Night reigned upon Equestria, its dark veil covering the land, sea and sky. Shy of a few nocturnal insects the wildlife laid asleep, blissfully ignorant of their surroundings and the small events of the night. Likewise Canterlot was almost devoid of activity; had it been a smaller village or town like Appleloosa or Ponyville all of its residents would be asleep. The Royal Guard kept a few patrols throughout the night and some ponies had nightly activities or duties, but none of them were particularly alert as one pony: Princess Luna.
Princess Luna had never slept through a night like other ponies because she, unlike most, marveled continually over the vastness and sheer beauty of the night sky and moon. Why wouldn't she? If Luna detested the night she wouldn't have taken on the responsibility of controlling nightfall on a daily basis. Despite having done the task for centuries the stars and light spectacles in the night sky still held some secrets that she could only guess at. Contrary to popular pony belief she and her sister Celestia did not create night and day; they controlled the transitions between the two. Granted the cycles of night and day did still occur naturally but the shift was very fast, creating essentially hour-long days. This was less than conducive to not only any progression of life in Equestria but the survivability of it as well. A heavy burden lay upon both the Princesses' haunches, if it weren't for either of them, life on the world would have been very different. As such while both Celestia and Luna - especially Luna - knew more about the moon and stars than the average pony they didn't quite know what to make of the vast space that covered the distance between their world, the moon, stars... and possibly beyond. Why was it so dangerous and difficult to traverse the cold darkness? Pegasi would die if they tried to fly through it (or at least be discouraged enough to turn back); unicorns would drain their energy far too soon attempting to levitate themselves, let alone casting a protective bubble on themselves to make the journey through the black space; and earth ponies... well, they had no chance whatsoever of making it through, not by themselves at least. Only alicorns, with their wings and magic, could travel between their world, the moon and beyond.
It was a sad fact that only two Alicorns existed: Celestia and Luna. Their responsibility over Equestria kept them from trying to travel to the stars. It wasn't so much the risk of never returning as it was as the possible futility of such an attempt. What if they just couldn't reach the stars? What if they were just lights? Was there anything else beyond them and if so would it be worth trying to reach the as-of-yet unknown? As vast as space was Celestia was assured that there was nothing beyond the stars. Luna, on the other hand, didn't share her sister's certainty. Not that she didn't believe her sister, but it had been due to the dark entity that had once possessed her: Nightmare Moon.
Nightmare Moon was a mystery to all. It was a widely accepted belief that Nightmare Moon was a dark personality within Luna which took a life of its own a millennia ago and taken over the princess. When the Bearers of Harmony defeated Nightmare Moon and freed Luna from her grasp, everypony believed that Nightmare Moon was gone for good. But Luna thought differently; Nightmare Moon had never been created by her. She was, as far as Luna knew, a foreign entity which harbored in Luna, took her form and twisted it in Nightmare's image. When Luna was released from Nightmare Moon, she felt the touch of another consciousness as it left a very clear message in Luna's mind. She cringed and was left baffled every time she heard those cold words speak in her head and did her best to keep them from surfacing but the message repeated itself to her occasionally:
'Look to the moon my sweet Luna. A great tribulation will befall in due time, and neither me, you, Celestia, or anypony else will be able to stop it. They are coming from beyond.'
A chilling message by itself, what truly frightened Luna was the tone of it: it sounded soft, compassionate and... scared. Why would Nightmare Moon be so empathetic? Luna supposed that the Bearers of Harmony's purifying powers have had some effect on her yet it didn't explain the frightened tone. Luna knew that Nightmare Moon did not scare easily. True, she was shocked at the turnabout when she confronted those six ponies a year back, but that had been surprise more than fear. The tone of her voice reciting the message each time seemed to fill with more and more dread. What shook Luna the most was that ever since Nightmare Moon left her, the times she heard that message grew in frequency. What did it all mean? Was this supposed crisis upon them? Who was coming and where was this beyond? The stars?
Such questions bred much doubt in Luna's mind and she was unsure as to do with the information that her former alter ego provided her with. She had never discussed it or Nightmare Moon's possible external origins to anyone, least of all her sister. Not only that, but what would the others make of the chance that there was life beyond the stars? It had often been debated by the older and philosophically-inclined ponies throughout history, yet it could neither be proven nor disproved thus most accepted that there was likely nothing beyond the stars. If Luna were to publicize the message it'd either get a big laugh from most or plenty of wide-opened jaws. Despite the ever-present chance of it being possible it'd just be too much for anypony.
