next day, Radiance and Sunrise were in a shuttle, heading for the lunar base. “Sister, can I confess something to you in confidence?” he asked.

“Of course, you can, Brother. You trust me, I trust you.” Sunrise replied, putting a wing around him.

“I’m scared, Sister. I’m scared like I have never been scared before in my life. None of those ponies have any reason to like me,” he said in a near-whisper.

Sunrise could feel Radiance shaking under her wing. “I know you are, Brother. You have been running from your past now for too many years. It is now time to face it and deliver unto it a power buck that will knock your past so far out it can’t even FIND the Far Star, much less you.

“It’s all right to be scared. You have what you feel are good reasons. Just think of this… every last one of them has to thank you for their lives. You saved them when they otherwise would have died in the unforgiving ocean depths. You SAVED them, giving them a chance to have or even see families again. Keep your mind on that, okay? If any of them think otherwise, in order to get to you, they have to get through ME first. Got it?”

Radiance nodded. “I got it, Sister. I’m still scared, though.”

“Look at it as if we had to get the Lotus moving again when we fell through the portal. Nothing you figured was tested, you were running on optimism and sheer guesswork. It worked, right? So, will this.”

“I can only hope and trust to the Princesses that all will go right.” Radiance said, still in a worried whisper.

“Let me tell you something Galen said when you had your breakdown at the beginning of the flight. You have more courage in one hair of your tail than most ponies have in their entire bodies. I have faith in you. You can have faith in yourself, too. Take some of my faith. I have some to spare.” Sunrise said in a conspiratorial whisper.

Radiance looked at his sister with an amazed look. “You do? Where do you get it from? Have you been holding back on me?” he said, a little strength coming to his voice.

“I bought some on Chakona while you were up on the ship installing the warp drive. I keep a supply of it in that red box I keep in my nightstand,” she said with a straight face.

“How many bits did it cost you?”

“None. I used the Chakona government’s credit card, so thank them, okay?”

Radiance leaned into his sister’s side, feeling some of his tension and anxiety drain off. “I’ll have to send a thank you note to Prime Minister Sunflare, then. Maybe some of my Arisian Civet coffee as well.”

“You do that, Brother, and I’m sure she will have you turned away at Chakona Gateway if you so much as set hoof on it. In fact, I may send her that suggestion,” Sunrise said with a small laugh.

“How did I ever manage without you, Sister?” Radiance asked with a small laugh of his own.

“You haven’t. I’ve been there all along. You just didn’t know it. Now you do.”

“Yes, that I do. Let’s get through this meeting, shall we?”

“Easy, Brother. This is not something to dread, it is something to put behind you, so you can move along in life. Honestly, you may be an inventive genius, but you are so single-minded, it takes an asteroid impact just to get your thoughts moving in a different direction!”

Radiance smiled, leaning against his sister. “You don’t have to put it that way, Sunrise.”

“I can’t think of a better way to put it, Radiance.”

Sunrise led Radiance to a conference room in the upper levels of Lunar Dome Three. Pausing at the door, she said to him, “Now, get in there and do what you know needs doing. Just remember, you’re going IN to the room, and you will come OUT of the room feeling a lot better than you do now.”

“You’ll be there with me?” Radiance asked, still a little apprehensive.

“I will be, but you will be doing all the talking. Now go do it like I know you can!” she said firmly, opening the door.

Radiance went in to the room, aided by a wing push from Sunrise. There, grouped at one end, sat eighteen ponies, a mix of pegasi, unicorns and earth ponies. They were, of course, much older than Radiance remembered them, but he still recognized every one of them, except one, while they all looked at him with a ‘who in Tartarus is this fellow?’ expression on their faces.

Radiance stood at the far end of the room, away from the gathered ponies, Sunrise next to him and behind. “Hello, everyone. I am Radiance Point, Engineer’s Mate of the Cosmic Lotus. Thirty-two years before departure, I was known by a different name, that of Radiance Glow.

“How can I prove I was Radiance Glow? I can think of many ways, the question being if I can convince you of it,” he said, looking first at a unicorn seated towards the back. “Steam Line, you lost a pot of three hundred sixteen bits to me when your kings over queens full house lost to my four threes, which I last carded on your deal. You were so angry, you threw your hat across the cabin and out through an open porthole. You bitched for weeks about it.”

“What was so special about that hat, that had me so upset about losing it?” the old unicorn asked with some belligerence.

“You won it in a card game off the captain of a Neighponese freighter ten years before.”

“What was different about the cap badge?”

“It was missing a single sapphire piece the size of a grain of rice at the three o’clock position of the chrysanthemum. The mounting prong holding it in had broken, and the piece still had a sharp point on it that caught the light oddly whenever you wore it. The piece missing was a blue sapphire piece, part of an array that repeated blue, green, yellow, orange, red and pink four times around the outer circle.”

The assembled ponies took this information a bit stoically, thinking. A pegasus then addressed Radiance. “What were the last words I said to you before you teleported me to Vanhoover?”

Radiance smiled. “Jerdian Lighthoof. The pony who made a hero out of me, a pony that was despised by all on board. You asked me if I would be all right. As the energies wrapped me in white flames, I said to you, ‘No, but YOU will be,’ before I sent you to Vanhoover.”

“That was in the movie,” said a burly earth pony in the front of the assemblage.

“Of course, that was, Wide Load. What wasn’t in the movie was that I always called you…” Radiance then let fly with some rather vile epithets. “I started that because when I first came aboard, you tried shoving me into an open bilge. Instead, I threw you into it. Headfirst.”

Wide Load’s eyes went wide. “There was nopony around when that happened. I was sure of that. I never told anypony.”

“For good reason, knowing that if the Captain or Chief Engineer at the time had found out, one or the other would have pitched you overboard into the screws. At ahead flank. Captain Green Tide would have done it, and all aboard at the time knew it, even me,” Radiance said to the old earth pony.

Wide Load nodded, saying “Good thing Green Tide pissed someone off at the Home Office and wound up getting thrown off the ship four months later.”

“Literally, thrown off the ship,” another old timer said. “He made quite a splash when he landed. Sank like a stone, he did.”

“That he did, and good riddance to bad leadership. I remember all of you but one, the gray and black stallion with the chestnut mane and bright green tail, who reminds me of Delectable Dinner. I take it she is no longer with us?” Radiance asked.

Jerdian answered the question. “No, she passed on about fifteen years ago. This is her son, Cast Iron, who was born less than a year after the Gowanus sank. He has been part of our survivor’s group his whole life. He followed his mother’s path and is as good a cook as she was. Delectable Dinner included him in our meetings. When this meeting was called, we insisted he come along as well.”

“Fair enough, Jerdian. Now, for the reason you were all called here. The whole time all of you knew me as Radiance Glow, technically, I was insane. My father had abused me to such an extent, my mind had snapped, and my alter ego surfaced, beating him to a bloody mess. The ship left Baltimare two hours later, with me aboard. I had noticed in the papers that the ship was sailing that night, and after finishing paying my father back, I headed straight to the pier and signed on as an oiler.

“That alter ego was in charge the whole time aboard. I was arrogant, abrupt, impolite and generally very hard to live with. After the sinking, it was almost two years later when I was allowed to go out from the hospital in Ponyville, having been deemed sane enough to go out in public again. My whole life after that had one primary overarching goal, that being I was to be as UNLIKE Radiance Glow in all possible ways. It succeeded, in my eyes.

“Living my life that way was my self-imposed penance for being so impossibly rude, brutal, domineering, and unfriendly as Radiance Glow was. What I want to do is apologize to you all for putting you through the grief I caused you while we were crewmates on the Gowanus Herald. None of you ever did anything to me that warranted such a reaction from me. I will now say two words Radiance Glow never used.

“I’m sorry.

“I’m sorry I caused you all trouble while we were crewmates. You never deserved my ire. I ask for your forgiveness.”

Radiance then looked right at Jerdian. “Your song, and later the movie, pictured me as a hero, when I knew I was nothing like a hero in that life, not no way, not no how. It shamed me, knowing what had really happened, and then the tales later made me into something I knew was not. I left Equus, fully intending to never return.” He stopped talking then, head down, nose almost to the floor.

Cast Iron spoke up for the first time. “Radiance, you are a hero to all of us here. Without you, they would have all perished when the ship sank, and I would never have been born.”

Steam Line stood. “You saved the ship more times than any of us could count, what with your skills in the engine spaces. For a young punk like you, you sure knew a lot and learned fast on the equipment there, coming up with ways to get us back into port while running on patches and prayers. Sure, you were all you said and more, but you did save us all.”

“Just like how you kept the Cosmic Lotus running after passing through the portal for the first time.” Cast Iron said. “Of course, by then, we knew who you were. We’re proud to have known you.”

An elderly pegasus stood up. “Just how many times you managed to keep the deck cranes running just long enough to load or unload cargo before they broke for good?” she asked.

Radiance smiled slightly. “In six years and five months, four hundred sixteen times. I still remember the lecture you gave me shortly after pulling out of Baltimare the first time, bosun. I’m glad to see you don’t use expletives every third word now.”

The old bosun, Topgallant Sheet, smiled. “No, just every third paragraph now, dammitall,” she said to much laughter.

“So, every one of you never held a grudge about my behavior before the sinking?” Radiance asked, daring to hope.

“You saved our lives, giving us all a chance to enjoy life, unlike those who went down with the ship. You did what you could to whom you could before sacrificing yourself, or so we thought,” Jerdian said. “When we found out who you really were, we wanted to reach out to you, but Princess Twilight advised us against it, because she was unsure about how you would react. When we got the word about the meeting here, all of us dropped what we were doing to make it here, to thank you.”

“Thank me?” Radiance asked.

“Thank you for our lives, Radiance. Without you, where would we be now?”

“Under the cold ocean waves, Jerdian.” Radiance said, the tension he had been feeling, the knot deep inside his body and mind that had been there for years, ebbing like the tide.

“There is one other thing you should know, Radiance. A secret that has not been shared outside our little group, but a secret you should know,” Topgallant Sheet said, putting a wing around Cast Iron.

“If you think I should know this secret, Topgallant, I will keep it safe. So, will Sister,” Radiance said with a warm smile.

“Delectable Dinner was my mother,” Cast Iron said. “You are my father.”

Sunrise Flight had to move fast to keep Radiance from breaking his horn when he collapsed in a dead faint.


View Online

It took several minutes to revive Radiance Point from the shock of the news. Fortunately, one of the ponies in the room was the former ship’s doctor, White Wrap. The elderly unicorn mare, now a successful but retired general practitioner in Vanhoover, got the thoroughly stunned unicorn back to his hooves.

“Thank you, White Wrap. Glad to see you have not lost any of your skills at healing,” Radiance said once he was able, aware, and upright.

“You have indeed changed, Radiance. Not a cuss word said so far today. A far cry from what you were,” she said, doing a final scan of Radiance with her white glow.

“I save that for when it’s called for now, White Wrap.”

“Onboard the Lotus, his swearing was the subject of a popular pool until I came about,” Sunrise said. “The crew would bet on how much he swore per day, and in how many languages.”

Steam Line smiled at that news. “He was always good at picking up obscure obscenities from whatever port we pulled into.”

“I still am, Steam Line,” Radiance said before letting fly a few choice ones in Terranglo.

“What did you say?” Cast Iron asked.

Before Radiance could reply, Sunrise butted in with, “Believe me, nephew, you don’t want to know,” before swatting her brother with a wing playfully.

Radiance recoiled some from the swat. “When she says that, believe her,” he said before looking at Cast Iron. “So, you are my son. Just how can you explain that?”

“Mother told me about the last night in Vanhoover before pulling out. She roped you into a date that included a night in a hotel not too far from the pier. You did not take much convincing. Three rounds, she told me when I was old enough to understand,” Cast Iron told his father. “She always maintained you were nicer to her than just about anypony else aboard.”

“I was, and I can tell you why,” Radiance said before looking at the others in the room. “What is Rule Number One of any ship that sails the waves?” he asked in a loud voice.

Over half the ponies there chorused, “NEVER anger the cooks, for they can make life miserable!”

Radiance turned back to Cast Iron. “No matter how angry I became, I never truly vented at the cooks. I would call out any mistakes they made in no uncertain terms, but I always made it clear I was never upset at them personally, but at the bad product they turned out. I seldom had to yell at them, because they learned fast.”

“Mother said you liked plain fare and lots of it, saving fancy stuff for the proper occasions. Like the dinner you took her to that night. You liked her, didn’t you?” Cast Iron asked.

“I liked every mare on board the ship.”

White Wrap snickered some. “That he did. He bedded every mare aboard but one, and that was because he didn’t have a chance to.”

“Yeah, me,” Jerdian said. “I had only been aboard a day and a half. I had been warned, though.”

Radiance’s ears went bright red as Sunrise put her two bits in. “That was him THEN. Him NOW, well, the merest thought of sex with a mare scares him!”

A startled gasp went up from every mare in the room except Sunrise. “Not even once since the wreck?” White Wrap said.

Radiance shook his head. “Not even once. Even thinking about it would possibly give Glow a chance to escape imprisonment and take me over. If I had to deny myself to keep that monster confined, so be it.”

Steam Line came up to clap him on the shoulder gently. “Your word was always good, Radiance. Not always printable, but we always could rely on you. It’s no wonder you rose from oiler to Second Engineer in six and a half years. You kept us all alive when all seemed lost. More than once, in fact.” Everypony in the room shouted their agreement.

Radiance looked over the crowd, tears forming in his eyes. “You mean that, don’t you? You never hated me? I was horrible to all of you, thinking myself better than all of you, but needing to be there so the law would not find me,” he managed to sniffle.

“Now, we didn’t say THAT, Radiance,” Topgallant said. “You were incredibly ill-tempered and foul-mouthed, to be sure, but you kept the ship running when it should have been scuttled years before.”

Cast Iron hugged his father. “We could not show something like that in the movie, so Jerdian decided to highlight your good qualities while downplaying the bad. After all, none of us knew you were still alive.”

“We wanted to honor your memory, because without you, we all would have been dead. The only reason you could not save more was that everypony above decks was killed when the ship rolled over. You did save all of us below decks. Every last one who heard your call and made it to the power room,” Jerdian told the weeping pony soberly.

“See, Brother? You didn’t have anything to worry about.”

“But, my memories say otherwise, Sister,” Radiance managed to say. “I remember just how badly I treated everypony aboard, like they were not fit to even clean my hooves…”

“Oh, you were arrogant, all right. A teenage prodigy who had the skill to keep the ship going when it should have been scuttled before you even got aboard. You had a right to be that arrogant about yourself, which none of us will ever deny you.” Wide Load said when he got close enough.

“We put up with it because you managed to save our skins more than once out there. No matter how nasty you were, we all knew that when the chips were down, you would come through,” said another of the surviving engineers, an earth pony mare named Twin Spin.

“But, how can I ever apologize? How can I set my mind right? I remember every nasty, mean, horrid word I said to every pony aboard. What is wrong with me?” Radiance sobbed, clearly on the edge of distress.

“It was the mana shock, Brother. It fixed everything in place. You became so determined NOT to be Radiance Glow, you’ve managed to gloss over the good things he did while emphasizing the bad. You can let go of all that now. No one here has any reason to be mad at you,” Sunrise told her brother.

Cast Iron held on to his father. “I should have some resentment about you not being there for me while I was growing up, but we all thought you were dead. It was not until Prince Flixtradamus did his tricks that we found out who you were. When we did, we were all proud to have known you. I’m proud to be able to say you are my father. Mother was proud, too,” he said gently, doing his best to calm down the unicorn.

“I have an idea,” Topgallant said. “Why don’t we make arrangements to have Radiance and Sunrise come with us to Vanhoover for a week or so, and show them what we did with our lives after the shipwreck?”

Jerdian nodded in agreement. “I like that idea. We can rotate hosting him with each of us while we have them. How does that sound?”

As the room filled with sounds of agreement, Sunrise spoke a little bit louder. “I’ll speak with the ship and arrange a couple of weeks off for us. In fact, I’ll head back and pack our bags. Brother, you stay here and get re-acquainted with your friends. I’ll be back before the shuttle leaves for Vanhoover.”

“Tonight, and tomorrow, you will stay with me and my family. I claim first shot at you,” Cast Iron said.

“Family?” Radiance asked shakily.

“Family. Wife and four foals, three of which work at the diner with me and one in school still. You have a lot to be proud of, Father.”

“Family?” Radiance asked again, stunned by the news. “I have more family?”

“Cast Iron, get him to a chair. He’s about to faceplant again,” Sunrise said as Radiance’s legs gave way, and he was out colder than yesterday’s pancakes, which were cold enough yesterday. The big gray-black earth pony easily picked up the unicorn and got him to a chair.

“Is he always like this, Aunt Sunrise?” Cast Iron asked.

“Not really but hit him with enough shocks and his mind shuts down for a while. He’s had more shocks in the past hour than he has had in the past five years.”

Sunrise left to plan for some leave time, and the others in the room managed to revive Radiance and get him to the shuttle port. He slept the entire trip back to Vanhoover, his mind going over and over and over the information he had learned that day. Waking just before re-entry, he was guided through the shuttle port to the train to Vanhoover. That night found Radiance and Sunrise at Cast Iron’s house, a modest affair situated above the diner he owned, named Delectable’s Diner. There, the spacing duo were introduced to Cast Iron’s wife, Hot Skillet, an earth pony mare, and three of their children, none of which lived at home, but nearby.

The whole two weeks in Vanhoover, Radiance and Sunrise had the opportunity to reconnect with every pony from the Gowanus, spending time with each and every survivor. They also got to see the monument to the ship that was built twenty years after the wreck, honoring all who were lost that day.

“It’s strange to see my name up there, enshrined like that.” Radiance said as he looked at the monument, a large ship’s bell engraved with everypony’s name who were lost that day, and a smaller section with three names on it, honoring the three who died after the sinking.

“Strange, yes, but we all thought it was worth the while. When we found out you were still alive, we decided not to change it,” their guide for the day, Topgallant Sheet, told them.

“It is truly a wonder, how they whitewashed the bad management of the ship.”

“Well, after you turned up alive, an investigation was started. The surviving company officers were dealt with harshly. In fact, they lost control of Herald Lines and a new board of directors were put into place. They turned the company around,” she told the two.

“I’d like to meet the ponies who accomplished that,” Sunrise said.

“You already have. All eighteen survivors of the Gowanus were inducted into the Board of Directors of Herald Lines. Only four of us do anything more than collect a decent pension and sit in on Board meetings. What in Tartarus, it’s better than being a bosun on a rust bucket.”

“That must have cost a lot of bits, replacing the Board like that.” Radiance said.

“Oh, it did. Took us ten years to return to profitability, but we improved safety standards all through the Merchant Marine, not just Herald Lines. Now, Herald Lines is a model of seagoing safety and efficiency.”

Radiance hmmmed some in thought. “Brother, we have enough to do with the Lotus and the Federation yet!” Sunrise snapped.

“That is true, Sister, but I would like to see the designs they have now for freighters. Who knows, I might come up with something,” Radiance said with a little off-hoofed smile.

“Enough of that for now. Let’s head back to the diner. I can do with a good lunch,” Topgallant said.

Back at the diner, Cast Iron and Hot Skillet both came out to chat over an especially fine lunch Hot Skillet made for them. Joining them was one of their children, Spice Grinder, an earth pony mare who specialized in growing and providing exotic spices for the diner’s use, and a little more besides, in addition to being an excellent cook and hostess at the diner.

When asked about what Delectable did with Herald Lines, Cast Iron said she thought of it as a convenient hindrance. She had no interest in running a shipping line, having opened the diner after the company settled with the survivors shortly after the sinking and having little interest in doing anything else. “Mother started the diner, specializing in the simple meals every pony would enjoy, rather than the fancy, ornate meals you would find in a fine restaurant. Simplicity made her happy.”

“So, after the wreck, she stayed here in Vanhoover?” Sunrise asked.

Cast Iron nodded. “She thought that the Fates decided she should be here, so here she remained. The rest of her life, she lived upstairs, did the books and cooking here, and enjoyed her life, her son, and her grandfoals. Trust me when I say this, Father, she was truly happy.”

“I do trust you, Iron. The way this place feels, anypony could come in, have a good meal, and leave satisfied. I’m going to suggest to some friends of mine to stop by here for a while, to see if any learning can happen in both directions,” Radiance said after a bite of lunch.

“Kale and Lime?” Sunrise asked.

“Kale, Lime, and whoever else wants to stop by.” Radiance looked at his family. “They are the lead cooks on board the Lotus. Never a bad meal from any of them.”

“I will not have any objection, Father.”

“Kale is an earth pony, yes?” Hot Skillet asked.

“That he is, and Lime Sorbet is a changeling.”

“We will welcome them. Never hurts to learn a little different than your normal, yes?” Hot Skillet said with a smile.

“With luck, I’ll get Skye Path to come visit you, Spice. She was the herbalist aboard, and she may know something you don’t.” Radiance said to his granddaughter.

“Just keep me away from your garden, Spice. When it comes to growing plants, I’m toxic!” Sunrise laughed.

Radiance looked at his sister wryly. “Has Fatima forgiven you yet?

Sunrise shook her head. “Nope. Not yet. Not after five years.”

“Seems like this Fatima can hold a grudge,” Spice Grinder said. “Just what did you do to anger her?”

“Mixed two chemicals in the hydroponics bay and managed to poison a tank full of root vegetables.”

Spice winced. “Ouch…”

“You said it, Spice. Ouch it is. I was forbidden to come within ten paces of the hydroponics tanks without an escort for the rest of the voyage.”

Spice went to her aunt and hugged her gently. “I’m so glad to hear you are not perfect, Sunrise. Perfection is boring.”

Sunrise snugged back with her wings. “If I was completely perfect, how would I ever learn anything?” she said quietly.

Radiance snorted. “This coming from the mare who spent a week shut in the lab writing a thesis paper about the wind dynamics of Harpagornis, then finding out a study was published eighty years ago that almost exactly quotes her own paper.”

“Hey, I came up with my paper independently, without any of Chakona’s resources, and I still arrived at the same conclusions that researcher did! What do you have to say about that, big brother?” Sunrise snapped.

As Radiance inhaled for a firm rebuttal, Cast Iron, Hot Skillet, Spice Grinder and Topgallant all shouted, “Tordenkakkenlak!” The two bickering siblings stopped and stared at each other for a few seconds, then at the others. “We were warned.” Topgallant said. “Now, behave, both of you!”

Both Radiance and Sunrise had the grace to look embarrassed. “Sorry, everypony. We do tend to argue a lot, but it helps us out.” Radiance managed to say before taking a big gulp of coffee, which Cast Iron had brewed to his father’s taste.

Cast Iron smiled. “So, we were told, Father. We were also told about you being so single-minded, it takes a clue-by-four the size of a planet to get your attention at times?”

“No, not a planet, son.”

“Just an asteroid.” Sunrise commented before taking a bite of her lunch.

“Still, it must hurt.” Spice Grinder said. “I know Radiant Steel has that tendency as well,” referring to her youngest brother, a unicorn who was away at school, but would be returning later in the week, after exams.

“Just how do you correct him?” Sunrise asked.

“By literally whacking him with a rubber hose if I catch him with his thousand-mile stare.”

Radiance thought for a second. “Looks like single-mindedness runs in the family.”

“It skipped me,” Cast Iron said. “I may be stubborn, but I don’t suffer from target fixation.”

“You’re doing well for yourself, Cast Iron, you and yours. I’m proud to call you my son.”

“As I’m proud to call you my father. But, I suggest you hold your full pride until you meet your youngest grandson, and the only unicorn in the family. He’s a lot like you.”

Radiance and Sunrise exchanged a Look. “Seems like we may have some work to do. He rambunctious?”

Hot Skillet rolled her eyes some. “Just a little bit. He’s shaping up to be a talented mage, but he can be a bit full of himself. He’s at the Seaddle Mage Academy and hoping to transfer to Canterlot University next semester.”

“Is that a fact?” Radiance drawled some. “Let me spend a day or two with him. If he passes MY tests, I’ll give him a full ride to Canterlot. If he doesn’t, we’ll see.”

“<Don’t be too rough on him, Brother…>” Sunrise warned in Twinspeak.

“<Who, me?>” Radiance replied in the same language. “<No, only as rough as I will need to be. You can monitor, if you feel the need.>”

“<Not a bad idea.>”

The three earth ponies looked on in confusion. “What did you just say?” Spice Grinder asked.

“It’s our own private language, Spice. We call it Twinspeak. It bears no relation to any known language. We can pull it off because we were the same mind for years until we were separated. It’s come in useful at times,” Sunrise told her niece.

“Yes, like when we were on Earth, finding out their version of Las Pegasus is just as crooked as ours is,” Radiance snorted. “We put paid to them.”

“To the tune of three and a half million bits, or credits, as they call their currency.” Sunrise added.

“You sure did a number on us aboard the Gowanus, Radiance. That is one thing we never forgot about you, just how deadly you were at the poker table.” Topgallant said. “We knew you didn’t cheat, but damn it all, you were a tough pony to play!”

“Served me in good stead. My profits aboard the Lotus over a decade adds up to over three hundred thousand bits. If Radiant Steel lives up to my expectations, I may gift him the sum for his education, minus university expenses, of course.” Radiance told his family.

“You really mean that, don’t you?” Spice asked.

“You better believe it, Spice.” Radiance told his granddaughter. “I plan on helping you all out, once I figure out the best way to. Radiant, being the only unicorn, deserves some special attention from me. After all, I do have three doctorates, yes?”

Sunrise swatted Radiance with a wing. “Don’t get too full of yourself, Brother! We’re watching you!” she warned.

