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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6. Relativity

“I fold.”

Wandering dropped his cards out of his magic onto the table and leaned back to watch the final two players. Poker was not his favorite game, but he had been asked to join in, and he wanted to establish an easy-going relationship with the crew when he was off-duty. Now that the excitement of acceleration to near the speed of light had been accomplished, a large proportion of the crew had been placed in hibernation pods to await their scheduled tour of duty, freeing up an enormous amount of space on the starship. The constant discomfort and pressure of being practically shoulder to shoulder with other crew members had at last been alleviated, and the remaining crew had sought out ways to relax. Unsurprisingly, card games were common, and Wandering had a policy in place long before leaving Equus.

Betting was permitted, but no crew member was allowed to lose more than ten percent of their total wages. If the person was permitted to play on past that point in the hopes of winning some of his money back but still lost, Wandering had no sympathy for the winner who gained nothing further. Favors were allowed in lieu of money, but were likewise limited. The captain of the Cosmic Lotus needed every crew member concentrating on their assigned jobs or resting and recreating rather than being constantly beholden to someone. He was very glad that he had put that policy into place. Mere days into the voyage, one particular pony was already making serious dents in the crew’s earnings.

Apparently Purple Point had learned more than how to curse on his many voyages. A large proportion of the poker chips were stacked up in front of him, and if Wandering guessed right, he would soon have them all.

 

 

“Call!” ColdFire snapped, pushing the remainder of her chips forward.

Purple Point smiled and laid his cards on the table: straight – queen high.

The mare groaned and thumped her head on the table as the stallion raked in the chips.

“Thank you for contributing to the Purple Point Retirement Fund,” the winning pony said with a smug smile. “Another round, anyone?”

ColdFire’s head snapped up and she gave him a snarl, showing her small fangs.

“That would be a no, I guess. How about you, Captain?”

Wandering got up and shook his head. “I’m out. I know when I’m outclassed.”

Purple Point looked at the last of the four. “What about you, Ortzi?”

“If Captain not say you not cheating with magic, we be fighting duel right now,” the griffon griped.

“Oh well, plenty of others willing to give me their money, I’m sure,” PP replied cheerfully as he swept his chips into a sack.

Wandering chuckled and left the griffon to sulk. Ortzi was anything but a fighter and would cheer up quickly enough. No – things were pretty peaceful aboard the ship right now, and he hoped to keep it that way. He did have one more stop to make before retiring for the evening though.

The linear ‘Park’ was coming along very nicely. A lighting arrangement designed to accurately reproduce sunlight was already fully in place. Prefabricated tubs, troughs, and hanging pots had been installed, followed quickly by watering systems. A mixture of hydroponic and artificial soil garden beds had been created, and seeds and young shrubs were in the process of being planted. Even some dwarf trees had been included in the choice of greenery, although they were still in the sapling stage. They had been carefully stored in a stasis field to protect them from the ravages of rocket acceleration and days spent in a hostile environment without sunlight before they were ready to be planted. A lot had been accomplished in just a few days, but there was still more to be done, and of course the newly planted greenery had to be tended.

The first person whom Wandering laid eyes upon was their biologist and Head Gardener, Emerald Green. The unusually patterned green and black mare was watering a pot of flowers that were ready for transplanting into one of the new beds. That they had been seeds only a few days previously was testimony to her very strong plant-growing talent. While all earth ponies had ties to soil, this manifested in different ways and various strengths, but hers was exceptional, and had won her a place on the crew. She noticed the alicorn enter the room, smiled in acknowledgement, and finished watering the row of plants. She nodded in satisfaction, headed up the pathway, bade him goodnight and left the Park.

 

 

Further down the length of the former fuel tank and now rapidly growing greenhouse, Skye Path was tending her new herb garden. The zebra mare was engrossed in her work though, and failed to notice her foster father. Wandering smiled at seeing her, but did not disturb the mare. Instead he walked over to the small patch of real grass that had been planted simply as a pleasant place to lie down and relax in the sweet-smelling and tranquil atmosphere. He trod carefully as the grass had yet to fully establish, but his alicorn-based earth senses told him that it had taken no harm. He settled down, closed his eyes and breathed deeply of the oxygen-rich and scent-laden air, clearing his mind. The changeling network chatter was down to a minimum and nothing required his attention. He opened up his eyes again to watch Skye at work.

