Rainbow Dash awoke with a start as she thrashed about in the tube. The technicians rushed to her aid, trying everything they could to calm her down. Her heart rate accelerated and the head scientist called for a sedative injector. A needle was brought out. The tip of the needle pierced her skin and a mild shock shot through the device into the panicked pegasus. She shrieked and stopped moving as she stared at the injector in her arm.
"What…what are you doing? Stop that! Leave me alone!" Dash yelled. Her eyes were wild with fear.
"Calm down, R.D., we're not going to hurt you," the head technician said through a mirrored visor. He and the scientists surrounding him were human, though Rainbow Dash did not know that word.
"What are you?" the pegasus asked, still trying in vain to struggle. Her half-hearted attempts only weakened her reserves as three scientists managed to hold her down and keep her from exiting the tube.
"You don't know?" the head tech asked. He shook his head. "Lysa, remind me to get after those guys down in Pneumonics. They should've known better than to bring her out in such ignorance."
Lysa spoke up. "Bet you sixty credits they forgot the Deckard Protocol in the other five as well."
Rainbow Dash recognized something in what Lysa said. "What other five? Who are you talking about?"
The head tech looked back at Rainbow Dash. "I know this is all really confusing for you right now, but you have to calm down. Trust me when I say it will all be explained to you in time. Before we can clear this up, I need you to do one thing for me."
"Tell me exactly what you remember before you woke up."
"I have a very important assignment for all of you."
Six ponies stood in the middle of Celestia's throne room. Twilight Sparkle walked forward and placed a saddlepack in front of the Princess. "I brought what you asked for," she said. "but I'm not sure I understand the use of these things."
Princess Celestia nodded to a nearby guard who took the pack and walked it out a back exit of the throne room. "I heard about the epidemic running through your pets, Fluttershy."
The yellow, shy pony walked forward, head down as she spoke in soft tones. "Oh yes, princess. Angel is in the worst shape. Nurse Redheart is taking care of her right now, but several of the Ponyville residents are taking care of the rest of the poor little things."
"Ah just hope nuthin' happens to the critters down on the farm," Applejack said.
Princess Celestia looked away as Twilight spoke. "Princess…is there something wrong? Something you wanted to tell us?"
There weren't many times that the ponies could see the Princess in a moment of vulnerability. She made no attempt to hide her concern and instead lifted her head to glance in the direction of the nearest guard. Before she could speak, all three of the remaining guards in the room turned at once and waited. "Leave us." The guards nodded and moved out of the doors nearby. When a period of silence had passed, Celestia moved away from her throne and stood amongst the group. "Please listen very carefully to what I'm about to say." The six ponies moved in close as a bubble of light surrounded them, sealing them off from the rest of the room.
"Ooooohhhhhhh!" Pinkie Pie said, looking around at the shield.
"What is this?" Rainbow Dash asked.
"I can't take the chance that others would listen to the following information," the Princess said. "Over the past year and a half, I have seen all of you grow in so many incredible ways. Your friendship with each other has helped you overcome Nightmare Moon, defeat Discord and stop a myriad of obstacles both great and small. Nowhere else in Equestria have I seen such devotion to one another as I have in all of you. Because of this, I feel there is no one else who can handle the following assignment. But it will be hard and it will take you to places you've never been before. You may not be able to return home…for a while."
There was a collective silence amongst the group. It was Rarity who broke it. "Excuse me, Princess, but may we assume that we will still be able to contact friends and family from wherever we will go?"
The Princess looked down. "No. No you won't. You will not be able to contact even me."
Applejack answered next. "But Apple Bloom…and Granny Smith…and Big Mac…"
Celestia slowly shook her head. "You'll need to leave soon. The problem with the pets is more serious than you know and if you hope to quell it, you must leave right now. I have a chariot standing by with a contingent of my best guards. We cannot take any more time discussing this, but you must trust me. Leave now and tell no one of the following mission I am to give you. Each one of you, save for Twilight Sparkle, please step out of the shield right now. There is one thing I must say to my student before you go."
Pinkie, Rarity, Applejack and Fluttershy stepped out as Rainbow Dash remained with the Princess and Twilight.
"What is going on, Princess? Please tell me," Dash said.
Celestia's eyes became heavy with sadness and her mouth opened only in the slightest before closing. She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Dash. You must step out too."
The blue pegasus lowered her head and ears. She nodded solemnly and stepped out as light surrounded her.
Rainbow Dash sat in a cold room, her hooves touching the icy floor beneath her. Its featureless surface reminded her of obsidian and the walls were dirty and rife with dents, scratches and various other impact marks. She flapped her wings listlessly as she examined the door. The only entry to the room was sealed with heavy metal hinges, thick plating and a square glass window big enough to frame a head. A face, Lysa, watched from the window as Dash stared and did not move. The door opened, a light turned from red to green above it, and in walked the technician as she closed the door behind her, tinting the back of her coat in a red light. Rainbow Dash kept her expressionless gaze as the scientist pulled up a chair from the unused table in the center of the room and placed it across from the pegasus. She sat and crossed her legs, studying the pony.
