June 15th, 3:25 PM
Underground bunker five miles south-west of Canterlot
The large, empty room stood towering in silence. The dank atmosphere and darkness served only to further the illusion that the solid grey walls had fallen victim to abandonment and disrepair. Several big, nondescript crates – some made of metal, most made of wood - wedged up along the walls seemed to act only as a bed for a thick blanket of dust. Heavy titanium doors with various numbers and markings stood snapped firmly shut, one at the centre of three of the walls. Towards the south of the room was a large steel grate embedded in the floor, about a metre or so above a pool of water trailing out of the building. Most ponies have no idea of this building’s existence – fewer still know of its purpose. The cold winter chill hung in the room; nothing to trap any heat and certainly nothing to provide it would be found here. Eerie sounds flood the area as cold air from the grate above the pool rushed in and bounced from the walls.
A small banging sound echoed through the room. Then another. One more bang and a frustrated groan just for good measure. A considerable crashing sound filled the room as the steel grate flips open, the force of the blow breaking one of the hinges and unsettling the dust on a nearby crate. A pony emerged from the water wearing nothing but a skin-tight grey wetsuit and scuba gear. The pony whipped off the scuba mask and dropped it down the grate from which it had just emerged. Pulling back the hood of the wetsuit revealed a magnificent, flowing rainbow mane. A soft, feminine yet tomboyish sigh of relief came from the pony’s mouth as she relieved herself of her claustrophobic costume. Wriggling out of the wetsuit, the rainbow-maned pony let out uncomfortable groans as the wetsuit pulled on the hairs of her body. Sliding the suit roughly over her flank revealed a rainbow-coloured thunder cloud cutie mark and a flowing rainbow tail, complementing her mane perfectly. The wetsuit slid over her hooves with ease now as she stepped out of it and kicked it into the water with her scuba gear.
She surveyed the room. It was obvious that nobody had been here for a while, but she still felt uneasy. It was like she was being watched. A quiet ringing began in her ear. Raising her hoof to her ear silenced it.
“Pinkie”, she started, “Where did the insider put my gear?” A voice replaced the ringing in her ear.
“Oh hi, Rainbow Dash! Are you there already? I didn’t know you could swim that fast! Do you swim a lot? I like swimming. I haven’t been swimming in like, forever, though! I used to go with my family but my sister forgot how to swim one day so we don’t really go anymore. It’s a shame really beca-“
“Pinkie!” Rainbow Dash shouted, cutting her off.
“Oh, haha! Sorry, Dashie. What were you saying again?”
“Ugh… My equipment, Pinkie?”
“Oh yeah! It should be in one of those dusty old crates. Look for one with hoofprints left in the dust.”
“Thanks. Anything else I should know?”
“Ooh, there’s lots you should know! Did you know that pink is my favourite colour? And it’s Gummy’s bar mitzvah next weeken-“
“Pinkie!” Rainbow cut her off again, much more frustrated than before.
“Yes, Dashie?”, she replied, as upbeat as ever.
“I meant something relevant. Tell me something relevant.”
“Oh! Well, I’m talking to you through a Codec! It directly stimulates the small bones in your ear, so only you will be able to hear it!”
“Uh… Pinkie? I already know that. I work with these every day.”
“Well, duh! I know YOU know, but what about everypony else? Huh?”
“…Who? What are you talking about?!”
“The fans, silly!”
Rainbow groaned and cut Codec communications. She felt she’d get more help talking to an orange than Pinkie. Dashie scanned the room, walking up to each crate and inspecting the dust on top of each. Eventually she came to a large silver metallic crate, branded with “G&PT Logistics Solutions” on the side. Two hoof-shaped marks were cut into the dust on the top of the crate. She quickly looked around to make absolutely sure that there wasn’t anybody around before prying open the lid. Spotting her gear inside, she jumped in the crate and began suiting up. The container was big enough for her to fit inside several times, so she had plenty of room to get dressed in comfort. She donned her familiar grey sneaking suit. The suit helped her blend in with the dull environments she was often placed in, as well as expertly helping to muffle any noise she makes. The only real issue that Rainbow Dash had with it is that it severely restricts her flying abilities. She had often wondered why they would send a pegasus on these missions and then practically ground her, but she had gotten used to it over the years. She’s experienced in the field and one of HARMONY’s leading operatives.
