The red city of Syria Planum Alpha towered menacingly over the wounded blue pegasus as she stalked her way through the back alleys of the Martian metropolis. The searing pain in her front-left foreleg kept her mind alert and on-edge as Rainbow Dash peered at the homeless humans moving around her. They stared at the rainbow mane and tail and whispered as she walked by. Their words brought neither comfort nor peace.
“Looks like another one from TruCore.”
“You’d think they wanted their subjects to escape.”
Rainbow Dash kept her eyes facing forward and didn’t dare stare at anyone who walked by. Her wings spasmed uselessly whenever she tried to use them and she wondered if the shock round from the officer had stunned them into a fit of (she hoped) temporary paralysis. She glanced around and heard police sirens nearby, but saw nothing headed her way. Once she escaped through Hotel Lunae, she had not seen a single officer. Dash leaned against a wall and tried to take in the mountains of steel and smog overhead.
There were lines of apartments lighting up the night all the way up to the cut-off point of Rainbow’s vision. The smog blanketed the sky with poisonous clouds that made Dash yearn for the cumulo-nimbus of her home. She often wished she were up above, soaring high above the world. But something about this place made her wish to be low and out-of-sight, away from the dangerous rush of traffic building upon the horrid air quality with their constant exhaust. She didn’t find it hard to breathe yet and hoped she could find a place to rest, if only for a little while.
There were fewer and fewer people as Dash soon realized that a bright blue pegasus stood out far too much amidst the hues of red and brown dotting the dark Marscape. She felt her mind slipping into high anxiety as she did all she could to maintain control of her emotion.
There was a transport tube periodically moving people through a grimy rail system as it shot forward and disappeared in a flash of movement. Dash wished she had her speed back and flapped her wings as she thought about tracing through the air. There were only a few people on the loading platform and strangely enough, none moved to interact with her. She saw their eyes lock onto her form and the pegasus wanted so much to be invisible to their cold stares.
An animated screen stood by on the platform with the faded title of South City Directory. Dash held her left foreleg as the pain throbbed through her body. The screen flickered and a pleasant female voice spoke from the crackling speakers.
“Welcome traveler! Stand by for iris scan. In the meantime, you may select destination information by voice command. Where would you like to go?”
Dash looked at the tablet on her right foreleg and noticed the screen was still blank. The fall through the glass roof of Hotel Lunae hadn’t damaged the screen. Her left foreleg took most of the impact and she winced at the reminder of the pain. She remembered the map Lysa had brought up and tried to think of the closest pony tracking beacon, but could only remember one phrase furthest from her point.
“Noctis Labyrinthum,” Dash said. There was a beep and the directory screen brought up a map with a flashing point located far north of the spot labeled YOU ARE HERE. The area was well beyond the city limits.
The directory voice spoke again. “You are unregistered. Due to this, you cannot move past the security checkpoint at North Syria Planum. You may proceed to marker thirty-four, forty kilometers south of the Noctis Labyrinthum mining colony. Your temporary rider number is 001138 and you may ride the shuttle twice every twenty-four hours until registering. This counts at one ride. Do you wish to proceed?”
Dash’s mind was reeling from all the info. She looked around and saw several people stalking closer from the shadows. The pegasus turned back to the directory and nodded before she realized it might not notice her, until it did. “Nonverbal compliance detected as affirmative. Your ride is arriving. Please board and have a nice day.”
The shuttle zoomed to a halt. The doors slid open to reveal a mostly empty passenger car. Dash looked in, saw a few people reading their tablets, and sat down in a far corner away from everyone else. She made note of the soft red tint of the lighting bars above her head as her coat turned darker than she was used to. She hunched down, lowered her ears, and kept her eyes focused away from everyone. But someone still noticed.
There was movement out of the corner of her vision. Rainbow Dash spun her head quickly to meet the small eyes of a little girl, standing open-mouthed, as she gawked at the blue pony sitting in front of her. Without warning, she moved forward and wrapped her arms around Dash as the pegasus froze up. The little girl did not move until a man’s voice caught filled the cabin.
“Mary Ann, what are you doing?”
Dash saw the human moving towards the scene and she immediately tried to talk her way out.
“I-I’m sorry. She just ran up to me and I froze and…” Dash stammered.
“Mary Ann. Come here,” the man said. Dash noticed how similar his disheveled clothes were to those of the little girl. Mary Ann smiled at Rainbow Dash and then ran back to the man who hugged her as she pulled him forward with her hand outstretched towards Rainbow.
“Daddy, look! I found a real pony! Like the doll you gave me. But better!” She pulled her dad close to Rainbow Dash. “Rainbow Pony, this is my daddy.” Mary Ann’s dad looked the pegasus up and down before sighing.
“I’m not sure if that’s a holosuit or something else,” he said. “But Mary Ann never takes to anyone. There must be something really special about you.”
Dash looked at her dark blue body under the red tinted shuttle lights. “You don’t find this…weird?”
“You’re not from around here, are you?” the dad asked. He sat down across from Dash as Mary Ann sat on the bench behind them and started coloring on her tablet.
“No. I’m from…a more blue planet than this.”
“Yeah. How did you know?”
