Captain Fortis Hastae was not what most would call an ideal soldier. Unlike many of the equines who had once served in the imperial army, Fortis had an unhealthy preoccupation with preserving his own life. Others could keep their glory and honor. Fortis just wanted a quiet life. Maybe a desk job somewhere behind the front lines, where it was nice and cosy.
The universe had other plans though. Fortis’ aptitude for survival had allowed him to live through thirty whole years in the Imperial army. This had guaranteed him a position on The Ark as its security commander through virtue of seniority and what many considered to be his great skill, the proof of which was in his surviving so many battles. All he’d really done was hide behind his ponies or large chunks of rock, but he saw no reason to correct something as trivial as factualness.
“Ah, captain. Good to see you.” Before Fortis could open his mouth to reply, the master of The Ark spoke again.
“Here is your first assignment. Escort Princesses Luna and Celestia from their chambers to the bridge immediately. We require their presence to plan our next move.” Admiral Argo turned away to regard the star filled void through his bridge viewing window.
“Ah, pardon my asking, admiral, but is such a course of action strictly necessary at this point?” The admiral did not turn to face Fortis as he replied
“But of course. Emperor Galaxis’ last wish was that his two daughters lead this fleet and bring it to a bright, glorious new future.” The admiral turned to regard Fortis sternly with his graying, hazel eyes.
“A loyal servant of the Imperium such as yourself wouldn’t want to fail to fulfill Emperor Galaxis’ last wish. Would you?”
For not the first time in the day, Fortis silently cursed admiral Argo. For what reason, he did not really know, the illustrious admiral having come to be responsible for every little inconvenience and slip up befalling Fortis throughout the day, at least in his mind.
“Halt. We’re here.” Fortis barked as he looked up just in time to prevent from himself walking straight into the door of the Princesses’ chambers. He nodded to the two soldiers flanking him.
“Follow me into the room, do not say a word unless otherwise ordered. Let me handle this situation.” The two soldiers nodded, their expressions grim.
Turning back to the door, Fortis took a deep breath, keyed in the code to open the door, and was blinded.
The next thing Fortis knew, an invisible force had grabbed him and pulled him into the gleaming room. Here the light was even more intense, burning his eyes even through his lowered helmet visor and closed eyelids.
The door slammed shut with a thunderous metallic slam, locking his two subordinates out. The next thing Fortis knew, he was slammed against the door and restrained, his muzzle clamped shut by some unseen force. Delicate hoofsteps approached and halted just in front of him.
A reverberating, thundering, and worst of all, monotone voice pierced through Fortis’ veil of physical pain and fear.
“Is my father dead?” Fortis only nodded, still unable to respond.
“And Equestria Prime?” Another nod.
“The empire is finished then.” Fortis was growing heartily sick of nodding but obliged regardless. This was, after all, his new ruler. With a suddenness which knocked the breath out of his lungs, Fortis was dropped to the ground as the force holding him simply disappeared. The light dimmed agonizingly slowly, until all the illumination which remained was that of the lamps embedded in the ceiling and walls.
Creaking an eye open cautiously, Fortis beheld the princesses with a start. They were utterly ragged and unkempt. Their fur was matted with sweat, their flowing manes wild, unrestrained and blowing with tumultuous magical wind. They swayed on their hoove, exhausted. They did not look capable of standing for much longer. Yet what terrified Fortis the most were the looks of despair and grief upon both their faces. One hundred thousand ponies were relying on these two to lead them to safety. If they could not do so, then all hope was lost.
Celestia and Luna had spent the past three days abusing and thrashing at their restraints. The discomfort and pain which was natural with such devices had transformed into heart wrenching agony with the knowledge that their own father was responsible. The restraints lay in pieces on the carpeted floor. Great craters and rents adorned the nearby walls, where both princesses had spent time smashing every piece of furniture they could find. They had destroyed their horn restraints by slamming them into the adamantium armatures holding them in place until they had buckled and fallen apart, an immortal alicorn’s horn proving tougher than the hardest metal in the galaxy. Once their magical powers were unleashed, they had allowed them to run wild for hours within the large chamber. Evidence of their fury lay in the steel pipe shallowly lodged in the solid adamantium door. It was only with the barest trace of self awareness and restraint that the two princesses had not simply destroyed the ship and all aboard.
