[Equestrian Embassy, Citadel]
“We’ve received your reports of your mission on Harnos. Good work with saving the colony,” the hologram of the asari councilor congratulated. Twilight nodded slightly, but remained stiffly at attention. It wouldn’t do for a Spectre to look smug... or at least that was what she thought. Nihilus never did manage to give her a crash course on Spectre decorum. She found herself actually missing the gruff turian.
“Hmph, if it wasn’t for the fact it was a pony colony, I doubt the commander would go to such pains to keep the colony alive,” the turian councilor sneered. Twilight felt an eye twitch.
“I would do the same no matter whose colony it was. Nopony deserves such a fate by the geth and the Thorian,” Twilight ground out, fighting to keep her tone neutral. She was painfully aware that her face was betraying her true feelings.
“A pity really, the Thorian. We may never see the likes of it again,” the salarian councillor commented.
“We await further news of your mission,” the asari councillor finished, before the images faded away.
Twilight turned away from the console to face the crew members who had assembled in the office. “Alright girls, we’ll be needing to stock up on supplies for our long trip to the Artermis Tau cluster, which might take quite some time. So, go ahead and enjoy yourself for the next few days.”
The assembled ponies gave a cheer and began to chat excitedly amongst themselves. The alien crew’s reactions were more subdued, though Twilight suspected they were just as eager to take a break off the mission.
“Wow, thanks Twilight!”
“Dash, you think we should head back to C-Sec HQ and see if they actually missed us?”
“Nah, I’ll rather not face the Executor for skipping out like that. How about we hit the shooting range instead? I know I could pull a few favours to get us in unnoticed.”
“Um... I’m just going to visit the botanical gardens again... if that’s okay with you.”
“Fabulous. Now I can get all the proper materials needed to fabricate this new custom armour of mine. Speaking of which Twilight, you must simply let me take your measurements. You look dreadful in that battered onyx armour of yours...”
“I reckon I’ll go ahead and write a letter to Big MacIntosh. He’s probably worried sick and all about Apple Bloom.”
Twilight smiled as they chattered excitedly. Her? Well, she was planning on going to that nice spa in the Wards she heard so much about...
[The Wards, Citadel]
“Commander Sparkle! Commander Sparkle!”
Twilight blinked in surprise as she searched around amongst the busy crowd for the source of the voice calling her. The very fact that somepony recognised her was surprising, considering she had gone to great lengths to keep a low profile; though the news broadcast of her saving Harnos was a little hard to hide.
Twilight finally spotted the one who called her. A turquoise green coated unicorn with pink fluffy mane and tail. She had yellow highlights running down her relatively unkempt mane. The unicorn was jumping frantically and waving at her. Her expression turned to joy as she saw Twilight looking at her.
“Yes?” Twilight greeted, as she trotted up to the turquoise mare.
The unicorn squealed with glee. “It’s really you! Commander Sparkle! Personal protege of the Princess herself. I’m Dewdrop Dazzle. I’m your biggest fan!” As she jumped around with excitement, Twilight could make out her cutie mark half hidden beneath saddle-dress; an open umbrella with little hearts around it.
“Do you mind if you sign this for me? It’ll mean so much!” Dewdrop gushed, taking out a piece of paper and a marker pen.
“Err... sure,” Twilight replied, slightly puzzled at the request. Autographs? Now that was a little unexpected. She was expecting some request for help or something, judging by how ponies seemed to always come to her for help. Shrugging, Twilight picked up the pen being offered and scrawled her signature on the paper.
“Oh, oh! And sign my bags as well,” Dewdrop added, turning sideways to display her saddle bags. She used her muzzle to indicate an empty spot on the body of the bag. Twilight did as she was asked and handed the pen and paper back. Dewdrop scanned the signature carefully and squealed again.
“Thankyouthankyouthankyou. You’re the greatest!” she gushed, replacing the signed autograph into her saddle bags with care.
“My pleasure,” Twilight said, smiling at her reaction. It was a nice feeling to have a fan for once. It couldn’t hurt to indulge her, right?
“I’m going to tell all my friends that I met the great Commander Sparkle! Squeee!” Dewdrop squealed and quickly dashed off, apparently eager to spread the news. Twilight stared at the disappearing filly, before shaking her head in bemused resignation.
Fillies these days.
[VR Training Course]
Applejack dived into the burnt out store as bullets stitched across the ruined sidewalk.
