TIMELINE - 2155 CE
A thousand years was not enough time to wipe away the pain and guilt that filled Luna's heart. It was not a constant thing, chewing away at the edges of her consciousness every moment of every day, but when she was alone... When she was alone, and Canterlot slumbered her thoughts could not help but turn to that fateful night so long ago. She had long ago given up trying to figure out if she could have changed things, if she had just defeated Celestia faster. That way lead to madness, and she had already spent too much time wandering its endless halls.
The soft voice of her sister drew Luna back to reality, and with a blink she found herself looking at her sister, who sat across from her at a small dining table. Celestia face looked deeply concerned as she studied the younger alicorn.
"What's wrong?" Celestia fluffed her wings out ever so slightly as she sat deeper into her cushion. She had seen Luna countless times fall into a spiraling depression that often took her years to climb back out of. After so much time together, she had also gotten extremely talented at knowing exactly what it would take to stop that fall, pulling her beloved little sister back onto firmer ground. "You're thinking about her."
As the date caught up to her, Celestia shook her head in slight embarrassment, and a deep aching pain that filled her heart. It was indeed once again the anniversary of their fight over their old castle. The anniversary of the defeat of Nightmare Moon.
The anniversary of the death of Luna's only daughter.
That horrific night a thousand years ago never failed to bring up the pain and anguish that both sisters had felt. The young Princess Aurora had perished during the titanic battle between Luna and Celestia, from her mother's own magic too. That act had left Luna close to comatose for over a hundred years, and Celestia had made it her life's goal to make sure she never experienced such pain again.
"Luna," Celestia said, her voice barely louder than a whisper. It pierced through the haze surrounding Luna's thoughts and the darker alicorn looked up, meeting her sister's gaze. "If she was here with us today, you know that she would not want you to fall back into your depression."
Luna looked away, shame burning her muzzle. There was truth in her sister's statement. Though she had never had a chance to see what type of mare her Aurora was going to blossom into, her little filly had never shied away from the chance to make her mother smile. Taking a deep breath, Luna gathered her courage together.
"You are right, Tia." Luna stood, refolding her wings at her side. A thought entered her mind, a beautiful thought that quickly took hold and she grasped it eagerly. "I shall show Equestria how much she meant to me. Maybe that will ease my pain."
The ship had been nearly falling apart three years ago when Chelsea had first laid her eyes upon its scarred hull. It hadn't been a pretty thing to look at, bulging in all the wrong places and covered in rust red paint, with pieces bolted on in places they had no business being. It didn't matter. She knew then that it was hers, and she fell in love.
Immediately after purchasing the derelict, Chelsea had found that inside was even worse then the hull. A nest of rats had made the shadowy halls their home at some point during its long stay in the junk yard, and more than half of the wiring had been chewed away and turned into nests. With her funds already dipping dangerously low, the first thing that she had done was hire an exterminator.
Chelsea had been unable to enter her ship for a week while her new ship was fumigated and cleaned from top to bottom. It didn't matter. She had her own ship and there was nothing in the galaxy that could possibly get her down. The ship was hers.
The name was not.
That week of fumigation turned into a week of frustration and anger when no matter how much Chelsea pleaded or begged, her ship's registry simply could not be changed. It led to the only sore point of the whole affair. Her wonderful, lovely ship would forever be known as the MSV Rusty Bob. She tried her best to ignore the indignity, it just simply wasn't always possible.
"Commercial vessel, Rusty Bob, you are cleared for departure," a voice rang out over the speakers on the bridge, a hint of a snigger hidden behind a cultured accent.
Now was one of those times.
"Copy that, Arcturus," East, the pilot, said. A wiry man with a shock of white hair, Easton Raullison had long since learned to ignore the indignity of his bosses ship's name. "We're heading out now. Keep the fires burning. I want there to be cold beers waiting when we get back."
Arcturus Station didn't respond. It didn't surprise Chelsea. Flight Control had far more worrisome things to handle than an annoying pilot who didn't know when to keep his mouth shut. Leaning back in her chair, Chelsea ran a hand through her hair as she watched the Systems Alliance's greatest construction project seem to back away from the viewscreens. She could see all of the construction ships flitting about around its half finished hulk, working diligently in the zero-g's of space.
The Rusty Bob did not boast a large crew. It had no need of such, nor did it have the room. For the short trips, only a week or two, Chelsea didn't bother hiring a dedicated Navigator. She could take on the role well enough on her own. She might not have been the best in the galaxy, or even all that good, but she was more than adequate enough for the jobs that she took on.
