Midnight stood up - his head was whirling from the fall he'd taken...he must have taken a tumble as there was no way in Equestria he’d be seeing stars this early in the afternoon if he hadn't hit his head.
He shook himself to clear it. Nothing happened.
"Ohhhh wow, I must have hit my head harder than I realised..." he said, blinking, trying to make the black sky with hard pin-prick diamond stars fade to the normal azure blue of a sunny day in Ponyville. Worryingly, it didn't.
"Good afternoon, Midnight." said a husky voice.
Midnight whirled, tripping himself up and landing face-first in silvery grey dust, "Lu-Luna? What?"
"Don't you recognize the place? ...I guess you wouldn't, would you?"
Midnight gulped; the strangely black sky, the brilliant stars, the lack of gravity, the silvery-white effervescent scenery, "I'm on the moon, aren't I?"
"Indeed," the lunar princess stepped carefully around him, avoiding the more jagged rocks and plotholes, "and do you know why I've brought you here?"
Midnight's heart raced - had he badmouthed his mistress? Had he disobeyed an order? It couldn't be...it couldn't be the extra donut he 'borrowed' from the Equestria Daily staff canteen, could it? "N-n-no, Luna, I don't..."
"FANFICS!" she hissed, "NOTHING BUT FANFICS!"
Midnight's eyes went wide, "But...but..."
"Do you know how many you send to the moon?"
"Thousands! My weekend resort is buried in them! And do you ever send the newspaper? A sports magazine? Anything? NO! You send me fanfics!"
"I'm...sorry?" squeaked the shivering unicorn, "I..."
"Do you have any idea how bad they are?"
"But they're the rejects!"
"AND YOU'VE BEEN SENDING THEM TO ME AND KEEPING THE GOOD ONES FOR YOURSELF!" roared the night princess, "Well, now you get to keep them. A year for every. Single. Bad. Fanfic. You've. Sent. Here!"
"Nnnnoooooooo!" screamed Midnight, thrashing, twisting, rolling, neighing...until finally he woke up. It was bright outside, he could see the sun shining even through his heavy curtains. He breathed a sigh of relief and threw them wide...
...Outside was an endless sea of white chad, shredded fanfics littered the moon, extending well past the short horizon. He turned to look at his bed of comfortable hay...the hay was white, with little pieces of black text upon it. He picked a shred up, idly, and read it, "Ebony Lightning, the three-horned six-winged Dream Princess touched her hooves to the breast of Big Mac and bent to kiss him..."
Midnight blinked. His bed - nothing but shredded fanfics. His walls...covered in fanfics. Even his curtains...
Midnight used his magic to lift the cup to his lips where he noisily made short work of the office coffee. It was...tepid. Bitter. Substandard. Office coffee always was. They might as well be the finest columbian ground grains from the misty highlands, but put them in an office coffee machine and they'd taste like floor sweepings.
Luna strode past. She shared the night shift with him. They had a common bond, a...brotherhood, if such could be said between female night-goddess and male stallion staff-worker. Mutual respect, kind words...
"MMIIDDDNIIIGGHHHTTT..!!!" Luna called from the depths of the staff canteen.
"DID YOU DRINK THE LAST OF THE COFFEE AGAIN WITHOUT MAKING MORE?"
There was a sudden fizzle of angrily-applied winged unicorn princess power followed by the clattering cacophony of four horse-shoes, a bunch of nails and a mostly-full plastic sippy mug hitting the ground.
Looking out of the window, Luna narrowed her eyes. "You *know* I hate that." she said under her breath in the general direction of the softly glowing orbital body. She bent her head and picked up the cup in her mouth. They'd given Midnight a covered sippy cup as he'd gone through a month's supply of china in the last few days. She grimaced, plastic always made the coffee taste even worse. She sat and opened her email.
“By the pricking of my hooves, something wicked this way moves...” intoned the great and powerful Sethisto in a giggling high-pitched cackle.
“Sorry, that’ll be me. Burritos.” said Cereal, with a grin that was hard to see in the flickering candle-light. The three most powerful entities in the Equestria Daily offices - bar the Celestial twins of course - were huddled in their secret lair, muzzles close around a spitting bees’ wax candle.
“When I’m blog empress, you’ll be the first against the wall...sheesh.” said Phoe, waving a wing about, “Now, we have to plan our next move very carefully - they must never know what hit them. Failure is not an option!”
“Is the door fast with the three-fold seal of evil, my minion?” rasped Sethisto.
“It’s...it’s a bit tricky, yeah, but I think I got it to stay closed.” replied Cereal
“Ahem,” corrected Sethisto with impatience, “I said...”
“Oh, er, I mean...yes! Yes! The way is barred with the three-fold seal of evil. It’s a pretty evil seal too, damn thing near took my hoof off...”
“Are the runes cast, darkly, my sweet princess?”
“I’m not your princess. I’m Empress Phoe, revealer of the Cursed Arts, practitioner of the Secret Ways and...”
“And caster of the cheap D-20 die collection, if I recall correctly.” said Cereal.
“And caster of the Dark Runes, you mean. Yes, yes, they’re pretty well cast darkly. Can’t see a bloody thing in this place.”
Sethisto sighed, scowling, and resolved to ignore his recalcitrant colleagues, “All things stand ready, my minions, our plan is foolproof...those what would keep me from my prize shall fall before my hooves, cower in fear before me might, flee before...”
The broom-cupboard door opened and a cheery voice asked, “Are you three playing in here again? Don’t you have work to do? Out! Out! I’ve saved you extra muffins since you’ve managed to not set anything on fire this week.”
Celestia shooed them out with her wings and a horn, shaking her head, “And stop playing in that box, Sethisto, you’ll get stuck and then where would you be? Hmm?”
Sethisto clambered out of the smallish box with the odd design on the sides, head hung low, “Sorry Celestia.” he mumbled and followed the rest out.
The table was bare, apart from the tablecloth and an empty plate with a few crumbs on it. Beneath the table-cloth huddled Sethisto, Phoe and Cereal Velocity.
“Curses! Foiled again!” raged Sethisto, raising a hoof and shaking it, “All that planning! Thwarted!”
“Turns out it wasn’t that hard to get extra muffins anyway, was it?” commented Cereal, munching happily.
“Humph...” began Sethisto, before stealing a conspiratorial glance left and right, “When shall we three meet again?”
Phoe rolled her eyes and ate her muffin.
The Equestria Daily office was pandemonium again. Alex was camped out near the fridge in army fatigues and twitching constantly. They’d just had a new shipment of mayonnaise in, and he wanted to be able to actually eat it this time, rather than humanely destroy the remains. The new guy, Tempest or something, had barricaded himself in his cubicle with boxes of caffienated beverages, a stack of fanfics high enough to interfere with the ceiling fans and a grim look of determination. Phoe was...tied up...literally. Nopony wanted to ask why. Or how. Cereal was examining life as a fruit bat and hanging from the chandeliers with his rear hooves and Sethisto had got some sort of...paperweight in the post and hadn’t been seen for the last few days. Work orders had appeared from under the door to his darkened office.
In short, business as usual. That was, at least, until the main doors to what was loosely-termed the ‘office space’ flew open and in stepped a town crier.
“HERE YE! HERE YE! I BID YE WELCOME THIS DAY OUR NEW TEMPORARY PRINCESS, MIDNIGHT SHADOW! PROTECTOR OF CLOUD 14-B TWO HUNDRED FEET ABOVE CANTERLOT CASTLE AND STAR 11359-A, LOWERER OF THE SUN TEN SECONDS BEFORE DUSK AND REGENT OF THE FIFTH BROOM-CLOSET ON FLOOR TEN OF CANTERLOT CASTLE!”
There was a fanfare. It was loud enough to blast half the remaining fanfics into the air as a large, gloriously dark-blue winged unicorn with a sunset-streaked mane and tail stepped regally into the office amidst the renewed tide of gibbering cries of pain for the increased workload.
“...Midnight?” asked a stunned Siraj, the blue-grey eyes of the white-coated unicorn going wide with surprise as paper rained down around her, “What the bloody hell are you doing looking like that?”
“I...I...kind of said that Luna’s job was easy. That all she had to do was sit there looking pretty. I expected a one-way trip to the moon again...but apparently she’s really pissed this time.”
“Oh lawdy, what did you do you giant stupid plothole?”
“I...she made me a princess. For today. I’m going to have to help lower the sun! Do you have any freaking idea how heavy that thing is? It’s giving me mane-ache just thinking about it!”
Siraj snickered, “I’ll get the fire department on standby. Sooty’ll understand.”
“It gets worse though.”
“Celestia heard it too. She’s making me wear the maid outfit tomorrow!”
“What’s so bad about that?”
“With my hips? I’d only be able to pull it off today!”
Afternoon sunlight crept into his room, unwantingly casting it’s bright rays onto the light purple stallion’s face. With a light sigh, he opened his eyes. Blurry, as usual, until his horn lit up and his nearby glasses floated onto his face. Blinking a few times and getting his bearings, he crawled out of bed and wearily stood up. Glancing at the clock, he caught the time - 2:47 PM. It was normal time for him, as he usually worked late into the night and regularly passed out around four or five in the morning. He leisurely left the room, not bothering to brush his shaggy mane.
He soon arrived at the office. It wasn’t a bad job, not at all. It was situated in a great place in Canterlot with an amazing view, it paid enough to make a living, and the co-workers were great. The only problem were the employers - the two solar sisters, none other than Celestia and Luna. It wasn’t that they were overly demanding or rude, it was just that their tempers could get a little out of hoof. Midnight being sent to the moon was almost a daily occurrence, and more than one unusual punishment was regularly handed out. Still, it was a pretty good place to be.
The pony’s ears perked up as he opened the office door, as he heard the sound of Luna scolding somebody. As it turned out, it was Midnight. A worried look, a flash of the horn, and poof - Midnight had another first class ticket to the moon. All in a day’s schedule.
“Well, look who decided to show up.” Luna said, turning her gaze to Alex.
“Good afternoon, Princess.” He replied, ignoring the princesses sarcasm.
“You are aware of the time, correct?”
“Of course. You know I work early into the morning.”
Her spiteful look did nothing to change his cheerful mood. “Just be thankful Celestia delegates your work hours, and allows you to arrive as you please.” With this, she walked past him and down a corridor. Another crisis averted, at least for today.
Nodding to the security guard, he made his way to the nearby elevator and looked over the only four buttons it had - office, basement, roof, and the illuminated lobby. The backstory behind this was that Celestia thought it would be amusing for the elevator to choose and office floor at random. It tended to be frustrating, aggravating, infuriating - and part of the every day schedule. Hitting the office button, Alex casually walked into the elevator and listened calmly to the music. Today, it was polka.
With a light ding, the elevator opened. “Let’s see here... Ah, administrative offices. I just need to go down one floor today.” He smiled and walked out, immediately heading towards the stairs. Glancing over to the nearest door, he saw the gold nameplate that read “Phoe”, then noticed the multitude of locks on the door. She’s certainly a pony who enjoyed her privacy, Alex thought, counting the number of keyholes. Seven in total. He shrugged and moved down the stairs. Hearing the commotion from this floor, he knew he was in the right place.
As usual, the regular office was in a fit of unorganization and chaos. For whatever reason, Cereal was on the floor, fast food containers overflowed from the garbage cans, Present was pounding at his keyboard, and in the corner, Daffodil and Nines were locked in a shouting match.
“Hey Alex!” Siraj called, peeking through her open door.
“Afternoon, Siraj. Looks like everything is running smoothly, isn’t it?” he asked, looking around at the chaos. He noticed Daffodil and Nines simply glaring at each other now, teeth bared and eyes filled with fire.
“Sure is!” the tan unicorn happily replied, sinking back behind her computer monitor. Nodding to nopony in particular, Alex walked to his own office, a simple area with a common desk and computer. In the corner was a pile of mechanical equipment that looked abandoned and terribly old. With a happy sigh, he sat into the chair with enough force to spin around, and booting up his computer with a burst of magic, began his day.
“Wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“What do you mean, ‘the cannon is broken’?”
Alex sat as his computer desk, dumbfoundedly looking at the floating cube who had just entered his office. He had a very hard time believing that the large cannon, which had been working just fine an hour prior, had stopped functioning entirely.
“Look, I don’t know how or why, but it’s broken. Can you go check it out?”
“But... it’s a cannon. It’s mechanical. Don’t we have The Mechanic for things like this?”
“He’s still getting settled in, and you aren’t doing anything important.” The Sethisto cube hovered next to Alex and looked at his monitor, noticing the fan fiction document opened up. The purple stallion’s irritated expression was a fair indicator that he was in the middle of something. “Regardless,” the cube spoke “we have twenty other guys to do that. Just go look at the cannon. Celestia is going to have all of our hides if it doesn’t work.”
Alex could only sigh as he got up from his chair and walked past Sethisto, exiting the room. Hopefully, this wouldn’t take very long. How much could possibly go wrong with a cannon?
A lot, apparently. When he arrived on the roof, the heavy smell of smoke hung in the air, and thick, billowing black clouds streamed out of the mouth of the cannon. He wasn’t the only one who had been told about this, though, as Pineapple and Midnight were on the roof as well, quizzically eying the machine.
