The Thessalonica Legacy
Chapter 16: Pursuit
Pinkie Pie galloped as fast as she could. Her hooves clattered on the hard floor as she burst into the hanger. That meanie Ackermann was nowhere to be seen. How dare he try and hurt the others! How dare he ponynap her friend! Poor Fluttershy, she must be terrified. As soon as Quigley had said the traitor had run past him, Pinkie had taken off to check on her timid friend. And when he said Ackermann had taken Fluttershy, she ran even faster, cursing herself for leaving.
She skidded to a stop as she passed out of the hangar and into the sunlight. The rain of that morning had stopped and the sun had burned the clouds away. She could hear the engine of the jeep close by, probably just on the other side of the ramparts. She needed to get high to see, and she needed a way to catch them fast.
Her eyes fell on the BattleMech kneeling beside the fallen door. That might work. It was tall and Ramirez seemed proud of how fast it could go. There was a chain ladder dangling from the back of its head and she knew Ramirez had said something about leaving the reactor in low-power mode.
She scrambled up the chain ladder, hooking her front limbs over one rung while pushing off with her back hooves. It wasn’t much different from climbing a tree, she told herself. The inside of the head wasn’t large. There was a small space between the hatch at the back of the head and a metal chair. She wriggled her way around the chair and found herself standing on a firm cushion facing a dizzying array of buttons and small glowing screens below and around a wide, tinted window.
She looked around dismayed. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea. The little pink pony took a deep breath and focused. Ok, whole bunch of buttons, a couple thingies to either side that looked movable, and below a pair of pedals. Maybe the pedals made the legs move, like a bicycle? It was worth a shot. She scooted down on the seat and stretched out with a hind hoof. She gingerly pressed at the pedal. She shot bolt upright when a woman’s voice boomed out from everywhere and nowhere.
“Security clearance needed”
“Oh, um. Hello,” a surprised Pinkie said to the voice, “My name’s Pinkie Pie. You must be the robot. I’d call you by your name, but I know you don’t have one. I tried to think of one for you. I know you must feel left out without a name. I know I would. But, um, my friend just got ponynaped and I need to go save her, so if you could stand up and run after her that would really help. Um, hello? Miss robot lady? Helooo?”
“Maybe you’d better let me handle this,” Pinkie Pie jumped as Ramirez climbed into the cockpit and pulled the hatch closed after him. He’d already stripped off his fatigues to his grey undershirt and camouflage green pants and was wrestling with his cooling vest. As the door sealed shut, Pinkie could hear the chatter of the chain ladder being wound up outside.
“Okey-dokey-lokie,” she wriggled out of the seat on one side as the MechWarrior squeezed past on the other. Reaching back, Ramirez flipped down a small metal frame with webbing stretched across. Pinkie could see straps for a harness dangling from the wall above.
“There’s a seat there if you need,” he said as he settled into the command chair and began strapping himself in. BattleMech cockpits were small, but almost every design managed to fit a space behind the seat. It was cramped, but provided a ‘Mech with just enough space to carry a second person, such as an observer or a rescued comrade. Pinkie looked at the little foldout seat, but decided she’d much rather see where they were going. She clamored up on to the back of the command seat and wrapped her limps as well as she could around the frame so she could peer over Ramirez’s shoulder. In almost any other ‘Mech she would have had a more difficult time. The command seat on most ‘Mechs was a bulky ejector seat in case a hasty exit was necessary. The designers of the VLK-QD1, however, had incorporated a full-head ejection system. Instead of just jettisoning the pilot clear, the entire armored head assembly would detach and rocket off. As such, the command chair was thinner and smaller in the Valkyrie, making Pinkie’s job of hanging on that much easier.
Ramirez settled the neurohelmet over his head and pressed a short series of buttons. The ‘Mech lurched as it stood up and Pinkie squeezed harder to keep from losing her perch. Outside the window she saw the ground drop away. The woman’s voice sounded again as Pinkie looked around for the source,
“Weapons online. Sensors online. All systems nominal.” The voice was precise and cold.
