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".

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/375224/cosmic-lotus

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1. Departure

The auditorium was packed, but it represented only a tiny fraction of the total audience that was waiting for the scheduled event to start. The Lunar Plenary Center was host to the official start of the most remarkable endeavor by the people of Equus and its Lunar Colony in its history. GemVee cameras were set to broadcast the event to every corner of both the home world and its moon.

Exactly on time, the lights dimmed and a large screen at the back of the stage lit up with the emblem of the Greater Equus Council. Then spotlights picked out the form of a Chrome Changeling princess making her way to the microphone stand in the center of the stage. The audience started applauding, and continued until Epiphany had settled in front of the mike.

“Gentlebeings of all races, welcome to the official launch of the Cosmic Lotus mission. While I long ago initiated the research that led to the space program, and I have been spending my later years working on this enormous project to help make it viable, one person alone could never hope to do all this. In fact it would not have been possible with just ponies and changelings working towards its success. No, this is the culmination of our many species working together to achieve far more than any of us could do so by ourselves. This unity of vision and purpose did not start with me, of course, but I am proud to be part of it. So let me introduce the progenitors of the House of Path.”

Another spotlight focused on the left wing of the stage, and the first of several people stepped out.

“Lord Long Path,” Pif announced.

The grey-coated stallion bowed in recognition of the applause from the audience before making his way over to the center of the stage and standing just behind and to the left of Pif. The applause rose again as each founding member of House Path was introduced.

“Lady Roseclaw Path.”

The aging griffon hen showed no infirmity as she strode onto the stage to join her husband.

The spotlight shifted to the right wing.

“Lady Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Friendship.”

Twilight stepped onto the stage and acknowledged the crowd before joining the others.

“Lord Free Agent.”

The ever-grinning griffon-changeling strode onto the stage, waving a wing as he joined his wife.

“And finally, although not part of the original group to start the House, but one whom we consider to have brought us all together as a herd and family, the Mistress of the Moon, Princess Luna.”

With a bang and flash of teleportation, Luna materialized in mid-air above center stage and fluttered gently down between the two couples, her spread wings draped over them all in a show of unity.

“Way to make a flashy entrance, Mama,” Pif said with smile. The Alicorn of the Moon merely gave her a small grin back. Pif turned her attention back to the audience. “I would now like to ask the pony whose vision began this remarkable journey to address you all today.” She turned her right to gesture. “Dad, will you step up, please?”

Path smiled at his daughter and took her place in front of the microphone. She walked off stage as he waited for the applause to die down before he began his speech.

“One hundred and sixteen years ago, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to fulfill a dream. It was my mission to go out and learn what I could about different races in order to better understand them and find ways to peacefully co-exist and work with them. Remarkable circumstances gifted me with the means to do this on a grand scale, and the first major inter-species cooperative efforts began between ponies, changelings, and griffons under the auspices of House Path. Through the efforts and support of my beloved wife, Roseclaw, my soulmate, Free, and the Sparkle of Friendship and Harmony, I began the ambitious plan of bringing together our sciences and arts as a means of teaching and learning. From each species we took the best they had to offer, but we never let it rest at that. We continued to strive for greater things.”

“When Princess Luna joined our herd, she also brought a greater dimension to our efforts, not to mention avenues by which we could make better relationships with a couple more species, and yet more knowledge that came with them. That unity of purpose was in part the reason behind the defeat of Nightmare Chrysalis, and overcoming all the other threats to the peace and harmony of Equus ever since. Today, the vast majority of races and nations are proud to be counted among those represented on the Greater Equus Council, and it’s because of this that we are now on the cusp of our grandest project yet – to discover if we are not alone in the universe.”

“The vast array of disciplines that were required to make the Cosmic Lotus project a success cannot be understated. Griffonian engineering, changeling synthetic compounds, Equestrian magitek, Zebrican medicines, rare metals from Minotaur foundries, crystal control systems from the Crystal Kingdom, hydroponic systems from Saddle Arabia, manufacturing techniques from the Lunar Colony – these and so many more contributions were necessary to make this project a reality.”

Path paused to allow the applause the die down before he continued.

“So what do we hope to achieve by this monumental effort? As I said earlier, we hope to find out if there are others in this universe to whom we can extend our spirit of friendship and cooperation, but there is also so much more to be learned while doing so. I would now like to ask Princess Luna to give an overview of what we know and what we hope to learn during this mission.” Path turned around to face the Alicorn of the Moon. “Luna?”