“You’re quite proud of her, aren’t you?” came a familiar voice.

Wandering looked up to see Starry standing there, her eyes also on the zebra. “She’s my daughter, so of course I am proud of her achievements. I was surprised when she told me that she wanted to travel with me to the Far Star, but I encouraged her to try out. Nobody was prouder than me when she was chosen for the crew.”

Starry chuckled. “She may be adopted into the family, but she’s a true Path.

“Uh-huh.” Wandering looked up at Starry. “Why are you here, Sis? Isn’t this your sleep period?”

“Couldn’t sleep.”

“Why not? Is there something stressing you excessively? You’re not still going nuts over the time-space distortion problem, are you?”

Starry snorted. “Nope. I don’t think that one is going to be solved overnight, and if it is, I’m betting Cosmic Dawn is the one to crack the mystery.”

“Well, she is the thaumophysicist in the crew, so she does have an advantage over you there.”

“Exactly, which is why I made that problem her priority.”

“Her father, Forest Breeze, is an Avatar of Honesty, and the Seer of Truth. If anyone can find the truth behind this phenomenon, it’s his daughter. Anyway, if that’s not what’s keeping you awake, what is?”

“Cosmic irony,” Starry replied with a smirk.

“You’ve lost me.”

“What’s one thing about alicorn mares that is different from other mares?”

Wandering thought for a moment before replying. “Because of alicorn immortality, the estrus cycle is drastically slowed.”

“Correct! We can go decades before going into season – centuries when you’re Mom’s age. So what happens mere days into this voyage?”

“You’ve gone into heat.”

“And I’m horny as Tartarus!”

Wandering chuckled sympathetically. “I know what that’s like.”

Starry stared at her herd-brother in disbelief. “Okay, I know you got your Dad’s shape-changing ability, even if it’s a closely-guarded family secret, and I know you’ve taken female forms on occasion, but you can’t tell me that you’ve stayed a mare long enough to go into heat so that you know what the hell you’re talking about!”

He gave her a lopsided smile. “You’d be wrong.”

Blinking in stunned disbelief, it took a moment before Starry gathered her wits and respond. “Okay, granting for the moment that you’re not just pulling a fast one on me, why haven’t you told me about this before? We used to do everything together as foals, and never kept secrets from each other.”

“But we grew apart – you with your astrophysics, me with my exploration of other cultures. Sure, we always spent as much time as possible together despite that, but we never had that same unity of purpose since we became adults.”

“You had the knowledge and ability to join my field of work,” Starry pointed out.

“And you could have joined me on my expeditions to new lands,” Wandering rebutted. “This is an old argument of ours, and we can’t change the past.”

“No, but we can make the future. We’re together again, at long last, both of us doing what we love best.”

“Why do you think I joined the project? Sure, it was tempting already; exploration is one of my great loves, although the chances of meeting another culture are slim. But to do it alongside of you? That opportunity I couldn’t turn down.”

“You stole my captaincy though!” Starry pouted.

“Nope. Bluequill would have trounced you in that department. I honestly would not have minded losing out to him either – he’s an excellent commander.”

“Yeah, I know. Anyway, I sense someone avoiding my question – why haven’t you told me about being a mare in heat?”

Wandering sighed and his ears lowered dejectedly. “Because the circumstances still sadden me to this day.”

Starry immediately noticed his change in attitude, and the sadness that exuded from him. She leaned up against Wandering, rubbing her cheek against his. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

He gave her a crooked smile. “No, but I think it’s time I did. We’re together again, and will be for at least a decade. I don’t want there to be anything bad between us now. Team Wandering Star is back!”

Starry smiled, recalling their teenage rally cry. It made her feel good to know he remembered. “Then you know I won’t tell anyone else.”

“I do indeed. This all started on my last expedition before bringing Skye home. This was a visit to Zebrica to study the independent tribes. While a large majority of the zebra tribes joined the Equian Alliance, some refused to do so. For some, it was stubborn independence, and others simply hated outsiders. There were other reasons though, and finding such things out was my specialty.”

“Nobody outside the family ever figured out the secret of your success,” Starry said. “But when you can become one of those people that you study, it makes a difference.”