Ramirez slammed the throttle forward and Pinkie Pie squeaked in surprise as the BattleMech took off at a run. He pressed lightly at the foot pedals, maneuvering around the outbuildings and charged straight for the old rampart. As he neared, he stomped down on both pedals at once. The jumpjets erupted with flame and sent them into a low arc up and over the earthen berm. Pinkie Pie squealed with delight at the rush of the sudden flight. The ‘Mech’s hips and knees flexed to absorb the impact of their heavy landing on the far side of the rampart.
“Utica-six, Utica-six, this is Saber-one-three, Saber-one-three. In pursuit bearing one-three-five. Over.” He was using their call signs from back on Valexa. Pinkie Pie couldn’t hear a response, but Ramirez nodded his head, “Saber-one acknowledges. Out.” he turned to glance back at Pinkie Pie, “Alright, Pinkie, if you’re gonna ride with me you’re gonna have to make yourself useful.” He pressed a button next to a glass screen and suddenly the entire area between dashboard and roof and wrapping all the way around to either side was filled with a holographic representation of the outside. To Pinkie Pie, it was almost like the surrounding walls had peeled back and they were now sitting in the open air, except she could still faintly see the tinted window beyond the display if she tried. Along the top of the display, a band showed a panoramic view of their entire surroundings compressed into a 120 degree arc.
“Ooh,” she cooed, “That’s cool.”
Ramirez usually preferred to use the holographic display built in to his neurohelmet, but he figured an extra set of eyes would be helpful, “All these buildings are playing havoc with the sensors. I need you to keep your eyes peeled for them.”
“There they are over there!” she pointed at a dust plume disappearing around a corner, “Hang on, Fluttershy! We’re coming!”
Dieter Ling burst from the hangar at a sprint, grim determination on his face and a laser pistol in his hand. Ackermann was gone, but he could hear the internal combustion engine of a jeep receding into the town. He cursed to himself as he took stock of his surroundings and holstered his sidearm. Two of their open-top jeeps were left sitting in the courtyard before the hangar. He didn’t see Sargent Ramirez, who he knew had gotten ahead of him. He wondered where the MechWarrior was until the BattleMech stood up and took off at a run.
A blue streak raced past him and arced high up into the sky, “There! They’re right there…” the rest of her words were drowned out by the roar of the Valkyrie’s jumpjets. Realizing she couldn’t be heard over the noise, the pegasus swooped back down and hovered just over Ling’s head, “Come on! We can still catch them!”
“How?” Twilight asked as she skittered to a stop behind them. Ling turned to see Rarity, Tartaglia, Harris, and Quigley there, too.
The communicators the humans carried crackled to life with Ramirez’s call from the cockpit of his ‘Mech. Tartaglia would normally answer to the call sign Utica-6-actual. Instead of answering, the DropShip captain turned to Ling.
“I defer to you, Leftenant. Ground-ops are your area.” He threw the infantry officer a quick salute.
Ling returned the salute as he pulled out his communicator’s headset, “Saber-one-three, this is Razor-six-actual. I read your pursuit. Keep on him, we’ll try and box him in. Switch comms to following….” True to form, he already had a plan. Once he finished with Ramirez, he immediately started barking out orders, “Captain, Harris, Twilight: that jeep. Head out and right. Quigley and Rarity, you’re with me, we’ll take the left. Sweep around and box him in.” Twilight and Rarity stood stunned for a moment then ran off to their assigned transports. “Rainbow Dash!” Ling bellowed.
“Yes, Sir!” Rainbow swept down and landed in front of him with a sloppy but energetic salute.
Ling slipped off his headset and pulled out his communicator, “I want you up top,” he strung a fabric lanyard through the communicator and hung it around Dash’s neck, “Get up high and call out directions. Try to get us ahead of him.” He set the headset over the pegasus’s ears and adjusted the microphone so it was next to her mouth.
“I’m on it!” Rainbow Dash rocketed off into the sky.
Fluttershy slid across the back seat of the jeep as her captor took a sharp turn. She squirmed against the cable binding her legs and wings. Ackermann had bound her quickly but securely. She whimpered and begged him to let her go.
Ackermann swore and yelled at his captive to shut up. He’d already lost too much time. Attacking Harris and Nao at the stairs had been a mistake, he knew. He’d left at least one of them alive in addition to that fool Quigley. Now they’d certainly be after him. And judging from that BattleMech on his tail, his grenade had somehow failed in its intended purpose as well.
