Cosmic Lotus

Advances in science and magic had detected the Anomaly – a star in the heavens that was unlike all the others in the night sky. Intense research had only served to deepen the mystery. Although Equus had a vibrant space program, going forty-two light years to investigate had been considered impossible until now. The Cosmic Lotus program was born, and over a hundred crew-members of multiple species were sent into the void to discover the unknown. This is their story.
The prequel to this story is the "Ad Astra" arc in the story – "Life, Love, and Death in the House of Path".
This will be a crossover story with my "Chakat Universe".


8. Applied Maintenance

Wandering’s sides hurt from laughing. Thankfully, Willow was winding up his comedy act with a series of one-liners and the alicorn would soon be reprieved from the orange changeling’s unrelenting onslaught.



“My stallion friend says that he can see through any mare – he sure is missing a plot!”

“He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot, but don’t let that fool you… he really is an idiot!”

“He wrote a book once. From the moment I picked it up until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it!”

“I find the GemVee very educational – the moment somepony turns it on, I go to the library to read a book!”

“I like to have a drink while I’m reading, but it only takes one to get me loaded. Trouble is, I can’t remember if it’s the thirteenth or the fourteenth one!”

“Goodnight, everyone! I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening… but this wasn’t it!”

Willow made his way off the stage to an enormous amount of cheering, hoof-stomping, and various other methods of applause from the audience which consisted of almost every waking crewmember. Even after several months of travel, the ship’s Entertainment Officer kept coming up with fresh material for his acts, whether they were comedy, drama, musical, or anything else that would amuse or inspire the crew. He was an extremely versatile changeling, and that was going to be of ever greater importance as the journey continued. There was no way that anyone could take a vacation, and keeping everyone from getting cabin fever was crucial.

Of course, Willow’s stage shows were hardly the only means of doing this. He had a hoof in just about every form of entertainment ranging from hosting games to sourcing fresh shows from Equus via the data link. Even with the information flow slowed down considerably by the time dilation, enough new GemVee recordings were procured to fill the average crewperson’s free hours. The orange ’ling was possibly the hardest working member of the staff, but of course he also got a lot more than job satisfaction out of it.

Wandering sent a brief thought over the changeling network, and Willow’s head turned to find the alicorn. Spotting him, the changeling made his way over.

“Did you want me for something, Captain?”

“I just wanted to congratulate you personally on a great show. You must be feeling pretty pleased, not to mention bloated.”

Willow patted his stomach. “Yeah, I almost overdid it there. I’m going to my cabin and sleep off this feast.”

“You’ve certainly earned a break. When do you have time to socialize?”

Willow chuckled. “After all this time, you haven’t noticed that I don’t have time to socialize?”

“You’re certainly bucking the trend as far as your fellow changelings are concerned.”

The changeling shrugged. “What can I say – they get their emotion food one way, I get it another way.”

“But what about a personal relationship – don’t you miss that?”

Willow shrugged. “I have friends; I’ve never felt the urge to do more.”

Wandering nodded thoughtfully. “I suppose that’s good enough for a changeling. Even with a bit of changeling blood in me, I don’t always see things your way. Anyway, I just want you to know if there’s anything that I can do to help you, I’m always available.”

“You worry too much, Captain,” Willow said with a grin.

“That’s my job, Willow. Anyway, I won’t hold you up anymore. Go sleep off your binge!”

“Aye, sir! Seeya tomorrow!” The changeling headed for the exit and his cabin, ideas for another show already swirling through his head.

Wandering watched him leave, hoping that the orange ’ling was not overdoing things. Willow was too precious a resource to lose due to overwork. Too bad the entertainer had no special somepony to keep him distracted occasionally and otherwise prevent Willow from turning his profession into his obsession, but even though Wandering was concerned about the changeling’s welfare, he drew the line at playing matchmaker.

The gathering was shifting into its second phase – party time! It was six months since they had departed on their mission, at least by their clock if not the ones on Equus, and that was deemed a good enough excuse to throw a shindig. Willow’s comedy act was just the warm-up for the event which was as much an excuse for some of the crew to offer up their home-brew efforts as anything else. Wandering was just as curious as any of the crew as to what they had achieved. After eighty years of sampling beers, he had certainly enjoyed an extraordinary variety, so he had high hopes for this lot. The mess room also doubled as a community center with the tables shifted to the sides and the chairs turned to face the tiny stage. These were now stacked aside and party foods brought in along with the first of the kegs of home brew. The alicorn moved to get in line to try them out. Just a few samples – as ship’s commander, he did not have the luxury of getting drunk. Still, he had the extraordinary constitution of an alicorn….