“Exactly. As you already know, my standard approach was to find out as much as I could about them first and learn their language thoroughly. With Papa Path’s help and some language learning spells that he and Grandma Ivory Tower developed, I could blend in with the locals very well.”

“With the help of your shape-changing ability, of course. But why a zebra mare?”

“Many of those tribes won’t accept outsiders at all, with one exception – they occasionally exchange mares to keep the bloodlines fresh. That was my only way into this particular tribe, so I did my homework, acquired a few props, gave myself a new name, and took my chances.”

“Ooh! What did you call yourself?”

“Mwasikwao.”

“Say what?”

“Mwasikwao. It means Wanderer in their dialect.”

“Ha! Smart-ass is more like it. I thought it would be one of those names beginning with Z.”

“While those are common, they’re far from universal.”

“Fair enough. What kind of props did you need?”

“Things that a migrating mare might take – household goods, personal items, clothing, and a dowry.”

“A dowry?!”

“Yep. Payable to the village chief. Supposedly to compensate the tribe for your upkeep until you fit in somewhere, but still basically a bribe.”

“Doesn’t a dowry imply marriage though?”

“What do you think fresh blood implies?” Wandering asked with a questioning lift of his eyebrow.

“Right. Silly me. So was a husband chosen for you?”

Wandering snorted. “Heavens, no! I would not have gone there if I was compelled to marry a stallion upon arrival.”

“So what did happen?”

“I was considered fair game for all the unmated stallions in the village, and there were more than a few. It seemed that I had arrived at a time when eligible mares were scarce. I did not lack for attention, nor for food and shelter. With so many to choose from, no one was surprised that I took my time choosing among them. I planned to study the culture and then get out of there long before it became an issue.”

“And before you came on heat. So what happened?”

“I fell in love.”

Starry’s eyes widened and jaw dropped. “You what?!”

“His name was Kamari, which means Moonlight. He was clever, witty, and thoughtful. He reminded me a lot of you, in fact. Where the other stallions frequently tried to show their prowess in their chosen vocations in an attempt to impress me, Kamari would go out of his way to do things for me that really meant something. He even helped me with my studies of the tribe’s culture, although he did not realize it at the time. One evening after our meal, we sat together watching the moon rise. I leaned up against him, he nuzzled me, and then he asked me to marry him. Without hesitation, I said yes.”

Starry’s gaping had only grown wider. “But… but… you’re a stallion! I know you like mares. Are you telling me that you like stallions too, like Des?”

Wandering shook his head. “I am completely heterosexual. However, while that means I’m sexually attracted to the opposite sex, it is also dependent on what sex I am at the time. I was a mare then, so I found Kamari really desirable.”

“But that’s not how changeling shape-shifting works! Sure, they have their gender biases, but if a masculine drone takes a female form for some reason, that drone still has their original preferences.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, Sis, I’m not a changeling. I’m an alicorn who has inherited his sire’s shape-changing ability, but manifested at alicorn level. When I change into another creature, I don’t just look like them, I becomeone of them. I am instantly comfortable with any form that I take, including bipeds like minotaurs. The transformation is total, and that includes my sexuality. So when I transformed into a female zebra, I really was one completely, and Kamari was the handsomest and most desirable stallion a zebra mare like myself at the time could want.”

Starry stared for a long moment. “Oh, wow. I never realized it went that deep. So that’s how you stayed long enough to go into heat. But why didn’t you come back with your husband?”

Wandering’s ears drooped, and he looked away from Starry. “Because he died.”

“Oh, no! What happened?”

Wandering took a deep breath before turning back to Starry. “First let me go back to when I was on heat. Kamari and I had plenty of adult happy-fun times, but sex was absolutely awesome at that moment.”

Starry smirked. “Yeah, I know how that goes.”

“Anyway, it was not only amazing, but also productive. I found out later that I was pregnant.”

“How did you feel about that?”

“At first I was uncertain. This was the one thing I had never prepared for. However, Kamari was ecstatic, and his mood was contagious. Soon I was looking forward to having a foal almost as much as he was. That’s how things were for several months. We worked and played and made love and we were very, very happy. Then the day came when I went into labor – honestly the one thing that I did not enjoy about being a mare. Nevertheless, it was a good delivery, and I gave birth to a healthy female foal – a foal with a particularly distinctive difference.”