Celestia glanced down at Fortis blankly, her face lined and baggy. Stepping backward, she turned her back on him paused.
"Leave us be.”
Fortis glanced up, fear and resignation warring for dominance of his features. “Your majesties, your leadership is urgently required. Our situation is desperate and I am afraid that we must act immediately. This ship carries fifty tho-“ Luna glanced up, raw anger raging through her previously blank visage.
“Do not presume that thou may command Us to do anything.” Her words were barely restrained and spoken through gritted teeth. Fortis had the impression of a contained tornado ready to destroy everything in its path given the slightest provocation. “We designed this ship and We formulated the plan which saved your pathetic self from the cold embrace of oblivion. We will go where We please, as is Our sovereign right. Now, begone!” As Luna spoke this last word, the door opened and Fortis was flung out into the corridor and into a column of very surprised marines.
The assembled soldiers looked up with unrestrained fear and trepidation as the door slammed shut once more, sealing the two princesses off from the rest of the ship. Jackbooted hooves stepped up behind Fortis’ sprawled body, and the mocking, cultured voice which he so despised filled his ears like silky poison.
“Well, that certainly counts as mission accomplished, ‘war hero’.” Admiral Argo spoke with a completely straight face as he leaned over Fortis’ prone form.
Word of the princesses’ unwillingness to take command of the Exodus Fleet spread remarkably quickly, despite captain Argo’s attempts to keep the matter silent. The crews and passengers of the Exodus fleet, already in the process of grieving the death of Emperor Galaxis, as well as the fact that they were now the last of their kind, fell into an even deeper depression, if such a thing were possible. Reports of suicides began springing up, work orders went unfulfilled, at times crew ponies simply didn’t turn up for duty at all. Trash began accumulating in the corridors. Some ponies had stopped eating regularly. Civilians had begun aimlessly wandering the hallways, their empty hoofsteps had become a regular occurrence aboard The Ark. If this state of affairs continued, the Equine race would simply die. The Ark would become nothing more than the floating mausoleum of a failed, dead civilization.
This was the essence of Tactita Scolari’s speech to the assembled Captains and VIPs of the Exodus fleet, such as they were. His suit was cleanly pressed and ironed and his hoof shoes shined in the light of The Ark’s bridge lights. All in all, the head bureaucrat of the Exodus fleet was a shining image of obsessive perfection and anal retentive bureaucratic behaviour. With not a single hair or speck of dust out of place on his entire body, he stood in stark contrast to some of the officers who looked like they had been drinking and had not bothered to clean or even wear their uniforms properly in days.
“So what yer sayin’, is that this fleet’s royally bucked because some spoilt princess or other won’t harden the buck up and quit belly achin’, and there ain’t nothing we can do about it?” A horse dressed in a dirty and unkempt pair of work overalls spoke up. His dirty blonde hair and accent pegged him as a member of the peasantry, and Tacita had to resist the urge to turn his nose up at him.
Tactita supposed that such unnecessarily offensive language was a given from the lower orders, particularly since the horse was not only a peasant, but one of the exceptional farmers brought onboard for his expertise in, well, apple farming. However, none of the assembled equines voiced any complaint, given that they no longer cared about social niceties and felt the same way anyway.
“No I am not, sir. What I am saying, is that unless measures are taken to counter this dreadful air of malaise throughout the fleet, and they can, the status of this expedition will only degrade.” Tacita levitated a pen and pointed at the video screen around which the meeting was being held.
“Reports of six civilian suicides on The Ark yesterday, combined with three military suicides on the battleship Emperor’s Justice, presents an unacceptable death rate which is likely to only increase exponentially over time. Not to mention the debilitating effects on morale, motivation, scheduling, organizational reformations to cope with the loss of-“. Admiral Argo held up a hoof to prevent the bureaucrat from rambling uncontrollably. Tall and austere, admiral Argo was the very image of Equestrian martial pride. His meticulously arranged and decorated uniform, as well as a long facial scar, spoke of long won victories and past glories. His graceful movements and poise spoke of a lifetime of discipline and physical conditioning, and he gave the impression of a coiled tiger, ready to spring should a threat arise. At this point, this impression was merely an illusion.