Wandering groaned as he held his head with one hoof while levitating a couple of aspirins and a glass of water to his lips. He barely had the time to down the medicine with a gulp of water when a knock on his office door made him wince.

“Come in,” he called, the effort making his head throb.

A light-teal pegasus mare entered uncertainly and approached Wandering’s desk. “You wanted to see me, Captain?”

Wandering just glared at Radiant Dawn for a long time, and the mare slowly wilted under his gaze. At last he spoke up. “What in Celestia’s name was in that brew?” he grated out.

Radiant Dawn gave the alicorn a nervous grin. “I might have overdone it a bit…”

“A bit?!” He winced at his own outburst and calmed down. “Radiant, I gave permission for crew members to indulge in home-brew beers as a relatively harmless and potentially enjoyable pastime. I did not intend for you to incapacitate half the waking crew with that… that… whatever it is! How in Tartarus do you even manage to make a brew that’s more like beer-flavored moonshine?”

“Umm… skill?”

Wandering closed his eyes and sighed. “Look, Radiant, I’m not going to ban you making your brews, but from now on you pass them by Medical and then have them dispensed at the bar.”

“Oh. Okay, sir,” she replied, relieved that her favorite hobby was not going to be prohibited. “Is that all, Captain?”

“No. You get to do all the basic maintenance chores for a week – after your normal duties. Dismissed!”

Radiant Dawn groaned. A week of dispensing toilet cleansing spells and removing dust from the ventilation ducts was not going to be fun. As she trudged out of the office, she reflected that it was a good thing that she had something to drown her sorrows.

When Wandering’s headache finally abated, he headed for his adjoining cabin to freshen up a little. He stripped off his full uniform and went into the bathroom. After splashing some water on his face, he saw his bloodshot eyes and unkempt mane in the mirror and decided that he was overdue for a bit of pampering. Donning just a minimum top with his rank bars instead of the entire outfit, he headed out. He made his way down to one of the lower decks and entered the ship’s spa.

Besides offering the obvious hot tub, hooficures, and massages, the spa also provided mane cuts and styling. The person in charge of the spa was Ixia, a yellow changeling who was a skilled masseuse, mane stylist, and conversationalist. It was a lot of jobs for one person, but with only thirty or so crewmembers awake at any particular time during the journey, she was able to cope with all of that and more. How much more was known only to a very select few.

“Captain! Is this business or pleasure?” the changeling asked as he walked through the door.

“A bit of both, Ixia. Can you do something with this mane of mine and follow it up with soak in the hot tub?”

“Certainly,” she replied cheerfully. “I’m completely free right now, although I suspect that I will have a few more customers later.”

As he headed for the hairdressing chair, Wandering asked, “You didn’t sample any of Radiant’s brew, I take it?”

The changeling chuckled. “I don’t even like beer, so I avoided that fate.” She placed an apron around his neck and considered the mess of hair. “What do you want me to do with this? I could style this into something more chic.”

Wandering smiled and shook his head. “Just my usual neat formal cut, please. As captain of this ship, I have to set some standard, and fashion model isn’t it.”

As she lifted a brush and some detangler spray to get some semblance of order to the mane before cutting it, she sighed and said, “I’ll get you to be a little bolder one of these years, Captain. We still have most of a decade for you to loosen up a bit.”

The alicorn chuckled. “Good luck with that, Ixia. I’ve kept the same basic cut for most of my life.”

“Well past time to change it up then,” she replied as she started snipping away. “Anyway, you mentioned that you had some business also?”

“Yeah. Purple Point.”

The changeling nodded. “I thought as much. I’ve managed to convince Point to come back for some regular massage sessions to relieve his tensions and help keep his alter ego at bay. That will give me more time to work on his therapy.”

“Any results yet?”

“Captain, those kind of changes don’t happen overnight. I can’t discuss confidential details about him, but yes – he does seem to be responding favorably, although it’s slow-going. House Path took ages to get his head back together, and it’s going to take a similar amount of time for me to deal with his inner demon.”