Yet what would she have to do then? Nightmare Moon has never been by any means a prophet, yet she was far from ignorant, and her unknown origins could have let her know about something that even Celestia would be unaware about. Luna's good judgment demanded that she tell her sister, yet it had been so long since she kept it a secret, how would Celestia react knowing that her sibling kept something from her for so long? A nagging doubt clouded her decision and as such Luna kept quiet. She contemplated that the best course of action was to follow what the message said: keep an eye on the stars and moon.
Luna then noticed a shooting star. Odd considering that she had seen another one a few nights back; shooting stars were very rare in Equestria. Yet Luna was struck by the shooting star's direction: it seemed to be moving away from her, instead moving towards the moon. It disappeared as swiftly as it had appeared but Luna got a good look at it. She's seen many shooting stars during her long life, each and everyone unique in its way. Yet she could swear that it was the same one from a few nights before: Its light was of the same color, same intensity, and its trail was the same length as well! Luna had no idea what to make of this. Perhaps it was a coincidence. Perhaps it just was nothing of importance.
At least, she hoped that it was nothing.
A metallic contraption flew across space at astonishing speeds. It passed by planets and stars; within mere hours it had traveled past the solar system's star and headed towards the orbit of the eleventh celestial body. The dwarf planet itself was nothing but a frozen mass of rock and dirt thus it was of no real interest. It had four satellites of various sizes orbiting it, each with their own unique atmospheres, each of considerable scientific value. Yet from afar it seemed as if there was a fifth satellite orbiting the dwarf planet. More surprising was that it was not a moon like the other four, but a body of artificial origins, a ship to be exact.
It was impossibly massive, grayish-white in coloration. Its cigar-like shape was filled with various lights emanating from within. It moved silently, propelled by a cluster of gigantic engines in one end which spat out equally-large blue flames. Upon closer inspection it was possible to discern markings on the sides of the ship which designated it as UNS Promise. A representation of a single white star on a blue circle with a bold red outline was its ensign. This ship had traveled many light-years, wandering around a range of systems, without any real sense of direction. Yet there it was, noiselessly wading through the black space towards a blue planet on the other side of the system. Curiously this was the same planet from which the device had taken off.
It appeared as if the projectile-like machine was on a head-on collision course with the vastly larger ship. Moving considerably faster than the ship, it was soon upon the ship when it started to veer slightly and to slow down. Progressing for miles along the side of the ship it came upon a large docking bay. An invisible force pulled on the machine, disappearing in the hull of the ship.
The ship's journey continued as normal.
A mechanical hiss stirred the mind of Angus Addens into wakening. At first he wasn't sure what had transpired but with multiple clicks and a whoosh, he remembered, now basked in light. He struggled to open his eyes and when they were opened his vision was unfocused, blurry blotches of colors filled his sight. "Good morning Commodore," a soft feminine voice spoke, "good to see you've made it." Angus felt very light yet stiff; blinking a few times to get his eyes to focus he raised his arms to stretch them, finding them sluggish to move. His sight focused to a point where he recognized that the figure standing by him was a medical officer. Angus winced when the medical officer then flashed something into his eyes.
"Vitals look normal," the officer said, mostly to herself, "seems like there's some slight muscle fatigue, but that's to be expected." Angus ignored her and grabbed the sides of his cylinder-shaped stasis chamber. With a grunt he heaved himself out of it and stood precariously unbalanced on the cold metal-ceramic flooring. The officer grabbed him to keep Angus from falling over.
He looked over at her, his vision now restored and recognized her face: a brunette. "G'morning Doc," he said. His mouth felt like mush and so did his words.
The doctor chuckled. "Vocal function is optimal I see."
Angus felt strength and feeling returning to his numb body and when the medical officer let go of him he stretched his body as much as he could. By God does it feel good.
Some stretches later he turned his attention to the doctor. "Did we find one?"
The medical officer shrugged but still kept a smile, "I'm not sure sir, but I've already awoken some of the technicians to go over the ship's and probes' data. Most of the ship's crew and science team are waking up now; we've kept the colonists in suspension."
He nodded and stretched once more, a yawn escaping from his mouth and his spine making a small crack. That hit the spot, he thought to himself noticing that he no longer felt stiff or numb. "I'd better get me some proper clothes and uniform," he muttered, commenting on his stark white t-shirt and boxers.
"Should I take you to your quarters sir?"
Angus shook his head. "Thanks, but my brain hasn't been turned to goop. I still remember the way."