“Who, me? Full of myself? I’m full of something, yes, but myself?” Radiance said with a laugh.

“Well, that’s one thing that hasn’t changed about you!” Topgallant laughed. “You’re full of something, all right!” The other family members laughed as well at the joke at Radiance’s expense.

It was decided at the diner that Topgallant would bring Radiance and Sunrise to Herald Lines headquarters in Manehattan for several days of touring and inspection, as well as offering them Board seats, even if honorary. Radiance and Sunrise will return to Vanhoover in time to meet Radiant Steel when he came home for semester break.

Topgallant brought the two of them to corporate headquarters, which was in Manehattan, using an overnight high-speed train to do so. There, Radiance and Sunrise re-met with the four full time board members, Twin Screw, Jerdian Lighthoof, Star Glory, a former navigator and the only surviving deck officer, and Forecastle, a former cargo crewpony. Over the next few days, they were given a tour of the headquarters, shipyards, and a thorough grounding on current shipping operations. They were also offered positions on the Board, which they readily accepted, not that they were going to be there full time, but they accepted the gesture in the manner it was intended.

Radiance put in a suggestion that Herald Shipping look in to the space freighting business, seeing as it appeared that ties with the Federation were going to happen. The Board tentatively accepted the idea, providing that plans could be made to build ships capable of hauling freight there and back again. Radiance called up his ship plans that he had designed already that were stored aboard the Lotus and promised that he would update the plans from an exploration ship to a cargo vessel within a month, sending a copy to House Path Archives for reference and storage. Backups, y’know.

The Board members present liked the idea and the plans and told the pair that an answer will be delivered to them once the proposal could be transmitted to the other Board members for review and a vote. On that high note, the two and Topgallant headed back to Vanhoover by overnight high-speed train, so Radiance could meet his grandson when he came home from Academy.

Once in Vanhoover, Radiance and Sunrise were informed that the proposal had been passed unanimously by the Board, and initial plans are being made to get the initial funding to start construction of the initial warp-powered trading ship. With luck, financing will be secured within a year, Jerdian said in the message she sent to Radiance.

In Vanhoover, Radiance met his unicorn grandson, Radiant Steel. Steel did resemble Radiance Glow with his chestnut coat but had a bright green mane and a red tail, with bright steel horn and hooves, with a frame that suffered from the feared Freshman Fifteen, but he didn’t seem too concerned about the pudge. Steel was a bit reluctant to meet with his grandfather at first, but Radiance asked Steel where he would like to go for a totally private chat. Steel suggested a park not too far from the diner, where he liked to relax when he got tense. Agreeing, Point let his grandson lead the way.

Steel was a bit on the shy side, being rather uncomfortable meeting a grandfather he knew about, but didn’t expect to meet, but warmed up some on the walk to the park. Steel said he was studying General Thaumaturgy now, hoping to specialize in engineering once he moved on to a better school.

“Why Engineering?” Radiance asked.

“Because it makes sense to me, Grandfather. Seeing how all the pieces work together is fascinating, and I want to learn more.” Steel said.

“Would you like a hoof up to warp mechanics?” Radiance asked.

“Warp mechanics?” Steel asked, somewhat confused.

“What enabled the Cosmic Lotus to return to Equus from the Far Star in only three days, as opposed to the forty-two years it took to get there.”

“You can do that for me?” Steel asked, excitement creeping into his voice.

“Hey, if I can do it on my own, I’m sure you can learn it as well, with my help.” Radiance said with a proud smile.

Steel took out his tablet. “Show me how to access that information, please.”

“Only if you show me how to operate this thing. A lot has changed since I left.”

The teaching took just a short time, and soon Radiance Point and Radiant Steel were rapturously lost in the joy of science and engineering, lost enough that Spice and Sunrise had to go out and drag the two back for a late dinner. Immediately after dinner, the two unicorns shut themselves up in Radiant’s room for more teaching.

“If there is one thing Brother loves to do, that has to be teaching. That comes before playing cards.” Sunrise told the others after dinner.

“I know he is a purely demonic poker player, but why would he like teaching so much?” Cast Iron asked.

“He wants to bring other ponies up to his level, or at least closer to it. Let me tell you about what happened on Chakona…” Sunrise said before describing the lecture she had roped him into at Dewclaw University on Chakona.

“Impressive. He seems to know how to handle a class,” Hot Skillet said. “Maybe you can answer a question for me.”

“Go ahead, Skillet. I’ll do my best.”

“Why does he like his coffee so strong? Does he drink it or chew it?”

“Good question, actually. He drinks it, but he likes it strong because back when all this started, he was afraid of going to sleep, unsure if he would wake up as himself or his alter. It’s a habit he has never been able to break. I don’t think he wants to. His strong coffee is infamous on the Lotus,” Sunrise explained.

“Afraid to sleep?” Cast Iron asked.

“Yes. He required strong medication or total exhaustion to have a peaceful sleep. After I was untangled from his mind, he did not need the medication or exhaustion. When Flix got me out of his head, he was able to rest even easier.”

Cast Iron sighed wistfully. “I hope Father will have a better life from here on out.”

Sunrise smiled at her nephew. “He will, now that he knows he has a family waiting here on Equus for him. He wanted a true, loving family. Now he has one. You and yours, a resource he did not know about.” She then paused in thought. “For that matter, neither did Mother. She didn’t say anything about it when she untangled us.”

“I don’t think she even knew,” Spice put in. “The magic trauma he suffered on the ship could have blocked any efforts to sense his background, and Father’s conception only happened the night before. He wasn’t even aware of the occurrence.”

“You could be right, Spice. I just don’t know. He may be good in magic, but he never specialized in soul magics. He’s far too practical. He likes magics that has a definite tangible effect.”

“What do you think he has in mind for Steel?” Hot Skillet asked.

“Could be anything, Skillet. All depends on just how much aptitude Steel has for the knowledge Brother possesses. We’ll know tomorrow. When, I’m not sure. They could be up all night and half the day tomorrow before crashing, if Steel likes learning as much as Point likes teaching.” Sunrise said with a wry smile.

“That is entirely possible. As the only unicorn in a family of earth ponies, he was always a bit odd. Good cook, though, but always wanted more than just a diner in Vanhoover to look forward to,” Cast Iron said, refilling coffee or tea mugs at the table.

“We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Radiance was busy all night long, teaching Steel about warp theory and practice at first, then going on to what he saw and learned about the Federation. In the predawn hours, Radiance sent a request forward to House Path, to allow Radiant Steel aboard the Lotus when it set sail again, as his apprentice.

The two unicorns rapidly developed a rapport unlike anything Radiance had ever developed before, not even with favorite students in any of his colleges. In his grandson, he found somepony as eager to learn as he is, without the regrets and emotional baggage he found himself encumbered with over his life.

It was a true friendly rapport, but there was one thing they disagreed on- music. Steel liked the more modern popular tunes, which Point considered to be raucous noise, not fit to be played to the prisoners in Tartarus. That led to a shouting and swearing duel in the early dawn that was only stopped by Sunrise shouting ‘Tordenkakkenlak!’

Grandfather and grandson came down for breakfast, eyes red-rimmed but alert, quickly consuming the meal before heading upstairs for more teaching. “Will they ever stop?” Cast Iron asked Sunrise when they left.

“Only when one or the other passes out from sheer exhaustion, or they get anesthetized,” Sunrise replied wryly. “I’ve had to do that to Brother more than once, or have it done to him.”

“Too bad we can’t knock them out.”

“I didn’t pack my stunner. Maybe if we ask White Wrap.”

“I’ll call her.” Cast Iron said.

The two didn’t wake up until late that night, fully rested, recharged, and ready to go back to studying and storytelling. While they ate (Steel having done the cooking), Sunrise joined them. “You got a message waiting, Brother,” she said with a yawn.

“From where?” he asked before having a slug of coffee.

“House Path,” Sunrise told him, waiting for just the right second to do so, just to see Radiance snort coffee from his nostrils. Hot coffee. Hot black coffee. Hot black strong coffee. Without sugar.

Once he got his breath back, Radiance glared at his sister. “One of these days, sister, one of these days!” he ranted, waving a hoof menacingly.

“Promises, promises.” Sunrise laughed.

“I hope it is good news, Grandfather,” Steel said, grabbing a towel to clean up the snorted coffee.

“I hope so, too,” Radiance said as he dug out his shipboard comm and played back the message. As he listened, his eyes widened, his ears perked up, and he got the goofiest grin on his face.

“Oh, it’s good news, all right,” Sunrise said, helping herself to some of the eggs Steel had cooked up. “I can tell from his ears.”

Radiance put away the comm unit. “First thing in the morning, we have to make travel arrangements for us,” he said, still smiling, looking at Steel.

“Us?” Steel asked.

“You have been given the opportunity to see if you can come along on the Lotus, as my apprentice. You must undergo a battery of tests before you will be approved. Not all the tests are purely physical or intellectual, they are psychological as well. If you pass them, you will be permitted to be my apprentice when the Lotus next sails. Let’s hope for the best.”

“How did you pass the psych tests, with all your issues?” Steel asked.

“Because when I fix something, it STAYS fixed. I may not be the most social of ponies, but I never really caused any problems among the crew. I made myself valuable, despite my problems.”

“No, you just took their bits at the poker table, or the cribbage board, or in the…” Sunrise said a bit snidely.

“That’s enough out of you, Sister!” Radiance shouted.

Footsteps were heard coming down the stairs from the bedrooms. Heavy footsteps. “Hold down the noise! Ponies are trying to sleep up here!” Cast Iron shouted from the stairwell.

“Sorry, son.” Radiance said. “We’re going to have to leave in the morning, for Ponyville, the three of us.”

“Three of you? Whatever for?” Cast Iron asked.

“I sent a request to House Path to see if I can bring Steel with me on our next trip as my apprentice. He must go to House Path for a battery of tests, to see if he is eligible. Word came in while we were sleeping that he has been granted the opportunity. Success is up to him, though.” Radiance explained.

“Is this something you want, son?” Cast Iron asked Radiant Steel.

“I do, Father. I want to see if I CAN become Grandfather’s apprentice. It’s an opportunity I really should not pass up.” Steel said soberly. “What better teacher can I have than him?”

“I can’t see any reason to stand in your way, Steel. If you pass the tests, know that your mother and I will support any decision you make.” Cast Iron said, hugging Radiant Steel.

“I know that, Father. You taught me that. That’s why we’re all so close, all of us. No matter where I go, I know I’ll always have a home here.” Radiant said, hugging his father back, knowing no matter how hard he tried, he could not hurt his father with a hug, nor his mother, nor his brother and sisters.

“I’ll start searching for transport in a few minutes. It could be a train, a plane, or even a shuttle. I’ll have to see what I can get my hooves on.” Radiance said.

“You do that. Just try not to leave until after breakfast, okay? I’m sure everypony would want to see you off.” Cast Iron said, letting go of Steel, who managed to take a shaky breath, his ribs aching.

“All right, son. I can promise that. Not until the whole family can make it here,” Radiance promised. “If not, may your Aunt Sunrise clock me a big one!”

“I’ll hold you to that, Brother…”

The rest of the night, Radiance looked for transport to Ponyville, settling on an afternoon flight from Vanhoover to Canterlot, an overnight stay at a hotel there, then a train to Ponyville. An eastbound overnighter would have left a little too early for farewells, so they opted for the flight. Once all the travel plans were set, Radiance and Sunrise helped Radiant pack for a stay of at least a week in Ponyville before going back downstairs and filling the young unicorn in on life aboard the Lotus.

“I’ll have to stay in a small cabin?” Steel asked.

“Yes, you will. I’m a senior officer, so I got a good-sized cabin, which I share with Sunrise. We have had some crew leave, and I will not be surprised if there are more than one apprentice shipping with us. If so, I will suggest that a block of small cabins be set up for the apprentices.”

“Just how senior are you, Grandfather?”

“I’m the number-two pony in Engineering, which means I supervise and do every damn job in the department. My superior, Commander Bluequill, is not only Chief Engineer, he’s also the Executive Officer, so when he has to do Command functions, I run the department.” Radiance explained.

“He’s also eighth in line for command, after the Captain, the Exec, and the department heads. While he does sit Duty Officer at times, he prefers puttering around his department, making it and the ship better.” Sunrise added.

“What about you, Aunt Sunrise? What do you do there?”

“I’m a generalist, able to fill in at almost any position aboard. My arrival was not expected, so we had to find a work-around. Most of the training was good.” Sunrise explained.

“Should I mention the one time you dropped a knife while working in the kitchen and needed thirty-six stitches to close the wound?” Radiance asked innocently, earning a wing slap across his muzzle.

“Thirty-six stitches?”

“It was a sharp knife, I dropped it, it bounced off the table and sliced me under the wing, okay?” Sunrise said, a little bent at the mention of her fumble.

“That’s why Kale barred her from setting foot in the galley unescorted.”

“It sounds like an interesting ship to be on. I’ve followed the mission since I was old enough to do so.When Father told me you were aboard, I was so proud to be related to you. I still am.” Radiant said earnestly.

“Back off on the hero worship, Steel. I’m no hero, I’m a teacher as well as a pony who likes to keep his own skin intact. If others benefit, so be it. You being my grandson won’t get you any slack from anypony aboard, so do the very best you can, own up to your mistakes, be diligent in your learning, and above all, obey orders. The why will have to come later, you must DO first without questioning. Space, like the sea, is a hostile environment. It will kill you if you give it the opportunity to, so don’t give it the chance.” Radiance advised his grandson.

“I won’t, Grandfather. It may sound adventurous, but I know it takes a lot of hard work. I’m up to it.”

“Good to hear. Now, let me tell you about what happened when we first encountered the portal…” Radiance said before going into an explanation, with commentary from Sunrise, in as much detail as Steel could take.

In the morning, the family farewells were said, taking leave of the whole family- Cast Iron, Hot Skillet, Spice Grinder, Haybales, a yellow and tan male earth pony who runs a farm outside of town that supplies the diner, and the eldest Blue Plate, a highly talented cook who makes plain home fare seem like a fine dining experience. All three slept on the flight to Canterlot, because they were up all-night chatting before heading out. They arrived in Canterlot early enough to do some sightseeing before checking in to the hotel, dining there, then crashing hard before the train ride to Ponyville the next day. Steel had never been to Canterlot, while Sunrise had yet to experience it on her own. They were impressed by what they saw and promised themselves a longer stay sometime.

When they got off the train at the Ponyville station, all three of them looked around at the town. Radiance and Sunrise both thought the town had grown some since they were there last, while Steel took in the sights he had seen on GemVee with his own eyes. Princess Twilight’s castle, the gleaming metal of the Chrome Hive, and the expanse of the House Path school all clamored for the young pony’s attraction.

“Not like what you see on GemVee, is it?” Radiance asked his grandson.

“No, not at all. It is a wonder, for sure. You know where to go, yes?” Steel asked in reply.

“Once in a place, I don’t forget. Come on, let’s get moving. We can pick up a couple of cupcakes at Sugarcube Corner, not that you need them.” Radiance said drily, looking at Steel’s small, but noticeable bulge around his barrel.

“Freshman Fifteen, Grandfather. I’m in no hurry to lose them, either.”

“But, you’re a sophomore,” Sunrise said.

“Like I said, Aunt Sunrise, I’m in no hurry.”

Radiance led the way to Sugarcube Corner for cupcakes, then to the House Path facility. There, after getting their reservations confirmed, they were directed to Medical, for a preliminary examination. To their surprise, the Cosmic Lotus crewmembers found a familiar face there.

“What are you doing here, Doctor Zubon?” Sunrise asked when they met.

“A mix of helping out and reviewing forty years of medical progress, Sunrise. Who is this young colt?”

“A hopeful apprentice for the Cosmic Lotus, Zubon. He’s here for a full examination. I hope he passes them all with flying colors, something sister dear knows a lot about.”

“I heard something about an apprenticeship program, but this is the first candidate I have met. I’ll give all three of you checkups, to see how you are handling the return to Equus,” Zubon said before turning her attention to the chestnut unicorn. “So, what’s your name and why do you wish to be an apprentice?”

“I am Radiant Steel, I’m excelling in my studies at Seaddle Mage Academy, and I wish to follow my family’s hoofsteps into space, Doctor.” Steel said politely.

“Family’s hoofsteps? Who are you related to aboard the Lotus?”

Radiance and Sunrise looked at each other and braced for a reaction as Steel said, “Radiance Point is my grandfather, Doctor. Someday, I hope to be as skilled as he is.”

Zubon literally froze in place for a few seconds, blinking, before slowly turning her head to look at Radiance. “Grandfather?” she said in a squeak.

“Grandfather. I didn’t know about it until sister dear dragged me off to apologize to the Gowanus’ crew. That’s where I found out I had a son from one of the survivors, who has been living peacefully in Vanhoover. Radiant Steel is the youngest of four, and the only unicorn in a family of earth ponies. He wishes to follow me, and I intend on giving him the chance. Up to him to make the best of it,” Radiance explained with a straight face.

“This, I’m going to check out thoroughly. Why don’t you two wait outside while I do the exam on him before I start with you two, okay?”

“Sounds like a plan, Zu.” Radiance and Sunrise chorused as they left the exam room.

Zubon returned her attention to Steel. “With those two as your grandponies, I sure hope you will be stabler than them,” she muttered.

“I don’t live in their stable, Doctor. I live in mine. Up to you to decide if I live in a stable stable or not.” Steel said almost impassively, the corner of his mouth twitching in an effort to remain still.

“Great Celestia, I thought the two of them were bad…” Zubon groaned, rubbing her face with her hooves before starting the physical.

Later that day, after Radiant was shown to where he will be staying while being examined, the three got together before Radiance and Sunrise headed back to work. “Steel, I hope that the next we meet face to face, it will be aboard the Lotus. Don’t hesitate to give us a call once you find out the results, or even if you just want some advice, okay?”

“I hope that’s the case, Grandfather. I like learning from you. You make learning interesting!” Steel said with enthusiasm.

‘What about me, Steel?” Sunrise asked.

“You’re good, too, Aunt Sunrise. Just different.”

Sunrise nodded. “Good answer, kid. With wit and wisdom like that, you’ll go places.”

“With any luck, you’ll come back from them too,” Radiance said. “Just do the very best you can, and we will meet in space. Sooner rather than later, of course.”

Steel first hugged his grandfather, then his great-aunt. “I will. I promise.”

“See you soon!” Sunrise called back before leading her brother to the campus gates, and back to work. But, when work is fun, is it truly work?

In Equus Orbit

View Online

With his grandson, Radiant Steel, firmly emplaced at House Path’s training and evaluation center in Ponyville, Radiance Point and his sister, Sunrise Flight, reported back to the Cosmic Lotus after two weeks and a day off planetside. They reported back there because, honestly, they were never very good at doing nothing. They had to work to feel useful, and maintaining the ship was how they would feel that way. Not that there was a whole lot to DO aboard, but they felt better up there.

Radiance found himself being SOPA, or Senior Officer Present Aboard, which meant he would be essentially in command, but seeing as there was not a lot to be in command OF, the additional chores did not mean much to him. What he did find himself working on were his ship plans for a magitek-equipped warp drive starship, built for that purpose from the keel up. He focused on three core designs, an exploration ship like the Lotus, a cargo craft for trade purposes, and a combatant craft, designed to handle the Swarm. The combatant craft had many projectors like the deceleration system but made to cover many arcs of fire as well as multiple targets. The exploration craft had fewer turrets, while the cargo craft only had one, mounted at the prow of the craft, designed mainly to open the portal.

Radiance found several additional chores added to his workload, of a kind he was less than familiar with. First was hosting a GemVee film crew, filming the interior and exterior of the Lotus, making a documentary of their travels on the far side of the portal. That chore he hoofed off to Sunrise, who had a much better personality with the film crew than he did. The second chore, one that he found a bit more irksome, was playing tour guide to VIP’s from Equus who wanted to slake their curiosity about the planet’s first starship. Depending on the VIP, it was either a fun experience or a reason for Radiance to start swearing in as many esoteric tongues as possible, to vent his frustration at the damfool nobles who wanted to see the ship. Fortunately, very few caught on to what he was saying. The ones that did marveled at his command of invective. The others had no clue what he was saying, which was the intention.

The third chore was one that he did enjoy immensely- that of making a series of educational videos, teaching about the Cosmic Lotus both in general and in specific, going into detail about primary and secondary systems. Ponies found that as a teacher, Radiance was much more relaxed and confident now than he was before the trip while lecturing, having fun doing so and showing it. The videos became infamous for the ‘pop quizzes’ held at the end of every lecture, ten questions that covered the subject matter, concluding with his line, ‘If you all paid attention, that was easy. If you didn’t, watch the lesson again until it DOES become easy!’, followed by several bouncy balls being tossed around the room, landing back in his coat pocket.

Time passed aboard ship, Radiance handling his chores with skill and grace. Occasionally, he exchanged phone calls with his family in Vanhoover, keeping up with matters there. Less frequently were calls to and from Herald Lines, both asking for and giving information about cargo handling procedures, and how best to design the cargo craft for ease of handling, which he incorporated into his designs. One night, he had a brainstorm, inputting so many variants of hold design that CONN told him to buzz off, delivering a literate putdown in Yakyakistani before shutting off the terminal. Radiance was caught completely off guard by the actions and sat there staring stupidly at a blank screen for a good minute or so before the doorway opened to reveal Sunrise, rolling on the floor laughing.

“Sister, just what in Tartarus are you doing?” Radiance asked, totally perplexed.

“Oh, the look on your face, Brother…” Sunrise managed to gasp before calming down enough to speak coherently. “I got a message from CONN that you were going off at warp speed again, so I helped her cut you off at the fetlocks!”

Radiance grimaced some at the words. “Sister, are you sure Flix didn’t do some tampering with you when he brought you forth?” he managed to say.

Sunrise shook her head, her white mane flying about. “Nope, it’s all me! Don’t say you didn’t deserve it!”

Radiance sighed. “I guess you’re right, Sister. How big an overload did I put on the system?”

“One hundred fifty percent of normal upload rate. Better recheck your plans before going to bed.”

“Good idea. Can you bring me something from the automat, please?”

“Of course, Brother. I’ll be a few minutes.” Sunrise said before getting up and heading to the galley. Once clear of the engineering office, she told CONN to take the picture of him looking at his blank terminal and post it in the ship’s next Plan of the Day. Naturally, not only did she not tell Brother, she also ‘forgot to mention’ that some House Path VIP’s were going to make a surprise visit the next morning.

The surprise was that of Lord Long Path, Lord Free Agent, and Princess Twilight coming aboard to honor Radiance Point with a promotion to full Commander and Department Head for Engineering. When the Princess saw the picture in the Plan, she broke out in laughter that took over two minutes to stop. “How did you catch him like that?” the Princess asked Sunrise.

“Shut off his computer access when he threatened to crash the system. He hasn’t seen it yet.”

“I can imagine his reaction when he does.” Free Agent said just before an angry bellow echoed through the halls of the ship. “Yep. I could.”

The pounding of angry hoofbeats came closer and closer. SUNRISE!” was heard as Radiance came around a corner at full steam. Seeing the group at the airlock door, he slammed on the brakes, but he was going too fast. Quickly, Twilight teleported all four of them just a little farther down the corridor, causing Radiance to go right through where they had been standing, headfirst into the airlock door.

“Temper, temper, big brother. We have company.” Sunrise said as she extended a wing to help him up.

“You could have warned me…” Radiance muttered, his eyes rolling in different directions, blood dripping from his nose.

“What, and spoil the surprise?” Sunrise laughed.

“Commander, let me check you over.” Twilight said, lighting up her horn as Path and Free looked on. “Definite concussion and nosebleed. This won’t take long.”

“He always was a bit headstrong.” Path said to Free.

“His head is not as strong as an airlock door, though.” Free replied.

“That’s Lieutenant Commander, your highness,” Radiance mumbled as Twilight set the unicorn to rights.

“Not any more, Radiance. The purpose of this visit was to pass on some news to you.”

“Oh? What is that, if I may ask?” Radiance asked as his eyes started tracking again.

“As of today, you are now Commander Radiance Point, head of Engineering of the Cosmic Lotus. Be sure to make your new uniforms with two rings, not one and a half,” Twilight said, stepping back a pace to look Radiance over. “And, wipe the blood off your nose before it drips.”

Radiance mock-glared at Sunrise. “You could have warned me!”

“Spoilers…” she replied smugly.

“Another reason we are here is to grant to you, Sunrise Flight, the rank of full crewpony aboard the ship. The requirements for tech school have been waived in your case.” Long Path told the startled pegasus. “You’ve done a lot for this ship, and its high time you were recognized for your work.”

Sunrise looked like she had just taken a stout club to the forehead. “It is?”

“It is, Sunrise. Both you and your brother have done a lot for the ship and the entire Cosmic Lotus program. We felt you should have the rank commensurate with your demonstrated abilities,” Free Agent told the surprised pegasus.

“I think two drinks are called for. Shall we go to the common room?” Radiance asked the group.

“Would not be a bad idea, Commander.” Twilight told him.

After drinks were served, and consumed, Radiance took the party on a tour of the Lotus. “Here we have an access panel to warp drive nacelle number one. You can look inside if you want, but there is nothing going on now.” Radiance advised.

Twilight stuck her head up the access tube. “Power converters are forward, yes?” she said as she looked.

“Correct, Princess. Converting the mana to electricity there made it easier to bring the power aft and up the nacelles, instead of stringing mana conduits. Have you been watching my instructional series?” Radiance asked.

“Oh, yes!” Twilight exclaimed, pulling her head out of the conduit. “So, this is the drive that will get us to the portal in mere days, instead of years. I so want to look over those runes first-hoof!”

