Life, Love, and Death in the House of Path

The House of Path has grown to be an enormous influence in Equestria, Griffonia, and other nations, and has gained many unusual members. But with such a varied membership, comes some unusual circumstances. Free Agent stunned the hives with his deviant mutant nature, but can a normal changeling queen learn to love? When an alicorn's dearest friends die, how does she cope? What are the new generation like? How does a pony needs to learn how to deal with a destiny that he never expected? What lofty goals do they set for themselves?
These are highlights in the lives of the various House Path members, and all the love, fear, and hope that comes with such a family of beings. And maybe a little bit of sex in between.
This series follows after "Quantum Gallop" and is episodic, and the chapters might not be added in sequential order.


10. Ad Astra 4 - The Goal


The Lunar Colony was nothing short of a new wonder of the world, even if technically it wasn’t even on Equus. The six giant habitat domes nestled in the craters and the three scientific domes on the far side of Luna’s moon were all protected by a combination of alicorn magic, Griffonian metallurgy and changeling composites. Each dome was home to close to three hundred of the bravest and cleverest colonists that the planet had to offer. While a large proportion worked to feed and support the colony, the rest were taking advantage of the environment to discover new alloys, invent new technologies, and find new ways to apply magic and mathematics. It was rapidly becoming the innovative capitol of the Equus system. Owned by no one person or nation, it was run by a council of nine – Earth Ponies, Unicorns, Griffons, Changelings, Diamond Dogs, Arabians, Crystal Ponies, Zebras, and Thestrals. The nine were the elected representatives from each of the primary races that called the domes their home. Although there were some pegasi and dragons, neither race were generally comfortable in the lunar environment, and did not have sufficient numbers to qualify for direct representation.

The council was advised by its resident alicorn, Starry Path. While her brother, Destined, was becoming a master of time and space manipulation on the grandest of scales, she was also coming into her own, branching out into cosmology and astronomy. It was only common sense that she was on the team that was working on what was called ‘The Pif Anomaly’. The VLLA (Very Large Lunar Array) finally completed its survey of a strange signal, and now she was summoned by the council to give a final report about what had been discovered.

# # #

Besides Starry, most of the House Path investigative team were in attendance, as were the nine councilors and their assistants. Even Princess Celestia and Princess Luna were present for this session. Needless to say, the large room was filled almost to capacity, and all were eager to hear what the team had found so far. The current chairperson was a crystal pony, specifically Amethyst Path, daughter of Citrine and Epiphany Path, and she called the meeting to order.

“So – what is it?” Free asked, derailing the conversation before it even began.

“Ah... it’s not so easy to explain in simple terms,” Starry began. She started to fumble around with her charts and diagrams.

Free leaned over to Path. “This reminds me of when you were giving Luna your speech on quantifying love all those years ago.”

Long Path shrugged. “Like father, like daughter,” he opined.

Starry cleared her throat. “Okay, for starters, this signal is distant. I mean really distant. We had to do several reference observations, and compared it to what Luna told us about the NSF and FSF. Anyway, it turns out that we weren’t measuring it exactly enough; it was still so very, very far away. Last summer we took an accurate measurement of its angular position. When I say accurate, I mean accurate up to nine digits, using the VLLA. Then we had to wait until winter and do it again.”

Path caught Starry’s attention and quietly reminded her to explain the acronyms to the attendees who were starting to get confused.

“Ah, sorry. VLLA is the Very Large Lunar Array, a set of three telescopes each with a primary mirror fifty meters in diameter. They are only able to be created and used in the moon’s low gravity. They would be crushed by their own weight on Equus. The NSF is short for the Near Stellar Field, these are the stars that Luna creates and controls, and it also makes up about 95% of the stars you can see on an average night on Equus. The FSF is the Far Stellar Field, These are so dim that only a few of these stars were cataloged by the Old World thestrals, but primarily we were only able to map them out once we left the atmosphere. They are just too far away and dim to be seen from the ground.”

Celestia and Luna raised their eyebrows, realizing just what she was starting to imply.

“We had to create two new units of length because standard ones were giving us meaninglessly large numbers. First is the Equus Unit or E.U., the average distance from Equus to the brown dwarf star that our world with its sun and moon orbits*, was decided upon because we needed a new larger unit when dealing with local astronomical distances. The second is the Light Year, the distance light travels in one year, which we use for cosmology. We had several different teams, both in the Lunar Colony and Equus-based, crunch the numbers and the observations. One Light Year is just a little less than half a million Equus Units.”

Starry looked over at Pif.

“Your signal is the furthest thing we have ever cataloged. When we processed all the data, we found a pattern. There is a rough halo of stars that surrounds Equus at a range from twelve to fourteen light years. Then there is a second that’s about twenty-eight to thirty light years out. Their emission spectrum is fairly constant – hydrogen, helium, plus oxygen in a few of them; all fairly common but beautiful stars. But your signal – it’s forty-two light years plus or minus four light years away. I was not expecting that.”

