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.


11. Ad Astra 5 - The Puzzle is Solved


When the project was first started, the best and brightest flocked to it, wanting to be part of the team that solved the riddle of how to get to the ‘Far Star’ as the media had named the stellar anomaly. Starry and her entire team had been working for nearly half a decade on the puzzle. From the first, the idea of trying to reach that distant star was taken as a challenge. Part of the team was devoted to figuring out what materials they had at their disposal that were suitable for the project, and what others could be developed to suit the long-term needs of the craft. Some were only found on Equus, some were only found on the moon. A lot of them held promise, but none of them panned out. Other people were working on the innovative engineering designs that would be necessary. The hardest task though was to determine how to actually get the starship where it needed to go, and Starry Path and her personal assistants consisting of some of the finest minds in the space industries took that on.

However, Starry became more and more reclusive as progress was stymied, and soon it took intervention by her parents on a regular basis just to get her to eat and sleep. Even her dreams mirrored her laboratory. Luna and Path were unsure as to what to do. In order to make the mission possible, there were three huge hurdles: First she had to come up with some means of propulsion for the craft that would get to the anomaly in a reasonable time, then design the craft to suit, and finally figure out how to build it. Progress on the last two was predicated on the viability of the first, and so far she had not been able to crack that problem. If she didn’t make progress soon, she felt she would go mad.

# # #

Inside the Chrome Hive where Starry had the resources of the hive network at her beck and call, the alicorn stood at her collection of chalkboards, all kinds of equations written over partially erased other ones. For those who did not know her thought processes, it was complete and utter chaos. Cups of coffee and plates of half-eaten food littered nearly every surface, not to mention magitek tablets, open reference books, pages torn from notebooks, and some napkins with hastily scrawled ideas on them. The alicorn was not okay, but everything was driving her to make a breakthrough.

“Chemical… thaumaturgical… electro-thermal… pulsed thermal… mana fusion… none of it is enough!” She started screaming at one of the chalkboards as if it could talk back to her. “Why do you mock all my attempts to solve you?!

A voice came from behind her. “The puzzle has broken many a being. Every few generations, a piece is revealed, with no known beginning, and no known end. Everyone thinks it is in reach, but will it ever be solved?”

Starry turned to see who had entered her lab, and her eyes widened in surprise. “Techbird? But you never leave Pif’s Central Processing Cluster anymore!”

The griffon smiled softy as she slowly started to walk toward Starry. Her body was old – very old. By all accounts, she should have passed long ago, but still she stood there, bolstered by the best technology that Magitek Inc. could offer. Clear white and blue crystals covered part of her body, and her left foreleg and one of her wings were replaced. The parts were old and worn out, needing to be replaced long ago. Some considered her an abomination, and that she should have passed on when her body started to fail. However, Techbird was adamant that she would not pass on until the puzzle was solved.

Techbird embraced Starry before replying, “True… but now we need to have a talk. Come on… let’s go.” The catbird started to slowly walk out of the room. Apparently given little choice, Starry followed behind her.

As they walked along the corridor from Starry’s lab, Techbird said, “When I was working on my first innovations for House Path, I hit a wall. No matter what I did, I could not figure out how I could power Lord Path’s wings. Back then mana batteries were in their infancy, and one that was needed to power the wings would have been bigger than Path. I finally took a step back, and it was when I did that, inspiration finally hit and I was able to bridge the gap.”

The pair walked by one of the staff playgrounds where a bunch of griffon chicks and pony foals with their drone companions were playing dodge ball. Techbird sat down and gestured to Starry to sit beside her. Together they watched the children play for several minutes.

Eventually Techbird resumed talking. “Maybe you should relax for a while and get your mind off of the problem, then eventually another piece may reveal itself to you. More breakthroughs have been made over a cup of tea than a calculator.” Techbird chuckled a bit and then carefully stood up. “Ah… the charge is getting a little low. I’ll have to go now. I suggest that you just keep sitting here for a while and let your thoughts wander. If you need me, you know where I’ll be.” The old griffon walked off back toward her domain.