Starry’s eyes widened and her head snapped around to stare at Skye who was still engrossed in her work. “You mean…?”

“She had blue stripes. Yes, Skye is my natural daughter, not adopted.” Wandering’s voice had changed, and when Starry turned back to face him, it was to see a zebra mare instead.

“She was still a young foal when you brought her home. What happened?” Starry asked gently.

Mwasikwao replied in a lilting accent, “There’s a reason why many tribes stay segregated from the majority, and that is superstition. There are many tales that circulate among the tribes, and most of them see anything out of the ordinary as an omen of evil or impending disaster. You can only imagine what happened when our tribe found out about Skye’s coloration. At first all they did was demand that the foal be offered to the gods to appease them. I refused, as did Kamari. Not for a moment did he hesitate to love our child for what she was. That wasn’t enough for the elders though, and the demands became threats. Then our hut was raided. Kamari tried to fight them off while I protected Skye. They…” A sob broke her voice. “They killed my husband.”

“But why would they do that?”

“He sired an abomination of course. If he was willing to defend it, then he was equally tainted, or such is the way they thought. Then they came for me and Skye.”

“If they were willing to kill Kamari, how did you both escape unharmed?”

“I didn’t; Wandering Path did. I transformed to alicorn form for the first time in over a year and struck them down. I killed them all without a moment’s hesitation. They had taken the love of my life – I took their very lives in return!”

The tears were flowing freely down the zebra’s cheeks by then, her face contorted with hate and rage.

“I took Skye and teleported out of the village and changed back to my zebra self so that I could look after my foal. There was nothing left for me back at the village, especially after that slaughter, so I returned home as fast as I could. I explained everything to Moms and Dads, and they helped me raise Skye while preserving the secret of her birth.”

“Was keeping your ability to shape-shift that important that you raised her thinking she was an orphan?” Starry asked with a hint of accusation in her voice.

“Yes, it was, but not for the reasons that you may be thinking. Although Zebrica is allied with us now, it has always been a fragile relationship. The independent tribes show just how tenuous their nation is as a union, and if they found out that an alicorn had been poking around disguised as one of them – well, the fallout could be considerable.”

“Surely it isn’t that bad? I’m acquainted with several zebras, and they have always seemed reasonable.”

Mwasikwao gave her a sad smile. “You are not a zebra – you cannot know… cannot think like us.”

That stunned Starry. Her herd brother truly was another person when transformed. “Do you even feel the same way about me and the family when you are a zebra?”

“Oh, Starry, I am still your sibling, and I love you and the family as much as ever. That does not change. My memories do not change either – only their interpretation matches my form. Again I emphasize that I become, not imitate.”

“I’m beginning to believe it. Does Skye know the truth?”

Instead of answering, the zebra mare raised her voice. “Zawati!”

Skye’s head jerked up and she looked around. Her eyes widened as delight lit up her face. She scrambled to her hooves and started trotting towards her mother before she noticed Starry there.

“It’s okay, my child, I have told Starry about our past,” Mwasikwao reassured her.

The blue-striped mare’s smile returned, and she lowered herself to nuzzle Mwasikwao. “It’s so good to see you again, Mom. I’ve missed you.”

“And I missed you too. But now that the ship is on its way, your step-father will be able to spare more time to allow me to be with you.”

Skye hugged her mother. “Dad’s nice, but I’m glad you’re here.”

Starry looked nonplussed. “You talk as if Wandering and Mwasikwao are two totally different people.”

“Of course they are,” Skye replied.

Mwasikwao added, “Just as my personality changes with my form, so does my relationship with my daughter. Wandering is a stallion who took on the role of father after the death of Skye’s sire, but he isn’t my husband.”

“That would be quite a trick,” Starry admitted. “One thing that does change though is that Skye is not just adopted into the Path family – she is a Path.”

Skye giggled. “With these stripes, was there ever any doubt, Auntie Star?”

“I suppose not. By the way, when your mother called to you, what was the meaning of that?”

“Zawati? It’s my tribal name. It means ‘Gift’.”

Mwasikwao said, “That was what Kamari and I were going to name her, but we never had the official naming ceremony. Instead it has become our private name for her, and a term of endearment.”

“That’s beautiful! And it’s a name beginning with Z,” Starry pointed out.