Luna stepped up to the podium with a smile. “Thank you, Lord Path. For thousands of years, it has been my honor and duty to take care of the night sky, and while the Moon is my particular domain, so too have the stars been my responsibility.” Luna’s horn flared and a holographic image of a starfield appeared above the stage. She continued, “But not all of them. I have striven to enhance the night with constellations to beautify it, and sometimes to celebrate occasions, and occasionally to foretell. However, these stars which are mine by right differ from far more distant stars that never moved to anypony’s whim.” The image of familiar constellations faded away to reveal distant and far dimmer stars. “Over the recent centuries, ponies and other races with the questioning mind of true scientists have learned so much more about those stars, and in doing so, discovered the anomaly that we now call the Far Star.” The image finally stopped with the final goal of the mission centered alone in the softly glowing purple night sky.

“There are so many questions that we need to have answered, so many theories to test, and so much science to be done that despite the fact that the mission will take decades, there will be more than enough work to keep all the crew busy. Our understanding of astronomy and physics will grow immensely during the journey, and perhaps we will better understand the grand design of the Great Architect who created our universe. However, it is what we hope to find at the end of our journey that fills us with the greatest anticipation. We have seen the possibility of life at that incredibly distant goal, and where there is life, perhaps there will be new races to meet and learn from. But first we have to get there. I will now ask Princess Twilight Sparkle to give an overview of the mission’s technical requirements.” She turned to the Alicorn of Magic. “Twilight?”

Twilight smiled and moved up to the podium, thanking Luna as the Moon Princess surrendered the microphone. “A project of this magnitude and duration necessitated immense steps forward in materials, technology, and processes. Space is the harshest and most unforgiving of environments, and the Cosmic Lotus will not have the luxury of stopping for repairs or waiting for a rescue party, so everything not only must work, but it must work flawlessly for a long time. That is why preparing for this mission has taken over nine years. Despite the current level of knowledge and experience with space travel, we had to step up everything a notch or two, and the method of propulsion was totally new.”

Twilight’s horn lit up and an image of a small spacecraft appeared. “After the trial run by the Aether Flower unmanned probe, we believe we have ironed out the problems with solar sailing. The sails themselves are graphene sheets with a very thin but highly reflective coating which makes them both extremely light and extremely strong.” The craft showed the sails unfolding into their operational position. “However, first the starship must endure harsh accelerations from rocket boosters and slingshots around the Dim Star and the Sun. Strong thaumic shields are needed to endure the heat of a close pass by the Sun, and later the constant radiation that permeates space.”

“The engineering for the craft alone was a huge task, but unlike the Aether Flower, the Cosmic Lotus has to carry a crew and support them for about forty-four years before it reaches its destination. Long-term life-support systems were required, and a means of producing food and recycling waste in a limited volume had to be found. Lunar Systems had to produce a revolution in their technologies to pull it off, but even so we could not manage with all of the crew that we planned to send. Thankfully, that was one problem that was already as good as solved. Before I ask Lord Free Agent to explain further, I wish to announce that a comprehensive volume detailing every mechanical, material, thaumaturgical, and physical technique that was used to develop the Cosmic Lotus will be available to anyone and everyone after the close of proceedings. I’m sure that it will give you some fascinating reading for years to come.” She turned to her husband and said, “Free, you’re up.”

Free bounced up to the podium in his usual enthusiastic manner. “Thanks, Twi! Many of you know that I’m not just this roguishly handsome griffon, but also the Queen of the Chrome Hive. My hive has been an integral part of House Path since its inception, and together we’ve striven to advance many fields of research. My daughter, Pif, has tirelessly worked to learn new ways to integrate Hive techniques with other technologies, but in this case it took very little adaptation to work for the Cosmic Lotus. So how do you deal with the problem of too many people to support for such an extended period? Put them into hibernation! Changeling healing pods can be adjusted to suit the needs of a patient, up to and including putting them into suspended animation. The pods are self-sustaining and provide for all the occupant’s needs while he or she dreamlessly sleeps away the years.”

Free looked over at Twilight who took the cue to produce an image of a row of pods with various occupants seen through the translucent green shell. Free continued, “For the majority of the voyage, there will only be a basic crew awake – enough to monitor the systems and do any essential maintenance, while the others will be working on the science projects that Luna mentioned. After a set amount of time, these crew members will swap out with others in hibernation and they will take over the tasks. We have enough crew members covering a multiplicity of skills to not only keep the heavy workload of side-projects going, but to also minimize the amount of time on the journey for most crewpersons to be awake to a little over two years. Because the hibernation process suspends physical aging also, no one will age unnecessarily during the journey. However, the journey itself will still take forty-four years, so the personnel who would be chosen to crew the starship had to either have no appreciable ties, or be prepared to leave family and friends behind possibly forever. Choosing suitable candidates was no easy task though, because despite the daunting prospects, House Path did not lack for submissions to the program. Crew members were chosen not only for their skills, but their ability to live and work with others for extended periods. One married couple was included, as well as two pony-changeling bond-friends. To announce the final crew line-up, I will ask Lady Roseclaw to present them to you.” Free turned to the griffoness and said, “They’re all yours, Rose.”