“While I know OF runic magic, I cannot say that I know it well. Can you go over some of the rules of runic magic with me? Radiance asked.

“With pleasure!” exclaimed Twilight, going into a description of runic magic, which soon had the two completely oblivious to anything else as they chatted away.

“And he’s off and running…” Sunrise said dryly.

“Is he always like this?” Long Path asked their tour guide.

“When he finds a willing student, or a good teacher, yes he is. There are not many students who can keep up with him at full speed, nor teachers who can go as fast as he can.”

“Maybe we should co-opt him into being an instructor for House Path,” Free Agent said, watching as the pair went on, Twilight’s horn lighting up to project a runic diagram.

“Not soon, I hope,” Sunrise said. “He likes his job too much to be relegated to just teaching alone. He’d get bored within six months, and then he’ll get real tricky.”

“Well, seeing as Sparkles is completely lost in geekdom with the tour guide, would you be so kind as to continue the tour with us?” Free asked Sunrise.

“It will be my pleasure, Free. Now, down this way, we will find a Park entrance…” Sunrise said, leading the two visitors into the Park. It wasn’t for another hour before Twilight and Radiance realized that the others had moved on, Radiance having to ask CONN where the others were.

At the end of the tour, Twilight turned to Radiance with a smile. “It is clear that you are a good teacher, because you are an excellent student. You love learning as much as you love teaching. We’re going to have to get together more often for some more instructional classes!”

Radiance blushed visibly, the insides of his ears pinking some. “Thank you, Your Highness. Just call ahead so I can be ready to not only be taught, but to teach you something as well,” he managed to say.

“Please, call me Twilight. You have been one of the most passionate students I have ever met! Coming back up to learn from you will be fun!” Twilight said with excitement before looking at Path and Free. “Ready to head back?”

“Knowing you, you would want to stay here for another week, but we do have the Friday Night dinner to get ready for, and I know you don’t want to miss that, Sparkles.” Free said with a smile.

“If I may suggest, how about we invite Commander Radiance and Sunrise Flight to the dinner next Friday, so they can be ready for the experience?” Path suggested. “I know they know of the affair, but they have yet to experience it.”

“That’s a wonderful idea!” Twilight exclaimed. “I’ll call ahead next Friday before coming to pick you up, okay?”

Radiance was caught completely off guard by the offer. It fell to Sunrise to reply. “It will be an honor and a privilege to attend your Friday night dinner, Princess Twilight. Yes, please call ahead so we will be ready for pickup,” Sunrise said graciously, bowing slightly to their distinguished visitors.

“Okay, then, until next Friday!” Twilight said before teleporting herself, Free and Path down to the House Path compound.

Sunrise looked at her brother. “There go some wonderful ponies. I’m honored to have met them.”

Radiance nodded. “It’s wonderful to find somepony as interested in teaching and learning as I am, Sister. I am motivated to do my best, not just for her, but for the House as well.”

“Beginning to regret not taking the offer to go through their school now?”

“Not at all. I still despise fighting unless I must. You know damn well how good I am at it.”

“Then why did you not go three rounds with Eon during the voyage?” Sunrise asked.

“I said I was good at fighting, sister. I did NOT say I was overconfident about it. Going up against Eon in anything other than a card game is just plain stupid, and I am not stupid.” Radiance said quietly as they made their way to the common room.

“No, you’re not stupid, brother. Just crazy insane.” Sunrise said, putting a wing over him.

“Crazy insane, maybe. Saner than I have been in many years, I would think so.”

“What makes you say that, Brother?”

“Princess Twilight likes the way I teach and learn. She wants me to teach her about the ship and be her student on runics. ME… not anyone else. I’m still a bit flummoxed.” Radiance said with tones of wonder.

“What, and getting promoted doesn’t mean anything to you?” Sunrise snorted as they entered the common room.

“So, what? I’m still doing the same thing as before. You know I don’t want high command, just boss of my own little domain. Stripes on my sleeves does not mean a damn thing. What I do does.” Radiance said as he poured Sunrise a mug of tea before setting up a mug of his coffee.

“Some things never change, do they?” Sunrise quipped as she went to the automat to pull up a couple of meals for them.

“Some things do change, Sister. After all, I’m being sought out by a Princess, right?”

“Let’s see how well you handle the dinner next week. No rules, no rank, no formalities. Think you can manage it?”

“We shall see, Sister. Maybe I can get a card game going.”

“What, and get chased out of Griffonia by an angry mob?” Sunrise snorted as she dealt out the plates.

The following Friday, both Sunrise and Radiance were groomed to their best, Radiance submitting to a mane cut and hooficure by his sister, as well as doing the same for her, under her critical supervision. Twilight came up to the Lotus one hour before dinnertime, as promised, to bring them down to House Path’s dining hall, so they could get acquainted with how the dinner operated, neither of them having been to one before there, just hearing about it from others.

At the dinner, the two were immediately mobbed by students, faculty and others there, wanting to hear their stories. Radiance was taken by surprise at the questioning, while Sunrise handled the attention much more calmly. Radiance soon relaxed when he understood the lines of the questioning, and launched into teacher mode, which relaxed him.

Sunrise was cornered (metaphysically speaking) by two students, a Chrome Changeling and a griffon, wanting to know about her, and how she was pulled out of her brother’s head and made real. Sunrise relaxed, took the two to a quiet spot, gathered some drinks, and answered their questions until dinner was served. She answered the questions honestly, while admitting that while she had memories, obviously she had no real life until Flix made her real.

When dinner was served, Lord Long Path addressed the crowd. “Tonight, we want to honor two members of the Cosmic Lotus expedition, two singularly unique members. Mares and gentlecolts, may I introduce Commander Radiance Point and Sunrise Flight!” he announced.

The two stood and waved to the crowd, Sunrise with ease, Radiance with a shocked expression. That lasted until the applause settled, then he paid attention to the dinner set before him, finding his appetite had been whetted. Sunrise sat back down and went back to her conversation with the changeling and griffon, both of whom were studying soul magics.

When Radiance offered to start a poker game, he was surprised at the number of guests who wanted to play. With the sheer number of players, the only game that made sense to play was Appaloosan Hold ‘Em. Dealers were found, and the battle started.

Many a bit was lost to Radiance that night, and many of the guests learned something about the business of playing cards as well. While Radiance lost hands, his stack of bits steadily grew throughout the night, taking on all comers and letting them leave with fewer bits than they started with. True to the egalitarian nature of the dinner, Radiance played no favorites. Students, faculty, guests, nobles, commoners alike all fell to his poker prowess. At the end of the night, he was so successful, Princess Luna herself went up to him as he was bagging his bits. “Radiance Point, I have been tasked to deliver a message unto thee,” she said when she was at the table.

“Don’t let looks fool you, Luna, I’m listening,” Point replied as he scooped the last of the loose bits into the third bag.

“When next thou art invited to a House Path Friday dinner, if anyone asks thee, or if thou suggests starting, a poker game, thine answer is NAY!” she shouted before teleporting Radiance back to the Lotus, his money bags following a few seconds later.

Reappearing in his cabin aboard the Lotus, Radiance blinked in surprise. “What got under her tail? I didn’t fleece her any more than anypony else…” he muttered after the surprise teleport, putting the bits away before Sunrise found out where they were.

“How much did you win, Brother?” Sunrise asked as she walked in to the cabin.

“Six thousand, five hundred fifty-eight.”

“How much did you start with?”

“Sixty. Want some tea?”

“Sure. No wonder Princess Luna used the Royal Canterlot Voice on you,” Sunrise said as they left the cabin for the mess deck.

“Is that what it was? I thought that she was just mad at me for losing fifty bits. So, I had a higher full house.” Radiance said as he led the way.

“She went all in. You didn’t. Fifty bits from her, two hundred from King Silverquill Glimfeather, forty from Free Agent, a hundred from Prince Destined… besides, after you left, she was laughing her tail off at your expression.”

“So, I’m an equal opportunity ass kicker at the table. You know that.”

“So, do they. Good luck on getting another game going there.”

Apprentice Cruise

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As the Cosmic Lotus departed Equus orbit, heading back to the Far Star, the ship’s Chief Engineer, Radiance Point, looked up from the situation monitors recently installed in his office, satisfied that all is well indeed with the ship. It would not do to have anything unseemly happen, especially with two Distinguished Visitors aboard, that being Princess Twilight Sparkle and her husband, Free Agent.

Reaching up and behind him with his glow, Radiance pulled down his coffeepot and refilled his mug, swirling the contents of the pot some before putting it back. “Time for another pot soon,” he snorted.

CONN chose that moment to announce, “Commander, apprentice training begins in fifteen minutes, in the classroom.”

“Very well, CONN. Thank you. I’m on my way,” Radiance said, getting up from his desk and leaving his office, carrying his mug of coffee, favoring his front right hoof slightly.

Radiance was first to the classroom, ahead of all the students but not ahead of his teaching aide, that being his sister, Sunrise Flight. “Ready to get this under way, Brother?” she asked when he entered the classroom.

“I’ve been ready for over a week, sister. Now that all the hard work rebuilding and refitting the ship is done, it’s time for her to do the job she was built for. She’s just as eager as the rest of us to get back to work,” Radiance replied as he set his mug down on the shelf inside the lectern.

“<Brother, only you would consider handling the training of a dozen young adults of different species as ‘not hard’,>” Sunrise commented drily in Twinspeak.

“<Compared to the work we have been doing the past three weeks? Yes, teaching will be the easiest of all the work we have been doing,>” Radiance replied.

“<No more dropping sheet wall forms on your hoof, right?>”

Radiance grimaced, looking down at his right forehoof. Some faint scarring remained, but he could still see the bones poking out after dropping the wall when he tried to force it through a hatch. “<Got that right,>” he sighed as the apprentices began entering the classroom. “<I’m just glad we had a doctor on board when I did that.>”

“<We all make mistakes, Brother. So, you’re a little behind on your allotment.>”

Radiance flipped a hoof at his sister as the apprentices seated themselves. First were the changelings, Furox the red, Xandros the chrome and Hexanerax the yellow. Then the two griffons, Triska the black and white female and Pholus, the deep red and dark brown male. Next in were the three unicorns, Radiant Steel, Gradient Test, the reddish gold and blue female, and Twinkle, the dark yellowish female. After them were the two pegasi, Wanderer the dark green and sooty black male, and Star Watcher, the bright orange female. Last in were the male earth pony Gravy Train and the female zebra Zorya. He looked at all of them impassively, noting the presence of his grandson but not reacting to it. He had told Steel that if he was accepted, in public, he would be treated just like the other apprentices. Only in private could they be family.

Radiance pulled three rubber balls out from under the lectern with his glow and started juggling them. “Good morning, apprentices. For those of you who don’t know me, which should be none of you if you did your homework prior to coming aboard, I am Radiance Point, Chief Engineer of the Cosmic Lotus, as well as Training Officer, because of all on board, I have the most experience in academia. Meaning, I know how to teach.

“Each of you are going to be given assignments for the next three days, until we reach the portal to the Far Star, where we will stop to allow the scientists as much time as they can wheedle out of the Captain and Exec to study the runes on the portal moonlets.

“You will be on a four hour on, eight hour off watch rotation, each watch being in one of six areas, they being Control, Sciences, Engineering, Hydroponics and Plant Growth, Medical and Ship’s Services. That will give each of you one four-hour watch in each place before we reach the Portal. After arrival, I will be questioning each one of you on what you learned on each station, which will help me decide what your next phase will be.”

Radiance bounced the balls off the floor as he paced some, looking at each of the apprentices. “Space, like the sea, is a very hostile place. Discipline, watchfulness, and an unending respect of the fact that space can kill you in seconds must be maintained. That is, if you truly want to go home again. If not, let me know and once we arrive, I’ll have Prince Destined or Princess Twilight take you back to Equus and have someone more worthy of being here brought back. After which, I will head back to Equus myself and have a few words with the Selection Committee who passed you to begin with!” he shouted as the balls flew around the room, missing everyone there before flying back to the lectern, his horn sparking and smoking a bit.

“Now, I have duties elsewhere, so I will turn you over to your immediate supervisor, Sunrise Flight. You have any problems, you go to her first. If she can’t fix it, she’ll come to me. If I can’t fix it, I’ll go to the Exec. If he can’t fix it, see my previous paragraph!” Radiance declared with force, making all the apprentices sweat some, even the griffons. All the apprentices had seen the film of the duel Radiance fought with Ortzi Goldbeak years before. The griffon apprentices were made to watch it three times. “Good day, everypony. We have work to do.” Radiance then grabbed his coffee mug, took a pull from it, and exited the room. Every apprentice saw the logo on the side of the mug, that of a unicorn holding a cracking whip.

Once Radiance left the classroom, Sunrise took to the lectern. Looking at the door, she said something that none of the apprentices understood, but Radiant Steel recognized as Twinspeak. “Okay, everypony, now that Professor Pucker Butt is out of the room, I’m in charge of you. Don’t worry, I’m not out to drive you all mad,” she said before resuming, “it will only seem that way.”

Pulling some papers out from the lectern, Sunrise went out amongst the apprentices. “Training time starts at noon, and you will all adhere to your schedules. Tardiness will be counted against you. You will be on this schedule until we arrive at the portal, where your next phase of training will be decided,” she said as she passed out the papers. “If you have any questions or issues, ask them. You can ask who you’re on watch with, you can come ask me even if I’m asleep, or you can ask the Professor. He has one saying that I fully support, that being the only stupid question is the one you do not ask when you need to.

“Now, I will take questions from the floor.”

A glance bounced around the twelve apprentices before one of them got the courage to speak. “Is the Commander really that intimidating?” asked the yellow changeling, Hexanerax. “The emotions I was receiving from him were… conflicting.” The other two changelings nodded in agreement.

“Only when he wants to be, Hex. He’s establishing the fact that, when it comes to you apprentices, he is in charge of you and responsible for your actions while an apprentice. He does not want any of you doing something dumb that could put him in a bad position with the Captain OR with House Path. He comes on as strong as his coffee first but earn his trust and he will back off.”

“But why could we not get a good read from him?” asked the Chrome changeling, Xandros.

“His willpower, Zan. He will not let loose anything he does not want you to sense. How many of you here know Commander Point’s full background?” Sunrise asked, looking at the class. All but one paw or hoof went up, the exception being the zebra, Zorya.

“Zorya, we will give you a rundown later. Let’s just say that one of the results of the magical accident that happened when the Gowanus Herald sank was a will that even the Triequirate would have trouble with, if he decided to go in a way they did not want.”

“As in The Wreck of the Gowanus Herald?” Zorya asked. “I’ve seen the movie, but there was no Radiance Point aboard. A Radiance Glow, yes, but not a Radiance Point.”

All eyes in the room looked at the zebra, who felt a little uncomfortable at all the attention. “Does anyone want to enlighten her?” Sunrise asked.

One of the griffons, Triska, the one with white plumage and black fur, took the challenge. “He IS Radiance Glow, Zorya. After getting everypony back to Vanhoover, Radiance Glow vanished. He turned up somewhere, falling under House Path psychologists for a couple of years before being released. The accident changed him, body, mind and soul. That’s why he was unrecognized for years.”

“Oh, my… I hadn’t heard that.” Zorya said, looking a little taken back. “We ARE fortunate to have him as an instructor.”

“Indeed, you are, all of you. His hope is to pass on two things to you all, they are being his knowledge and his self-discipline. Many has been the time he has worked until he was ready to drop in his tracks, working on something or other to benefit his ship and his shipmates,” Sunrise informed the apprentices. “He gives so much to others, yet he does not take anything for himself. Ninety per cent of his pay goes to a foundation to help orphaned and abused foals, along with ninety percent of his income from patents and inventions. He cares about you all, but you really have to con him into showing it in other than a hardnosed fashion.”

“The epitome of tough love, right?” asked Pholus, the male red and brown griffon.

“You can say that, yes. Up until very recently, he thought he had no family to care about him. He found out otherwise when we arrived back at Equus. How much does he care about them? Enough to do little to interfere with their lives, but more than enough to give one of his family the chance to prove himself here,” Sunrise told the group. “That one cannot expect any preferential treatment from him, either. Nor me. We’re both stubborn, as well as when we promise something, it will be delivered.”

“Because the two of you were one until about twenty years or so ago, Equus time,” said Star Watcher, the bright orange pegasus mare. “I had a chance to research you out when I found out I was accepted.”

“Like what you found?” Sunrise asked.

Star Watcher declared, “I was not only very impressed, I think I realized something about him and you. If we can prove ourselves to you, we should not have to worry about proving anything to anypony again.”

Sunrise nodded. “Very astute of you. Just remember that anything he or I see, read, hear, or experience, we DON’T forget it. Proving yourselves to us is going to take determination, observation, and discretion. Have you all got what it takes to be successful?”

“All we can do is try our best, come what may,” said Gravy Train, the brown and black earth pony stallion. “If we fall short, I would want to know why, where and how we can do better.”

“Rest assured, we will. Praise and censure will get equal treatment. Any more questions before we break from here?”

“Just one, Lieutenant. Which of us is your relative?” asked Furox, the red changeling.

“I will not tell you that, I would prefer that one do so on their own. Whether the one wants to or not, the one knows that our support is there.”

Radiant Steel stood up. “Radiance Point is my grandfather, and Sunrise Flight my great-aunt,” the chestnut stallion said. “Grandfather said he would try to get me here as an apprentice, but it was up to me to prove to him his choice was correct. Nepotism will not rear its ugly head here. Up until about five weeks ago, he didn’t know I even existed.”

“Nice to see you lost some weight, Steel,” Sunrise observed.

“I have not shed it all, but I’m getting there.”

That’s when Gradient Test, the quiet red-gold unicorn spoke up. “I have a legacy, too. My uncle is Kale Robe, the head chef of the expedition. Unlike my uncle, I’m not so much interested in culinary arts as I am chemistry and physics. I know that things work and happen, I’m trying to learn the WHY of it all.”

“You’ll certainly have a chance to learn here, Gradient. Now, let’s go to lunch. I’m just glad we have some cooks aboard now, and we don’t have to use an automat, like we have for the past month. After lunch, section one has the watch, section two relieves at four. You have your schedules. Let’s do it to it.”

Three days later, an hour after the turn of the watch, the twelve students gathered once again in the classroom, with their teacher and their Headmaster. Radiance Point strode back and forth at the front of the room, holding a sheaf of papers in his glow. “I have here reports from those you have stood your training watches with,” he declared, holding the papers high and shaking them before putting them down. “What I want to hear now is YOUR reports, your thoughts, your feelings on what you have experienced for the past three days. Do you think you have what it takes to go out amongst the stars?

“Who wants to be first? We have three hours before we drop out of warp at the portal, and I want to be done by then, so you can go witness warp dropout and the portal with your own eyes.”

Furox, the red changeling, was the first to stand up. “One lesson that stands out is that it is just not one pony or being that is important aboard, it is ALL of us, working together, towards a common goal, is what made the first mission so successful. If each of us keep that in mind, we will be going places.”

Radiance nodded sagely at the declaration. “Very perceptive of you. Does everyone else agree with Furox's statement?”

“Yes, Professor!” the whole student body chorused eagerly.

Something vaguely reminiscent of a smile played around Radiance’s mouth at the response. “Not bad. I knew I had some bright students. What do you think of Ship’s Services here, Furox?”

“It’s more than security, for sure. I’m going to have to decide quickly what else to do other than security, or else I’m going to get mighty bored,” Furox observed.

“Boredom will be the least of your problems. If you start feeling that way, see the teacher or me. You won’t be bored after.

“Okay, who’s next?”

Triska, the other Ship’s Services major, stood up. The black and white griffon looked right at Radiance. “Sir, I know I have a lot to learn about teamwork. I would like the opportunity to learn more,” she said bluntly.

“First of all, don’t call me ‘sir’ unless you mean it. I work hard for a living and I’m only a senior officer because Her Highness thought I should be. ‘Professor’ will do, or ‘Commander’ in a pinch. Don’t put a talon wrong and you will have that chance. What do you think about working with other species, like the ones from the Federation?”

“They may have different body types, but they are all good people inside. It’s not how they look, it’s what they do,” Triska replied.

“Think you can learn from them as well as from your shipmates?” Radiance challenged.

“if what I’m thinking is correct, Professor, they WILL BE my shipmates, so any distinction like that will be moot.”

“You came up through House Path schools, I can tell. It shows. Okay, who’s next?”

Wanderer, the male dark green and black pegasus, took up the challenge. “It takes all sorts to make up a ship, Professor. I want to do my part in that,” he declared.

“You think you can, up in Control? You got what it takes to lead us?” Radiance challenged back.

“If I did not think so, Professor, I would not have applied to be here.”

“Good to hear, kid. Sit down and let someone else talk. Next!” Radiance called out.

Radiant Steel was next to stand. “Commander, the Federation has a lot to teach us about technology. We have a lot to teach them about magic. Can you imagine where the two together can go? I know I can,” he stated. “I want to see if I’m right. The best place to see it is out here, not sitting on my duff in a classroom in Seaddle.”

“Nice words, kid. So, you like it here?” Radiance asked as he picked up his coffee mug and took a slug.

As Steel was about to answer, CONN interrupted the session. “Attention. Fifteen minutes to warp breakout,” she announced.

Radiance geysered his coffee (the Arisian Civet blend) at the words, fortunately not spraying anyone.

“CONN, we should not be coming out of warp for another two hours!” Sunrise protested.

“Her Highness expressed impatience, so the Captain ordered more speed after Commander Radiance went to sleep,” CONN replied.

“I’ll moiderize him…” Radiance muttered before speaking up. “Okay, class, we meet in the Observation Room in ten minutes!”

As the class filed out, Sunrise went up to her brother, carrying some towels so he could clean his nose. “Looks to me we have a fine bunch of students here,” she commented.

“I had no doubts about that whatsoever,” Radiance said after he cleared his nose of residual coffee. “They’ll need more training, but they have the right mindset.”

“And we’re the ones to guide that training, brother.”

Teaching Again

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After arriving at the portal, Commander Radiance Point finished his interviews with the apprentices before assigning them to their respective departments: Radiant Steel and Pholus to Engineering, Gradient Test and Star Watcher to Sciences, Twinkle and Gravy Train to Hydroponics, Wanderer and Xandros to Control, Triska and Furox to Ship’s Services, and Zorya and Hexanerax to Medical, where they will receive more intense instruction in their fields of choice. Radiance and Sunrise will remain their technical supervisors but would not be responsible for their direct educations.

This action freed up Radiance to do two things that he wanted to do, they being assisting Princess Twilight with her studies of the runic magics of the portal, and spending some time each day teaching his grandson, Radiant Steel, the ways of Engineering with actual models rather than theoretical discussions. “You don’t learn a ship by sitting in an office and studying plans, you get out there and get a hooves-on approach to FEELING how the ship operates,” he advised Steel before going on to discuss situations where his feelings proved vital in repairing the ship. Thanks to his eagerness to both teach and learn, he stayed awake for almost forty hours before being persuaded to get some sleep, said persuasion being administered by a sedative placed in his coffee mug.

“Does he do this often?” Radiant Steel asked Apastron as he carried his grandfather back to his quarters in his glow.

“More often than I like to see. He is a supremely dedicated individual who needs to be protected from himself on occasion,” Apastron replied, opening the door to Point’s cabin.

“Supremely dedicated is an understatement. I would call him almost obsessive in his drive to understand both the portal and the warp drives, as well as caring for the ship and its crew,” Steel said as he put his grandfather on the bed.

Apastron snorted. “I was trying to be polite, Steel. Better than calling him a self-destructive lunatic who would stop at nothing to get a job done, no matter what the cost.”

Steel thought as the pair exited the cabin. “You’re right, Apastron. That’s one thing I have to learn, finding the right words for the situation.”

“Point has the manners of a saint in public,” Apastron told the apprentice, “but never treats himself with the same respect.”

“I trust you will warn me if I start showing some of those traits.”

“I will, because Point asked me to before you came aboard. Hopefully, you’re not as hard-headed as he is.”

“I’m not. My mother and sisters had a way to get me out of obsessive tendencies. Let me tell you, getting whacked with a rubber hose by an earth pony does get your attention,” Steel said quietly.

“Whacked with a rubber hose. I’m going to have to remember that.”

“It does not leave a mark, but it sure does get your attention. Earth ponies are strong.”

Once Radiance woke up from his nap, he found that the Lotus had been placed in Chakonan orbit, near a large radio telescope array. The apprentices were in phase two of their training, learning about their respective departmental duties. This phase was to last for four weeks, with Radiance and Sunrise overseeing their training in large, but leaving details to the respective departments. One thing that Radiance emphasized with the individual departmental trainers is that the apprentices were to be trained on Federation equipment and methods as well as Equian styles, to help speed integration of the two technologies. Younger, more flexible minds and all that.

Radiance was not idle during those four weeks. He did have a department to run, students to teach, and a grandson to bond with, but what gave him the most pleasure was assisting Princess Twilight in the study of the runes on the portal moonlets and runic magic in general. His study of the runes gave Radiance some ideas on how to defend against the mana discharges of the Swarm ships, but a lot of testing was needed before his ideas were to be deemed successful.

He thought that since the beams fired by the Swarm ships were raw mana, why not take that mana and use it to power a shield to defend against the disruptive effects of the raw mana? It took fourteen days, twenty-two attempts, thirty-one pots of strong coffee, and three times getting sedated by either the Princess, his sister, or Apastron before he was ready to release his idea for trial. A rune to receive the raw mana, another rune to absorb and store the energy, and a third to release it in the form of a defensive shield around the small craft.