“Anypony know how long it’s been like this?” Alex asked, adjusting his glasses momentarily.
“I’d say it’s been about... half an hour?” Pineapple said, a hoof raised to his chin thought. “Midnight and I came up here to shoot off a bundle of fics, and we found it like this.” He motioned to a large, wrapped up stack of papers, roughly as tall as he was. They were never in short supply of things to shoot to the moon.
“There’s some pretty awful ones in there. We better get this fixed soon.” the dark blue stallion said, a hint of disgust in is voice.
Alex walked over to the side of the cannon, looking for a way to open the maintenance panel. It didn’t take him long to find the lever for it, and in a moments notice he was looking at a mess of wires, metal, a small monitor and a basic keyboard. A small red light was blinking repeatedly, with a little sticker that said ‘BROKEN’ next to it. “That’s helpful” the unicorn muttered to himself, flipping a switch that caused the monitor to flash to life. It displayed some basic diagnostic information, such as if the barrel was currently loaded, when it was last fired, when the last routine maintenance had been performed, and how much energy it was consuming.
“Find anything out?” Pineapple said, looking over Alex’s shoulder.
“Well, according to this...” Alex hit a few buttons on the keyboard. “the last maintenance was done... over five months ago. Brilliant.” He sighed, and typed a bit more on the keyboard. “This thing uses enough energy in one shot to power all of Canterlot for half an hour. Oh, and it was last fired... thirty seven minutes ago.”
“Well... anything about the problem?”
“Not even a little bit.” Both Pineapple and Midnight facehooved as Alex tried to run various commands through the console.
“Let’s see... ‘H-E-L-P’?” Nothing. “S-C-A-N?” Blank screen. “D-I-A-G-N-O-S-E?” Still nothing. “R-E-P-A-I-R?” No response but the hum of electricity. “Oh, by Celestia’s beard... F-I-X!” Somewhere deep in the cannon’s machinery, gears and electrical currents started working, along with the sounds of metal pounding and something being pushed around. The telltale sound of the cannon beginning to fire started as well, but the power level was only at one percent. What could possibly- The loud explosion cut off any thoughts, followed by a thud and heavy coughing. The three ponies ears perked up at this, and they immediately rushed towards the firing end of the cannon, to find...
“Princess Luna?!” they exclaimed simultaneously. The moon princess coughed loudly as she stood up. She was covered in soot, her mane was disheveled and messy beyond belief, and above all, the azure pony looked very irritated.
“That...” she began, breathing heavily. “Is the final straw.” Luna ran a hoof through her mane, in a vain attempt to make it look more presentable. The three stallions in front of her could only watch her with gaping mouths. “This is the last time. THE LAST. TIME. That I leave my room unguarded.” She paced back and forth, angrily. “One minute, I’m quietly sleeping in my bed, and the next, I hear Celestia giggling her pretty little mane off and I’m at the bottom of a CANNON.” Her enraged glare fell upon the group in front of her. “Do you know where Celestia is? Hm?”
“Um... I... I think she’s in the castle.” Midnight spoke, gulping. He had seen this side of the princess a little too often, usually ending with him observing Equestria from the moon’s peaceful orbit.
“Oh? Is she? Excellent.” the princess mused, a fairly sinister smile creeping onto her mouth. “I’ll get her back for this, just you wait. I’ll get her!” She spread her wings and angrily lifted off, making a beeline towards the castle. After they were certain she had left, Alex, Pineapple and Midnight collectively let out a thankful sigh. The cannon was fixed and no one went to the moon. Everything had worked out better than expected.
“Well, I guess we should load that batch in.” Alex said, pointing towards the stack of papers.
“Yes, I guess we should.” Pineapple agreed, also looking. With a bit of elbow grease, they hauled the stack into the cannon and pressed the shiny button at the base. The low hum started, rising in frequency, until it was almost a deafening, ear piercing roar. Moments later, and with a brilliant explosion of smoke, fire and debris, the cannon fired off, sending it’s contents on a collision course to the moon. If one listened hard enough, over the sound of the massive explosion, they would’ve heard Sethisto’s voice, crying out from his office:
At least the building looks nice, the gray-maned pegasus with the electric-blue coat and the storm cloud cutie mark thought to himself as he approached the front entrance of the Equestria Daily offices. He’d taken this job mostly on a whim; his parents were a bit disappointed that he wouldn’t be staying with them in the weather-making business, but he’d wasted enough years of his life kicking away thunderheads and whipping up gales already. It was time to indulge in his secret passion and try his hand at reporting. It was time to follow his dreams.
Granted, his dreams were currently taking the form of an entry-level job at Equestria’s most popular newspaper, an organization that he’d heard more than a few…stories about, to say the least. But hey, they wouldn’t be so popular if they were all completely psychotic or something, he’d been telling himself for hours. It’s gonna be fine. I’ll work my way up, get a few assignments…and worst case scenario, at least I tried something new.
“Yeah…” the pegasus muttered to himself as he pushed his way through the front door. “No sweat.”
The foyer looked normal enough, if that counted for anything. Everything was made of solid marble, and the spotless floor echoed under his hooves as he stepped inside, the ceiling above him twenty feet high and lit plainly with circular light fixtures set into the stone. An assortment of modern but comfortable-looking chairs and couches sat off to the left next to a rotating white rack crammed full of magazines, and directly in front of him was a bank of three stainless steel elevators, and a massive oak desk with a sign hanging on the front that read:
EQUESTRIA DAILY, INC.
IN ALL MATTERS OF OPINION, OUR ADVERSARIES ARE INSANE
It took him a moment to notice the pegasus sitting behind the desk, and once he did he couldn’t imagine how he hadn’t seen him before. The pony behind the desk was huge, with a deep blue coat and a short, closely cropped red mane. He was leaned back lazily into a plush rolling chair, his hind hooves crossed on the desk in front of him and his wings spread to maintain his balance. His eyes were closed, and if it weren’t for the tiny white earbuds poking out of his ears and the slight head bob that accompanied whatever was blasting out of them, the newcomer would’ve sworn he was asleep.
“Uh…hello?” the smaller pegasus said tentatively, before realizing he should probably be a bit more polite. “Sir?”
No response. The new arrival waited a moment, then rapped his hoof on the desk and cleared his throat loudly. The pony behind the desk cracked one deep brown eye open and turned it towards the noise intruding on his music. Once he saw the pegasus standing there eyeing him with a mixture of impatience and curiosity, he opened both eyes and flicked the earbud out of his right ear.
“Welcome to Equestria Daily, where talk is cheap and the moon is cheaper…” The red-maned pegasus’s surprisingly thick eyebrows narrowed, then shot up again, “Oh, hey, you’re the new guy! Forgot you were comin’ today…” Out came the second earbud. “I’m Aqua,” the pony behind the desk said, extending a hoof out towards the new arrival. “You?”
“Tempest,” answered the newcomer warily, his eyes creased in confusion as he gazed somewhat cross-eyed at the well-worn horseshoe hanging six inches in front of his eyes. “Uh…what am I supposed to-”
“Like…” Tempest reached out with his own forehoof and tapped it lightly against Aqua’s.
“Like a boss,” Aqua finished, sitting up and flaring his wings in a single motion, “You ready to go up?”
“I…guess,” Tempest replied. He was beginning to see where this newspaper’s reputation had come from. “Are you the security guard?”
Aqua snorted. “Nope,” he said. “We don’t have one.”
Another snort, and this one was accompanied by a short flight up and over the desk and down to Tempest’s side. Now Tempest could see the feather quill cutie mark stamped onto Aqua’s flank. “’Cause we don’t need one,” the red-maned pony explained, “There’s nothin’ here anypony with a brain would wanna steal, and if somepony did break in, we’d probably get at least eight inches out of it. Oh, yeah, don’t bring anything valuable to work, by the way. Tends to walk off, if you catch my drift.”
“Consider it caught,” Tempest muttered as Aqua called the elevator nearest to the desk. As the doors slid open and both ponies entered the carpeted, cedar-paneled box, Aqua turned to Tempest again.
“So where you from?” he asked.
“Cloudsdale,” Tempest replied. “This is the first time I’ve ever left it, actually.”
“Well, congratulations. I’ve been around that area a few times before. Excellent mares up there. Oh, Celestia, I remember this one filly with these amazing blue eyes…great body too. And a fantastic plot…”
“Wait, what?” Tempest interrupted. “What ‘plot’? How can a mare have a ‘plot’?”
“Oh, right, you don’t…” Aqua murmured half to himself before speaking up once more. “Yeah, you’ll figure that out eventually. It’s an office joke. Gets old after a while, but it’s hilarious the first week and it doesn’t really leave your head after that.”
Tempest looked perplexedly at Aqua, who raised his eyebrows and grinned back.
“Anyway, we’re just about there,” the red-maned pegasus continued, as the number on the digital readout above the door crept closely to the number of the button Aqua had pushed. “You seen the company rules yet?”
“Well, I got my introductory packet in the mail this morning, but I didn’t get a chance to really-”
“Wait, you got a whole introductory packet? Wow. Seth got organized,” Aqua mused, “all I got was a stack of news briefs and a half-eaten Nickers bar. Actually…well, I guess that doesn’t count since the candy was inside one of the news briefs…”
“You…said something about rules?” Tempest asked over Aqua’s ramblings. Celestia above, I hope they aren’t all like this…
“Yeah, all right, rules. Okay, so there are the official rules, and then the important rules. The official ones are probably in the packet thingamajig you got, so I’m gonna skip ahead to the important ones.”
“Um…” Aqua puffed out his cheeks and let them deflate slowly and loudly, “Okay, first off, what happens in the news room stays in the news room unless Seth gets lazy and steals your lines for his editor’s notes. Actually, while we’re on that, was there a little box on your job offer with an employee number in it?”
“There might have…”
“Yeah, that means nothing. Seth just makes those up as he goes along.”
By then, the only thing Tempest could manage to respond with was a baffled stare.
“Back on topic,” Aqua continued, seemingly oblivious of his elevator-mate’s confusion, “you don’t have to read everything that comes in your inbox, so you wanna bail on work for a day and hit the races or something, go crazy. Oh, and don’t tell Trixie that Seth’s cheating on her with Fluttershy. She gets possessive. Not a pretty sight when she feels ignored.”
“Is that all?” Tempest remarked in a deadpan, secretly hoping that it actually was.
“Don’t feed the parasprites, the muffins are always free, warp drives aren’t just for spaceships…oh, and if anypony brings cupcakes to work, don’t eat them.” Aqua was silent for a moment, then shrugged. “Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”
The elevator shuddered and came to a stop, and a bell dinged somewhere over Tempest’s head. And Aqua smiled.
“Welcome to the greatest pony show on Earth,” he said. And without further ado, the doors of the elevator slid open.
For a moment, Tempest thought an explosion had gone off the instant the floor they had stopped at became visible. The sudden blast of noise and the absolute pandemonium that seemed to reign over everything in sight had an almost physical intensity to it, as if the room itself was at once both creating the chaos inside it and desperately trying to shove it away. Aqua seemed unperturbed by all the shouting and buzzing and flying bits of paper, though, so Tempest decided for the time being to pretend like he was too. After stepping out of the elevator and ducking under what couldn’t possibly have been a live squirrel flying towards him, he trotted forward to join his new acquaintance, who was already halfway down the debris-strewn corridor that separated the two wings of half-size cubicle walls.
“Morning, Phoe,” Aqua said to a white-furred pegasus sitting behind a disorganized but still functional metal desk and calmly flipping through a three-inch thick binder filled with what looked like hoof-drawn artwork. She had a long, flowing pink mane and tail and a tied-up scroll as a cutie mark, and Tempest couldn’t help thinking she looked kind of cute in a nerdy way. “New guy’s here,” Aqua continued, gesturing with his head back at Tempest before flipping a blueberry muffin off a nearby platter with his wing and deftly catching the entire thing in his mouth a moment later.
Phoe glanced up long enough to catch a glimpse of the new arrival, then blinked and turned her whole head up to face Tempest, her lips lifting into a welcoming smile, “Oh, hello!” she said. “My name’s Phoe. I’m one of the supervisors here at the Daily. Kind of the team mom, I suppose.”
Off to the left, a coffee machine fizzled out in a shower of sparks before bursting into flame, the earth pony nearest to it charred black all over to the great amusement of the unicorn standing next to her. Biting back the urge to ask Phoe where exactly she had gotten her parenting license, Tempest just smiled back and nodded.
“So I guess you’re wondering where to go, huh?” Phoe continued. “Aqua, do you know where your org chart is?”
Aqua’s mouth was still packed full of muffin, but that didn’t stop him from giving Phoe a very clear “do I look like I know where my org chart is?” look even without the added clarification of words. Phoe sighed and shook her head, her smile still lingering at the corners of her lips. “Hang on a second,” she muttered. “I think I have the new chart around here somewhere…stars above, I swear I’d lose my own tail if it wasn’t attached to my-”
“Fire in the hole!” somepony yelled loud enough to be heard throughout the entire office. Before he could even begin to imagine what was going on, Tempest felt somepony nudge him in the forehoof.