He’d almost tripped over the little yellow pegasus as he emerged from the interior of the headquarters building. She had been nearly catatonic with fear, so grabbing her and tying her up with the only suitable cable he could find, an insulated cable they had been using to charge their powerpacks from the BattleMech’s fusion reactor, had been easy. But it still had taken precious time. He had gambled everything on his appearance in the archive room, and now everything was unraveling.
“You let me go right this instant!” Fluttershy had stopped her whimpering. Drawing on every ounce of resolve she had, she fixed her captor with a withering look. Being famously timid, she was not much of a fighter. She had no great strength or skill or powerful magic to draw on in dangerous situations such as this. But, having spent most of her life among and caring for animals had endued her with a power all her own. When she put her mind to it, she could put on a convincingly commanding presence. At the top of her form she could subdue even an angry dragon. Her friends called it ‘the stare,’ but she knew that putting forth an authoritative façade and not backing down was all it really was.
She demanded that he listen to her, that he stop the jeep and surrender. There was one problem, though. ‘The stare’ worked best when she could look her adversary in the eyes. The eyes were the whole secret. Without the nonverbal cues all she had was her voice, and try as she might, Ackermann simply would not look at her.
“Shut up! Shut up or I will kill you!” he yelled. He looked all around him trying to keep tabs on his pursuers, but refused to look at his captive. “Blake’s blood, it’s worse than driving with my mother,” he grumbled under his breath.
“Can’t you go any faster? They’re getting away!” the pink pony yelled.
“I’m going as fast as I can, Pinkie. I have to be careful on these turns.” Ramirez stomped down on the foot pedals again, sending the Valkyrie leaping over the ruins of an ancient warehouse. He found himself on one of the main thoroughfares through the small city.
“There they are!” Pinkie Pie thrust a hoof towards the display. Ahead of them and receding fast was the jeep. Even at this distance, they could see Fluttershy’s light pink tail and mane fluttering in the breeze over the back seat. The avenue was perfectly straight and clear, and both Ramirez and Pinkie Pie could see the jeep had a straight shot out of the city.
“Stop them! Stop them!” Pinkie Pie was veritably bouncing with the thrill of the chase. Ramirez bit his lip. His ‘Mech would never be able to catch up with the jeep on this flat, hard tarmac. He knew the other two jeeps were still behind him somewhere, probably barely beyond the ramparts by now. Maybe if he had a faster ‘Mech like a Wolfhound or a Locust he’d stand a chance of running them down. What he needed was a roadblock to slow the jeep and give him and his allies a chance to catch up.
With a flick of his thumb he brought his Arbalest LRM launcher on-line. He swept the targeting reticule up well ahead of the fleeing vehicle. There, that old tenement would do nicely. He squeezed the trigger and sent a flight of fifteen warheads arcing high into the sky.
“Ooh, fireworks!” Pinkie’s attention was stolen away by the sight. The missiles plunged back down to earth, swerving slightly as they homed in on the targeting beam. They slammed into the side of the crumbling building, sending out large plumes of dust. “Aww,” Pinkie had been expecting colorful bursts in the air. Ramirez for his part held his breath, hoping against hope that those missiles did the job. He whooped as the building began to collapse, spilling debris into the road and blocking the jeep’s path.
The jeep screeched to a stop then suddenly reversed down the road towards them. Ramirez charged the ‘Mech forwards as the jeep dove down a side street and out of view. Nearing the corner, he depressed the foot pedals to turn the ‘Mech down the new path. In his haste, he turned a little too sharply and the Valkyrie’s large metal feet lost traction on the slick tarmac. Ramirez cursed as he fought to keep the ‘Mech upright. The heavy gyroscopes in the torso screamed in protest as thirty tons of metal crashed to the ground. The BattleMech landed hard on its left arm. Ablative armor designed to defend against high-energy projectiles, lasers, and particle beams buckled and snapped. In the cockpit, Pinkie Pie lost her grip on the command chair and slammed into the cockpit wall with a grunt.
“You alright, Pinkie?” Ramirez asked as he fought to get the ‘Mech back on its feet.