“Earth, Mars and the Moon are the only places you could be from, kid. And Earth is the bluest. Despite the acid rain and pollution.”
“What happened to Earth?”
The dad pulled out a stuffed toy from his coat and handed it to his daughter. “Mary Ann, you dropped your pony.” For a second, Dash thought the toy looked like Twilight Sparkle’s doll, Smarty Pants. As she peered closer, she realized the tint of the lights and her fatigued state were playing tricks on her. It was a simple pony doll, unadorned, with sewn eyes as well as a yarn mane and tail. The little girl grabbed the doll and held it out to Dash.
“Rainbow Pony, this is an Earth pony,” Mary Ann said. Dash took the doll in her hooves and peered at it.
“Yeah. I can tell it’s an Earth Pony. Doesn’t have any wings or horn. That’s…cool that you have one.”
“Yep. It’s from Earth, and it’s super different from Martian ponies,” she said as she went back to her tablet and continued doodling.
The dad spoke up again. “What’s your name, stranger?”
“It’s Rainbow…Dash.” The blue pegasus hesitated with her own name as she thought about the odd reaction she received from Detective Harrison when he questioned her earlier. The thought of the officer made Dash’s pulse rise and her foreleg began to hurt even worse. The pain overrode her anger.
“You’re a unique one, Rainbow Dash. My name is Flannery.”
“Nice to meet you, but you don't seem afraid of me...Why?"
“You seem new here, so let me tell you this: Syria Planum City is a stranger place than you. It has people from all walks of life and many of them resort to odd methods of coping with life on this red rock. Some have unique forms of self-expression. Others write beautiful fantasies. Others perform. Do you still have actors on Earth?”
Dash thought about the theatres in Equestria. “Yeah, but I don’t really watch their plays.”
“Well, we have method actors who live their characters out. Some change their names and physical appearances to resemble their roles. We even have a whole crew of famous roleplayers called the Lunar Republic.” Dash stifled a laugh. Flannery smiled. “What’s so funny?”
For the first time in a while, Dash was smiling. “On Earth, we have a group of fanatics who want a change in our government. They support a very popular pony whose symbol is the moon and they call themselves the Lunar Republic.”
Flannery slapped his knee and laughed. “Guess we’re more alike than we thought, Earthling.”
“Guess so, Martian,” Dash said as they laughed together. The pain in her foreleg had diminished.
“Hey, I’ll give you some more info through your P.E.T.. Let me see it,” Flannery said as he motioned to the tablet on Dash’s arm.
“Oh…it’s broken. I think it got damaged when I fell.”
Mary Ann stopped doodling on her tablet and unstrapped Dash’s viewscreen. “Let me see. I can fix the P.E.T..”
“Why do you call it that?” Dash asked.
Flannery answered. “Personal Engagement Tablet. Ironic, though. The more you use it, the less you tend to engage and interact with anyone.”
Dash nodded. “The name reminds me of the thing I was told where people here like taking care of animals.”
“Yeah, the whole electric pet trade. It’s pretty sad to work so hard to buy something just to pretend you can take care of a real animal.”
A voice came over the loudspeaker. It was the same as the one on the directory. “Now arriving at marker thirty-three.”
Flannery and Mary Ann stood up as the shuttle came to a stop. A few people exited with little more than a confused glance at the blue pegasus. Flannery noticed and said. “You getting off at this stop? The next one is pretty rough.”
“Finished!” Mary Ann said as she handed the working tablet back to Dash. The screen now had an incredible drawing of the blue pegasus wearing a brown trenchcoat.
“Whoa…that’s awesome! But the picture…”
“I drew it on my tablet and transferred it to yours. You’re welcome,” Mary Ann said as she walked next to her dad. Flannery motioned to Dash.
“Last chance to exit," he said.
Dash walked through the doors with the two humans as they shut behind them. The shuttle took off as the blue pegasus stood at platform thirty-three in a nearly deserted slum. This one was dotted with many houses built in the alleyways against the metal structures.
“Here,” Flannery said as he took off his trenchcoat and handed it to Dash. “It’ll make my daughter’s picture of you more accurate.”
“I…” Dash looked at the two humans and her ears dropped. “I can’t take this gift. It wouldn’t feel right. You need it more.”
“Do you think we’re poor?” Flannery asked. He lifted an eyebrow and smirked.
Flannery placed the trenchcoat in Dash’s hooves as he stepped back with Mary Ann. “Don’t let appearances fool you, Rainbow Dash. Especially on Mars. You’ll see.”
“Bye Rainbow Pony…I mean Rainbow Dash!” Mary Ann said as she and her dad walked off into the slums.
Dash looked at the trenchcoat in her grasp. She put it on and found it covered her perfectly from back to flank. If she uprighted herself temporarily, she might pass for a costumed human. But walking on two legs was never something she was good at. It was more Pinkie Pie’s thing. Dash started to think about her friend as she looked at the map on her P.E.T. once more. There was a tracking beacon heading away from Noctis Labyrinthum and moving towards North Syria Planum. It was clearing distance at an incredible rate of speed. Dash looked around and saw a sign nearby. It detailed a landing pad ten blocks northeast. She worked through the pain of her foreleg and headed onward.