The medical officer nodded and took her leave to supervise another cryogenic chamber. It was only then that the commodore noticed that people were being put out of hibernation by other medical staff; most of them looked too dazed to actually go anywhere for a while. Smiling at the prospect that no-one seemed to have died during the trip Angus made his way out in one of the elevators. He selected the appropriate floor and the elevator took off. As Angus waited he rubbed his chin, feeling the short studs - the beginning of a beard. He made a mental note to shave before leaving. Gotta look presentable during the senior officers' meeting.
A terminal operator had a multitude of screens staring down on him, the brightness lighting up his face. He was looking intently at one screen in particular, the headline on it reading KRIG 7B PROBE RECORDS. His eyes widened in amazement as he read more and more the report. He quickly brought up another screen to check the probe's settings to see if the information that it brought back wasn't perchance incorrect. After running tests twice and once more for good measure he concluded that the probe had indeed functioned properly as intended and the report was correct.
"Amazing," he said to himself continuing to read the report. The descriptions of the various wildlife matched those of those like those of Earth: Birds, stags, cows, dogs, buffaloes... it just seemed too good to be true.
The wide smile on his face twisted to a shocked look when he came up on the section on SENTIENT BEINGS. The file detailed various structures placed in such a manner that the probe reasoned that cities were located on the planet. And according to it, they were still inhabited.
The operator blinked. That was the end of the particular file, no description of the beings was available. "Well what the hell are they then?" he demanded at the screen in the vain hope that'd it provide an answer, "Are they humanoids? Grey matters? What?"
He checked the file on wildlife and scrutinized it with a more attentive eye. Only then did he notice certain discrepancies: some of the described animals were incompatible with Earthly standards, noting that a considerably larger percentage of animals were aviary; others like the buffalos and cows seemed to have a different behavioral pattern to that of their Earthly counterparts (an error line described that the observation was inconclusive). It was interesting but it still didn't help determine the supposedly still active sentient beings. Then something had caught his eye:
On the Krig 7B's horse-like creatures it had kept repeating the same error line over and over: ERROR: conflicting results (equipment malfunction/error?). The error didn't appear nowhere else as much as it did on the horses observation and the operator couldn't really make much out of it. Perhaps it was indeed an equipment malfunction as the probe deduced, but he found it odd that the probe failed when observing the horse-like creatures (if the probe was not sure, how could he be sure?). The operator dismissed the error and continued scouring the wildlife observations for a possible candidate of being a creature with logical thinking. After some twenty minutes of searching he was unable to discern a sentient being from any of the of the planet's fauna. How the hell was he gonna explain this in his report to the science team and officers? If he'd reported the errors and discrepancies the top brass would be all over him attempting to understand why the probe was unable to identify any sentient beings when it reported them still living in them?
He buried his head under his arms in frustration. "Useless piece of shit can't even make up its mind," he muttered to himself, pondering on his options. A criminal thought came rolling around his head. I could fake the report and say that the sentient beings went extinct or-
The operator shook his head. No, no, no. They'd put me in chains if I did that. He deliberated over the options for a few more minutes when he realized that there was no other reasonable alternative. He sighed and began compiling his synthesized version of the report, without lying or leaving anything out.
He knew that he would regret this.
The meeting at the command station was composed of some twenty members from the officer staff and science team. Tobias Waldvogel, the senior biologist of the science team, was among the group attending. It had been no more than two hours since they had been brought out of cryogenic sleep so by now any lingering illnesses common from being pulled out of a stasis chamber had passed. Yet Tobias sensed something was off. He couldn't, for the life of him understand what it was, but he could see that most of the officers had a concerned look about them. Perhaps if a meeting between officials was held so soon after finding a planet might have indicated that something was wrong. Yet if that was the case, then what was wrong?
The attendees stood to attention when the ship's commodore entered the room. Angus Addens' stature was quite imposing to Tobias. True, Tobias was quite short himself and Angus couldn't have been any more than 1.8 meters tall, but the dogged look on his face was quite a sight. The 51-years-old commander was beginning to show his age, his cheekbones were becoming more prominent and his dark-hazel eyes were sinking into their sockets. He was clean-shaved like any good officer, and his hair, aging brown, was a variant of a military cut which allowed for some hair to grow more on the back of his head and neck: it wasn't hung loose, there was hair that covered those back areas. His uniform matched those of the other commanding officers within yet it was more elaborate. The uniform consisted of a navy blue suit coat, trousers, white shirt, and four-in-hand necktie. The jacket was double breasted with six gold-colored buttons and the gold sleeve stripes denoted his rank. While the full uniform included a blue combination cap the commodore had no love for hats when the situation did not require for it.
Angus took his spot on the round table and began to speak with a noticeable South African twang. "Good morning everyone," he greeted, looking around the table taking in each face, "as you may all guess, one of our probes has returned with a positive reading from the planet Krig 7B: the first during our 89 years in deep space."