“So what can we do?” The scarred naval officer’s question refocused the conversation, which had looked dangerously close to spiraling out of hand. Argo had spent six months planning and organizing the voyage with Tacita. He knew exactly how obsessive the bureaucrat could become in the pursuit of his duty.
“Why, Captain, is it not obvious? Give our ponies hope. Get the princesses to assume leadership of the voyage. They are all our ponies have to cling on to. Especially with the destruction of Equestria Prime. Ponies appreciate stability and order. They are used to a monarch, and therefore they will demand a monarch in order to maintain the illusion that things are the same as ever.”
Cries of derision and mocking contempt filled the air as the assembled delegates announced what they thought of the plan. Many made it known that they felt that Tacita’s bravery, intelligence and the purity of his mother were questionable at best. For his part, an exhausted admiral Argo rubbed his eyes with a pinched hoof as Tacita merely repeated the same words that he had been hearing for the past week. Were it so easy, all their problems would have been solved long ago.
Arguments erupted among the delegates, insults were thrown and nothing was accomplished save the widening of the already visible cracks threatening to destroy the Exodus Fleet. And admiral Argo, the de facto leader of the fleet, could not bring himself to care.
Bottled up anger and hatred had been building among the equines since the destruction of Equestria Prime. With nothing to look forward to, noponies to confide in and nothing to release their anger on, ponies and horses alike had kept their tension simmering dangerously beneath a barrier which had been worn precipitously thin by disappointment and lack of hope. It had been a powder keg, just waiting for a single spark to ignite it and bring the fleet down with it. That spark did not take long to arrive.
In the mess hall, a tired earth pony bumped into a unicorn as he grabbed his tray from the counter. An apology was demanded. The demand was shrugged off. An argument broke out, followed by a scuffle. Soon, both parties were joined by their fellows. Seeing an outlet for aggression, ponies unaffected by the fight, including the kitchen staff, joined the fray. Soon, the mess hall had been turned into a battlefield as a full blown riot took place. Bucks were thrown, bones were cracked and jaws were smashed as ponies took their anger out on each other.
Soon, the entire ship was caught up in a chaotic riot involving the entire crew and passenger complement. Hallways became battlefields littered with unconscious bodies as fifty thousand ponies went mad with anger unreleased for far too long. Captain Fortis Hastae led a contingent of Imperial marines through the riot, ordering them to strike everything close by with hooves and batons. This violence merely begat more violence, as the mob turned and focused entirely on the soldiers in their midst. Lethal weapons were drawn and readied by both sides. It would not be long before bodies began to pile up.
Princess Luna had steadily grown more agitated with each day’s passing. Now that her rage had cleared, she was free to think and reflect upon the events of the past weeks. She had in fact created the concept of an Ark alongside her father. The ship had been built to her designs and her specifications. She had personally chosen many of those aboard the vessel. She had created numerous contingencies and plans for the ship’s crew to follow. She had in fact, learned everything there was to know about The Ark and the ponies aboard it. Yet, she had done so intending to die alongside her father afterwards.
In hindsight, she should have realized her father’s intentions.
Emperor Galaxis’ final gift to the two sisters had been the original Exemplar Harmonia, presented to them in the imperial palace days before The Ark was readied for launch. It was a book penned by Galaxis’ father himself, when pony kind had been fractured and trapped on Equestria Prime, long before the formation of the Imperium. It laid down the elements of a harmonious society through the ideals of strength, honor, duty, discipline, loyalty, and greatest of all, magic. The book was all that Princess Luna possessed of him, and she cherished it dearly.
Duty, the most sacred bond possible between a pony and his kin. Beginning at birth and ending only at death, duty to others will see pony kind united to rise above and beyond all which stands in its way.
Strength is the courage to do what is necessary to ensure the survival of the whole and its triumph over those who threaten it. Those who sacrifice themselves to serve their kin are the strongest of us all. To show less than absolute admiration and gratitude for such selflessness is the greatest sin imaginable.