Once that was done, Radiance was ready for some shore leave. Ready without much coercion, it must be noted. Ever since the Lotus’ arrival, requests had been received for him to come down and lecture again at Dewclaw University. He accepted the offer, with a couple of added stipulations, they being Sunrise being asked to lecture as well, and his apprentices be given a chance to study with the Dewclaw student body for four weeks.

Permission for the away group was swiftly granted by all sides, and within two days, Radiance, Sunrise, and the apprentices were getting off the train at the Dewclaw University station. Reporting in, the group were assigned rooms in a dormitory, two to a room, even Radiance and Sunrise, who admitted they preferred a small room to a guest house.

The assignment Radiance gave the apprentices was simple. “Go out there and learn about the Federation, its species, and their technology. Remember, you are at all times ambassadors to Chakona from Equus. Keep your comm units close and your good will on high. We are among friends we barely know yet. So, go make friends. We will meet as a group once a week, on Sixthday in mid-afternoon for a meeting, then break for the weekend.

“We have a wonderful opportunity here. Let’s make the best of it.”

Both Radiance and Sunrise gave two lectures a day, on various topics, to very attentive audiences. The apprentices audited two to three classes a day in topics they were interested in, as well as two general technology classes a week, to learn how to operate, repair and comprehend Federation equipment. Evenings were set aside for socializing, to get to know the various Federation species and to allow the Federation to become familiar with the Equians. The pegasi and griffons demonstrated flying, to the enjoyment of the students, who could not fully picture how a pegasus or griffon could fly.

On the weekends, Radiance and Sunrise went to Marpletown, to their campsite, to relax. The first trip, they took Radiant Steel with them, so he could do something he had never done before, namely camping. Steel admitted that he enjoyed the experience, and even taught his grandfather something about cooking over an open fire. Not so much how to cook but spicing the meal while cooking. Steel did find he liked swimming, something he had seldom done before, because it was generally too cool in Vanhoover to do much swimming. Other apprentices decided to come on other weekends, just to see what it was like. The final weekend, all the Equians camped out, to have a fling together before reporting back to the Lotus.

At the University, the days were occupied with classwork, while the nights were taken with social appearances. The crew were approached by many curious students, almost in awe of the ponies’ presence. That awe was swiftly dealt with, replaced by friendship.

Each of the apprentices made many friends with the student body, as well as the faculty. Radiance was sought out by Tormyn, the skunktaur who asked a question on his first lecture. “Poppy would like it if you went to Amistad with me one evening, so he can show you his ship, as well as get a chance to show you some of what civil technology is like,” hy offered at a meeting.

“When would be a good time for it, Tormyn? I intend to spend my weekends camping with my sister.”

“Any evening would be all right, just let me know the day before, so I can have him ready for you.”

Radiance pondered his schedule for the next week. “How about Fifthday, after classes let out for me at 14 hours? We could be at Amistad by fifteen fifty.”

“That can work, Professor. I’ll call him tonight, and I will meet you at Berdoovia Station at fourteen twenty-five on Fifthday.”

“Done and done, Tormyn.”

That Fifthday, Radiance was waiting at the station for Tormyn right at fourteen twenty-five. The train ride was spent discussing not schoolwork, but music, Tormyn’s family having musical tendencies. The music Tormyn knew was different than what Radiance knew, and he found it quite lively indeed.

The two were met by what Radiance had to say was the biggest human he had ever seen, easily over two meters tall, with silver and copper hair and very wide around the waistline. “Commander Radiance, I’m Third Officer Julius Crusoe, late of a merchant space line, long since retired,” the big human said, getting down on one knee to bump fist to hoof with the surprised pony.

Radiance quickly regained his composure and hoofbumped the big fellow back. “I definitely am looking forward to seeing your ship. Tormyn says it’s a bit unusual.”

“Just a bit,” Julius said with a smile. “It was my home for two decades while I was a location scout and surveyor for a private company. I had lots of time to tinker.”

“I look forward to seeing it. How do we get there?”

Julius led Tormyn and Radiance to the spaceport shuttle train and paid for their fares before boarding. “This way, then at the spaceport, I have a PTV waiting to take us to the Nannewitt. It’s a nice little ship.”

“I certainly hope it is big enough for you.” Radiance said.

“It is, Commander. Big enough for me and my family, two mates and four cubs.”

At the spaceport, Julius took Radiance and Tormyn to the ship. It was small, about forty meters in length, twenty in width, and ten in height, with Nannewitt II boldly painted on the sides and rear section. “The first one became a little small when we decided to vacation together, so I traded the old one in for this one. I’ve done the same mods on this one,” Julius said as the front cargo bay hatch opened.

“Big enough for us, for sure. How far can you go in this ship?” Radiance asked.

“I can go from here to Earth (or, as he said the word, Oith) in eight days at cruising speed, five if we hurried. The engines will need retuning after doing that, though,” Julius explained.

“I’m impressed,” Radiance said. “It takes the Lotus a good thirty plus to get there. Just shows what you can do when a ship is designed from the keel up with warp drive.”

“Got that right, Commander. Let’s get to Engineering and I’ll talk you through the warp setup.”

The human and pony, plus skunktaur, spent hours walking through the systems, Radiance getting to see a warp drive that was built from a different viewpoint than he had learned so far. He asked a lot of questions and got answers he could understand. After four hours, Radiance and Tormyn had to hurry back to Berdoovia for the next day’s classes, but not without sincere promises to remain in contact with each other, Julius being self-employed as a systems diagnostic and repair technician.

On the train back to Dewclaw, Radiance asked Tormyn, “So, he’s not your biological father, right?”

“That is correct, Professor. Humans cannot cross breed with chakats or skunktaurs, so Poppy joined a three-way relationship with my biological parents long before they mated to produce me. He’s done a good job raising me, my sisters and brother. I love him a lot. It’s because of him I am pursuing an engineering degree, as is my older sister Coppertop,” Tormyn explained.

“I can’t say I have met her. The name is not familiar.”

“That’s because shi is currently up on Chakona Gateway, learning paws-on after graduating last semester. Shi’s a chakat.”

Radiance looked thoughtful for a moment or so. “I have an idea I’ll have to bounce off Captain Path. I successfully lobbied for the apprenticeship program on Equus, so why not take on a couple of apprentices from Chakona to learn Equestrian ways?” he mused.

“If it can be arranged, may I ask that Coppertop and I be considered? You are a fascinating teacher. I would enjoy the chance for more one-on-one learning,” Tormyn requested.

“I will definitely put that forward. If your family agrees, then I will accept you and your sister as apprentices. Of course, we must go through the Captain and the Princess first, to see if it can be done. What they have in mind, I do not know. Despite my stripes and rank, I stay out of the upper-level planning. I only accepted the position so Commander Bluequill could focus more on being Captain Path’s Executive officer. He had both jobs before. Now, Engineering is mine, the ship is his.”

“Here’s hoping, Professor. I’m sure Coppertop would like you as a teacher as much as I do.”

“Thank you for the vote of confidence, Tormyn. I just hope I’m worthy of it.”

Back at the university, Radiance sent his request up to the ship for consideration before prepping his next day’s lesson plans. He only got an hour’s sleep that night, but he felt it was worth the effort. Three cups of strong coffee at breakfast, plus a mug after, helped him through the day. That day being Sixthday, they were going camping that night, returning on Firstday in time for classes. This weekend, Steel was going to stay at the university, but Gradient Test, Wanderer, Triska and Hexanerax showed interest, so the six spent two days at the campsite, relaxing from the week’s learning. Radiance and Sunrise showed their students how to camp, fish and cook in the wild, learning some tips from Triska, who was raised in Griffonia, and knew how to live in the wild.

When Radiance started teaching classes in elementary magic, he received an unusual response from it. The student body liked the lessons, even though none of them can do anything with magic, they found the subject fascinating. Elementary magic led to how magitek worked, which led to observations about the similarity between spells printed in crystals and circuit chips and programming, which led to a week of lively discussions, culminating in a visit from Princess Twilight Sparkle on Fifthday to join in the discussion. The morning lecture ran twice as long as scheduled, but neither the students of Dewclaw University nor the faculty objected.

After the lecture, Princess Twilight met with Radiance and Sunrise in their office at the University. “I originally thought that coming here to lecture about magic would be a mistake, but I’m glad I was proven wrong. That discussion was one of the best I have had in a long time!” The Princess gushed, showing her enthusiasm.

“I’m glad you liked it, Twilight.” Radiance said, using her name in the privacy of the office. “I figured that while I may have a ThD, you are the Princess of Magic, and who better to discuss the topic than you? Of course, we had to prep the student body beforehand, so they could participate in the way you just witnessed.”

“Students who are eager to learn something new to them always makes me happy. Thank you for giving me a chance to see them and to teach them.”

“I, er, we owe you, Twilight. It makes us feel good knowing that one of your plans worked out right,” Radiance said. “How goes the rune studies?”

“Techbird and Galena made some discoveries on Earth. They asked for Cosmic Dawn to come and help them, so we sent her. Still waiting on good answers from them, while here, I’m making slow progress on understanding what the portal moonlet runes mean. I’m glad Admiral Kline provided me with high-resolution holography of each moonlet, on both sides, so I can study them in detail,” Twilight explained with a smile.

“What about my idea for using runes to power shields for the Federation?” Radiance asked.

“It’s not a bad idea, but it’s not exactly working the way you proposed it, and we’ve been studying the portal runes so much, I don’t want to divert the effort from there to finding out why your plan won’t quite work,” Twilight said apologetically. “I’m still impressed that you even tried.”

“I’ll look into it when I get the chance. At least my other ideas are pleasing you.”

“Good thing you’re happy, Princess.” Sunrise said, she not being as comfortable around Twilight as her brother is. “Any word about Brother’s idea about taking on a couple of students from here?”

“Oh, yes! We’re taking some other observers from Chakona when the Lotus next pulls out, so you can bring two students with you from here.”

“I know exactly which two to bring, Twilight,” Radiance said. “One I know, the other is hys sister. Both grew up around starships, and I think they will help bridge the gap between what we know and what the Federation knows, so we can eventually find the best of both and put them together.”

“You have my backing and my blessing, Radiance. Or, should I say, Professor Pucker Butt?” Twilight said with a smile.

Radiance’s face twisted into a grimace. “Just where did you hear that, Twilight?”

Twilight giggled some. “From more than one of your students, when they were standing watch in Sciences.”

Radiance glared at his sister, who was trying to hide a snigger behind a wing. “I’m going to get you for that, sister dear.”

“Promises, promises, big brother.”

Third week weekend had half of his apprentices camping with them, plus Tormyn and Coppertop. Coppertop came down from Chakona Orbital to learn about the Lotus before reporting aboard. While shi knew about the ship in general, shi had not looked at it in detail. Both Tormyn and Coppertop planned during the fourth week to depart aboard the Lotus for an indefinite time, Tormyn receiving assurances from the school administration that he can credit time aboard the Lotus toward his academic time.

The fourth week at the university was just as busy as the other three, if not more so. It seemed like by the time Fifthday rolled around, Radiance and Sunrise had met just about everyone at the university, students and faculty. The faculty members were intrigued by how Radiance kept discipline in his classes, with inattentive students getting bonked by the small balls. After the third ball, the red one, the student getting bonked was unceremoniously removed from the class. Fortunately, that only happened once. Unfortunately for the faculty, few of them had the telekinetic capability or skill to wield the balls without missing their intended target.

The evenings of the last week were nearly all solid parties, receptions, and meetings. Fortunately, Radiance never needed much sleep, and the apprentices had long since learned to get sleep when they could. The goodwill and friendships gathered that last week more than made up for the lack of sleep.

After four weeks groundside, the Lotus’ apprentices plus two more got a ride back to the ship, this time using a shuttle that Coppertop was able to wheedle out of a friend on Chakona Gateway. Once aboard the Lotus, the apprentices were given the rest of the day off to get reacquainted with the ship, while Radiance and Sunrise gave a guided tour to Coppertop and Tormyn before showing them to their cabin, one originally designed for griffons, because a chakat and a skunktaur sharing a cabin designed for ponies would be a bit cramped. The two were suitably amazed by what they found aboard the Lotus and were eager to get started on their learning.

“Chill down, you two!” Sunrise laughed, holding up a wing. “First, you two have to do a couple of hours of book learning and classroom training, so you will know what to do in case of emergency, and more importantly, what NOT to do. Let’s get to the classroom!”

In the classroom, Sunrise ran the visiting siblings through several simulations and audio programs, followed by measurements for ship uniforms. “The uniforms not only provide protection, they can also be used as space suits by themselves. Once you have them, I will then run you through the learning program on how to use them safely.”

Coppertop raised a hand. When Sunrise nodded to her, shi asked, “How can we work magical devices when we do not have any magic to use on them?”

Sunrise smiled at the question. “But you do have some magic. Not much, but you do. Every living being has some magic in them. Remember the language lesson Big Brother gave you on Chakona, so you could speak Equish up here?”

“Not only do I remember the lesson, I remember the headache I got from it,” Coppertop said drily, Tormyn nodding in agreement. Hy also got a bit of a headache from the lesson.

“In order for the spell to work on you, it has to have something to latch on to. Your innate magic is what it hangs on to. Otherwise, the spell would not have affected you, and you would not be able to understand the other crew up here.” Sunrise explained.

“So, we will be able to use magitek items?” Tormyn asked.

“That, I honestly do not know for sure. We’re going to have to try it and see. While we show you the magitek, you two can, in exchange, teach us about your magicless technology. Big Brother is quite exceptional when it comes to learning, but he can be an absolute idiot at times when it comes to commonplace stuff,” Sunrise said before continuing. “We will teach you what we accept as commonplace, and we hope you can do the same for us on your equipment.”

“Commander Point said something similar earlier, when he told the class what to do at the university, right?” Tormyn asked.

“That’s right. How did you find out about it?”

“I asked Radiant Steel. He said something similar while we were at a party together, and I asked him where he came up with the idea.”

“Big Brother does have good ideas, sometimes. Other times he goes off on wild tangents and won’t come back until he is given a big reality bitchslap.”

“Sounds like Poppy at times,” Coppertop said. “If he gets too wrapped up in his work, my mother has to go into the system and give him a kick.”

“Into the system? What do you mean?” Sunrise asked, obviously confused.

“Poppy is a technomancer,” Tormyn told his teacher. “He is able to mentally enter a computer system and control it, spoof it, or make virtual repairs to it. Firesox has the same talent, but all shi can do is enter a system and ‘feel’ where the issues are.”

“Does Brother know of this?” Sunrise asked, getting more dumbfounded by the second.

“Yes, he does,” Tormyn said. “Poppy demonstrated, Commander Point’s horn lit up, and the two were in a trance for thirty-seven minutes. After that, the two were discussing system architectures at a level I’m not yet ready for.”

Sunrise shook her head hard, her white mane flying every which way. “He could have said something to me about that…” she snorted.

“Are you going to sell tickets?” Coppertop asked. “This should be interesting.”

“Not a bad idea. I’ll tell CONN to let you see the recording of our discussion.” Sunrise said almost in a snarl. “You two are on your own until 0700, here in the classroom. I have to go have a talk with my brother.”

As Sunrise stormed out of the classroom, the siblings looked at each other. “This is going to be interesting,” Coppertop told hyr brother.

“She is either going to kick the piss out of him, or burn his ears with a shouting match,” Tormyn said to hyr sister.

“Shall we go see?”

“We can try,” Tormyn said as the two left the classroom together.

Radiance was in his office in Engineering, catching up on departmental paperwork. Fornax did a good enough job of it, but Radiance still had to read it all. Sunrise stormed into the office, closing the door behind her. “Just who is this fellow that is the parent of our Chakonan apprentices?” she snapped out.

“Julius? He’s a cyber technomancer. A seldom known talent over here, and one he puts to good use as a systems technician,” Radiance said calmly, trying to settle his sister’s temper.

“You could have told me about it, you…” she snapped before letting fly with a stream of foul language that made Radiance’s mane blow back some.

“He asked me not to, sister. One thing he does not want right now is to be examined by a whole lot of mages to see how his talent works. He has too much work backed up to take the time off,” Radiance explained. “Please do not tell anypony else about it, okay? He likes his privacy.”

“Still does not change the fact that you are…” as she let fly with a different stream of foul language. “Don’t you trust me to keep a secret?”

“You know now, and I know you well enough that when you are asked not to discuss something, you won’t. I’m asking now.”

“You’re… DESPICABLE!” Sunrise hissed before heading out of the office, destination the Park.

“Love you too, sister,” Radiance said quietly before the door closed.

Coppertop and Tormyn were outside Engineering when Sunrise stormed past, her wings semi-raised. “Oh, she’s pissed, all right.” Tormyn muttered.

“I can definitely feel it too,” Coppertop said quietly. “The Professor does not feel upset, but she is.”

“Shall we explore the galley?” Tormyn asked. “I’m hungry!”

“Taking after Poppy again?”

Radiance, in the privacy of his office, set up watch schedules for the apprentices, allowing lots of time for the younger ones to spread out among the ship’s crew to pass on what they learned while at the University. Coppertop and Tormyn also had schedules made up for them, but in their cases, it would be pairing up with Engineering and Technical staff to demonstrate some more Federation technology, spreading their knowledge among the crew. “This should do it,” he said to himself as he inputted the last of his notes into CONN. “Let’s just hope this idea works out well.”

He made sure his coffeepot was turned off before exiting his office. When he did, something large and gooey fell from the ceiling onto his head, dripping off the sides and his nose, plastering down his mane. Cautiously, he licked at a drip falling off his nose. “Raspberry. Only one pony would dare give me the raspberry… SUNRISE!” he bellowed, tearing out of Engineering to go after his sister.

Sunrise and Apastron came out from the Decel station, where they had been hiding. “Thanks for the help, Appie.”

“No problem. He needs some taking down, does he not?”

The apprentices stood their watches and attended their classes, slowly becoming more proficient at their duties, even standing some lower-tier watches on their own, once they qualified. Coppertop and Tormyn ran through their knowledge of the Federation systems they could access aboard and started learning on the Lotus’ own systems. Coppertop found herself adept at handling Control, while Tormyn was more comfortable in Engineering, but both learned at a rate that gave the Equian cadets a challenge when it came to grade and progress.

Radiant Steel sought out his grandfather after a month or so back on the Lotus. “Can we chat for a while?” he asked, catching Radiance in his office.

“What’s on your mind, Steel?”

“I just have some questions I would like answered. Like, is it normally this boring on board? We’ve been here at Chakona for three months. All we’ve been doing is training, drilling, and lectures.”

Radiance sighed. “Steel, be glad you weren’t on the flight out. We cruised for over TEN YEARS, watch after watch, not having much to do other than keeping the ship running. Don’t look at it as boring, look at it as making yourself, and the ship, ready to handle ANYTHING that gets thrown at you.

“When we passed through the portal the first time, nearly destroying the ship, do you think we had a procedure to follow? Did we have time to figure out what needed doing? We just had to buckle down and get to work so we could survive long enough to think our way out.

“That’s how you should view this time. Not as boring, but as learning. To make your brains and horn function together as one unit, to get matters repaired so you could have the time to look back and think about what you just did.”

Steel thought about what his grandfather had said for about half a minute before speaking. “Put that way, I can see what you mean. Looks like the trip out was not as exciting as the news made it out to be.”

“Keeping public interest is one thing. Actually getting the job done is another. Hope you’re not too disappointed,” Radiance said.

“Oh, I’m not, Grandfather. Going on this trip has taught me a lot and shown me some things that few ponies have seen before. I’m glad you were able to bring me along.”

“I’m glad to hear that. Still bored?”

“Some, but that is my problem to overcome. Thank you for the talk, Grandfather,” Steel said soberly.

“Any time you need to, you can ask me or your Aunt Sunrise for advice. Part of being a family is looking out for each other.”

Steel smiles some. “And part of being aboard here is that us being family has to be behind closed doors. In public, I’m just another student.”

Radiance smiled back. “Knew I had a smart grandson.”

Work and training continued unabated, broken by occasional trips groundside, for weeks. During that time, Captain Path had connected with a local teleporter and was out on some sort of Grand Tour of the Federation, doing something Radiance didn’t stick his nose into. Something about an early warning system, he had heard. The peace and quiet lasted exactly seventy-one days before the sewage met the screws and spread itself all over Tartarus, something the denizens of that realm barely noticed.

Radiance called his students to an assembly in the Classroom. “Gentlebeings, now is the time we earn our bits. Or credits, as our friends would say. The Swarm has been spotted, in an unexpected direction.

“Each of us may be called upon to do what is required to stop the Swarm, up to and including our very lives, if necessary. When I say ‘each of us’, that includes myself and my sister as well. There is NO way we are going to allow the Swarm to harm ANY of our friends! Is that right?” Radiance asked with a near shout.

“THAT’S RIGHT!” everyone in the classroom shouted, Coppertop and Tormyn both feeling the determination of not only Radiance and Sunrise, but ALL the Equians there, to keep the Swarm at bay.

Coppertop whispered to Tormyn, “Looks like friendship truly is magic here.”

Tormyn whispered back amongst the whistling and hoof stomping. “Took you this long to notice?”

Prelude to War

View Online

With renewed hostilities breaking out between the Swarm and the Federation, the Cosmic Lotus’ mission parameters changed radically. With scientific endeavors being put on the sidelines because of the war, The Lotus was pressed into service as a ferry, bringing fresh pilots, they being pegasi, changelings, hippogriffs and griffons, from Equus to Chakona. Most science personnel were transferred off the ship at Chakona, their berthing spaces taken up for the new pilots.

Radiance was tasked with installing simulators, so the new pilots could keep honing their skills during the transit from Equus to Chakona. For that, he organized his apprentice crew into a working party, emptying two cargo holds, moving the cargo from them to other holds, and installing the simulators in Cargo Bays one and two. Next, the apprentices assisted in the installation of the simulators, guided by the skilled techs who operated and maintained them. When that work was done, Radiance called an assembly of the apprentices in the classroom.

“The reason I called you all here today is a simple one. I want all of us, who have the requisite skills and abilities, to train in the new skills demanded by the war effort. This means the unicorns are to learn the new offensive and defensive spells, and the pegasi, griffons and changelings are to learn how to pilot the fighter craft. Sunrise and I will be leading the effort. We, too, are to submit for training in what we can do.

“I have no idea yet if any of us are going to be called up for service, but I aim to have us ready and able to go if the need arises. Of course, if any one of you want to volunteer for front line service, I will not stop you from doing so. I would suggest you wait until you have undergone some training before making that decision, but I will not compel you in any direction. Yet.”

Sunrise picked up the narrative. “It is incumbent on all of us to do what we can to keep the Swarm away from our homes and the homes of our new friends. That is why Brother and I stepped forward to take the training. Not that we hope to BE called, but to be ready in case we are called. If we can do such a thing, why can’t you?”

“We are going to step out for a cup of coffee. You remain here and discuss among yourselves what we have just said. When Sister and I come back, I will ask about what you think” Radiance said. “We will not compel you in any way. The decisions MUST be yours.”

Radiance and Sunrise stepped out of the classroom. When they did, all the apprentices looked at each other. “Does anyone have anything to say?” Gravy Train asked.

Zorya was the first to speak. “I, for one, am willing to do whatever it takes to make sure our homes, and our friend’s homes, are safe from the Swarm. I may not be a pilot or a mage, but I’m willing to do my part.”

“Same here,” Furox said. “I intend to take as much time as I can on the simulators, so I can learn how to fill in at need.”

Steel was next to speak. “If Grandfather is willing to put himself up for this, how can I do anything less? Besides, it will be good training for me.”

“Me, too,” said Gradient Test. “Learning new spells is always fun and interesting. These new spells could help in driving the Swarm back out of our friend’s space. I’m willing to try.”

Pholus was next to speak up. “It may not be my field of interest, but it is a job that needs doing. I’m willing to learn what to do in case I am needed for the job.”

“As am I,” Triska added. “Serving to protect others is honorable, and griffons have been Equestria’s strong right arm for over a hundred years now. I intend to volunteer for front line service and disembark at Equus for flight training.”

“If they let you,” Hexanerax said. “What with all the turnover in crew the Lotus has undergone, we apprentices will soon be stepping up to be full crew members. Face it, we’re becoming senior crew sooner than we expected.”

“Hex is right,” Xandros agreed. “many of the new crew members are changelings from the Chrome and Blue hives, because we could train up the fastest, and get guidance through the changeling network if needed. We may be pressed into service as teachers in our specialties.”

“While I do intend to take the fighter pilot training,” Wanderer said, stepping forward, “I hope to remain here aboard the Lotus. Commander Bluequill likes how I operate the ship, and I intend to pursue matters here until I get my commission, then see how far I could go.”

As the apprentices discussed their feelings in the classroom, Radiance and Sunrise were standing outside the room, sipping coffee or tea, listening to the discussions via CONN. “<We have a fine bunch of students, Brother. I’m proud to be able to teach them.>” Sunrise said in Twinspeak.

“<As am I, Sister. Listening to them talk about stepping forward like this makes me feel like I’ve done my job as a teacher. They have listened, they have learned.>”

“<And they are applying their learning. That’s what makes me the happiest.>”

The teachers stayed outside the classroom, listening to the discussions, until they were sure the students reached a consensus. That’s when they entered the room. “Okay, students, what is your decision?” Radiance asked.

Wanderer spoke for the class. As a Control candidate, he had the tendency to take charge and speak for the group as a whole. “Professor, we intend to join the war effort, taking what training each of us requires. Triska wanted to leave immediately, but we talked her into taking some training first, before putting in for a transfer. We have friends to defend, and since we are here now, let us defend them.”

Radiance looked at the twelve apprentices. “Does Wanderer speak for you all in this case?”

“SIR, YES SIR!” all twelve shouted in unison.