Wandering sighed. “I know. I’m just a bit too eager to see Point whole and happy.”

“Aren’t we all?” Ixia continued to comb and snip his mane until she nodded in satisfaction. “How’s that?”

Wandering looked in the mirror and nodded in satisfaction. “Great job as usual, Ixia. Now let’s mess it up a bit with a dip in the hot tub.”

Ixia grinned. “I’ll fix it up again afterward. Wouldn’t you like a massage first? You seem pretty tense.”

“Nah – just a relaxing soak will do.”

“As you command. Go hop in while I fetch some towels.”

Wandering walked into the adjacent room where a large tub steamed, the scent of medicinal herbs wafting from it. He would not be surprised if his daughter had grown them fresh just for this reason. Eschewing the steps, he took off his top and flapped up over the rim before lowering himself into the warm water. Sighing in contentment, he settled onto one of the underwater benches and tried to relax.

Ixia returned with a stack of towels, and she placed them on a nearby shelf well out of splash range. Then she joined Wandering in the tub. When he raised a curious eyebrow, she said, “You still need that tension relieved. Turn around and I’ll work on your neck and back.”

Wandering did as he was told while Ixia shape-shifted her hooves to their specialized massaging form. Then she applied her masseuse skills to his tense muscles, working knots out of them before moving on to his forelegs. The alicorn cooperated with her, feeling the tension ease considerably. He was both amused and embarrassed as she held her breath underwater to work on his hind legs too. Finally she was finished and he leaned back in the tub until his chin was barely above the water.

“You were right – I did need a massage. I feel a lot better now.”

Ixia smiled as she did the same as Wandering. “Next time, make it easy on your therapist and have the massage before the tub.”

Wandering grinned and replied, “Okay, Doc.”

The alicorn was one of the few aboard who knew that Ixia was more than just a mane stylist and masseuse. She was a qualified mental health counselor and had a doctorate in psychology. She just chose to do her work undercover. Despite having an official counselor aboard in Random Dawn, the changeling still found that many people, ponies especially, would confide in their hairdresser or masseur things that they were embarrassed to bring up in front of the counselor. She even volunteered to man the ship’s bar occasionally just so she could hear even more candid remarks.

After about twenty minutes, Ixia declared it was time to get out of the tub. With a touch of regret, Wandering levitated himself up out of the water and as he hovered there, he applied a spell that expelled the majority of the liquid from his coat and back into the tub. He alighted on the platform adjacent to the tub and grabbed a towel in his magic. He dried his mane first before starting on the rest of his body.

Ixia climbed out too, the water sliding off her chitin much more easily, and she had little to towel off afterward. She then helped Wandering finish drying himself off before brushing his mane back into shape. “There – you look much better, Captain.”

“Thanks, Ixia. I’d better make my rounds now and show the rest of the crew the standards that I expect of them,” he said with a wink.

“The more customers, the better,” she replied.

The alicorn nodded, knowing that she got a lot of her emotional sustenance from the happiness and gratitude of her clients. “Keep Doctor Zubon apprised of Purple Point’s progress.”

“I’ve made Purple Point my priority project.”

Are we going to continue alliterating?” Wandering asked.

“Shards! I hope not!” Ixia replied with a giggle.

“Have a great day, Ixia,” Wandering said as he left the spa. ‘Now to find out how the rest of the crew is coping. I just hope that the anniversary celebrations are just a tad less headache-inducing when they come around.

Wandering’s route did not quite take him past the thaumophysics laboratory, but he felt the urge to do so, quite possibly because of the rise in frustration that was being passed on by the changeling assistants through the network. He decided that it was time to stick his nose in and have a quick look around.

The first person that he saw was Cosmic Dawn, seated at her desk but with her head resting on her front hooves, ears flattened, glaring at the screens in front of her. Each of them was covered with equations that were incomprehensible to the alicorn. Wandering knew that the unicorn had been working on the time dilation anomaly ever since they had been boosted to near light-speed, but without coming any closer to a solution, and that had to be very frustrating for one of the top ThD’s in the field. Although he had no hope of helping her with the mathematics, he decided to see if he could at least offer some more encouragement.