Princess Luna made up her mind. Emperor Galaxis had given her the greatest gift by giving his life to save her. She would not dishonor his memory. Armed with new found conviction and strength, she prepared to convince her sister of the error of her ways.
With a start, she realized her father’s foresight in leaving the Exemplar Harmonia with her, and smiled.
Turning away from the image conjured by Luna, princess Celestia trudged back to the spot where she had been lying motionless for the past week.
“Sister?” No answer came. Celestia simply lowered herself on her knees and closed her eyes.
“Princess Celestia!” A louder cry had no effect.
Deciding that enough was enough, Luna halted the scrying spell, trotted up and Celestia, and struck her across the face.
In an instant, Celestia’s eyes shot open and her demeanor changed dramatically. The anger which was affecting the ponies outside had been simmering within Celestia as she brooded. And now that anger had found an outlet. With a raw cry of frustration and pain, Celestia shot to her hooves and slammed Luna back a good ten feet with a quickly cast telekinesis spell.
Regaining her footing quickly, Luna darted back in, deflecting a magically conjured dagger into the ceiling, where it lodged in the steel plating.
“Wilt thou just listen? By remaining in this chamber, we are dishonoring our father’s memory!” At this, Celestia’s eyes flashed literally and she snarled.
“How dare you accuse me of dishonoring our father! I have been mourning his death for days!” Another conjured dagger shot straight at Luna. She dispelled the dagger and was showered with arcane dust which caused her body to sparkle.
Moving quickly, she galloped straight at Celestia, horn lowered. The goad worked and Celestia charged as well, intending to meet Luna head on. At the last moment, Luna dived to the side, Celestia powering past her. Luna shifted her weight to her front hooves and bucked Celestia in the hindquarters, sending her falling forward onto her face. A telekinetic field enveloped Celestia’s body, and Luna stepped towards her, determination plastered over her face. Her clarity of mind and focus allowed her to maintain superior magical control even as Celestia flailed, unable to bring the full potential of her power to bear.
“Our subjects are fighting and killing each other across the ship. It is our duty as their rulers to…
“Do not speak to me of duty! I have suffered for..”
“Suffered? Is that what thou terms thine apathy? Thou hast not suffered, but merely sulked and shirked thine duty. You know that I speak the truth.”
“You have been here with me all this time. If I have shirked my duty, then so have you!”
“See! Observe what transpires beyond these doors!” Luna forcibly entered Celestia’s mind with a scrying spell, shoving images of the riot outside into her mind. “If thou wilst not act, then Our people will die on this vessel, and Our father’s last wish will go unfulfilled!”
Images of fighting ponies, savage expressions plastered on their faces, filled Celestia’s mind. Blood splattered across walls. Ponies and horses alike were transformed into mere beasts. And finally, Luna wove a prediction of the future and subtly inserted it into the sequence. A dead, silent ship, inhabited by corpses, floating endlessly through the void, both princesses standing over their fallen subjects and weeping.
At this last image, Celestia ceased her struggle and went limp, her anger dissipating to be replaced by shame.
“T’was thou was always the favourite of the people. Thou art the leader they desire.” Luna’s voice softened, her tone becoming conciliatory. “Only you are capable of ending the fighting outside.”
Luna’s dispelled her telekinetic hold on Celestia and stepped backwards. Celestia rose to her hooves, turned, and nodded, her expression regretful and uneasy.
“You are stronger than I am, little sister. How did you…? How did you prevent yourself from falling into-“
Luna held up a hoof, and levitated the Exemplar Harmonia in front of Celestia and spoke with a smile. “You may thank our father for that.”
Twenty minutes after the fighting had started, Celestia and Luna teleported to The Ark’s security room, surprising an already terrified security officer hunched over a bank of screens. The unicorn stuttered and almost suffered a heart attack before Luna held him in place and forcibly calmed him with a sedative spell. Gently lowering the unconscious pony to the floor, Luna glanced up and nodded at the microphone.
“Let them hear your voice, sister.”
To be continued…..