Mwasikwao shrugged. “Like you already know, Z-names are common. We chose it for its meaning, not its spelling.” Her ears pricked up. “My drones tell me that we’re about to get some company. I have to go, Zawati.”

“When can we spend some time together, mother?”

“I will arrange something very soon, dear. I want this as much as you do.” She leaned forward to give her daughter a kiss on the cheek. “I love you, my beautiful Gift.”

“I love you too, Mom.”

Skye got up and both she and Starry watched as the older zebra flared softly with magic fire and became an alicorn once more.

“Goodnight, Dad,” Skye said. “Love you too,” she added with a smile.

“Goodnight, Skye,” Wandering replied with a matching smile.

Skye trotted off, passing Epic Prose as the pegasus entered the Park and spread his wings to take flight and exercise his wings.

“Well, that has got to go down as the weirdest family reunion in history,” Starry said as soon as the pegasus was out of earshot.

Wandering chuckled. “Well, you did ask how I could possibly know what being on heat felt like.”

“Yeah, you got me there, bro.”

“So why don’t you do something about it? If solo efforts aren’t enough for you, there are more than enough stallions left to help you out with that even with a major portion of the crew in hibernation now. A couple of griffon cocks too, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Maybe they would, but none of them appeal to me. The only one that does interest me might not be amenable to the idea.”

“Why? Is he gay?”

Starry snorted in amusement. “He’s complicated.”

“An interesting description. Still, could it hurt to ask?”

“Maybe. I’m not sure how he’ll feel about it.”

Wandering rolled his eyes. “If he’s a heterosexual stallion, I can’t see him being offended to be asked to help quench your fire. Ask him, for buck’s sake!”

“Okay, I’ll do that. Wandering, will you come have some adult happy fun-times with me?”

Wandering’s eyes looked like a deer’s in a spotlight. “What?! Me?! But I’m your brother!”

“We’re herd siblings – different mothers and sires.”

“But we grew up as brother and sister!”

“We grew up doing everything together. Then when I was a teenager and I started noticing males, guess who I thought about most, especially the first time I went into heat?”

“Me? I… wow… I never thought… it was the same for you.”

Starry cocked her head and swiveled her ears towards Wandering. “Wait! What was that?”

Wandering felt himself blushing, and as always he was grateful for his red pelt that hid it. “Well… when randy colts first discover the joys of masturbation, they like to let loose their imagination and picture sexy mares, and the sexiest mare that I knew was…” He lifted one eyebrow as he glanced at Starry.

“Me,” Starry finished the sentence.

“We’re not teenagers anymore,” Wandering pointed out.

Starry nodded. “No – we’re responsible adult alicorns nearly a century old. We know better now.”

“Yes, we do. So we can make responsible and thoughtful decisions.”

“And what’s yours?” Starry asked coyly.

“I’ve decided that I want to know if you will live up to my teenage fantasies.”

Starry laughed. “Brother, you have no idea how much I’m going to make them pale in comparison!”

She surged to her hooves, and Wandering quickly did so too. They made their way out of the Park towards the crew quarters.

When they reached the final corridor, Wandering asked, “Your place or mine?”

“Mine,” Starry replied, stepping up to her door and touching the ident-plate. The magitek lock recognized her and the door opened. As she entered, she said, “I have contraceptives in my room.”

“Good idea. Don’t want to be accidentally getting you pregnant just to cool your heat.”

“Yeah, a starship is no place to raise a foal.”

“Of course not. Wait! Are you saying–”

Wandering was cut off as Starry turned and passionately kissed him. After the surprise wore off, he began to return the kiss in kind. They took their time and explored each other’s reactions and feelings before Starry pulled away. She tugged him towards the bed.

“We can talk about that subject later.”

Wandering briefly wondered which of them had stunned the other more thoroughly that evening before he turned his attention to more lustful thoughts.

 

 

Author's Note:

As Airy Words quipped, I've moved on from physics to physiques! Thanks go to him for pre-reading this chapter.

While the relativity in this chapter wasn't the physics kind, there will be more of it for a while. Anyone that you'd like to see shipped? The other kind won't be instantly solved by the next chapter, so there's plenty to do in the meantime!

Emerald Green is the OC of Tobi3b and the picture was contributed by him. Many thanks!

Art as usual by Kat Miller a.k.a. Foxenawolf.

   
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