“Good morning, Dawn.”

Cosmic Dawn nearly jumped out of her seat in startlement. She had been so wrapped up in her thoughts that she had not noticed the alicorn’s arrival. “Oh, Wandering… I mean, Captain! What can I do for you?”

Wandering chuckled. As the daughter of Forest Breeze, Avatar of Honesty and friend of the family, Cosmic Dawn had been a regular visitor and knew the Path family by name, and she had yet to get into the habit of addressing him by his title. “It’s okay, Dawn, this is an informal visit. Just seeing if you’re making any progress yet?”

“If by progress you mean all the wrong ideas that I’ve eliminated, I’ve made plenty,” she grouched. “It just doesn’t make sense!”

“I wish I could help, but it’s way out of my field of expertise. If it makes you feel any better, none of the thaumophysicists back home have had any more success than you.”

The mare sighed. “I know, but while I’d love to be the first to figure this out, right now I’d settle for a solution that I can work with. There are so many questions that need to be answered! I think that this one breakthrough would keep the entire world’s thaumophysicists occupied for decades to come.”

“And all this caused just by going fast,” Wandering said, shaking his head with wonder. “It’s not as if we haven’t had the means of travelling really fast back on Equus. Teleportation is instantaneous. Hypervelocity tubes can get up to some impressive velocities if they’re long enough.”

Dawn nodded. “Yes, magic makes a mockery of every attempt that I have made to reconcile… these… results.”

Her voice trailed off and Wandering looked at her curiously. “Is something wrong?”

“I’m an idiot.”

“Well, we all knew that, but we let you come along anyway,” he joked.

Dawn looked at him with a smirk. “Leave the comedy to Willow, okay?”

“I will if you tell me what brought on that epiphany.”

“I’ve been overthinking one aspect. Tell me – what’s my profession?”

“Ah, amnesia now. It’s getting worse.” Dawn gave him the stink-eye and he relented. “Okay! Okay! You’re a thaumophysicist.”

“And what does a thaumophysicist do?”

“Umm… reconcile how the laws of physics and magic interact to make the universe work?”

“Close enough. So, I would take all those things into consideration when working on a problem, right?”

“Right,” he replied promptly.


“Wrong? You’ve lost me.”

The mare sighed in exasperation. “I’ve been ignoring the fact that basically there was no magic involved in our acceleration.”

“Er… yes there was. The mass-reducing spell and the alicorn propulsion.”

“Irrelevant!” she snapped, making Wandering jump a little.

“Okay, explain it in words of no more than two syllables for me.”

“While the thrust was magically generated, it was still purely a push on our sails. There was no spell involved in that – only action and reaction. Basically just an enormously powerful and focused version of what we were getting from the sun. And as for the mass-reducing spell, you told me yourself that it is imperfect, and that a tiny fraction of the mass is still left over which needed to be accelerated, right?”

“Right,” he replied tentatively, hoping that she was not about to contradict him again.

“Once again, the spell did no actual accelerating; it just removed the majority of the mass that needed to be accelerated. This reduces it to a pure physics problem! Consider, when the mass reduction spell was turned off, the time and distance dilation remained unchanged."

Wandering frowned. “But haven’t you been assuming that the ship accumulated some unknown magical energy signature to create the time-dilation side effect?”

She nodded. “Which I have been unable to find any trace of. I think I and all of my colleagues on Equus have been looking at this manticore from the wrong end all along. Now what self-respecting thaumophysicist would ignore the effects of magic and concentrate solely on the physical side of things?”

“No one but you now?” Wandering guessed.

Dawn grinned back at him. “Got that right! Now, if you will excuse me, Captain, this mare has scientific history to make.”

She turned back to her screens and wiped off everything on them. She immediately started filling them again, although to the alicorn’s eye, the equations were no more comprehensible than before. He decided to chalk this up as a win and quietly left the lab. Things were looking up this day!

He was feeling quite cheerful as he continued his informal tour of inspection until he got pinged over the changeling network.

Captain to the bridge, please!

On my way,’ he replied, wondering what was going on. In six months of travel, he had never been summoned to the bridge. Anything that needed his attention was able to wait until he arrived whenever it suited him. Whatever this was, it had at least one notch more urgency than usual, and he hastened his gait.