Radiance let out something none but one of the class had ever seen before- a proud smile. “So be it, then. While the trainers will be in use on the outward leg from Equus, there will be less demand on the inbound leg. That will be when we will have time to train. In the meantime, all of you will be picking up slack in the schedules of your departments.

“I will still be in overall command of your educations, but as of tomorrow morning, you will no longer be considered apprentices. Report to the mess deck at 1930 hours for an awards ceremony in your honor. You will always be my students, but as of tomorrow, you will be my shipmates. I’m proud of you all.

“What this will mean now is on social nights, I will be joining the card playing, as is Sister. Watch your bits, because I will be out for them! Class dismissed!”

When everypony had left the room, Sunrise looked at her brother. “The first of many. We did a good job with them,” she said.

“Hard not to do a good job with such exceptional students. We’re going to need the best out of everypony we teach, if we are going to have peace in our time.”

“Have faith in the screeners. They did well this time.”

Radiance sighed. “This time. May their excellence continue. None of my students are going to fail because they didn’t know what they needed to know when they needed to know it.”

“Let’s go speak to the Captain and the Princess. I’m sure they will want to say something tonight,” Sunrise told her brother, putting a wing across his withers.

“And let Twilight know we will have room for another class when next we return to Equus.”

That evening, there was a ceremony on the mess deck, where both Princess Twilight and Captain Path formally advanced the former apprentices to the rank of crewpony, to much cheering from the rest of the crew. The former cadets were asked to continue in shared quarters for the next however long, because many spaces were needed for transporting pilots to Chakona. Princess Twilight also congratulated the apprentices on how well they did, and she was looking forward to working with them as crewponies, not just as students. That impressed the former cadets.

After the meeting, Radiance gave each of the newbies their assignments, requested from the respective department heads. “You ponies have the load now. Enjoy it,” he told them before going off with the Princess for discussions on the next load of apprentices, to be picked up not the next trip to Equus, but the one after, so selections could be made, and the apprentices made ready.

In the interim, Radiance managed to get quarters assigned to the old batch of cadets, and their old quarters made ready for the next wave. He also came up with a tentative training schedule, to be revised when he found out who would be in the next class. He got with Sunrise in his office.

“What do you think we can do better with the next batch, Sister?” he asked, once the door was closed.

Sunrise sat and thought, sipping her tea. “Not much, really. It’s the composition of the next class that will determine matters there. A bit more one-on-one time, especially in phase one, which I think should be extended to a week, because we got the best of the best already. Maybe the next group will need more basic spacer training. Right now, I can only guess.”

“I know how you feel. We had an exceptional group before. May the next one be as good, if not better,” Radiance said with a soft sigh. “Before, a failing grade would not do more than embarrass a pony. Here, a failing grade can be fatal, if not to the student, to others.”

“You won’t allow that to happen, brother. I know you too well. Maybe you should have at least an hour of one-on-one time with each student during the first week and sound them out. How big a class do you think we can handle?” Sunrise asked.

“As of now, twelve at most. We could handle more, but do we have the quarters for them? The Lotus is a ferryboat, bringing pilots and techs from Equus to Chakona. You see how tight things are at the moment. How can we fit in any more?”

“By converting Cargo Three into a barracks room for the cadets. We can work on that on the way back. Good thing we have ten holds to play with. You over planned when the ship was built.” Sunrise said.

“We’ll have to get the okay from both the Captain and Galen, clear Bay Three on the way back, and order ahead for the parts we need to make it some sort of barracks,” Radiance said, hope shining in his eyes. “Now you know why I like working with you.”

“It’s because I’m the only one here with the nerve to whack you a good one when you start going off track.”

“There are others, but you’re the closest to me,” Radiance said with a small smile.

Radiance made his suggestions and placed an order, to be filled when they returned to Equus orbit, for supplies to turn Cargo Three into a barracks. He also put forward the idea of putting mounting points on the outer hull of the Lotus, so fighters could dock there and be carried along while pilots are being delivered. Sure, the quantity would be small, and the fighters would be inaccessible in flight, but who knows just what will be needed in the fight? One extra fighter could make the difference, he argued, but that idea was shot down once he got the specs on the fighters and realized the Lotus could not handle the stresses under warp. “Back to the old drawing board…” he muttered once he finished his analysis, wadding up the paper he had been figuring on, tossing it into his waste basket. His OVERFLOWING waste basket…

Princess Twilight also called ahead and got House Path moving on selecting more candidates, ones willing to be trained to maintain and operate the Lotus, as the war effort was draining skilled crewponies from the ship. The first batch would be mostly changelings from the Chrome and Blue hives, with a couple of ponies in the mix, but Radiance would not mind that. “Sure, the changelings can learn a lot through their links with the network, but that cannot replace actual practice and training,” he had argued, and did win the argument.

The return trip from Chakona to Equus that week was occupied by emptying Cargo Three, restowing everything removed in the other cargo bays. Six hours of that a day, followed by three hours in training and simulator practice for Radiance, Sunrise, and the qualified former cadets. Turnaround had the goods to turn Cargo Three into a barracks delivered, as well as a listing of the tentative candidates for the next cadet class, which gave Radiance something to think about in his off moments. The trip out to Chakona had many of the ‘passengers’ detailed to help put together the barracks when not in training. That work did go swiftly, under the main supervision of Radiant Steel and Pholus, with Sunrise in overall charge. Radiance kept himself busy being Chief Engineer.

One good thing about how the flight pattern broke down was that the weekend happened on the return trip from Chakona to Equus. The usual weekend socializing took place, as well as the card games. Radiance soon proved to the hot shot passengers that they did not know squat about playing poker. This time, he was absolutely ruthless, out to get as many bits as he could. Out of seven trips, Radiance won five poker nights, Sunrise took one, and, oddly enough, Zorya took it all one night. For some unknown reason, Radiance that night got knocked out in the first round, Sunrise in the second. Not that either of them minded, they got to kick back and watch the others play, sipping beer (or, in Radiance’s case, an Eyrish coffee jazzed up by a very expensive bottle of Eyrish whiskey he had procured at Equus Orbital), watching, relaxing, and learning.

On the eighth week of pilot running, on a Saturday afternoon, Radiant Steel sought out his grandfather privately, in his office. “Grandfather, can we talk?” Steel asked.

“Sure can. Come in and shut the door. You want some coffee?”

“Yes, Grandfather, I would like some coffee. However, I will only take half a cup. Please cut the rest with cold water and a dose of sugar. Your coffee rejects cream, and it is rather potent,” Steel said in level tones, shutting the door and sitting on the other chair in the room.

Radiance poured a cup to Steel’s taste and set it down in front of his grandson. “So, what’s on your mind, kid?” he asked as he sat down.

“I want to ask for a week’s leave when we go back to Equus. Haystack’s wife, Meadow Blossom, is due to have her foal about then, and we like gathering the family together at such a time. Will it be possible?” Steel asked.

“I don’t see why not,” Radiance said, leaning back in his chair, looking up at the ceiling. “That one Chrome from the second class, Eridonax, she’s well enough along to fill in for a week. I’ll send the request up the line, and you will have an answer within 6 hours of return to Equus. I just have a request for you.”

“A request? What for?”

Radiance used his glow to pull open his desk drawer. Reaching in, he pulled out a higher-end camera. Passing it to Steel, he said, “Play the messages on there to the family members named. After that, there will be space for plenty of pictures and clips. I can’t make it there, so you go. Deal?”

“It’s a deal, Grandfather. It’s a family tradition to gather all that we can to witness a birth in the family.”

“So, Cast Iron told me. This makes number seven, yes?”

Radiant Steel nodded. “Yes. Three for Blue Plate, this will be Haystack’s third, and one for Spice Grinder.”

“I look forward to seeing the pictures.”

Steel smiled as he sipped the coffee. “Face it, Grandfather, you don’t want to have to face all the littles at once. You’re worried your stoic exterior would crumble to dust,” he commented. The coffee was indeed quite good, despite its potency.

Radiance smiled thinly at his grandson. “Guilty as charged. Gonna do something about it?”

“I challenge you. The day the Lotus come back, you come to Vanhoover personally to bring me back to Canterlot. If you can manage meeting all seven of your great-grandchildren at once, without breaking down with a case of the cutes, I will take ship’s janitor duties for the next week.”

“Brave words. What if I do succumb to the cutes?” Radiance responded.

“Then we all get to see you surrounded by your great-grandchildren. I’m sure the family would like to see that.”

Radiance chuckled around his coffee. “You’re learning, kid. I’m proud of you. I’ll forward your leave request. Get packed, and have Eridonax report to me when you see her, okay?”

A week and a half later, after the next round trip, Radiance and Sunrise managed to get a teleport from the ship to Vanhoover and Delectable’s Diner, with the firm understanding they had six hours before pickup. The whole family was there, even all the great-grandkids. This was the first time Radiance and Sunrise had met all of them at once. The first one they were brought to meet was the newborn, a red and green earth pony filly that was named Tender Shoot. Radiance did struggle mightily to maintain his dispassion, but the walls broke down in a mere forty-five minutes. For two hours, he was in the back yard of the restaurant and home, playing games with six of his seven great-grandfoals.

Radiant Steel stood next to Sunrise Flight, who was filming the scene being played out in the back yard. “You know he’s going to blow his stack when he finds out you are filming, right?” he asked his aunt.

“No, he won’t mind the filming. Now, posting it in the open news sector of the Lotus’ forum, there he might get a bit ticked. It’s for his own good, though. He’ll thank me for it,” Sunrise replied.

“Hopefully sometime before I become a father,” Steel said, leaving the window to help finish cooking the meal they were going to have before returning to the Lotus.

“Long before that, Steel. He’s mellowing out some. This will just be a reminder to stay mellow.”

“Radiance Point? Mellow? Professor Pucker Butt? That will never happen!”

Plans and Plots

View Online

Radiance Point sighed quietly to himself after leaving a briefing led by Commander Bluequill for the Lotus’ department heads after Captain Path’s expedition to a Swarm ship. While the news was not very good at all, it was not totally hopeless. To Point, it seemed like the Swarm was a distorted form of changeling, and their controllers were all linked together everywhere in the galaxy. “Speed of thought is only limited by the speed of imagination,” he muttered as he stopped by the mess deck for a nosh and a mug of coffee.

“We are going to have to be real innovative to counter this threat, but in which way?” he said to himself as he carried his snack and mug of mud to his office. “Maybe send unto them a few messages that will give them the clue to buzz off. Just how can…” he trailed off as he saw Apastron talking with Coppertop near the mini-star’s containment.

Putting his luncheon down on his desk, he stepped back out of his office. “Appie? Coppie? Can I chat with you, please?” Radiance called out to the starwalker foxtaur and chakat.

The two looked up from their conversation. “What’s on your mind, Professor?” Coppertop asked.

“I need to ask some questions about a branch of Federation technology that we have sidestepped for Equestrian use. You would know more about the topic than I do. Will you step into my office, please?”

Curious, the two went over to Radiance’s office. Inside there, they took notice of the pictures he had mounted all over the walls of his son’s family. Individual shots of everypony, plus group pictures, abounded. Directly across from his desk were pictures of all seven of his great-grandfoals, where he could see them from where he sat just by looking up.

When the door was shut, he looked at his two guests. “What I would like from you is information on antimatter. What I want to know is, what is the smallest amount that can destroy a ship the size of an average Swarm vessel, how can such an amount be contained safely, and how can the containment be breached upon command. Once I know those parameters, I can work on a probe craft that can deliver a load of antimatter to a Swarm craft and blow it out of space,” he said with little raw emotion, but plenty of determination. Determination fueled by an intense feeling to protect his family.

The starwalker and chakat looked at each other for a few seconds, considering the depth of feeling they were receiving from the unicorn. This was not the usual Radiance Point. Then again, he had not felt ‘usual’ ever since he got back from a family visit some weeks ago. More like a normal Equestrian instead of his usual stoic self. “We can do that, Point,” Apastron said. “It will take us a few days to download and correlate the information you want. Can you wait a few days?”

“I can,” Radiance said after swallowing a chunk of dandelion sandwich. “We are not exactly in a tearing hurry right now. With that data, I can work on a delivery system.

“We will be back at the Chakastra system in a few days to drop off another load. How about you get me that data as we are returning to Equus next week?”

Coppertop smiled. “That would be ideal. Before we get there, we can formulate our data request, and send it when we enter Chakona space. We will have an answer before departure,” shi said with confidence.

“That would be very good indeed. Thank you for your work in this matter. Now, go get started. I have to be in Sim Room One in twenty minutes, and some paperwork won’t wait.”

Both Apastron and Coppertop saluted smartly. “Yes, Professor Pucker Butt!” they chorused before walking out of the office.

Radiance allowed himself an internal laugh before getting back to his paperwork. “So long as we can keep our sense of humor, even in the darkest of times, we do stand a chance.”

Between his duties as Chief Engineer, Chief Instructor (currently working on Class Number three), training on the simulators, and Saturday social time, not to mention his project, Radiance was lucky to sleep more than three hours a night for the next week. The one who noticed was his sister, Sunrise Flight. Just before return to the Chakona system, Sunrise confronted her brother, in the privacy of their cabin.

“<Brother, just what in Tartarus is taking up all your time?>” she asked in Twinspeak.

“<Coming up with a plan for something to use against the Swarm.>” he said, looking up from the desk.

“<What makes you so sure you can come up with something while the best minds on Equus and in the Federation are busy beating their brains out over the matter?>” Sunrise snapped.

“<I’m not. Just another suggestion to put in the box. I just want to see if it is possible,>” he said, facing his sister, who was standing by her bed, wings raised, looking annoyed. “<If I do nothing, in essence, the Swarm has beaten me. I will not allow that.>”

“<What do you think the odds are of you being correct with what you’re planning?>” Sunrise asked, her wings dropping as she saw the grim determination on Point’s face, his horn sparking a little.

“<Slim to none, to be completely honest. It’s just that I feel that if I don’t try, I’m not protecting the family. They are what’s important to me.>” he said quietly, his gaze falling on the family portrait that hung in their quarters, a poster-sized picture of him, Sunrise, Cast Iron and Hot Skillet, their four foals and seven grandfoals.

Sunrise stood there for a moment, her wings slowly furling, thinking over what she knew about her brother and all the changes he had undergone in the past year, her ire dissipating. “Brother, you have surprised me yet again,” she said, dropping Twinspeak. “How much more work do you have to do on it?”

“I am expecting some data from Chakona after we pass through the portal. Once I have that, I can integrate that data with what I have already put together. If it all seems to work, I will turn my findings over to House Path R&D when we next get back there.”

“Just don’t kill yourself doing so, okay? I know you want to spend more time in Vanhoover, when we’re not needed as a ferry.”

“So, do you, sister. Especially with Paradoxis,” Point said, referring to Spice Grinder’s four-year-old pegasus filly, who spends most of her time with her father’s family, learning how to be a proper pegasus. Her father, Rumble Ground, is an earth pony, but his father is a pegasus.

“While you want to train Silver Horn and Turning Soil,” Sunrise commented, referring to Blue Plate’s eldest colt and Haystack’s middle child, both unicorns.

“That I do. I would love to retire, settle in Vanhoover, and hopefully find a mare to settle with. But, we will have to deal with the Swarm first before I even think of settling down. My sense of duty to this mission, the space program, and to Equus in general prohibits me from doing anything more than fantasize about settling down now.”

“Hey, Brother, no need to preach that to me. Remember, I was you and I know how and why you think. You don’t have to explain yourself to me about that. It’s why I won’t settle down with any stallion myself. Only when this is over will I think about it,” Sunrise said, putting a wing over Radiance’s barrel.

“Thank you, Sister. Once I get the data I’m seeking, may I ask you don’t bother me while I work on my chosen problem for several days?” Radiance asked.

“I can do that, only if you promise not to skip Saturday night. Team cribbage, and I think we’ll wipe the decks with our play.”

“Sister, you have got a deal.”

Radiance did get his antimatter data when they returned to Chakona, and from there back to Equus, he closeted himself in his office, except for the Saturday night social, which they did win by a big margin. He managed to design a missile about one and half meters in length, twenty centimeters in diameter, with a hundred-gram antimatter warhead. The targeting system was primed to seek and find Swarm bioship readings, and it came with a sensor-spoofing system that was designed to render the ship invisible to most Federation and Equus standard sensors. That part was admittedly tough, but he figured he had all the bugs worked out of it by the time they returned to Equus. Once in orbit, he sent his specs down to House Path R&D with a note to have these plans examined soonest and checked for potential. He then collapsed from exhaustion, waking up in sickbay with an IV tube going into his right foreleg.

Hexanerax was standing over him when he woke up. “Professor, do you ever look after yourself?” she asked when his eyes opened.

“Of course not, Hex. I have a reputation to uphold. Hasn’t Dr. Zubon told you that?” Radiance replied.

“She has, but this is the first I have seen it. You’ve been out of it for almost three days, and your systems were toxic from all that coffee you drank. I’m surprised you don’t have any ulcers.”

“I’m immune to the stuff by now, Hex. Been doing it long enough,” Radiance mumbled, looking away from the yellow changeling.

“Professor, I know you are just doing what you think right, but if you’re not careful, we will be referring to you in the past tense. Where will we be then?” Hex asked before leaving the bay where his bed was located.

Radiance thought about Hexanerax’s words. “Maybe I should be more careful about myself, but this war effort demands the utmost out of everypony, myself included,” he said to himself before going back to sleep.

After waking up ten hours later, a big meal and stern lectures from Doctor Zubon, Commander Bluequill and Ixia, Radiance was released back to duty, where he found that all was well in his absence. Fornax kept the Engineering Department running smoothly, Sunrise had the class well in order, and Coppertop and Tormyn were doing their part to help. “Gotta love a good crew,” Point said to himself as he checked the logs.

Radiance got back to work the day after his ‘nap’, as he referred to it, to snickers from the crew, who knew his tendencies. Checking on the students, he decided they were ready to graduate, next week. That would give the Selection Committee back on Equus enough time to get the fourth class ready to go. Of the previous classes, much of the first class had remained aboard, while only three of the second have, the others being snapped up for other spacing duties. Radiance estimated that he would be lucky to keep two out of the twelve in the third class, and made his crew plans accordingly. An inspection of both the class records and of the students while they were on duty, maintaining his ‘Professor Pucker Butt’ persona the whole time, solidified his decision on which ones he would like to keep aboard.

After turnaround at Chakastra, at the next Saturday night party, Coppertop came over to him. “Professor, may I chat with you for a while?” shi asked.

“Sure. Sit down, Coppertop. What’s on your mind?” Radiance asked, sipping from his Eyrish coffee.

“You are, Professor. You know chakats are empathic, skunktaurs are telepathic, and one of our parents is a skilled psychologist. My brother and I are a bit worried about you,” Coppertop told the unicorn, sitting down at the table.

“What’s causing you concern, if I may ask?”

“Your intense monomania last week. After the cribbage game, you vanished from all sight until we arrived at Equus. Next we knew, you were in Medical much of the return trip. We can feel you drive yourself hard when you feel the need, but we do not think it is healthy for you to push yourself that much regularly. Tormyn and I are worried you will burn yourself out prematurely,” Coppertop said, the concern visible on hir face.

Radiance thought about the words for a moment, taking another pull of his coffee. “I do so because it’s my family that is threatened, however indirectly. Up until not long ago, I did not HAVE a family that I knew of. Finding out about my son was a shock to me.

“Before meeting them, my life was focused on one thing, that being getting as far away from Equus as I possibly could, for good. Now, I have them to live for. I will do all I can for them.”

“What about yourself? Yes, you take part in social activities,” she said before muttering “to the dismay of my purse,” before resuming normal volume. “I know Poppy sent you his music files, but I have not heard you perform anything in a long time. You and Sunrise do sing well together.

“I would like to know; do you have a ‘special somepony’ you can relax with? Somepony with whom you can forget about your duties for a while and help you share the burdens you take on yourself?” shi asked.

The reaction to the question startled her. Outwardly, he showed no sign, the ideal of being calm, cool and collected. However, with her empathy, she felt a surge of fear, followed by panic, followed quickly by a determination to remain calm and not lash out. Radiance took a breath and slowly released it.

“Coppertop, believe me when I say this, I am not mad at you at all for asking me that question. I would suggest you go and talk to Ixia, Dr. Zubon, or even Sunrise Flight about that topic. Bring anti-nausea medication when you do,” he said in cool, smooth tones. “When you have done so, I will be happy to discuss matters along that line with you. I want you to know just what you are doing before doing anything. By all means, get Tormyn into the loop if you feel the need.

“Now, it is time for me to go kick some ass at cards tonight,” he said, getting up from the table. “I hope you have not placed any bets on my performance tonight. Betting against me is not wise.”

“So, I have found out, Professor. Go kick some tail!”

Coppertop did hir research, talking to first Dr. Zubon, then to Ixia, and last to Sunrise, before going to talk things over with hir brother. “Tormyn, now that I have filled you in about the Professor, I now ask you. What can we do to help him?”

Tormyn didn’t hesitate a second. “I think he needs to get laid, then find himself a lover that would care about him, not anything he does. I would like a chance to discuss that with Mother before I say anything about it to him personally.”

Coppertop nodded. “That’s exactly what I think. I agree, talk it over with Father. He sounds a bit like Poppy did years ago, afraid of close contact with anyone. Different reasons, though.”

“Yes. Poppy had issues with unscreened telepaths. The Professor still has issues remembering about what his ‘alter ego’ did years ago, even after getting it purged from him. Thought patterns just get installed, and he’s afraid to change them,” Tormyn said, thinking, drawing on all he knew about psychology. He may be an engineering student but growing up a telepath and having a top psychologist for a mother meant he knew something about the topic.

“We need to find him a proper friend, of one species or another. The problem is, I really don’t think there is anyone suitable aboard. He’s kind, dignified, efficient, polite, but he refuses to get intimate with anyone. If there was anyone aboard who wanted him, they would have staked a claim by now,” Coppertop said quietly.

“There is one possibility I know of aboard. The Chrome changeling from the second class that stayed aboard.”

“Eridonax? How would you know that?” Coppertop asked.

“I’ve seen her more than once looking at him, in an appreciative way, like she wants him to make a move on her but won’t do so herself.” Tormyn replied.

“That’s because she can’t,” Coppertop fired back. “It’s a changeling thing, if someone loves a changeling, said changeling can and will reciprocate, but can’t start it themselves. The other part of the relationship has to make the first move.”

Tormyn paused for a moment, looking thoughtful. “I didn’t know that. Then again, I have not looked hard at the psychology of changelings. I’m just reporting what I think I’m seeing, is all.”

“You’re going to find it interesting,” Coppertop said. “You may want to sit down with Ixia and have a discussion about it. Maybe even a good grooming as well, and a massage.”

Tormyn gave a big stretch and a crick. “Don’t mind if I do, big sister.”

Tormyn did just that, booking a three-hour appointment with Ixia the next day, getting a good grooming and massage while talking about both changeling psychology and the psychology of Radiance Point. “I’ve been working on Radiance for years now, and I have to agree with you. It’s not going to be easy, though,” she told the skunktaur.

“Oh, I believe you. The Professor can be a tough nut to crack.”

“It’s all a matter of getting him to change habits. That’s the hard part. Thanks to his actions during the shipwreck, his thinking patterns, his habits, have become so ingrained, deviating from them is difficult at best and nearly impossible at worst,” Ixia said, working on Tormyn’s back. “I’ve been trying for over a decade. It only works when he wants it to, or when presented with such evidence, he is convinced a change is necessary.”

“Like when Prince Flixtradamus brought forth his sister?” Tormyn asked before grunting as a knot was found and released.

“Before that, actually. He was electrocuted in an accident some months before that, and his split personality was healed somehow, Sunrise Flight being brought forth from his ‘alter ego’. That cleared up a lot of issues, but a lot still remain.”

“Like his sexual hang-ups, for one.”

“Exactly. His relationship with his sister is one of deep love and respect but is completely asexual. Sunrise does not have those problems at all. His alter ego slept with any mare that crossed his path for long enough, but Radiance is still afraid that entering a relationship will bring out his ‘bad side’,” Ixia told the skunktaur as she worked.

Tormyn thought for a moment or so while Ixia continued the massage. “There is one thing I would like to do, but it will have to wait until we go back to Chakona.”

“Oh? What is that?” Ixia asked.

“I’m going to call in a consultant. My mother, specifically. Hy is a professional, with more than one doctorate in psychology. Do you think that is a wise course?”

“How would hy get to the transfer point?”

“Poppy has a spacecraft. I can arrange for him to bring the family out for a visit. I know I would like to meet my little brother and sister again. A couple of hours with Mother should provide us with some answers, or at least another opinion.”

“I would like to meet hym too, if we can arrange it.”

After hys massage, Tormyn drafted a message to be sent to Chakona, asking that Poppy bring Prellin and Firesox out to the transfer station for a brief meeting when next the ship returned. The request was granted, and arrangements were made for the Nannewitt II to head out to the transfer point. The request was even made semi-official, because Julius is a respected cyber technician, and was curious to see how his technomancy worked with the magitek on the Lotus.

Several days later, when the Lotus was back in the Chakastra system, they were met by the Nannewitt II. The family aboard, Julius, Prellin, Firesox, and their two at-home children, Livewire and Deko, beamed over to the Lotus, materializing in the Park. There, they were met by Radiance, Sunrise, Coppertop and Tormyn, as well as Commander Bluequill and Ixia. The two children were allowed to explore the park with Coppertop supervising, Julius and Firesox went with Sunrise and Commander Bluequill to check out their Technomancer abilities, while Prellin took the rest over to the waterfall and pool.