Once fully clothed, her magical rainbow tail and mane once again concealed, she considered her next move. She’s often sent into these missions blind and doesn’t really know much about what to do until she’s there. It’s safer that she doesn’t know too much before she starts in case she gets captured or in case she gets cold hooves. She reaches her hoof up to her ear again and hesitates.
“Huh… Probably not a good idea to call Pinkie,” she thought to herself. “I know! I’ll call Twilight! She’s an egghead, she always knows what’s going on.”
Rainbow changed the frequency and heard a few short bursts of ringing.
“Hello?” Came a voice in her ear.
“Oh hey, Twi. It’s me.”
“Hey, Rainbow! Wow, are you there already? You sure do swim fast.”
“Yeah… So I’ve been told.” Rainbow replied, recalling her earlier conversation with Pinkie.
“Anyway, what can I help you with, Rainbow?”
“Well, nopony has really told me what I’m supposed to be, uh… Y’know, doing.”
“Oh? How come you called me? Isn’t Pinkie in charge of this operation?”
“She’s busy planning a bar mitzvah. Anyway, you’re an egghead, Twilight. You always know the best course of action.”
“I am NOT an egghead!” Twilight replied, with a noticeable trace of irritation in her voice.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever you say, Twilight.” She snorted.
“Oh! That reminds me. Don’t call me Twilight. We need codenames to protect our identities.”
“…We do? Since when?”
“Since this became such a critical operation! Now, I’d like you to address me as ‘Bronycon’ for the duration of this mission.”
“Address you as… What now?” Rainbow said, in a voice masked by a mixture of amusement and confusion.
“Bronycon! It’s short for brony convention.”
Twilight groaned. “You know, bronies? The stories about the bipedal creatures from Earth who worship ponies? And the convention held in Canterlot each year in their honour?”
“Yeah, but… That doesn’t really explain why you want to be called Bronycon.”
“It’s a passion of mine.” Snapped Twilght. “Besides, if it wasn’t for them then I wouldn’t even be in this job.”
“And how exactly did bronies influence your career, Twi-... Uh, Bronycon?”
“Supply and demand!”
“Why does everypony keep talking about fans?!” Rainbow retorted gruffly.
“Eh... You know what? Never mind. So what did you want to know, Dash?”
“I want to know what I'm supposed to be doi-” She paused. “Wait, so don't I get a cool codename, too?”
“Oh, that's right! You should have a codename as well! I'll patch you through to Pinkie.”
Rainbow's voice filled with fear at the prospect. “No, wait!” She shouted. “Don't ask Pinkie! She'll give me a terrible codename, like... Like, uh... Gangrenous Petunia or Portable Mortgage or something! Twilight, don't you dare put Pinkie on the Co-” she was cut short by a familiar chirpy voice.
“Portable Mortgage?” Giggled Pinkie, “Now, that IS pretty cool, buuuuuuuut... I have something else in mind for you!”
“Ugh... I await your input with baited breath.”
“Um... Excuse me?”
“Quail! You'll be know as Quail for the duration of this mission. Ooh, isn't that a cool name? Ooh, ooh! Does this need a celebration? Should be hold a nickname party! I love a good nickname party, what better thing to celebrate than a brand new name? A brand new name for a brand new Rainbow Dash! Oops, I meant Quail. A new name for a new quail! ...But wait, you're not a quail, silly, you're a pony! What am I talking about? I'd forget my own mane if it wasn't attached to my neck!”
After temporarily zoning out, Rainbow snapped at Pinkie.
“Quail?! QUAIL?! Why in Equestria would you think Quail is a good name? What does it mean? It's not even that cool! Ugh!”
“Huh... So no party?”
“Aww...” Dash could almost hear the air rushing out of Pinkie as she deflated. “What if I were to make it sound a bit cooler?”
Rainbow's ears perked up. “...Go on?”
“Hmm... Gaseous. Gaseous Quail!”
“...Gaseous Quail? Really?
“Well, what did you expect? Solid Quail? Liquid Quail? SOLIDUS Quail? What the heck is a Solidus, anyway?”