Stepping onto the bridge, he said, “Report!”

Moonlit Path, the unicorn daughter of his brother, Destined, looked up from her instrument panel. “Sir – our primary ranging device abruptly ceased functioning several minutes ago.”

“What do diagnostics say?”

“No response whatsoever.”

“Can you get it on an exterior camera?”

The red changeling crewperson spoke up. “I have already turned camera five to observe it, sir. Check out the main screen.”

Wandering looked up at the screen but failed to spot the instrument. “I’m not seeing anything, Pax.”

“Precisely, Captain,” Pax replied.

“It’s gone? Any indication as to why?”

Moonlit spoke up. “It was working normally right up to the moment that it completely stopped. Best guess is a kinetic strike.”

Wandering shuddered. At the speed that they were travelling, even the smallest grain of sand was a deadly missile. That’s why they had the thaumic shield that stretched for kilometers ahead of them – not to block anything but to deflect it to pass by the sides of the ship. That was far more effective against the molecules of gas and dust that permeated even this hard vacuum. The shield was not infallible though – something of significant size could still force its way through the shield to strike the ship, and that could be disastrous. “Pull up the records of the thaumic shield,” he ordered.

“On screen three, Captain,” Pax said, having anticipated the command.

“When did this happen?” Wandering asked as he leaned over to read the data on the screen.

“Time-stamp 14:35:12,” Moonlit reported.

He scrolled back the data and spotted what he suspected immediately. “Power surge. Something got through alright. Hmm… looks like the shield managed to kill up to ninety-seven percent of its kinetic energy, but that means that it was still travelling at about nine thousand kilometers per second. More than enough to take out the ranging device. I suppose that we ought to be grateful that it wasn’t worse. The armoring on the bow of the ship was designed to take impacts, and the reinforcing spells backs that up, but I would rather not test them out. However, we need to replace that ranging device. Who have we got available for extra-vehicular activity?” He checked the roster and smiled. “Perfect!”

The sound of air being pumped out of the chamber gradually diminished as the atmosphere was reduced to a near-vacuum. Eventually a lamp lit to indicate that the airlock was ready to be opened to the outside. Steam Shift checked his safety tether one more time before saying, “Ready for E.V.A.”

Opening airlock now,” came back the reply over the comm.

The airlock door opened inwards, and the outside came into view. Not that there was much to see. The strange aberration that crowded the stars fore and aft left the scene blank, and even the eternal dark-purple glow of the night sky was distorted. However, Steam Shift was not here for the sightseeing.

The changeling turned around and put his forelegs onto the replacement ranging device and gave it a gentle tug. With the artificial gravity off in the airlock, the equipment floated easily in his wake. Steam then hastened to exit the chamber, tilting himself over the lip of the airlock and firmly fastening his magi-stick boots on the outer hull of the starship. He then waited for the replacement part to drift clear of the airlock before pulling on the short second tether to change its direction. It was massive enough that it took a steady pull to swing it around and headed in the direction that Steam Shift wanted. With his suit’s lamps illuminating the way, he then slowly made his way forward, two hooves at a time, making sure that they were planted firmly before moving the others. The ranging device started drifting too close to the hull, so the changeling paused to let it catch up to him a bit so he could give it a nudge to correct its course, then he continued onward.

How is it going out there, Steam Shift?” came Wandering’s voice over the comm.

“Slow but steady, Captain. This ship may seem big when you’re walking from end to end inside, but try doing it at a slow shuffle while hauling a reluctant piece of machinery!”

I did some training space-walks on the hull during construction, so I know what you mean.

“I think your scenery was a bit more interesting than mine, sir.”

Wandering chuckled. “Just don’t get bored and lose concentration, okay?

“I have nothing to worry about as long as we keep having these scintillating conversations.”

Oh – would you rather talk about fashion, for example? Such as why you wore your scarf inside your spacesuit? It can’t be too comfortable.

Steam Shift smirked, although the alicorn could not see it. “Have you forgotten that I’m a changeling, Captain? A little shape-shift to accommodate it within the confines of the spacesuit’s neck section, and I’m stylish as well as protected.”

One of these days I’m going to make you tell me why you almost never take that thing off.

The changeling laughed. “Good luck with that, sir.”

You’re one of the strangest ’lings I’ve ever met, Steam, and I’ve known a few.