“Commander, I have been asked to do a telepathic probe of you, to get an idea of how you operate, to use an inadequate word. Do I have your consent?” Prellin asked.

“Yes, you do, Dr. Prellin. Tormyn did let me know that hy wanted it done, as a check against what he has learned. Hy’s admitted that hy is not the best of psychologists, and I have been told I do give other psychologists headaches,” Radiance said, looking at Ixia, who did have the grace to blush a bit.

“Good! Now, just relax and look into my eyes. I want you to think about yourself. I know you have been examined telepathically before, and you may rest assured I will not pry any more than needed, and most especially, I shan’t talk about things I find that should not be spoken about,” Prellin said calmly, entering Radiance’s mind.

The telepathic scan lasted a good twenty minutes, the pony and skunktaur settling onto the grass by the pool. Prellin came out of the trance first, blinking as hy looked about. “Oh, my. That was definitely an experience,” hy muttered as hys eyes opened and focused.

“You just ain’t whistling bluegrass, Doctor,” Radiance said as he woke up. “That experience was different than my questioning on Earth.”

“Different intentions behind the scans, Professor,” Tormyn told the unicorn as he got back onto his hooves. “Then, the telepath was looking for specific memories about a specific series of events. Here, the scan was broader, attempting to learn about you.”

“I did learn a lot. Your memories are exceptionally vivid and clear. I’m going to have to do some thinking about what I have found before I can render any sort of opinion,” Prellin told the group as hy got to hys feet.

“Then, if I am not needed any more here, I do have lots to get done, and little time to get it done in. It’s been interesting meeting you, Doctor Prellin, and hope to do so in less professional surroundings,” Radiance said as he shook hooves with the doctor before taking his leave.

Once Radiance had left the Park, Ixia and Tormyn turned their attention to Prellin, Coppertop watching over hyr siblings. “What did you find, Doctor?” Ixia asked.

“You were pretty close in your evaluations. He does need a lover, better still a mate, to assure himself that he is not as bad as he thinks he can be. The problem will be finding someone who could be his compliment, being supportive without dominating him. He is outwardly a complex individual, but inside, he is simple.”

“I agree with that, Doctor Prellin,” Ixia said. “The main problem I see will be convincing him to change his mind about himself. He is good, stalwart, noble, polite and friendly, but getting him to change his mind requires a clue-by-four the size of the Pegasus!”

After the three stopped laughing, Prellin went on. “I am going to go through my list of contacts back home, to see if I know anyone who could possibly be his complement. Wish me luck.”

“That I will do, Mother. Now, we still have some time. Would you like a tour?” Tormyn asked.

“That will be a pleasure. Shall we make it a family affair?” Prellin countered, looking around for Coppertop and the younger pair.

“If we didn’t, Livewire and Deko will never forgive me!” Tormyn laughed.

“I know somepony aboard who may want to form a relationship with Radiance,” Ixia supplied, “but it’s going to be hard to convince him of the need to form one.”

“Eridonax?” Tormyn asked.

Ixia nodded. “That’s the one. Problem is, he’s going to have to want the relationship with her, and he’s not going to want to do that voluntarily.”

“You go your way, Doctor Ixia, and I will go mine. Between us, we should come up with something,” Prellin said as they went looking for the younger cubs.

On the return trip to Equus, Eridonax decided to visit Ixia’s spa, for a grooming, massage and soak. While she soaked in the hot tub, Ixia sat down on the seat outside the tank. “Mind if I ask you a few questions?” she asked.

“Not at all. Wondering why I have not come in here before?” Eridonax countered with an easy smile.

“No, nothing like that. It’s about Commander Point. What do you think of him?”

Eridonax blinked once, twice, three times before answering. “Professor Pucker Butt? I have to say he is one of the kindest, gentlest ponies I have ever met… off duty. ON duty, he can be a real grouch, but I can understand why he is like that. He demands nothing from us that he would not demand from himself. It’s keeping up with him that is the hard part.”

“Do you like him?” Ixia asked.

Eridonax thought about her answer. “I respect him. I do like him, but he is also one of the most tightly-held ponies I have ever met. He has such tight control over his emotions, there’s very little leakage that is not deliberate. Who aboard really knows him, other than the Teacher?” she said, referring to Sunrise Flight.

“Nobody, not even himself. There is a lot about himself he does not want to experience, because he is afraid.”

“Afraid? Of what?” the Chrome changeling asked.

“Of how he will react to the feelings,” Ixia said before explaining about his background as Radiance Glow.

“From the movie? But, he died when the ship sank, right?”

“Yes and no. He was already a split personality, and how he was shown in the film was not the way he really was. He was coarse, hedonistic, a know-it-all smartass who happened to be extremely skilled in keeping the ship operational. After the sinking, he showed up in Baltimare five days later, burned and changed. Up until a few years ago, he was determined to be as unlike his prior self as possible, and succeeded at it,” Ixia explained.

“Does he ever allow himself to feel love?”

“Yes, but he’s very careful as to whom he shows it. His family gets that love now, especially his grandfoals and great-grandfoals. Even there, he’s so driven by duty, he will work himself to death to protect them, or anypony else he cares about. Problem is, he has no one to really care for HIM. No special somepony. I’m trying to find somepony suitable. Interested?”

Eridonax nodded. “Yes, I am. I know full well he cares about all of us aboard, students and crew alike. I know that because he has let that feeling out when any of us exceeds his expectations. He’s proud of us but is all alone inside. We should not let that happen.”

“He’s not going to be an easy nut to crack. I have others looking as well. You’ll have my support, but it will not be easy, and success is not guaranteed. Try being more pleasant to him than he expects and see how he reacts to it. Maybe we can push him into being loving back.”

“I’ll give it my best shot. He is a very good pony indeed, who needs love. I’m sure he can give a lot, to the right pony,” Eridonax said quietly, thinking about the matter.

Eridonax put her plan of attack into effect the very next day. She started by smiling more in Radiance’s presence, asking how he brewed his coffee (even though she refused to drink it), and started to learn more about his work habits in general, so as to be almost like an aide to him. Her efforts were noticed by both Radiance and Sunrise, but in different ways.

At the next Chakastra turnaround, Sunrise managed to get a few minutes alone with Eridonax. “Eri, what are you doing with Brother?” she asked bluntly.

“Why, trying to make his life easier. Somebody should show him some caring, so I decided to try. I’ve liked him ever since I got promoted from student to crew,” Eridonax said.

“From student to crew. I take it, that means you were not a big fan of him as a teacher?”

Eridonax looked away for a few seconds, blushing slightly. “Well, as a teacher, his job is to teach, not to be everyone’s friend. Once we qualified, he allowed himself to treat us former students as shipmates, and he didn’t have to be as rough on us as he was as a Professor,” she managed to explain.

“Have you been talking to Ixia?” Sunrise asked. At her nod, she went on. “Did she put you up to it?”

“I would not say put me up to it, she gave me the confidence to try. I have admired him for a while now. I hope to fill a void in his life, a void he needs to have filled.”

“I cannot say you are wrong, Eri. He’s a caring soul who’s afraid to let the caring show, in case his past returns to haunt him. He does not have to worry about it, but patterns of thought are very hard to change,” sunrise told the changeling. “Just do not expect to have an easy win. I’ve been trying to get him to relax now ever since Prince Flix brought me out. See how much luck I have had?”

“Not much. Ixia already said not to get my hopes up, but if I do not try, how will I know if my plan works or not?” Eri asked reasonably.

“You have my support, Eri. Just be careful, okay? If he starts getting mad, get out of his line of fire fast.”

“Don’t worry, Teacher. I won’t let myself get caught like that.”

Another week of round trip went by, ferrying pilots to and from Equus. Eridonax kept up her good cheer and quiet assistance the whole time, not worrying if Radiance noticed or not. On the Saturday night returning to Equus, at the social, Radiance sat down at a table in the Lounge and gestured for Eridonax to sit with him. Eri complied, trying to get a read on his emotions, but failed as usual. He was not letting anything leak.

“Eridonax, I have noticed your assistance this past week. What I would like to know is, why?”

Eri smiled. “Simple, Professor. I have respected you since we first met. I thank you for requesting I stay here on the Lotus as crew, rather than transferring. This is simply my way of repaying my thanks. It just took a while for me to get up the confidence to try,” she explained.

Radiance took a sip of his weekly Eyrish coffee. “Are you looking for something more than that, possibly?” he asked.

Eridonax hesitated, thinking of how she wanted to say what was on her mind. “Permission to speak freely, Commander?” he said hesitantly.

“You may do so, Eridonax, but I wonder why you would ask for that. Go ahead and speak your mind.”

“Commander, there is a void in your life, a hole that can only be filled with love. What happened to you before, while not to be forgotten, should not be an inhibition to your life in the future. I want to help fill that hole, to allow you to feel inside what ponies like me feel on your outside, when you let it out for us to feel. May I, and others, be allowed to try to help you?” Eridonax asked, clearly ill at ease as she spoke.

Radiance sipped at his Eyrish coffee. His willpower was in full force, letting nothing leak out that Eridonax could detect. “Eridonax, I cannot and will not stop you in your efforts. They are commendable, and I do so commend them. What I want to know is this- is this truly what you desire, coming from within, out of the goodness of your heart, or is it being helped along by others?” he asked, his tones carefully neutral, looking Eridonax full in the face, awaiting her reply.

Eridonax barely hesitated. “While I do admit that Ixia has talked to me about it, she did not plant the seed, only gave me the confidence to try. I have respected you since we first met. You are a good instructor, and getting a passing grade from you, and your request to have me stay aboard, only speaks good about you. Goodness that you rarely let out. You should let it out more.”

Radiance drains his Eyrish coffee before replying. “By saying that, you do reveal a lot about yourself, Eri. I shall tell you that I do not object to your intentions, or your goals. What you choose to do is your choice. I have to caution you that others have tried what you are doing, either to win a bet or get me under their control. You are not doing any of that.

“I appreciate the attention and concern, but, while I do want to settle down and raise some foals the proper way, now is hardly the time to do so. There is much to be done, and I should not allow myself to deviate from my intention of making Equus and the Federation safe from the threat of the Swarm. I cannot relax unless I meet the right pony, who can dissuade me from my goal. You are not that pony. Do keep up what you are doing, if that is your choice.

“I will keep my affections solely on my family for the time being. I hope I do not disappoint you. You are a good student and better crewpony.”

“Commander, I was warned that you would be difficult to get through to. Am I disappointed? No, I cannot say that. Determined, yes. I shall persist in my attempts to get through your shell because I want to. You are truly a good pony, Commander. I want to see more of the goodness and less of the Pucker Butt side of you,” Eridonax said truthfully.

Radiance played a little with the dregs of his coffee mug. “I can detect your honesty, so I will accept your words. Do I like you? Yes, I do. Do I love you? As of now, no. No one deserves my love at this time except for my family, a family I did not know I had until recently.

“I will try to show a little more of the kinder side, but habits of a lifetime are not easy to break.”

“I understand that, Commander. I accept your words, knowing there is no ire in them. May I still attempt to be your friend?” Eri asked.

Radiance smiled. “Of course, you can. And, please, while not on duty status, my name is ‘Radiance’ or “Point’, not ‘Commander’ or ‘Professor’. Okay with you?”

Eridonax smiled back, reaching out to tap hooves with Radiance. “It’s okay with me, Radiance. Want a refill of your coffee?”

Radiance pushed the mug her way. “I usually don’t, but tonight, sure. Get something for yourself as well, and put it on my tab. The card games are about to start, and I should get ready for that.”

“Radiance, honestly, why would anyone play cards against you?” Eri said as she picked up his mug with her glow.

“I don’t win all the time, Eri. Just most of the time. There are bragging rights aboard to anyone who can defeat me at cards, who is not my sister,” Radiance said with a small smile and chuckle.

“I’ve noticed that. I, however, like my bits where I can use them as I see fit, so I will refrain from playing cards with you,” she said, taking his mug to the bar.

“Smart lady. I like that. She’s going to go places. Where, I’m not going to say, because that will be cheating, and I don’t like to cheat. Gets boring.”

Eridonax kept up her gentle pushing, to get Radiance to relax. It was successful, for a short while. Then came word of the political upheavals taking part in the Equus system, which had the ship’s crew on edge for a while. Most of the crew. Radiance, upon hearing the news, just snorted and said two words. ‘Damn politicians’. He went about his work as if nothing ever happened. However, his frustration mounted as he read about the GEC council meeting and the formation of the Lunar Federation. “Now you know why I never aspired to high rank or office,” he said as Ixia worked his knots out in the hot tub, an appointment arranged by Eridonax when she noticed his tension building.

“Politics getting in the way of business, Point?”

“Politics get in the way of everything, Ixia. Or is that politicians?” Point snorted.

“At least somepony’s showing some sense. May sense and peace prevail.”

“A nice wish, Ixie, but I’ll bet you a bottle of Eyrish whiskey it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

“You’re on, Point. A bottle of good Eyrish says peace will win out.”

“Let’s make it a bottle of Lystrottle Dew, okay?”

“You’re real confident, Point. A bottle of Lystrottle it will be,” Ixia said as she worked down his legs.

“Remind me also to thank Eridonax for suggesting this,” Radiance sighed as he felt his tense muscles relaxing.

“Suggesting? From what I heard, she threatened to drag you down here, kicking and screaming, with the help of Steel and Pholus, if you didn’t come here voluntarily.”

Radiance blushed some. “Yes, well, she did say that, in my presence, with Steel and Pholus present as well,” he managed to say without stuttering, but it took a big effort on his part to do so.

Ixia held back a laugh. “Knew you were smart, Point.”

All Together Now

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Radiance Point sat at the desk in his quarters, looking at the gift-wrapped bottle of Lystrottle Dew that had been dropped off just before the Lotus broke orbit, returning to the portal. He held the card that had been delivered with the bottle, which read, ‘After all this time, you would think I have learned to not bet against you. Ixia.’. “There are times I would like to be wrong, Ixie. This was one of them,” he said to himself, Sunrise out handling the new cadet class, the last one to come from Equus for the foreseeable future.

“Damn politicians can’t get their heads out of their asses long enough to get a good look at things and see just how bad they are,” he grumbled, going back to the downloaded news feeds from before departure. He read about the GEC going isolationist, banning any contact with the Federation and closing the portal. Radiance, however, knew that THAT command was going to be hard to enforce, seeing as many of the ships that could reach the portal were owned by House Path, plus the Federation had their own means to open the portal. Of course, Point knew that- he led the team that installed the mana pulse generators on the Pegasus and three other ships that stayed around the Chakona side of the portal.

As he skimmed through the news feeds and his inbox, he caught a message from Jerdian Lighthoof, Chairpony of the Board for Herald Lines, saying their first warp-capable freighter, the Gowanus Herald II, was going to be delayed, due to the war effort taking up resources. They had the plans, but not the parts. All the shipyards that were capable of building spacecraft were engaged in building fighter craft. “That can’t be right, thanks to those boneheaded,” here he let fly with some choice thestral epithets, “idiots in the GEC…” Radiance paused as an idea hit him. He fired off a memo to Herald Lines main office, asking about the status of the Gowanus Herald II. When he got the answer, Radiance’s swearing was so livid, ponies in the officer’s berthing area stopped and listened at the air ducts. Two of them started taking notes, to ask about the meaning later.

Life settled down after that, into a routine that could have been called boring, were it not for reports from the front lines of battle. Whatever plans House Path had cooked up seemed to have some sort of success, with planet after planet being freed from the influences of the Swarm, for the present time, at least. The problem with that is there were so damn MANY of the Swarm, it was like putting out spot fires with a backpack of water and the main fire half a kilometer behind, along with a Force Six gale.

After three months, Cadet Class Four graduated training, and were dispersed to the Fleet. Thanks to the isolation policy of the GEC, while the need for trained pegasi, griffons and unicorns mounted, no more were in the pipeline. All those who could qualify from the cadet class were snapped up by the Fleet, as well as crew volunteering from the Lotus and others who had already left Equus.

For a week or so, Radiance and Sunrise did not have any teaching duties while a different plan was being worked out. An answer was found, that being a mixed class of beings from Chakona coming up to train. Radiance worked hard, changing the class structure to handle non-ponies, but soon had the plan ready, in enough time to greet Cadet Class Five with confidence.

In the classroom were three chakats, two telekinetic skunktaurs, a starwalker foxtaur, three humans, two Voxxans and a Merraki male, all with some experience in space. Radiance started his introductory lecture.

“Students, welcome aboard the Cosmic Lotus. I am your Headmaster, Commander Radiance Point. I will be in charge of your training aboard this ship, but most of the harder work will be handled by your Teacher, Sunrise Flight,” he declared to the group.

“Oh, sure, Brother, leave me with the tough jobs,” Sunrise snorted.

“I’m also Chief Engineer as well as Headmaster, so you will have more time to deal with the students individually,” Radiance replied without hesitating, to a few quiet snickers from the audience, especially from the chakats.

Radiance let loose his most fiery glare at the chakats. “Laugh now. Life here is serious. You should know this by now, or else you would not have volunteered. Teaching non-Equians how to handle the magitek here will not be easy, but I have every hope you twelve can learn it. If you don’t all make it, I will lose a bet with my sister, and I HATE losing!”

“Lose not you will, Shiny Dot. Erralakis promise that!” the Merraki male said from his position up front.

“That’s Radiance Point, Erralakis,” Radiance snapped back.

“Is what said I did, Shiny Dot,” Erralakis replied, causing Radiance to grimace.

“I’m going to have to get you the translation spell. Your translator is not programmed right,” Radiance replied with a small sigh.

“Translator right programmed! Listen you wrong, Commander Shiny Dot!” Erralakis fired back, causing much of the class to start laughing, Radiance included.

“At least you’re not calling me Professor Pucker Butt,” Radiance sighed, knowing that he had lost this argument.

“That’s going to come later, Brother,” Sunrise said sweetly from her position beside Radiance.

Radiance looked up and said some choice Griffonian curses to the ceiling, right after which a light panel blew out. “Calm down, Brother, we have a class to teach,” Sunrise cautioned.

“Have at it, sister. I have other work to do,” Radiance said before heading out.

When the door closed behind Radiance, Sunrise addressed the class. “Okay, students, let’s get started. Who here knew each other before coming here?”

One of the chakats stood. “I’m Chakat Flamepaws, professor of electrical engineering at Dewclaw University. All twelve of us here are either faculty members or students at Dewclaw. We were fortunate enough to hear of your need for students, and we were the first twelve to come to a decision,” shi said, her whitish tailtip waving high over her red-brown body fur, with brilliant orange ‘socks’ and ‘gloves’, of a similar shade as Sunrise’s neck.

“I thought I recognized you. In fact, many of you I know I have seen before. What I want to know is, how many of you knew each other?” Sunrise asked.

This time, it was the starwalker, whose light purple shirt had the name ‘Mio’ on it. “Some of us knew each other well, others just as classmates. While here, we intend to get friendly with everyone aboard, including each other.”

“Are you related to Apastron?” Sunrise asked.

“Yes, but not closely. I was not part of the installation crew for your warp drive, but I know about it in detail. Titan filled me in,” shi replied.

“Profanely, knowing Titan. Now, I want to get a listing of all you have studied, so I can know where to start teaching. Somehow, that data got lost in the transmission,” she said drily.

It turned out that of the twelve students, seven were Engineering candidates and five were Control candidates. Once she got all the names sorted and divisions determined, Sunrise started on the basic one-oh-one ‘introduction to the Cosmic Lotus’ lecture, which wound up taking half again as long as usual, due to the students asking many insightful questions. The chakats, skunktaurs, starwalker and a human were for Engineering, the rest for Control. Personally, Sunrise wondered about the Merraki going to Control, but she did think that he would not have put in for it if he did not have some qualifications.

After the lecture, Flamepaws and another of the chakats, a bright red and sooty black mottled chakat named Nightmare, stayed behind to talk to Sunrise. The two were professors at the University, while two others were teaching assistants and the rest students. Sunrise just had to ask, “Just what is Erralakis’ qualifications for Control? Definitely not communications.”

“Erralakis is merely one of the ablest navigators I have ever met,” Nightmare told the pegasus. “If the controls can be set up for a Merraki, you will see that he’s a pretty good pilot, too. Only on large craft, though. Small craft he tends to overcontrol.”

“Ah HA…” Sunrise said. “That explains that. Now, what else brings you up here, other than the obvious.”

“Flamepaws and I are lifemates,” Nightmare said. “We’re also a bit older than the rest. We have been informed by a reliable source that Radiance needs someone to fill his life. We are going to try to do so, if he will accept us. We have been told we should get your approval first.”

“Just who is the reliable source?” Sunrise asked.

Flamepaws handled that question. “Firesox is my younger sister. Shi called us and told us what was lacking with him, and we just needed a reason to get up here. When the opportunity presented itself, we didn’t hesitate. Prellin filled us both in when we went to see hym.”

“I should say not. I know Prellin did a deep search of Brother a while back, and if hy filled you two in, I can believe the report was detailed. If you can fill the hole in his life, you have my support. I can’t move on until he does. I have to watch over him,” Sunrise said with a small sigh.

“We’re interested in trying. His lectures back at the University were fascinating, as were yours, but we could feel the void inside him that he was trying to hide. Actually, a lot of us felt it,” Nightmare said.

“Can’t hide much from empaths, can we?”

“Only those who know what they are sensing. Many of the students had trouble grasping what they sensed, but the faculty, no problem. It was best seeing him after a camping trip, because that was when he was most relaxed. By Sixthday, he was as empathic as wallboard,” Flamepaws commented.

“Well, if you want to, I certainly will not stop you. I suggest you get together with Ixia and Eridonax before you start. Eridonax is trying the same thing you want to do, but if he does not reciprocate, it is difficult,” Sunrise explained. “Just a quirk of changeling empathic biology.”

“We have a lot to learn, Teacher. We will learn it. One thing Radiance can do, is teach. He forces his students to THINK, a chore I find hard, even after being a professor for two decades,” Flamepaws said with a sigh.

“Learn from him, and we will learn from you as well. Interested in lunch?” Sunrise asked.

“Lead on!” Nightmare declared eagerly.

Flamepaws and Nightmare followed Sunrise’s advice, getting with Ixia and Eridonax on how to best get inside Radiance’s shell. Eridonax first advised that they should pay close attention in class, because he will not relax around the class until they graduated. After that, he will relax more, and accept them as crew.

Ixia advised to watch Radiance on Saturday nights, and observe how he played cards. No one is safe around him on poker nights, they feeling the full impact of his skill and determination. “We had best keep a close eye on our credits, then,” Nightmare quipped.

“You should. Be gracious in defeat, be calm in victory, and go after him with claws bared. He respects those who play cards like he does,” Ixia told them.

“Will do, Ixia,” Flamepaws said.

By day, the cadets trained in various classes, translating the spacing skills they knew from Chakona into what was best applicable to the Cosmic Lotus. In the evenings, they socialized with the crew, learning how ponies and other beings could interact. Nightmare and Flamepaws started work on Radiance, learning about him, observing him, debating between them how to get inside his shell.

The second Saturday after boarding, Radiance called the two chakats over for a chat before the games started. ‘I understand you two are trying to learn about me. Commendable, but why? If you want to know about me, ask. When you are off duty, of course,” he said to them.

“Commander, we find you extremely interesting. Ever since we met you when you were teaching, your breadth of knowledge was exceeded only by one thing, that being the empty hole in your being. Being empathic, we can feel that emptiness sometimes, and we want to help you heal that hole,” Flamepaws explained.

Radiance sipped his Eyrish coffee, looking at the pair closely. “You do, eh? What makes you think that is possible?” he asked.

“Anything is possible, Commander. We won’t know unless we try, so we plan on trying. If it works, good. If not, we’re all no worse than before. Acceptable?” Nightmare asked.

Radiance nodded, his eyes smiling, even if his mouth wasn’t. “I accept the challenge, on two conditions. One, be prepared to accept defeat, and two, make sure Eridonax does not get hurt. She has been trying for a couple of months, and while I may not respond, I won’t have her hurt. Deal?”

The two chakats looked at each other and nodded. “Deal,” Nightmare said. “We do not like hurting anyone unnecessarily. Besides, Eri knows we will be trying.”

Some respect crept into Radiance’s eyes. “You’re showing some wisdom. A point in your favor.”

“We’re both old enough to know,” Flamepaws said. “We’re almost sixty earth years old.”

“While I’m pushing eighty, Equestrian standard. I still have a hundred or so years left,” Radiance said. “That’s comforting to hear, that I’m not being pursued by youngsters. That’s the main off-putting thing about Eri. She’s very young, compared to me.”

“Well, we’re not. We have three children, two graduated school, one still in,” Nightmare told the unicorn.

Radiance gave the appearance he was thinking for a moment, looking into the depths of his coffee mug as if it was a crystal ball. “Ladies, and please pardon me for not using the proper term, thank you for confirming what I have known about you since day one here. I do study all I can about my students, I just don’t let them know I know. Helps my mystique, you see,” he told them, having some more of his Eyrish coffee. That Lystrottle Dew made a better coffee mix than Bushpacer’s, but not my much.

“Radiance, we know you can be sneaky, crafty and conniving, but honest. We got news for you, so are we,” Nightmare said with a crafty smile.

Radiance stood as the poker tables were set up. “The game is on, then. Remember, I win more often than I lose, ladies,” he said politely, bowing slightly to the chakats.

“So, do we, Radiance Point,” Flamepaws said, followed by Nightmare’s “So do we.”