“Cover your ears,” Aqua said, already crouched on the ground with his hooves clasped on either side of his head. A few feet away, Phoe was leaned against her desk in the same position.
“What are you talking about?” Tempest began to ask, but before he could get even half the sentence out, his words—along with every other thought inside his head—were blown away by a thunderous, ear-splitting boom that rattled the entire building and seemed to come from everywhere at once. As Tempest’s head filled with static and his ears began to throb in agony, Aqua stood back up and eyed Tempest with a mixture of pity and a very poorly stifled laugh.
“I warned you,” the red-maned pegasus said, though his words sounded distant and distorted, like they were being shouted at Tempest from someplace underwater. When the dazed pegasus didn’t reply right away, Aqua stepped a bit closer and gave him a slightly uneasy grin. “Hey, Tempest!” he called. Can he even hear me? He wondered aloud, turning back to Phoe as his concern regressed into curiosity. “Dude, I think we fried his brain…do we have insurance for that?”
Instead of answering, Phoe just narrowed her eyes and propped her forehooves up on her desk, pushing her slightly diminutive frame up high enough for her head to clear the tops of the cubicles. “Cereal!” she screamed, taking advantage of the momentary lapse in the ungodly din that had defined the room up until then. About ten seconds after Phoe’s shout, a flurry of papers floated down a stairway built into the far wall, and a beige unicorn with a chalky white mane clunked down the stairs and poked his head out into the office.
“What?” he yelled back. A pair of bright orange earphones hung loosely around his neck, contrasting heavily with the messy curls hanging over his forehead and down the back of his neck.
“We have a schedule for that thing!” Phoe growled. “How many times did I say that at the staff meeting last week?”
Cereal’s clueless look was almost as potent as Tempest’s. “Was that the staff meeting I slept through?” he asked without the slightest trace of meekness.
“You told me you thought it was a great idea! You told me you had it covered!”
“I did. I mean, I do,” Cereal replied defensively. “See, I checked it on the board over there. Ten A.M., time to send stuff to the-”
“P.M.,” Phoe interrupted through clenched teeth. “Ten. P.M. So we could actually see what we’re firing at.” She let out another deep sigh and shut her eyes tight. “This kind of thing would never happen if Midnight could keep from being banished for two freaking seconds…” she muttered to nopony in particular.
“Ooh…” Cereal murmured, sucking in a heavy breath with his lips pulled back against his gums. “Yeah, that was the staff meeting I slept through.”
“Well, maybe if you didn’t stay up till four in the morning reading those depraved clopfic collections that you insist on referring to as literature…”
“I never said Metalhooves.com counted as literature! And F.Y.I., I only stayed up till three last night. I’m perfectly capable of functioning on four hours of sleep and six quarts of coffee. And hey, it’s not like your sleep habits are any better, Miss Fancy Flanks.”
“Oh, is that what you call everypony who knows how a comb works, you heathen?”
“It’s windswept. It’s a style. Rarity said it made me look rugged.”
“You’re about as rugged as a hardwood floor, Cereal.”
“That was terrible.”
“Your…face is terrible.”
“That doesn’t even make sense.”
“Your face doesn’t make sense.”
“You’re not even trying now.”
“Have I ever?”
If Tempest’s head hadn’t been spinning already, he was sure that would’ve done the trick just now. Thankfully, Aqua was either sympathetic enough to usher him away or just didn’t want any part of the argument himself.
“What was that?” Tempest said once they had walked a few cubicles away and the general mayhem of the office at large had returned somewhat.
“Depending on who you ask, either the collective worst nightmare of all our readers or the best crack pairing in the history of Equestria,” Aqua replied.
Tempest shook his head and waited a few seconds before realizing that the twinge in his temple wasn’t going away. “The explosion,” he elaborated.
“Oh,” Aqua said. “That was the cannon on the roof.”
“The…do I even want to know?”
“We use it to launch stuff to the moon.”
If the inside of Tempest’s mouth had been just a few shades darker, he would’ve made a passable imitation of a miniature train tunnel. “It’s kind of a big cannon,” Aqua added nonchalantly.
“…to the moon,” Tempest eventually mumbled, the words simply falling out of his mouth more than being projected. “You have a giant cannon, and you launch things…”
“To the moon, yeah. Mostly stuff like rejected stories, creepy fan letters, empty doughnut boxes. Kinda whatever we have lying around.”
“Why do you send your trash to the moon?”
By now, Tempest was almost certain that the only qualification required to work at this place was to have a really good blank look. “Y’know, I don’t really know,” Aqua said after a pregnant pause. “’Cause it’s there. I guess when all you have is a giant cannon, all your problems start to look like cannonballs, right?”
Just change the subject, Tempest told himself. Just accept it and move on. “So those ponies back there were…”
“Phoe and Cereal. They’re second-in-command to Seth, if you wanna get all technical about it. Mostly, they’re just like us, except they get to actually put stuff in the paper sometimes.”
“They...run this place?” Tempest asked, doing what he hoped was a good job at concealing the fear in his voice.
“Well, they try to,” Aqua replied. “But Seth won’t ever let ‘em. They have to beg him to let them do anything big with the paper.”
“I can see why.”
“Nah, it’s not that he doesn’t trust them. He just always likes to do everything himself.”
Tempest cocked an eyebrow. “He likes to run a whole newspaper by himself? That’s insane!”
“Yeah, I don’t know if you’ve noticed yet, but that’s pretty much a job requirement around here,” Aqua wryly remarked. “Makes things pretty interesting after midnight comes around…in any case, don’t worry about those two. They’re like brother and sister; they fight all the time and then get all cozy again before the day’s out. Office pool’s at four hundred bits about when we’re gonna find them locked in a broom closet together with their tongues tied together and their hooves around each other’s-“
“Yeah, I get the picture,” Tempest said quickly. “So, where am I supposed to go?”
“Oh, yeah, we never figured that out, did we? Hang on, we’ll swing by my cube and look it up there. Or worst case, you can just pick an empty one wherever and act like you don’t speak English. I’ve always wondered whether that would actually work.”
Aqua took a left turn and strode down yet another corridor within the cubefield, with Tempest following behind with a weary look of desperation in his eyes. He’d been pretty worried before about one or two of the rumors he’d heard about this place having a shred of validity to them, but he’d never expected to find out they were all true. Every single pony in this place was crazy. He had never wished so badly to just be sitting down at a desk sifting through press releases and news updates, bored out of his mind and burning weeks off his life for ten bits an hour. At least with that, things might actually be predictable.
Now that he was a little closer to a few of the other ponies working in the office, Tempest could begin to pick up snatches of what they were saying. Naturally, what he heard didn’t make any sense, but he was considering that par for the course by this point:
“Is this a bump or a resubmission?”
“Who took a bite out of my parsley sandwich?”
“Does it count as grimdark if it was all a dream?”
“That was your sandwich?”
“Why did this pony spell Celestia’s name with an ‘S’? And why does Fluttershy have a Stinger missile?”
“Why am I always the one who gets the Bloomberg ships..?”
“What even is a Stinger missile?”
“First stop. Everypony out.” No, wait, that one was Aqua, turning off into a cramped and cluttered cubicle crammed from top to bottom with folders and envelopes, most of the latter unopened. Tempest wedged himself in amongst the clutter as best he could, absentmindedly watching Aqua poke through stacks of papers while also testing himself to see how long he could follow one of the conversations being shouted around him before it inevitably ceased to be contained by the boundaries of what he liked to call ‘logic’.
“If you were an org chart, where would you be?” Aqua asked, in a manner that made it difficult to tell whether the question was rhetorical. Before Tempest could spit out a noncommittal answer anyway, a frazzled-looking earth pony with a lavender coat, a chocolate brown mane and tail and slightly-askew black-rimmed glasses ran past Aqua’s cubicle in a full gallop.
“Why are we out of mayonnaise?” the panicked pony shouted as he passed.
“You really want me to answer that, Alex?” Aqua said back just as loudly without turning around. Tempest heard a pained groan from the hallway followed by a very vulgar synonym for horseapples, and then Alex was gone. “You don’t want me to, either,” Aqua added half a second later, just as Tempest was about to ask for what felt like the hundredth time that day what exactly the hay had just happened. Left without anything else to say, Tempest settled for closing his eyes and pressing his forehead against a towering mass of letters and notes piled on top of a tray that said ‘Inbox’ on the front. He was still marveling at how peaceful the world behind his eyelids was when Aqua spoke up again.
“Hey, Pole! Polecat! You got a second? And nice outfit, by the way.”
Tempest opened his eyes and looked up. A deep charcoal grey filly with a tightly braided coral mane was standing just outside Aqua’s cubicle. She was wearing an ornate black-and-white maid outfit and a patently sour expression about it.
“Shut it,” she snapped back sullenly. “What d’you want?”
“Do you know where my org chart is?”
Tempest felt a bead of sweat begin to form at his maneline just from watching Polecat ratchet her glare up a notch.
“Aqua, I have twenty-six story submissions to sort through, an interview with Lyra about her new solo album in seven minutes and Luna in the break room having an existential crisis over the toaster,” she said, “why in Celestia’s name would I know where your org chart is?”
“Just asking,” Aqua replied innocently. “That’s a no, then?” Polecat’s annoyed sigh and quick exit gave him all the confirmation he needed. Back went Tempest’s forehead against the inbox pile.
“Oh, hey, there you are, ya little rascal!”
There was a rustling of paper and a whispering fwhump as one of the stacks on Aqua’s desk lost its long-running battle with gravity and fell to the floor. Aqua took the accident in stride and used the newly opened space to lay out a badly crumpled and colorfully stained map of the office floor. “And your new home away from home is…” Aqua narrated, hovering his forehoof aimlessly over the sheet for a second or two before stabbing it down up in the top right corner. “Right here!” he announced. “Under this brown spot. Which isn’t coffee since I don’t drink it, so I don’t really know what the hay that is. Anyway, there you go. Mystery solved.”
Tempest picked his way over to the desk for an upside-down look at the org chart, “That’s my office?” he asked. He could see his name printed next to the irregular smudge of whatever-it-was Aqua was pointing at, but everything under said smudge was completely illegible.
“Yep,” Aqua replied. “Well…I think. I’m pretty sure. It’s either your cubicle or the boiler room. They’re right next to each other, it looks like.”
Tempest’s left eye twitched, and a muscle in the side of his neck jumped painfully. “You know what? I don’t even care,” he said. “I just want to start working. What department am I in?”
Aqua’s expression was momentarily blank like the flank of a newborn foal, “Depart..? We’ve really only got the one. Everypony kind of does everything around here. You’ll get used to it. Or you’ll have a psychotic episode. Say, today isn’t your birthday, right?”
“All right, just…had to check. C’mon, let’s go get you set up. I’ll introduce you to whoever’s around today on the way.”
Almost in a daze, Tempest followed Aqua back out into the hallway and off through yet more cubicles. Most of the ones over in this part of the office was just full of overstuffed files and candy wrappers, but Aqua took care to point out the ones that had ponies in them.
Every. Single. One.
“The unicorn in the corner cube by the window is Garnet. Nice guy, good with PR, family’s in the gemstone business so we’re all hoping for free samples at Christmas. And over there is Cupcakes. I call her Om Nom and she hasn’t hit me for it yet, so I take that as meaning she doesn’t care. Ooh, Postage Stamp’s in this morning. He insists that everyone call him “The Messenger” ‘cause he hates his name and most of his immediate family. Brilliant critic, shameless misanthrope, and cranky as all get out before he gets his coffee. Don’t make eye contact.”
Aqua kept talking after that, but Tempest’s stomach seemed to have filled with butterflies and the inside of his skull with bees, so it became very difficult to keep his attention on his guide’s explanations. He nearly ran smack into Aqua’s rump when they finally stopped.
“And here we go,” Aqua said, stepping aside to allow Tempest his first look at his new office. “Wow, I’d forgotten what these things looked like when they’re clean. You need any help setting up?”
Tempest had nothing on him but a stormy gray mane that had been neatly groomed that morning and a raging case of residual insanity. “No, I’m good,” he said weakly.
“All right, then. Just holler if you need anything,” Aqua replied. He began to turn and — finally — leave, but just as quickly stopped and turned back again. “Oh, and before I forget…”
Aqua stretched out his wing, and a crumpled, brown lump of something or other bounced up into the air, the red-maned pegasus rolling it skillfully across the quills of his feathers before plopping it onto Tempest’s desk. It was a muffin, fresh from the bakery and flecked with dozens of softly melted chocolate chips. Tempest stared at the pastry, then back at Aqua, who for the first time smiled with something approaching sincerity.
“Just a little something for the culture shock,” said Aqua, “Welcome to the team.” And with a flick of his tail and a final nod, Aqua left. And Tempest was finally alone.
“Huh,” the electric-blue pegasus said in reply. Tempest looked down at the muffin again. There was still steam rising off the top. His mouth began to water, and a smile touched his lips for the first time that morning. Maybe everypony in this place was just mostly crazy. He could live with that.