Starry settled down on the ground, laying her head on the sweet grass. She had almost forgotten what it smelled like. She closed her eyes, enjoying the warmth of the sun that she had been shunning for too long, tuning out the world. For a brief time, everything turned into a dreamy haze until something bumped her hoof. She opened her eyes to see a red ball.

“Hey, toss it here!” A griffon waved at her a few times.

Starry smiled, grabbed the ball in her magic, and tossed it toward the griffon. Instead of simply catching it, he turned just as it was about to reach him, grabbing the ball in his talons and adding his own momentum to it, sending it at the other team with more force than he could have thrown it by himself.

Starry stared at the ball, squinting into the lowering sun behind the players. Then her eyes abruptly went wide as realization struck, and numbers in her head began to calculate at a rate that would stun most queens.

# # #

Path was lying down on the couch in his office, reading a book when Luna walked in.

“Path, I need your help again. I think our daughter has gone off the deep end.”* She sighed as her ears folded back. “This is starting to get out of hoof,” she said with a shake of her head.

Path rolled off the bed and onto his hooves, stretched a little and then said in a resigned voice, “Okay, let’s see what she’s up to now.”

When the pair reached the playground, they watched the fillies and colts laughing and giggling as they were levitated in the air and spun around in seemingly random patterns. Starry’s horn glow showed that she was responsible for the display, even as she wrote her observations on a levitating chalkboard. Then she set the children down, claimed another pair of eager foals, and then began doing it all again.

“Starry, I’m going to need you to put those foals down and talk to us,” Path said calmly as Luna stood next to him, looking stern.

His daughter nodded a few times a little distractedly before setting them down and smiling. “I have had a breakthrough!” she exclaimed before her horn lit up again, and the three of them disappeared along with the chalkboard.

They reappeared back in her workshop, and Starry wiped the board clean. Then she started to draw.

“I kept over-thinking it! I forgot the basics! I kept thinking about how I was going to get everything there at once and by a single means. Rockets are not what is needed, or rather… it’s not the only thing needed.”

She drew the Equus system. “I forgot about two known features – the Oldbird Effect**, gravitational slingshot, and one other obscure technique!”

Path blinked. “Say what…?”

Starry continued as if she had not heard him. “So the biggest problem that we were running into is that we couldn’t get enough speed to reach the Far Star in a reasonable amount of time. However, this amalgamated method makes it so much faster!”

Luna was beginning to get caught up in Starry’s enthusiasm that had been so long absent. “Can you show us how?” she asked with a smile.

Starry’s horn glowed and a holographic model of the Equus system appeared in mid-air. She indicated a point which twinkled next to the moon. “There it is. That’s the yet-to-be-constructed starship. We build it in orbit around the moon. Then we use booster rockets to break it out of orbit, launching it toward a rendezvous with the Dim Star***. The boosters are discarded when they are exhausted. The ship drops down to within two to four stellar radii of the Dim Star, and we fire the main engines, the Oldbird Effect magnifying our returns on the burn.” As Starry spoke, the starship dived down to nearly graze the dwarf star, and then shot away again at a much faster rate.

“But it still won’t be enough to get us there,” Luna commented. “That’s always been the problem.”

“True, but we aren’t done yet. If we time it right, as it shoots out, it will head for Auntie Celestia’s sun, and it is that last slingshot that tilts its trajectory directly towards the Far Star.” The starship approached the glowing representation of Equus’ life-giving sun, and its trajectory was bent sharply even as it whipped out faster than ever.

“I suspect that despite all this, the starship will still be going far too slow,” Path said. Then he smiled slyly. “So – how do you plan to accelerate it more?”

Starry smiled back smugly. “I was thinking about it all wrong. I kept thinking that it had to be a tiny ship with a massive amount of fuel, but not only wasn’t that possible, but it would also not leave adequate space for a crew and its support systems. What we really need is a large ship that needs virtually no fuel from that point.”

Path blinked. “Now you’ve lost me.”