"You are…" she looked at a clipboard in front of her, tapped a few things on the touchscreen and then peered back at the pegasus. "…Rainbow Dash. A pegasus from the land of Equestria. According to the Luna calendar, you are from the year…" she looked hard. "…doesn't say. Guess the time frame isn't very distinct. But I assume you still do not know who or what we are?" She lowered the clipboard and looked at Dash through thick-rimmed glasses. Dash made a slow motion of shaking her head. Lysa continued from her notes. "Fast flier. Loyal friend. Has as pet turtle named Tank."
"Tortoise," Dash corrected.
Lysa smiled. "I knew you'd correct that." Dash narrowed her eyes as Lysa smiled absentmindedly. "Why do you think you are here?"
"Because I was captured when I exited the borders of Equestria and now I'm in a prison facility. Apparently." Dash looked around and couldn't make heads or tails of the environment.
"Why do you think this is a prison?"
"Because you're keeping me here against my will!"
"I never said you couldn't leave." She pointed to the entry door. "You can turn that handle and exit the room at any time you like." Dash looked at the door with disbelief. She eyed Lysa. "But if you leave now, you won't know anything about this place. And we will follow you."
"I don't believe it. There's no way you'd let me leave that easily."
Lysa nodded, stood up and crossed to the door. She held it open and said nothing. Dash walked up to the entrance and peered down the hall. No one was waiting outside, though several humans in white coats were moving to and fro amongst the doors in the hall. Without another second of hesitation, Dash bolted down the hall at a flat run. Security cameras lined the ceiling at every corner, though she did not know what they were and only saw them as unblinking eyes. She turned a corner and two women and one man stood talking till they saw her. They turned and watched as she backed up, panicking. They stared and said nothing. They did not move. Dash turned tail and ran.
The white walls were endless in the pegasus' mind. She burst through a set of double doors. Rows of tiny cubicles lined the interior. Several people popped out of their cubbies and stared. Dash felt the eyes burning into her as she shot frantic glances around the room.
"What's she doing?" one woman asked.
"Escaping," a man said. Neither moved.
Rainbow Dash felt her heart beating faster as the rhythm of her panic filled her head. She passed by several people typing on computers, though her knowledge of such things was nonexistent. She saw a sign with bright red lettering but could not read it. She stopped and a man stood near the door, though if he were the same one as before she could not tell. He looked over to his co-workers standing nearby and said. "Isn't the roof access open?"
"Yeah," the second human said. "Same as the time before that. And the one before that."
"As it was with every one of them," the third human chimed in. They turned and watched.
Dash yelled "What is wrong with all of you? Why aren't you trying to stop me?"
The man's voice was very quiet and mournful in response. "Go to the roof and tell me if you still want to escape."
Dash looked at the door and saw its iron plating as a sign of foreboding. A protection against something monstrous outside. She didn't run this time, but instead pushed it open with her nose as she went up the staircase. She saw the number 24 and recognized that much. 25. 26. 27. Her breathing had become labored, but she didn't understand how she could feel tired so quickly. 28. 29. She noticed no one else moving through the stairs with her, though eyes watched from every window. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. She tried to run, but her lungs tired quickly and she could not see as well. She rested for a moment before continuing. 36. 37. Almost there.
The last door sat at the top with a haze covering the glass. It was hard to breathe. Her eyes felt a little dark, but she couldn't understand why. She flapped her wings nervously and took a step forward. There was no lock on the rooftop door and the push-handle looked like it had not been used often. It took effort for her to crack it open.
The smell was horrendous. The smog was terrible and the sounds assaulted her from every angle. She stumbled out once she got the door open and it shut behind her with a terrible finality. Dash's eyes widened and her mouth dropped. Her ears flattened and she started to shake as she stared into the poisoned city above.
Hundreds of skyscrapers grasped at the sky like forgotten monoliths. Faded lights filled almost every window. Flying vehicles, chariots as far as Dash knew, hovered around the buildings and dipped below crisscrossing catwalks cutting into the skyline. Bright, brilliant and terrifying electronic signs lit up the sides of many skyscrapers with images of humans playing over and over and over again. The noise was a grind of horns, loudspeakers shouting for attention from the video ads, and a strong atmospheric hum permeating everything. Dash looked further into the sky and noticed a red haze blotting out the sun. A single phrase lit up the nearest building-sized advertisement. Colossal words surrounded a rotating red planet and though Dash could not read the text, somehow deep down, she knew she was on the very celestial body whose color matched the sky above.
WELCOME TO MARS. ENJOY YOUR STAY.