Roseclaw nodded and replaced Free at the podium. “Thank you, Free. As head of the crew selection team, I can tell you that it was no easy task whittling down the list of prospective aethernauts for this mission. To be honest, we did not expect so many applicants considering the unprecedented duration of this mission. The forty-four years that it will take to get to the Far Star was considered too long for some of them, and the skills needed to maintain a ship for that period were of utmost importance. Still, there are considerations for crewmembers other than ship maintenance for a long journey, and we balanced out those factors against their more prosaic skills. Despite all of this, we still had twice as many volunteers as we needed, and we had to disappoint far too many truly remarkable people.”

Roseclaw took a look at her notes before proceeding. “Foremost among our crew requirements were two things – an alicorn and a ship’s commander. A mage-level degree of power is necessary to sustain the mass-reducing spell that will enable the Cosmic Lotus to accelerate to near the speed of light, but no suitable unicorns were found that could sustain the spell for extended periods of time. Thankfully, we have two alicorns who will be undertaking the trip. This will also relieve the load on them as they can swap out to rest and recover during the lengthy period of acceleration. The position of ship’s commander was hotly contested though, and came down to just three candidates. However, one had joined the program since its inception and worked tirelessly to know everything about the craft and its needs, and I am proud to announce that our son, Wandering Path, has been chosen for that role.”

The spotlight shifted to the right wing and Wandering walked out onto the stage, dressed in his starship uniform which covered most of his body excluding head, wings, hooves, and tail.

 

 

Roseclaw spoke as Wandering headed over to join the group. “A variation of the ship’s uniform was made for every species on the crew not merely to serve to unite them as a team, but also for its secondary important purpose – protection. Spells woven into the material are designed to save them from an array of possible disasters, up to and including explosive decompression. In that case, a magic force field would retain pressure and breathable air for between half to one hour, depending on the degree of exertion.”

The uniform also looked dashing, and the loud cheers and applause made Wandering blush a little, although you could not tell due to his red pelt. He stood proudly next to his sire, Free, and waited for the applause to die down.

“Next up I present the Second-in-Command and Engineering expert, Commander Galen Bluequill.”

A middle-aged male griffon strode onto stage to stand beside his captain, his size dwarfing the older alicorn.

Roseclaw waited for the applause to die down and then continued. “Every crewmember who has been selected is considered to be a vital part of the mission, and so I will be announcing them in a previously selected random order. First on the list is the Chief of Hydroponics, Fatima Dashar.”

A Saddle Arabian mare walked on stage in ship’s uniform, but with the addition of the traditional halter adornments.

“Chief scientist, Techbird Sunbeak.”

The ancient catbird slowly walked out onto the stage, supported by all the magitek devices that were keeping her alive and productive for years longer than any normal griffon. She had been intimately involved with the Cosmic Lotus program, and had steadfastly refused to be left out, telling everyone, “This is the moment that I have been living for all my life, and I will see it through to the end. Nothing will prevent me seeing this mission to its fulfillment!”

“Chief of the medical department, Doctor Zubon.”

A zebra mare joined them on stage.

“Hibernation specialist, Princess Galena.”

A Violet Changeling came out to stand by the doctor.

“Security Chief and assistant maintenance engineer, Eon Path.”

The dracopony proudly walked on stage to stand next to his family.

“Control systems specialist, Albite Feldspar.”

A crystal pony stallion came out to stand next to Eon.

“Engineer’s mate, Purple Point.”

Joining the others on the stage came a grey-coated unicorn with purple-grey mane, tail, and hooves.

“Head of the Astronomy Division and our second alicorn crewmember, Starry Path.”

Starry walked on stage from the left wing. She stood by her sire, Path, and waved a hoof in acknowledgement of the applause.

“Chief Navigator and Communications, Playbitz.”

A brown pegasus stallion with black mane, tail and wing-markings fluttered out to join them.

“Geologist, Ortzi Goldbeak.”

Another person flew in, this time a male griffon of the golden eagle/cougar type.

“Magitek Technician, Gizmo Gears.”

A tall and slim orange-coated unicorn stallion pranced onto the stage.

“Biologist, Traveling Soul.”

Another male unicorn followed out Gizmo, this time light brown with a dark brown mane and tail with a single black and white stripe.

“Hydroponics and herbalist, Skye Path.”

A zebra mare with blue stripes instead of the normal black stepped out on stage. Few had ever seen such a strange sight, but she was applauded just as warmly.

“Physicist, Xanth.”

A Chrome Changeling buzzed over from the wings. He had replaced his crest with a bright blue mane to make himself more distinctive.

“Mental Health Counselor, Random Dawn.”

A unicorn, female this time, yellow with an orange and red mane stepped out.

“Mechanical Engineer and Guard Pony, ColdFire.”