Starry grinned and kept talking. “It was initially proposed a long time ago, back during the beginnings of space science, that light could be like wind. Much like a wind-sail is used for the sea, a solar sail is used for the stars. You will need an enormous sail for our craft, proportional to the mass of the starship.” The starship image that she was displayed slowly unfurled a series of gigantic fins that made it resemble a flower opening its petals.

Luna said gently, “Daughter, the sun’s wind is far too weak to accelerate the starship significantly.”

Starry’s grin grew wider. “That’s where the final piece of this puzzle comes into play. Remember the hyper-velocity tunnels that were first utilized during the Nightmare Chrysalis War? That the spell that enables it to work effectively reduces inertia to near zero?”

Luna frowned, her ears laying back as she had her doubts about the application. “Of course I do. I also remember that only an alicorn or a mage-level unicorn can utilize that spell because it is far too mana-intensive. That is why the hyper-velocity tunnels turned out to be a dead-end for mass transit applications.”

“But that was when it’s used in conjunction with the transit spell. I calculate that if used by itself, it would be possible to maintain that spell for considerably longer. In fact, if I had a mana storage device of sufficient capacity, I believe I could keep it going for ten to twelve hours!”

Path’s eyes widened in surprise before narrowing again in concern. “Wouldn’t that be dangerous for you to maintain such a high-powered spell for so long?”

“Uncle Shining held his city-sized shield for far longer,” Starry replied dismissively. She started drawing on a floating chalkboard again, marking three circles which she labeled Equus, Moon, and Sun. She then drew the path of the starship, showing it grazing the sun and then whipping out. She made a mark on the path. “As soon as it is safe to do so, we deploy the solar sail, and its proximity to the sun will allow it to become very effective, very quickly. The inertia-cancelling spell will be cast at that time, and then because its mass is reduced to almost nothing…” She wrote the well-known equation F=MA and then transposed the values to write A=F/M. “…the large Force divided by the minuscule effective Mass results in a gigantic Acceleration!”

Luna sighed. “While we are quoting laws of physics, should I mention the inverse-square rule? The applied force will reduce exponentially as you get further from the sun. Despite the enormous boost, you still won’t get anywhere near fast enough… and why are you grinning?”

Starry’s smile was threatening to split her face by now. “Because the boost from the sun will only be the first part of the final stage. The second part will also enable a large portion of the population of Equestria to contribute to the mission’s success.”

“I’m all for that,” Path said, getting caught up in his daughter’s excitement. “What have you got planned?”

“A mana boost! Using all our alicorns as focal points, unicorns of all power levels can feed their magic into them, and they can send a directed beam at the solar sail. Because the beam is coherent, the inverse-square rule does not apply, and the thrust from a mana beam is far stronger than from sunlight! Virtually no steering will be required because the ship is already heading in the desired direction. With proper timing of the orbital maneuvers, Equus will be almost perfectly in-line with the starship’s path, maximizing the thrust.” She started scrawling figures under the diagram. “In fact, my rough first calculations show that if we can maintain that thrust for at least eleven hours, we can achieve the desired velocity. And while it’s impossible to reduce the effective mass to zero, we can come very close. I firmly believe we can reach 97% of the speed of light! The trip becomes possible!

The chalkboard clattered to the ground as Starry shut down her telekinesis.

“I NEED TO GET EVERYONE ON THIS NOW!” With a loud pop she was gone.

Luna looked over to Path with a grin.

“They grow up so fast,” the stallion said.

“Only eight decades ago, she was begging you for rides,” Luna said as she gave him a fond nuzzle. “Now she’s getting ready to ride into the unknown. She is indeed her father’s daughter.”

# # # # # # # # #

Author's Note:

*Luna has learned to speak modern Equish properly at last! … … Okay, it was a few decades back, but this is the first time that wasn’t in the far-flung future that we’ve seen it.

**Oldbird Effect = Oberth Effect. Look it up!

***The ‘Dim Star’ is the Equestrian name for the brown dwarf star that the Equus system orbits.

Photonic propulsion - 
This is the basis for the alicorn-powered thrust. Magic is far more powerful than photons though.

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