This lit up the faces of the science team members. However Tobias noticed that the same could not be said for the officers, most still wearing an anxious expression. What did they know that the science team didn't?
"As per protocol the ship's AI system had sent an advanced probe to orbit around the planet for a more detailed analysis," he continued, apparently not noticing the worried looks on his subordinates. "It has spent a full week by Earth standards carefully observing Krig 7B, collecting thousands of images and creating various topographies and cartographies of the planet."
He punched some commands into the screen in front of him and a hologram appeared in the center of the table. It was a three-dimensional model of a planet slowly spinning clockwise, flickering slightly. It had pristine blue oceans which covered a little more than a third or so of the planet, surrounding the world's three continents. A large land mass connected with another (in a manner not dissimilar to the Americas back on Earth) formed the first continent; the second continent was a very large island with a vague funnel-like shape in the Southern hemisphere; the third was a central landmass covering nearly half of the planet, stretching from pole to pole. Some islands here and there were evident, much like those in the Pacific and Caribbean seas, but the central super continent was visually more interesting to those attending. The land areas were color-coded to represent a particular biome. What was interesting to note was that most of the land, particularly the super continent, was full of grasslands and rolling hills. Some deserts here and there, some woodlands were represented as well and extensive mountain ranges spanned in a linear fashion in all of the continents. As to be expected tundra capped the Southern and Northern landmasses as they approached the poles.
Tobias couldn't help himself: a grin grew slowly the more he observed the model. Krig 7B had a slightly larger circumference than the Earth and the ratio of different biomes favored more grasslands than their home planet. Yet this find was beyond their original expectations when they had first set out to discover an Earth-like planet nearly 90 years back. Had it been a gas giant like Jupiter with some bodies of fresh water it would have been a success. But this... this was further than that, this was a one in a billion chance! Again the faces of the science team members grew brighter; the good news kept on coming and even some of the officers and crew's staff began to smile at their prospects.
At once the screens of each attendee lit up with numerous reports and files of the various attributes about the planetary biomes, fauna and wildlife. Once again the scientists were stunned.
"The probe has also had time to observe some of the life present on Krig 7B," the commodore went on, pressing some more commands on his interface, "and despite a possible range of 32.1 to 46.7% of truly alien life, the remaining populations have been described near-identical or exact to Earth populations. At least visually."
The central hologram flickered to show a multitude of images of a bird's eye view of the many locales on the planet: a herd of buffalos traveling a desert landscape; flocks of birds and unknown aviary creatures flying across sky over woods; cows wandering on a green pasture. One image in particular captured Tobias' attention depicted a group of multi-colored horse-like creatures galloping atop of a grassy hill. To say that it was amazing was an understatement, at least in Tobias and, as he gathered from gauging the bewildered reactions of the others, the others' view.
Angus allowed for a long pause for the scientists and officers to take in the information which the images and interfaces provided with. When eyes fell upon him once more he proceeded with his speech. "At this point we would've been awakening the colonists and any remaining staff still in cryogenic sleep."
Angus lowered his gaze to his interface, his appearance solemn and quiet. The suspension in the air was so thick in the air that everyone could taste it and they all shared the same inquiring look.
The commodore delayed his response to dial some new commands. The hologram flickered once more to show new images. They still depicted top-to-bottom view of the terrain, yet what they showed surprised everyone.
From the images it was possible to distinguish assorted structures arranged and organized into districts or in a manner which denoted that they were all interconnected by some form of road or walkway network. Each image it showed more of the same features which were impossible to occur within natural circumstances. The implication of the pictures slowly dawned on everybody's mind.
The commodore saw this shift in mood among the officers and scientists and obliged them with one bit of information: "Gentlemen, what the probe has uncovered with these photographs are established settlements, most likely founded by beings of higher intellect."
While by then Angus had stated the obvious, he stopped anyone from speaking by adding more on the plate.
"What is troubling is that the probe confirmed that these are indeed still inhabited but cannot discern who or what the inhabitants are."
The attending staff exchanged glances and troubled looks. This was what the officers were afraid of. While it had been a distinct possibility that humanity would encounter an extraterrestrial being with comparable intelligence and the preparations that they made with the UNS Promise it was still a bombshell. For all those attending, it had only felt like hours since they had left the familiar solar space in which the Earth resided; such a discovery felt too sudden. The long-lasting question as to whether or not humans were alone in the universe had finally been answered yet from it spawned more concerning questions: were these aliens friendly or hostile? Would it possible to establish a relationship between the two species? Would humanity be able to fight the third kind if it needed to?