She held up a series of sixteen different charts, all showing different sections of the Anomaly’s spectrograph. “While this one also shows traces of the usual hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, then we get the signature of carbon, methane, argon, plus some elements we don’t recognize! We even compared the spectral lines to the millions of known molecules we have in our database, both organic and inorganic. Nothing matches!” Starry exclaimed. A close inspection showed some of the gaps on the charts were labeled with question marks. She started to pace back and forth, talking to herself as well as those watching her. “When you have what are likely new elements on top of the extreme distance and these light spectra, how do you explain such complex and unforeseen observations?”

Three of the council members raised their hand – the diamond dog, the Prench stallion, and the Arabian mare. The mare that spoke up. “We don’t understand what you’re talking about, Starry. Can you explain it to us before you work yourself up too much?” the mare asked with an apologetic smile.

“Oh no, here we go.” Path rolled his eyes while he whispered to Luna and Free. “Go get some tea and a donut for when she calms down.” Free chuckled in response.

Starry’s horn lit up brightly. “First things first: how we calculated the distance!” A chalkboard appeared and slammed onto the ground as she started to write in a frenzy. “To do this, we apply basic geometry. A triangle has three points, and each point has an angle which when you add them all together will always equal 180 degrees.”

As she wrote, the chalkboard was starting to creak under the pressure of her overenthusiastic writing, and the chalk began to crack.

“So for this formula we use a right triangle, which means that one of the three angles is ninety degrees. The problem is that we needed a massive baseline, the distance from vertex point A to point B. Point A is where the right angle of the triangle is. That we set as the brown dwarf star which Equus and its sun orbits. We measured the signal in January and established that as ninety degrees, as well as accurately measuring the distance to the star. Then we had to wait until we were exactly on the opposite side of the orbit and made the measurements again. The baseline was therefore the sum of the two distances to the star. In June when we looked back up at the signal, its angle had changed, but it took three more observations to get a number accurate enough. The angle measure at vertex B was 89.99997 degrees. You might ask why we needed so many digits in the answer, but that is because the closer to ninety degrees you get on the second point, the closer you to get zero on the last point. We ended up with 0.00003 degrees, which for those who are astronomy buffs is less than one one-hundredth of one arc-second. But I’m straying from the point. Using mathematics, we can figure out the lengths to each point since we know their angles, and it comes out to roughly forty-two light years away, give or take about four light years. Again I cannot narrow it down any further because of just how incredibly steep the angles are.”

“Calm down, honey,” Path warned as Starry took a few deep breaths.

Undeterred, Starry exclaimed, “Next topic!” The chalkboard disappeared. “Experiment time!”

She lit up her horn and a sphere of light formed in front of her. “This is our distant star. Would you say this is bright?”

“Y-e-s?” The Diamond Dog council-dog said warily.

The chalk moved to a new clean board that appeared. “Okay so let’s draw a graph. The vertical axis is brightness, the horizontal axis is time.” She passed the chalk to the diamond dog. “Start slowly drawing a line, then make the line dip when it dims, and rise when it brightens.”

Starry waited for the diamond dog to start to draw, and as he slowly moved across the board, she would dim the light at regular intervals, and the graph would show a dip.

“Okay!” Starry exclaimed as he reached the end of the board. “See how it seemed to dim, then brighten back up at a normal pace?”


“Now look back at the ball.” This time she levitated a ball smaller than the sphere, spinning it around the light and passing it between the simulated star and the diamond dog at the same interval she had used before. “The dimming is caused by something passing in front of it. That is how we can detect worlds orbiting distant stars. And there is one more effect.” She dimmed the ball of light down and motioned for everyone to move in, and they noticed the mini sun was off center, it had a wobble.

“That is caused because the object has mass, and is pulling at the star while the sun pulls on the object. If you know the mass of one, you can figure out the mass of the other. When we were studying the star with the Longshot VI probe, we looked back at the anomaly just before the probe ran out of power and we were able to accurately measure the wobble.”

She clapped her hooves and the two balls and the second chalkboard disappeared. “What am I forgetting…? Oh! Emission Spectroscopy 101! Let’s see...” She paced around a few times before her horn lit up again, and a red ball floated in the air in the midst of the audience. “Okay, this is a proton.” Her horn sparked and a blue smaller ball started to orbit it. “And that is an electron. What element is this?”

“Hydrogen,” the Saddle Arabian replied.