“Consarn’ it... she’s good,” she muttered as she impatiently waited for her gun to cool down. Her ears twitched as a sudden silence punctuated gunfire. She cautiously poked her head out, spying a glimmer in one of the towers overlooking the street.
Applejack quickly ducked below the window. Just in time too. Another shot rang out, it’s sharper report distinguishing it from the previous shots.
She must have switched to her sniper rifle. How the hay am I supposed to move now? Applejack knew Dash was one of the best snipers she had seen, if not the best so far. The pegasus was probably waiting for her to poke her head out. Applejack decided to survey the interior of the store more thoroughly. Broken counters. Overturned tables. A small hole on the other side of the room...
Her ticket out of this mess.
Slowly, ever so slowly, Applejack began to edge her way across the room, flinching slightly with every burst of sniper fire. The earth pony reached the small hole after five minutes of agonising progress. Holding the butt of her rifle firmly with her mouth, she bucked the adjacent wall to make the opening wider. The wall easily crumbled in a fine cloud of dust. Applejack reflexively ducked another shot rang out, this time hitting disturbingly close to her position. Dash must have seen the cloud of dust.
After a moment of silence, the earth pony crawled out slowly out of the store, taking care to leave no sign of her departure. Applejack found herself in the alleyway behind the store, running parallel to the street in front. Cautiously leaning out of the corner, she was relieved to find the glimmer in the tower hadn’t disappeared. Good, Dash probably didn’t notice her escape. Flipping her gun’s safety, she tucked it on her back and broke into a gallop down the alley.
Time for some good ole’ fashioned sneak attack.
Meanwhile, Rainbow Dash was having the time of her life. She got Applejack pinned. She had the store’s entrances covered. There was no way she’d escape this time. All she needed now was an accurate shot, though Applejack was proving frustratingly adept at dodging her sniper fire. No matter. It was only a matter of time before she slipped.
The rainbow mare adjusted her sniper scope slightly and settled down for a long wait at her elevated perch, satisfied in the knowledge that victory was within her grasp.
“Boom. Head shot,” Applejack’s voice rang behind her.
Before she could move a muscle, she felt the familiar sensation of paint bullets impacting on the back of her head. Rainbow Dash froze in shock for a moment, before slamming her forehooves on the ground in frustration.
She lost... again!
The C-Sec agent turned as the combat simulation ended and the lights in the artificial arena came to life.
“I... lost!” Rainbow Dash repeated with disbelief.
“Aw, sugarcube, don’t feel bad. You almost got me there,” Applejack said, giving her a sympathetic smile, before adding with a smirk, “I’m just better.”
“I hate losing...” Dash muttered, obviously not taking her third loss in a row well.
Applejack looked a little taken aback by her slightly venomous words. “Come on Rainbow, it’s all in good fun. Besides, we’ll kick them alien flanks no problem at this rate.”
“Ah, Twilight, you have a private message from the princess. I thought I should let you know.” Lyra said without looking up as Twilight walked into the office. “It’s Priority One, so you should take a look.”
Despite the casual way of which the ambassador delivered her little message, Twilight knew it was not a request. Priority One meant something extremely urgent had come up and probably involved national security. “Do you mind if I use the office for a moment?” Twilight asked, a million questions suddenly assaulting her mind.
“Not at all. I could use a break anyway.” Lyra got up from her chair and stretched her legs. She grabbed a PDA and whistled as she made her way out of the office. The commander waited till the door slid shut with a hiss before approaching the communication terminal. Her heart beating anxiously, she activated the control lectern.
An image of Princess Celestia appeared, regal as always. Twilight frowned as she saw the princess wearing a serious expression, her lips set in grim determination. Gone were the gentle smile she always wore for her subjects, the light-hearted twinkle in her eyes, and the assured pose she held herself.
“My faithful student Twilight Sparkle. This is a Priority One message. It is imperative you share this with nopony else. This is... a delicate subject.”
The princess paused as she licked her lips, as if unsure of what to say next. Twilight’s frown deepened. She never seen the princess so... distraught before.