Tobias knew that the UNS Promise had around five thousand soldiers, police and others who could be pressed into military service, more if colonists were to be conscripted. The ship also had automated factories that could be converted to manufacture military equipment and vehicles if need be. On the other hand the UNS Promise had a finite amount of resources and if it didn't get more from elsewhere, a war of attrition could be disastrous. Even the pool of manpower made available from the tens of thousands of colonists wouldn't be able to maintain a slugging match for long. Tobias might not have the mind of a military tactician but it was clear that an inter-species war could spell disaster not only to the colony ship but to humanity itself.
Addens took in the dismayed reactions and mulled over his next phrases. He made a satisfied sound and went on: "There is, however, some good news in regards to this revelation," he shifted in his seat, checking his interface for the file he needed, "the probe has found no artificial satellites, detected no electronic devices, nor has it identified any engine or mechanical apparatuses. This points to the likelihood that whoever the inhabitants have not made any significant technological advancements. Simulations have shown that the scientific capabilities of the extraterrestrials are pre-black powder and pre-industrial.
"Therefore, before any action about descending upon Krig 7B is taken, I move for doing a further investigation with the ship's own relaying equipment to make a more informed decision. Any questions before we vote?"
Tobias looked around for any takers to challenge the commodore's judgment and when none were given, Tobias went on to ask his own question. "If I am not mistaken sir, for a detailed analysis with the Promise's systems, we must get close enough to the planet. How close must we be?"
Angus looked to an officer whom Tobias recognized as the Communications Supervisor. The man hesitated as he checked some files on his own screen. "Around, ah, 400,000 kilometers," he said in a monotone tone, "the ship's equipment would function best at 380,000 kilometers or closer though. At around the distance between Krig 7B and its moon it would be optimal."
Waldvogel nodded, satisfied with the officer's answer. "Any further questions?" the commodore said, looking at his officers and scientists. With some shaking their heads in response he initiated the vote with his computer; within a minute the polls were in and were displayed in the central hologram:
Out of the twenty votes fourteen voted for inspecting the planet while only one was against. Five abstained.
Addens seemed pleased with the results and proceeded with the meeting. "It's decided then: we shall set course for Krig 7B's moon and after a detailed analysis we shall meet again to discuss our course of action. Any final comments or questions?"
When no-one said anything he dismissed them and they took their leave. Only Tobias stayed behind at the command station with the commodore. "Do you have something to share mister Waldvogel?" the commodore asked.
Tobias noticed that he somehow appeared tired, worlds away from the determined facade which he sported when he first walked in the meeting. It did bring a shred of worry to Tobias' mind and it made itself evident in his words.
"Yes sir, I wanted to know what your personal thoughts were on the, ah…" he paused to search for the appropriate word, "discovery of the probe? Specifically how it couldn't determine what the inhabitants were. What's your take on that?"
Angus let out a long sigh, musing on the biologist's query. "I'm not sure Tobias," he replied in an honest and casual manner, "personally I don't think it's as important as to how they will react to our arrival. If it does result in conflict I can guarantee that I'll do everything ensure that we survive."
He looked straight into Tobias' eyes; the commandant's own eyes gave off a hardened look. "But don't think that I'll send dropships full of armor, aircraft and troops at the first signs of trouble. If we can make any negotiations or compromises with ET I'll take that chance. I want to keep war as a last resort. Our mission is to colonize, not to invade. Remember that."
Tobias relaxed, feeling relieved that his superior had his priorities straight and kept a good sense of judgment. Pleased with the response, he nodded and left, leaving the commodore alone in the command center. Angus sighed once more, rubbing his temples so as to ease the tension. He pushed a button again and brought up the holographic model of Krig 7B. He took a hard long look at the semi transparent representation and found himself mesmerized by the beauty of it. Even the Earth looked as beautiful as Krig 7B, a long time ago. Inching closer to take a closer look at the hologram he asked to no-one in particular:
"What other surprises are there in store for us then?"
AN: Well, for some reason beyond me I've decided to write a MLP: FiM fanfic. Heavily inspired by Harry Turtledove's WorldWar and Colonization series, I've decided not to make it into a crossover since it doesn't involve anything from the books, not the Race, not the World War II stuff, nothing.
Note that this is my first MLP fanfic ever, and while I have just got introduced to the cartoon I still don't know it too well. Any MLP stuff is either from what I've gathered from the few episodes which I've seen or the show's wiki. Please don't go ballistic if any of the mane cast or defined ponies are OOC, I'm still learning. :)