Trotting onto the stage came a small white pegasus mare with a two-tone blue mane and tail. Short fangs and tufted ears hinted at thestral in her parentage.

“Mechanical Engineer, Steam Shift.”

The first-ever Blue Changeling aethernaut proudly joined his crewmates.

“Spell Analysis and Maintenance, Moonlit Path.”

The unicorn daughter of Destined and Silk proudly joined the rest, her blonde mane and tail contrasting with her dark blue coat which matched her sire’s.

“Medic and Archivist, Epic Prose.”

A grey-coated pegasus with brown mane streaked with grey, flew onto the stage, looking at the audience through his bifocal glasses.

“Cook, Kale Robe.”

An earth pony stallion with a dark brown mane trotted out.

“Engineer, Radiant Spark.”

A light teal pegasus mare with a light green mane and tail flew out.

“Thaumophysicist, Cosmic Dawn.”

A golden-maned, light brown unicorn mare walked onto the stage.

“Entertainer and Logistics, Willow.”

An Orange Changeling zipped out over the crowd, waving and grinning.

“Biologist and Storyteller, Emerald Green.”

Another pony flew in, but the audience quickly realized that this was an earth pony mare with magitek wings, and she was obviously enjoying the surprise she had caused.

“Linguistics expert, Amethyst Scroll.”

A light grey unicorn mare with light purple mane and tail trotted onto the stage, although she could have just as easily flown in also using her gossamer wings which betrayed her changeling hybrid nature. Her hooves shone like the chrome chitin of her sire.

Roseclaw continued to announce every single crewmember of the Cosmic Lotus, and the stage grew crowded with all the varied species that were participating in the mission. Eventually the last one joined the others on stage.

“These brave, dedicated, and skilled people were chosen from among thousands of applicants. An emphasis was put on a variety of skills and personalities with the intent of alleviating boredom and promoting social interaction during the long journey. Our hopes and dreams go with them,” Roseclaw concluded.

“Thank you, Rose,” Path said as he stepped up to the podium once more. “Gentlebeings, this is the moment that you have been waiting for. In mere minutes, the mission will start the first phase of our journey to the Far Star. Captain Wandering Path, please take command of your starship.”

Wandering’s horn lit up, and he teleported directly to the Cosmic Lotus orbiting above them, taking Commander Bluequill along with him. The big screen at the back of the stage lit up to show the bridge of the starship where six stand-by launch crew were waiting to be relieved. Wandering formally took control and teleported them back to their lunar base.

“Starry Path, will you please teleport your staff to the ship.”

Starry smiled and she and a number of the crew standing beside her disappeared.

“Luna and Twilight – will you please teleport the rest of the crew to their ship.”

The two alicorns sent the crewmembers to their appropriate stations within the ship, some appearing on the screen as they joined the bridge crew. When the stage was empty again except for the original five speakers, Path continued.

“Captain Wandering Path – can you hear me?”

I can hear you, Lord Path.

“Commence your mission.”

Scheduled departure time is in eight minutes and forty three seconds. Final systems checks now commencing. All department heads report in.

The bridge crew were seen taking up their stations and busying themselves with checks. In carefully rehearsed order, all of them and those scattered throughout the ship reported that the launch crew had done their job and all was in readiness. Tension grew within the auditorium as the concern for a glitch that would delay the mission made them worry. System after system checked out though.

All systems are nominal. Orbital departure thrust is scheduled for three minutes and thirty-four seconds. All crew secure for acceleration.

That may have been the longest three and a half minutes that anyone had ever endured. There was nothing to do but wait until the calculated moment. With the precisely calculated maneuvers, there was no such thing as getting off to an early start. It came as a bit of a shock when Wandering spoke up again.

Twenty seconds to departure.

“Go with the guidance of Faust, Son,” Path said.

Thank you, Father. … Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Ignition.

The sound of the rockets firing came through the screen’s speakers, and the crew sank into their chairs. The Cosmic Lotus was on its way.

# # # # # #

Author's Note:

Although this will be a science-heavy story in places, the main drama will hopefully come from the characters.

Speaking of which, several of the crew are OC's volunteered by the following people:

Purple Point belongs to Alden MacManx. 
Playbitz belongs to Playbitz 
Ortzi Goldbeak belongs to anunenka 
Gizmo Gears belongs to m2pt5 
Traveling Soul belongs to Traveling Soul 
ColdFire belongs to ColdFireCZ 
Epic Prose belongs to Sylvian 
Random Dawn belongs to randomdawning 
Radiant Spark belongs to vespillo-cruentus 
Kale Robe belongs to Nagel Navari 
Emerald Green belongs to tobi 
Amethyst Scroll belongs to Dillena Monger 
Steam Shift belongs to DajoesefMan

Art by Kat Miller a.k.a. Foxenawolf

   
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