“As you may know, Princess Luna heads our branch of covert operations, better known as Manticore. It has come to my attention that my dear sister has went missing for at least a week now. True, she has had gone missing for a longer periods than this in the past, but she always gave a warning ahead of time before she did anything that required her extended attention. Last week, she had informed Manticore HQ that she would be going out to scout a suspected geth base in the Horsehead Nebulae. Alone. I was told this was supposed to be a routine recon mission, nothing more. Luna... never reported back. Not a single word since she departed. HQ did not sense anything amiss until they realised that even her locator beacon went silent.”
Twilight stiffened as she heard the princess’ words. The Princess of the Moon... missing? But how... how did one manage to kidnap or subdue a demi-god?
Princess Celestia’s worried voice disrupted that train of thoughts. “Please Twilight, find out where my sister gone. But do so discreetly. That means you are not allowed to detract from your current mission.”
Twilight blinked. That was a surprise. She half-expected the Princess to order her to drop everything and go chasing after Princess Luna. She was after all one half of Equestrian Royalty. Princess Celestia’s dearest sister.
“I have my reasons for this. From my sister’s notes, I suspect her disappearance is in some way connected to Saren and the Reapers. I think you would find clues to her whereabouts as you scour the galaxy for Saren.”
Twilight nodded. That seemed reasonable enough. She was well aware or at least suspected that she wasn’t the only agent at the Princesses’ disposal that was looking into Saren’s plan.
The princess’ voice dropped into a concerned tone. “Stay safe, my little pony. The galaxy has become a darker place.”
The hologram disappeared, leaving her to stare at thin air. The galaxy had just become a whole lot more darker indeed.
[C-Sec Academy, Citadel]
“Commander Sparkle? Commander Sparkle!”
Twilight frowned as she heard her name being called. It was the second time already in two days. She had no idea she was so famous. The unicorn noticed a slate-gray coated stallion pushing through a group of volus, a hovering camera in tow.
“Commander Sparkle?” the stallion repeated, a polite expression etched on her face. His slivery mane was neatly shaved and cropped, and a press card hung around his neck. A reporter. Twilight immediately felt uneasy. She never had to deal with the press before as the personal student of Celestia. Why now?
“I am Twilight Sparkle. May I know who am I speaking to?” Twilight said warily.
“Ah, pleased to meet you. My name is Khal Al-Jilal from the Equestrian News Network. Would you mind answering a few questions?”
“Ponies back home has heard a lot of wild stories about you, Commander. The Princess have not been forthcoming either. I think the public deserves some answers. Straight from the horse’s mouth as some would say.”
Twilight pondered the matter for a moment. Surely it wouldn’t do anypony harm to give an interview right? She wouldn’t want wild rumours floating around back on Canterlot anyway.
She flinched as the hovering camera next to the reporter suddenly lit up and shone a bright light into her face. Khal adjusted the camera a little and grinned at the commander. “Commander Sparkle, for years now, ponies have been trying to earn the respect of the galactic community at large. With that in mind, what are your feelings at being the first pony Spectre?” she asked, slipping in that professional reporter tone.
Well, easy enough question, Twilight thought, relaxing a little. Perhaps this wouldn’t be as bad she feared.
“Honoured of course. This is a great chance for pony-kind to prove their worth to the galactic community.”
“I see. Some believe without firm action on our part, the Council will continue to treat us like poor relations. Have the Council demanded that you put their interests above ours?”
“So far, no. I have great faith they will not ask me to make such a choice,” Twilight answered.
“Huh, you seems to have believe in the Council a great deal. Very well. You have been given command of an advanced warship for your mission. Do you have anything to say about it?”
“I believe it is a great honour to be commanding such a warship. The Normaredy is the product of what our species can do if we work together, and I am proud to be commanding the fruits of such collaboration between our races.” Twilight was a little surprised on how the topic suddenly changed.
“Right. There have been some concerns in the Navy that such an advanced warship was being handed over to the Citadel instead of being rightfully used in our fleet. What do you think of this?”
Twilight hesitated for a moment. “I... I suppose the Citadel had the right, they did invest a large sum of credits into the project.”
“But do you not think the Navy deserves a little more credit for their work? That ponies should be more independent from the Citadel? That we should look out for our interests more?” Khal pressed, an eager expression on his face.
“What?” Twilight blurted, registering a confused expression.
“Do you think the Citadel is right in demanding that we surrender our best assets to them in the name of ‘galactic peace’ and part of the price we pay for ‘membership’ to the Citadel?”