The slightly muffled knock on his cubicle wall came just as he was about to take his first bite. A yellow-maned pegasus with a coat the same shade of gray as his own mane was standing in the gap between the grayscale walls that led out into the hallway, her mouth bent into a visible grin despite being full of letters. Her eyes were bright and the same color as hay, and neither pupil was pointed directly at him like the rest of her face was.
“Mer cul!” she said through the letters before spitting them out onto Tempest’s desk. “Hey, I’ve never seen you here before! What’s your favorite candy? Mine’s muffins!”
“I’m…new,” Tempest eventually said, feeling a bit cross-eyed himself trying to maintain eye contact with the bubbly mare. After a bit, he gave up and just focused on her nose. “Are those my assignments for the day?”
“What, those?” the mare said, looking down at—well, in the general direction of—the envelopes on the desk. “Nuh-uh! Those are just the minutes from last night’s staff meeting. Which is weird, ‘cause it was actually in the morning, and they had a clock in the room so I don’t even know why they had to write down the minutes!”
“…run that by me again?”
“Anyway…” The mare stuck her head back out into the hallway and grunted, and moments later dragged a gigantic cardboard box that was almost half as big as she was through the entryway by her teeth, and was stuffed to the brim with envelopes of every shape and size. “These are your assignments!” she panted. “I would’ve got ‘em here earlier, but they’re so heavy. It took me all morning just to get ‘em down this hallway!”
Celestia, Luna, and Nightmare Moon. I’ll never sleep again.
“But don’t worry,” the mare added, dropping her voice into a conspiratorial whisper, “if you wanna skip one or two, I won’t tell anypony.”
“Thanks,” Tempest sighed, “really appreciate it.”
“Don’t mention it!” the mare replied happily and loudly, just before gasping with glee. “For me?” she gushed. “Aw, you shouldn’t have…”
Tempest turned his head. She was looking at his muffin.
“You’re such a sweetie! We’re gonna be great friends, new-pony-I’ve-never-seen-around-here-before!” she said with a wink. And without further ado, she craned her neck, opened her mouth wider than Tempest had previously thought was equinely possible, and snapped up the whole steaming hot muffin in one bite, softly melted chocolate chips and all.
“Fanks urr uh ‘uffin!” she mumbled through crumb-dusted lips. And then she was off down the hallway again, humming a tune to herself and bumping into things at random intervals as she walked. Away from his cubicle. With his muffin.
Crying would’ve probably been a very unprofessional response to the situation, as would have been pouting. So Tempest just went with a heavy sigh and a mournful glance at the overflowing box sitting in front of his desk. With no other better idea about what to do, he leaned forward over the desk and plucked the top envelope out of the box, flicking open the loose seal with a careful forehoof. Maybe he’d at least get to read some interesting stories before the day was out. Maybe the day would end better than it started. Maybe everypony’s first day at a new job was this hard.
He slid the contents of the envelope out onto his desk and read them. The title at the top of the page was ‘How Applebloom became a Princess’. The story below it was exactly seven sentences long, and ended with the world being blown up. And there were hundreds more unopened envelopes sitting in front of him, waiting to be uncovered.
For the last time, Tempest sighed. It was going to be a long day.
It wasn’t a bad gig, most of the time. Read fics, run events, keep the princesses happy. Easier said than done, some days. Luna was easier to please than Celestia, though there were thankfully ways around every situation. She’d learned that well enough in these months, even if the hours were long. She looked up as Sethisto and Cereal yawned, coming down the stairs from the upstairs dorms, and raised her glass of apple juice in greeting. They sleepily waved in answer, and went after the bagels and eggs, respectively.
“You’re up early.” Cereal commented after he’d had a slug of coffee along with his eggs. Siraj nodded.
“Couldn’t sleep, and it was close enough to five that I figured I’d get up and get breakfast going.” she answered.
“Where’s Midnight? isn’t he usually up overnight?” Sethisto inquired.
“He left a note. Had to run errands for Luna, apparently. Personally, I think he doesn’t want to get sent back to the moon.” Siraj said with a snicker.
Seth shook his head, “Poor bastard.” he said, but couldn’t keep the smile off his face.
“It was his own fault!” Polecat said from the stairs, and then yawned, her mane still messy.
“Morning Pole.” Cereal said, looking more awake now as he dug into his eggs properly.
Siraj passed the salt and pepper, politely, “Morning Cereal.” she answered with a nod and headed for the freezer, pulling out waffles. A door closed out front, and Midnight came in a few minutes later, saddlebags bulging and looking somewhat smug with himself.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’d gotten laid.” Sethisto snarked.
“If I’d gotten laid, I wouldn’t have come back this morning!” Midnight fired back, and smirked, nodding at his saddlebags. “Went out and got some fresher milk, the couple gallons in the fridge are going to go in a few days, and I got some other stuff too.” he explained.
Siraj raised an eyebrow as she started levitating things out and putting them away. “What, were things on sale or something? Hey, new skillet! Awesome!” she said, drawing a laugh from Cereal and Polecat.
“You and your cookware, honestly!” Pole said, shaking her head. Siraj snorted in answer and continued with the unloading.
Midnight levitated a mane brush and a mirror to fix his unruly locks, as he answered, “To your question, a few things were, including that skillet. Word’s also been getting around that we’re a little swamped and I was stopped by a family looking to find some work, whether it pays or not. Apparently their filly and colt are wanting work experience to find their Cutie Marks.”
“I don’t see why not,” Sethisto said with a nod, finishing off his bagels and wiping his face with a napkin, “we have some backlog as it stands, we’ll give it to them to work out.”
“They’ll be coming by at nine thirty for their ‘interviews’.” Midnight replied.
Sethisto looked at the clock and groaned, “It’s a quarter after six. Ugh. So much to do. Need to shower, tidy up the front as well as my office, appointment with Celestia at noon on the dot...” he muttered.
“If you’d delegate more, like we keep telling you to, boss, you’d get more sleep. Tell you what, I’ll handle the front office, that’s one less thing to worry about. It’s mostly dusting and re-arranging the seating, anyway.” Siraj said, getting up. Sethisto shot her a sour look, and she giggled.
“One of these days...” he started.
“One of these days, you’ll take our advice?” Phoe cut him off as she came down, and Seth grumbled in answer.
“If you’ll all excuse me, I’m going to head to bed.” Midnight said, stifling a yawn.
“Night, buddy.” Polecat said.
Yeah, it was weird, sometimes. Celestia decides to send us to the moon, Luna placates her with coffee. Dash comes by to complain about all the fic with her hitting on anything that moves, AJ drags her out by the tail. Fluttershy comes by to help with the few birds kept for company, Cereal ends up pissing off Angel. Almost like clockwork. Still, she wouldn’t trade it for all the cupcakes and muffins in Equestria.
She really, really wanted a drink right now. Preferably something alcoholic. No such luck today, with the heat stifling in the middle of summer and three towers of fics ready to crush her if they so much as shifted wrong. She pulled the next one off, eying the stack as it swayed dangerously, and sighed in relief as it settled. Then the front door opened, letting in a blast of night-time wet heat and a pair of ponies as disparate as their coats and styles.
“No no no no nonononononono!” she muttered as that same stack swayed from the temperature and pressure change, and promptly fell over, scattering papers everywhere. She sighed and buried her head in her hooves briefly before brushing back pumpkin mane and smiling up at the pair. “Hello Octavia. Hello Scratch. What can I do for you this evening?” she inquired.
Octavia looked nervous. Just as she opened her mouth to speak, Scratch bumped her aside gently, giving her a look. The gray pony shrugged, and Siraj worried. Scratch looked very amped on something. Probably lots of caffeine. She knew that Phoe holing up for the next training grounds with a case of Red Bison was a bad idea, but Equestria’s legendary DJ? This boded ill, or at least something relatively insane.
“We heard you play” Scratch said. Siraj blinked. That was unexpected.
“Play?” she asked, confused.
“Yeah, guitar. Heard Celestia talking about it when we had her back, during the commercials.”
“Oh, black flame...” the fic reader sighed and rubbed her eyes as the DJ waited, and Octavia looked... Interested? Oh dear. “Yes, I play. Guitar and violin. I’m stronger with the former than the latter, but I live for music, just like you two do” she admitted.
“You, Lyra, and the two of us, tomorrow on the show.” Scratch said, rather bluntly.
“What she means, if she’d get her head on straight and stop downing so much caffeine that it’d make the Cutie Mark Crusaders lethal due to sheer velocity, is that we’d like to have you for a concert tomorrow night, live on the show.” Octavia said politely.
“Classical, or metal?” Siraj asked.
“Both, actually. Custom composition” came a new voice, and Lyra slipped in, leaving the door open no longer than was necessary, and she sighed at the coolness of the office.
“Sounds interesting. I’m in. Just... Hope you can bear with me. I don’t do well around others. Makes me nervous. Social deficiency, I suppose you could say.” she replied. Octavia produced a ticket.
“6 tomorrow night, on the dot. Be ready to play for an extended period, we’re looking for an entire musical episode, save for commercial breaks.” she said, handing it over. Siraj took it, and tucked it into her mane with a nod.
“I’ll be there, never fear” she said. The three other performers smiled, and left. Siraj slumped back into her chair and groaned. “What have I gotten myself into?”
-The next night-
Siraj gulped, staring up at the radio station’s windows on the third floor. She had a particular slow dirge playing in her mind at the moment, and her nervousness only amplified that.
“I’m so doomed” she said as she steeled herself. She went inside, heading up the stairs to the third floor, looking for the studio. It wasn’t that hard to find, being the second door on the right, with a large plate glass window, which looked brand-new. She knocked on the glass lightly with a hoof and the trio inside stopped chatting, looked up, and smiled. Octavia got up and opened the door for her.
She adjusted her dual cases carefully on her back and went inside, finding a fourth chair already set up. It looked rather plush, and after the weight of her instruments, it was a divine relief to take a load off.
“Ready to go?” Lyra asked as she passed over sheet music. Siraj looked it over, withdrew her guitar, tuned it, and sighed heavily. “I... suppose so.”
Scratch turned to the console, hit a few buttons, and the ‘On Air’ sign lit up. She gave Octavia a grin and yielded the microphone.
“Hello everyone, Octavia here for the special performance we promised. An hour of composed music, except for commercials, for all of you that asked for it. Here tonight is Lyra on her lyre, Scratch with a saxophone that I didn’t know she played, myself with my cello of course, and our surprise fourth chair, Siraj of the Equestria Daily newspaper, on guitar for the moment and violin later on. We hope you enjoy yourselves, you’re listening to K-COLT!” she said clearly, then turned back in her chair. She smiled and raised her bow, conducting the time signature, and Siraj strummed the first C flat with a prolonged E emitting from Vinyl’s sax. Lyra and Octavia both closed their eyes, waited, and jumped in after a two measure and three measure rest, respectively. From there on out, they lost themselves in the music.
Siraj snapped out of it twenty minutes later as they quickly went to a commercial break, her eyes wide and horn glowing right along with Scratch’s and Lyra’s, everypony else’s eyes wide in surprise.
“W-what is it?” she asked, noticing she was breathing hard, as if she galloped from Canterlot clear to Ponyville in one go. Octavia pointed a hoof at her horn, wordless. Siraj rolled her eyes up, and noticed the swirling colors of neon green and pink. “Oh... That. Heh. I never did mention that, did I? I met a pony years ago named Tripp, he unlocked my passion for music... ever since then this has been happening. Those are actually his colors at raves. I think you’d like him, actually, Scratch, his style’s right up your alley. Anyway, he took me out, and I got lost in the Music... Ever since then, when I really get into a song, sometimes it just grabs ahold of me and on occasion it takes somepony or someponies with it, reveling in the song for the song’s sake. I play my best when it’s got me. Tripp once said that the Music, that which draws us to compose, to play, to sing... is identical to magic in its purest form, just a bit more natural, more instinct-based than what we use as magic in this day and age.” was the long explanation given, a blush suffusing her face the whole time.
Lyra blinked, shared a look with Octavia and Vinyl, then rose from her chair to hug her softly, “Thank you” she whispered, “I haven’t played like that in years. I felt something special during that... And we’re not done yet. Let’s play, and really give all of Equestria something to talk about for years” she said. Siraj blushed further and nodded. Lyra smiled at her, Octavia nodded at her, and Scratch smiled wickedly as befit her. Siraj smiled back shyly. Everypony’s attention was grabbed as there was a knock on the glass, the quartet looking up to see three figures there: Lyra’s girlfriend Bon Bon, with tears of joy in her eyes, and a smiling Luna and Celestia.
“Keep playing. There’s a flood of calls killing switchboards all over Equestria begging for more!” Celestia said clearly through the pane, and Octavia sighed happily, readying herself along with the rest as she brought them back from the break.
Siraj’s horn lit up again, a smile on her face, and the Music took them once more.
The Mechanic sighed, putting his tools away. “I’m sorry, Sir. The coffee maker is no more. It has ceased to be. It has expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late coffee maker. Bereft of life, it rests in pieces. Kicked the bucket. Popped the twig. Bit the dust. Snuffed it. Brewed its last, and gone to meet the great Barista in the sky.”