“Yes! Okay, so this is it in its normal state, but when we add energy to it…” The electron jumped to a higher orbit, stayed there for a few moments and then dropped back down, emitting a very bright red flash of light. “That flash that you just saw is a very specific kind of red. In this case, only the transition of an electron between these two energy states causes that exact frequency of red! If you split up the light from any star using a prism and you look at it close enough, you can see a dark band in the spectrum exactly where that red should be. That is caused by that element in the gasses surrounding the star absorbing that exact frequency of light. Other elements and molecules absorb different frequencies, and that’s how we can determine the composition of stars. We have identified the common things like hydrogen, helium, oxygen, argon, neon and nitrogen, and we are currently working on a massive catalog of identifying every known element and molecule on Equus. Actually I believe that Resonate Facet and Regolith are the two chief scientists on that project.”

She shook her head a few times to re-focus on her explanation.

“Anyway, once we can figure out the exact colors of light it absorbs, we can correlate it to a known substance. However, that signal has bands that we can’t identify!”

Starry shuddered a bit as she went over to the podium and slumped against it. “There are so many inconsistencies! There is something missing and it’s such a large piece that identifying it will bring about a change the likes of which I can’t predict!” she yelled and slammed her hoof into the podium.

Path looked at the overexcited alicorn with some concern.

The anomaly has no wobble!” Starry shouted. “You can’t have a massless planet orbiting a star made of things that don’t exist! What elements are there that don’t exist here and why?! Things don’t have negativemass! The concept of negative mass causes so many problems, but I cannot mathematically rule it out! That signal is mocking me from the very edge of our observable universe! Oh wait, I’m sorry. It’s the signal that actually defines the edge of our universe!” She started to fret and whimper as she sat down petting her tail.

Path walked over and sat next to her, nuzzling her a few times to calm her down before he spoke up. “That’s where we are going next.”

Starry just laughed. “You don’t understand how far that point is. If we used the strongest rocket we have, it would take us forever to reach it. We just don’t have the power.”

“Can you teleport to it?” he asked.

She shook her head. “It’s too far away. The only way we could is if there was a mana beacon already there so we have something to grab onto, so to speak.”

Path tapped his hooves on the table. “We have to have something that can get us there fast enough.”

Starry shook her head. “We do not.”

Path stared at her for a few moments as he thought. “We are going to that signal. We need to know what’s there.”

“Dad… we keep calling it a signal, but it’s not really one. A signal implies that information is being transmitted. Based on everything that my team and I have researched, I can tell you what I know with relative certainty. Number one: it is a star. Number Two: it has elements that I can’t identify. Number Three: it has no wobble but it dims. Number Four: it is around forty-two light years away and defines the edge of our observable universe.”

Path nodded. “Right. I want you to take half of your team and explore new ways to accelerate ourselves there, the faster the better. All the crazy ideas you thought up while drunk, I want to hear about them. Take the other half and figure out how to keep Equian lifeforms alive long enough to reach it and come back.”

Amethyst reached over to Path and poked him with her gavel, making him jump.

“Sorry,” Path apologized. “You know how I get about exploring. But I feel that this will mark the crowning achievement of the Lunar Colony, and for all Equians.”

The crystal pony chuckled a bit. “I know. I know. And I agree with you, Grandfather.” She turned back to the rest of the councilors. “It is proposed that all of the scientists on the lunar colony that are working on low priority projects should be moved onto this project. I am not going to give a deadline like Lord Long Path would, because this doesn’t have tangible milestones, but I would like to meet up in a year to oversee any progress if we don’t have a breakthrough sooner. I call for a vote. All in favor, please raise a hoof, paw, or claw.”

The councilors voted, and Amethyst nodded in satisfaction.

“The motion carries seven votes to two. Gentlebeings, we are going to the stars.”

# # # # # # # # #

Author's Note:

Oh my aching brain! The Ad Astra series is written in collaboration with AlaskaIsCold who did a lot of the “science-ing” and it was up to me to make it readable.

*The biggest elephant in the room is Celestia’s sun. I don’t care how powerful Celestia is – there is no way that she is going to manipulate a star of similar nature to Sol. In fact, the only way to explain this sun is that it is a much smaller and nearer object of a magical nature which can be forced into an unnatural orbit to create a suitable day/night cycle for the world. Equus and its sun and moon form a tri-body system that in turn orbits naturally around a brown dwarf star that is so dim that it’s no brighter than Luna’s stars, which in turn are really tiny versions of Celestia’s sun, and of equally magical nature. We’ve tried to make this as scientifically accurate as possible despite these handicaps. I really wish that I had an expert in astrophysics to calculate truly accurate sizes and distances though.

EDIT 1: Improved the description of spectrography. 
EDIT 2: Improved other scientific aspects. 
Special thanks to Jeff for his invaluable help!

Also looking at replacing the red dwarf with a brown dwarf as a more suitable replacement due to its smaller mass and luminosity.

EDIT 3 (May 12): Decided to replace the red dwarf with a brown dwarf as being the more likely candidate for the position, although I would have to question how the Equestrians know about the type to name them such.

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