“I did not even—” Twilight took a deep breath to forestall herself from saying anything rash. She recomposed her thoughts and stared at Khal—who was grinning broadly—right in the eye. “You’re trying to get me to paint the Citadel in a bad light aren’t you?”
“I don’t know what you mean, Commander. It was an honest question from an honest reporter,” Khal replied lazily.
Twilight gave the reporter a cold stare. It was slowly becoming evident that the interview was nothing more than a setup to get her to condemn the Citadel to please the xenophobic crowd back on Canterlot. Celestia knows, they were vocal enough when they heard about Equestria joining the Citadel. Many of them had believed Equestria was better off going it alone like the batarians did. The same crowd also advocated stronger measures against their batarian neighbours. Princess Celestia had bend over backwards just to appease the crowd, since they theoretically could make life very difficult for her in the Equestrian Parliament. Twilight imagined their leaders had apoplexies when they heard the Normaredy was being palmed off to the Citadel after pony-kind spent years labouring on the project.
“This interview is over,” Twilight said, firing up her horn. The hovering camera suddenly seized up, and fell to the ground, sparking and smoking.
“What the- You mule! I’ll make sure everypony on Canterlot sees how you bullied an innocent reporter.” Khal shot the lavender unicorn a venomous look as he fell to his knees to piece together his precious camcorder.
“Feel free. Without evidence, you can’t prove anything. Have a good day, sir.” Twilight nodded her head curtly and stalked off, leaving the reporter to stew in anger.
The botanical gardens of the Presidium boasted well over tens of thousands of different plants and animals from the various alien races of the Citadel. It was one of these gardens that Tali and Fluttershy decided to take a walk together. The yellow pegasus and quarian made an odd couple as they strolled along the permacrete path, surrounded by verdant foliage.
“So... Tali, what did you do before you...um... you know... came here?” Fluttershy shyly asked the quarian.
“Hm? Oh, I lived on the Migrant Fleet before I set out on my pilgrimage.”
“Oh, I heard you mention that... but what is it?”
Tali tapped the side of her facemask lightly, pondering on how to best answer the question. “It’s... well... it’s like a rite of passage. You see, when my people reach maturity, we leave our birth ships and seek acceptance among a new crew.”
“What for?” Fluttershy asked innocently. Tali smiled, despite the fact that she was sure the pegasus wouldn’t be able to see her expression. There was something endearing about the way this pony asked questions.
“It’s necessary to maintain genetic diversity among the fleet. But no ship wants to accept someone who would be a burden on them. So, to prove our worth, we embark on a journey. We set out alone, leaving the flotilla and our family and friends behind us. We only return when we find something of value we can bring back to the fleet.”
“That sounds dangerous...”
“Trust me, it isn’t as dangerous as it sounds. Otherwise our numbers would suffer. Before we embark on our pilgrimage, we are given lessons on how to survive outside the flotilla. We’re also given gifts and additional implants to help us survive.”
“But what do you do when you return?” Fluttershy asked, tilting her head.
“We present the captain of the ship of our choice with the gift. If he accepts, then we are welcomed back as part of the new crew,” Tali explained.
“That sounds... nice.” Fluttershy glanced at the quarian questioningly for a moment before looking down shyly.
“Why... why do you hate the geth so much?” she quietly asked. “I know we met a lot of bad geth and all... but there’s good geth, right?” Tali came to a sudden stop, startling her companion. She had to force down the bitter retort she had ready. She forcibly reminded herself that this pony was by all accounts, innocent. It was evident that she didn’t know of the geth-quarian war, nor of the precarious situation the quarians as a species found themselves in at the moment.
Tali stared at the distance in silence for a brief moment, before speaking again. “You see, we quarians originally created the geth...” Tali began to recount the short version of how the quarians had invented the geth to use as a mechanical labour force and the subsequent evolution of their intelligence. She told tales of bravery and horror as the Geth-Quarian War raged. How the quarian had taken to survive after their loss in the war. How they fled their homeworlds in despair and defeat. How they had subsequently learned to survive and the creation of the Migrant Fleet as it wais today.
A short distance away, Garrus and Rarity were watching the two conversing intently. “Frankly, I don’t know why you keep her around. She’s at best a hindrance in a real battle and would be downright painful to watch out for,” the turian remarked, watching the Fluttershy bobbing her head up and down.
“Hush now, you shouldn’t be questioning the commander’s decision.”