“Ugh... I wish I never asked.” Rainbow sighed with a facehoof.
Rainbow was seething. It took all of her willpower to not just cut Codec communications right there and then and go home. Her, the greatest athlete in all of Equestria? Rainbow Dash, the pony surely next in line for the Wonderbolts? Reduced to sneaking around in a perverse suit with a codename that makes her sound like a flatulent bird.
“Pinkie...” Dashie said.
“Colonel Cupcake!” Came the reply.
“My codename! Colonel Cupcake!”
“Fine... Colonel, can you just tell me what I'm doing here already? Please?” Dashie was on the edge of despair. She was close to ripping out her mane with frustration.
“Oki doki loki!” Pinkie said, in her usual, cheerful tone. “You're on a top secret mission! Some real bad ponies have stolen something very, VERY important! And it's super duper urgent that you get it back for me, Quaily!”
“Great, now she's calling me Quaily”, Rainbow thought to herself. She paused for a moment to think about what she could have done to deserve being placed in the situation she found herself in. “Oh yeah”, she thought, wincing. “That. Still, it's not so bad, I suppose... As long as she doesn't start calling me Gassy.”
“Quaily? You there? Helloooooooo! Gassy?” Came the curious voice from the Codec.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaand there it is. Shoot me now.” Rainbow thought. “I'm here, Pink-... Colonel.” Rainbow said, breaking the silence at last. “So what sort of bad ponies are we talking about? Mobsters? Terrorists?”
“Something like that!”
“I know the details are supposed to be kept confidential, but you could be a little more helpful than just telling me they're a bunch of bad ponies.” Dash grunted down the line.
“Fine, they're really, REALLY bad ponies!” Exclaimed Pinkie. “They've stolen something super ultra incredibly important and they're threatening to do bad things to it! Things that could affect all of Equestria!”
“Pinkie, I really need you to be more specific. Have they kidnapped the princess? Do they have a bomb? Have they stolen Gummy's skullcap?”
“I... I can't, Dashie. Not yet. I'll tell you soon, I Pinkie promise.” Pinkie's voice was sad and flat.
“...Okay, Colonel. I'm trusting you on this one. Don't let me down.” Rainbow tried to make her voice as comforting as she could. “Now, just tell me where I need to go. I'll let you fill me in as and when you see fit.”
“...Okay, Quaily.” Her voice was trembling slightly. A little more upbeat, but still sounding completely defeated. “In the crate you're in there should be a small, rectangular card. It's a keycard. The number on the card corresponds with the number on the door. Our insider was only a patrol pony, so they only have level one clearance. You'll only be able to open doors with security level one protocols in place. Look for that card first.”
Rainbow fumbled around in the dark looking for the keycard. She pounded her hooves against the cold, metallic lining of the crate repeatedly, the resulting sound reverberating around her. After a minute or so of crawling around the inside of the crate, her front left hoof felt the smooth appeal of something out of the ordinary. Picking it up, she brought it closer to her face. Her eyes had begun to fully dark-adapt and she could make out a big white number one on the left hand side of the card. “This must be it!” She thought to herself. She pocketed the card and reported in to Pinkie.
“I found the card. What now?” She asked.
“Keep the card either in your breast pocket or by your neck or wrist. Anywhere where you can feel your heartbeat or a pulse. The card has a sensitive chip inside it that, uh...” Pinkie trailed off. “That knows that, um... You're alive. And it communicates with the door to open it. It has to know you're alive, though. They don't allow dead ponies to open doors here.”
“...Do dead ponies open doors anywhere?” Rainbow said flatly.
“Nope! And it's all thanks to these cards! Can you imagine what kind of mission this would be if there were zombie ponies walking around the place?” Pinkie asked.
“I dunno... Something like going to Rarity's house before she's had her morning cup of coffee?”
Pinkie laughed. “Haha! Oh Quaily, that's a good one! But you know Rarity isn't really a zombie! Maybe we should throw her a party sometime. I bet she'd like that! Maybe she'd cheer up a bit and stop being so uptight all the time. Like last week, when she spent the entire pony pet playdate complaining about how I ruined her new dress? Ruined? Me?! If anything, I improved it! How can adding chocolate milk to anything possibly make it worse?!”