“B.. but…” Sethisto started crying. “But we need that coffeemaker! If it isn’t working by the time Princess Luna wakes up she’ll banish me to the moon and imprison me in a dungeon, too!”
“At least you’re a cube. She can’t make you wear the maid’s outfit,” Noble Cause mumbled, cheeks aflame with embarrassment.
The Mechanic was a solid earth pony. He liked to think that he’d seen a lot of Equestria, and that little could actually surprise him. Today though, he’d been called to the offices of The Equestria Daily to fix a coffee machine and had seen a cube cry. That was quite disturbing in and of itself; the cube didn’t have eyes. So where, precisely, were the tears coming from?
As if a crying cube wasn’t enough, there was a mighty fine looking unicorn filly in an extremely revealing maid’s outfit that tended to ride up and expose a shapely flank at the most awkward of times in the most alluring of ways! Now, ponies might not wear clothes normally but when they did, it tended to have… quite the effect.
“Okay. Let me get this straight. Princess Luna is the epitome of a coffee snob, and you’ll get banished if you don’t have coffee,” The Mechanic asked, arching an eyebrow.
The cube sobbed, somehow managing to nod. “Exactly…”
“So, why don’t you just go to Fohl’s Department store, or Coffee Makers and Zucchini and get one? They’ve got hundreds to choose from. Why spaz about this?” The Mechanic finished puyting away his tools and slung the bag over his shoulder. “My fee alone in looking at this thing is going to be more than buying a new one.”
Noble Cause smiled slowly. She sidled over, and ‘accidentally’ bumped The Mechanic’s hip. “Oh, it’s Princess Luna. We went through hundreds of coffee makers to find this one that made… a barely acceptable cup of coffee. She keeps threatening Sethisto with banishment.”
Eyes following every bob and sway of that flank, The Mechanic swallowed. “Eh.. yeah..” He shook his head to clear it. “Wait. That unit that just died was over a thousand bits new. It was barely acceptable?”
The Mechanic’s brain nearly broke when the cube somehow nodded.
“Okay. Look. You want the absolute best coffee maker in all of Equestria? One-of-a-kind, absolutely unique, guaranteed to make the strongest cuppa in all the lands? You pay me ten thousand bits and I’ll build you a coffee machine that will remove your coffee problems.”
Nopony was ready when Pinkie Pie popped her head out of the copier and roared, “FOREVARRRRRR!” before disappearing again.
“Look. You build that machine and not only will I pay you ten thousand bits, you’ll go on a date with Noble Cause, all expenses paid.” Sethisto promised.
Noble Cause’s eyes went wide, her cheeks flushed, and she opened her muzzle to protest.
“Maid outfit included?” The Mechanic asked, glancing over.
“Maid outfit required,” Sethisto guaranteed.
"... Not that I'd terribly mind, but I'll see to it you regret this, Seth. I'll make you pay, I swear it,” Noble Cause grumbled.
“Excellent. We have ourselves a deal,” The Mechanic said as Noble Cause ran off in embarrassment. “Now then. I’m going to need a sledge hammer, an oxy-acetylene torch, JB weld, and a room, preferably against the wet wall, with a direct ventilation to the outside.”
Sethisto nodded again, much to The Mechanic’s discomfiture. “Done.”
The Mechanic nodded, brushing his green mane from his eyes. Pulling his cell phone out from his toolbag, he tapped in a number. “Applejack? Yeah, it’s me. The Mechanic. Look, you remember that problem you have? … no, that was far too much information. Not that problem. I’m talking about the green one in your barn. Yes, the one under the tarp. Look… you want that thing to disappear?” He winced as Applejack yelled, “HAY YES AH DO!” into the phone.
“Alright then. Crate it up and deliver it to EQD…”
Five hours later…
The Mechanic walked out of the kitchen with mane, face, hooves…actually, just about all of him was smudged randomly with bits of grease. Still, he had a triumphant expression on his muzzle. “It. Is. Done,” he declared.
Sethisto, Noble Cause, a new pony introduced as Polecat, and another pony named Phoe all crowded into the kitchen to gaze upon the majesty therein.
Except it looked just like the OLD coffee maker. Oh, granted… there was a key next to it, a strange metal stick poking up out of the countertop, a big red button next to the key, and… two pedals on the floor. Aside from THAT, it was precisely the same coffee maker as before.
“Um.” Sethisto said, rubbing itself against a doorframe in an attempt to scratch it’s non-existent head. “It’s… nice. But I don’t think it’s ten thousand bits of nice.”
“Oh ye of little faith,” The Mechanic snorted, grinning. “C’mere. Let me show you where the magic is made.” He opened a door that hadn’t been there before, and led them into a well-lit room. Inside was a mechanical monstrosity of epic proportions.
“What… is it?” Noble Cause asked. Plumbing and piping went everywhere, but a few lines went out to the kitchen area, and presumably, the coffee machine itself.
“THIS, my dear, is a four fifty cubic inch V-Eight engine, bored point oh-five-oh over. Three four barrel Holley downdraft carburetors. Five hundred pony-power at the crank. Six speed manual transmission to select the type of coffee you want and the number of shots of espresso,” The Mechanic said with pride.
“I feel like it’s going to kill and eat me, “ Noble Cause mumbled, backing out of the room.
Everypony piled back into the kitchen, just in time to see a bed-headed Princess Luna appear. “Coffee. Now,” she growled, eyes glowing red and sparking with malevolence.
“I.. how.. I can’t WORK this thing!!” Phoe cried, staring at the levers and pedals and such.
“Certainly, Princess Luna. Would you like an iced mocha this fine evening?” The Mechanic asked.
His only reply was a burst of fire that singed off three quarters of his mane.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” The smell of burned hair flooded the room, as The Mechanic turned to the coffee maker. Twisting the key and pressing the button made the thing in the other room roar to life. He shifted it into third, then stepped on the pedal. The roaring grew quite loud, and a viscous goo oozed from the coffee maker and into a glass of ice that shimmered into being.
Princess Luna swiped the glass from the machine and chugged the contents. She blinked, turning her flaming eyes to The Mechanic. “You!”
Sethisto, Phoe, Noble Cause, and Polecat all started backing away from The Mechanic… who was starting to sweat a little.
Luna took a step forward, sparks arcing from her hooves. Her eyes flamed brighter, and her horn started to glow. “YOU!”
Polecat leaned over and whispered to the rest, “Moon?”
Sethisto and Phoe nodded. “Moon.”
Luna roared, “YOU!!!”
Just as The Mechanic was about to make a break for it, there was a loud * POP *, and Luna suddenly appeared as immaculately groomed as ever and all smiles.
With a squeal of delight, Luna flung herself at The Mechanic and hugged him tightly. “You just gave me the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had! You’re hired! You’ll get an office, a new computer, and a raise.”
A unicorn stallion intern poked his head in. “Hey, can I grab a glass?”
Sethisto bobbed in affirmation. “Sure... help yourself, “ watching as The Mechanic recovered enough to hug Luna back.
The intern somehow managed to brew another, and sipped it. He too blinked… and began to vibrate. “I… feel…funny…”
The Mechanic grinned. “Lightweight.”
The intern exploded in a wave of strawberry jelly, spattering everyone and everything, except for the Princess and The Mechanic.
Luna looked over at Noble Cause, giggling. “Grab a squeegee and put the intern in a mason jar. He’ll be fine once the caffeine wears off.”
“Oy! You! Back in the glass, now!”
Everypony looked, and saw The Mechanic glaring at a blob of coffee that was slowly squidging its way across the floor. It paused and made a curious burbling noise.”
Luna narrowed her eyes. “You heard him.” She took a step towards the coffee. “In the glass.”
The coffee slowly squidged its way to and crawled back into the glass that the intern had dropped and made a few rude burbling noises.
Picking up the glass, The Mechanic offered it to everypony and everycube. “Anypony? No?” He shrugged. “Princess?”
Luna smiled. “Don’t mind if I do.” She gulped the coffee, and then shook herself. “Now that is the way to start the night! Alright, my little ponies. I’m off to raise the Moon!” She smiled and waved, bouncing out the door.
Everypony stared at The Mechanic as he started squeegee-ing the intern into a container.
“What? It’s just coffee…”
There were times it was worth it to get up early to say hello to Princess Luna, even if she had to take a sleep hit to do it. Then there were times it just didn’t pay to get out of bed. Today was, unfortunately, the latter. Luna was... annoyed, one could say. If one could call laying waste to a quarter of the Everfree Forest with a black flame of rage ‘annoyed’. Somepony had approved a Celestia/Luna near-clopfic without looking at it. Unfortunately, that pony happened to be her. Strangulation by shadows was a new way of being punished, she had to admit.
“WHAT exactly possessed you to not pay attention?!” came the hiss somewhere behind her. She squeaked, vision dimming a little. The grip was relaxed, minutely, and she gasped for air.
“It was 3 in the morning... Insomnia... Work in three hours... Urk!” she choked out. Luna’s green eyes meeting her own blue-gray. Slowly, very slowly, she was let down. Siraj panted for breath, shivering.
“I suppose that’s a valid enough reason. However, you still deserve to be punished” she said, looking down at the mare thoughtfully, then looked around, with a devious smirk. Siraj gulped in fear. “I knoooooow...” the princess hummed, and chuckled a little nastily.
“It was YOUR fault all this damage was done... I want you to clean it up. All of it. Every leaf, every twig” she declared.
“That’ll take a couple weeks, at least! What about my duties?” the white and bronze mare asked.
“Temporarily suspended. With pay, and you’re lucky to have that. Get cleaning.”
Siraj’s horn lit, and Luna tsk’ed. Her magic died off and she looked up at the princess worriedly.
“Didn’t I mention? No magic. You get to clean it up by hoof.” she said, and vanished in a swirl of darkness.
“...Well... manure.” Siraj sighed, and set to work miserably.
There were hectic days and busy nights. Times when nopony slept, and times when the only sleep anypony got was when they passed out from exhaustion. Tonight was seemingly an exception, Siraj noted as she left her room. It was gorgeous, Luna’s full moon shining through the windows, but almost a little too warm to sleep. Almost. She was drowsy, but for some reason she needed something to occupy mind and hooves.
So here she was, quietly making her way down the stairs, case on her back and pick in her mouth. Midnight was likely up, still working... Maybe he’d like company. What met her eyes in the lounge area wasn’t just Midnight though.
He was curled up on the couch, to be sure, papers spread in neat stacks nearby. That wasn’t unusual. What was, was that Princess Luna had his head in her lap, and Midnight seemed well and truly out. Siraj stood stock still, worried she’d done something wrong, but when the princess’ eyes met hers, she smiled with no malice a-forethought, and her flowing stardust mane curled around to make a ‘shh’ signal. She nodded, and settled in her favorite chair.
~You’re up earlier than usual~ Luna’s voice said in her mind. She nearly jumped in surprise, eyes wide. That she was a telepath was new to her.
~Um... Yeah... Couldn’t really sleep, thought I’d occupy my time. Didn’t think Midnight would be out though~ she thought in return, and Luna looked down at Midnight affectionately, stroking his mane. He sighed sleepily, and cuddled a little closer, a happy smile on his face.
~He just fell asleep an hour or so ago. Judging by the papers here, he’s been working his flank off, just like the rest of you, from what Celly says.~
Siraj nodded, ~I think he’d work himself to death for you, given the chance... Permission to be blunt, Princess?~
~Granted, what is it?~ Luna asked.
~He adores you and Celestia both. We all do. Sure, you may punish us from time to time for our mistakes, but we’re proud to be held accountable. We like having our good reputation, and you keep us all on the straight and narrow. I think I can only speak for myself and probably Midnight and Polecat among us, but we’d likely walk through hell for both of you if you asked it of us. We wouldn’t have it any other way, my Princess~ she said sincerely, then her face flushed with embarrassment, and she looked down at the black case at her side.
There was a tone of surprise in Luna’s mental tone when next she ‘spoke’. ~Siraj... Noble Cause, look at me~ she commanded, and the mare’s head rose to look Luna in her eyes nervously, but there was nothing but kindness in that gaze, ~thank you for telling me that. It’s... hard to know when, or even if you’re appreciated sometimes. It’s nice to hear it, even if you know in your heart it’s true.~
A smile stole onto the mare’s features, almost glowing in the moonlight coming through the windows. ~It’s nothing but the truth, Princess. We’re genuinely happy to serve~ she said, blushing a bit.
Luna nodded at the case, and raised an eyebrow at the pick she still had. ~You play?~ she queried.
~Self-taught. Nothing like what that Octavia pony can do with her contrabass. Just a little guitar, as a hobby~ she admitted.
The words were almost shy, coming from the lunar princess, ~Could you play something, just for the three of us?~
Siraj blinked, then again, then blushed furiously and smiled once more. ~It would be an honor~ she said, a note of pride in her tone. She picked up her guitar, tuned it, ears perked acutely, tweaking a string here and there ever so slightly, until she was certain she was all settled out, and searched her memory for a song. With a smile and a nod at Luna, she started to strum quietly, the notes muted, but singing out nonetheless.