“Why, thank you, Captain. You might actually have a clue as to why I wear the scarf. I’ll let you think about that for a while as I’m almost to the installation site.”

Okay, Steam. Report everything that you see.

“Will do, sir.”

Steam Shift could now see the stump of the mounting bar for the missing ranging device. He stopped just short of it and gradually braked the replacement part before securing it to one of the numerous anchor points dotted along the length of the hull. He then bent down to observe the bar closely.

“Bridge, I can see what has happened. It certainly was a kinetic strike. At an educated guess, I would say that it took just a glancing blow, but at the speed it was travelling, it was enough to vaporize the mounting bar at that point. I can see a gouge in the armor plating aft of the mount that seems to be in line with the particle that might have done the damage. Of course there’s no sign whatsoever of the old unit.”

What’s the repair prognosis, Steam?

“Dead simple, Captain. None of the fasteners have been damaged, so it should be an easy swap.”

Bring back what’s left of the mount. It can’t hurt to examine it properly, and we don’t want to leave any more space garbage in our wake.

“Will do. Starting dismounting procedure now.”

Steam Shift touched a control on his left foreleg, and the covering over the hoof retracted, exposing it to space. However, a seal above the fetlock joint prevented the loss of pressure from his spacesuit, and his specially adapted chitin did the same for his exposed body part. He repeated the action with the right foreleg before applying his shape-shifting power to form his hooves into three-clawed prehensile extremities. With these, he took a tool out of the pouch strapped to his barrel and he looped the attached strap over the limb so as not to lose it. The tool was specifically designed to work with the fasteners, and he soon had the first one off. He nimbly placed it into another pouch before proceeding with the next fastener. He soon had all of them removed, and he lifted the bar and its mounting plate, exposing the cable that ran up its hollow center.

Because the majority of the device was gone, Steam Shift did not have any mounting points for a tether until this moment. He now could secure one to the cable bundle, and once that was done, he unplugged it from the electrical wiring harness reaching into the depths of the ship. He then pulled it away and attached it to another anchor point. The replacement device was pulled into position above the mounting site where he plugged it into the harness. He then eased it into place and started the process of replacing all the fasteners again. When the last one was secured, he detached the tether from the newly installed sensor and stood back.

“Bridge, run diagnostics on the new ranging device.”

Test sequence beginning now.

The unit started swiveling on its mount, but its most important function was invisible to the eyes. Steam Shift waited patiently for a report from the bridge.

Diagnostics completed. The new unit is in full working order. You may now come back inside, Steam Shift.

“Acknowledged, bridge. Returning now.” He first shifted his limbs back to the normal hooves and replaced the spacesuit’s magi-stick hoof-coverings. With all four limbs ready to walk back safely, he detached the broken mounting bar and started towing it to the airlock. With less to worry about, he took more time to look at the hull and noticed for the first time that there were more gouges in the armor plating. For the first time, the changeling started feeling nervous. He was terribly exposed out here, and the evidence showed that kinetic encounters, while rare, were not quite as infrequent as he had believed. He sped up his two-by-two shuffle to hasten his arrival at the airlock, and breathed a sigh of relief once safely within.

“I’m inside the airlock and have secured the broken mount. Start compression procedures, please.”

Closing airlock.

The door shut off the dull view and clamped into place. Air started rushing into the chamber until a green lamp indicated that pressure had been equalized with that inside the ship. The inner door opened, allowing the changeling to step through, depositing the mount safely aside to be retrieved later for examination. Right now it was frosting up quickly due to having come out from the bitter cold of deep space. Steam Shift removed his helmet and then tugged his scarf out to wrap it around his neck.

“Don’t you think that could wait?” asked Radiant Spark who had been manning the airlock station.

Steam Shift grinned at the mare as he struck a pose. “It’s never too early to make a good impression. It takes a dashing aethernaut to make a job like this look both easy and cool!”

Radiant rolled her eyes but giggled. “You’re certainly something, Shifty.”

# # # # # # # # # # # #

Author's Note:

I’m hardly a stand-up comedian, so I had to steal classic jokes and adapt them slightly. Did you recognize whose jokes they are?

More thanks for my pre-reader – Airy Words

Art by Kat Miller a.k.a. Foxenawolf

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