So, began a three-month dance between Radiance Point and the two chakats, the three being completely professional while on duty, and socializing some while off duty. Flamepaws and Nightmare found Radiance to be a stern taskmaster while on duty, but a perfect gentleman off duty. He treated the two with the respect he showed everyone aboard, and the two lifemates appreciated it. But, the two of them could not penetrate his emotional wall, no matter what they tried. Yes, he was polite and friendly, even funny at times, but the empaths could tell it was a wall, a mask, he put up.

Training the Non-Equestrian class did prove to be a bit more difficult than training a fully Equestrian class, but Radiance and Sunrise found ways around it. It was decided until such time as they could come up with a way for the non-Equestrians to handle and program magitek, the non-Equestrians would not take a whole watch on their own in Engineering without at least one unicorn or changeling with them. Other than that, the class did remarkably well.

Commander Bluequill found little to complain about the five Control candidates, finding them to be exceptional ship handlers. However, he did find out early on NOT to put Erralakis on communications, but Navigation, Sensors and piloting, the little Merraki outperformed many of the ponies still left as qualified Control officers aboard the Lotus. How Erralakis was able to keep track of the ship’s position, without constantly looking at the instruments, Bluequill never did figure out, but was not worried about it. The other Control candidates proved their value on the Bridge as well, Galen finding out that many of them had some training aboard spacecraft already and were attending Dewclaw University to further their educations and qualifications. Erralakis was raised aboard a spacecraft and showed his piloting skills after two days learning the controls.

When it came time for Cadet Class Five to graduate, Flamepaws and Nightmare asked if they could remain aboard, to continue their pursuit of Radiance Point. Running that request up the chain of command encountered no objections, and so, after graduation, the pair remained aboard, still gently pursuing their goal.

One day, when Radiance had a question for them, he walked in on the pair in their quarters, demonstrating their love for each other. The emotional storm he walked into was enough to drive the unicorn out of the room, breathing hard to remain in control of himself. Slowly, his calm returned, and he made a beeline for his office before calling the two over the intercom.

“Commander, we just didn’t notice when you buzzed us earlier,” Flamepaws said in explanation.

“I noticed why when I came in. I exited immediately. What you two do off duty is none of my concern. Please accept my apologies for interrupting,” Radiance said in apology.

“Accepted. Maybe you should come in and let us pay some attention to you. No sex need to be involved, just some hugs, cuddles and conversation. Maybe Saturday night, after the party?” Nightmare asked.

The pause seemed endless before Radiance responded. “If that is what you would like, I would be willing to spend half an hour with the two of you after the card game Saturday. Maybe you could learn to appreciate Lystrottle Dew.”

“It’s you we are worried about, Radiance. We want you to relax some more. Would you like to learn how chakats relax each other?” Nightmare asked.

“I have some ideas already, but you have given your word about Saturday night. We will find out more then. Until later, crewmates,” Radiance said before closing the intercom.

The two chakats looked at each other and smiled. “We’ve got his curiosity aroused,” Nightmare said.

“Let’s see what else we can arouse,” Flamepaws replied.

“Not too much, not too fast. He has to prove to himself that he will not hurt us, and we won’t hurt him.”

“You and your psych classes…” Flamepaws muttered, but with a smile.

Saturday night, after the poker game (at which Radiance did his usual cleaning of clocks), Radiance was at the door of Flamepaws and Nightmare’s cabin, carrying a bottle of Lystrottle Dew, a bottle of mixer, an ice bucket and three glasses in his glow. After gently knocking, the door slid open. “Come on in, Radiance,” Flamepaws said from the large low pad that served as a bed.

“As asked for, I am here. Your thirty minutes starts now,” Radiance said, coming in to the room. Flamepaws could feel his rigid will up and in place, plus the tension behind it. Nightmare could feel it too, from the bath.

Flamepaws took the bottle and glasses and put them on a low table, Radiance putting the rest down alongside. “Relax, Radiance. We are not here for your blood, or any blood at all. We just want to show you what chakat culture is like among people we call friends. Come on, sit down. I’ll mix the drinks,” shi said as Radiance settled down.

Nightmare came out of the bath, her black and red fur shining. Shi laid herself down next to Radiance, gently stroking his neck. “Don’t worry, Radiance. No harm is intended. Chakats do like hugs and cuddles,” shi explained.

“I was aware of that from prior visits. Visiting Professor Silverdream’s family was an experience. A not unpleasant one, either. It did take a while for me to get used to the feeling of the cubs snuggling up to me,” Radiance said as Flamepaws mixed the drinks.

“Cubs will know who they can get close to and whom they should run away from. If Sunny and Moony liked you enough to come near, then you are someone worth knowing. May we get to know each other?” Nightmare asked.

“Remember, Radiance, we have done nothing to you, but we intend on doing a lot FOR you. People you never had a chance to yell at, abuse, or abuse you in turn,” Flamepaws said as shi passed out the drinks. “You are in control here, because we want to see the pony you are. No more, no less now.”

Radiance looked like he was going into shock, his iron will getting shaky as he accepted the drink. “You mean that, don’t you? You just want to get to know me as a friend, right? You not out for anything?”

“As you ponies say, Friendship is Magic. Will you be our friend, and show us what magic truly is?” Nightmare asked, hugging Radiance to her gently.

“You… WANT to be my friend?” Radiance squeaked.

Flamepaws nodded. “Yes, we do. No more, no less. You need a friend, close friends. We submit our applications for the post.”

Radiance relaxed some, not much, but the two chakats did notice the lessening of his tension. “Your applications have been accepted for further review. Until a decision has been made, let us not think about them. So, how do chakats show affection among friends?”

The allotted thirty minutes stretched to four hours before a very weary threesome decided it was time to get some sleep. Despite requests to stay, Radiance went back to his cabin. Finding it empty, he shucked his ship suit, showered thoroughly, and went to bed. For the first time in months, he dreamed.

Radiance dreamed he was in Canterlot, in the small apartment he called home while teaching at the University. He was startled to find two ponies in his home, namely his parents, Radiance Shine and Cyan Flight, both looking as Radiance remembered them from before Cyan passed away when he was six.

“Now, you’re starting to show a little sense, son,” Radiance Shine grumbled in his usual manner.

Cyan Flight absently smacked Radiance Shine with a wing in a well-rehearsed move. “Don’t be such an ass, Shine. Why can’t you admit he’s done something with his life, something you should be proud of?”

“Not ‘should’, Cyan, make that AM proud of him,” Shine said before looking directly at Radiance Point. “I forgive you, son, and ask you forgive me. Your mother and I were as close as two ponies could be. When your sister died right after being born, I took it hard. When she died, all I had to remind me of her was you. You could never measure up to my idealized image of your mother. That’s why I was so cross with you all the time.

“I forgive you for beating the living hell out of me and running off. I just beg you to remember one thing- that I never told the City Guard who beat me up and left me for dead. I said I could not remember the beating.” Shine then snorted before continuing. “By Tartarus, for a long time, I did NOT remember who pounded me.”

“It wasn’t until a month before he passed on that he did remember, but he was not about to say anything,” Cyan Flight said, putting a wing around Shine. “He saw the movie more than once, knowing full well it was you, but did not connect you with his mauling. He did notice the fact that you paid for his care, starting about nine years after your disappearance.”

“I did, because by then, I was able to use my new identity to quietly send aid,” Point said quietly, going up to his parents. “Father, I forgave you a long time ago. Helping you was my quiet way to apologize for the beating at my hooves, even though it was my alter ego who did it.”

“He knows the full story, Glow. I’ve been updating him, and he is particularly proud of what you and your sister are doing for Equus and the Federation,” Cyan said, hugging Point with the wing that was not busy hugging Shine. “But now, on to the real order of business.

“Those two chakats, Flamepaws and Nightmare, will be very good for you. Your son and grandchildren are very good for you, yes, but those two will help you stabilize yourself in ways you are not aware of. You know what it’s like to give of yourself, to give love.”

“Now will be a tougher lesson for you, Glow,” Shine said. “You have to learn to RECEIVE love in such a way that it does not make you worry about going over to the dark side of yourself. That will not happen. Let yourself feel the good emotions, not the bad ones. You’ll like it, I assure you. Feel the love I felt for your mother. You already know the pain of separation. Learn the joy of uniting.”

“If you don’t believe your father, you will believe me. Every word he has said is true. You have felt the love of foals and cubs. Now, feel the love a true relationship will give you. We think you’re good now, but later, we will REALLY be proud of you!” Cyan said with a warm smile.

“You will?” Point said, sounding like a colt who did not believe what he had received for Hearth’s Warming.

“We are, and we will, son. Apologies have been given and received. Now, go on out there and live the life you ought to have!” Radiance Shine said with a growl before the scene faded to black.

Radiance awoke with a jerk and a yelp, going from dream state to waking so fast, he was completely confused about where he was. “Something wrong, Brother?” Sunrise asked sleepily from her bed.

“Confused… where… what?” Radiance managed to stammer as his wits slowly congealed into their proper shape. “Powerful dream…”

“Something about your old apartment in Canterlot with our parents there?” Sunrise yawned.

Radiance looked at his sister, dumbfounded. “How did you know?” he squeaked.

“I was there, too, watching from the kitchen. They told me what they planned to do before you arrived. Father forgave me, too, admitting that it was his fault I came out and beat the crap out of him,” Sunrise confessed, stretching her wings and legs. “What time is it?”

“Time for a mug or two of what ales us, for sure,” Radiance said, getting up to fill the two pots they kept in their quarters with water.

“Do you have enough Arisian Civet coffee for both of us?” Sunrise asked.

“I do. Why, you want some?”

Sunrise nodded. “Please. Normal strength with sugar.”

“Three minutes,” Radiance said as he filled his pot with water before putting in a fresh brown paper filter and enough coffee for two mugs before starting it.

“You know, Mom and Dad are right. You know how to give of yourself, but you don’t feel right about accepting. Think you can forgive yourself enough to accept what Flamepaws and Nightmare are offering?” Sunrise asked as the coffee dripped into the pot.

“I forgave Father, he forgave me. That means I should forgive myself, yes? It won’t be easy.” Radiance said from the bathroom, where he was rinsing their mugs.

“You try to make things easy for others, Brother. Maybe now you can accept others making things easy for you. Once you can accept their love, I will be free to leave you in their care and move on with my life.”

“Have I been holding you back, Sister? If so, you have my apologies.” Radiance said as he dried the mugs before adding sugar.

“Only because somepony needed to watch over you, big brother,” Sunrise said in dry tones. “I don’t mind, because I like watching over you, learning from what you do and don’t do. It’s an experience.”

Radiance poured two mugs, passing one to Sunrise before sitting with his. “What do you think of my progress?”

“Brother, you are a wonder. It’s a wonder no one has killed you yet,” she said, sipping her coffee before staring at the mug. “This stuff is better than I expected.”

“It’s about the only coffee that is good weak.”

“Or what YOU call weak. As a teacher, as a technician, as an officer, you are wonderful, period. Not one of your students that you have taught aboard have any reason to complain about you. You have Steel up to the point he could fill in for you in any of your jobs. Every one of your students are in high demand in the Fleet, be they Federation or Equestrian. Both Coppertop and Tormyn were snapped up by Star Fleet when they transferred off, and their evals are something to be proud of,” Sunrise explained while sipping her coffee.

“How do you know that?” Radiance asked after a slug of his coffee, feeling the brew chase the cobwebs away.

“As their Teacher, I asked to have updated evaluations sent to me of every student we have trained, to see if we need to make any changes in our methods or curriculum. So far, I’m happy to say none have been needed, except for when we started including non-Equestrians.”

“And you never told me?”

“Didn’t need to. You had enough to do, and there were no complaints. If there were, I would have let you know,” Sunrise said before having some more coffee.

Radiance stared into his mug. “I’m not going to put Steel ahead of any of the old crew. Would not be polite of me to do so.”

“What if the old crew wants him to move up to Engineer’s Mate?”

“If you can get Danorax, Fornax, and everyone else to come up to me and put Steel’s name up in nomination for Mate, I’ll think of it. It has to be unanimous.” Radiance said with an edge to his voice.

“Steel is like you in one way, Brother… he likes doing paperwork. You know Dano and Fornie really don’t like that.”

Radiance nodded. “It shows, too. Galen has requested I double-check the paperwork whenever they do it, before submitting.” He shrugged. “So, it takes me ten minutes to review and annotate before passing it on.”

Sunrise drained her mug. “Now, on to what you are going to do with Flamepaws and Nightmare. They are good for you, whether you know it or not. Be good to them and they will be good for you,” she said, holding up a wing to stall an interruption. “You need someone to let your mane down with, someone you can be you with, without work, rank or anything else coming between you and them. Think I would not be saying this if I didn’t think it was true?”

“You wouldn’t. Even the parents think well of them, and they have been dead for years. Perhaps I should just relax around them,” he said before letting out a sigh. “Too bad I can’t take them down to the diner.”

“Yeah. Damn politicians…” Sunrise muttered, getting up and heading for the bathroom.

“Hey! That’s MY line!” Radiance shouted as the door shut.

Once the water was on and running, Sunrise took in a breath and let it out with a satisfied whoosh. “Thank you, Princess Luna. You’re the biggest clue-by-four I know. I just hope it is enough,” she said quietly, letting the water mask her voice.

Radiance kept up his ‘business persona’ all week long, being professional to both the chakats and the crew, as usual. After turnaround at Equus, Radiance was surprised by an all hooves meeting in Engineering, called by the Engineer’s Mate, Fornax.

“Point, a proposal has been made that I step aside from being Mate in favor of placing Radiant Steel in that position. After a little convincing, he accepted the nomination. We took a vote, and it is unanimous. We now put to you that Radiant Steel should be Engineer’s Mate. What do you say?” Fornax said in his gravelly voice.

“What do you say, Steel? Do you want the headache, the heartache, the responsibility of being Engineer’s Mate? You thought I was rough before, now I will be utterly merciless when I find an error,” Radiance said, completely serious.

Radiant Steel did not flinch under his grandfather’s baleful stare. “If I had not been convinced of my capability, I would not have accepted the nomination,” he said evenly. “I will not give you any reason to be disappointed with me.”

“Steel, the next thing I find about you that disappoints me will be the first thing I have found about you that disappoints me. You are calm under fire, stress and workload, you can coordinate multiple matters at once, and I am so damn proud of you I can’t express it properly. Go get your uniforms altered, I’ll go notify Commander Bluequill,” Radiance said, the absolute pride he felt in his grandson apparent to everypony there, empath or non-empath, the entire Engineering department cheering the two on.

“That’s my grandfather, a softie at heart,” Steel said, giving Radiance a hug, which was returned with obvious joy.

“At least you’re not soft anymore, Steel. Always good to lay off the doughnuts,” Radiance said, his voice quivering a little.

“Only if you stay away from the coffee cakes, Grandfather.” Steel shot back.

“Deal. I’ll do that. Let’s get back to work.”

Training Steel for Engineer’s Mate duties did not take long. It soon became obvious that Steel was well-trained in all the administrative chores required for being Departmental Executive Officer. “Why do I get the feeling that this has been a set up going on behind my back for some time now?” Radiance said to his grandson in the Engineering Office, which would soon require a second desk.

“I would not call it a setup, Grandfather. More of a desire by Fornax and Danorax to let the most skilled pony take the job. Of course, they have been training me in how to run the department since about a month after I graduated from cadet class,” Steel replied.

“All this time, and I never noticed it. I ought to be criticized for inattention,” Radiance snorted.

“I won’t let you be criticized. You have had a lot on your plate, and we wanted to do our best to ease your load. There have been no real problems since you took over, have they?” Steel asked.

“Not a one. I have a good crew under me. Or, WE have a good crew under US,” Radiance pointed out.

“That we do, Grandfather. I’m as proud of them wanting me to be a leader as you are of me. I do have one request of you, if I may.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

“Would you mind if I used Eridonax as an aide as well? She’s been doing a good job as your aide, and I think having her as an auxiliary mind would be a good thing,” Steel managed to say, but with an uneven voice.

Radiance let out another snort. “You got the hots for her, eh?”

The blush in Radiant Steel’s ears would have set off every infrared detector within ten meters, if he was not shut in a room. The air conditioning did pick up a little. “Well, to be honest, yes. She’s sharp, confident, skilled and we get along well. I like being with her. She’s worth someone’s attention, and it might as well be me, right?”

“If you want to, Steel, I will not interfere with you in any way. In fact, go ahead and let her know, so you can tell your parents you finally got a fillyfriend, one that gets my hoofstamp of approval. Just let me know before you send the message, so I can send one of my own. Deal?” Radiance requested.

“It’s a deal, grandfather,” Steel replied, reaching out for a hoofbump, which was returned with a friendly smile, something Radiance seldom let out.

Radiance’s relationship with Flamepaws and Nightmare became a bit easier after that dream, with Radiance being more willing to spend time with them off duty, while being his usual stoic self on duty. Others aboard took notice as well, finding Point to be a bit more relaxed in the evenings, and even more so on Saturdays. Unfortunately for the crew, his poker skills were not blunted by his relaxation. If anything, they got stronger.

Two round trips went by before the next non-Equestrian class was gathered from Chakona. Like before, it was a dozen mixed students from Dewclaw. This time, Radiance tried a little experiment of his own. He spot-checked Radiant Steel several times a day but spent most of his time with the class. He spent at least one hour each week with each student, be it in Control or Engineering. The one Medical student, he let Zubon and Hexanerax have. Putting Radiant Steel in charge of Engineering also let Radiance catch up on his Control qualifications, he not having stood more than Shutdown Command Duty Officer watches in Control for quite some time. Somehow, he always managed to be forward when Radiant had the watch aft, just to see how his grandson would handle matters. Like he expected, he didn’t have to worry. About Steel, at least. Updating his qualifications, on the other hoof…

“Shiny Dot best pilot not. Erralakis learn you better pilot be,” the Merraki squawked the first time Radiance examined the new (to him) flight control panel.

“If you are willing to teach, I am ready to learn,” Radiance replied. A very intense one-hour briefing on the control setup ensued, to which he listened to attentively.

After the briefing, and the quiz afterwards, which Radiance passed with a perfect score, Erralakis looked over the Chief Engineer carefully. “Headache Shiny Dot have, yes?” he asked.

“If it is that obvious, Erralakis, then yes, I do. Please forgive me for saying so, but it is hard to listen to your speech and make sense of it. I just do my best.”

“Best is good, but better can do. Go, coffee get. One for Erralakis, too. Your way is fine.”

“Back in a few minutes, then,” Radiance muttered as he stumbled his way to the mess decks for coffee.

The Sensor Officer for that watch, a changeling named Klikbik, looked at the pilot after Radiance left the Control Room. “Latke, you can be mean, cruel, vicious and a pain in the head,” he said, almost in awe.

Erralakis let out a laugh, one echoed by the Communications Officer of the Watch, a chunky human female named Duela Hunt, like Erralakis, a graduate of Cadet Class Five. “Humans say payback pain in ass is. Show them I do pain better elsewhere!”

“What did Point ever do to you?” Klikbik asked with a smile.

Duela answered that. “The Eng is a demanding teacher, absolutely unforgiving of any errors. What makes it bearable is that he is just as hard on himself as he is to the rest of us. Erralakis is just getting a little of his own back.”

“I see,” Klikbik said. “It’s hard to prank him.”

“Say not prank him I do. Be myself I am. Let him figure me out,” Erralakis said with a chuckle.

“Latke’s always like this, Klik. Don’t worry about it,” Duela said as she watched over the telemetry readouts going out over the subspace radio.

Radiance returned a few minutes later, his headache no longer in evidence, carrying two mugs of coffee in his glow. He gave the one to Erralakis before sitting down in the command chair. “Erralakis, I would like, after watch, to spend an hour with you in the Simulator Room. I want to know if the teaching stuck, and if I can execute it right.”

“Run on simulator, Erralakis do for Shiny Dot. Shiny Dot good boss, Erralakis want Shiny Dot to be better boss,” the Merraki chirped brightly.

“If Shiny Dot has to be boss, Shiny Dot had best be best boss he can be,” Radiance agreed as he took a sip of coffee.

“We’ll help you, Commander,” Duela said from her post. “You’re one of the better commanders I have encountered. If you’re not teaching, you’re learning.”

“Thank you for saying so, Miss Hunt. Just goes to show my teaching ability is suitable for more than just ponies,” Radiance said as his eyes looked over the monitors.

“You’ve been one of my better teachers, too. Thank you.”

“Erralakis say Shiny Dot good teacher, yes. Is good student? Shall see we do.”

That Saturday night, Radiance did something different. He stayed for the show, sitting between Flamepaws and Nightmare, but did not stick around for the card game, instead going with the two chakats to their quarters for a few hours of relaxation.

“Ladies, I have to confess, being with you two is good for me. Just being with you here enables me to forget about work and focus on you two,” he said as he was being the meat in a chakat sandwich.

Nightmare turned and hugged Radiance’s forequarters, mooshing his nose between her breasts. “We like being able to focus on you alone, Point,” she said gently.

Flamepaws hugged Radiance from behind, forcing his nose deeper between Nightmare’s furry breasts. “That we do. We’re going to fill that hole in your soul come hell or high water!”

“What about low oxygen levels?” Radiance gasped.

The two chakats let go of the unicorn, allowing him to get his breath back. “That, too,” Flamepaws giggled.

“Silly ladies- fun is for all!” Radiance laughed, using his glow to ruffle both chakats headfur at once.

“Oh, you’re in for it now!” Nightmare squealed as both chakats caught the pony up in a wild tickle fest.

Months went by, training Cadet Classes Six and Seven, both from Chakona, while the Cosmic Lotus went about its duties as a support craft. All aboard followed the news about the war against the Swarm, cheering victories and mourning losses. Twice, the Lotus pulled in at Chakona for a little down time, maintenance and resupply. Both times, Radiance managed to get a few days leave. The first time, he went with Flamepaws and Nightmare to their home outside Berdoovia, which was being cared for by one of their daughters, named River Edge. They spent their time together sightseeing and meeting friends. Radiance, for once, put his work and duties completely aside and devoted his full attention to the chakats and what they wanted to do, but sleeping alone in a guest room every night.

The second leave period, Radiance called ahead and reserved the campsite by the lake outside the Cat’s Eye, and all seven of them camped for three days, the seven being Radiance, Flamepaws, Nightmare, Radiant Steel, Eridonax, Sunrise Flight and her paramour, a griffon scientist that went by the name of Huron Redshaft. Huron is one of the few remaining scientists aboard the Lotus, more for his skill at maintaining the sensor equipment than his skills in science, which were formidable enough on their own.

The three days and nights the group spent at the lake they regarded as the start of their herd, which they declared to be House Point. The first night there, they built a big bonfire, Point and Steel cooked up a nice meal for all, and they spent the night around the fire, singing, laughing, passing bottles of liquor around, enjoying each other’s presence. That night was the first night Radiance slept with Flamepaws and Nightmare, but not the last.

Back aboard the Lotus, some cabin rearranging was in order. Flamepaws and Nightmare moved in with Radiance, with Sunrise and Huron taking the chakat’s old cabin. Steel and Eridonax did a little dickering, and the two expanded Steel’s cabin to where it was big enough for two. The rearranging came as a surprise to all aboard, nobody thinking that Radiance and Sunrise would ever split apart. They hadn’t, just moving to separate quarters so each can be with the ones they cared for, as Sunrise explained at breakfast the next day.

Radiance went to Wandering Path later that day with an unusual request, to be the celebrant Saturday night at a triple wedding and the formation of a House, the weddings being Radiant Steel to Eridonax, Sunrise Flight to Huron Redshaft, and himself to Flamepaws and Nightmare. Wandering stared blankly at Radiance. “What’s got into you, Point? This is not normal for you.”

“Normal is a setting on a dishwasher, Captain. It does not apply to me. Would you be willing, or should I ask Galen to do the honors?” Radiance asked.

“No, no, don’t worry, I’ll do it. I’m just surprised you would even ask. Just what happened when you were on leave this last time?”

“I finally came to my senses, Captain. I now know I can show affection, even love, to another without worrying my bad side will come out. It is gone, and good riddance to it. I have put myself through the depths of Tartarus for many years, and now I finally find out that my other I has been gone for a while, but I never realized it. It took that little vacation to prove it is gone. Time to move on with my life, wouldn’t you agree?” Radiance said reasonably.

“Point, ever since we started, I have been worried about you being healthy and happy. I have watched you improve step by step for years. Congratulations, Point, you’ve arrived,” Wandering said with pride. “Is that why Sunrise is marrying Huron?”

“Yes, she has said she does not need to watch over me anymore. She’s handed that job over to Flamepaws and Nightmare. It’s about time she got on with her life instead of fretting over mine.”

“Not to mention your grandson marrying Eridonax. Are you all right with that?”

“Of course! I’ve known for a while he’s had the hots for her. Let them be happy together. They have earned it.”

“That they have. Steel has become a fine engineer under your tutelage. He’s almost as good as you are,” Wandering said with a smile.

“Almost? Captain, with some more seasoning, he will be better than I can ever hope to attain. With Eridonax to settle him down, he’s going to go places,” Radiance said before snorting. “I expect some more great-grandfoals from them soon enough. Half-changeling grandfoals. What is this world coming to?”

“I’m sure Mama Twilight will get started working on compatibility spells for ponies and chakats when she finds out about this,” Wandering said with a knowing smile.

Radiance’s ears went a ghastly grayish white. “I never thought about that…” he whispered, wobbling some on his hooves.

Wandering guided Radiance to a cushion, letting him down gently. “Consequences of love, yes?”

“True. I wonder what a unicorn crossed with a chakat would look like?”

“We’ll soon find out.”