Midnight sighed again in his sleep, and Luna looked down at him, pulling him just a little closer and smiling. Her eyes closed, listening to the melody, as Siraj began to hum a half-octave higher in counterpoint, weaving in and out of the song like a dance. The princess relaxed a little, relishing the chance to let down her defenses, and just be a normal pony, if only for a moment. The music wove a seductive spell, drifting and teasing and swirling about her mind, and it was only a few more moments before she was asleep right along with Midnight, the pair snuggled together as Siraj continued to play, the moon sailing across the sky. The notes drifted up through the quiet night as she finished.
She put her guitar away after de-tuning the strings and placing her pick on top of the case, then grabbed a light blanket, pulling it over the pair. The white mare stole out of the lounge, a ghostly figure in the light far above, as she opened the front door of the offices and slipped out for an early walk with her key in a bag around her neck. As Celestia’s sun tinted the sky ever-so-slightly, peeking over the horizon and beginning its ascent, Luna’s moon began to set in turn.
“Fly me to the moon, let me play among the stars...” she sang softly as she trotted through the cobblestone streets, Canterlot awakening around her.
She grumbled as she pulled the massive stack of papers up the stairs. Leave it to her to draw this duty… again. She’d have to check those straws later, she’d gotten this same “responsibility” for two weeks running now. She clenched the string tying the new batch of rejected stories with her teeth and heaved it up to the landing.
“One of these days…” she grunted, dragging the bale onto the balcony, “…I’m going to get Sethisto to explain WHY we print these out just so we can launch them to the moon.”
With the burden set down, she trotted around the large bore cannon, short and stout, that pointed skyward. She’d asked once how in Equestria it managed to hit the moon in the middle of the morning, but all she got told was “It’s magic”, and everypony would chime in “…we ain’t gotta explain shit!”
She chuckled and stretched under the sunlight for a moment, using the superior view from the balcony to look out over Canterlot. It wasn’t too long after sun-up, so most ponies were still convincing their lazy flanks to get out of bed. Her eyes narrowed as she saw a figure heading their way, adjusted her glasses for a better look, and frowned. Quickly she trotted over to the horn (literally, the damned thing looked like a brass horn stuck on the wall) and called into it.
“Front office, this is Polecat. I’m up on the balcony and I spotted an incoming. You’re about to have a Code Purple.”
“Code Purple?” came the response, was that Siraj? “What’s Twilight want now?”
“Dunno, I think that latest chapter of the Twixie fic went up last night,” she considered, “Maybe another fic with her loosing control of her magic.”
“Oh sweet Celestia, not ANOTHER two hour lecture on how magic doesn’t work like that!”
“See if we have one of those fics lying around with an OC hitting on her,” she called back with a chuckle, “She always gets all nervous and can’t manage more then five minutes or so. Last time she literally thanked me for culling this really raunchy one I found and bolted out, face beet red.”
“Right, I’ll take a quick look. Thanks for the heads up!”
Polecat sighed and shook her head, if only all of the ‘mane six’ were that easy to handle.
The voice caught Polecat by surprise, and she whirled about, then quickly knelt down, “G-good morning, Princess Celestia,” she stammered, remembering the last staffer to forget to bow with a shudder, "What can we do for you this fine day?”
“Oh, just a little something…” the Princess said, and her horn began to glow. Polecat’s ears drooped, Celestia casting something at one of them was NEVER a good thing, and the warm glow began to envelop her. She closed her eyes, afraid to open them again, expecting a lunar landscape in her near future.
“Oh stop cowering already,” Celestia said, and Polecat managed to open her eyes. She was still here? She moved to stand properly again, and felt… something. A dress? She quickly looked at herself, and her jaw dropped.
“Oh, that? Well since Luna won’t let me send you staffers to the moon over this, I had to come up with a more... creative punishment,” she chuckled, “one that even Luna agreed to.”
“That doesn’t explain why I’m wearing a maid uniform!”
“Well I remembered you ponies reprinting those scandalous photos of Luna and I dressed up as maids a few months back, and we decided that for the next few months, one of you ponies will be wearing a maid uniform. Colt or Filly, you will be stuck in it for a full day.” She grinned, “Not to worry, it won’t come off until it is the next staffer’s turn. Have fun.”
Polecat could only watch as the Princess flew away, then heaved a heavy sigh, “It’s going to be one of those days, isn’t it?”
“CODE PINK!! I REPEAT, WE HAVE A CODE PINK!!”
“Midnight?!? Where are you?” Polecat shouted into the room, “What was posted last night?”
“Midnight’s on the Moon again!” Siraj answered, scrambling for a computer.
“Oh dear Celestia, She’s COMING!!” Cereal cried, rocking himself back and forth, sucking on a hoof in unbridled terror.
“Hide all the sugar! Shut down all coffee machines! Empty all coffee mugs! Hide all snacks and candy! Cover any object that looks edible! Shut down all soda machines!”
The horn in the main staff room blared its list of warnings, heedless of the shouting and panic from the room. The usual chaos that was the Equestria Daily office was reduced to a scene of pure pandemonium with the terror of their approaching doom. Ponies dashed this way and that, heedless of each other, and quite often colliding at top speed.
“She’ll be the death of us all!!” Cereal moaned and wept openly.
“Where’s the back door?” Polecat cried, scrambling over a desk.
“Running won’t help, nothing can escape... HER!” Phoe whimpered, cowering under her desk.
“Celestia dammit, what got posted last night?!?” Sethisto raged.
“I don’t know!” Siraj cried back, on the verge of panic herself, “I don’t see anything that would set her off!”
“There has to be something!!”
The panicked ponies somehow managed to collide about the weeping Cereal, forming a huddled mass of hooves, manes, tails and eyes as the door slammed open. The office ponies clutched at each other, pure terror causing them to tremble as they wished they could look away from the vision of their imminent death on four legs, yet found themselves only able to stare at the figure in the doorway, the morning light surrounding her like the halo of an avenging angel.
“She’s here...” Cereal whispered.
“That’s right, I’m HERE!” the panting pony proclaimed, and stepped forward from the doorway, the room deathly quiet save for the clip-clop of her hooves. Her pink coat and frizzy magenta mane flashed in the light, offset only by the trio of balloons on her flank. Her piercing blue eyes washed over the mass of huddled ponies, cold and heedless of their panic, and a shudder rolled over each of them as she seemed to drink in their fear.
“Which one of you…” she hissed, pointing a hoof at the huddled group, her breath still coming in sharp pants. As her hoof pointed at each pony, they tried to shrink back and hide behind each other.
“Which one of you…” she repeated, then pulled a large box from her saddlebags, “…ordered the Breakfast Muffins?”
The panicked pile of puddled ponies breathed a collective sigh of relief as a hoof was raised in answer.
“I did!” Siraj called and broke away from the group, “You brought blueberry, right?”
“Yup!” Pinkie Pie answered, her face splitting with a broad smile, “I brought enough for everypony!”
Standing serenely in the midst of an explosive furor of baked-goods demolishment, the perky beaming pink party pony soon found her collection whittled away to a few crumbs and some discarded wrappers.
“Save a chocolate chip for me!”
“Eat too many more of those and it’ll go straight to your plot.”
“That’s okay, she could do to pad her plot a bit.”
“Like that’d stop you from staring at it, plothole.”
“...Why are you wearing a maid uniform?”
It was five in the morning when Snarkle strolled towards the imposing edifice of the Equestria Daily print offices. He ran his badge along the reader on a side entrance, and then stepped inside.
He passed by the timeclock, and ran his badge over it 'til it flickered green. The screen beside the timeclock added his name to a surprisingly long list. It seemed that either nobody had checked out the night before, or that they had been there the entire night.
Shrugging, he strolled to the foyer and the elevators. As he neared the intricate mosaic set into the floor, someone cleared their throat to his left.
Snarkle froze, startled, and then turned to look. A disturbingly sharp set of sharp white teeth sharply set in a charcoal-grey (sharp) muzzle greeted him. Blinking, he noticed the muzzle was attached to a large, imposing wolf who leaned over a counter marked 'Security'.
"Oh! Hi! Uh, good morning, that is. Keiro, right?"
"New guy?" The wolf eyed his badge, then smiled. Snarkle would have preferred he didn't.
"Turn around, second entrance on your left, stairs to third floor. Elevator's broken again."
"Ah. Um, thanks!"
"Don't mention it."
Keiro ran security for the facility, making sure only the folks with badges and keycodes were permitted within. Perceptive, silent, and stoic, he held the perfect qualities for someone in his position. Of course, his night vision and the ablity to identify ponies by scent were prized as well. Kits had mentioned these qualities. Kits had also neglected to mention he was a wolf.
His pulse still racing from the close encounter, Snarkle managed to turn around and stumble away from the too-cheerful apex predator.
Finding the stairs, he pushed the door aside and began the trip up. Stopping at the second floor, he wheezed for a moment, then continued the trek. "I really do have to lay off the cupcakes."
He reached the third floor, rested a hoof against the door, then swallowed. "Okay, Snarkle. They invited you. You're ready." Feeling more confident, he pushed the door open and stepped out of the stairwell.
He wasn't ready.
The scene upon his arrival filled him with a bemused horror. A pair of midnight-blue hooves dangled from above the damaged ceiling tiles. A large cannon, seemingly from the floor above, rested on its side, covered in charred - and still smoldering - manuscripts. Several bottles of rotgut - and a few of higher quality hooch - were scattered here and there, most empty, and one filled with something that was most definitely not alcohol.
Snarkle quietly closed the door behind him, then looked about in wonder and mild concern. Confetti covered the cubicles, and an inflatable Celestia clung to the ceiling, apparently full of helium. A basket of live mice, all asleep in individual socks like sleeping bags, raised some disturbing - and unwanted - questions.
Delicately stepping over shattered stemware and wincing whenever his hoof made a squishing noise on the carpet, he found his way to the break room.
The chaos, apparently, had been concentrated at this point. An enormous machine - fashioned from what appeared to be a diesel engine, chrome, and purified hate - occupied the far wall. There was a small door set into its face, surrounded by hazard tape, that read 'Coffee In'. A stainless steel spigot next to the door, he assumed, would dispense the result.
Once he forced himself to look away from the caffeinated horror, he wished he hadn't. Three - possibly four - ponies lay in a knot in the corner, covered in fragments of what appeared to be cupcakes. Occasionally, one of them moaned.
The walls were festooned with streamers, balloons, strange residues, and what appeared to be very old strawberry jam. Something dark pooled on the floor nearby. He didn't care to hazard a guess.
The table had been overturned, and if there had been chairs, they were now missing. Sighing, he turned around and looked for his desk.
He passed an office, its lights dimmed, but apparently still occupied. An occasional giggle and the rustling of paper could be heard. He considered lingering a moment, but decided his sanity would be better served by finding something that made sense.
Snarkle spied a Mylar balloon that read 'welcome' floating in a disused corner of the office. The lighting there was dim, but at least the fluorescents were in their proper receptacles. Timidly, he approached it.
He stepped over a winged pony who snored into a wastebin, tiptoed around another who laid on, er, his back, and then strode down the hallway. Before he reached the desk, he nearly tripped over a unicorn surrounded by coffee cups, and covered with grinds. He snored, twitching his ears at Snarkle's passing.
"Welcome Twilight Snarkle", a small placard read. The desk was festooned with tiny origami ponies, a balloon, and a coffee mug that bore the Equestria Daily logo. A used coffee mug, apparently. He guessed the thought counted. In a corner was a large box decorated with a bow, and covered in confetti. A half-full glass of watery scotch rested next to it.
Being as quiet as possible, he leaned over, powered up his computer, and pulled out his chair. Then he settled into it to begin his day.
The chair squished. As whatever had soaked into it slowly flowed into his dun coat, Snarkle put his head on his desk and sighed.
"What have I gotten myself into?"
The box that had been resting on his desk chuckled.
Running security, at least for him, comprised mostly of monitoring the three screens set below the countertop that passed for his desk in the foyer. Twilight Snarkle had passed through the foyer with little to no interference; save for the broken elevator. He’d called for The Mechanic to visit the foyer and see if there wasn’t anything that could be done to fix it.
Wonder if I can get more security upgrades? His obsession with security wasn’t entirely obvious, but if one were to sneak a look at his elaborate setup, one would see a screen entirely dedicated to... status checks? Another screen for videos and still another screen for whatever interested him at that given moment.
“Keiro! Get that computer fixed! It broke again!” A long-suffering sigh escaped him. Not only was he Security, but he was also the go-to wolf for computer-related issues.
That voice could only belong to Cereal. With his ears as sensitive as they were, he could only whine in response; an unsubtle reminder to the pony to lower their voice or else face the wrath of a SysAdmin. Cereal did not heed the warning.
“Which computer? You know the drill.” The wolf made a tsking sound as he turned to the left-most screen, the one with the status-checking screen, with its pretty blinking lights in various colors. “You should know, that if you want me to fix it... you need to give me more details. Details, details, details!” He growled out before rubbing the bridge of his muzzle.
As the sun set on Canterlot, the peons of the Equestria Daily offices began to end their work day. Polecat finished putting away the bondage gear, Cereal Velocity gave his Rarity doll one final hug, and Nines spent a moment staring at a blank document before closing it. “That’s enough for today.”