“Oh course, silly. It’ll take more than that to slow Pinkie Pie down.” She clamored back to her perch behind Ramirez’s command chair, ignoring her aching ribs. “That didn’t hurt the robot lady, did it?”
A wireframe rendition of the Valkyrie flashed up on the display. The left arm glowed yellow and a red symbol flashed by the elbow. Ramirez cursed, “Busted the lower arm actuator.” The damage display disappeared and Ramirez cursed again and more vehemently. His ‘Mech was back on its feet, but they’d lost sight of the fleeing jeep. “This is Saber-one-three. I’ve lost them,” he called over the radio as he switched on the cockpit speakers so his passenger could listen in.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got your back, Saber. He’s around to the right and a block and a half down.”
“Dashie?” Pinkie Pie checked the panorama along the top of the display for her friend, “Where are you?”
“Right above you, Pinkie Pie. And you owe me one for getting to ride in that ‘Mech before me. Now hurry up and go three blocks straight ahead.”
Rarity struggled to maintain her balance on the back seat of the jeep as Quigley gunned the throttle around a turn. She lamented that she didn’t have enough time to grab a scarf from her saddlebags to keep her mane from getting wind-whipped. No sense in crying over spilt milk, though. She’d just have to deal with it like a lady. She strained to hear the communicator Ling had relinquished from the driver.
“A roadblock? Genius! Dash, see if you can loop us around in front of them,” he turned to face Rarity, “Can you toss stuff around like Twilight can?”
“What? You mean with my magic?” she was a little flustered, “Well, yes. I can’t do big objects like her, but I can move little ones.”
“Good enough,” he replied then returned to the communicator, holding it out towards the elegant unicorn so she could hear too, “Do you read me, Twilight?”
Twilight’s voice sounded odd coming from the strange box, “I read you.”
“Ok, I need you to try and make roadblocks. Grab concrete chunks, I-beams, anything. Just throw as much debris as you can to try and block every side street you pass. Can you handle that?”
“I think so. I’ll try,” came the response over the communicator.
Rarity was less certain, “Wha-what? I don’t-I don’t know,”
“It’s easy, Rarity. It’ll be just like levitating any other objects. You just have to concentrate.” Twilight tried to encourage her friend.
As they neared the first intersection, Rarity quickly scanned the area for anything she could grab. The crumbling infrastructure gave her plenty to work with. Chewing her lip in intense concentration, her horn glowed as she grabbed metal beams and ferrocrete slabs and arranged them to block off the intersection. As they passed, she kept finagling with the placement of her obstacles.
“Good job. Now here comes the next one,” Ling called from the front seat.
“But I haven’t finished with this one yet!” she protested.
“No time. Do this one!” She obeyed the order and repeated the effort as they approached the next side road. As she worked, Ling gave her more direction, “They don’t have to be pretty. Just throw as much stuff in there as you can. Right now, quantity is its own quality.”
She had to fight her perfectionist nature, but as they passed the second intersection Rarity began throwing as much debris as she could haphazardly across the road. Ling praised her efforts and directed her to the next intersection.
From her vantage point high in the sky, Rainbow Dash could watch the entire chase unfold. Speaking into the microphone, she called out directions to try and surround the jeep carrying Ackermann and Fluttershy. To help the others keep track, she cruised directly above the fleeing jeep high up so that the others could see her.
Ramirez’s missile barrage had forced Ackermann to retreat back into the smaller side streets deep in the small city. He now seemed to be wandering aimlessly as he looped and doubled back through an industrial park. Rainbow Dash wondered what he was up to until she realized he was trying to throw off his pursuers, unaware he was being watched from above. Taking advantage of this tactical blunder, she ordered the BattleMech to keep going and get between him and the closest edge of the city.
To either side, Twilight and Rarity’s jeeps raced along, trying to get ahead of their quarry. In their wake, chunks of pavement, segments of wall, metal beams, and all sorts of debris from the crumbling city spilled out and arranged into roughshod barricades blocking off roads as they went. On Rarity’s side, the debris formed thin, ragged lines while Twilight almost seemed to be bringing down entire buildings.