“Hey, our lives are on the line here. We should kindly remove her from the team while we can. Well, we could keep the bunny. I’m not about to turn down a potentially powerful biotic like him. Even if he’s only two feet tall. He definitely can put a lot of asari to shame.”
Rarity sighed. Truth to be told, she had to agree with the turian. As much as she liked the company, Fluttershy was a little too... innocent to be dragged around the galaxy like this. Sure, she had no place to go after the incident on Appleloosa and she had needed a new place to stay. But bringing her along on their mission? It made no sense no matter how you sliced it. Maybe she’d need to talk to Twilight about this...
“You two should be ashamed for talking behind Fluttershy’s back like that!”
Garrus and Rarity nearly leapt off the park bench at the sound of Pinkie’s voice behind them.
“Pinkie Pie! You know how I detest you sneaking up on me!”
“No buts. Talking about friends like that is mean.” Pinkie insisted, folding her forelegs in disapproval.
“Fine, Pinkie, maybe we were wrong. But you have to admit Fluttershy is utterly unsuited to a mission of this nature. She’s...” Rarity had to dig deep to find a suitable word. “...delicate.”
Pinkie pouted and shook her head vigorously. “Give her time... I’m sure she’ll be super duper bad-ass in no time! You’ll see!”
Garrus merely raised an eyebrow at her words. “Assuming she doesn’t get herself killed first.” The turian was rewarded with yet another Pinkie glare.
“Hey, Applejack!” Rainbow Dash called out, poking the napping solider in the ribs.
Applejack grunted slightly at the touch and opened one eye. “Wha... what in tarnation do ya want, Rainbow Dash?” she answered wearily, evidently annoyed at being disturbed during her nap.
“I just got the greatest idea to settle the score between us once and for all!” Rainbow Dash said, her wings working up a good storm.
“Dash, have ya been hittin’ them salt bars again? What’s this tomfoolery about a score?” Applejack said, closing her eyes again.
“You see, you think you’re the best soldier in the team...”
“Rainbow Dash... if yer still sore about me beating ya in combat training-”
“... And I think I am the best soldier. Let’s settle this once and for all. A race around the Presidium. Today. Noon.”
Applejack’s eyes sprung open, and she stared wordlessly at Rainbow Dash in astonishment for several moments. Rainbow Dash grinned nervously, hoping that Applejack would take the challenge. She would show her why she was named best speedster of the year four times in a row back on Cloudsdale City. This was one contest she was guaranteed not to lose. No sir. She would prove once and for all who was the best pony.
Then, Dash saw a grin spreading on Applejack’s face. She tilted her stenton hat back and said, “Yer know what Rainbow Dash? You’re on.”
[The Wards, Citadel]
“Oh, oh! Commander Sparkle!”
Twilight found herself being accosted from the same unicorn she met earlier. Her eyes bulged as she saw just how the unicorn changed since they last met. The turquoise unicorn now styled her mane and tail to match hers, right down to the single highlight that ran down the middle of her mane.
“You look my new look, Commander? I did it just so I could look more like the great Commander Sparkle!”
Twilight forced a plastic grin on her face and chuckled nervously. Surely Dewdrop meant it as a joke... right?
“It’s... interesting...” Twilight replied, unsure of how to reply to that. She couldn’t very well tell her off, as disturbed as she was by the filly’s copy cat behaviour. “I think it’s-” Twilight said slowly, fumbling for polite words to dissuade her.
“Oh, Commander, you’re being too modest. This is totally manestyle of the year material. I even brought a camera to take a picture of both of us together! Come on, let’s take a picture.”
“Cool! Wait here...” Dewdrop went off to approach a nearby salarian who was conversing with another of his species. After several moments of gesticulating and loud words, the salarian reluctantly nodded and followed the filly, camera in hand. Twilight thought he looked positively terrified of the filly.
“What did you tell him?”
“Oh nothing, just that I’ll stalk him and his entire family if he didn’t help me with this...”
Twilight turned just in time to catch the full glare of the camera flash full in the face. The unicorn staggered slightly as her vision blurred, spots dancing about in the front of her. She started rubbing her abused eyes gingerly in a vain attempt to clear those pesky spots.
“Thank you so much!”
She felt the filly embracing her in a tight hug. Twilight tried to object, to tell the filly this was unacceptable. Hero worship was fine and all, but this was taking it too far. Then the sounds of pattering footsteps told her it was too late; she was gone.