This was one of those jobs.
Now, it wasn't that she was terrible with making the computations necessary to take her ship into Faster Than Light travel. That was far from the truth. Indeed, if anyone was to ever take a look at her college grades they would find that she was actually quite the gifted mathematician. That unfortunately did not translate into being a competent navigator. Any qualified pilot knew that FTL travel was more of an art than a science, and that happened to be an area that Chelsea could not live up to. She knew numbers. It was her thing. It was what had allowed her to scrape out a modest living from ferrying supplies and discovering unknown caches of elements on untapped planets, never once falling into bankruptcy (though there had been a few close calls).
While not a true artist at FTL travel, Chelsea knew just enough to be dangerous.
On its own, this would not have been a problem. Most other ships would be able to take such mildly inaccurate jumps with just a few thousand kilometers of drift, nothing spectacular, but nothing life ending either. Perfectly acceptable.
The Rusty Bob was not most ships. It had sat in a junk yard on Earth for close to a decade before Chelsea had purchased it. It had already been an old ship by that point. Belonging to one of the first ship lines that was built after the discovery of the Mars Prothean Cache. Its FTL drive had been constructed during a time when humanity was just learning the workings of Element Zero. It could be... twitchy, at times. With an experienced pilot and a skilled navigator, this would never have been a problem.
East was not an experienced pilot, and Chelsea was only an adequate navigator.
Even still, this should never have been an issue. Maybe once in every ten-thousand jumps the ship might appear several hundred thousand kilometers off course, but nothing too drastic.
During those years that it had sat rotting in the junk yard, the Rusty Bob had had its fair share of pesky varmints that had come to call the hull its home. Chelsea had made sure that she had the entire ship rewired, but at the time her budget had been nearly nothing. That had led to more than a few shady electricians and maintenance workers bringing the ship back into shape.
Not everything had been put back in its correct place.
On their own, none of these things might have been a problem. They weren't on their own though.
It was a mess of tiny errors that all happened in less than micro-second. A micro-second that would forever change the course of humanity.
"Arcturus Control, this is the Rusty Bob," East said into the comms. He cleared his throat once, took a swig of day old coffee, then hit the transmit button again. "We are jumping out of system."
"Roger that, Rusty Bob. Have a good flight," Arcturus Control responded.
East hit the FTL button with the pad of his thumb.
In a single second, everything went wrong.
In a single second, everything went perfectly right.
Twilight Velvet took a deep breath of brisk morning air as she readied her routine behind her with her magic, the task so familiar that she could do it without actually watching. The coffee grinder crushed the beans, two eggs cooked over-easy on the stove, a single slice of bread toasted merrily in the oven.
Turning, Twilight smiled happily at her husband as he trotted up to her. He had deep bags under his eyes, a side effect of his job as an astronomer, but he looked as alert as ever. They met with a soft kiss, leaning into each other's sides.
"Hello yourself," Twilight purred out, shutting her eyes in contentment. Married life certainly suited the two of them. She giggled to herself as her mind wandered back six months ago, to the happiest day of her life. Night-Light had never looked so handsome as he did in his tuxedo.
"What are you thinking about?" Night-Light asked with a whisper, a smile in his voice.
"Oh..." Twilight nuzzled up under his chin, setting the table for two behind them with an extremely high level of multitasking and skill in magic. "Just our wedding."
"Our wedding?" Night-Light grinned, giving his wife's horn a quick kiss before turning and walking to their kitchen table. A goofy little grin crossed his face. He had his own memories about that day. "What about it?"
"I'm just remembering the way you held me when we danced," she said dreamily, fluttering her eyes at him. Even as she flirted with her husband, she poured a cup of coffee, set her eggs on a plate next to the freshly toasted toast, pulled a box of cereal out of the cupboard (Cocoa Colts, Night-Light's favorite), a bowl, and a jar of milk, setting it all out on the table.
"Like this?" Night-Light asked, stepping forward. He took Twilight in his forelegs, rearing back ever so slightly to balance more of his weight on his hind legs. Gently, and to the tune of silent music, they swayed and twirled around the room. Twilight giggled in his hold, and she could honestly say that she had never been happier in her entire life.
Night-Light finally pulled away from Twilight, sitting down in front of his bowl of cereal. She sat at her own spot, eying her eggs hungrily. They wasted no time digging in, enjoying the bursts of flavor.
"I heard about this great play yesterday," Twilight said after a few minutes had passed, enjoying their breakfast at a leisurely pace. "I was thinking that maybe we could go and see it tonight, make a date of it."