After turning off the lights, locking the doors, and ensuring a day’s worth of food was sent to Midnight on the moon, the last of the staff retired to their bunks.
That is, all but two.
“Psst.” Daffodil whispered to the darkened office. After receiving no response, he continued.
“What?!” came an agitated voice from behind one of the many cubicles. “We do this every night. You know I’m in here. Was three times really necessary?” A soft violet glow emanated from within the room and a set of lights sprang to life.
“Well fine. Don’t come crying to me when the boss catches us...” Daffodil replied, walking towards a door labeled “Basement”.
“He won’t suspect anything. The night shift is around, remember?” Alex approached the door alongside the earth pony, opening it with a brief flash. “Let’s go. We need to start as early as we can.”
Daffodil slowly felt his way down the staircase. Despite taking this route many times, the cold, dank air of the Equestria Daily basement still made him shiver. “You know, I was just thinking... why don’t we ever see the night shift around?”
“Probably because of the late night fun Polecat has with the other staff when she should be working,” the unicorn muttered, a small smile creeping onto his face. “Speaking of, she asked me about getting her own column...”
Daffodil shuddered, and it wasn’t from the cold of the basement. “Eugh... just... maybe as a special edition or something...” He stopped at a blank section of wall, motioning to it with a hoof. “You know what to do.”
Alex put his hoof to the wall and began to draw a pattern on the concrete. Two curved lines on the sides, a dot in the middle and a smooth line down from that. A moment passed before a soft click resonated from the stone, and the slab moved aside.
The two ponies walked through the newly created aperture into a slightly larger room, the section of wall sliding back behind them. This new area was dimly lit with candles along the walls and featured two desks cluttered with papers, files, and photographs. In the center of the room stood a massive printing press.
On the far wall, a banner hung with three words written in bold: Equestria After Dark.
“My home away from home,” Alex chirped, flipping the lights on and trotting into the room.
“Pre-readers by day, pornographers by night. Who’da thunk it?” Daffodil said, smirking. He began to sift through the pile of papers on his desk, pulling out a file:
CELESTIA’S SECRET FETISH REVEALED
Alex glanced over the Earth Pony’s shoulder. “Dude, we can’t print that!”
Daffodil looked behind him, then back to the file. “Why not? It’s perfect! Celebrity shots and cake!”
Alex facehooved. “Do you want to be sent to the moon with Midnight?”
Daffodil opened his mouth to protest, but was interrupted by a knocking at the wall. The two ponies looked at each other in shock.
“Did anypony follow us?”
“I don’t think they’re knocking on the basement walls for fun.”
“What do we do?”
Suddenly, an all-too-familiar voice called from the other side of the wall. “I know you two are in there. These walls aren’t that thick.”
Alex and Daffodil let out a simultaneous groan. It seemed that they had failed to elude Cereal Velocity. Again.
“We’re busy, Cereal.” Daffodil said, going back to his Celestia file.
“Yeah,” Alex added “We’ve got things to do. The new issue will be out soon. Keep your horseshoes on.”
The magical wall moved aside, revealing a blue Unicorn that casually trotted into the room. “Oh, I can wait for that. I’m here to give you two some new material.”
Daffodil and Alex looked from their respective tasks, mouths agape. The printing press sputtered to a halt. “You what?!”
Cereal nodded and began to hoof through the files on the desk. “I’m sure you both have heard the rumors of my... exploits around the office,” he continued, eyeing a photo of Luna with some interest, “So I figured we could work out some sort of deal.”
“Uh, boss...” Daffodil stammered, “Isn’t that... unprofessional? What would Phoe think?”
“Or Seth... or Calpain... or PK...” Alex added.
Cereal smirked. “Oh, what they don’t know won’t hurt them. Nothing wrong with revving my phoenix every now and then.”
The two pre-readers-turned-pornographers looked at each other and sighed, defeated.
“Fine. You’ve got the job.”
A green unicorn with generally boring gray-blue eyes and a decidedly not-boring mane of various shades of red-brown sat with his hooves splayed, huffing slightly over his desk. For a good while now he had worked in the offices, his paycheck arriving on time, mingling with the others, but somehow he had always been slightly removed from the others. He blamed a number of things, from his name, Hyde, or the fact that when he arrived, they stuck him an office far removed from the others. In fact, it seemed to have been stuck in a secret compartment in the basement of the Equestria Daily building.
Somehow, though, he didn’t really mind. Especially after his first day on the job. Hyde had accidentally come across a letter obviously meant for somepony else, but being the incorrigible bastard that he was, he opened it, read it, and found himself a new, cushy job.
At least up to the point where he slighted Luna. Apparently the Equestrian Princess didn’t enjoy the insinuation that her Royal Canterlot Voice was also the octaves she used when she was in flagrante delicto with her special somepony.
It was at this time that Snarkle had let him know that it was Celestia who sent a pre-reader to the moon. Hyde quickly added up where Luna sent her prey, and quickly went into hiding at the bottom of Equestria Daily.
To be fair, he had been happy here. On payroll, Hyde did as little work as ponily possible, choosing instead to focus on his own sordid tales of kissing ponies. Not that he got any flack for it, nopony really found out where he was. Or nopony cared. And he was happy with that.
Right up until the others moved in. Somehow Alex and Daff had moved into his office, bringing with them half the equipment used to run Equestria Daily without even noticing his presence until after the first month of operation. Printing Presses, computers, and slowly but surely a number of toys that Hyde would have been happier in his life to have not seen. They even put up a banner for the worst kept secret in the office.
Somehow Hyde wasn’t too sure the toys could be considered new, either.
“Uh, guys? Do we really need the, um, decorations?” Hyde ventured, his hoof delicately tapping a rather erect standing toy. At first he believed it safe, but upon connection Hyde felt a telltale wetness to it that immediately set the green pony to wiping his hoof roughly against the shag carpeting. “Oh Sisters, Oh Luna get it off!”
Alex looked up briefly from his new desk in the basement, a slow, small smile spreading across his face. “I’m sure Luna would be happy to help you burn off the germs, Hyde.”
Hesitating, Hyde took a look at his hoof, then his eyes trained on the stone ceiling above him, where regal clops against the hard surface betrayed the presence of some celestial pony above. Ears falling against his head, Hyde’s lip slipped into a hurt pout. Lowering his head, the pony doubled back to his seat, the entirety of which had been spun around to face the wall. Unlike his pornographer roommates, Hyde didn’t much care for the risque nudes that his coworkers plastered around After Dark. Not that he could complain to the superiors. That would involve leaving. At Night.
Where Luna was.
“I don’t want to go to the sun...” Hyde murmured, his face falling upon some of the backlog of the queue. He wasn’t ever sure just how that worked, but every day he found a number of fics on his desk, waiting to be read, and then after a long, hard day of not looking at a single one, the pile had been shrunk – or more oftentimes, replaced by newer fics. Hyde guessed magic.
Hyde sighed. “Well, it’s not too bad,” he reasoned, looking off to the corner. Alongside the wall were a number of chains, something that had been in this room longer than he had. Hyde always guessed the room had actually been crafted for Polecat, right up until the dangerous mare realized she could tie ponies up just about anywhere in the office without another pre-reader batting an eyelash. Either way, Vimbert rested happily, his neck encompassed by a large collar. At first Hyde had made to release the newer recruit from his situation, but a discussion with Daffodil had stopped him.
“There’s no need, Hyde. He’s fine,” Daff had said.
“Fine?” Hyde asked, his hooves taking a few steps toward the sleeping stallion. “He’s chained up. Wearing a collar. There is... is that fluid...? On the ground. Oh Sisters...”
Daff chuckled, putting a hoof on the green stallion’s shoulder. Hyde’s mind screamed ‘bad touch! Bad touch!’ but all he could do was chuckle nervously. “I protested at first, too, but he just likes it that way.”
Unable to produce a sound, Hyde only knew that somewhere in his mind he was screaming.
“Well that’s great. You two have fun, pleasestayoutofmycornerthanksbye!” Hyde slipped under Daffodil’s hoof, the blue unicorn just shooting him a happy smile.
That was a month ago, and so far Hyde had managed to stay away from the chains. That didn’t stop Vimbert from coming back, every night. After awhile Hyde had just installed a curtain when Daff and Vim got that look in their eyes. He had to be honest with himself, he was really more or less terrified of the fact that Vimbert hated everything to do with Alex and Daff’s work, yet every night, like clockwork...
Actually, no, Hyde mused, his head lifting from his desk as he turned his head. In the candlelight of the room, he could see the silhouettes of Daffodil and Vimbert in the middle of their nightly routine. However, just past the curtain he had installed in the room, he could see Vimbert’s peach colored hooves outstretched, working diligently on reviewing a fic that had come in during the late hours. That’s what frightens me more than anything. Slipping past the curtains, Hyde made for the secret entrance, putting in the hoof motions that unlocked the door.
Night, Hyde found, was actually the safest time to be walking about the Equestria Daily building, much against his earlier proclamations. Celestia slept at the castle, and Luna walked the night above. Outside. Where she couldn’t send him to the sun for saying she was a screamer. Trotting through the halls, Hyde expertly shifted through the ever winding passageways, dodging the night watch(which he usually ended up running into anyway, tied up and left in random corners, their faces pleading to be freed lest they endure another session with Polecat).
Noiselessly slipping into the break room, Hyde sighed through his nostrils, his eyes greedily searching for something to eat. He learned long ago the coffee wasn’t to be trusted, but that was to be expected.
What he hadn’t expected was to be staring at the unimpressed visage of Princess Luna, munching on a muffin while laying on the couch.
She had been waiting for him.
“P-p-p-Princess Luna! What a lovely surprise to see you here!” Hyde stammered, his eyes searching for all available exits. “At Equestria Daily.” He had foalishly shut the door behind him. “At night.” The window was locked. “On the couch.” Luna bit into the muffin, chewing on the tiny morsels as Hyde looked beyond her at the ventilation shaft. Somehow he doubted he could escape through that. “Good muffin?”
“Truly the best, Hyde Edenborough Knee,” Luna decreed, the green unicorn bowing his head like a foal that had been scolded.
Oh Celestia she used my full name. I am dead. Dead pony be me. To the sun. Roasted pony, extra crispy. Hyde scurried his hooves together in an attempt to create the first pony singularity where he stood, drawing himself as small as he could. “Derpy Hooves make them?”
“That is not what We wish to speak about,” Luna crossed, her eyes focusing on the stallion.
“No? I-I mean no! Of course not! You want to talk about – um, important things! Like, Princess like stuff. Nothing that concerns a lowly employee like me! No sir! I mean ma’am!” Hyde scrambled for words as he started to consider the walls to be like paper, really. He could run right through one and be just fine, right?
“What We wish to talk about, Hyde Edenborough Knee, does pertain to a Princess’ wants and needs.” Hyde looked up. Somehow this wasn’t working how he was expecting, and those words seemed like they were awfully weighted.
“R-really now?” he said, the world’s largest, fake smile on his face. Oh dear Celestia I’ve read bad fanfiction like this!
“Indeed, Hyde Edenborough Knee.” At this point in the conversation, Hyde certainly was beginning to detest his long name, but kept his muzzle shut. “It would seem that after some research, We have ascertained to the true meaning of ‘in flagrante delicto.’”
Hyde’s stomach dropped. “Wait, you mean you didn’t know?” Somehow, the months trapped in the basement seemed altogether useless, and installing that curtain could have been a blissful opportunity to not have a reason to install curtains ever. Lacking all the tact of Equestria, Hyde cocked an eyebrow to the side. “Never heard of a dictionary? Size of a filly, usually comes in white with purplish pink bindings or yellow with red bindings?”
“Our time on the moon for a thousand years did not lead Us to be privy of such things. Do know that We have corrected such errors.” Luna slid off the cough, her eyes never leaving Hyde’s terrified gaze.
“Well that’s fantastic.” Hyde had to admit, with every step closer, he certainly did feel smaller. “I’m so glad you’ve been catching up.”
Luna stood over him, so much so the stallion had to crane his neck upwards to keep eye contact. “Indeed. Now Hyde Edenborough Knee –”
“Just Hyde is fine,” he grunted. He was going to die anyway. There was no way this could go the way of a bad fanfiction –
“So be it. Hyde, We – no, I wish for you to show me this in flagrante delicto you spoke of. Do not worry, I shall not draw offense.” Hyde’s face went from a placid green to tomato red in an instant
Well, so much for bad fanfiction.
“W-what!? You want me to do – um, that!?”
Luna sniffed the air regally, her eyes tracking from the ceiling down the green stallion below her. “Yes, you had explained that I would use the Royal Canterlot Voice in flagrante delicto. Equestrian dictionaries speak of it as a ‘blazing offense’ or as a method of saying one was ‘caught-in-the-act.’” Luna drew her hoof up to her chin, taking in Hyde’s confused expression. “Are they misinformed? I do not think you would react so harshly to a little playacting.”