“Wait!” Twilight shouted, finally recovering the use of her mouth. It was no use. She frowned as Dewdrop disappeared among the crowd.
Much as she liked having devoted fans, this was one step too far...
“... and we fled our homeworlds. It was fortunate the geth never pursued us beyond the Veil. So we have drifted through the stars since, always running. Looking for ways to get home...” Tali’s voice ended on a note of wistfulness.
“Um... I see...” Fluttershy said, visibly moved.
“But enough about the geth, how about you?”
“Me? Um... really, there’s nothing to talk about...”
“Surely you have something to share.” Tali thought on what little she knew about Fluttershy. “I know, tell me about your life on Appleloosa. Sparkle mentioned that she found you hiding among the cargo in the space port. Did you work at the port?”
“Um... okay...” Fluttershy took a deep breath before continuing.
“Yes, I was a dockworker there. But I had a special job there. You see, my special talent...” the yellow pegasus glanced at her cutie mark for a moment. “... is being able to make friends with animals. So Appleloosa, in addition to all those delicious apples we export, also sells some of the animals we raise as pets or for resettlement to other worlds.”
She looked down at the bench, seemingly studying the fake wood intently. “You see... my job is to make sure they stay happy and calm when the time came for them to move. Sometimes I exchange animals who don’t want to go. We don’t force anypony to actually leave. Angel here was one such bunny who refused to move.” Right on cue, the rabbit appeared and hopped on top of her head. He pointed to his mouth and made a chomping motion.
“Oh, you’re hungry? Hold on...” Fluttershy dug into her saddle bag and produced a carrot. Angel whisked the carrot off her mouth and began nibbling on the end eagerly.
“I see he’s grown attached to you,” Tali commented, amused.
“Oh yes... Angel seems to like me alot.” Tali noted with amusement that the rabbit stopped her impromptu meal for a moment to scowl at the pegasus behind her back.
“Anyway, that was what probably saved my life when the scary geth attacked. I was at the starport, talking to a family of beavers. At first, I hid myself as the shooting started. Then I remember all the poor defenseless animals out there. So I crept out and let animals out... then I found myself a new place to hide. You know the rest of the story...”
“Interesting. I suppose all you ponies have cutie marks? Sorry, I’m not very familiar with your culture.”
“Yes... we all get our cutie marks when—”
“There you are!” Applejack’s voice rang out. Both Fluttershy and Tali turned to look at the soldierpony and Rainbow Dash who was apparently hovering impatiently behind.
“Mind helping us with something?”
“Okay, girls! You know the rules. First one past the finish line here wins the race!” Pinkie Pie sang as she bounced around the two potential racers. Applejack and Rainbow Dash gave each other a knowing glance before positioning themselves on the hastily drawn line on the metal floor.
“That’s right, fillies and gentlecolts. Today, Rainbow Dash and Applejack will race right here, right in the heart of the Citadel, to determine the who has the right to claim the coveted ‘Best Soldier in the Team’ award!” Spike announced into a mock microphone, a twig actually. His loud voice however, attracted a few curious passer-bys.
“... We have such an award?” Fluttershy whispered, her aquamarine eyes a reflection of her confusion.
“Nope, just play along,” Spike whispered back. “Hey, where’s Garrus?”
“Twilight wanted him for something. Something about a personal problem...”
“Huh, I guess he’ll be missing all the fun. His loss.”
Spike adjusted his ‘microphone’ and switched to his announcer persona. “Alright! Ladies, take your position!”
“Oy! What do you think you ponies are doing?” a turian voice demanded. Spike glanced towards the direction of the speaker and grimaced. It was a C-Sec constable. The dragon guessed their impromptu race was probably breaking a few dozen C-Sec regulations as they spoke. But then again... Rainbow Dash promised sapphires...
“Uh... right. I can explain this...” Spike hemmed and hawed, stalling the irate C-Sec constable.
“You better have a damn good explanation for this farce. The Presidium is not a public race course,” the constable snapped. He looked past the dragon and pointed at the two contestants. “Tell them to stop. Now.”
“Sure, sure. Let me just—”
Meanwhile, Pinkie was waving a chequered flag merrily in front of the pair.
“Ready. Set. Go!” she yelled.
The two contestants took off in a blur, with Rainbow Dash in particular leaving a rainbow-coloured trail behind. The small crowd that gathered whooped and cheered noisily.