After the group wedding, House Point settled in to their lives, not only as crew members of the Lotus, but as a family, too. Radiance became far easier to live with, more confident in his own skin than he could ever remember being. Sunrise went a full week at one point without snapping at her brother, and Steel settled in with Eridonax, becoming a much more mature pony. Messages were sent between the Lotus and Vanhoover, Cast Iron and Hot Skillet being overjoyed at both his father’s and his son’s weddings. Hot Skillet’s only complaint was that she had not yet met the new family members. Politics, however, put paid to those ideas, for now.

Several months after the weddings, Radiance was inspecting Engineering, not truly looking for anything, when a call came from the Bridge. “Bridge to Engineering- emergency start up!”

“What the… emergency start-up, aye! This better be good!” Radiance snapped back as he began the emergency light-off sequence, the Lotus at standby at the Chakastra end of the portal.

Once Radiance reported, “Ready to answer all bells,” the ship jumped in to warp, shuddering some at the suddenness of it. In less than a minute, the ship was at flank speed, going all balls out. He checked the Bridge feeds and saw a magnificent ball of crystal ahead of the ship. “What the…” he exclaimed.

Determined, Radiance made his way to the Bridge, to find out just what was going on. He left the bridge more than half stunned. After making sure Steel had the proper marching orders, he went straight to his quarters, where Flamepaws was resting. After getting filled in on what was happening, Flamepaws wrapped hirself around hir mate. “Don’t worry, love. We have faith in you and the ship’s captain. We shall see when it is time to see.”

“Thank you, dearest. You always know how to settle my unsettled thoughts.”

Once in Equus orbit, the news about what the crystal sphere contained rapidly spread through the Lotus, most of the crew watching on whatever monitor was at hoof. Radiance stayed with Galen up in Control, with Steel back in Maneuvering, until word came from Wandering to stand down for a while.

“Now, I’m glad I got the Chief’s position, Galen. Allows you more time to focus on your real job, commanding the ship,” Radiance said to his long-time friend.

“I’m just glad they listened when I suggested it. With what all that was going on, the Captain was going to be away from the ship a lot. I knew you could handle the department,” Galen said, with as smug a look as he could muster on his face.

Radiance spluttered some before saying, “You sandbagging son of a bird!”

“And damn proud of it. What you going to do about it, eh? Challenge me to an honor duel?” Galen riposted.

“No, you already did, and I won out. Why push my luck?” Radiance fired back before starting to laugh, soon joined by the big blue griffon.

“Radiance, since you married those two, you’ve become far easier to get along with,” Galen told his friend.

“No more potholes in the road, Galen. I’m heading to Engineering. Keep me updated,” Radiance said as he headed for the bridge door.

“Will do, Point.”

With what developed from the advent of the crystal ship, the Cosmic Lotus was forced to remain in Equus orbit while forces gathered for a hopefully final assault against the Swarm. When the banishment was lifted, and it was determined that they would be staying a while, Radiance immediately pulled what strings he could and brought his entire herd to Vanhoover to meet the rest of the family. That led to the diner being shut down for three days in the middle of the week while all hooves and paws had the chance to get acquainted with each other, all expenses being covered by Radiance, Radiant and Sunrise.

“Father, I knew you could overcome your problems. I just did not expect it would take chakats to do it,” Cast Iron said in a quiet moment.

“I didn’t either, but looking back, I think they succeeded when others failed because they are not ponies. I’ve never harmed a chakat, and a chakat has never harmed me. That’s probably what broke my last resistance. I’m glad it did,” Radiance said, sipping some coffee.

“Can I expect any half-chakat brothers and sisters?” Cast Iron asked, looking up at where Sunrise and Huron were playing in the skies with Paradoxis.

“Princess Twilight is working on it, but don’t expect anything soon,” Radiance replied calmly. “War is not over yet.”

“A tolerable answer.”

After the Swarm’s hold on the galaxy was broken, but not without a price, Flamepaws and Nightmare found Radiance sitting in their quarters, a half-empty bottle of Bushpacer’s on the desk. He looked up as they came in, tears in his eyes. “He was the best Captain I have ever had…” he sniffed.

The two chakats went to either side of Radiance and hugged him to them. “He may be gone, but he will never be forgotten,” Nightmare said quietly into his left ear.

“We’re just going to have to prove that he was not wrong in choosing you or allowing us to be aboard,” Flamepaws whispered into his right ear.

After a sniff, he hugged the two even closer with his glow. “You’re right, of course. And, so we shall. Once the higher-ups figure out what they want to do, we will be here to get it done.”

“That we will, love,” Flamepaws said as Nightmare amplified with a “That we will.”

Some months later, Radiance and Radiant looked out of an observation port in the Yards at the recently completely overhauled Cosmic Lotus, keeping the tri-nacelle design, but looking sleeker, ready to get out and start looking around the universe. “Now that we got the old Lotus rebuilt, do you think you can oversee the construction of the Gowanus Herald II?” Radiance asked his grandson.

“Without a problem, Grandfather,” Steel said easily. “Your designs are solid, now all that is needed is to see if the papers meet the facts.”

“I’m going to miss you, Steel. You, Eri and little Faustina. Keep in touch, okay?”

“I will. I’ll keep an eye on Aunt Sunrise as well, and let you know when she delivers. You let me know when Nightmare delivers, okay?” Steel said, leaning against his grandfather.

“And Flamepaws, but Nightmare has your blood relative. Zubon and Hex are watching her closely. My best to your parents, and I’ll call when I can. When we come back, we’ll get together and do some camping, all of us,” Radiance said, hugging his grandson.

“I’ll pick a spot, Grandfather. Be safe and come back, okay?” Steel sniffled, hugging back tightly.

“I’ve come back twice already. I think it’s a habit I’ll keep.”

Family Reunion

View Online

Twenty-plus years after the launch of the refitted Cosmic Lotus.

To: Princess Luna, Queen of the Night, Ruler of Dreams, yadda, yadda, yadda…

From: Radiance Point, Professor of Starship Systems, Dewclaw University, Berdoovia, Chakona

Re: Gathering at my place.

Hi, Lulu! Hope you have not forgotten about me, even though I hope you DID forget the fifty bits I won off you back at the Friday night dinner at House Path years ago. You had a pair of fours in the hole while I had a pair of tens.

The reason for this note is that I am having a family reunion week after next at my place on Chakona. Okay, my wives and I co-own the place. This is your invitation to come out and meet my family. ALL of them. Sons, daughters, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, in-laws and out-laws. Come on down and meet the crowd! Food, fun and music available. Come and see!

I promise, no poker playing during your visit. My family refuses to play cards with me anymore, and the Pegasus is on deployment, so M’Lai is unavailable to keep me checked and balanced…

Professor Radiance Point

Pine Grove, Flinders, Chakona

To: Professor Radiance Point, Professor of Starship Technology, Dewclaw University, Berdoovia, Flinders, Chakona

From: Princess Luna, Ruler of the Night, Guider of Dreams, and all that other stuff…

Radiance! Long time, no word! Of course, I will be happy to come out and enjoy your reunion. According to my schedule, I will be able to make it out there on the second day of your reunion, depending on events here. I would enjoy meeting your extended family!

Also, I miss Cast Iron’s cooking, ever since Delectable’s moved from Vanhoover to Chakona. Let Hot Skillet know I want my regular order!

And, no, I have NOT forgotten those fifty bits, sandbagger! Someday, I’m going to win them back!

Princess Luna Canterlot Castle, Equis

Radiance Point woke up at his family’s home in the community of Pine Grove, a small town outside of Berdoovia, feeling eager. Today was the day that not only the whole herd, but the whole FAMILY would be gathering at the house for a long-awaited full reunion. Ever since Cast Iron and his whole family, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, moved out to Chakona five years before, opening Delectable’s Diner outside of Dewclaw University, reunions were common, but to have EVERYONE there was extremely unusual, what with the number of spacers in the family.

He moved carefully getting out of bed, not waking Flamepaws, Nightmare, or the newest addition to the family, Hotshot, a chakat/earth pony hybrid, barely a month old. After a brisk shower, he carefully made his way to the kitchen, where his first move was to start his coffeepot before figuring out breakfast. As the eggs sizzled in the skillet, his eldest daughter Mira came into the kitchen.

Mira is a chakat/unicorn hybrid, hir deep black body fur only relieved by hir deep red tail, hooves (back legs only) and horn. Like hir father, she needs a caffeine kick to get started in the morning. Unlike hir father, she is not a vegetarian. Shi used the steal-a-cup feature on the coffeepot to grab a mug of black tar before pulling out some sausage from the chill box. After a sip, shi focused on her father. “Morning, Dad,” shi said while giving him a one-pawed hug.

“Morning, Mira. All set for today?” Radiance asked, leaning into the hug. Privately, he was jealous of all his children by his wives, they all having a chakat body shape, including the arms, but he would never say so aloud. Not that they didn’t already know, of course.

“You bet I am, Dad. Home from school, seeing Aunt Sunrise and her family, Cousin Steel and his, and all the cousins is a real treat. I’ve already rented a panoramic camera for the group shots,” shi said, one of hir hobbies being photography and holography, when shi wasn’t studying Engineering.

“Today and tomorrow. Thank your mothers for getting everyone together,” Radiance said as he flipped the eggs out of the pan onto a plate, pulled out three slices of toast from the toaster, and grabbed the pot of butter all in his glow simultaneously.

“You need to be thanked, too. Who was it who successfully lobbied Herald Lines into making a second home port here on Chakona, Mister Vice-Chairpony of the Board?” Mira teased. Shi knew Radiance much preferred being a teacher than a businesspony, but on occasion he knew where, when and how to kick some tail on the business end.

“That’s because I didn’t want your sister to have to go to Equus for good business lessons with the company,” Radiance grumped as he had a forkful of his eggs over medium, referring to his second daughter from Flamepaws, Flaming Ears, so named because hir ears are a bright orange color as opposed to her light tan base coat. Flaming Ears had shown business potential from a young age.

“You have to admit, Aunt Sunrise has a better head for business than you do,” Mira said as shi loaded the toaster with bread.

Radiance dipped his toast into his coffee before taking a bite. “Never denied it. I have the title here, but she knows the ins and outs better than I do, while I know how to kick butt and leave prints,” he snorted.

“Can’t deny that, Dad,” Mira replied as shi cracked some eggs into the skillet before adding a large slice of sausage. While Radiance would not partake of meat, he never objected if others did. He just looked aside when it was being cooked and consumed.

“Nope and won’t even try. The Berdoovian contingent should be here soon, to start cooking. Just glad it’s going to be fair next couple of days, so we can use the outside kitchens,” Radiance said between bites of egg and toast. “Glad I had that put in.”

“Hey, with you and both moms designing the house, how could it be anything else but excellent?” Mira asked, flipping the sausage and eggs.

“We were looking ahead, in hopes of something like this happening. Glad I was right. How go your magic classes?” Radiance asked.

“Not only am I learning from the best technomancers, I’m taking some of your lessons as well and incorporating them. I’m not quite up to reprogramming holodecks with my technomancy, but it should not be long now.”

“Good. When you figure it out, you teach me, okay? I have to go through a V.V. crystal. Just glad I figured out the interfacing between Equestrian crystals and Federation computers,” Radiance said with his usual modesty, meaning none.

“Dad, you know how much Aunt Firesox and Uncle Julius helped you with it! Why else is the patent split three ways?” Mira snapped back, sliding the ham and eggs out of the pan onto a plate.

“I never denied their help, but I had the key insights to be able to put tab A into slot B successfully,” Radiance said, just before he got hit in the back of the head with a wet sponge.

“Dad, get your nose down where it belongs before I ask Prince Blueblood to give you snootiness lessons!” snapped his wholly-chakat daughter Riverside, being mostly brown on hir underside and limbs while being a blue-green up higher on hir body. Shi was two Chakonan weeks older than hir half-pony sister and has tended to put Radiance in his place since before shi learned how to talk.

“Right, Riverside,” Radiance mumbled, staying quiet for the rest of his breakfast.

Mira looked at hir sister and smiled as Riverside padded in to the kitchen, picking up the wet sponge and tossing it into the sink before starting work on her own breakfast. Riverside smiled back, always happy for a chance to put hir father down a peg.

Throughout the morning, family members trickled in to the Point family house, arriving from all over Chakona and points farther out. Sunrise Flight, her husband Huron Redshaft, and their three hippogriff children arrived early, as did Cast Iron and Hot Skillet with their youngest, the teenaged earth pony Hot Pepper, who has a bright red and green coat. They started cooking as the rest of the family arrived. The last ones to arrive, just before noon, was Radiant Steel, Eridonax, and their four children, ranging in age from two to sixteen.

After noon, the chakat side of the family came by, they being Julius Crusoe, his mates Firesox and Prellin, their four kids and three grandchildren with their respective families. With a houseful of ponies, chakats, skunktaurs, griffons, changelings, hippogriffs and what all, a particularly raucous time was had by all, raucous but very much welcome.

The reunion was scheduled to be a two-day affair, because for the second day, Radiance and his kin invited all those who were either past crew on the Cosmic Lotus or Gowanus Herald, the first one, five of the survivors emigrating to Chakona to help run that branch of Herald Lines. Each had met everyone else, but this has been the first time they all met each other at the same place at the same time.

A lot of welcome reunions were had that day, among ponies, chakats and whatevers that had not met in too long a time. Up on a high balcony, Radiance, his wives, and youngest daughter held court, letting the party flow on around them. The children, both days, had free run of the back yard, down to the banks of the small river that marked the boundary. The fliers of the family took turns doing overflight, keeping an eye on the kids as well as the weather. Sunrise Flight had discovered she was quite skilled at weather wrangling, as is Paradoxis, her mate Thunderclap, and their three daughters, though they were a bit young yet. Sunrise’s three kids, hippogriffs all, could and did maintain a sky watch around the compound.

“Radiance, you did good coming out here and dragging us along for the ride,” said White Wrap, the old doctor from the seagoing Gowanus. “It’s done wonders for all of us.”

“Got that right, White Wrap. How goes your clinic?” Radiance asked, referring to an Equestrian medical clinic she had opened in Berdoovia, an adjunct to the University, dedicating in teaching non-Equestrians the ins and outs of pony and other Equestrian physiology.

“Coming along good, young fellow. I’m titular head, but I have good assistants who handle the day to day. Next class will be graduating in about two months, the third class overall. Already have jobs lined up for them, and each of the employers are champing at the bit to get them!” the old unicorn reported with a laugh.

“I know White Heart is eager to begin hir classes as soon as shi is able,” Nightmare said, referring to her second daughter with Radiance, a chakat/unicorn hybrid who has showed a talent for healing from an early age.

“Shi’s just going to have to wait another year. Tell hir she had best keep up hir studies, because I’m going to be harder on hir than everypony else there!” White Wrap said with a bit of a snap.

“Oh, come on, Wrap, you’re not going to be that hard on hir, will you?” Radiance asked.

“Just as hard on hir as you were on everypony aboard the Gowanus, Radiance!”

“Deal, then. You survived and are doing well. Let White Heart prove hirself to you. I can respect a decision like that,” Radiance said, nodding some in agreement.

“As do I, Wrap,” Nightmare said as well. “Shi’s determined, headstrong, and knows what shi wants. Shi’s respected you ever since you arrived here on Chakona.”

“If she proves hirself to me in school, shi’ll have my full support.”

About then, the dinner bell rang on a lower court. A pegasus filly, Paradoxis’ youngest daughter, flew up to the edge of the upper balcony. “Who comes, gets it!” she announced before taking wing to round up the kids from their play.

“Let’s get a move on. I’m hungry!” Flamepaws said as she held on to Hotshot, who was struggling some in hir mother’s arms.

“So am I,” Radiance said, getting up. “Wonder what Iron and Skillet have ready for us today.”

“Something good, for sure!” White Wrap said, getting up as well. “They have not lost one bit of their skill, coming here.”

“Admit it, Wrap, you like the discount Radiance has set up for all his old friends and shipmates,” Nightmare said, stretching fluidly after standing.

White Wrap laughed a little, giving Radiance a hug as he stood up. “Free meals for life for his shipmates is a deal I could not turn down. Besides, I’ve known Cast Iron since he was a colt, and he cooks just as well as his mother, a trait he has passed to all his children and grandchildren.”

“So, what happened to you, Radiance? You are an okay cook, but nothing like your kids,” Flamepaws said as they started the walk down the ramps to the dining area.

“Just never cared to develop the skill. Delectable did teach me the basics, and I learned them. Just don’t have the desire to do anything fancy,” Radiance said, leading the parade down and around. “I’ll leave that to those who know, so I can enjoy it all the more.”

White Wrap turned her head to look at the two trailing chakats. “Who taught him diplomacy?” she asked Radiance’s wives.

“Shi did,” they both said, pointing at each other.

“Wasn’t easy, but they did it, praise Celestia.” Radiance laughed.

Dinner was laid out buffet style, in three sections. The first section was the all-vegan table, for those who leaned that way. The second section was the seafood-base, for the pegasi. The third section was the carnivore section, which drew the biggest crowd.

As the last of the guests sat down to eat, Radiance stood up. “Fillies, gentlecolts, ladies, gentlemen, chakats, skunktaurs and humans alike, I am proud to announce one more guest has arrived, a guest I have told no one that was coming. Everyone, please welcome, direct from Equis, none other than Princess Luna!” he declared.

Princess Luna teleported in at the top of the house with a flash, attracting everyone’s attention before gliding down to the dining area. As she descended, Radiance shouted, “House Point weekend dinner rules apply here!”

The princess landed next to Radiance at the high table. “Radiance, thank you for asking me to come out here and meet your extended family again. I’ve missed going to Delectable’s Diner for a good dinner.”

“Luna, you gave me some of the confidence I needed to make myself what I am today. Consider this my way of thanking you for your help. Also, Hot Pepper wanted to see you again,” Radiance said as he cleared a space for her at the table.

“I hope she has not forgotten what I enjoyed the most from the diner,” Luna said, sitting down.

“Well, let’s find out. Hot Pepper, bring Luna what she enjoys, okay?” Radiance called out.

“Coming right up!” the teenaged earth pony called out from her place at the kitchen. Within three minutes, she came out, carrying a laden tray up to Luna. “I hope you like it still, Luna!”

Luna smiled at the red and green filly, sniffing the meal’s aromas. “I see no reason why I should not, Hot Pepper. Enjoying yourself here on Chakona?”

Hot Pepper smiled back. “It’s not Equestria, but it is a wonderful place to be. I meet some interesting folk at the restaurant now.”

“I’m sure you do, Hot Pepper. I’ll catch up with you before I leave, okay?”

“Thank you, Luna! I’ve missed our diner chats. We all have,” Hot Pepper said before going back to the kitchen.

For hours, long into the night, the whole family chatted with Luna, either meeting her for the first time or renewing old acquaintances. Radiance, Julius, and some others broke out instruments and took to the stage for a couple of hours, impressing all with their musical skill.

It was not until one in the morning before many of the guests sought their beds, leaving fewer and fewer die-hards out back to continue visiting. Luna was still the center of attention, chatting with all those who wished to. Luna found it relaxing, just chatting with Radiance’s family about topics wholly unrelated to politics or ruling or anything like that, just common subjects between old friends.

About three in the morning, Luna shook herself gently. “Okay, one and all, it is about time I headed back to Equis. Destined took Night Court for me, and now I have a lot to talk about once I get home. Thank you for inviting me to visit, Radiance. It has been a pleasure.”

“Luna, I hoped you would say something like that. You see, in my opinion, goddesses and princesses are ponies too, and I thought you would like to spend some time with those who were not in awe of you. Looks like I was right,” Radiance said from where he sat by the embers still glowing in the fire pit.

“He’s right, Luna,” Julius said. “Just getting to meet someone like you in an informal surrounding, no court rituals, is a treat for someone like us.”

“I can say the same, Julius,” Luna said as she stood. “Don’t hesitate to call when you have another gathering like this, Radiance.”

“We got lucky this time, all the spacers being here at Chakona at once. I hold gatherings here several times a year, but this time, I got everypony. If you like, I’ll inform you of the smaller gatherings. Deal?” Radiance asked.

“Deal. Until next time, everyone!” Luna called out before teleporting out.

After Luna’s departure, Radiance and Julius remained by the fire pit. Neither of them was tired, and so they sat and talked, waiting for sunrise. The pair moved to the outside kitchen, where Julius put together an early breakfast for them.

“I’m damn glad I decided to have this little party here,” Radiance said after taking a pull from his coffee mug.

“So am I, Radiance,” Julius said as he flipped pancakes over on the griddle before checking the eggs. “I’ve seen folk today that I have not met in years, not to mention meeting the Princess.”

“Yeah, Luna’s a good pony to know and have on your side. I would have invited Princess Celestia, but I know Luna better than any Princess, other than Twilight, and I knew she would be occupied,” Radiance said with a yawn. “I told you to make the coffee full strength, Jules!”

“I also do not want to stay awake until Thirdday because of it, Radiance! If you want some of the Kickapoo joy juice, say so and I’ll get it, okay?” Julius snapped as he pulled off the pancakes and eggs, loading them onto a plate and handing it off to Radiance before mixing a fresh batch of pancake mix.

“By Faust, you get grumpy when you’re hungry, Jules. I’ll go get the Stay-Wake, okay? AFTER I finish the plate,” Radiance said as he picked up a knife and started adding butter to the pancakes in liberal doses.

“Sounds good to me,” Julius said as he poured the pancake mix onto the griddle before cracking three eggs and pulling out some sausage to fry.

After the early breakfast was cooked and consumed, and Radiance took a dose of Stay-Wake, the two went to the edge of the big patio for more chat. The two, while being good friends as well as in-laws (Radiance’s wife Flamepaws being the older sister of Julius’ mate Firesox), seldom have off time together. The mismatched pair chatted about topics ranging from music to technology and back again, chilling until family members and friends started waking up. Cast Iron, Hot Skillet, and Hot Pepper arose first, to prepare a hearty breakfast for everyone before they took their leave. Radiance, Nightmare and Flamepaws received more hugs in an hour and a half than they could keep track of from their extended family that morning, to the detriment of their upper ribs. The love in the air was palpable even to non-empaths, like Radiance Point.

By noon, everyone had left, except for Sunrise Flight and her three hippogriff children, her husband Huron Redshaft being due back at work that morning. They lived nearby, in the township of Hilltop. “Brother, you outdid yourself these past couple of days. It was wonderful,” she said over a lunch of leftovers.

“Don’t thank me, thank these two,” Radiance said to his sister, indicating his wives. “They put the affair together, I just did as I was told to do.”

“Just how much coercion did you have to use?” Sunrise asked Flamepaws.

“We told him that if he didn’t behave, next weekend he’ll have the kids while Nightmare and I go to Amistad,” Flamepaws replied with an evil grin, which was echoed by her lifemate.

“All seven of them at home still, and all of them will have proper instructions before we leave,” Nightmare said.

Sunrise looked back at her brother, but he was nowhere to be seen. She looked confused, because she knew she had not heard hooves on the floor nor the pop of displaced air from a teleportation. “Where he go?’ she asked.

Flamepaws put Hotshot down, and the cub immediately scampered under the table, followed by a thump and a surprised ‘oof’ as Radiance’s head impacted a table leg. He came up from under the table, Hotshot held in his glow, rubbing the side of his head with a hoof. “No fair!” he complained to his wives.

“All is fair in love and war, Radiance,” Nightmare said.

“Around here, there is no war, except the war of love,” Radiance said with affection, snuggling the squirming cub to him, who settled down fast.

“The only battle that you will willingly lose to, Brother,” Sunrise said with a smile.

“Because losing is winning in that game, and I so HATE to lose,” Radiance replied just before Hotshot grabbed his lower lip, pulled on it, and bit. His wives and sister could only laugh at the scene, which was promptly Canonized by Sunrise, catching the startled look on Radiance’s face.

“If that’s a win, I can’t fault you for not wanting to lose, Brother!” Sunrise laughed after the required number of clicks from her phone.

Cross-index with Cosmic Lotus

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Ch. 1-Purple Point Profanity Pool Ch. 4- Purple Point Profanity Pool

Ch. 2-Memories Ch. 5- Memories

Ch. 3-It Came from the Cargo Bay between chapters 6 and 8

Ch. 4-Wild Ideas after chapter 9- Wear and Tear

Ch. 5-The Duel after chapter 10- Repairs and Replacements

Ch. 6-Lifting A Curse (in one easy jolt) before chapter 11- Halfway (part two)

Ch. 7-Sunrise Point after chapter 12- Chaos and Organization

Ch. 8-A Letter to Flix during chapter 13- Fight for Life

Ch. 9-What to Do Now? before chapter 14- Impossibilities

Ch. 10-Deceleration Profile before and during Ch. 16- Unexpected Encounters

Ch. 11-Boarding for Parties before and during ch. 19- Party! and ch. 20- Steps & Missteps

Ch. 12-The Waiting Game during ch. 21- About Face

Ch. 13-The Waiting Game (part two) during ch. 24- Surprises

Ch. 14-On Leave (his way) during ch. 26-Shore Leave

Ch. 15-That Shining Star during ch. 27- Voyage to a Blue Planet

Ch. 16-Third Rock from the Sun before ch. 29- Going Back

Ch. 17-Facing the Past during ch. 30-Diplomatic Relations

Ch. 18-Vanhoover after ch. 30- Diplomatic Relations

Ch. 19-In Equus Orbit before ch. 33- To Infinity and Beyond!

Ch. 20-Apprentice Cruise before ch. 36- Defenses are Readied

Ch. 21-Prelude to War during and after ch. 37- Plans are Laid

Ch. 22-Plans and Plots before and during ch. 39- Repercussions

Ch. 23-All Together Now after Ch 39 to the end

Ch. 24-Family Reunion about 15-20 years after the end of the novel

Ch. 25- you’re reading it now!