“...Well, at least Pinkie Pie's back”, Rainbow thought to herself.
“...And then the cake went straight in Winona's face! Can you believe it? What were we talking about again? Oh yeah! Would a zombie even like a party?”
“Colonel. How about we just get this mission done first, yeah?”
“Ooh, that's a great idea! The sooner you get back, the sooner we can party!”
“...Yeah, sure. That was exactly my reasoning behind the suggestion. Now what do I do?”
“Did you put the card where I told you to?”
“Yeah, it's in my breast pocket.”
“Good! Now, that card only has security level one clearance. There should only be one door in this room with level one security, so find it and make your way through it. Be prepared. I don't know what you'll find in the next room.”
“How can she go from being so upbeat and random to being so plain and serious in such a short time?” Rainbow wondered.
“There'll probably be some resistance up ahead, so make sure you're careful.”
“Okay, Colonel. Quail out.”
Rainbow cut Codec communications and prised open the lid of the container. She bounded out, letting the metal lid slam down behind her. The echoes filled the room. Thankfully, nopony else was in there to be alerted to her presence. She scanned the walls of the room, checking each door. The door to the east of the room had a large number three painted on it, the door to the north a number four, and a number one adorned the door on the western wall. Rainbow made her way across the room. As she approached the heavy titanium door, she heard a faint whirring noise. As she took another step, the door slowly began to raise, allowing her passage into the next room. She slid quietly under the door, making sure to be extra cautious. A smaller room than the one she just came from, it was obviously used as some sort of break room. There were a few tables and chairs set up towards the south of the room with a mini-fridge on the work surface. A stove and an unloved microwave were among the other visual delights in the area. Some cupboards were installed along the western part of the north wall, the central part of the wall opening up into a slim corridor.
Suddenly, Rainbow saw something dart behind her out of the corner of her eye. She turned quickly, but failed to see anything. She heard a metallic shuffling to her left. Spinning around again, she looked in time to see nothing more than a shadow dart across the room after knocking a saucepan onto the floor. She span around to look up the corridor, seeing what looked like the tip of a light pink tail turning left at the end of the hallway in the north wall.
“Who are you?!” She called out. “What do you want?”
No response. She thought it would be best not to shout and risk causing any unnecessary complications and decided instead to try and quietly follow whoever it was she saw. She sneaked down the dim, cold corridor and turned to the left at the end of it. She was looking at some kind of laundry room. Piles of clean military uniforms laid neatly on the shelves, with soiled blankets casually thrown over them. Rainbow checked all corners of the room but saw nothing out of place.
“Doesn't look like there's anything useful in here...” She thought to herself. As she turned back, she heard a small, quiet, high-pitched sneeze come from one corner of the room. She spun around again. Looking carefully at a pile of dirty clothes in the floor, Rainbow casually crept closer towards it, her eyes fixed on the pile in the corner. Suddenly, the pile twitched.
“GAH!” Rainow screamed, jumping backwards and hitting the wall with such force that she knocked a box of washing powder off of the shelf, coating herself from mane to flank. As if that wasn't bad enough, she was soon treated to a pair of sweaty underwear falling on her face.
“Ewwwww! Oh... Dear sweet merciful Celestia...!” Rainbow gagged as she peeled the soiled cloth from her face. “I'm going to be smelling this for weeks.”
She picked herself up and dusted herself down and pounced onto the washing pile that startled her. She could feel something in there, roughly the same size as her. A small squeal came from inside.
“Ouch! Please, um, if you wouldn't mind getting off of me? You're hurting me...”
Rainbow froze. “I... I know that voice...” She thought to herself. She slowly climbed off of the pile of uniforms and began to dismantle it, removing one garment from the pile at a time. She saw the light pink tail she had seen dart around the corner in the break room. Followed by thick, brushed, yellow body hair. Finally, pulling away a pair of trousers obscuring the flank, a butterfly cutie mark came into sight.
“...Fluttershy, is that you?!”
“Oh, um, hi, Rainbow Dash.” A shy voice said, emanating from the sleeve of a military camo jacket.
“Fluttershy? Wh... I don't understand. What are you doing here?!”