“What the... Stop! Stop!” the constable yelled as the two sped past him, toppling a few potted plant and weaving past the Krogan Memorial Statue. The constable tried in vain to run after them, but found himself choking on their dust trail as they disappeared over the horizon. He raised a hand to his earpiece.
“Constable Toruk here. We have a problem.”
Speed. That was what Rainbow Dash was built for. That was her advantage her entire life.
Yet for in the spirit of this competition, she had her wings tied up with a rope. She very reluctantly agreed to the restriction; even she recognised that Applejack wouldn’t be able to match her speed in the air. Despite all the handicaps she was saddled with, she managed to maintain a razor-thin lead on the soldier pony. For the moment. Applejack was pretty close behind though. She could hear the soldierpony breathing hard behind her.
Then she saw an insurmountable obstacle ahead. A group of various aliens blocking the bridge. She slowed down a little as she tried to push her way through the crowd.
“Coming through, coming through!”
“Heads up ya’all!” Applejack shouted as she rounded a pair of Hanar diplomats and gave a mighty leap over a group of startled volus merchants hawking their goods. She cleared the group handily and began opening up the distance by the time Dash managed to squeeze her way past a pair of asari.
Dash narrowed her eyes. Applejack in the lead! Again! The rainbow pegasus willed her legs to go faster and took off after the earth pony.
“Commander Sparkle! There you are!”
Twilight Sparkle was beginning to dread that voice. It seemed every time Dewdrop managed to find her, she would find some new way to creep her out.
“Hey since we’re best buddies and all, I was wondering...” her voice trailed off coyly as she looked at the commander expectantly.
“Wonder what?” Twilight snapped, her patience finally worn thin by her antics.
“Commander... maybe...” Dewdrop fluffed her mane and struck what the filly though to be a gallant pose. “You can let me join the Spectres! We could totally go on adventures together and stuff and things...”
Twilight held up a hoof. “No.”
“You heard me, no. Spectres are not some game you play. This is real life and death.”
Dewdrop stared at Twilight in shock, as if not expecting for her hero to reject her request.
“But, all those things I did for you... you can’t make an exception? Just this once?” she pleaded, flattening her ears.
“No. I’m sorry.”
The turquoise look-alike stared at the commander for a long moment in silence before finally nodding her head. “Fine. I see what it is. You heroes are all the same. A little glory and it suddenly goes into your head. No time for the little people eh?”
Twilight shook her head. This filly was stubbornly misinterpreting everything she was trying to say. “No, it’s not like that—”
“Don’t bother. I know what you mean. I’ll prove it to you I can make it, you’ll see!” the turquoise pony turned to leave.
“Excuse me, but I believe it’s my cue to appear,” a smooth turian voice spoke behind Dewdrop. Garrus emerged from the shadows he was hiding and walked up to the pair. He placed a firm hand on the filly, stopping her dead in her tracks.
“Wha-? What is this?” Dewdrop whirled back to face Twilight. “You set me up didn’t you?”
“Actually, I’m not here to arrest you, although the commander here did have her fears.”
“Then you have no right to stop me!”
“Just answer a question of mine. Have you ever handled a gun before?” Garrus asked casually, gesturing at the pistol on his hip.
“Um... no. I’m sure it’s easy!” Dewdrop answered hotly.
“Uh huh. Have you ever felt a gun being pointed to your face before?” Before the filly could respond, Garrus had his pistol out and pointed discreetly at her chin.
“Garrus, enough.” Twilight said, putting a hoof on his hand to lower his aim. She turned to Dewdrop, who seemed to have turned two shades paler. “Listen, being a Spectre is not all fun and games. Sometimes... sometimes we have to make sacrifices... do things we don’t like doing...” She paused fractionally, gathering her thoughts. “... maybe even make difficult choices.”
“But we’re doing it not for glory. Not for the killing. We’re doing it for ponies everywhere. Ponies like you. Equestria needs you. But not as a spectre. Go home, and be safe. For me. For us. It’s what I am fighting for.”
“You better listen to the commander here. She certainly knows what she’s talking about.”
Dewdrop’s eyes flitted between Twilight and Garrus. Then the unicorn’s ears drooped and her gaze dropped to the floor. “... I guess... you’re right. I shouldn’t be out here... mom’s already worried sick,” she said in a smaller voice.