As soon as the two jeeps passed the neighborhood in which Ackermann was looping around, she ordered them to turn towards each other and complete the trap. As she did, Ackermann found his way to a major thoroughfare and made a break for it.
“Hurry, he’s headed right for you!” she yelled. They had him in a triangle, but if the jeeps didn’t hurry, he’d slip past before they could get the roadblock up. For the second time, they needed to slow him down or he would get away. Rainbow Dash fought off a wave of panic. She called again for them to hurry, but knew it wouldn’t do any good. She thought fast, trying to come up with a solution. Taking a deep breath, she rolled over into a spiraling dive. Using the speed gained from the dive, she raced perpendicular to Ackermann’s line of travel. Bursting out onto the main thoroughfare, she banked hard and zoomed fast and low over the jeep. As she flashed past, she caught glimpses of the pair of faces, one with big blue eyes blazing, the other bloodied and swollen and both looking up in surprise.
Ackermann didn’t brake, but he did swerve violently. The maneuver bled just enough speed that the two other jeeps were able to beat him to the intersection. Grey dust billowed as the two unicorns tore the surrounding buildings to shreds and spilled the debris across the road behind them. Behind him, the Valkyrie burst through the middle of a building shoulder-first, cutting off his escape. Panicked, Ackermann screeched the pilfered jeep to a halt, roughly grabbed his hostage, and ducked through the door of an old office building.
Quigley and Harris brought their vehicles up next to the abandoned jeep while Ramirez brought his ‘Mech up behind. In a flash, the soldiers were out of their seats and taking cover behind the metal bodies. Rarity collapsed on her seat, exhausted from the effort, and Rainbow Dash alighted on the Valkyrie’s shoulder, looking like a tiny blue parrot.
“Now what?” the blue pegasus called down from her perch. She couldn’t see Pinkie Pie waving to her through the darkly-tinted viewport.
“He won’t hurt her as long as he thinks he has a bargaining chip,” Ling responded, “So now we try to convince him to surrender.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so,” Twilight alighted from the jeep and strode straight for the building. The exercise that had worn out Rarity had only warmed her up, and the violence had gotten her good and mad.
“What are you doing? Get back here!” Ling yelled after her. She looked back at him over her shoulder.
“That’s my friend in there, and I want her back. Now.” To Ling, it almost looked like her violet eyes were glowing an incandescent white. A bright aura erupted from her horn and the front façade of the building exploded outwards forming a ragged, circular hole and revealing a very surprised Ackermann holding a broad-bladed combat knife in one hand and the scruff of Fluttershy’s neck in the other.
“You!” bellowed Twilight. The air crackled and small debris around her hooves began to levitate, swept up in the magical tide. “How dare you hurt Fluttershy? How dare you try to kill us, you…you…” she inhaled sharply, “BASTARD!” she yelled, borrowing the human expletive. Before he could react, Ackermann felt himself lifted bodily into the air and the knife torn from his grasp. The cable binding Fluttershy sloughed off and coiled itself tightly around him like a python. His eye that wasn’t swollen shut from Ramirez’s fist was fixed on the knife which floated in midair and pointed menacingly at his throat.
“Give me one good reason I shouldn’t use this knife on you right now,” she growled at him, “Huh?” he gasped as the cable constricted tighter. “I’ve heard about your Word of Blake; how you sow chaos everywhere and attack and kill everyone. They told me what you did to Tharkad and Outreach. You want to exploit us. Turn us into weapons for your wars. Well, how’s it feel to be on the receiving end of that weapon, huh?” The cable drew tighter and the knife inched closer.
Twilight felt a hand on the back of her neck. “Not like this, Twilight,” Captain Tartaglia kept his voice low but firm, “Don’t hurt him. Not like this.”
“Why shouldn’t I? After what he’s done?”
“You don’t want this on your hands. If you do this, there’s no going back. You can never go back. Besides,” he leaned closer, “shouldn’t we ask him why?”
Indignant anger still flooded through her, “But he hurt Fluttershy.”
“I’m alright,” the soft voice barely registered, “Twilgiht, I’m alright.” Fluttershy carefully approached her friend.
Twilight looked at Fluttershy and met her gaze. She gave a tired sigh and her eyes lost their glow. The air no longer crackled and the knife dropped to the ground.