At Night-Light's wince, Twilight knew that they would have to wait for another time to see the play.
"I'm sorry, dear," Night-Light apologized, wincing. He hated having to tell her no, but the Academy had already scheduled him and he was actually honestly excited about the coming night. "I have to work. Maybe we could go tomorrow night."
Twilight shrugged, not wanting to make a big deal of it. Night-Light would have none of it though, an idea already forming in his head.
"We could still have that date tonight though," he said, feeling giddy as he actually thought about it. "Princess Luna is promising that tonight is going to be one of the most special night-skies that she has ever created. She's promising that it's going to be the most beautiful sight in generations."
Twilight smiled at him, leaning forward. "It sounds like a date."
Chelsea awoke to the sound of blaring alarms and flashing lights. A headache pulsed behind her eyes, and every pulse of the alarm sent a spike of pain through her head. With a groan, she shifted uncomfortably in her seat and sat up. She had absolutely no clue what had just happened. One moment, everything had been fine, the next there was just unconsciousness.
"East." Her voice was soft, almost too quiet for even her to hear. Her throat felt like someone had dragged sandpaper down it and she desperately needed a cup of water. She tried again. "East. What went wrong?"
For several long moments, he didn't reply and she felt a pang of worry. That quickly dissipated when his rough voice spoke out.
"What is it, Chel?" His voice sounded as bad as hers felt, barely a croak.
"Turn off the damn alarms," she managed to spit out. "They're killing me."
"Got it." She could hear him struggling around with the buttons across his panel, slapping them haphazardly in a mad attempt to get the alarms to stop. Moments later, everything fell silent and the lights returned to normal.
Chelsea slumped back in her seat relieved, instantly feeling relief. She could finally hear her own thoughts again. She sat up a second later, concerned. "East, where the hell are we? What happened? What did you do to my ship?"
"Dammit." East groaned from his seat in front of her. She could hear him lean forward and start typing on the keyboard, his fingers hitting the keys with a bit more force than maybe was necessary but she wasn't worried. The ship could take more than he could ever throw at it.
The clacking of keys stopped.
Leaning forward expectantly, Chelsea waited for East to tell her what the hell was happening.
He didn't say anything, and Chelsea felt her headache grow. "East, come one, speak to me."
"I..." He trailed off, his voice returning to some semblance of normal. "Something's wrong, Chel. I think the sensors are screwed up again."
"What?" Chelsea groaned. It was always something or another with her ship. It was to be expected that she would have to be constantly running maintenance to her baby flying, but just every once in awhile she wished that things would hold out just a little longer than they ever had to. "What makes you say that?"
"They're saying that we've landed," East said, confusion clear in his voice. "But they can't make out any sort of horizon, or even tell what it is that we've landed on."
"Like a construct, you mean?" Chelsea asked. Carefully, she unbuckled her seat belt, letting the six straps retreat back into their slots in her chair. She stood slowly, smiling when she felt nothing broken or aching in her body.
"Mayb," East aid, but he sounded unsure. "But if it is, its not like anything we've seen before. The sensors can't make head or tails of it."
Chelsea walked up to the windows set into the sides of the bridge, rubbing her head to try and ease the ache. "Hit the exterior floods."
"Yeah." His finger sought out the right button and slapped it.
Almost instantly, the line of floodlights beneath the ship flickered to life, illuminating whatever it was that they had found themselves on.
Chelsea forgot about the headache. She forget about the rather alarming fact that she had to wake herself up from unconsciousness after making an FTL jump. She forget that her ship could be stranded anywhere in the galaxy.
All that mattered was the sight of intricately engraved metal spread out for further than her eyes could see, into the inky blackness. Engraved metal. This was no naturally occurring phenomenon, which meant that she had just stumbled on possibly the find of the century. Chelsea could feel the excitement welling up in her bones. This could be the biggest break that she had ever had. This could make her set for life.
Turning back around, she looked at East in the pilot's seat. "Talk to me. What are the sensors actually telling you?"
"Well..." He looked at her skeptically, wondering just what Chelsea was getting at. "They can't find a horizon. I'm getting weird echoes, almost like whatever is beneath us is hollow. It's made of some metal that simply isn't on the periodic table."
"Hollow..." Chelsea muttered, turning back to look out the window. She thought about it long and hard for several moments before a seed of an idea took root, sprouting quickly. "What if... What if there is a horizon, and we just can't see it because whatever we're on is just too damn massive?"
"What are you saying?" East asked, clearly having no time to try and guess Chelsea's thinking.
"What if this is a Dyson Sphere?"