“Then go home to her. Now go on. Don’t let us keep you...” Twilight gave the unicorn a little nudge on the flank. Dewdrop glanced at both Garrus and Twilight, before nodding reluctantly and started to trot off. Compared to the bubbly filly earlier, Dewdrop now seemed like a shadow of her old self. Deep down, Twilight wondered whether this was really better for her.
“Phew, I’m glad that was settled. I was starting to think she was a little unhinged...”
Before Garrus could respond, his radio chimed. The turian listened intently for a moment, before letting out a groan. “Rainbow Dash... you idiot...” he muttered under his breath before glancing at Twilight. The commander gave him an odd look.
“Let me guess, Rainbow Dash broke something valuable again?” Twilight said dryly.
“Commander, you’re not going to like this...”
“Hah hah!” Rainbow Dash whooped as she tipped the statue over. Applejack, who was following closely behind, yelled loudly as she swerved to one side to avoid the falling edifice. The statue shattered with a loud crack. Fortuitously, no one was injured by the toppling structure.
“Why you no-good...” she shouted back at the pegasus.
“Alright, enough’s enough. Yer goin’ down, Rainbow Dash,” the soldier pony shouted back, jumping to snag the flying pegasus tail with her mouth. The speedster found herself being yanked back the sudden force and crashed hard on the ground. She found herself staring at the dust trail of Applejack as she planted her snout into the artificial permacrete of the Presidium.
“Oh no you don’t!” Dash shouted, getting to all fours and taking off in a rainbow blur.
The two racers sped past the various monuments and landmarks of the Presidium, tipping various landmarks over and leaving bewildered passersby behind. The race gradually descended into a mess of tackles, tail pulling, tripping one’s feet and other dirty tricks as they neared the finish line.
“It’s Rainbow Dash taking the lead... Now, it’s Applejack. Rainbow Dash. Applejack. Rainbow Dash! It’s too close to tell!”
A indistinct trail of clouds approached the finish line, the only visible sign that the racers was still in the fight. Pained grunts and shouts emanated from the dust cloud as the two tumbled over the final lap and deposited the now battered and thoroughly exhausted competitors onto the floor.
The crowd whooped and cheered as the two turned as one to look at Pinkie. The same question shot out of their mouth.
Pinkie made a show of fiddling with her PDA for dramatic pause before shouting, “It’s a tie!” The crowd went wild.
“WHAT?!” the two again shouted as one.
The two turned as one to the source of the cough. A very angry looking Twilight, together with Executor Pallin with an equally livid look. The gathered crowd suddenly went silent, looking at each other uncertainly. As if on cue, the C-Sec constables appeared and began herding the on-lookers off. Soon the small group was the only ones left.
“You two have some explaining to do.”
[CIC, ESV Normaredy]
“... I can’t believe you two were foolhardy enough to hold a race in the Presidium of all places. We’re already in enough trouble with C-Sec. If it weren’t for the ambassador’s pleas and my own status as a Spectre, we would be unceremoniously serving jail time on a prison ship. Or worse.”
“Sorry, Commander... I guess I got a lil’ carried away.”
“I totally won that race you know,” Dash retorted smugly, still not completely in the program. She was rewarded with pinpoint glares from the rest of the crew. “Uh... I mean, sorry, shouldn’t have done that,” she quickly corrected, grimacing. She convinced nopony however.
Twilight glared at the rainbow pegasus a little more before moving on. “Since you two also so kindly inflicted approximately three million credits of damage to the Citadel, both of your pay will also be docked for a year. Be thankful the princess picked up the rest of the tab.”
“A.... year? How am I supposed to afford that Wonderbolts show ticket now?!”
“Oh boy, Big Mac ain’t going to be pleased hearing this.”
“Maybe the both of you should have thought of the consequences before running off into the wind next time,” Twilight answered sardonically. The two shuffled their hooves guiltily at her words. Rainbow Dash even briefly sported a contrite look on her face, though she gamely recovered and put on her usual expression of smug satisfaction.
“Anyhow, since we had to cancel the rest of shore leave due to your antics, we might as well start our search for Dr. Liara T’Soni.” The crew stiffened slightly and glanced at each other. Playtime was over. Here was the next phase of their quest.
“Ditzy, pass the coordinates of the cluster to Scootaloo. Let’s go get our doctor.”