“Playacting!” Hyde shouted, a little louder than he cared to admit. “Yes! Yep, I’m totally up for playacting. That’s me, good old Hyde, what a card I am. Acting in plays and whatnot...” Chuckling nervously, Hyde made sure he was no longer looking the Princess in the eye as he suddenly found the ventilation shaft to be most curious.
It was about this time that Nines Tempest stumbled into the break room, wearing a tired smile as he led himself by the nose toward the coffee machine. “Hey Hyde, hey Princess Luna,” he lazed out. Hyde’s expression froze on his face, bug eyed as Nines poured himself a cup. “Nice to see you two playing nice.” Taking a not-even-close-to-well-earned drink from the steaming cup of screaming coffee, Nines smiled at the two in ignorant amusement. “See buddy? I told you Luna was cool with you saying she was a screamer.” Hyde couldn’t even stop himself from looking at Luna. The expression on her face flashed from surprise, to horror, revenge and anger all at once as she spun to face the unicorn. All he could do was smile sheepishly, his shoulders slowly raising as best a pony could.
Flicking a midnight blue hoof in front of him, Nines imitated Hyde’s voice as he swung the hoof about in a manner of faux class. “In flagrante delicto! Ha ha, what does that even mean? Oh! Is it Fancy for –”
A cold expanse of space met both Hyde and Nines as they sat on the lunar surface. Looking about, Hyde was fairly surprised to have not burned alive. “Moon, Nines.” Hyde said, taking a moment to enjoy the fact he could breathe on the moon. “In flagrante delicto means we’re sent to the moon.”
“...the hell did I do?” Nines complained, his hooves searching for his coffee cup. Hyde simply looked off into the distance at Equestria above him, crumpled up papers of discarded and terrible fiction surrounding them.
“Hey! It’s nice to have some company up here!” came a shout, both ponies turning to see the tired smile of Midnight as he trotted over to them. Nines greeted the veteran pre-reader with a half-hearted, decaffeinated wave, but Hyde was too busy staring at the outfit he was wearing.
“Why in the wide wide world of Equestria above us are you on the moon, in a maid’s outfit?”
“You said you found this,” Hyde muttered under his breath, his eyes unmoving from the large monstrosity before him.
Midnight Shadow nodded emphatically, his grin plastered on his face with no signs of leaving anytime soon. This had disturbed Hyde somewhat, as that sort of smile should have been nowhere near the revealing maid outfit Midnight wore. “Sure did,” Middy brought up a hoof and tapped it against his chin, reliving the day he found the object. “Well, more or less it found me about five feet from where I was standing.”
“You mean it almost fell on you?” Nines muttered, his midnight blue coat matching tone for tone against Middy’s. “You must of shat bricks.”
“Let’s just say I’m lucky I’m surrounded by proverbial toilet paper,” was the midnight unicorn’s only response as Hyde stumbled forward to the giant mechanism.
Upon the moon, many things dusted its surface, and upon recent years those things tended to be the flagrant wailings of the masses who wished that their writing be the next big thing in Equestria put on paper. Fanfiction was a veritable carpet of crumpled paper on the surface of the moon, but every so often a pony who had the misfortune of being banished here would stumble upon the occasional piece of trash, or empty donut box, or what have you.
What Midnight and the others hadn’t quite expected was to find a giant cannon aimed up toward Equestria. “You mean to tell me we shot a cannon to the moon?”
Hyde’s face jumbled up in confusion. “Wait, so we actually fired a cannon capable of shooting things to the moon, from a cannon capable of shooting things to the moon.”
“That’s like, cannonception.” Nines cooed, rubbing his face against the giant phallic object. Hyde decided to ignore the blond-maned pony as he started to pet the cannon and whisper affectionately towards it.
“It’s a little smaller than the one on Equestria Daily’s roof these days,” Midnight began, his mind reflecting to the few times his hooves hit terrestrial dirt. “I guess we needed a new one to shoot fanfiction to Mars and the Sun, if need be.” Flicking his tail over some rotten fics, Midnight swept away their offending words until he found some soft lunar dust to rest on.
“I should review fics more often if I get to fire this magnificent beast.” Nines stroked the cannon’s underbelly with his tail, his words becoming all the more muted and nasty as he started to come up with petnames for the ‘magnificent beast.’
Hyde turned away from the sight, it lacking too little curtains for his taste, and focused his attention on Midnight and Equestria above. “So, what, you saying we can hop into the cannon and fire ourselves to Equestria?”
Midnight snorted. Shaking his head, the unicorn shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t think so. Cannonballs are made to take up every nook and cranny of the space in a cannon, otherwise the explosion will escape around it and the stuff inside will just kind of... flitter about uselessly.”
Hyde stared at Midnight, his eyes crossing ever so slightly as he took in the mechanics of firing cannons. “This is the last place I expected to learn about physics.”
“On the moon?”
“On fanfiction.” Hyde muttered, his horn absentmindedly paper mâchéing a lampshade out of the discarded fics. “So I guess we’re at square one. Unless we have any cannon ball shaped moon rocks?”
“‘Fraid not,” Midnight sighed.
“I have the most powerful force in Equestria between my legs!” cried Nines. The pegasus had flown up and sat on the cannon without notice from either unicorn ponies below. A folded piece of fanfiction served as a cowboy hat for the insufferable pony as he ‘rode’ the monstrosity.
Hyde raised an eyebrow before raising his voice. “Nines! Get off the cannon!”
Grunting, Hyde stood up on two limbs, pointing his hoof dangerously at the pegasus. “Nines, get off the cannon!”
As Nines stuck his tongue out at Hyde, he face was quickly filled by the paper mâché lampshade, magically propelled into him. Knocked from his high horse, Nines fell to the ground in an light thud, the low gravity of the moon robbing Hyde of a satisfying pratfall.
Midnight looked up, his expression unchanged. Putting a hoof on his forehead, the veteran pre-reader sighed. “Foals.”
Hyde looked upon his work with a flickering moment of pride. All around the giant, steely blue cannon were an assortment of trinkets. Scattered about the lunar expanse were various pony angels made from the absence of fics, which Nines had been quick to call ‘ficangels.’ Dotting the landscape, paper mâché snowmen – deemed ‘ficmen’ by Nines – were offset by a large quantity of small, bipedal and horribly deformed creatures made, again, by paper mâché. Unfortunately, Nines also had taken it upon himself to name those, as well.
“They’re fikmen!” he announced, poking one of the unstable creations with a stray hoof, knocking it over. “With a ‘k’!”
Hyde raised his forehooves in incomprehension, shaking his head vigorously. “Why must everything begin with ‘fic?’ How does that even begin to make sense!?”
“When you started making little fikmen,” Nines said simply, justified with his answer.
Hyde opened his mouth as if to retaliate, but no words managed to get out. Taking up a large ball of crumpled fanfiction, Hyde’s horn glowed, melding together the entirety of the paper in a sticky mess. He chucked it at Nines, the pegasus pony raising a wing to defend himself from the slop of wet paper as it bounced harmlessly off him.
“Hey! That’s not fair! I can’t throw as well as you can!” Grabbing the secondhand projectile off the ground, Nines made as if to toss it back at Hyde, only for the offending material to get caught up in unicorn telekinesis and float away from his hooves, a look of utter horror masking the pegasus’ face. “W-wait! How about we call ‘em, fanmen?”
Hyde was too busy fashioning up a second ball of fics to listen. Nines flared his wings out and started to take off, Hyde chucking pieces of fanfiction at him as the two ponies chased each other around, much to the mild amusement of Midnight.
“I can’t believe I thought it was a bad thing to be lonely here on the moon,” he exhaled.
“Middy! Middy, please make him stop! Unicorns don’t fight fair!” Nines shouted, paper mâché snowballs whizzing past his ears as Hyde ran just meters behind him, taking great pleasure in leaping tens of feet into the air after the pegasus.
Hyde galloped as he hit the ground, taking up another mess of paper and turning it into ammunition. “Tell him to keep his big fat gob shut for a change!”
“I’m clever and I have to make sure ponies know that! Fikmin is genius!”
“It’s not! It’s stupid! Stop being stupid!”
“No! You’re stupid!”
Midnight groaned “Will you two just shaddup –” In the next moment, Midnight’s face was covered in wet, sopping paper. Screeching to a halt, as best one can screech to a halt on the moon, both Nines and Hyde stopped dead as they realized the collateral damage to their bickering. Ears folding to the side of their heads, Nines returned to the ground next to Hyde, both ponies wearing shameful expressions.
Horn sparking to life, Midnight took the soaked mess of paper mâché off his face in one slow, disgusted movement, his magic holding the offending piece mere inches from his face. “Hyde...”
“I, um. Well Middy, you see. I was just.” Hyde’s voice quietly died in his throat. “Sorry?”
Midnight was about to do a number of things. Sure, murder was illegal in Equestria, but they were on the moon. The moon didn’t have laws. The moon was wild lands. Where paper mâché snowponies dotted the landscape. But then, his eyes saw something new. Something glorious. In his vision, Midnight could see the lunar cannon, but what else he saw, was a giant floating ball of paper mâché in perspective. What could be the beginnings of a giant floating cannonball. “You’re a genius!”
Immediately perking up, Hyde bonked Nines on the nose, coupled with a self-righteous, “HA!”
Nines had absolutely no qualms with bucking Hyde halfway across the moon.
It took the better part of the week, but Hyde and Midnight had used their unicorn magic to amass a large collection of fanfiction near the cannon, the two ponies setting Nines to work on making sure the cannon was operational. Somewhere during the second day, Midnight’s maid outfit had disappeared, much to the delight of Hyde. “But now I’m more naked!” Midnight huffed.
“I don’t care, it’s gone, and you can’t steal that from me!” Hyde retaliated, glad to have been done with the offending garments. With that, the two ponies rolled up their fanfictions and headed back to camp.
This generally meant coming back to find the pegasus sleeping on the weapon with a terrifying smile on his face. The unicorns made a silent pact to let Nines continue his ecstasy without interruption if it meant not touching the cannon anywhere.
Wearing grizzled beards and smelling of manly ponies, both Hyde and Midnight set to the task of creating a giant cannonball that would actually work with the physics provided on the moon. At first the question of finding enough flammable material that had enough oomph to propel three ponies back to Equestria came up, but Midnight was quick to answer that.
“The cannon back on Equestria doesn’t use any sort of normal fuel. Heck, most of Equestria Daily runs on the crushed hopes and dreams of the ponyfolk who send in their fanfiction.” Sweeping his hooves across the landscape, Midnight wore a sickening grin as he returned to face his compatriots. “And we’re standing on a veritable goldmine of pony tears.”
“That’s sick,” Hyde said, his eyes hardening, “I like it.”
And thus the ponies got to work actually putting the cannonball in the cannon, a task which Hyde and Midnight were more than happy to let Nines figure out on his own, the unicorns opting to simply feed some loose fanfics into the chamber to use as wadding and leave the pegasus on his own to deal with the wet ball of shame and failure.
Slipping the ball into the hole, which required the help of the unicorns anyway, was done quickly. Nines had somehow ‘sprained a wing,’ and made up an elaborate song and dance involving moon ponies and grayscale princesses, to which went completely ignored by Hyde and Midnight. Instead the ponies went about aiming their giant cannon at Equestria, hoping to get the trajectory somewhere about where the EqD office was. “Eh, somewhere close to that.” Midnight muttered, leaving the coordinates up to chance.
Packing themselves into the cannon, Hyde leaned against the metal walls, Equestria the only thing the ponies could see from inside. “So how do ponies get back from the moon normally?”
Midnight stroked his totally manly beard in thought, the midnight blue unicorn shrugging his shoulders. “Usually whenever the Princesses decide to let us come back. They tend to forget, though. Forget for months, sometimes.”
Nines smiled in the darkness, his nigh luminous blond hair one of the few things visible. “Well now we got a way back, right? No more waiting!”
“So, wait, I’ve been meaning to ask...” Hyde trailed, Midnight taking the moment to light the cannon’s fuse. Watching the line spark, there was a light fizzing sound as the fuse sputtered up, Hyde’s eyes trailing with it as it fed outside the cannon and back in near the bottom. “If we’re using the fanfics as explosive accelerates, and our cannonball is just one, big, condensed ball of fanfics... doesn’t that make what we’re sitting on a proverbial bomb?”
Midnight opened his mouth to calm the fears of his fellow pre-reader, but soon closed it as he thought about the implications. “Well, ah.” Bringing a hoof to his chin, he dwelt on it another moment as the fuse disappeared from view, the sound of burning starting to fade with it. “Actually you have a point.”
“Oh good, I thought it was just me – wait what do you mean I’m right!?”
Nines looked between the unicorns as best he could in the darkness, his eyes widening in fear. “Wait, why didn’t you bring this up earlier?”
“I don’t know, I thought you guys had already considered it!”
“Hyde you idiot! We have to get out of here before –” the sound of the fuse stopped, bringing with it an eerie silence.
“Was –” Nines gulped, his eyes looking fearfully toward Midnight. “Was it a dud?”
Before anypony could answer, the sound could be heard again below them, the fuse reentering the cannon from the side with all the wadding. Midnight looked at the ball of paper mâché fics below them as it started to ignite. “Oh, son of a –”